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The policy of artificial scarcity of currency

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Herodotus tells us that it was Croesus, King of Lydia, the land from which, according to Livy, the Etruscans came, who invented the minting of coins – hence currency – by impressing his seal on the electrum, a natural alloy of silver and gold. According to ancient history, it was a temporary stopgap.

The alloy was bound to be depleted sooner or later and much of the material extracted and sealed would be hoarded, as always happens with “good money”, whereas the one which does not appreciate over time is exchanged at high speed with goods and services.

Furthermore the scarcer the currency, the greater the need for credit for equal goods and services available.

Currently, however, we are increasingly faced with policies which tend to avoid the use of money as such, or to limit it, because of the danger of favouring the “money laundering” of proceeds from organized crime, corruption or many illegal activities.

From the logical viewpoint, these regulations closely remind us of some city police regulations of the nineteenth century, which banned for inns and taverns the possession and use of sharp knives.

If we confuse the means with the use and, in the case of money, if we eliminate exactly the typical feature of currency, as from Croesus onwards, namely its being universally valid in its legal tender, the economy will really cease to exist.

Either we hoard everything or we spend everything – hence without having any idea of the value/price ratio.

Also the European Central Bank (ECB), which never misses a novelty, will stop printing the 500-euro banknotes in 2018 which, however, will remain legal tender and will mandatorily be exchangeable at the issuing bank’s counters.

Therefore currency exchanges are no longer free, because each transaction shall be controlled by a specific bank passage and flow which, according to the naive drafters of these laws against money, should reassure on trade lawfulness.

A bank passage and flow which may also be a credit, so that the bank now succeeds in gaining money from what previously was one of its formal obligations.

Furthermore, who will guarantee us that banks are not involved in dirty money flows?

With the end of philosophy, also rationality applied to people’s practical life comes to an end.

These are the thoughts springing to our mind when we read about the demonetization of the Indian economy adopted – approximately fifty days ago – by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

As stated by the Indian law, by December 31, 2016 all 500-rupee (7.5 euro) and 1,000-rupee banknotes – the two average denominations of Indian currency – shall be forcibly returned to the bank, from which the equivalent of the money deposited can be withdrawn in smaller, or even larger denominations, such as 2,000 rupees or more.

The government’s aim was to stamp out corruption, the informal economy and tax evasion.

The problem is that the illegal economy or, anyway, “underground” or informal economy, is the only one on which the huge masses of poor Indians can live.

If we implement some form of tax checks or legal scrutiny for the many poor people’s intermediation and brokerage activities, they would cease all of a sudden, as if by magic.

Hence how could poor people survive? Can we imagine a tea seller, on the streets of Mumbai, issuing a “regular receipt”?

How much would the huge check apparatus cost?

Moreover, India has more than one billion poor people – surveyed inductively – not to mention usury in rural areas, generated exactly by the intermediation and brokerage between labour and land ownership – real estate usury continually pushing recently-created masses of rural underproletariat to megacities.

India’s per capita GDP is 1,718 US dollars per year.

China’s current one is triple, albeit with a ratio between urban and rural areas – the mainstay of the creation of capitalism and the crisis of the various forms of Communism – which is, to some extents, similar to the Indian one, although with a different investment policy in agriculture.

The Indians who earn incomes comparable to those in the First World countries are just 320 million people, while only twenty million families of the Indian Federation own savings over one million euro.

In India the one billion poor and very poor people earn 3 dollars a day at the maximum.

50% of Indian children are rickety. Any kind of diseases are widespread and hence the poor people’s average age decreases – the only relief from their earthly misery.

How can we imagine all these masses entering a bank and making it gain money with their exchanges, so as to increase money collection and later favour the opening of credit to the best clients, as usual?

Moreover, if over a billion people use, or think they use, ATM, POS and credit cards, taxes and deductions on transactions will increase and, of course, it will be equally impossible to trace illegal money.

