As a country that has experienced a number of harsh economic shocks throughout its history, Russia constantly lives in anticipation of a new crisis. Recently, however, economists and investors around the world have been actively discussing the possibility of a crisis as a fairly likely scenario in the near future. Are there any real grounds for these discussions? And what might the consequences for Russia be?
Objective and Subjective Problems of Global Economy
The three main global economic powerhouses – the United States, the European Union and China – are all currently facing serious (albeit different) problems.
At first glance, it would appear that the U.S. economy is in excellent shape: GDP has been growing faster than the average for developed countries over the past several years, unemployment is low and continues to decline, and the stock market keeps setting new records. However, everybody agrees that this positive phase of the business cycle has lasted for too long and should end soon for objective reasons. A similar situation was observed in the United States in the mid-2000s, which gave rise to a popular optimistic belief in the omnipotence of macroeconomic policies that make it possible to overcome the cyclic nature of economic dynamics. These illusions were dispelled by the “Great Recession,” the most significant global financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Nowadays, most economists believe that the current steady growth has been stimulated by measures (from the milder monetary policy to efforts aimed at bringing jobs back to the country) whose flipside is sure to manifest itself soon.
The EU economy has yet not fully recovered from the aftermath of the Great Recession. One unpleasant development that Europe has faced in 2019 has been the evident slowdown in the GDP growth of Germany, which has been pulling the European economy forward for several years.
China’s economy has been slowing down for many years now, even though its growth rate remains relatively high at over 6 percent annually. A number of serious problems are worsening against this background, such as excessive corporate debts (of at least 260 per cent of GDP); the spread of “zombie companies” which are effectively non-competitive but are artificially kept afloat for the sake of the jobs they provide and their formal contribution to manufacturing; and signs of a cyclical slowdown. In addition, some experts believe that if the United States keeps true to its threat to introduce import duties on Chinese commodities, China stands to lose a hefty sum of between 0.5 percent and 1.0 percent of its GDP.
Given that the three economic powerhouses account for over one half of global production and play a defining role in the financial markets, the aforementioned problems alone are cause enough to be concerned about the stability of the global economy. Under current conditions, the danger is aggravated by the fact that problems experienced by each of the three giant economies instantaneously spread across the world and hit everyone including even the most remote countries. In better times, this globalization trend may be positive, as each individual economy’s growth generates a demand for the products of other countries, thus stimulating global production. However, in anticipation of an economic recession, the situation resembles a ship with all its bulkheads removed, so a breach in any of its compartments may sink the entire ship.
In addition to the abovementioned objective challenges, there are also artificial problems that arise from discord between the economic giants. The global leaders have recently been actively exchanging threats and blows. This process is mostly down to the behavior of the United States, which is trying to reinstate what it views as fair rules of the game in the world economy. The list of Washington’s demands, primarily of China, is long: dismantling unjustified barriers to U.S. commodities, observing intellectual property rights, switching to a market-based exchange rate of the yuan, and so on. The resultant trade and currency wars hamper mutually beneficial trade while also (and more importantly) making the economic situation less predictable and therefore very risky. This, in turn, leads to a decline in trade, investment, and production.
The main instrument that central banks use to mitigate the negative effects of fundamental factors and “economic wars” is to ease monetary policies. However, in the current situation, this brings only limited results: history tells us that an economy may react positively to switching from restrictive to stimulating measures, but its reaction to a further easing of an already mild policy is very insignificant. In addition, carrying on with excessively mild monetary policies for any protracted period of time robs central banks of their last available ways to kick-start the economy should it grind to a halt.
It is difficult to predict exactly when the current relatively favorable situation in the global economy will worsen dramatically. A year ago, many economists confidently stated that a new crisis would break out in the first half of 2019. The date was later moved back to the second half of this year, and now experts are talking about 2020. This does not mean that the forecasters are not competent enough to make such predictions, rather than the issue is objectively complex.
First, investor behavior is subject to changing moods and “herd behavior.” So-called “self-fulfilling prophecies” play a key role in crisis mechanisms, when crises develop more as a result of the expectations of market players than due to real circumstances. In the face of danger, investors become particularly wary of any early signals in order to switch to safe assets before share prices fall. In general, we may assume that a new crisis could emerge very swiftly, suddenly, and come from an unpredictable direction.
