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Friday, August 10, 2018
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Friday, June 8, 2018
The decision of the American government to impose trade tariffs on goods from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union has caused an uproar and ignited plans of retaliation right away. The world has entered a trade world. Even more so like real wars, a trade war knows only losers. Economic nationalism has put the world into the Great Depression in the 1930s, when the United States imposed the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff on thousands of goods. The leaders of the world had learnt about this catastrophe and after World War II, the United States had acted as the leader in order to promote free trade around the globe.
The costs of protectionism are paid by the consumer. Protectionism means that goods become more expensive and that the quality falls. The apparent advantage of protecting the home industry vanishes because protectionism by one nation invites retaliation from the other nations. In the end, all are worse off.
When the United States complains about its trade deficit, it must notice the paradox that the U.S. economy has the highest degrees of international competitiveness. In many sectors, the United States operates at the forefront of technological progress. American companies are known world-wide and enjoy the highest valuations. Thus, what lies behind the new protectionism.
American industry has been at the top of industrial development and surpassed all other countries since the turn of the century. After World War I and World War II, the United States has taken gigantic leaps forward in establishing its leadership. This position has held until today. It is, therefore, somewhat a conundrum when the United States resorts to protectionism which is usually reserved to countries that are economically weak and suffer from a low degree of international competitiveness.
In order to understand what is going on, one must look at the world monetary order. With the inception of the Bretton Woods System, the U.S. dollar has become the international reserve currency. The demand for U.S. dollars outstrips by far the need to have dollars to buy American products. While there is quasi an unlimited demand for dollars because the American currency serves as a global means of payment, this constellation also means that the United States is the only country, which has almost no constraint on its trade deficit and consequently no barriers against accumulating excessive foreign debt.
Imbalances in foreign trade lead to structural changes in a country’s economy. In the case of the United States this means that the persistent current account deficits that have been in place since the early 1980s have led to crowding-out of a part of the U.S. manufacturing sector. This trend has also brought about a deterioration of the income distribution in the United States.
Global trade and the international monetary order
The American dilemma
While the high-tech sector has been flourishing, and consumer demand is booming, the U.S. manufacturing sector has been suffering and with that has also come a profound rise of income inequality. With the well-paid manufacturing jobs vanishing, the demand for top-qualified persons rose in the high-tech sector while at the same time employment has grown in the low-end service sector.
Few people recognize that the election victory of Donald Trump is the result of the effects of international trade on income distribution. The incumbent American President came to power with the promise of making America great again by way of revitalizing the lost manufacturing sector. Since being in power, Donald Trump keeps up to his promise.
In this perspective, the irritating actions of the President - such as getting out of the Paris Accord and cancelling the environmental restrictions on coal mining - make sense. It is the same with the recent imposition of tariffs on steel.
The dollar’s curse
Why does the United Sates have trade deficits when its economy is one of the most, maybe even the most competitive in the world? The answer is that the U.S. dollar is overvalued against almost any other currency. This overvaluation of the American currency is the immediate result of the use of the dollar as a global means of payments and consequently as an international reserve currency.
The monetary equivalent of the resource curse that afflicts some commodity exporters is the dollar curse that afflicts the United States. Both lead to an overvalued currency. In the case of the United States this leads to the situation that on the one hand, the United States suffers from persistently high trade deficits, while, on the other hand, it need not worry about its international payments capability because the country’s foreign debt is denominated in the home currency, i.e. in US-dollars.
Need of a new monetary order
Most economists agree that protectionism is not the solution to the dilemma. On the contrary, protectionism makes matters worse. What needs to be done is abandon the role of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency. For this to happen, one must establish a new kind of monetary order.
Different from the expectation, the new European currency could not play a role equivalent to the U.S. dollar. The share of the euro in the composition of international reserves has remained relatively low. Even less so does the Chinese yuan qualify as a substitute for the U.S. dollar. Constructing a new international monetary order remains the big challenge of our time.