It is as if the Indian government regularizes exactly one of the primary mechanisms for money laundering, namely smurfing, which means using runners to perform multiple financial transactions to avoid the currency reporting requirements. This technique involves the use of many individuals (the “smurfs”) who exchange illicit funds (in smaller, less conspicuous amounts) for highly liquid items such as traveller cheques, bank drafts, or deposited directly into savings accounts.

Obviously the results of the Indian regulations on forced demonetization have materialized almost immediately and are before us to be seen.

The slow withdrawal of new cash has quickly blocked the whole Indian economy, both the small-scale legal one and the huge informal economy.

Food prices have plummeted by 50%.

Because poor people have no longer money to buy the already scarce food.

All this has happened without even imagining the effects of this price collapse on rural incomes.

In some areas producing rice and other foodstuffs, after realizing that sale prices did not even cover half of the transport costs, farmers destroyed crops throwing them in the streets, with the immediate effect of a massive and deadly famine.

Also handicrafts, which were part and parcel of the informal economy, such as retail trade, are disappearing in India.

Obviously the banks are increasingly slow in providing the equivalent of the banknotes returned. They earn on deposits, invest and lend the money collected to primary clients.

Hence in India barter is back again – the only way people know to replace the ”universal equivalent”, namely currency.

This implies, however, further fragmentation of the Indian society by   castes, ethnic groups, geographical areas and family clans.

Even exports, in which India stood out, are suffering the mad crisis of moralistic demonetization.

In general terms, the most modern companies report a 25% drop in sales and we cannot imagine how, in this context, India can have normal economic relations with foreign countries.

Obviously criminal organizations, the only ones which can make money with these beautiful monetary ideas, have quickly stepped in by offering a 20% discount for exchanging old banknotes. Hence the law of unintended economic consequences enables criminals and Mafias to launder money, which was previously much more difficult.

Even Narendra Modi, however, has his own theorist that, this time, is not a Western technocrat, but Anil Bokil, the founder of a financial and political movement known as Artakranti, namely “monetary revolution.”

According to this beautiful mind, who is in no way inferior to our third-rate economists, the bulk of illegal capital is exactly the one which raises the prices of vital goods (real estate, in particular), while the money earned honestly – that is quickly noticed – would lose value when the “bad money” grows.

It would take Vilfredo Pareto’s poison pen to mock these ideologies, but it is worth recalling that many of our graduates and economists are not far from similar theories.

With a view to corroborating his ideas, Anil Bokil, states that if you demonetizes, “illegal” wealth is self-destroyed, while poor people’s money, namely the “good money”, would appreciate.

Even Bokil, however, has his own pocket-size Tobin Tax: if demonetization is complete and the “black money” is driven away, we could abolish all taxes, except for a 1% “Tobin Tax” on each transaction.

Meanwhile, the poor wretched Indians’ banks accounts are blocked for lack of cash and the new banknotes are so badly printed that they can be easily reproduced, thus leading us to predict great success for “black money”.

And inflation throughout India worse than Weimar’s.

Faced with this fever of economic foolishness which is spreading across Asia, even Australia wants to get rid of the bad 100-Australian dollar banknote (equal to 70 euro approximately), which is responsible for all moral iniquities in the land of kangaroos.

In fact the word “kangaroo” comes from the Anglicisation of the kangaroo natives’ expression “I do not know” or “I do not understand”.

Here the logic is still wrong, such as the one of the Indian mystic monetarist, but has its own foolishly Western meaning.

In fact, if we eliminate a currency which serves mainly for private hoarding, market liquidity will increase immediately.

Not necessarily, but they think so anyway – they studied in some Ivy League universities and are exempted from using the logic and studying the classics.

However what should Australians use for hoarding their savings?

And if they do not hoard money, how could they pay loans, mortgages, taxes, utility bills, rents?

Shall they use coconuts? Or avocados? It is impossible because they are perishable products and, by eating them, their children would immediately become capitalists.

