“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”- Opening paragraph from “A Tale of Two Cities”
In 1973, E.F. Schumacher wrote a book entitled Small Is Beautiful. The book was well reviewed and was read by many people concerned with the global ecological disaster, but perhaps it was a bit ahead of its time.
That was after all the time of agribusiness and the widely held idea that “big is always better.” That in turn was integral part of a positivist approach which believes that progress is inevitable, it is always scientific and what comes at the end and is most modern is always the best of all possible worlds.
Now we are more likely to be persuaded by those who insist, as Schumacher did, that a more localized decentralized approach to economics may be the more sensible and humane approach.
The question arises: why is that? Quite simply because economic globalization has taken center stage while global warming is often derided and ignored, more often than not by those who are supposed to be our leaders. Some say that globalization actually began with the era of Western colonialism and imperialism and it is unstoppable like the idea of progress. Closer to us, in modern times, while welcomed and seen as a panacea at its inception in the last quarter of the 20thcentury, it has by now transmuted into a great debate on whether globalization is capitalism at its most pernicious or a promising way to reduce poverty world-wide. The sad truth is that while wealth has been increased it has mostly gone to the one per cent on top of the economic pyramid while the poor and middle class have seen no economic process.
Laissez-faire liberal capitalists of various stripes and assorted entrepreneurs searching for world-wide market opportunities a la Trump naturally support globalization and argue that becoming part of the world economy is the only chance for developing countries and those living in abject poverty at grasping economic opportunities and lift themselves out of poverty. They see absolutely nothing wrong with globalization per se; at best they suggest some reforms in its methods and its side effects on regional cultures. They may pay lip service to regional cultures and even religious heritages and tradition while at the same time deriding them as retrograde but necessary superstitions to keep the people docile and exploitable (hence Marx critique of religion as the opium of the people), but essentially they have reduced human beings to mere consumers within the global market place.
As William James used to quip: do not pay attention to what people say, pay attention to what they do and you will know what they really believe in. People willing to ruin reputations and impugn the professional integrity and career of their critics for an ideology reveal with their ad hominem attacks better than with their scholarly treatises the extreme measure to which they are willing to resort to in defense of their pet unexamined ideology.
And that may indeed be the reason why, on the other hand, the protesters believe that globalization is merely an excuse for big business to run roughshod over the developing world. For them “free trade,” so called, simply enables multinationals to dominate developing markets and push out local enterprise. They call for alternative ways of reducing poverty that prioritize environmental and human rights. They argue that by reducing ancient heritages and cultures to their lowest common denominator one dissolves most conflicts and distinctions among them and trivializes them.
The protesters, who have been at it for the last twenty years or so are convinced that Global capitalization is all about getting the rich to be even richer. They cite examples such as this: ten years ago a US company director got 40 times the wages of an average blue collar worker – their wages are now over 400 times as much. Just 400 families have more than half the world’s theoretical wealth. Yet calling this insanity is sneered at. Capitalism requires expansion, there has to be year on year growth, and that’s simple math: if you must expand your economy by an average of 3% a year, in a hundred years you need to consume in a day what we currently consume in a year.
In the world of culture a dichotomy seems to exist between the world of science and that of the liberal arts and the humanities, something I have written at length in previous articles. Indeed, a novel by a great novelist such as Dostoyevsky or Joyce, or a poem by Dante or Shakespeare represents a world rooted in numerous particularities where people from different backgrounds encounter one another and are trying to connect and influence each other; a world complicated by memories and ambitions and multiple connections and displacements. It’s a world wherein its unique rounded characters refuse simplifications.
On the other hand, what Globalization with its reductionistic tendencies seems to produce is the disembowelment of the complexity of world cultures, forcing their differences into the blender of consumerism and accumulation of wealth, to then regurgitate shallow formulaic platitudes, reducing the narrative of those cultures and their heritage of millenarian religious traditions, to a singular outcome; that of universal consumerism and happiness, Disney or McDonald or soccer games style, where business need not be responsive to the people or to truly democratic institutions but to the happiness of its shareholders. This is achieved by moving factories and businesses to the cheapest labor markets and keeping pays low.