Second, and no less importantly, economic leaders are guided by a range of diverse motives, which makes their behavior difficult to predict. It appears that in its trade disputes the United States is not only protecting its immediate economic interests but also fighting to secure its role as the leader of the global economy in a situation when China has already overtaken it in terms of GDP incomparable prices (in terms of purchasing power parity). On the other hand, President of the United States Donald Trump has to take the upcoming presidential election into account: he cannot afford to see the stock market plummet ahead of the polls.
Given the existing conditions, we may assume that the current relatively tranquil and favorable state of the global economy will most likely worsen considerably in the next 18 months to two years. In fact, this could happen much earlier, but the probability of such a scenario is considerably lower. Let me put it this way: in my opinion, the chances of the “bad times” happening within the next six months do not exceed one to five, even though such a development cannot be absolutely ruled out.
The next question is what form these “bad times” will take: that of a relatively benign “soft landing” or of a “hard-landing.” In the former case, we should expect a slowdown of the global economy and trade, a drop in stock markets, and capital flight to the most stable or trusted countries. In the latter case, the consequences may prove much more serious, including a global GDP slowdown, a series of defaults and bankruptcies and skydiving prices of raw materials.
As things stand, the “soft-landing” scenario appears more probable, at 60/40.
Consequences for the Russian Economy
Formally, the Russian economy appears to be prepared for a crisis. Russia has a relatively low public debt, significant gold and foreign currency reserves, and a budgetary “safety cushion” in the form of the National Wealth Fund. Coupled with a significant double surplus (a positive external balance plus a surplus budget), this gives the country a safe margin of macroeconomic safety. However, practice indicates that such a margin may mitigate the consequences of economic shocks, but does not eliminate them entirely.
Russia was able to use its reserves during the 2008–2009 and 2014–2015 crises, which helped to considerably mitigate the social consequences of the recessions. This is in stark contrast to the 1998 crisis when such reserves were virtually unavailable to the state. In 1998–1999, real average wages in the economy shrank by nearly a third and pensions dwindled by over 40 percent. This contrasts with 2009 when income losses proved much smaller and the level of pensions even grew. At the same time, despite Russia’s available macroeconomic reserves, production volumes noticeably declined in the course of the latest two crises. This can be explained by insufficient levels of confidence among the business community: in crisis situations, business relies on itself and, until the situation becomes clear, lowers investments and reduces discretionary expenses on materials and components.
On the whole, given that external turbulence affects the Russian economy through two main channels (through trade, which is affected by declining prices of oil, gas and metals and by shrinking demand for all exports; and through finance, which is affected by an increase in net capital flight), we may predict that a global economic recession or crisis will result in a slowdown of Russia’s GDP, a slump in the rouble exchange rate, a hike in inflation and a reduction in real incomes. Employment will suffer to a lesser extent: the Russian labor market is rather flexible, which allows for minimal layoffs and subsequent fast recovery of employee numbers. Unlike Greece and Spain, where unemployment hit 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively, after the Great Recession and currently stands at 19 percent and 15 percent, respectively, unemployment in Russia during the same period only grew to 8 percent and declined to below the pre-crisis level by 2012.
The consequences of external shocks grow ever weaker for the Russian economy over time, as the country is improving the quality of its macroeconomic policy (including thanks to the 2014 transition to a floating exchange rate). That said, much still needs to be done if the Russian economy is to become even less dependent on external factors:
- Diversify industrial production by reducing the share of raw materials in exports.
- Improve the real ability of the real sector to react to market pricing signals in order to take full advantage of the lower exchange rate;
- Increase the confidence of businesses in the current economic policy.
Of course, these targets can only be achieved in the long term.
From our partner RIAC
Another Look at the Prospects of a Eurasian Digital Platform
In view of the idiosyncratic features of Eurasia with respect to the gravity of distance, a common Eurasian platform for digital economic agreements may allow the region to attenuate the effects of distance and severe economic fragmentation — most notably in the regulatory sphere — emanating from the sheer size of Eurasia and the multiplicity of regional integration arrangements. By consolidating regional, bilateral, as well as corporate alliances, a common Eurasian digital platform would allow its members to introduce greater consistency and compatibility into the existing set of digital economic agreements, thus providing the conditions for multilateralising existing digital arrangements and for creating new digital economic accords.
