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Crossing the chasm: Economics and economic policy

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Contemporary economists the world over are trained in textbooks that are overwhelmingly American in thought and methods.

The conclusions of standard textbooks are straightforward; the market must be free in order to achieve resource allocation efficiency, the political economy must be anchored in privatization, liberalization, globalization and the smaller the government the better.

And it’s almost a cardinal sin for any advocacy for state planning, state owned enterprises, industrial policy, regional development, export development, and foreign direct investment (FDI) development programming, etc.

And if these state interventions are not eliminated and free market institutions installed or restored, the economies involved will run the risk of collapsing under the weight of state intervention and inefficiency. If China has not collapsed yet then it is collapsing soon – just ask Gordon Chang! (He made the prediction in 2001 and has since been changing his expected timing of the coming collapse of China!)

These are the same advice that orthodox economists have doled out to countries in Africa, Latin America and China for that matter. Absence of adherence to these policy prescriptions, the economies involved are predicted to be leading to underdevelopment, or even if by chance economic development does take hold, the end results would still be the same: rampant corruption, inequality of income distribution, environmental degradation, and unhealthy economic speculations and bubbles of all sorts especially in real estates.

By this line of argument, it appears that liberal political economy is the cause that determines economic prosperity. In other words, if Western, or to be more precise, American style political economy is made to prevail then economic development will take off. But there is no evidence for that. In fact, the reverse is more likely. All present day developed countries have gone through periods of corruption, primitive socio-economic inequality, environmental degradation, unproductive speculations, protectionism and/or colonizing others in the case of European powers, on their path to sustainable economic development. Evidence for this latter hypothesis has been convincingly presented in two books by two distinguished economists; Brad DeLong of UC Berkeley in Concrete Economics and Ha-Joon Chang of the University of Cambridge in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism.

China is a classic case in point. The country is a one-party state and obviously not a liberal democracy, the government is heavily involved in the economy, state owned enterprises (SOE) account for about 30% to 40% of the country’s GDP and 20% of total employment, party cells are embedded in SOE’s and many institutions, and Marxism is still being promoted at least nominally. All these, from a Western liberal perspective, point to a scenario of the worst of all worlds as far as economic development is concerned.

But is it true?

Take the case of the Philippines, it was a colony of the US and has taken much heavier doses of liberal economic policy remedies longer than China, the same goes for many Latin American countries. And Ukraine and Russia both pursued liberalization of their economies way more thoroughly than China. But what happened to these economies compared to China is beyond dispute! In fact, the two most populous countries on earth – China and India – unlike others, have leveraged state economic planning for their mixed economies for economic growth with significant achievements. In the case of India,  state owned enterprises account for 45% of the manufacturing sector, followed by services (35%), energy (12%), and mining (8%).

I started this paper by questioning the conclusions of standard economics textbooks on economic development. But my argument in this essay is not to promote state owned enterprises either. I simply use the cases of China, India and others to highlight my main argument that economic development policy must be based on real life economics and not on ideological beliefs; be it left or right. Here’s what I think economic policy should be based on.

First of all, market does not dictate resource allocations but company management does. Corporations when faced with challenges and opportunities make their choices of what to avoid and what to pursue. This is the essence of the Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase’s well known “The Nature of the Firm” argument that if market is so efficient why you would need companies.

Economic theory concerns itself with modelling the relationship between inputs and outputs but has nothing to say about how inputs get grinded into outputs.This explains why the public sector has been the driving force in China’s early economic reforms. Because after a long period of absence from private enterprise operations (from 1949 to early 1980’s), the public sector was the only place where management talents could be found. Deng Xiaoping’s gradualism in market and ownership reforms colloquially termed “touching the stones to cross the river” in Chinese was the right call for China.

Secondly, “market” does not exist in a vacuum. Contrary to conventional wisdom, “market” is more a public good than a private good. An above-ground market exists because of government acting as the enforcer of rules and regulations. Similarly, an underground market exists because one or a group of gangsters acting as enforcers of underground rules and regulations.

Last but not least, market and government are not mutually exclusive and they affect and influence each other. Market does not come into being naturally. Market is created. The existence of market depends on political stability, societal trust and the availability and refinement of social and physical infrastructures. This latter point has been particularly documented in Mariana Mazzucato’s research that reveals that “every technology that makes the iPhone so ‘smart’ was government funded: the Internet, GPS, its touch-screen display and the voice-activated Siri.”