According to this severe critical view, history has taught us that globalization means only one thing: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Corporate globalization and financial globalization without a buttressing ethical value system which sees the unity of humanity and its nexus to the earth, inevitably becomes dominated by greed and the profit motive. The critics also point out that those societies with the highest standard of living are those which allow some degree of capitalism, but combine it with a strong sense of social justice as exemplified by their social programs designed to help the less privileged and the least fortunate. The richest country in the world may not necessarily be the country with the highest standard of living. It appears that the element of distributive justice, whether it is taken seriously or it is simply ignored and considered unimportant, makes all the difference
Obviously there are two contrasting ways of looking at Globalization and the question arises: are the two views irreconcilable or is a synthesis of sort possible? While the developing world needs help from the developed world, does such help have to come at the price of pollution and unsustainable technologies under the title globalization? Does globalization have to imply that transporting goods and foodstuffs thousands of miles using valuable fossil fuels and creating massive pollution is a good thing? It appears that Globalization as envisaged by the visionless current world leaders and economic pundits measuring wealth and ignoring justice is likely to damage the developing world more than help it.
What the developing and the developed world need are initiatives that allow countries to be self-supporting and less dependent on the vagaries of world exchange rates, transport costs and international sanctions. However those promoting world trade and entrepreneurial capitalism do not want this, they want to the developing world be dependent on to their technologies and trade tie-ins. The problem is not free trade as such, but the unfair way with which it is implemented. It is apparent to any dispassionate observer that far from upholding the principles of democracy, the exigencies of commerce has served often to thwart them. All one has to do is recall that Britain’s colonial adventures in India, China and the East Indies were perpetuated by what was felt to be an inalienable right to force nations half way across the world to trade with them on their own terms.
Some have suggest that socialism is the solution, but socialism is often seen historically tied to the ideology of communism, adhered to by China’s ruling party, and this despite the fact that it is practiced in genuinely democratic countries in Scandinavia as well as in most industrialized democratic countries of the world which have social services that can only be characterized as socialistic, including the US which has social programs such as Social Security, Welfare benefits, Unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid etc.
The Chinese are out to prove that democracy is not necessary for material prosperity; it is mere frosting on the cake, never mind Marx’s injunction that power ought to always proceed from the people, that is to say, from the bottom up and not from the top down. Hence ideological cultural battles invariably and regularly ensue and as it can be expected they become not part of the solutions but part of the social problems of our global village.
In point of fact, the battle between capitalism and anti-globalization, socialism, communism and all the other -ism’s one can think of is quite pointless – none of these ideologies stand up in extremis. A harmonious balance between regulation and freedom in the markets seems to be the only way forward to benefit all with at least a minimum of egalitarianism and distributive justice while preserving and enhancing freedom and democracy.
There is one glaring example that can be brought to bear to better illustrate the unfair business practices of the developed world toward the developing one. Both Britain and the US make strenuous efforts to sell cigarettes to poor countries. They give no health warnings against smoking as they do by law in their own countries. One can easily imagine how the precarious health services of these developing countries are going to cope in 20 year time with all the smoking related diseases we in the West are imposing upon them. I suppose that at that point in time the rapacious entrepreneurs of our brave new world will get busy selling them expensive medicines manufactured and developed in the West.
The major issue with globalization seems to be that corporate chairmen have power without representation. One of them is all set to become the next US Secretary of State. If we were to think of consumerism as a new political idea, corporate chairmen are the politicians, advertisements are the party broadcasts or propaganda, and the products are the manifesto. The result as advertised is happiness, fulfillment and wealth for everyone concerned. Donald Trump has promised as much to the ignorant and gullible and many are now waiting for the check in the mail. Good luck!
This analysis points to the fact that in effect we live in a semblance of democracy but in reality we live in a deterministic universe wherein we have been reduced to consuming automatons and our personhood and our very humanity has been robbed. It is now impossible to vote a corporation out of power. There is something fundamentally wrong in this situation. Branding globalization protesters as “anarchists” playing at revolution, as the media tends to do, will not lead to any solution either. Schumacher made similar points in the above mentioned book.
In this article I have simply outlined the problematic of Globalization as presented by those on opposite sides of its analysis. Those readers who may wish to further deepen their knowledge and even attempt a solution to the conundrum would be well advised to peruse a seminal and influential article by Steven Weber, Naazneer Barma, Mathew Kroenig and Ely Ratner titled “How Globalization Went Bad” which appeared in Foreign Policy of Jan/Feb 2007.
In conclusion let me say this on the present perplexing and ambiguous age of globalization, the era of the so called interrelated “global village” with its Facebook and Twitter and the Internet: it is both the best of times and the worst of times. The outcome, I suppose, will depend on how well we can hold together in our mind those two contrasting notions and wrap them around our minds as a paradox. I sincerely doubt that logical positivists and assorted entrepreneurs will be of much help here, but I would suggest that the novels of a Dickens or a Dostoyevsky, not to speak of sages and philosophers, may provide some hints on how best to bridge the chasm.