The fact is that banks and governments want to increase the households’ credit share, by abolishing their independent money reserves.

As has somehow happened with the great wage freeze since the euro introduction onwards.

Wages and salaries have decreased in real terms to the same extent as the share of consumer loans increased.

The privatization of wage increases with high percentages.

Hence If we do not think again to an economy which can work well also for the poor people, possibly with a small one-off tax to be paid every year, we will never get out of this cage full of crazy Hindus, monetarists, salon Keynesians and various ignorant people and doctrinarians with no idea of practical life.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Economy

China Development Bank could be a climate bank

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China Development Bank (CDB) has an opportunity to become the world’s most important climate bank, driving the transition to the low-carbon economy.

CDB supports Chinese investments globally, often in heavily emitting sectors. Some 70% of global CO2 emissions come from the buildings, transport and energy sectors, which are all strongly linked to infrastructure investment. The rules applied by development finance institutions like CBD when making funding decisions on infrastructure projects can therefore set the framework for cutting carbon emissions.

CDB is a major financer of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the world’s most ambitious infrastructure scheme. It is the biggest policy bank in the world with approximately US$2.3 trillion in assets – more than the $1.5 trillion of all the other development banks combined.

Partly as a consequence of its size, CDB is also the biggest green project financer of the major development banks, deploying US$137.2 billion in climate finance in 2017; almost ten times more than the World Bank.

This huge investment in climate-friendly projects is overshadowed by the bank’s continued investment in coal. In 2016 and 2017, it invested about three times more in coal projects than in clean energy.

The bank’s scale makes its promotion of green projects particularly significant. Moreover, it has committed to align with the Paris Agreement as part of the International Development Finance Club. It is also part of the initiative developing Green Investment Principles along the BRI.

This progress is laudable but CDB must act quickly if it is to meet the Chinese government’s official vision of a sustainable BRI and align itself with the Paris target of limiting global average temperature rise to 2C.

What does best practice look like?

In its latest report, the climate change think-tank E3G has identified several areas where CDB could improve, with transparency high on the list.

The report assesses the alignment of six Asian development finance institutions with the Paris Agreement. Some are shifting away from fossil fuels. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) has excluded development finance for oil exploration and has not financed a coal project since 2013, while the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) has stated it has no coal projects in its direct finance pipeline. The World Bank has excluded all upstream oil and gas financing.

In contrast, CDB’s policies on financing fossil fuel projects remain opaque. A commitment to end all coal finance would signal the bank is taking steps to align its financing activities with President Xi Jinping’s high-profile pledge that the BRI would be “open, green and clean”, made at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April 2019.

CDB should also detail how its “green growth” vision will translate into operational decisions. Producing a climate-change strategy would set out how the bank’s sectoral strategies will align with its core value of green growth.

CDB already accounts for emissions from projects financed by green bonds. It should extend this practice to all financing activities. The major development banks have already developed a harmonised approach to account for greenhouse gas emissions, which could be a starting point for CDB.

Lastly, CDB should integrate climate risks into lending activities and country risk analysis.

One of the key functions of development finance institutions is to mobilise private finance. CDB has been successful in this respect, for example providing long-term capital to develop the domestic solar industry. This was one of the main drivers lowering solar costs by 80% between 2009-2015.

However, the extent to which CDB has been successful in mobilising capital outside China has been more limited; in 2017, almost 98% of net loans were on the Chinese mainland. If CDB can repeat its success in mobilising capital into green industries in BRI countries, it will play a key role in driving the zero-carbon and resilient transition.

From our partner chinadialogue.net

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Oil-Rich Azerbaijan Takes Lead in Green Economy

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Now that the heat and dust of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary election on February 9thhas settled, a new generation of administrators are focusing on accelerating the pace of reforms under President Ilham Aliyev, who has ambitious plans to further modernise its economy and diversify its energy sources.

