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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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WEF 2020: A Blank Check on Climate Change Costs

Naseem Javed

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At the WEF Davos 2020, is there already a blank check issued from stakeholder capitalists to Greta Thunberg to go and fix global climate damages? If not, too bad…just relax full payment may be coming.

First some facts; big and small governments have no money, big businesses have no money, what disappears in heavenly bushes of the paradise-accounting always stays there. The world is basically broke to fix this monumental problem; broke it’s mentally and crushed morally, broke is also the global populace, exhausted and restless, unless their survival on sustenance, equality and social justice not addressed at much faster rate over populism mobs may appear.

The Blank Check: Enters the five million small medium businesses of the world; a super economic force to reckon with on platform economy.

In broader strokes, as a simple example, The United States Business Administration, the SBA has some 13 million small medium size enterprises as members. Now imagine, if five million of such enterprises, already doing USD$2-5 million in annual turnover were placed on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism to boost special skills on innovative excellence to produce exportable quality. Now imagine if each one added only one-million in additional revenue to their current operations what will happen, basic math. Five million small enterprises times one million new revenue each equals 5,000,000 x 1,000,000 = 1,000,000,000,000 or one trillion.

Now imagine, if there were 25 million such enterprises scattered across the world, each adding two million dollars as a base per year that will be 50 trillion dollars… or 10 five times the revenue of the world’s five largest and most powerful technology companies. This is a wake-up call to exhausted economies. These operations are less new funding dependant they are execution hungry and deployment starved.

There are some 100 million SME in such mix around the world; if mobilized on national entrepreneurial platforms would have enough strength to help and fix local community issues, as entrepreneurs by their DNA are cause centric and will take care of such global climate issues, unlike short term shareholders on money schemes. The lack of discussion on SME revival are main reason, such silence proves lack of vision and global-age knowledge on entrepreneurial transformation and most importantly about global consumption and how to create real value creation. The spotlight on hedge funded value manipulations take all the attention and systematically the entrepreneurial talent of SME suppressed for not being glamorous enough on talk shows over earth shattering robotic technologies.

Fact: The world can easily absorb unlimited exportable ideas in unlimited vertical markets. Fact: The well-designed innovative ideas are worthy of such quadrupled volumes. Fact: The entrepreneurial and dormant talents of a nation are capable of such tasks. Fact: The new global age skills, knowledge and execution are now the missing links

The world is changing fast; this is no longer a cliché, now a serious warning: You can always tryout a change and start with some 500 small and medium enterprises in your own local region on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism protocols and measure the impact of innovative excellence on the local grassroots prosperity. Currently there are already 11,000 Chamber of Commerce in the world with combined membership of 45 million, somewhere here in lack of digital platforms are 25 million enterprises eager and ready to boost their revenues by million each. The art and science of global showcasing of its members with global bounce is a solid start on export strategy. Bold and open debates will streamline the fears of missing skills at the top to tackle such large scale deployments.

The rest is easy

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UNDP: Reshaping the Global Development Agenda

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The establishment of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ushered a new era during the course of United Nations (UNs) exemplary journey.   In September 2000 at the Millennium Summit the world leaders pledged to reduce poverty by 2015 focusing on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) . After all, the UNDP has been able to take the lead in accomplishing global impact on humanitarian priorities.  As  a result  of this  effort the UNDP played a pivotal role in taking a billion people out of extreme poverty by  reducing global poverty by half over the last 30 years.  This was closely related to the UNDP’s visionary leadership reshaped the future of the global sustainable development agenda in the shortest possible time. Over the years UNDP projects have had measurable success in protecting the environment. For example the UNDP allocated over US$ 5600 million supporting   nearly 4600 new projects worldwide  (UNDP, 2019).  Of this the largest recipients in 2019 were Afghanistan, with an estimated total of  US$ 530 million.  The recent initiatives implemented by the UN development agency will begin to impact systematically and begin to grow in magnitude touching all aspects of human life over the coming decades.

One of the  most  important  components of the UNDP  journey   was the  Human Development Report (HDR) that  paved the  way  to  discuss  the meanings and measurements of human development that  can  enlarge  people’s choices.  Speaking at the launch of 2019 Human Development Report on 11 December 2019 the current   Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Achim Steiner  said, “In terms of productivity, the report shows that the growing market power of employers is linked to a declining income share for workers. It argues that anti-trust and other policies are key to address the imbalances of market power”. It is noteworthy to mention after more than five decades of global outreach the UN development agency seeks to adopt a strategy addressing inequality and social exclusion, preventing and mitigating conflicts and disasters, economic recovery, development planning and inclusive sustainable growth.

Globally climate change has been a concern in the recent years. Renewable energy is considered to be one of the alternatives that can combat global warming and stabilise the climate. Roughly US$2.5 billion has been provided to 140 countries for climate change initiatives and the   UNDP was the largest implementer in combating climate change globally.