Free-Market Capitalism and Climate Crisis
Free market capitalism is an economic system that has brought about tremendous economic growth and prosperity in many countries around the world. However, it has also spawned a number of problems, one of which is the climate crisis. The climate crisis is a global problem caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. These externalities are chiefly a consequence of day to day human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and conventional agriculture. The climate crisis is leading to rise in temperatures, sea levels, and more erratic weather patterns-The floods in Pakistan and depleting cedars of Lebanon are vivid instances for these phenomena, which are having a devastating impact on the planet.
One of the main reasons that free market capitalism has contributed to the climate crisis is that it prioritizes short-term economic growth over long-term environmental sustainability. Under capitalism, companies are primarily motivated by profit and are not required to internalize the costs of their pollution. This means that they are able to pollute without having to pay for the damage that they are causing. Additionally, the capitalist system is based on the idea of unlimited growth, which is not sustainable in the long-term. As long as there is an infinite demand for goods and services, companies will continue to produce them, leading to ever-increasing levels of pollution and resource depletion.
Another pressing issue that free market capitalism is recently going through is that it does not take into account the externalities of economic activities. Externalities are the unintended consequences of economic activities, such as pollution and climate change. Under capitalism, companies are not required to pay for the externalities of their activities, which means that they are able to continue polluting without having to pay for the damage that they are causing. In her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs Climate” Naomi Klein argues that the current system of capitalism is inherently incompatible with the urgent action needed to address the Climate crisis.
To address the climate crisis, it is necessary to put checks and balances over the free market capitalism and/or make a way towards a more sustainable economic system. This can be done through a number of different effective policies, such as:
Carbon pricing: This can be done through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, which would make companies pay for the carbon emissions that they are producing. In the article “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” authors suggest that revenue-neutral carbon tax is the most efficient and effective way to reduce the carbon emissions.
Increasing renewable energy investments: an increment in the investments in clean energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, can result in the reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
Regulating pollution: Governments can regulate pollution to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere.
Encouraging sustainable practices: Governments can encourage sustainable practices, such as recycling and conservation, to reduce the use of resources.
It is remarkable that evolving Capitalism can be harnessed to address the climate change. The private sector has the resources and innovation to develop and implement new technologies and sustainable practices, but they need the right incentives and regulations to do so. Finding the balance between economic growth and environmental protection must be a priority for capitalists.
The free market capitalism has been the driving force behind global economic growth, but at the same time, it has contributed to the ongoing climate crisis. The solution to this problem is not to reject capitalism, but rather to reform it to the societies’ suitable demands. Government should consider providing a level playing field so as to make the probable transition from fossil-based energy systems to Green energy technologies possible. The capitalists should not consider short-termism over long term environmental sustainability. Government intervention to put a price on carbon emissions, invest in renewable energy, regulate pollution, and encourage sustainable practices is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis and build a sustainable future for all. However, here is the catch: Is achieving net-zero-carbon emissions by mid-century a probable target? The answer is quite uncertain, however it is critical point to strive for in the face of escalating Climate Crisis.
Egypt’s “Too Big to Fail” Theory Once Again at Test
Authors: Reem Mansour & Mohamed A. Fouad
In the wake of 2022 FED’s hawkish monetary policy, the Arab world’s most populous nation, Egypt, saw an exodus of about USD20bn of foreign capital. A feat that exerted pressure on the value of its pound against the dollar slashing it by almost half. This led to USD12bn trade backlog accumulating in Egypt’s ports by December 2022.
Meanwhile, amidst foreign debt nearing USD170bn, inflation soaring to double digits, and a chronic balance of payment deficit, Egypt became structurally unfit to sustain global shocks; the country saw its foreign debt mounting to 35% of GDP, causing the financing gap to hover at USD20billion.
While it may seem all gloom and doom, friends from the GCC rushed to inject funds in the “too big to fail” country, sparing it, an arguably, ill-fate that was well reflected in its Eurobond yields spreads and credit default swaps, a measure that assesses a sovereign default risk.
For the same reason in early 2023, the IMF sealed a deal worth of USD3bn, with the government, which unlocked an extra USD14bn sources of financing from multilateral institutions, and GCC sovereign funds, to fill in a hefty portion of the annual foreign exchange gap, albeit a considerable amount averaging USD6bn per annum is yet to be sourced from portfolio investments.
With the IMF stepping in, the Egyptian government agreed on a structural reform program that requires a flexible exchange rate regime, where the Egyptian pound is set to trade within daily boundaries against the US dollar, rationalize government spending, especially in projects that require foreign currency; and most importantly the program entails stake-sales in publicly owned assets, paving the way for the private sector to play a bigger role in the economy.
