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The Return of Good Policies for Bad Reasons: Populism and Industrial Policy

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Throughout the most of human evolution both progress as well as its horizontal transmission was extremely slow, occasional and tedious a process. Well into the classic period of Alexander the Macedonian and his glorious Alexandrian library, the speed of our knowledge transfers – however moderate, analogue and conservative – was still always surpassing snaillike cycles of our breakthroughs. When our sporadic breakthroughs finally turned to be faster than the velocity of their infrequent transmissions – that very event marked a point of our departure.

Simply, our civilizations started to significantly differentiate from each other in their respective techno-agrarian, politico-military, ethno-religious and ideological, and economic setups. In the eve of grand discoveries, the faster cycles of technological breakthroughs, patents and discoveries than their own transfers, primarily occurred on the Old continent.

That occurancy, with all its reorganizational effects, radically reconfigured societies – to the point of polarizing world onto the two: leaders and followers” – noted prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic in his luminary book Europe, 100 years later.

Will we ever close our technological and spiritual gap, physically and psychologically? Following lines are an interesting take on the topic. 

The world is at a unique moment.  People are disillusioned with the status quo. We are on the brink of a paradigm shift that could transform our political and economic realities. Industrial policy has a unique opportunity to re-assert itself as an alternative way of managing an economy that is responsive to the desires and aspirations of society. Industrial policy experts must be careful, however, not to pander to the fascist winds brewing as this could spell demise for the discipline and the world.

For decades, countries have operated under the assumption that there is no alternative to market fundamentalism. Described by many as “neoliberalism,” market fundamentalism calls for a one-size-fits-all approach to economic policy. All countries, but particularly developing countries, were told to abide by the three sacred tenants: liberalize, privatize and deregulate. In this context, industrial policy was actively discouraged if not straight-up prohibited. However, the tide seems to be changing.

We have recently seen populist uprisings in the two countries that were the chief architects of neoliberalism, the United States and United Kingdom, with people and politicians actively disavowing the free market consensus of the proceeding decades. This explicit flirtation with economic protectionism by these ideological giants, presents an opportunity for developing countries to openly question free trade and experiment with alternative economic policy approaches that are more in line with their societal priorities and objectives. The danger is however, that the world will emulate the scapegoating, separatist and authoritarian rhetoric being articulated by the likes of Donald Trump and Marie Le Pen to legitimize the use of more interventionalist economic policies.

Reminiscent of Karl Polanyi’s description of the “double-movement” in the inter-war period, we are witnessing a yearning for social and political instruments to temper the inequality, instability and degradation wrought by decades of market fundamentalist policies. Industrial policy experts, having a deep understanding of the failings of an unruly free market system, are in an ideal position to advice governments disillusioned with Chicago School policy prescriptions. As space opens for new economic approaches, industrial policy can position itself as a more “hands on” and socially-responsive form of economic management. The danger is that industrial policy inherently implies a more powerful role of government in economic affairs, and therefore can just as easily be used to support authoritarian ambitions.

At the time of writing in the post-war period, Polanyi saw the “double-movement” manifesting in Europe in two extreme forms: Fascism and Socialism. In looking at the recent US elections we could easily see how the two populist candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders fit into these polar categorizations. Both candidates appealed to economic protectionism but for very different reasons. Trump criticized free trade in order to further an aggressive foreign policy agenda and assert US dominance. While Sanders called for protectionist measures to help reduce social inequality and re-industrialize the economy. The clear danger here is that the same protectionist policies could be employed for either political agenda but if industrial policy becomes aligned with the fascist movements underway it will ultimately be discredited forever.

At this pivotal junction in history, industrial policy experts must not become drunk with the prospect of re-legitimation and bolster political movements that propagate messages of conspiracist scapegoating and cultural superiority. We must use industrial policy to support our global community to stand together as they critically reflect on the failures of market fundamentalism. It is time to creatively envision new forms of economic organization that can deliver on society’s desire for greater dignity and security. The old economic consensus is out. The question is whether industrial policy can articulate a persuasive alternative that re-empowers governments to mold and direct their economies without instigating a trade war that will bring more harm than good.

(Early version of this text appeared in the UNIDO magazine Making It )

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How America Is Crushing Europe

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America creates, imposes, and enforces the sanctions against Russia, which are forcing up energy-prices in Europe, and are thereby driving Europe’s corporations to move to America, where taxes, safety-and-environmental regulations, and the rights of labor, are far lower, and so profits will be far higher for the investors. Furthermore, America can supply its own energy. Therefore, supply-chains are less dicey in the U.S. than in Europe. There is less and less reason now for a firm to be doing anything in Europe except selling to Europeans, who are becoming increasingly desperate to get whatever they can afford to buy, now that Russia, which had been providing the lowest-cost energy and other commodities, is being strangled out of European markets, by the sanctions. Money can move even when its owner can’t. The European public will now be left farther and farther behind as Europe’s wealth flees — mainly to America (whose Government had created this capital-flight of Europe’s wealth).