One of the ways to create a digital “platform of platforms” for Eurasia that is to include platforms for regional integration arrangements, regional development banks and regional financing arrangements (RFAs) of the countries of Eurasia.
- The platform for regional integration arrangements would work towards advancing greater inter-operability into the digital platforms of Eurasia’s regional groupings such as the EU, the EAEU, ASEAN, RCEP, EFTA, BIMSTEC, SAFTA, GCC.
- The platform for regional development banks and funds such as EDB, EIB, ADB, EBRD, SDF, CAF would focus on building project portfolios in the area of digital cooperation/digital connectivity/digital inclusiveness and work to advance digital economic agreements (DEAs) on the basis of the existing digital arrangements concluded by countries such as Singapore.
- The platform for regional financing arrangements (ESM, EFSD, Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization, Arab Monetary Fund) would focus on the coordination of anti-crisis measures, the creation of ex-ante anti-crisis response mechanisms based on the use of “big data” and forward looking indicators obtained through digital cooperation and data exchange.
These three platforms can reinforce one another and can be further complemented by country-level and corporate-level platforms to form a Eurasian ecosystem of digital cooperation and inter-operability.
Such a Eurasian “platform of platforms” is:
- Digital: it advances digital cooperation, including digital trade at the level of countries and regions
- Regional: it places particular emphasis on building cooperation in areas that have hitherto lacked coordination, namely among regional integration arrangements and their development institutions
- Scalable: it can be replicated in other parts of the world as well as at the global level via creating a regional layer of global governance
The current economic framework in Eurasia is fragmented and lacks the digital connectivity that would be predicated on cross-country and cross-regional digital agreements. This in turn limits the capability of countries to coordinate policies in areas such as trade, migration, digital economy development. A common platform would address the issue of the “digital gap” across the countries of Eurasia via promoting greater “digital inclusivity”, most notably with respect to the low-income developing economies. Such a common digital platform for Eurasia may prove to be particularly important for land-locked developing countries that face notable geographical/logistic barriers to trade.
Indeed, of all of the different parts of the global economy Eurasia stands to benefit the most from greater digital connectivity and inclusivity, given the prominence of the “distance factor” that constrains the intensity of economic cooperation within the region. The gravity of distance is particularly costly for Eurasia’s land-locked economies — in fact Eurasia harbours 26 out of 44 (59%) of all of the world’s landlocked countries. Moreover, the scale of “inwardness” of some of the regions of Eurasia in terms of geographical location is truly unique, whereby Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, while Bishkek is the farthest capital city from the coast in the world (all top-5 of the most distant capitals from the sea coast in the world are in Asia).
Existing research suggests that digital platforms may exert a sizeable effect in reducing the gravity of distance: as noted by Pierre-Louis Vézina, “distance between countries impedes international trade, but it matters 65% less for trade on the eBay platform than for traditional offline trade… The online world is flatter”. Yet another study focusing on the EU evaluated the importance of distance for e-commerce. This study of 721 regions in five countries of the European Union shows that while distance is not “dead” in e-commerce, there is evidence that express delivery in e-commerce reduces distance for cross-border demand.
Ways of measuring the effectiveness of a common platform would include the scale of liberalization and trade facilitation in digital trade across the Eurasian platform; increases in the size of the portfolio of joint investment projects related to the digital economy on the part of the region’s development institutions, increases in cross-border and cross-regional trade and investment associated with the digital economy. The number of multilateral digital economic agreements (DEAs) facilitated by the platform would be a measure of the contribution of the initiative to multilateralism. Another important metric is increases in connectivity arising from the creation of the platform — this would concern increases in digital connectivity/inclusivity, most notably in developing economies.