In due course, through its sovereign fund, Egypt planned initial offerings for shares in companies worth about USD5-USD6bn, and expanded the sale of its shares in local banks and government holdings to Gulf investment funds.
Through the limited period of execution of these reforms, the EGP hit a high of 32 against the greenback, and an inflow of portfolio investments amounting to USD1bn took place, according to the Central Bank of Egypt.
Simultaneously, Citibank International, cited a possible near end of the devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar. Also, in a report to investors, Standard Chartered recommended to buy Egyptian treasury bills, and pointed to the return of portfolio flows to the local debt market in the early days of January, 2023. Likewise, Fitch indicated the ability of the Egyptian banking sector to face the repercussions of the depreciation of the pound, and that the compulsory reserve ratios within Egyptian banks are able to withstand any declines in the value of the pound because they are supported by healthy internal flows of capital.
While things seem to be poised for a recovery, the long term prospects may lack sustainability. The Egyptian government needs to accelerate its plans to shift gears towards a real operational economy capable of withstanding shocks and dealing with any global challenges. Egypt, however has implicitly held the narrative that the country is ‘too big to fail”. This is largely true to the country’s geopolitical relevance, but even this has its limitations when the price to bail far outweighs the price to fail.
Former President George W. Bush’s administration popularized the “too big to fail” (TBTF) doctrine notably during the 2008 financial crisis. The Bush administration often used the term to describe why it stepped in to bail out some financial companies to avert worldwide economic collapse.
In his book “The Myth of Too Big To Fail” Imad Moosa presented arguments against using public fund to bail out failing financial institutions. He ultimately argued that a failing financial institution should be allowed to fail without fearing an apocalyptic outcome. For countries, the TBTF theory comes under considerable challenge.
In August 1982, Mexico was not able to service its external debt obligations, marking the start of the debt crisis. After years of accumulating external debt, rising world interest rates, the worldwide recession and sudden devaluations of the peso caused the external debt bill to rise sharply, which ultimately caused a default.
After six years of economic reform in Russia, privatization and macroeconomic stabilization had experienced some limited success. Yet in August 1998, after recording its first year of positive economic growth since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was forced to default on its sovereign debt, devalue the ruble, and declare a suspension of payments by commercial banks to foreign creditors.
In Egypt, although the country remains to face a number of challenges, signs remain relatively less worrying than 2022, as global sentiment suggests that leverage will be provided in the short-term at least. Egypt’s diversified economy, size and relative regional clout may very well spare the country the fate of Lebanon. However, if reforms do not happen fast enough, the TBTF shield may become completely depleted.
Hence, in order to avoid an economic fallout scenario a full fledged support to the private sector’s local manufacturing activity and tourism is a must. Effective policies geared towards competitiveness are mandatory, and tax & export oriented concessions are required to unleash the private sector’s maximum potential and shift Egypt into gear.
Sanctions and the Confiscation of Russian Property. The First Experience
After the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, Western countries froze the assets of the Russian public and private sector entities which had been hit by blocking financial sanctions. At the same time, the possibility that these assets could be confiscated and liquidated so that the funds could be transferred to Ukraine was discussed. So far, only Canada has such a legal mechanism. It will also be the first country to implement the idea of confiscation in practice. How does the new mechanism work, what is the essence of the first confiscation, and what consequences can we expect from the new practice in the future?
Loss of control over assets in countries that impose sanctions against certain individuals has long been a common phenomenon. The mechanism of blocking sanctions has been widely used for several decades by US authorities. A similar methodology has been adopted by the EU, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and some other countries. Russia and China may also resort to these tactics, although Moscow and Beijing rarely use them. In the hands of Western countries, blocking sanctions, however, have become a frequent occurrence. Along with the ban on financial transactions with individuals and legal entities named in the lists of blocked persons, such sanctions also imply the freezing of the assets of persons in the jurisdiction of the initiating countries. In other words, having fallen under blocking sanctions, a person or organisation loses the ability to use their bank accounts, real estate and any other property. Since February 2022, Western countries have blocked more than 1,500 Russian individuals in this way. If you add subsidiary structures to them, their number will be even greater. The volume of the property of these persons frozen abroad is colossal. It includes at least 300 billion dollars in gold and foreign exchange reserves.