Oil and gas account for about 95 percent of Azerbaijan’s exports and 75 percent of government revenue, with the hydrocarbon sector alone generating about 40 percent of the country’s economic activity. Apart from providing oil to Europe, Azerbaijan successfully completed the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) with Turkey in November 2019 to transfer Azerbaijani gas to Europe.

Yet, with an eye on the future, the country has also begun to take huge strides in renewable energy. Solar and wind power projects have been installed, with their share in total electricity generation already reaching 17 percent. By 2030, this figure is expected to hit 30 percent.

Solar power plants currently operate in Gobustan and Samukh, as well as in the Pirallahi, Surahani and Sahil settlements in Baku.

The potential of renewable energy sources in Azerbaijan is over 25,300 megawatts, which allows generating 62.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Most of this potential comes from solar energy, which is estimated at 5,000 megawatts. Wind energy accounts for 4,500 megawatts, biomass is estimated at 1,500 megawatts, and geothermal energy at 800 megawatts.

President Aliyev has supported the drive for renewable energy. He signed a decree in 2019 to establish a commission for implementing and coordinating test projects for the construction of solar and wind power plants.

Azerbaijan’s focus on renewable energy has drawn interest from its European partners, with leading French companies seeking to invest in the country’s solar and wind electricity generation.

Azerbaijan is France’s main economic and trade partner in the South Caucasus. According to French ambassador Zacharie Gross, “the French Development Agency is ready to invest in Azerbaijan’s green projects, such as solid waste management. This would allow using new cleaner technologies to reduce solid waste. This is beneficial for the environment and the local population.”

“I believe that one of the areas that have greatest development potential is urban services sector. An improved water distribution system can reduce the amount of water consumed, improve its quality, and also solve the problem of flood waters in winter,” the French ambassador added.

Azerbaijan is currently a low emitter of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. According to the European Commission, the country released 34.7 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, i.e. just 3.5 tons per capita. This is lower than the norm adopted by the world: 4.9 tons.

In contrast, in 2018 Kazakhstan generated 309.2 million tons of CO2, Ukraine generated 196.8 million tons,Uzbekistan101.8 million tons, and Belarus 64.2 million tons.

And the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Azerbaijan has been consistently falling. In 1990, Azerbaijan emitted 73.3 million tons, but in 2018 this had dropped to 34.7 million tons. By 2030 the country plans to reduce its annual greenhouse gases emissions by a further 35 percent.

Measures taken by the government include the early introduction of Euro-4 fuel standards in Azerbaijan, with A-5 standards to be introduced from 2021. An increasing number of electric buses and taxis are now transporting passengers in the main cities.

Another key step is the clean-up of the environmental degradation caused by over 150 years of oil production. Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR is helping to recover oil-contaminated lands in Absheron Peninsula, particularly in the once critically contaminated area around Boyukshor Lake. This involves the removal of millions of cubic metres of soil contaminated with oil.

Azerbaijan is also reducing the amount of gas it wastes in flaring. In a study funded by the European Commission, Azerbaijan ranks first among 10 countries exporting oil to the EU in the effective utilisation of associated petroleum gas.The emission of associated gases decreased by 282.5 million cubic meters from 2009 through till 2015. This is expected to fall further to 95 million cubic meters by 2022.

The government is also encouraging large-scale greening of the land. In December 2019, a mass tree-planting campaign was initiated by First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva to celebrate the 650thanniversary of famous Azerbaijani poet Imadeddin Nasimi. 650,000 trees were planted nationwide, including 12,000 seedlings that were delivered by ship to Chilov Island.

A 2018 survey, carried out in cooperation with Turkish specialists, found that forest area is 1.2 million square meters in Azerbaijan, i.e. 11.4 percent of the total area of ​​the country.A new requirement was introduced last year to halt deforestation and to reduce the negative impact of business projects on the environment.