Academic economists enjoy the beauty of economic theories the same way that mathematicians enjoy the beauty of mathematics, or philosophers enjoy the beauty of logical arguments in their quest for “truth”. These are worthwhile pursuits because they are beautiful in and of themselves.

But we should not get carried away by extending too far economic theories into economic practice.

Professor of economics and strategy Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Ontario, Canada.

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Reskilling Revolution: Leaders Preparing 1 Billion People for Tomorrow’s Economy

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Investing broadly in the skills of the future for both today’s and tomorrow’s next-generation workforce could add an additional $8.3 trillion in increased productivity to the global economy by 2030.

The Reskilling Revolution initiative, a coalition of 50 CEOs, 25 ministers and 350 organizations committed to realizing these gains for their economies, societies and organizations, marked two years of progress at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos today. Their work will benefit over 100 million workers on their journey towards reaching 1 billion people by 2030 with better education, skills and economic opportunity.

Accelerating the Reskilling Revolution

Global inequities in lifelong learning and childhood education, a pandemic that closed schools and workplaces and rapid technological change are highlighting the need to double down on reskilling, upskilling and the future of learning. The Reskilling Revolution initiative, launched at the World Economic Forum’s 50th Annual Meeting in January 2020, is working to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and economic opportunity by 2030.

At its heart is a commitment from over 50 CEOs to inspire global business leadership on the upskilling, reskilling and human capital investment agenda. By working together with a growing network of national-level country accelerators launched to date in 12 countries – Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Greece, India, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, with knowledge support from Denmark, Finland, Singapore and Switzerland – the Reskilling Revolution has mobilized a multistakeholder community of over 350 organizations across 12 countries and is on track to benefit 100 million people on its journey towards 1 billion.

“In an era of multiple disruptions to the labour market – the pandemic, supply chain changes, the green transition, technological transformation – the one ‘no regret’ investment all governments and business can make is in education, reskilling and upskilling. It is the best pathway to expanding opportunity, enhancing social mobility and accelerating future growth,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

Enabling Education 4.0

Two years into its work the initiative will expand beyond adult reskilling and upskilling and integrate a focus on education for children and youth. These efforts will be taken forward by a new Education 4.0 Alliance, bringing together 20 leading education organizations at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2022.

A new report from the project, Catalysing Education 4.0 Investing in the Future of Learning for a Human-Centric Recovery, focuses on preparing today’s generation of school-age children with better collaborative problem-solving that could add $2.54 trillion – over $3,000 per school-age child – from this one skill alone.

The report, developed with support from the LEGO Foundation and in consultation with leading education experts from the public, private and educational sectors, finds that investment in the skills of the future for primary and secondary school learners would create an additional $489 billion in Europe, $458 billion in South Asia, $333 billion in East Asia, $332 billion in Latin America, $266 billion in the Middle East, $235 billion in North America, $179 billion in sub-Saharan Africa, and $163 billion in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, China ($356 billion), the United States ($218 billion), Brazil ($143 billion), Mexico ($80 billion) and Italy ($72 billion) are the five countries standing to gain the most, while the benefits relative to the size of their economies today would be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

To unlock this education transformation, the Education 4.0 initiative will focus on three key investment areas: new assessment mechanisms; adoption of new learning technologies; and empowerment of the teaching workforce.

Expanding the Accelerator network

Complementing the Skills Accelerators, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting also featured the official launch of the first school-age focused Education 4.0 Accelerator, a national-level public-private collaboration platform for action. The Education Accelerators – complementing a network of successful Closing the Skills Gap Accelerators – aim to mainstream technology-enhanced learning experiences, implement new measurement mechanisms, empower educators and mobilize investment in the sector.

Bangladesh will be the first country to pioneer this new model in Asia. Dipu Moni, Minister of Education, Bangladesh, said: “Bangladesh is committed to ensuring high-quality education for all children and youth. We are delighted to partner with the World Economic Forum to launch the first Education Accelerator in South Asia and to be part of this global network to advance the Education 4.0 agenda.”

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Sanctions against Russia: do they have any point?

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It’s hard to recall a day since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine when there was no mentioning about new sanctions being imposed against Russia. On May 9th, the EU announced that it had almost finished preparations for the sixth package of sanctions, and rumors on the Internet are already mentioning the seventh.