This is not counting the assets of high net worth Russian individuals worth $30 billion or more which have been blocked by the G7 countries. However, the freezing of property does not mean its confiscation. Although the blocked person cannot dispose of his assets, it formally remains his property. At some point, the sanctions may be lifted, and access to property restored. In practice, restrictive measures can be in place for years, but theoretically, the possibility of recovering assets still remains.
After the start of the special military operation (SMO), calls began to be heard in Western countries to confiscate frozen property and transfer it to Ukraine. Confiscation mechanisms have existed before. For example, property could be confiscated by a court order as part of the criminal prosecution of violators of the sanctions legislation. However, such mechanisms are clearly not suitable for the mass confiscation of property. Blocking sanctions are a political decision that do not require the level of proof of guilt that is required in the criminal process. To put it bluntly, the hundreds of Russian officials or entrepreneurs put on blocking lists for supporting the SMO did not commit criminal offenses for which their property could be subject to confiscation. The sanctions have spurred the search for such crimes in the form of money laundering or other illegal operations. But the amount of funds raised in this way would be a tiny fraction of the value of the frozen assets. To implement the idea of confiscation of the frozen assets of sanctioned persons and the subsequent transfer of the proceeds for them, Ukraine needed a different mechanism.
Canada was the first country to implement such a mechanism. The 2022 revision of the Special Economic Measures Act gives Canadian authorities the executive power to order the seizure of property located in Canada which is owned by a foreign government or any person or entity from that country, as well as any citizen of the given country who is not a resident of Canada (article 4 (1)). The reason for the application of such measures may be “a gross violation of international peace and security, which has caused or may cause a serious international crisis” (Article 4 (1.1.)). The final decision on confiscation must be made by a judge, to whom a relevant representative of the executive branch sends a corresponding petition (Article 5.3). Furthermore, the executive authorities, at their own discretion, may decide to transfer the proceeds from the confiscated property in favour of a foreign state that has suffered as a result of actions to violate peace and security, in favour of restoring peace and security, as well as in favour of victims of violations of peace and security, or victims of violations of human rights law or anti-corruption laws (art. 5.6).
The first target of the new legal mechanism will be the Canadian asset of Roman Abramovich’s Granite Capital Holding Ltd. The value of the asset, according to a statement by Canadian authorities, is $26 million.
Roman Abramovich is on the Canadian Blocked List, i. e. his property is already frozen, and transactions are prohibited. Now the property of the Russian businessman will be confiscated and, with a high degree of probability, ownership will be transferred to Ukraine. This is a relatively small asset (from the standpoint of state property), but the procedure itself can be worked out. Further confiscations may be more extensive.
The Canadian experience can be copied by other Western countries. In the US, work on such a mechanism was announced back in April 2022. although it has not yet been adopted at the legislative level. In the EU, such a mechanism is also not finally fixed in the regulatory legal acts of the Union, although Art. 15 of Regulation 269/2014 obliges Member States to develop, inter alia, rules on the confiscation of assets obtained as a result of violations of the sanctions regime. The very concept of violations can be interpreted broadly. So, for example, Art. 9 of the said Regulation obliges blocked Russian persons to report to the authorities of the EU countries within six weeks after blocking about their assets. Violation of this requirement can be regarded as a circumvention of blocking sanctions.
There are several consequences of the Canadian authorities’ initiative.
First, it becomes clear that the confiscation rule is not dormant. Its use is possible and is a risk. This is a serious signal to those Russians and Russian companies that have not yet come under sanctions, but own property in the West. It can be not only frozen, but also confiscated. This risk will inevitably be taken into account by investors and owners from other countries, which could potentially be the target of increased Western sanctions in the future. Among them are China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others. It is unlikely that the confiscation of Russian property will lead to an outflow of assets of these countries and their citizens from Canada and other Western jurisdictions. But the signal itself will be taken into account.
Second, the Russian side is very likely to take retaliatory measures. Western companies are rapidly withdrawing their assets from Russia. The representation of Canadian business in the Russian Federation was small even before the start of the operation in Ukraine. If the practice of confiscation becomes widespread, then the Russian side can roll it out in relation against the remaining Western businesses. However, so far, Moscow has been extremely hesitant to freeze Western property. While the US, EU and other Western countries have actively blocked Russians and their assets, Russia has mainly responded with visa sanctions. The confiscation could overwhelm Moscow’s patience and make the retaliatory practice more proportionate.
Finally, the practice of confiscation modifies the very Western idea of sanctions. It currently implies, among other things, that the “behavioural change” of sanctioned persons would result in the lifting of sanctions and the return of property. The freezing mechanism was combined with this idea. However, the confiscation mechanism contradicts it. Sanctions now become exclusively a mechanism for causing damage.
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