For a country with the 20th largest oil reserves in the world, Azerbaijan could well have chosen to stick to a hydrocarbon future. But it has instead dared to think beyond oil and gas in its energy, transportation, economy and environment. The country is setting a template that should inspire other large oil producers to emulate.

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China-US: How Long Will the Phase One Agreement Hold?

Osama Rizvi

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Although the recently signed Phase One agreement between the US and China has put a halt to the ongoing trade war between the two global economic superpowers, it cannot be viewed as a long-term solution. At its best, it is a temporary truce. The language of the eighty-six page document, including its ambiguities and the unrealistic promises upon which the entire agreement is based, suggests that it is based on two unreconcilable compromises between the two parties.

Some of the main highlights of the deal include: China must give an action plan on “strengthening intellectual property protection” and it must reduce the  pressure on international companies for “technology transfer.” China has promised to increase the purchase of goods and services from US by $200 Billion over two years. Other key points include easy access to Chinese markets. The 15th December tariffs of $160 Billion have been delayed in December 2019. Tariff rates on $120 bn of goods (imposed on September 01, 2019) have been reduced from 15 to 7 percent although tariffs of $250 Billion at a rate of 25 percent will remain.

The 86 page document, when analyzed, displays an ambiguity in its language, as well as the absence of any enforcement plan and dispute settlement process. Therefore, whenever an issue might arise (and it will) there is a likelihood the deal may implode. For instance, whilst mentioning enforcement of payment of penalties and other fines, the word “expeditious” remains unclear. What is the time period and how will enforcement be accomplished? At another point, while referring to China to send a case for criminal enforcement the word “reasonable suspicion” which can be based on “articulable facts” makes it very abstract. Chad Brown, a trade expert in an article for Business Insider, says that there is no specific way mentioned in the document to penalize the party who violates any provision. Moreover, there is no body (like WTO) that will take decisions but is rather left to the USTR and discussions with Chinese counterparts – a recipe for confusion.

Then there are the promises. But we have to consider different variables. But if it turns out that China carries out its promise to buy crude oil, LNG and coal, the global commodity markets will feel the heat – in a negative way. Under the agreement China will buy an additional $52 bn of energy products in the span of coming two years- 418.5 Billion in 2018 and $33.9 in 2021. This year China will have to buy about $27 Billion energy purchases from U.S. To put this in context, China imported 14 million barrels of oil in November 2018 which is its highest ever. Assuming that China buys the same amount for 12 months it would yield only $9 to $10 billion in revenue! In a similar calculation for coal and LNG, Clyde Russell, in an article for Reuters, concludes that in order to fulfill the above target (of $27 Billion) China would have to double the amount of these imports from US!

Moreover, the Phase One agreement has a snapback clause which implies that upon quarterly reviews if the Chinese side isn’t holding true to their promises the agreement can become null and void.

Even if China fulfills its promise, the purpose wouldn’t be served:  the US. deficit won’t reduce significantly.  The US trade deficit with China for the first 10 months of 2019 was $294 Billion – in other words, roughly 40 percent of the country’s total trade gap. However, for the same period, Chinese sold goods more than four times that amount (or about $382 bn). China will need to half its exports to the U.S. for a “meaningful” drop in the deficit – something that seems highly unlikely.

Also, the US might even end up more dependent on China. Increased demand for US oil will spike its prices and might trigger other suppliers of China to increase their output in order to fight for the market share. The global energy and commodity markets could face disruption. Similarly, Brazil and other countries, beneficiaries of this trade war, can decrease soy bean prices in order to retain their market share, giving farmers in the US a tough time.

As the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said that tariffs can remain in place even after a Phase Two agreement, we, therefore, have to be patient and observe the trajectory of Phase One trade agreement carefully.  Chinese promise of $200 bn purchases, the lack of a proper dispute resolution mechanism and technical loopholes in language puts the future of the agreement in doubt.

Both sides are keeping some cards in their deck; we have yet to witness the end of this trade-war saga.

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