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.
Can Sukuk Match the Growth Trajectory of Green Bonds?
As the socially responsible investing movement in fixed income began to take off a decade ago, a great deal of ink was spilled on the similarity of green bonds and Sukuk. Both products are explicitly ethical and appeal to investors’ social consciences over and above their desire for financial returns. The thesis at the time was that an ever-increasing number of investors would seek out these types of ethical investments, leading to a steep upward trajectory in demand for both green bonds and Sukuk. MICHAEL BENNETT writes.
To a certain extent, that thesis has played out. Between 2010 and 2020, the annual issuance of green bonds increased from less than US$5 billion to more than US$270 billion. They have successfully transitioned from being a highly niche product to one that has a role in the portfolios of major institutional investors across the globe. Green bonds became the product that mainstreamed socially responsible investing on the fixed income side of the capital markets.
Sukuk have also increased during that time-period, going from US$53 billion of annual issuance in 2010 to US$140 billion in 2020. While a 164% increase in annual issuance volume is impressive, it clearly lags the 5,300% growth for green bonds. This divergence in the growth trajectory of the two products can also be observed in Chart 1 that looks at annual issuance volumes between 2014 and 2020:
In absolute terms, it should come as no surprise that Sukuk volumes now trail green bonds, as there is a much larger market globally for conventional instruments than for Shariah compliant ones.
Even the most passionate supporters of Islamic finance accept that the potential market for Islamic products is only a fraction of that of their conventional comparators. However, that does not explain why, in percentage growth terms, Sukuk have fallen so far behind green bonds. Why has one product exploded while the other has made only a steady climb?
Many explanations have been offered for why Sukuk have not grown at a faster pace in recent years. These usually focus on global economic hurdles that have impacted the market (eg oil price declines, COVID-19-related slowdowns).
However, many of these same issues have impacted, to one degree or another, the conventional markets as well. In addition, some economic hurdles could reasonably be expected to increase issuance volumes (eg a decrease in oil prices could cause an oil-exporting sovereign to have greater need to tap the capital markets).
Therefore, these explanations seem insufficient to fully explain how green bonds have grown at such a faster clip than Sukuk.
I believe the reason for the difference may stem in part from the fact that the Sukuk market has simply not responded sufficiently to the socially responsible investing movement. As the remarkable growth of the green bond market proves, predictions a decade ago that socially responsible, fixed income investing was about to take off were correct.
In other words, the socially responsible investing wave did indeed come. The problem for Sukuk is the product has not found the best way to ride that wave.
Sukuk are ethical instruments. They cannot be used to finance impermissible activities like gambling, tobacco and weapons manufacturing. Also, they are structured to avoid high degrees of leverage and speculation, and therefore promote a sounder financial system.
Many investors who are motivated by ethics and feelings of social responsibility should be quite happy to add Sukuk to their portfolios, regardless of whether they are adherents of Islam.
A conventional bond has none of these built-in restrictions. Therefore, to make a conventional bond an ‘ethical investment’, additional steps must be taken, for example adding covenants to limit the potential uses of the financing. This building-in of these additional prohibitions is the genesis of green bonds and other labeled sustainable development bonds. In essence, these bonds adopt the types of restrictions on the use of proceeds that already to a certain degree exist for Sukuk.
However, the Sukuk market has not sold the standard Sukuk product as ethical. Rather, it has treated Sukuk as equivalent to a conventional bond (no better or worse from an ethical perspective), and therefore sought to develop green and socially responsible labels for certain types of Sukuk that mimic the labeling that is required to make a conventional bond ethical.
I believe such labeling of certain Sukuk can have the unfortunate impact of obscuring the ethical nature of the basic Sukuk product and, at the extreme, possibly throwing the social responsibility of most Sukuk into doubt.
In other words, if certain Sukuk are labeled ‘socially responsible Sukuk’, what does that imply about all the Sukuk that do not carry that label?
While I certainly would not advocate against green and other types of labeled Sukuk, I think the Sukuk market needs to spend more time and effort to be clear that such labeled Sukuk are simply a special use of proceeds instruments within a broader universe (ie all Sukuk) that is already ethical in nature.
Such an approach would mirror the one the World Bank takes in the conventional market. The World Bank issues green and other labeled bonds from time to time, but the priority always is to stress the ethical nature of all the issuances.
By focusing on the ethical quality of the Sukuk product itself, I believe Sukuk can best benefit from the ethical investing movement, and take its place, aside green bonds, as an ethical investing success story.
US Sanctions Against Russian Sovereign Debt: Possible Alternatives
The US and the EU have imposed new sanctions against Russia because of the so-called “Navalny case”. The European Union has activated the human rights sanctions mechanism approved by the EU Council in December 2020. On March 2, the EU added four Russian security officials to its sanctions list. The sanctions include a ban on entry to the EU, an assets freeze in the EU and a ban on economic transactions with persons involved in the lists. However, such officials are unlikely to have assets in the EU. Even if they exist, such assets are not significant for the Russian economy. The sanctions were introduced as a reaction to the arrest and then imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, while restrictions on the topic of the alleged poisoning were introduced back in October 2020. At the time, six high-ranking Russian officials and the Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technologies were subject to the restrictions. Such sanctions have zero impact on the Russian economy.
