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War economics

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In 2019 – the last year for which we have complete statistics – all classes of financial investment had a total increase of 23 trillion US dollars, particularly Stock Exchange securities and public debt instruments. The global value of Stock Exchange securities alone grew by 17 trillion US dollars, from 67,000 to 84,000 US dollars, while, finally, the global value of bonds alone grew by 6 trillion US dollars.

 A very weak house of cards. In fact, two events alone, such as the closure of the Straits of Hormuz, or a new “democratization” in the Middle East, would be enough to trigger an inflation led by oil or other raw materials cost, which would bring the whole great house of cards of public and private debt down.

 A “short-term life”, an “altered stage” of finance that currently – with fintech and derivatives, born with Clinton’s banking reform – can afford not to consider the financial flows data, but only a manipulated calculation of probabilities, against which, however, you can insure yourself.

 The entire Eurozone, which believes to be smarter than the others, lives on trade surpluses – often huge as in Germany – but also with a mix of low domestic wages and booming foreign trade, which makes the EU economies extremely vulnerable to asymmetric attacks from some non-EU expanding countries – not to mention the USA and China, which will tolerate for a short time yet this difference in level, which harms them significantly.

 The European Target 2, the interbank payment system that no longer allows to resort to foreign currency reserves to offset banks’ liquidity deficits, has now a full balance of over 1 trillion euros, of which 800 billion euros are German flows only, which therefore live on purchases by the Euro area.

 Hence a system that amplifies the asymmetric shocks, which are inherent in a “rigid” currency and not lender of last resort as the euro, but which favours above all the holders of greater surpluses than the EU countries, which are currently less capable of achieving trade surpluses. Therefore, for Italy, beating the surplus within the Eurozone is a primary goal of economic and financial warfare. It can be done.

 Certainly Keynes’ old and still valid idea – launched at the Bretton Woods Conference – to find a single currency and also an account currency, namely bancor, which would revalue the currency of the country recording a surplus and devalue the country recording an excessive deficit, was defeated by the USA, the winning country, which had also financed Great Britain – that paid its debt to the USA until 1973 – but which wanted above all to internationalize the dollar, so that it could have a “high” value despite its structural trade deficit.

 Therefore, this enables the EU countries which record higher balance of payments surpluses to purchase bonds –  for example, Italian ones – while the further reduction in value of the Greek, Spanish and Portuguese bonds is maintained by favouring one or the other markets of government bonds and securities. Currently the shopping of public debt instruments is a primary method of economic warfare.

 In this very weakened framework, the huge Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

 It is the seal – if ever there was a need – of a new war economics.

 This means: a) initial planning of actions; b) predefined distribution of resources; c) hierarchy of goals; d) careful selection of public and private spending.

 Furthermore, democratic Socialism, but also social Catholicism, were born from the experiments that the great capitalist economies carried out during the First World War, such as the Beveridge Plan – a continuation of war Socialism by other means – just to paraphrase Von Clausewitz’s well-known statement – but also the subsequent democratization of Germany following the end of the Third Reich, which led the winners to maintain the workers’ co-participation in the management of small and large companies.

 When this health and human tragedy is over, we can think about a sort of new “Glorious Thirties”, as a French economist called the years from 1945 to 1975.

 Nevertheless, we shall give up what the Maoist Red Guards called the “four old habits”, i.e. old ideas, old culture, old habits and old behaviours.

 But obviously we shall do so within our eternal Western culture, which respects all the others and, often, enhances them.

 Old ideas: balancing the budget as a goal in itself. Let us consider that currently the EU Member States’ Constitutions enshrine precisely the “balanced budget” principle. It is a laughing matter. What should be done if Vesuvius erupted? Could we leave the whole Campania region without aid? What about Smith’s invisible hand?

What if a new pandemic broke out? What should be done? Are we not aware of the fact that probably also the current financial criteria may be undermined, not only by people’s demands, but precisely in their intrinsic structure?

 Old culture: what if we rethought all the finance and productive economy?

What if, for example, we rebuilt the internal market, without thinking – as it will never happen – that trade-induced capitalization will be such as to refinance the system? The mountains of money on which the global “billionaires” are sitting like Uncle Scrooge are not really cashable now, even if it seems so.