What are sanctions?

In brief, sanctions are a list of political and economic decisions applied by states and organizations in order to protect national interests, international law, and defense from threats to international peace and security. As a rule, they are temporary and are removed when the cause/threat has been eliminated.

According to the EU’s official website, “Restrictive measures (sanctions) are an essential tool in the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP), through which the EU can intervene where necessary to prevent conflict or respond to emerging or current crises. In spite of their colloquial name ‘sanctions’, EU restrictive measures are not punitive. They are intended to bring about a change in policy or activity by targeting non-EU countries, as well as entities and individuals, responsible for the malign behaviour at stake.”[1]

How many sanctions have been imposed against Russia in total?

On May 8th, the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Volodin shared a post on his Telegram channel that “10 128 sanctions have been imposed against our country. More than against any other state in the entire history of their existence.”[2] From this number, 2,754 were introduced in the period from 2014 (the Crimean issue) and before the beginning of the special operation in Ukraine.[3] The rest – more than seven thousand – were introduced in a short three-month period. According to The Castellum.AI, a service which takes a record of sanctions and updates weekly, as of May 9, their number has already exceeded 7,600, making Russia the state with the largest number of sanctions imposed. For comparison: 3,161 sanctions have been imposed against Iran, 2,608 – against Syria, and 2,077 – against North Korea.[4] Other states can “boast” with the list containing less than 1,000 sanctions. Thus, in a short period of time, Russia not only got on the list of sanctioned countries, but also topped it.

The sanctions have affected almost every sector of Russia – from individuals, which list already counts numbers in the hundreds, to the spheres of energy, economy, trade… The enumeration can go on for a long time. It can be said that there is practically not a single area left that wasn’t affected by sanctions: for example, one of the articles published by the Atlantic Council had the heading “What’s left to sanction in Russia?” And yet, at almost all the examples given, it is mentioned that sanctions have already been imposed in this area.[5]

So is there anything else that can be included in the sanctions lists? The question itself is good, but alas – it will take quite a long time to search for the answer: sanctions are already everywhere.

So is there any point in sanctions?

This is quite an interesting question, although in this situation it would be more accurate to say that sanctions have not only a point, but also consequences.

As it was mentioned above, sanctions are usually temporary, but Russia has been living with almost 3,000 sanctions imposed against it for more than 8 years. Has it brought any tangible results in influencing Russia? No. Have those who introduced them achieved the result what they had introduced those sanctions for? No. Have these sanctions been lifted? No. Therefore, is there any point in imposing them on Russia? The answer is still the same – no, because as it can be observed,  these sanctions are in the list of existing ones, and Russia still continues to exist, quite successfully adapting to them. And there are a lot of sanctions – 2,754 (for the period before the Ukrainian issue), but the thing is that the country against which they were introduced does not complain about its size and capabilities either.

There is a point in sanctions, and first of all – for Russia.

Following numerous bans on the export of various kinds of products, as well as the departure of many companies operating in various fields, the Russian government introduced a number of measures to support different areas, and which have already started to show positive results. According to Rosstat, several sectors of the Russian economy showed positive dynamics as soon as measures were introduced (compare to the same period of 2021): the mining industry grew by 7.8%, energy, heat and gas supply – by 1.5%, water supply and waste disposal – by 7.2%.[6] There is also an increase in the food sector – by 1.1%, and medical production increased by as much as 46.8% compared to March 2021, and turned out to be 9.1% higher than in February 2022. As Rosstat data shows, according to a preliminary estimate of the country’s GDP for the 1st quarter 2022, there is a positive growth of 103.5% compared to the same period last year.[7] The Economist noted that “as imports slide and exports hold up, Russia is running a record trade surplus.”[8] The Institute of International Finance estimates that “in 2022 the current-account surplus, which includes trade and some financial flows, could come in at $250bn (15% of last year’s gdp), more than double the $120bn recorded in 2021”. As a result, the world sees that rather than damaging Russia, sanctions are contributing to its strengthening. [9]

The consequences of the sanctions, however, were faced not only by Russia and Belarus (which also got quite an amount of them because of good relations with Russia), but also by the rest of the world, including even the part that had nothing to do with this issue. And the consequences of those 7 thousand+ recently imposed sanctions are especially severe.