Another major area of worldwide concern was the displacement of people due to armed conflicts.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Global Trends report findings shows conflict and violence have forcibly displaced 65.3 million people globally. The adoption of conflict and development analysis (CDA) tools designed by the UNDP   for building practitioners aims to strengthen peace and security in war and in post-war countries. However the UNDP remains committed to successfully strengthen democracy and good governance through transparent institutionalizing process in developing nations.. Infrastructures for Peace can be an important tool to prevent conflicts.  By laying a  solid foundation for Peace initiative designed by UNDP to strengthen the capacity and to manage conflict is one such successful programme. Today the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) plays a fundamental responsibility with worldwide communities to address global, regional and national challenges. Since its inception the United Nations development agency has made significant solutions to world’s most pressing problems.

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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Promoting Perspectives from Pakistan

Abbad Farooq

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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is defined by the Government of Pakistan as “the growth axis and development belt featuring complementary advantage, collaboration, mutual benefits and common prosperity.” The mega-project is one of the largest bilateral investment (US$52 billion) underway anywhere in the world. Despite all the advantages, international media has shown weariness on CPEC on grounds of ‘debt trap and transparency,’ largely swayed by great power states who fear geopolitical repercussions. For a grandeur development program such as CPEC, it is natural to have opposition from states having vested interests of power. Therefore, in order to strengthen CPEC and make it inclusive, there is a need to strategically market CPEC at international platforms to address the apprehensions of regional and international partners. 

A flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), CPEC is in tandem with President Xi Jinping’s vision of ‘Chinese dream’, which avows to commercially link China to Africa, Europe and the Persian Gulf by ways of land and maritime routes. CPEC infrastructure projects, similarly in recognition of the vision comprises of mega-network of highways, railways, and energy pipelines to link Western China to the Arabian Ocean via the Gwadar Port. Pakistan and China have an efficacious history of economic cooperation; developments as diverse as the Karakoram Highway, Thar Coal Power Project, Karachi-Gwadar Coastal Highway, Chashma Nuclear Power Plant, and a number of hydro-power projects was achieved as a result of the bilateral partnership.

Pakistan’s business environment has considerably improved in recent years, as result of CPEC investment and projects. It is now ranked by World Bank Ease of Doing Business as 108 among 190, a considerable improvement by 28 places. Moody’s International has also upgraded Pakistan rating outlook to ‘stable’ from ‘negative’. Foreign companies, such as Hong Kong based Hutchinson Port Holdings have invested $240 million for the up gradation of container terminal at Karachi Port, which recently made history by welcoming largest ever container vessel in the country. According to the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning Development and Reform, Pakistan has completed 13 projects worth around 11 billion dollars, while 13 projects worth 18 billion dollars are under underway, and another 21 billion dollar projects are in the pipeline. According to estimates by financial pundits, the success of CPEC can provide a growth rate of 10 to 15 percent by 2030 to Pakistan’s economy.

A number of initiatives have been taken by the public and private sector institutes in Pakistan, to raise awareness regarding CPEC prospects and opportunities. International CPEC Workshop (ICPECW), Obortunity, a 2.5 weeks international learning and networking platform is annually organized by National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad. The workshops is based on lecture-discussions from leading experts on CPEC and BRI, comprising of networking dinners, seminars and meeting with leaders of state institutions in China and Pakistan. The 1st ICPECW was held from 17th April to 3rd May 2019 at Gwadar, Beijing and Islamabad. The 2nd International CPEC Workshop (ICPECW) will similarly be held from 2nd March to 19th March 2020, as a dedicated CPEC platform to bridge the gap between private and government circles. An initiative was also taken by Higher Education Commission (HEC), which established CPEC Consortium of Universities in Islamabad to promote business-to-business linkages between China and Pakistan. The scope of the Consortium has recently been enhanced by adding 56 universities from the two countries, to cover all major areas of higher education.

Nevertheless, Pakistan needs to take similar initiatives at international level. Foreign Office along with various international trade missions maybe tasked to hold seminars, workshops and conferences to raise awareness regarding CPEC. Regional organizations including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Organization Islamic Cooperation (OIC) maybe taken into the loop for raising awareness regarding investment and growth opportunities of CPEC. It maybe added that strong economic ties has the prospective of pacifying antagonistic rivalry and lead to cooperation in other strategic areas. 

The turn in global events have aggravated the Western anxieties regarding the BRI as consisting of ‘predatory initiatives’ and CPEC has unfortunately become part of the spectra. The fact nevertheless is that 90 percent of developing country’s debt, including that of Pakistan is outstanding to Western institutions and countries. It is also striking to note that China as a result of indigenous reforms was successfully able to pull over 800 million people out of poverty, whereas according to analysts Pakistan continues to be meshed in cycles of stagnated growth and debt trap, despite the assistance of IMF. A diplomatic effort to promote Pakistan’s discourse on CPEC in the long-run would help enhance the scope of the project and gain the confidence of global investors.

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