 Hence we are building a “Monopoly” that looks like a real system, but it is not so any longer.

 Old habits: what if we tried to control production so as to avoid – even manu military – companies’ delocalization abroad? What if we understood, for example, that a mechanic from the Piaggio company in Pontedera is not at all interchangeable with a poor Indian immigrant?

 Surely they will never make the same Vespa scooter. Hence, what if we invested not in the quick planned obsolescence – possibly with much advertising rhetoric – but in items capable of being a non-monetary investment for buyers?

 This is the theory of generalized wear – even in goods production – that Ezra Pound expressed in the 45th Canto of his most important work.

 However, there are no industrial nations by vocation or mission.

 Nevertheless, the shrinking of the Welfare State following the eventful advent of the so-called “Second Republic” in Italy has been based on the concept – which is very hard to prove scientifically – that the cost of market limitation is always greater than the cost of a restructuring crisis.

 This has never been the case, not even on a simple accounting level.

 Hence a war economics against the pandemic is needed to rebuild the old Welfare State with new formulas.

 The war economics, as it was studied after the Second World War, is made of many things: the economic “war cycles”, which absorb the Schumpeterian creative destruction; the calculation of the national income; the estimate of real capital and its depreciation, not to mention the input-output tables.

 There is an old study by the Naval War College, drafted by Jim Lacey in 2011, which tells how US economists probably determined the allies’ real victory in the war against the Axis powers.

 In 1931, a British intelligence cell supervised the German industrial reconstruction, while in the 1930s and 1940s, the economic experts – not the poor ideologists of the current tout va bien – identified the industrial sectors which had to be selectively funded, as a priority, to secure the victory and the war efforts.

 A cost-benefit analysis was made – not the ridiculous one that is currently so fashionable for infrastructure in Italy – but the one based on Leontief’s matrices.

 Preference for strategic bombing, for example, as well as for precision weapons and for surgical actions on convoys.

The battle of materials theorized by Ernst Jünger was made by the Allies, not by the Third Reich.

 Hence, in the current Covid-19 times, selective investment is needed in biological sciences and electronic infrastructure – all public investment, even if some private entities would have the possibility to invest in these fields – but also in technical and mass information, scientific training and all the new technologies.

 The private sector may currently have the capital to invest, but it has not the heads for it while, in the medium or long-term, the public sector can afford a return on non-financial investment and, in any case, lower than the one that a private investor in the same sector would expect.

 This is the reason why, based on my first-hand experience of that era, I can say it was silly to privatize IRI’s large product and business sectors.

 This is also the reason why energy is still mostly public in Italy, precisely because the capitalists in the sector would have been forced to – or would have anyway preferred – a “shorter” timeframe for the return on capital.

 As is the case with household appliances, cars and even computers. As often currently happens, they are homogeneous products, but selected by consumers on the basis of structurally non-efficient criteria such as colour, fashion, user-friendliness, advertising, etc.

 The next industrial revolution will be much less advertising-based than the current one. The market is already rather updated and selective.

 The Washington Consensus is also over. Disciplined fiscal policy is not necessary, as the most recent European history has shown us. Quite the reverse. “Fiscal moderation” does not produce capital and investment. Also the “public spending readjustment” does not produce the desired effects, because the average wages of those who remain at work are lowered and the positive interest rates do not always guarantee the investment expansion, but probably above all the unearned and unproductive income.

 Furthermore, there is no free “market” of exchange rates, considering that it is guided by exquisitely political evaluations and that the privatization of public companies does not ensure greater quality of management. Quite the reverse. It entails a distribution of “donations and contributions” to the new political parties – as happened with the “Second Republic” in Italy. Finally, deregulation is not necessary given that it permits the exploitation of the lower labour costs, but does not automatically optimize the production formula.

 With these economic and financial mechanisms, the wealth produced in the Glorious Thirties has been drained. However, much less wealth than expected has materialized.