Europe’s leaders have cooperated with America’s leaders, to cause this European decline (by joining, instead of rejecting, America’s sanctions against Russia), but Germany’s companies can also enjoy significant benefits from relocating or expanding in America. Germany’s business daily newspaper, Handlelsblatt, reported, on September 25th, “More and more German companies are expanding their locations in North America: Washington attracts German companies with cheap energy and low taxes. This applies above all to the southern states. Berlin is alarmed – and wants to take countermeasures.” (Original: “Immer mehr deutsche Unternehmen bauen ihre Standorte in Nordamerika aus: Washington lockt deutsche Firmen mit billiger Energie und niedrigen Steuern. Das gilt vor allem für die Südstaaten. Berlin ist alarmiert – und will gegensteuern.”) It says that “Numerous German companies are planning to set up or expand their U.S. locations. … U.S. states such as Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma, show increasing interest” in offering special inducements for these firms to relocate, or to at least expand, their production in the U.S. For example, Pat Wilson, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, tells German companies that, “Our energy costs are low, and the networks are stable. … Companies coming to Georgia [from Germany] are reducing their carbon footprint.” Considering that one of the major reasons why Germany’s Government is squeezing-out Russia’s fuel-supplies (other than to ‘support democracy in Ukraine’, etc.) is that those Russian supplies are fossil fuels, an important benefit by which America can attract European firms (even on the basis of ‘Green’ arguments) is by advertising bigger ‘energy efficiency’ than in Europe — not necessarily in a strictly environmental sense, but definitely in the bottom-line sense, of lowered energy-costs, since America’s regulations are far less strict than in the EU. 

Also on the 25th, the Irish Examiner bannered “European industry buckles under weight of soaring energy prices: Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker, warned last week that it could reallocate production out of Germany and eastern Europe if energy prices don’t come down.”

Also on the 25th, Oil Price dot com headlined “Europe Faces An Exodus Of Energy-Intensive Industries”, and mentioned especially that “the U.S. Steel giant ArcelorMittal said earlier this month that it would slash by half production at a steel mill in Germany and a unit at another plant, also in Germany. The company said it had based the decision on high gas prices. … ArcelorMittal earlier this year announced it had plans to expand a Texas operation.”

On September 26th, the New York Times bannered “Factory Jobs Are Booming Like It’s the 1970s: U.S. manufacturing is experiencing a rebound, with companies adding workers amid high consumer demand for products.” In total, “As of August this year, manufacturers had added back about 1.43 million jobs, a net gain of 67,000 workers above prepandemic levels.” And this is only the start of America’s re-industrialization and economic recovery, because the hemorrhaging of jobs from Europe has only just begun. These German firms are getting in on the ground floor in America, leaving Europe’s workers behind, to swim or sink on their own (the ones that can).

Also on September 26th, Thomas Fazi at unherd dot com headlined “The EU is sleepwalking into anarchy: Its sanctions are crippling the bloc’s working class”, and documented that this hollowing-out of Europe’s economies is being experienced the most by Europe’s lower economic classes, who are the least capable of dealing with it but are being abandoned by the higher-wealth group, the investors, who are sending their money abroad, like banana-republic oligarchs do, and who might easily relocate themselves there too. 

On September 19th, the New York Times headlined “‘Crippling’ Energy Bills Force Europe’s Factories to Go Dark: Manufacturers are furloughing workers and shutting down lines because they can’t pay the gas and electric charges.” For example, a major employer in northern France, Arc International glass factory, doesn’t know whether they will survive: “Nicholas Hodler, the chief executive, surveyed the assembly line, shimmering blue with natural gas flames [gas that came from Russia and that now costs ten times as much as just a year ago]. For years, Arc had been powered by cheap energy that helped turn the company into the world’s largest producer of glass tableware. … But the impact of Russia’s abrupt cutoff of gas to Europe [forced by the sanctions] has doused the business with new risks. Energy prices have climbed so fast that Mr. Hodler has had to rewrite business forecasts six times in two months. Recently, he put a third of Arc’s 4,500 employees on partial furlough to save money. Four of the factory’s nine furnaces will be idled; the others will be switched from natural gas to diesel, a cheaper but more polluting fuel.” The “Green” Parties throughout Europe, such as in the persons of Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, and Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck, had led the European movement against importing Russian fuels, and could turn out to have led Europe actually to increase its carbon footprint, if the end result turns out to be to switch to more coal and diesel fuels, as they now are doing.

