Sergio Alberto Gramitto Ricci is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, where he also serves as the assistant director of the Clarke Program on Corporations & Society. He studied law at University of Milan, and received a Ph.D. from Bocconi University. Gramitto Ricci is consistently invited to speak at universities around the world. His research focuses on corporate law, corporate governance, and legal personhood. His new book is Citizen capitalism: How a universal fund can provide influence and income for all.
Care to briefly explain how your Universal Fund differs from Universal Basic Income?
It differs in three ways. First, the Universal Fund provides more than just income; it provides influence. The Universal Fund is a device which allows all American adults to participate in the corporate sector. It gives voice to those who have not been heard so far. Second, the Universal Fund would solely be funded by private donations of humans—especially the ultra-wealthy—and corporations; thus it does not require transfer payments or coercion. Third, because it would be a private ordering initiative, the Universal Fund would be insulated from changes in the compositions of governments, political elections, and government budgetary needs.
You write that a sovereign wealth fund bill could never pass in Congress. However, such legislation was able to pass in ultraconservative Alaska. Polling shows an increasing majority of the US electorate favoring ambitious government programs like Medicare for All. Why can’t the US enact its own sovereign wealth fund?
The Alaska Fund could be created with the profits coming from a quite specific source of earnings: Alaskan oil. That would not be replicable on a national scale. Moreover, the Alaska Fund supplements, does not replace, other government programs. In addition, the Alaska Fund does not provide influence over the corporate sector—a characterizing trait of the Universal Fund. Lastly, a government program could pose risks that private ordering does not entail—think about the instability that a government program could be subjected to upon changes in the composition of government or congress. Insulation from politics is a great feature of the Universal Fund.
In 2018, companies didn’t raise compensation for employees, even in the face of record profits. Why do you think they’re going to start donating to your Universal Fund? If tax deductions are the main reason, wouldn’t it make more sense for the government to directly support the Fund, instead of hiding behind tax incentives and hoping for the best in terms of corporate generosity?
Corporations would have a number of reasons for donating. Marketing reasons: donating corporations would appeal to all American adults, who would benefit from such donations. Corporate governance reasons: by design, the Universal Fund would not trade the shares in its portfolio (with exceptions of specific circumstances), so corporations and their boards of directors would secure a long-term, patient shareholder on which they can rely. Practical reasons: lately corporations have repurchased larger and larger amounts of their shares; they could donate these shares to the Universal Fund instead of turning them into treasury shares. Now imagine if the legislator made these donations tax-deductible, corporations and humans would benefit of a fiscal incentive, too. But enough reasons exist even without this legislative intervention.
People are increasingly skeptical of the philanthropist-centered model of social welfare spending. Jeff Bezos alone could write a check to end homelessness and still have billions leftover. Instead, the billionaire class donates crumbs and stash most of its tens of trillions of dollars in tax havens. Why should we continue to wait in vain for the unaccountable Davos crowd to save us, instead of demanding change from our elected officials, whom we actually control?
A large part of the ultra-wealthy have already committed to donate a majority of the wealth. As I respond to your questions, 189 pledgers have signed the Giving Pledge. But there is a collective action problem: without an idea that would allow donors and corporations to coordinate, their donations might only have a superficial impact. The Universal Fund is a device that would allow to coordinate charitable actions and donations and to produce real social change in the present and in the future.
Why do you think the billionaire class is vocally supporting UBI? Could it be that they’re simply trying to placate people asking for more fundamental changes to our unequal system?
I believe that the billionaire class is aware of the widening inequality and of potential issues that automation and robotization of labor could cause.
UBI is touted as a possible solution to the emerging Era of Automation. However, countless social scientists and philosophers argue that work is a fundamental part of being human. What are your thoughts on the looming unemployment pandemic?
UBI would only support people financially—perhaps also in the effort to start a new enterprise. Conversely, the Universal Fund, by allowing all to engage with the governance of the corporate sector, could mitigate the sense of lack of purpose that citizens might experience in the emerging Era of Automation.
In terms of instituting “citizen capitalism”, what do you think of the German law of corporate co-determination, in which workers make up about half of a company’s board of directors?
I like German co-determination; I find it consistent with an interest of corporations that goes beyond the mere interest of shareholders and that better recognizes the nature of corporations as legal entities distinct from its shareholders. But German co-determination would require a structural change in American corporate governance because the German model is structured around two boards, the monitoring board and the managing board. It might be too big a change for American corporate law.