 The offensive weapons of war economics are still traditionally the same: limiting the financial flows in the enemy country; the embargo; the manoeuvres on the public debt (to cause the fiscal crisis of the State or its insolvency). Today it is a matter of overturning these rules, so as to identify those that capitalize on the Covid-19 epidemics and stop their adverse actions.

 For Italy, the cost of this epidemics is now quite clear: if it ends next May, although it is unlikely, the cost for companies – generically calculated – will be approximately 300 billion euros.

 If the epidemics lasts until next December, companies’ losses will be over 640 billion euros.

 Obviously all this requires a war economics, both in terms of a planned strategy for investment and subsidies and in terms of the future reprogramming of Italy’s production system.

 This system shall be targeted to take essential market shares away from the States that would currently like to benefit from our crisis, both to acquire our companies at low prices and to make the remaining Italian companies ancillary to their production formula.

 This is the new war economics.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

Digital Futures: Driving Systemic Change for Women

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Authors: Erin Watson-Lynn and Tengfei Wang*

As digital technology continues to unlock new financial opportunities for people across Asia and the Pacific, it is critical that women are central to strategies aimed at harnessing the digital financial future. Women are generally poorer than men – their work is less formal, they receive lower pay, and their money is less likely to be banked. Even when controlling for class, rural residency, age, income, and education level, women are overrepresented among the world’s poorest people in developing countries. Successfully harnessing digital technology can play a key role in creating new opportunities for women to utilise formal financial products and services in ways that empower them. 

Accelerating women’s access to the formal economy through digital innovations in finance increases their opportunity to generate an income and builds resilience to economic shocks. The recently issued ESCAP guidebook titled, Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in the Asia Pacific, highlights the fact that mechanisms to bring women into the digital economy are different from those for other groups, and that tailored policy responses are important for women to fully realise their potential in the Asia-Pacific region.

Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that how women utilise their finances can have a beneficial impact on the broader community. When women have bank accounts, they are more likely to save money, buy healthier foods for their family, and invest in education. For women who receive Government-to-Person (G2P) payments, there is significant improvement in their lives across a range of social and economic outcomes. Access to safe, secure, and affordable digital financial services thus has the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.

Despite the enormous opportunity, there are numerous constraints which affect women’s access to financial services. This includes the gender gap in mobile phone ownership across Asia and the Pacific, lower levels of education (including lower levels of basic numeracy and literacy), and lower levels of financial literacy. This complex web of constraints means that country and provincial level diagnostics are required and demands agile and flexible policy responses that meet the unique needs of women across the region.

Already, across Asia and the Pacific, governments are implementing innovative policy solutions to capture the opportunities that come with digital finance, while trying to manage the constraints women often face. The policy guidebook provides a framework to examine the role of governments as market facilitators, market participants and market regulators. Through this framework, specific policy innovations drawn from examples across the region are identified which other governments can adapt and implement in their local markets.  

A good example of how strategies can be implemented at either the central government or local government levels can be found in Pakistan. While central government leadership is important, embedding tailored interventions into locally appropriate strategies plays a crucial role for implementation and effectiveness. The localisation of broader strategies needs to include women in their development and ongoing evaluation. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50,000 beneficiary committees comprising local women at the district level regularly provide feedback into the government’s G2P payment system. The feedback from these committees led to a biometric system linked to the national ID card that has enabled the government to identify women who weren’t receiving their payments, or if payments were fraudulently obtained by others.

In Cambodia and the Philippines, governments have implemented new and innovative solutions to support remittance payments through public-private-partnerships and policies that enable access to non-traditional banks. In Cambodia, Wing Money has specialised programs for women, who are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of remittance payments. Creating an enabling environment for a business such as Wing Money to develop and thrive with these low-cost solutions is an example of a positive market intervention. In the Philippines, adjusting banking policies to enable access to non-traditional banking enables women, especially those with micro-enterprises in rural areas, to access digital products.

While facilitating participation in the market can yield benefits for women, so can regulating in a way that drives systemic change. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and India, different mechanisms for targets are used to improve access to digital financial products. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the central government through its national strategy, introduced a target of a 9 per cent increase in women’s access to financial services by 2025. In India, their targets are set within the bureaucracy to incentivise policy makers to implement the Digital India strategy and promotions and job security are rewarded based on performance.