A common digital platform in Eurasia will serve to improve coordination across countries as well as regional integration arrangements and their development institutions. It will also serve to transform the landscape of trade agreements by facilitating the conclusion of digital economic agreements and multilateralising existing digital accords. The common platform will also advance international cooperation in the digital sphere and other areas pertaining to the Fourth Industrial Revolution to strengthen the response to the Covid pandemic and improve the region’s capabilities in the health care sphere as well as other areas pertaining to the development of human capital. A more cooperative framework for Eurasia that aims to emulate best practices and standards across the platform will also be conducive to longer-term cooperation, a more active use of ESG standards and greater emphasis placed on economic sustainability.
The creation of the Eurasian digital platform may be a step towards building a global network of cooperation on the basis of a “bottom-up” plurilateral cooperation among regional blocs rather than a “top-down” framework devised at the global level. Such an approach conforms with the principles contained in the WEF’s White paper on Globalization 4.0 that advocates the use of flexible plurilateral trade agreements as a way of further advancing trade openness in key areas, including in digital trade and e-commerce: “open plurilateral agreements of this nature are the most promising way available to update the trade rulebook without further fragmenting the world economy and weakening its crucial multilateral foundation”.
The formation of an open digital platform for Eurasia renders it amenable to replication at the level of not only regional arrangements, but also at the level of country-to-country cooperation as well as multilateral corporate platforms. An important aspect of the operation of such a platform is the principle of openness and inclusivity — whereby developing countries benefit from greater “digital inclusion” and the possibility to join digital alliances with advanced economies across Eurasia. In this way, the operation of such a platform contributes to a more sustainable and balanced economic paradigm across Eurasia.
From our partner RIAC
Future of the Chambers of Commerce of the World
New world has already emerged; the global populace on economic fronts, now thinks and demands differently, smart are the nations cognizant of such tectonic shifts, adjusting post pandemic recovery and tabling new economic models. All over the world, some 10,000 plus Chamber of Commerce with some 45 million members represents a big slice of such global economics in post pandemic fights. Today, in metamorphosis, if each such chamber as a local pillar within a city needs to be on digital platforms of upskilling and exportability to enable displaying their individual members on the global stage and engaging marketplaces with updated skills will boost local global trades. Such narratives are no longer rocket sciences but as existing realities since last decade as necessary tools to survive in a digitized world. What are the challenges of such transformations? Hence awaits a bright future for the Chamber of Commerce of the world.
There is no business like small business; no further proof required as almost all economies of the world have now accepted small and midsize business as top of the agenda. Economic development teams have now understood that any uplift, upskilling, reskilling, unskilling of SME+MFG on AI+AV+VR platforms will only save national economies. On the National Mobilization of Entrepreneurialism Protocols already tabled by Expothon Worldwide, study more on Google, where the local chambers can enjoy an excellent opportunity to lead on such fronts. Critical mind shifts are essential, as new attitudes needed with an entrepreneurial mindset for such deployments.
Emergence of new business math: A $1000, investment in technology buys digital solutions, which were million dollars, a decade ago. Today, a $1000 investment buys on global-age upskilling on export expansion that were million dollars a decade ago. Today, a $1000 investment on virtual-events buys what took a year and cost a million dollars a decade ago. Today, any micro-small-medium-enterprise capable of remote working models can save 80% of office and bureaucratic costs and suddenly operate like a mini-multi-national with little or no additional costs. What opportunities all this creates for 10,000 chambers of the world and how can they shine with their 45 million membership on various platforms and uplift the local economic base? How such events tabled, planned and executed and what will it take to start the process, on a systematic basis on which there are starting points.
Now is the time for national mobilization of entrepreneurialism on digital platforms of upskilling for exportability, for some 200 nations and 10,000 cities. Imagine if chambers in selected nations mobilized 1K to 5K SME for digital platforms for rapid-fire upskilling of exporters and reskilling of micro and small-medium manufactures to quadruple productivity, performance and profitability leading to additional new jobs creations. This is like a Marshall Plan but in reality more like a turnkey digital platform economy maneuver seeking right and authoritative leadership. Imagine if doubling or quadrupling productivity created dozens of new jobs, this would add 100s of million new jobs in 1-2 years. Maybe not the best jobs but surely secure local grassroots prosperity. The new global vision of the chamber waits for massive digitalization and mind shift change to optimize such global power play.
