Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Why emerging market countries have an edge

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 29, 2010 13:29 UTC

Tony Hsieh and Sanjay Madan wrote the program to create LinkExchange over a weekend. Before the following weekend, they had more than a dozen websites participating in their ad-sharing network. Over the next several weeks they worked frantically on the project. They refined their business in real time, learning—quickly!—from their mistakes. Less than a year later, the Harvard grads were offered $1 million (U.S.) for the company. Less than a year after that, they sold it for $265 million.

That was 1996. Since then, this story of development on the run has become commonplace. Hacker culture is now part of the broader culture: “beta test” is in the dictionary, and we accept innovative, albeit imperfect, beta releases even from multibillion-dollar global behemoths such as Google. We’re prepared to accept flaws because the tech revolution is progressing so quickly that it is usually better to be fast, and possibly wrong, than to try to be perfect and end up being slow. By the time your flawless product is released, it will likely be obsolete.

Technologists aren’t the only people operating in a rapidly changing, uncertain environment. Thanks both to the tech revolution and to globalization, that is true of all of us, including our governments. But, as Nobel-Prize winning economist Michael Spence argued at a private equity conference in Quebec City this week, emerging-market governments seem to be better at dealing with an unpredictable, volatile world than Western ones. They are like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs—willing to act swiftly, even if it means making mistakes. Leaders in the West are more like Detroit, reluctant to make bold moves until it is too late.

Part of the problem is the way we judge various types of mistakes. Spence argues that we make two types of mistakes—implementing a bad idea, and failing to act on a good one. If you are religiously minded, you could think of these as sins of commission and sins of omission. In stable times, sins of commission are probably worse. If your industry isn’t changing very much or if your country’s economy and the world economy are on an even keel, launching an expensive new product or government program that fails is probably more damaging than missing out on a great opportunity.

But in times of radical change, making a mistake is less risky than doing nothing at all. Spence thinks that emerging-market leaders understand this better than Western ones do, and he cited the examples of China’s fast and big stimulus program after the financial crisis and the Indian government’s willingness to act to burst asset bubbles.

Lessons from Beijing

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 27, 2010 14:52 UTC

Following her chat with Glenn Hutchins at the Quebec City Conference about how globalization is changing corporate strategy, Chrystia interviewed NYU Economics Professor A. Michael Spence about how globalization is bringing about structural change in the world’s leading economies.

Spence, a 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize, chairs the Commission on Growth and Development, a multilateral effort to determine the practical conditions developing nations need to implement in order to achieve high growth. Given his expertise in emerging markets, it comes as no surprise that he thinks their future is bright. Spence was impressed with emerging markets’, especially China’s, brisk comeback following the capital flight and collapse in world trade that resulted from the financial crisis, and he thought they would be able to sustain their current growth rates:

American policymakers — and other Nobel Prize winners – are far less impressed with China’s resurgence, which they view as the result of the malevolent Chinese policy of keeping the yuan undervalued. Spence, however, argued that a one-off revaluation of the sort Washington demands will not only be bad for China, since it will destabilize most of the country’s export-oriented businesses. But it would also be bad for the global economy, since China is the engine for growth in large parts of the world. Instead, he said, China should focus on finding a way to make necessary structural changes while sustaining growth:

The world’s new crucible

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 26, 2010 21:13 UTC

The theme of this year’s Quebec City Conference, a gathering of some of the world’s pre-eminent private-equity investors and venture capitalists, is innovation and globalization. Chrystia was in attendance earlier this morning and interviewed one of the event’s keynote speakers: Glenn Hutchins, co-founder of Silver Lake Partners, a $14 billion private-equity firm that focuses on the technology sector.

Hutchins’ remarks focused on the shift of economic power from the U.S. to China. He noted that as long as China grows much faster than the United States, multinational corporations will shift more of their business there. But his other insight was that for the first time businesses are tailoring products to the Chinese consumer rather than just selling the Chinese products developed for American consumers:

It used to be that to be a global company you had to forge your business model in the crucible of competition in North America–potentially Europe, but usually North America–where you define your business model, define your product set, define your customers, and then once you were successful there took it outside the world and essentially sold the same products and services to a strata of groups and people around the world who can consume it.  Today what you’re seeing is companies that are growing up–we talked a little earlier about Huawei being a very good example, but there are many, many others–whose business models are being forged in the crucible of competition in the emerging markets.

Inflation is inevitable counters Wolfensohn

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 12, 2010 23:08 UTC

While Laura Tyson thinks America has no intention to inflate away its debt, former World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn said in an interview today he believes inflation and a devaluation of the dollar are “inevitable”:

Countries that get into heavy debt find that other countries realize that their currency isn’t as valuable as it was because they owe so much money. So the currency devalues. As it devalues, you have an inflation. And it is my judgment that that is likely to be a very important element in how we unwind this whole issue of debt to income levels in the United States.

Wolfensohn has a similarly gloomy outlook for Africa, a continent whose development he championed during his tenure at the World Bank. African institutions and governance are less efficient and effective than their counterparts in India and China, he says, and growth will suffer as a result:

Stiglitz says Fed policy is competitive devaluation

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 7, 2010 16:48 UTC

U.S. monetary policy is flooding the world with cheap liquidity, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said at the Canadian Consulate’s “Invest in Canada” luncheon yesterday. Our current policy, he explained, acts as a competitive devaluation against emerging-market currencies. Stiglitz added that he is worried about the prospect of a currency war but conceded that there’s not anything we can do about it.

Stiglitz went on to say that what the Fed is doing is not so different from China’s interventions in the foreign-exchange markets and accused the U.S. central bank of undermining global financial market integration and only acting out of a sense of guilt:

The Fed, having created the problem in the first place, feels guilty and says, ‘We should do something to get us out of the mess.’ [...]   [Emerging markets] see this as competitive devaluation of the United States.  We say, ‘No, no.  We’re not engaged in competitive devaluation.  That’s something China does.  We don’t do those kinds of things.  We don’t manipulate our currency.  All we do is ordinary monetary policy.’  But the consequence of ordinary monetary policy is competitive devaluation.

Rise of the rest

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 30, 2010 21:01 UTC

Get ready for the next wave of globalization. The emergence of the emerging markets is old news, of course: after all, Tom Friedman discovered that the world was flat back in 2005. But even as much of the developed world is struggling with weak consumer demand and stubbornly high levels of unemployment, the emerging market countries are writing a new chapter in the story of the global economy.

We are accustomed to thinking of our economic relationship with the countries Fareed Zakaria describes as “the rest” as a two-way exchange between west and east or north and south: western companies setting up call centers in India or manufacturing their goods in China, for instance; and, more recently, savings-rich emerging market economies, especially China, investing in US treasuries, or Russian oligarchs buying London mansions.

That was Globalisation 1.0. In the next stage, some of the biggest deals and some of the most important capital flows will be between emerging markets, with no need to stop-over at Heathrow or JFK. Forget the last decade’s race-to-the-bottom rivalry between Wall Street and the City of London to be the world’s financial capital; the new motto of the moneymen, as one Manhattan banker put it to me this week, is “Mumbai, Dubai, Shanghai or goodbye.”

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