These examples of innovative policy solutions are only foundational. The options for governments and policy makers at the nexus of market facilitation, participation and regulation demands creativity and agility. Underpinning this is the need for a baseline of country and regional level diagnostics to capture the diverse needs of women – those who are set to benefit the most of from harnessing the future of digital financial inclusion.

*Tengfei Wang, Economic Affairs Officer

This article is the second of a two-part series based on the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Policy Guidebook: Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in Asia and the Pacific, and is jointly prepared by ESCAP and the Griffith Asia Institute.source: UNESCAP

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Empowering women-led small businesses in Nepal to go digital

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People walk down a street of shops in Kathmandu, Nepal. (file) photo World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski

Authors: Louise Anne Sophie Lavaud and Mitch Hsieh*
Throughout the years, Laxmi Shrestha and her husband saw the opportunities that opening an online shop could bring to her family business.

“Looking at the trend of TikTok and other sites, we thought selling online could help us but we weren’t technically sound,” said Laxmi, the owner ofLaxmi Hastakala Store, in Banepa, Nepal, and part of a family of artisans.

As she learned about selling online, she picked up on how to market her shop digitally and, according to Laxmi: “It has surely given our business a push we always wanted. Recently we started selling our products online and we also receive payments online.”

Laxmi Hastakala Store is among the 1,800 women-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Nepal being trained on digital and financial literacy by Sparrow Pay – one of the winners of the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund launched in 2019 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

Sparrow Pay has created a local digital marketplace where women-led MSMEs can offer products and services to its existing 800,000+ digital payment service users. Additionally, Sparrow Pay is supporting these women entrepreneurs in adopting digital payments and creating a payment history to support access to additional financial services.

MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to a country’s GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific are constrained from accessing finance and other support for their businesses. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.

ESCAP and UNCDF aim to encourage easy access to digital finance for MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific, break the financial barriers surrounding women-led enterprises and support entrepreneur-centric growth and inclusiveness throughout the region. Initiatives by the 10 winning fintech companies are currently supporting more than 9,000 women-led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.

Just like Laxmi, these women business owners plan on successfully growing their companies in the digital area.

The Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme “Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” which seeks to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific by enabling a policy environment for such business owners, providing them with access to finance and expanding the use of ICT for entrepreneurship.

*Mitch Hsieh Chief, Communications and Knowledge Management Section

UNESCAP

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Is It Possible to Lift Sanctions Against Russia? — No

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Every conflict sooner or later ends in peace. Such is the conventional wisdom that can often be heard from those who, amid the current situation of the sanctions tsunami and confrontation with the West, are trying to find hope for a return to “normality”. The logic of such wisdom is simple. At some point, the parties will cease fire and sit down at the negotiating table. The end of hostilities will lead to a gradual reduction in sanctions pressure on Russia, and our businesses will be able to return to work with Western partners.

We have to disappoint those who believe in such a prospect. Sanctions against Russia, for the most part, will not be lifted even in the event of a ceasefire in Ukraine and a peace agreement. There will be no return to “pre-February normality”. Instead of remembering a lost past, we will have to focus on creating a new future in which Western sanctions remain a constant variable.

Why is the lifting of Western sanctions on Russia extremely unlikely? There are several reasons.

The first reason is the complexity of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It has every chance of being prolonged for a long time. There may be pauses in active hostilities. The parties may conclude temporary truces. However, such truces are unlikely to remove the political contradictions that gave rise to the conflict. Currently, there are no parameters for a political compromise that would suit all parties. Even if an agreement between Moscow and Kiev is reached, its sustainability and feasibility are not guaranteed. The experience of Minsk-2 shows that the mere appearance of agreements does not automatically resolve political problems and does not lead to the lifting or easing of sanctions. The Ukrainian problem can smoulder and flare up again for decades, partly because both sides are limited in the possibilities of a decisive military victory and complete surrender of the enemy. Relations between Russia and Ukraine are at risk of entering the ranks of long-term conflicts, similar to relations between India and Pakistan, or North and South Korea. The complexity and longevity of the conflict guarantee Western sanctions for the long term.