Facing tribulations; when everything is upside down, every business model on its knees, every effort futile where human endurance is always on real test, the outside world now morphed into unrecognizable formats. This is not dystopia; this is a new world.
Creating triangulations; when strange combinations create brand new landscapes, when accidental triangulations germinate new powerful new solutions, innovative excellence takes over and entrepreneurialism becomes a super driver.
Awaiting transformations; when such new frontiers transform our ideas and accidents into real actions lifting us to the upper stratosphere, when superior critical thinking and complex problem solving finds new paths to lead forward, we embrace new normalcy.
New global opportunities bring highly value added solutions to the local memberships of each chamber. The “Work + Office + Health + Money + Politics + Globalization” suddenly, all morphed into one gigantic blob of global calamity, forcing new challenges, creating new thinking and getting the world on brand new combinations of growth tracks. Now is the time for trade groups to come together, Local Department and Agencies, Trade Associations and Chambers across the world must unite in global narratives in participating on various aspects to boost their own local presence and their own memberships across the board. The challenge is open-mindedness to cope with SME + MFG +EXPORTS +PRODUCTIVITY + PERFORMANCE + PROFITABILITY + PLATFORM +ECONOMY aspects of expanding enterprises.
The new Trends: the global loss of credibility of institutions and distrust of political leadership will now open new narratives, new debates and bold new thinking. Absence of leadership will dispose of political correctness and seek disruption of political abuse. Almost every century there are such clashes of ideologies and strikingly humankind always survives no matter how battered. The game is about recognizing and defining values and understanding the global age of expanding diversity. Observe how new mindsets appear, how they shift, progress and advance. Therefore, becoming a lifelong learning student is not only a great start but also a safeguard from public hysteria. Without upskilling on global age platforms, the future is dark for economic development.
Next year this time, our world would have moved forward at much faster paces, but all due to almost free technologies. Those with mastery of national mobilization will have distinct advantages. By design nouveau-revolutionary, by style mobilization-centric, and by action deployment-ready, by results transformational; this economic-friendly thought leadership is a pragmatic approach to shake down lingering slowdown on global exportability and challenges midsize business economic management nation by nation across the world and offers immediately deployable solutions. Platform economy allows such mobilizations; global-age provides the right battlefields. Mostly, not dependent on new funding, rather deployment craved and execution starved. New mindsets urgently needed. The future is knocking; open the doors
The rest is easy
Dostoevsky’s Economic Cycles
The prophecy should come true, but I will not explain it. Then in due time it will be remembered and recovered. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. –F. M. Dostoevsky
In November 2021, the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. For me, as a Russian economist, a real discovery and revelation was the economic article written by Fyodor Mikhailovich in “A Writer’s Diary”, which was in fact one of Dostoevsky’s last articles on the ways Russia was developing. In this article, Dostoevsky largely anticipates such key topics for the Russian economy as the “turn to the East”, the prioritisation of long-term development guidelines (as an argument in favour of the creation of the Stabilisation Fund in our time), the fight against bureaucracy, the importance of public confidence in the economic policy of the authorities, and much more. Dostoevsky’s economic legacy can serve in our time as a kind of a moral compass for Russian economic policy.
In the context of Russia’s experience in the 1990s as well as the current crisis of the global economic system, which is overly focused on achieving short-term benefits/results, Dostoevsky’s arguments in favour of reorienting economic policy from short-term to long-term guidelines are very relevant: “What if we are at least halfway able to force ourselves to forget about the current situation and direct our attention to something completely different, into a certain depth, into which, in truth, we had never looked, because we were looking for the depth on the surface?” But Dostoevsky is ready to soften his formula, and “here is what I will propose instead; not half to forget about the current one – I refuse half of it – but only one-twentieth”.
As Dostoevsky notes, the reorientation of funds to the most important long-term tasks can become a guarantee of achieving key targets for long-term development, despite short-term obstacles and difficulties: “re-focussing attention away from the current issues in the amount of at least one-twentieth part annually, on something else, then the matter will seem almost not fantastic, but quite even possible to start”.
Dostoevsky associates such a redistribution of budgetary funds for long-term development with what he calls “healing the roots”, which in the budgetary sphere of today we could associate with our “National Projects” designed to develop Russia’s “human capital”.