To further riff on your concept of “citizen capitalism”, do you think financial literacy and economics should be made required courses during high school? If so, what concepts would you include in the standard curricula?
I would start with basic macroeconomics.
On Pg. 92, while glowingly extolling the benefits of capitalism, you write, “Companies like the Dutch East India Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company opened whole continents for trade.” I laughed out loud reading that naïveté. These are among the companies that first engaged in the centuries-long colonization, swindling, enslavement and genocide of native peoples in America and the Global South. I daresay people in places like Sierra Leone and the DRC still aren’t benefiting from “continental trade-opening”, either. Would you care to clarify your statement?
In a recent paper, “The Technology and Archeology of Corporate Law,” I trace back the origins of corporations to Ancient Rome. The Roman State first conceived the corporate form for cities and towns. When the state expanded and could not provide services and infrastructure, it outsourced activities, including tax farming and infrastructure building to private entrepreneurs. To facilitate the performance of these activities, the Roman State granted the corporate form to private business ultimately carried out in the interest of the state itself. Today, almost everybody uses products and services that business corporations provide. The challenge is making the corporate sector inclusive, instead of exclusive. That was the ultimate goal Lynn Stout and I had in mind when we conceived the idea of the Universal Fund while writing the article “Corporate Governance as Privately-Ordered Public Policy: A Proposal.” I hope that our idea could help business corporations re-merry their original purpose to serve the civic society.
Do you want to take a minute to write about your co-author Lynn Stout, who passed away last year?
Lynn and I used to box in the same gym and our trainer used to call her The Indomitable Lynn Stout. In remembering Lynn during the launch of this book, Marty Lipton listed the names of Nobel Laureates whose theories and positions she challenged. Her intellectual courage was second to none. She was indomitable in academia, even more then at the gym.
Are We Heading Toward Another Lost Decade for Latin America?
According to World Bank data, between 2000 and 2019, average annual growth in the Latin American and Caribbean region was 1.6%. That level of growth is clearly unacceptable both if we compare it with growth in other regions – East Asia (4.8%), Europe and Central Asia (1.9%), the Middle East (2.9%), South (6.5%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (3.5%) – as well as if we put it in per capita terms, where the rate would be 0.56%, insufficient to rapidly improve living standards for the population.
It should come as no surprise then that the decade ended with protests in several Latin American countries, especially if we view these protests as an expression of the discontent with an economy that does not grow fast enough to satisfy society’s demands and expectations and with an inequality gap that remains too high, although it has decreased over the past decade (this region has the highest level of regional inequality in the world).
Thus, it appears that the reasons behind the unrest largely remain. If this situation is not addressed, there is risk that nothing will change and the next decade will be equally challenging in the region. We have already experienced the first year of that future. Governments of the region need to make urgent, serious efforts to implement an agenda of inclusive growth. It is time to leave behind the cycle of disillusionment and simply building on the many conquests of the past to now respond to the needs of our societies, which are raising the bar with their demands. Recognizing this as a priority is the first step in transforming what seems like a challenge today into an opportunity for progress.
The region’s sluggish growth has different causes, both internal and external. Analyzing them is crucial. The World Bank has just presented its Global Economic Prospects (GEP) report, a semi-annual flagship publication analyzing the global economic situation, including economic growth estimates for 2019 and the outlook for 2020. The GEP can be taken as a thermometer that measures the health of the economy at the local, regional and global levels. Reviewing global trends can help put the economic situation of Latin America in context. Today that context is telling us that, for now, the cold snap will continue.
According to the GEP, the global situation remains fragile. Annual global growth for 2019 (2.4%) is the lowest since the 2008-2009 financial and economic crisis. While economic growth in 2020 is expected to improve (2.5%), this recovery will be modest. Anemic international trade and investment and a slowdown in productivity explain this fragility, among other reasons.
Latin American Winter
How does this global scenario affect the region? In the Latin American context, economic growth also cooled in 2019. Excluding Venezuela – where the economy contracted by an estimated 35% – the region grew just 0.8% last year as a result of weak investment and private consumption.
The slowdown was quite consistent both because it affected most Latin American countries and because it occurred in nearly all economic sectors. Currently, we expect growth to reach 1.8%. Clearly, this growth rate will not help close the per capita income gap between Latin American countries and more advanced nations. Once again, there is a fear that if history is not rewritten, it will repeat itself within the decade.