It could not have happened without the leaderships both in America and in Europe, who are leading the way for Europe’s economies to decline, and for America’s to boom from this — attracting more and more investors, and their investments, into America, from the U.S. regime’s vassal-nations (such as Germany and France), especially in the EU and NATO (these new banana-republics). The beneficiaries of all this are not only America’s weapons-manufacturing firms, such as Lockheed Martin, and extraction firms such as ExxonMobil, that are growing because of the plunge in Europe that’s due to Europe’s cutting itself off from the cheap energy that it had formerly enjoyed. The future is opening up again, for investors in the United States. It’s come-one, come-all, to investors from Europe, and leaving everyone else in Europe simply to sink, if they can’t get out. 

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The Historic Day of Euro’s Downfall

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The date August 22 should be remembered as the day of the euro’s “official” downfall. After a long period of being one of the foremost currencies, the euro has now become cheaper than the U.S. dollar.

When the euro first came into existence, it fell sharply against the dollar. In 1999, the year that the currency came into existence, EUR 1 traded for USD 1.18. On October 26, 2000, the euro fell to a then-record low of USD 0.8228. However, it then appeared to have begun to experience a period of recovery. By early 2001, the euro had risen to USD 0.96. Then, it entered a period of relatively minor decline, with the lowest being USD 0.834 on July 6, 2001, after which the euro gained a firm footing.

The currency that had shown strength against the dollar at the start of this century. On July 15, 2002, the euro began to be close to 1:1 against the dollar. By the end of 2002, it reached USD 1.04 and then continued to soar. On May 23, 2003, for the first time, the euro surpassed the high of USD 1.18, the day when it was launched. This was a key turning point as it continued to rise since then.

The euro broke through USD 1.35 on December 24, 2004. On December 30, 2004, it hit USD 1.3668, a record high during that period. On August 13, 2007, it reached USD 1.37. On November 23, 2007, it was USD 1.49. Then, on April 22 and July 15, 2008, it reached its all-time high of USD 1.60 twice. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, when the euro entered a period of shocks, it still showed strong vitality. On February 8, 2014, EUR 1 at that time could trade for USD 1.3631.

Undeniably, the euro in the past was a rather strong currency in the world market, and it affected the economy and wealth of roughly 500 million people. However, during that time, the euro mainly benefited from the fact that interest rates in Europe were more attractive than that in the United States. This has all but changed now, as the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates continuously. The current interest rate level has far exceeded that of the pre-COVID-19 one. Fiscal deficits too, play a role in the euro’s decline. The U.S. fiscal deficit has long been a major problem. There have been numerous speculations that the scale of the U.S. debt would kill off its economy, yet this does not happen to this day. Hence, the debt of the U.S. government is not regarded as an absolute negative factor as it did in the past.

Europe is similar to the U.S. in many aspects. Whether it is the energy crisis or inflation, the problems felt by the U.S. are present in Europe too. However, Europe is currently experiencing the most tragic war in history after World War II, i.e., the war in Ukraine. On the basis of geopolitics, this war has fundamentally shaken the foundation of the euro. Although the euro will continue to fluctuate up and down against the dollar, the trend will undoubtedly be downward. Geopolitics has made the euro completely lost its advantages compared to the dollar. This is because the entire Europe itself is in a precarious state, close to losing its dominance over the European continent. Now, Europe can only assume a mere supporting role on the global geopolitical stage, no longer a protagonist.

The result of this is frightful. Euro is the most important symbol of the European Union, an aspiration of the EU for its future. It is not exaggerating to say that any major depreciation of the euro would signify the same for Europe as a whole. All euro assets will become worthless when that happens. As things stand, European lawmakers, intentionally or not, have ignored a crucial factor in deciding the fate of the euro, namely geopolitics. Its fundamentals have now been shaken, and it is no longer a reliable currency, but a risky one.

If the war represents the present, what will the future of the euro be?

Currency has a lot to do with credibility. The countries that are the main supporting pillars of the euro, such as France and Germany, have their real competency and moral level in regard to European affairs, being exposed in the recent war. This has severely hit the credibility of the euro. In the worst-case scenario, the two old European countries, France and Germany, will almost certainly request the U.S. for energy support in the future, and possibly even some kind of financial aid in extreme cases. Therefore, in the face of the weak prospect of the euro, it is completely understandable that these two European countries, which are the main countries of the euro, seem to be powerless and indifferent.

All in all, the realist attitude of France and Germany towards the war in Ukraine will only exacerbate the depreciation of the euro, and there is no other possibility. It is unfortunate that the politicians of these two countries have not only sold themselves to a certain extent, but they have also actually sold the future of Europe.