Unlike the EU, the US has refrained from imposing sanctions following the alleged poisoning of the politician last year. However, on March 2, they were introduced, both in connection with the poisoning and in connection with his subsequent arrest. That is, the topics of the use of weapons of mass destruction and human rights violations were combined. The blocking sanctions targeted seven Russian officials who were already affected by EU sanctions, as well as three research institutes. Trade sanctions were imposed against 14 companies. US government agencies have been prohibited from lending to Russia and a ban was introduced on the supply of weapons and on the provision of US financial assistance. These measures have no impact on the economy. These companies are not the backbone of the economy, Russia does not need US help, it does not buy weapons from the United States, and it does not take loans from US government agencies.
However, the new US sanctions are still fraught with uncertainty. The key question is whether the United States is imposing restrictions on Russian sovereign debt obligations. Such a measure could cause more serious damage and have an impact on the world markets.
The prospect of sanctions against Russian government bonds is related to the specifics of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991. Properly it is used as a legal basis for the imposition of sanctions in the event that a country uses chemical weapons (in the US and the EU, it is assumed that Navalny was poisoned with a substance from the Novichok group). The CBW Law envisages the imposition of sanctions in two stages. On March 2, 2021, the first stage was implemented (a ban on aid, military supplies and loans from government agencies). If, within three months after the first stage, the President does not provide Congress with evidence that the target country has not abandoned the use of CBW and has not given reliable guarantees of their non-use in the future, then the second stage of sanctions will be introduced. It is important to note here that guarantees of non-use should be determined by UN inspections or those provided by another international organisation. Obviously, Russia will not give such guarantees and will not allow any inspections. Moreover, according to the statements of the Russian authorities, Russian chemical weapons were destroyed long ago. In other words, the second round of sanctions is inevitable. The CBW Law obliges the US President to impose at least three of the six types of sanctions. The most unpleasant of these is the ban on American banks from lending to the Russian government.
There has already been a precedent for using CBW against Russia. The sanctions were imposed in connection with the Skripals case. In 2018, the first stage was carried out, and in 2019 — the second. It was secured by Donald Trump’s executive order No. 13883. The decree reflected two types of sanctions — a ban on lending to the Russian government and blocking aid through the IMF. Then trade restrictions were added. If the last two measures were symbolic, then the ban on lending potentially had more serious consequences. However, this measure was applied in an extremely limited manner. The ban applied only to Russian government bonds denominated in foreign currencies, while most of them are denominated in rubles. The sanctions also did not affect the debt of Russian state-owned companies.
In general, the issue of sanctions against Russia’s sovereign debt has been raised many times on other occasions. In 2017, within the framework of Art. 242 of PL 115-44 CAATSA, Congress ordered the US Treasury to give an opinion on the appropriateness of such sanctions. Officials noted in their report that such sanctions would hurt Russia, but were also fraught with market fluctuations and costs for American investors. Such sanctions have repeatedly been proposed in sanction bills, including the most famous ones — DASKA and DETER. However, they have never been passed into law. In 2019, the State Department criticised DASKA.
The forthcoming second round of sanctions over the Navalny case will again raise the issue of restrictions on Russian sovereign debt. Two alternatives are possible. The first is the preservation of the existing restrictions already adopted by Trump in 2019, or their cosmetic expansion. The second is a more radical tightening, including bonds denominated in rubles. The second alternative cannot be ruled out, especially if there is another escalation in the Navalny case. If the status quo is maintained, the first option is most likely.
From our partner RIAC
St. Petersburg Forum Offers Unlimited Business Opportunities
The 24th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF’21), unique business forum that is highly expected to bring together politicians, corporate business directors and investors from different parts of the world, is set to take place June 2-5 as the epidemiological situation begins to stabilize in Russia.
That however, the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) with organizers promise everything in its power to ensure that the event is held with all the necessary measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and strictly in compliance with the recommendations given by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Roscongress Foundation, the organizer, says on its website that it has decided to create new infrastructure for comfort and safety of participants in view of the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, PCR test conducted at access to the venues, catering, sanitizing the premises, and providing participants and staff with personal protective equipment.
Thermal imaging control will be provided. Medical stations at the venue provided with the necessary equipment and medicines. There will be ambulances and resuscitation vehicles, including teams of English-speaking doctors. All spaces of the site equipped with air recirculation units and decontamination devices, among other measures for all participants visiting the events in St. Petersburg city.
Hans Kluge, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, together with Anna Popova, Head of Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor), will hold a special briefing for participants on pandemic situation and its control in Russia and around the world.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian local media that President Vladimir Putin plans to take part in the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). “But Putin will be there in person,” Peskov reaffirmed his earlier statement, and further informed that in-person forum will be held in strict accordance with health and safety measures, the president received the first vaccination shot on March 23 and the second on April 14.