It is well known that moderate growth limits economic opportunities for the population. If this occurs, we must be aware of the risks given the social tensions in several countries in 2019.
But we also know that the ongoing issues of Latin America go well beyond those of economic growth. They are associated with structural problems that must be resolved, such as persistent inequality or the need to build the necessary consensus to support growth and social inclusion in government policies, based on a long-term vision.
We are talking about reforms that contribute to improving the business climate to attract private investment, which in Latin America is strikingly low.
And we are talking about improving governance to help enhance legal security.
These reforms are not easy for several reasons. Often, the business climate suffers because many established firms fail to see the positive side of implementing reforms that facilitate the market entry of new firms, which may threaten their dominant position. In the field of education, besides the need to persevere for many years to have a positive impact, implementing the economic policy of the reforms to improve education quality is exceedingly difficult. Additionally, we cannot ignore the problems that even the most reformist government will encounter when addressing deficient governance issues.
We could look at these deficits as elements of an inalterable reality and the seeds of future disappointments – or we could view them as the starting point for an in-depth discussion to forge the necessary agreements.
I choose this last option. I believe that the challenge of achieving broad consensus on government policy, with the involvement of all sectors of our societies, in an open, participatory dialogue in which all voices are heard, offers us the opportunity today to make social pacts that are the bases for more robust, inclusive growth in our region.
It is not an easy task, for sure. That dialogue must involve politicians, members of the business community, workers, civil society organizations and the many other sectors of our societies. Yet there is no other possible path if we want to avoid looking back in 10 years and being horrified by our wasted efforts. The discontent of the region’s societies in recent months is a call to action. We should capitalize on this opportunity to ensure that the recurring history of disillusionment does not repeat itself in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Source: World Bank/ El País
Principal Trends in the Development of Eurasian Integration
The development of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2019 was once again marked by deepening integration and the expansion of global trade and economic relations. Emerging trends include the improved quality of integration and the shaping of the Union as a pragmatic and responsible partner involved in international relations as an independent actor.
The EAEU is improving its institutions and mechanisms for regulating trade and economic cooperation, reducing the number of barriers to ensure the complete freedom of movement of goods, services, labour resources and capital within the single customs space of the member states.
The following regulatory instruments have been amended and improved in 2019:
-electronic customs declarations have been put into use; these declarations are connected to the unified information platforms currently being developed in all EAEU states;
-the procedure for offsetting customs duties using a system of advance payments has been modified (it will significantly speed up paperwork flow and reduce customs clearance times);
-the rules for calculating and collecting compensatory and anti-dumping duties have been streamlined;
-the terms and powers of state agencies have been specified; the areas of influence and regulatory control of the Eurasian Economic Commission (hereinafter the EEC) have been expanded in matters relating to the supervision and implementation of the EAEU anti-monopoly rules both on cross-border markets and throughout the EAEU in general;
-international treaties have been amended in the part pertaining to the distribution of customs duties collected between the treasuries of the member states (the following ratio has been stipulated: Armenia – 1.22 per cent; Belarus – 4.86 per cent; Kazakhstan – 6.955 per cent; Kyrgyzstan – 1.9 per cent; Russia – 85.065 per cent).
Emphasizing the “Digital” Aspect
In 2019, the EAEU actively developed and improved the digital agenda in various segments of the common market. Projects for implementing a digitalization programme have been developed and approved. The programme stipulates the procedure for implementing digitalization projects through the consolidated efforts of all EAEU members.
In particular, in order to simplify the paperwork flow, speed up customs proceedings, and make it easier to do business in the Union, the EAEU adopted the decision to streamline the rules and functioning of the “one window” system. For all the members of the EAEU market, this could serve as a platform for an electronic information exchange system for all EAEU market participants regardless of their country of origin, as well as a venue for interacting with the licensing and regulatory system.
The EAEU also adopted the Concept of Cross-Border Information Interaction, which lays down the legal framework for the exchange of information among EAEU market participants and can be used as a platform for the development of the information services market in the future.
The digital agenda programme also extends to the real sector of the economy, which is provided for by the project for industrial cooperation, sub-contracting and technology transfer. The project entails developing a system of e-contracts between industrial enterprises. The advisory body, the Industrial Policy Council, has been tasked with managing the implementation of this project.