Stuck in the middle-income trap
The so-called middle-income trap has come back to haunt the emerging economies. A country finds itself in the middle-income when it falls into prolonged stagnation after its high-growth phase of the take-off and reaches the middle-income bracket, which currently is the range from more than 1,006 $ and under 3,955 $ of a per-capita income for the lower middle-income countries, and a range for more than 3,956 $ and under 12,235 $ for the upper middle-income countries. World bank studies found that only 13 countries out of 101 middle-income economies in 1960 became high income by 2008.
Brazil represents a case where entering the middle-income trap has resulted in a series of inadequate policies that have worsened the situation. The next big test case is how China will fare in the face of slower growth in the future.
Remaining stuck in the middle-income trap means that the country has not succeeded in changing its growth strategy from a cumulative and imitative model to a model of a competitive, entrepreneurial and innovative economy. Simple imitation of the advanced economies generates high returns only when the distance between the emerging economy and the advanced countries is large. When the distance to the leading economies narrows, imitation becomes less viable. As the certainty of imitation vanishes, the new trajectory requires trial and error, which implies much more sophisticated skills than the mere imitation of a mature technology under state control would necessitate.
When the take-off had come along with an expansion of state activity, the presumption often prevails that more state control instead of less would be the answer to respond to the slowdown. Yet the consequence of this policy is not economic growth but clientelism, corruption, and the misallocation of resources.
An unfavorable business climate discourages private business to wage riskier investment project that yield high returns. Because of the unfavorable business climate, mainly in standard production will be invested and consequently, productivity remains low.
It is so hard to get out of the middle-income trap because one must bring about a fundamental transformation in its economy. The country must change from a cumulative and imitative economy to an innovative economy. Instead of a top-down transformation, the economy needs to blossom from below. Such a transformation requires the liberalization of the regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles that gag entrepreneurial activity. Reducing the tax burden and eliminating the bureaucratic nightmare are essential. The state sector must abandon its ad hoc interventionism, which creates uncertainties, in favor of a policy that is limited to offer legal and institutional security, and that facilitates entrepreneurship.
Expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to get out of the middle-income trap only worsen the situation. These policies lead to imbalances between savings, investments, spending, and the exchange rate. Even worse gets the case when the government accrues budget deficits, which generate a reduction of the national rate of savings. With less savings available for private investment, such policies hamper the productivity gains and thus to obtain economic progress.To achieve higher levels of productivity, governments must abandon state capitalism, which was chosen as the method for take-off. To get out of the middle-income trap, the emerging country must open its economy to the entrepreneurial capitalism of creative destruction.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sunday, April 15, 2018
The post-world war II world order is under attack. Not by foreign enemies but from within. At the forefront of the destruction of this order are those countries which were most instrumental in establishing this order, with the United States and the United Kingdom in the first ranks.
With its vote for leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom has abandoned its support for one of the main institutions that came into existence after World War I besides NATO, the IMF and the GATT (now renamed to WTO in 1995).
A national economy exists within the framework of the nation’s politics, and a nation operates within the framework of its international relation and its strategic global position. When the international framework is changing, the national macroeconomic situation remains not untouched.
As of now, the first major negative impact of the shifts in the global framework is a heightened insecurity. The rising uncertainty impacts negatively on the propensity to invest. Even with the currently extremely low interest rate, investment has remained weak. As a consequence, the way out of the crisis of 2008 has been slow and weak.
The risk has emerged that the global economy will be tanking before a full recovery from the last recession has taken place.
The mutation of institutions is a common feature of human history. The problem is that sometimes, the old institutional framework crumbles before a new system has come into place. Along with that emerges the other problem that while the established leading power is waning, the new one has not yet attained its capacity of leadership.
This seems to be currently the case when the President of the United States is openly announcing the retreat of his country from major global institutions, while very few countries outside of China are inclined to accept a Chinese global leadership.
There was a time when the hopes were high that the European Union (EU) could work in tandem with the United States to provide an almost perfect mixture between hard and soft power and together with a primordial economic and financial global dominance. With the retreat of the United Kingdom from the EU, this option is off the table.