As a result, we can say that Dostoevsky formulated a kind of a budget rule, that largely anticipates the principles of the modern fiscal rule and our Stabilisation Fund (National Welfare Fund): “My thought, my formula is the following: a state that has experienced the well-known upheavals, please do not think too much about current needs, no matter how much they cry out, but think only about healing the roots – and you will get finances.” This formula largely meets the priorities that we observe in Russian budgetary policy today, with its emphasis on accumulating reserves to finance longer-term economic needs.
Another area of economic policy that Dostoevsky writes about – administrative reform and the reduction of bureaucracy. As Fyodor Mikhailovich notes, when trying to reduce the bureaucracy, we often only get an increase in the number of officials due to the creation of countless commissions on administrative reform. “Are we capable of such, for example, a reduction: to move from forty officials to four at once? Of course, no one can have any doubts that four officials will often do what forty do, especially with the reduction of paperwork and, in general, with a radical transformation of the current formulas for doing business.”
Arguably, the most important economic thesis for Dostoevsky is the problem of the lack of trust on the part of the population with respect to economic policy, or, as Fyodor Mikhailovich himself calls it, “the problem of the moral/spiritual concern of the population.” Moreover, Dostoevsky notes the tendency that has become painfully familiar in Russia in the past several decades towards an outflow of capital while undermining this very trust/“moral calm”: “How can we make the spirit of the people, yearning and worried everywhere, be encouraged and calmed down? After all, even capital itself and its movement is in search of moral tranquillity, but without moral tranquillity it either hides or is unproductive.”
The problem of lack of trust in economic policy on the part of the population remains acute to this day – during Dostoevsky’s time, the writer noted how important it is to achieve long-term understanding and trust within the population: “We have little peace of mind, especially spiritual peace, that is, the most important thing, without spiritual peace there will be nothing. They do not pay much attention to this, but only achieve a temporary, material effect on the surface. There is neither calmness in the minds, and this is in all layers, nor calmness in our convictions, in our views, in our nerves, in our appetites. There is neither work, nor the consciousness that only by work ‘you will be saved’ – none in the least.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting predictions of Dostoevsky relates to the priorities of foreign economic policy and our regional development. In fact, Dostoevsky in his economic article substantiates the need for a Russian “turn to the East” and the active development of the Asian regions of Russia: “So, it is a necessity, because Russia is not only in Europe, but also in Asia; because a Russian is not only a European, but also an Asian. Moreover, there may be even more hopes in Asia than in Europe. Moreover, in our future destinies, perhaps Asia is our main gateway!”
For Dostoevsky, a turn to Asia is part of that very fundamental process of “healing the roots”, while Asia for Russia can provide a means of uplifting the spirit and gaining greater independence: “Meanwhile, Asia may indeed be our gateway into our future – I exclaim it again! And if we had at least partially assimilated this idea – oh, what a root would have been healed then! Asia, our Asiatic Russia – after all, this is also our sick root, which not only has to be refreshed, but must be completely resurrected and recreated!! … with a turn to Asia, with our new perspective on it, we may have something like what happened to Europe when America was discovered. After all, Asia for us is the same undiscovered America of that time. With the striving for Asia, we will revive the rise of spirit and strength. As soon as we become more independent, we will immediately find what to do, while with Europe, in the past two centuries, we have lost the habit of any business and have become talkers and lazy people.”
I don’t know how many times I have read Dostoevsky’s economic article, and each time I find in it something new for myself, a kind of new look at the problems we face in Russia today. Dostoevsky also writes about the exchange rate of the rouble, about the need for Russia to value its national currency – and then it will be appreciated by foreign investors as well. The observations by Fyodor Mikhailovich of the very possibility of imitating European economic practices on Russian soil are also extremely interesting and relevant. After 140 years have passed since the writing of the economic article, many of the observations of our great writer remain extremely relevant. This testifies to Dostoevsky’s astounding farsightedness and genius, but also to how entrenched some of the fundamental foundations of our country system turn out to be over time. Or could it be that we are dealing with the long-term Dostoevsky cycles, even more long-term than the Kondratieff’s waves? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
From our partner RIAC
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