The second reason is the stable nature of the contradictions between Russia and the West. The conflict in Ukraine is part of a larger Euro-Atlantic security palette. An unstable system of asymmetric bipolarity has formed in Europe, in which the security of Russia and NATO can hardly be indivisible. Russia has no way to crush the West without doing unacceptable damage to itself. However, the West, despite its colossal superiority, cannot crush Russia without incurring unacceptable losses. Containing Russia is the best strategy for the West. Ukraine is doomed to remain one of the areas of containment. For Russia, the strategy of asymmetric balancing of Western superiority remains optimal. It is possible that part of such a strategy will be a course towards a radical territorial redistribution of Ukraine, tearing away from it the eastern and southern parts. But in itself, such a redistribution will not remove the problems of Western sanctions.

The third reason is the institutional features of the sanctions policy of the initiating countries. Experience shows that sanctions are relatively easy to impose but very difficult to lift. Thus, with regard to Iran, a whole “web of laws” has formed in the United States, which significantly limits the administration’s ability to lift sanctions. Even if the sanctions are not enshrined in law, their cancellation or mitigation still requires political capital, which not every politician is ready to spend. In the US, such steps will cause criticism or even opposition in Congress, and in the EU – disagreements among member states. Of course, individual restrictions are lifted or relaxed in the interests of the initiating countries themselves. The experience of sanctions pressure on the Republic of Belarus shows the existence of the “sanction remissions” when restrictions are eased. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions themselves remain and can be used at any time.

The fourth reason is the quick reversibility of the sanctions. Often, their abolition is accompanied by political demands, the implementation of which is a complicated process. For example, the Iranian nuclear deal required several years of complex negotiations and significant technological decisions. However, the return of sanctions can be carried out overnight. There is an asymmetry in the fulfilment of obligations. Fulfilling the requirements of the initiators requires significant changes, while the return of sanctions requires only a political decision. Rapid reversibility breeds distrust among target countries. It is easier for them to continue to live under sanctions than to make extensive concessions and risk receiving new sanctions. Historical experience shows that the initiators of sanctions tend to play the game of “finishing” the opponent. After the concessions come new, more radical political demands and the threat of new sanctions. The “Pompeo 13 Points” – a list of US demands on Iran beyond the limits of fulfilling the terms of the nuclear deal – have already become a textbook example. The Iranian lesson, apparently, was well learned in Moscow. Iran itself is actively working to achieve its goals in the field of nuclear arms. Ultimately, this shows the ineffectiveness of sanctions in terms of influencing the political course of the target country. But questionable effectiveness does not negate the fact that sanctions continue to be applied and enforced.

The fifth reason is the ability to adapt. Without a doubt, Russia will suffer enormous damage from the restrictive measures which have been introduced. However, the possibility of it adapting to the sanctions regime remains high. Russia has the chance, first, to partially make up for the shortfall in supplies from abroad with the help of its own industry, although this will require political will and the concentration of resources. Second, it has access to non-Western markets, as well as alternative sources of goods, services and technology. The key conditions for solving this problem will be the creation of reliable channels for financial transactions that are not related to the US dollar, the Euro, or Western financial institutions. Such a task is feasible both technically and politically, although it will also require time and political will. Iran’s experience shows that sanctions have seriously hit the country’s development opportunities. However, they did not interfere with the development of agriculture, industry and technology. The modernisation of the Soviet Union also proceeded under severe Western sanctions. The ability to adapt reduces the motivation for concessions to the demands of the initiating countries, especially given the risk of playing for “finishing”.

These reasons make the prospect of lifting or significantly reducing sanctions pressure on Russia extremely unlikely. The US, EU and other initiators have already introduced the most severe restrictions on Moscow. But the upward wave of sanctions escalation has not yet been exhausted. In addition, the achievement of the ceiling of the applied measures is unlikely to mean the abolition of those already introduced. However, the sanctions also do not mean the “end of history” of the Russian economy. It found itself in new conditions that will require adaptation and the search for new opportunities for development and growth.

From our partner RIAC

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