Over the years, this forum has strengthened multifaceted business ties, facilitated broadening relations and the development of cultural dialogue between Russia and many foreign countries. According to Roscongress Foundation, a number of foreign countries, keen on making solid business presentations and equally seek partnership opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation, have already registered their participation.
Traditional inter-country business dialogues are planned as part of SPIEF featuring representatives of business communities of Italy, Germany, France, the United States, India, Africa, Finland, Japan, Latin America, Middle East, as well as the EAEU-ASEAN business dialogue. Under the umbrella of SPIEF, international meetings in business room format will be held with the participation of representatives of Roscongress Foundation’s international partners and businesses in the corresponding world regions.
Apart from the main business programme, SPIEF will also host the SME Forum, Youth Economic Forum, SCO, BRICS and ASEAN events, B20 Regional Consultation Forum, Creative Business Forum and Drug Safety and Security Forum, as well as events on Arctic and African agenda.
The central theme of the Forum is A Collective Reckoning of the New Global Economic Reality. The business programme includes more than a hundred events divided into four tracks touching upon the issues of global and Russian economy, as well as social and technological agenda.
Joining Forces to Advance Development is the key track of the business programme. It includes sessions on economic recovery and international cooperation, discussions on Eurasian integration, transformation of global trade, effectiveness of business during the pandemic, global energy market, recovery of food market, and sustainability of national healthcare systems.
The second theme block of the business programme focuses on national development targets, the anti-crisis agenda for strengthening long-term potential of the economy, investment climate in Russian regions, shaping of Russian research and technology space, development of the financial market, creation of circular economy, and functioning of strategically important industries.
Discussions under the New Technology Frontiers track will feature the topics of international cooperation in science, digital sovereignty and information security, healthcare digitalization, tech ethics and others.
The Human Factor in Responding to Global Challenges theme block will talk about cultural codes of the new reality, collaboration in international education projects, and new skills and employment models in a post-COVID world. Moreover, there are sessions on the development of creative industries, sport and education.
The Russian Small and Medium-sized Business Forum is an annual event held as part of SPIEF to discuss the current state of small and medium-sized businesses and measures to enhance their role in the Russian economy. It is, however planned that the focused sessions encompass the key aspects of support and development for small and medium-sized enterprises.
“Small and medium-sized business is the foundation of the economy and a key indicator of the current status of socioeconomic development. As we are looking towards the future, it is essential to develop and implement long-term programmes that will give a new impetus to the development of SMEs,” said Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the Russian President and Executive Secretary of the SPIEF Organizing Committee.
“We plan to discuss all the proposals in details at the SME Forum because they determine how small and medium-sized businesses will thrive in the future. Small and medium business is the largest employer and a guarantor of socioeconomic stability and the dynamic development of society. The development of entrepreneurial education, cooperation among small and big businesses, and the development of youth entrepreneurship, among other issues,” he said.
With a similar view and position, SME Corporation CEO Alexander Isayevich said “Entrepreneurs need to understand how to work in the new economic realities and what support measures the state will continue to provide. In addition, it is crucial for entrepreneurs to have high-quality non-financial services. The sessions, attended by a wide range of experts, will help to find optimal solutions not only for the SME sector, but also for the entire economy. We always advocate an open dialogue with business, as this is the principle that underlies our new development strategy.”
As part of Youth Day programme, the most promising undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as young scientists from Russia’s leading universities and scientific organizations will participate in the St. Petersburg Forum.
“It has become a good tradition for talented young scientists and students to take part in SPIEF, it is a leading business event that brings together unique experts from all areas of the economy. Participation opens up limitless opportunities for young people to exchange experience and gain new knowledge,” said Andrey Fursenko, Aide to the President of the Russian Federation.
There will also be large-scale different cultural events. For instance, Qatar plans an exhibition – “Qatar between Land and Sea, Art and Legacy” – this exhibition is a great opportunity for people from around the world to explore the very precious elements of the Qatari and Middle Eastern tradition and lifestyle, such as handmade carpets and artifacts, pearls, and antique jewelry, which makes it a magical journey through history.
St. Petersburg forum is highly-considered as an important step forward in developing and strengthening investment‑related collaboration. As one of the biggest economic forums in Russia, it yearly gathers several thousands of participants, including representatives of ministries and government bodies, financial and investment organizations, startups, and tech and innovation companies, and representatives of the media.
Despite the adjustments made due to the pandemic, there are for all participants interesting and useful initiatives for comprehensive interaction as the key objective is to create opportunities and friendly conditions to consolidate links between Russia and the world.
About the SPIEF’21 Organizer: Roscongress Foundation is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of international conventions and exhibitions; and business, public, sporting, and cultural events. It was established in pursuance of a decision by the President of the Russian Federation.
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