The United Nations Organization (UNO) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank along with the World Trade Organization (WTO) could not live up the expectations at the time of their foundations. Now, even current financing of their maintenance confronts obstacles and when the United States challenges the authority of the WTO other countries will follow suit.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC OVERVIEW
Except for the United Kingdom, where the rate of economic growth fell from 2.3 per cent to 1.7 per cent, economic growth accelerated in the major economies from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2017. In the United States, the economic growth rate went up from 1.9 per cent to 2.3 per cent. In the European Union, the economic growth rate rose from 2.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent, while in Japan, the rate increased from 1.1 per cent to 1.6 per cent.
With the exception of Japan and the United Kingdom, the annual overall inflation rate tended to decline from January 2017 to January 2018. In the United State, the price inflation rate fell from 2.4 per cent to 1.8 per cent. The Euro Area experienced a sharp decline from an annual rate of 1.6 per cent to 0.9 per cent. In Japan, the rate rose noticeably from 0.4 per cent to 1.5 per cent. In the United Kingdom, the price inflation rate rose over the year from 1.6 in January 2016 to 2.3 per cent in January 2018.
Long-term interest rates
Interest rates in the industrial countries have remained low. In February 2018, the interest rate in the United States stood at 1.75 per cent, in the Euro Area, the rate was 0.92, and in Japan, the long-term annual interest rate was 1.5 per cent. In the United Kingdom, the long-term interest rate rose from 1.3 per cent in February 2017 to 1.6 per cent in February 2018.
From February 2017 to February 2018, the exchange rate of the euro (dollars per euro) rose from 1.06 to 1.23 to the U.S.-dollar. In Japan, the yen strengthened from a rate of 113.1 to 108 yen per U.S.-dollar. The British pound rose from 1.35 dollars per pound to 1.40 dollars per pound.
The United States continues having current account deficits, which only slightly fell from 2.4 per cent gross domestic product to a rate of 2.1 per cent. The Euro Area, along with Japan have persistently high surpluses with 4.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 of the Euro Area and of 4.5 per cent in the case of Japan.
PIIGS is a pejorative acronym that stands for a group of countries formed by Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain that was coined during the European debt crises to distinct the weaker European economies, particularly at the Southern flank of the European Union, from the stronger economies in the North. While these countries received extensive media coverage during the debt crisis in the years after 2010, it has almost gone unnoticed how a recovery of these counties has taken place.
As of January 2018, the annual economic growth rate of Portugal was 2.4 per cent down from its peak of 3 per cent in July 2017. Since January 2015 the unemployment rate has come down from 13.7 per cent to 8.1 per cent in January 2018. Nevertheless, at a level of over 120 per cent since 2012, the government debt situation remains precarious.
The Republic of Ireland has made the most impressive recovery from its debt crisis. After negative rates between five and ten per cent around 2010, Ireland has experienced a sharp recovery that lifted its annual economic growth rate up to around five per cent from 2011 to 2016. Since peak growth in January 2017 with an annual rate of eleven per cent, the rate of economic growth has come down to 1.5 per cent in January 2018. Since 2010, the country’s unemployment rate has fallen from over eight per cent to a current rate of 2.4 % while government debt fell from a rate of close to one hundred per cent during the debt crisis to a rate of 42.3 per cent to gross domestic product in 2017.
Different from Portugal and Ireland, the recovery of Greece has been weak and slow. After a negative rate of four per cent in 2012, Greece has recovered from negative economic growth but not yet achieved more than a zero-growth rate over the years from 2013 to 2018. Consequently, unemployment has remained high and fallen only from over 25 per cent in the period 2013 to 2016 to a current rate of slightly over twenty per cent. The debt situation of Greece is still very precarious with of public debt to gross domestic product of close to 180 per cent since 2011.
Spain has recovered fairly well from the debt crisis. From a negative growth rate of gross domestic product of four per cent in 2013, Spain’s economic growth rate has steadily risen to a rate of close to four per cent since 2013. As of December 2017, Spain’s annual growth rate stood at 3.1 per cent. Unemployment, however, is still high at over 16 per cent in January 2018, albeit it has come down considerably from a peak of 25 per cent in the years of the debt crisis. Despite the economic recovery, the debt coefficient of Spain has continued to rise from 39.5 per cent in 2008 to 99.4 per cent in 2016.
Friday, April 6, 2018
Demarchy — also called sortition — is a form of governance that selects the representatives of the people as a random sample from a pool of candidates.