Single Sectoral Markets
2019 saw the adoption of the Concept for the Creation of a Common Financial Market of the Eurasian Economic Union, which entails free mutual access to national markets for banking and insurance institutions (regulating the process of streamlining and aligning the rules and mechanism for issuing licenses and their mutual recognition). The Concept will boost competition on the banking services and insurance markets, expand the range of available financial services, and stimulate investment and capital mobility.
The complexity and scale of reforms necessary to create common banking, insurance and securities markets require a lengthy preparatory period in order to coordinate, streamline and aligning macroeconomic criteria, standardize indicators to ensure the stability of the financial and insurance sectors, as well as the legislative framework, by 2025. A transitional model of the common financial market will subsequently be launched.
Energy is Key
The transitional model of the EAEU common energy market has been launched. An important detail in the concepts of energy market integration is the fact that, when negotiations on the Union Treaty were in progress, the objective of creating a single common market for all types of energy sources was abolished in favour of creating the common market format (CEM) as a target objective for the integration of the energy sector.
The EAEU CEM entails free pricing on energy and energy transmission using the following mechanisms: long-term contracts between independent companies use agreed prices set with due account of the equilibrium price of the common market that has been written into contracts, and exchanges operate with free pricing.
Trade is organized with the use of an e-system for swap contracts, forwards and futures, and with the use of the Single Information System (SIS) accessible for all wholesale market participants. However, only authorized organizations are authorized to conclude long-term transactions and determine the volumes of surplus energy offered for bidding.
Before launching the gas market, the upper and lower price limits for surplus electricity and service tariffs are to be regulated within internal prices. This means that the “freedom” of pricing for energy and services is from the very outset established in accordance with the terms and conditions and within the limits of the manufacturing, resource, technical and technological potential of national natural monopolies, and the common market only adjusts pricing depending on the current supply and demand at a specific moment in time.
This is a transitional format for the functioning of the EAEU CEM, and it fits perfectly into the integrational model of cross-border trade cooperation, which entails achieving the objectives set for the common market by increasing trade volumes and ensuring equal access to the services and infrastructure of national monopolists.
Consequently, the development of Eurasian integration made it possible to preserve the growth of the positive influence that integration has on the stability of the macroeconomic situation in member states and on the degree of macroeconomic convergence in the EAEU in 2019. As a result of applying the single customs tariff of the Customs Code of the EAEU and expanding the list of technical regulations implemented by all states, conditions on the commodities markets are becoming streamlined at a rapid pace, and equal competition conditions are being created for all actors on the EAEU common market. These developments make it possible to stem the drop in growth rates that were predicted for the global market at the beginning of 2019.
Streamlining the rules governing trade in goods and services on the common EAEU market in 2019 made it possible to ensure a smaller drop in mutual trade in monetary terms within the Union compared to the decline in foreign trade with third countries. The decrease in bilateral trade in January–September 2019 was 1.3 per cent, compared to the 2018 trade decline of 2.5 per cent with third countries.
Armenia (6.4 per cent) and Belarus (3.5 per cent) demonstrated positive growth in mutual trade, while the other states demonstrated a decrease in trade turnover of approximately 3 per cent on average. As in previous years, minerals (26 per cent of the total mutual trade in the EAEU), machinery, equipment and vehicles (20 per cent, with Russia and Belarus remaining the principal suppliers), agricultural raw materials (15 per cent), metals and metal goods (13 per cent), and chemicals (12 per cent) remained the principal drivers of growth.
The EEC estimates that the dynamics of mutual trade in comparable prices (calculated using the physical volume of supplies index) demonstrate stable trade volumes, remaining at the 2018 level, and a drop in prices of 1.5 times, which led to a decrease in the cost indicator of mutual trade volumes. Consequently, the Eurasian integration factor retains its positive effects and can be bolstered by stepping up integration processes.
The potential of expanding trade cooperation can be realized by expanding the circle of partners in the preferential regime of economic cooperation. In 2019, the EAEU continued its work to develop international cooperation. One example of this is the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the People’s Republic of China, which went into force in 2019. Cooperation agreements were signed with Serbia and Singapore, memorandums on cooperation were signed with Indonesia, and a partnership declaration was signed with the Pacific Alliance. In addition, negotiations were launched on agreeing on the terms and conditions of partnership agreements based on previously signed memorandums of cooperation with the African Union, Bangladesh, Argentina, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Global Medical Device Nomenclature Agency.
The EAEU’s activity in the international arena is testimony to its great development.
From our partner RIAC
WEF 2020: A Blank Check on Climate Change Costs
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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