Some countries are already complaining about food shortages, as their supplies have been seriously reduced due to sanctions. People are dissatisfied with the increase of prices for various products and goods, but this is caused by the increase of fuel prices – which people are also dissatisfied with. Shocks and turmoil in the social and economic sectors started to affect the political situation both within countries and their international policies, as they have to choose whether to join the sanctions or try to stay away.

Why “try”?

Even at the first weeks of the conflict, the United States were seen trying to put pressure on states to either join the sort of “sanctions coalition” or stay away, preventing any attempts to help Russia. As it turned out, one of these countries was China: back in April 2022, the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that the sanctions imposed against Russia should give China (and President Xi personally) an idea of the consequences that it could face in case of providing assistance to Russia: “<it> gives President Xi, I think, a pretty good understanding of what might come his way should he, in fact, support Putin in any material fashion.”[10] If there was an attempt to put pressure on China, which is far from being the last figure in the international arena, then what can be said about other states – especially European ones?

Hungary is now becoming one of the stumbling blocks, as it refuses to support sanctions with regard to the embargo on fuel imports. According to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, it will be equal to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy, since it simply will not have time to adapt – it will take at least five years and a large number of investments. Nevertheless, he noted that Hungary is ready for negotiations – if the proposals are consistent with the interests of the state.[11] However, according to information, a video conference between Ursula von der Leyen and Viktor Orban, held on Monday last week, did not lead to a compromise, thus delaying the adoption of the sixth – the heaviest, according to EU representatives – package of sanctions.[12] Against this background, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressed the opinion that the sixth package of sanctions could be adopted in a reduced form, since “we must observe unity in the EU.”[13]

So…what can be expected in the future?


[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/international-relations/restrictive-measures-sanctions/overview-sanctions-and-related-tools_en

[2] https://t.me/vv_volodin/427

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/international-relations/restrictive-measures-sanctions/sanctions-adopted-following-russias-military-aggression-against-ukraine_en

[4] https://www.castellum.ai/russia-sanctions-dashboard

[5] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/whats-left-to-sanction-in-russia-wallets-stocks-and-foreign-investments/

[6] https://rosstat.gov.ru/folder/313/document/163079

[7] https://rosstat.gov.ru/folder/313/document/165370

[8] https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/05/13/russia-is-on-track-for-a-record-trade-surplus

[9] https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/05/13/russia-is-on-track-for-a-record-trade-surplus

[10] https://www.reuters.com/world/us-says-china-could-face-sanctions-if-it-supports-russias-war-ukraine-2022-04-06/

[11] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/hungary-cannot-support-new-eu-sanctions-against-russia-present-form-pm-orban-2022-05-06/

[12] https://www.ft.com/content/abba000b-992a-45a3-941a-3616e335ccc5

[13] https://tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/14676015?utm_source=yandex.ru&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=yandex.ru&utm_referrer=yandex.ru

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Anglo-American Axis Needs Common Market, not Common Alliance

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With the eruption of the war in Ukraine, and considering the post-war situation, the alliance system in the West and its future should be something worthy of concern.

Anglo-American Axis is a concept that I proposed well before Brexit, and such an axis has already been fully formed today. With Brexit, the United Kingdom is now no longer part of the continental European alliance. It has instead re-aligned with the United States, and reverted to being a maritime nation that it used to be.

Such an axis would not be moved by the independence inclination of France, the wish of Germany to become the leader, nor the ambition of Turkey to be a regional hegemon. It cares even less about countries like Israel, Iran, and India. What the Anglo-American Axis focuses is to control the high ground of fundamental values, so that it can win the historic future as long as civilization continues to progress. Wars in other regions do not carry much significance to it. For NATO to play a role, it must negotiate conditions with the United States. It is not the Anglo-American Axis that needs NATO, but that NATO needs the Anglo-American Axis.

The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the former members of the Commonwealth, have formed the largest single market in the world, with a coordinated monetary policy for the U.S. dollar and British pound. Such a market can consider certain African and South American countries, as long as they remain stable, and this usually means some “friendly dictatorships with open economies”, similar to Chile in the past.

Civilization is a dynamic force. Although many have studied monetary issues and finance, they fail to link these with civilization. In fact, these are appendages of civilization, and they are products of it. Humanity will inevitably move towards civilization.

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