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Risk of Global Recession in 2023 Rises Amid Simultaneous Rate Hikes

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As central banks across the world simultaneously hike interest rates in response to inflation, the world may be edging toward a global recession in 2023 and a string of financial crises in emerging market and developing economies that would do them lasting harm, according to a comprehensive new study by the World Bank.

Central banks around the world have been raising interest rates this year with a degree of synchronicity not seen over the past five decades—a trend that is likely to continue well into next year, according to the report. Yet the currently expected trajectory of interest-rate increases and other policy actions may not be sufficient to bring global inflation back down to levels seen before the pandemic. Investors expect central banks to raise global monetary-policy rates to almost 4 percent through 2023—an increase of more than 2 percentage points over their 2021 average.

Unless supply disruptions and labor-market pressures subside, those interest-rate increases could leave the global core inflation rate (excluding energy) at about 5 percent in 2023—nearly double the five-year average before the pandemic, the study finds. To cut global inflation to a rate consistent with their targets, central banks may need to raise interest rates by an additional 2 percentage points, according to the report’s model. If this were accompanied by financial-market stress, global GDP growth would slow to 0.5 percent in 2023—a 0.4 percent contraction in per–capita terms that would meet the technical definition of a global recession.

“Global growth is slowing sharply, with further slowing likely as more countries fall into recession. My deep concern is that these trends will persist, with long-lasting consequences that are devastating for people in emerging market and developing economies,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. To achieve low inflation rates, currency stability and faster growth, policymakers could shift their focus from reducing consumption to boosting production. Policies should seek to generate additional investment and improve productivity and capital allocation, which are critical for growth and poverty reduction.”

The study highlights the unusually fraught circumstances under which central banks are fighting inflation today. Several historical indicators of global recessions are already flashing warnings. The global economy is now in its steepest slowdown following a post-recession recovery since 1970. Global consumer confidence has already suffered a much sharper decline than in the run-up to previous global recessions. The world’s three largest economies—the United States, China, and the euro area—have been slowing sharply. Under the circumstances, even a moderate hit to the global economy over the next year could tip it into recession.

The study relies on insights from previous global recessions to analyze the recent evolution of economic activity and presents scenarios for 2022–24. A slowdown—such that the one now underway—typically calls for countercyclical policy to support activity. However, the threat of inflation and limited fiscal space are spurring policymakers in many countries to withdraw policy support even as the global economy slows sharply.

The experience of the 1970s, the policy responses to the 1975 global recession, the subsequent period of stagflation, and the global recession of 1982 illustrate the risk of allowing inflation to remain elevated for long while growth is weak. The 1982 global recession coincided with the second-lowest growth rate in developing economies over the past five decades, second only to 2020. It triggered more than 40 debt crises] and was followed by a decade of lost growth in many developing economies.

“Recent tightening of monetary and fiscal policies will likely prove helpful in reducing inflation,” said Ayhan Kose, the World Bank’s Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions. “But because they are highly synchronous across countries, they could be mutually compounding in tightening financial conditions and steepening the global growth slowdown. Policymakers in emerging market and developing economies need to stand ready to manage the potential spillovers from globally synchronous tightening of policies.”

Central banksshould persist in their efforts to control inflation—and it can be done without touching off a global recession, the study finds. But it will require concerted action by a variety of policymakers:

Central banks must communicate policy decisions clearly while safeguarding their independence. This could help anchor inflation expectations and reduce the degree of tightening needed. In advanced economies, central banks should keep in mind the cross-border spillover effects of monetary tightening. In emerging market and developing economies, they should strengthen macroprudential regulations and build foreign-exchange reserves. 

Fiscal authorities will need to carefully calibrate the withdrawal of fiscal support measures while ensuring consistency with monetary-policy objectives. The fraction of countries tightening fiscal policies next year is expected to reach its highest level since the early 1990s. This could amplify the effects of monetary policy on growth. Policymakers should also put in place credible medium-term fiscal plans and provide targeted relief to vulnerable households.

Other economic policymakers will need to join in the fight against inflation—particularly by taking strong steps to boost global supply. These include: 

  o  Easing labor-market constraints. Policy measures need to help increase labor-force participation and reduce price pressures. Labor-market policies can facilitate the reallocation of displaced workers.  

  o  Boosting the global supply of commodities. Global coordination can go a long way in increasing food and energy supply. For energy commodities, policymakers should accelerate the transition to low–carbon energy sources and introduce measures to reduce energy consumption. 

  o  Strengthening global trade networks. Policymakers should cooperate to alleviate global supply bottlenecks. They should support a rules-based international economic order, one that guards against the threat of protectionism and fragmentation that could further disrupt trade networks.

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