Opinion

The Great Debate

from Ian Bremmer:

The secret to China’s boom: state capitalism

By Ian Bremmer
The views expressed are his own.

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the world since the 2008 financial crisis can be summed up in one sentence: Security is no longer the primary driver of geopolitical developments; economics is. Think about this in terms of the United States and its shifting place as the superpower of the world. Since World War II, the U.S.’s highly developed Department of Defense has ensured the security of the country and indeed, much of the free world. The private sector was, well, the private sector. In a free market economy, companies manage their own affairs, perhaps with government regulation, but not with government direction. More than sixty years on, perhaps that’s why our military is the most technologically advanced in the world while our domestic economy fails to create enough jobs and opportunities for the U.S. population.

Contrast the U.S. and its free market economy with China’s system.  For years now, that country has experienced double digit growth. Many observers would say that China’s embrace of capitalism since 1978, and especially since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, has been responsible for its boom. They would be mostly wrong. In fact, a new study prepared for the U.S. government says it’s not capitalism that’s powering China, but state capitalism -- China’s massive, centrally directed industrial policy, where the government positions huge amounts of capital and labor in economic sectors it intends to nurture. The study, prepared by consultants Capital Trade for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, reads in part:

In a world in which central planning has been so utterly discredited, it would be natural to conclude that the Chinese government and, by extension, the Chinese Communist Party have been abandoning the institutions associated with the communist economic system, such as reliance on state‐owned enterprises (SOEs), as fast as possible. Such conclusion would be wrong.

In a G-zero world where no country can claim the mantle of international leadership, China has pulled an accomplished head fake. While the media focuses on China’s special economic zones, like Hong Kong and Macau, and the rise of the banker class and Chinese tech industry, state directed spending is the real engine of growth.  Capital invested in infrastructure like factories, heavy industry, roadways, and high speed trains continues to power annual double digit growth in GDP. Reliable data from 2004 shows that 76% of Chinese non-financial firms are classified as State Owned Enterprises (firms with government ownership of greater than 10%).

In short, while the U.S. has spent decades and vast treasure building up its defense system (and yes, by extension, the sectors of the economy that service it), China has spent its time and money building up control over the broad direction of its entire economy. In today’s world, where the first sentence of this essay rings true, which country currently looks better positioned to, pardon the pun, capitalize, in the years ahead?

The sad flaw of measuring hurricanes by GDP

By David Callahan
The opinions expressed are his own. 

Hurricane Irene may not have lived up to all the media hype, but it still did billions of dollars in damage. Some analysts say cleaning up the mess will boost Gross Domestic Product for the second half of 2011. These estimates are surely correct – and remind us why GDP is such a perverse way to measure economic progress.

No number is more closely watched than GDP. Americans walk with more bounce in their step when GDP is rising at a nice clip and turn gloomy when this indicator sinks. While GDP first came into use after World War II as a technical way to measure all economic activity, it has somehow morphed into the nation’s thermometer – the leading gauge of how well we are doing.

Such is the dominance of GDP that we tend to forget just how crude this indicator really is – so crude that it can’t even distinguish between growth caused by a terrible event, like a hurricane, and growth tied to higher productivity or technological breakthroughs.

from MacroScope:

Europe’s over-achievers and their fall from grace

Ireland's fall from grace has been rapid and far worse than that of its counterparts, even Greece. But life in the euro zone has still been one of profound growth, as it has for most of the other peripheral economies.

Take a look first at the progress of  PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) GDP since 2007 when the global financial crisis took hold. In straight comparisons (ie, rebased to the  same point) Ireland is far and away the biggest loser. Portugal is basically where it was.

Scary

But now take the rebasing back to roughly the time that the euro zone came together.  First, it shows that Ireland's fall is from a very high place. The decade has still been one of profound improvement in cumulative GDP even with the last few years' misery. But it is front loaded.

U.S., China and eating soup with a fork

-The opinions expressed are the author’s own-

Are economists the world over using an outdated tool to measure economic progress?

The question, long debated, is worth pondering again at a time when two economic giants, the United States and China, are sparring over trade, currency exchange rates and their roles in the global economy.

In the run-up to U.S. mid-term elections on November 2, politicians from both parties, for different reasons, blamed trade with China for American job losses. China responded with irritation and hit back by accusing the U.S. of “out of control” printing of dollars tantamount to an attack on China with imported inflation.

from MacroScope:

The IMF to turn on the rich

The latest International Monetary Fund meeting ended with emerging market powers getting a pledge from the organisation for stronger and "more even-handed" scrutiny of what is going on in large advanced economies.

As Reuters correspondents Lesley Wroughton and Emily Kaiser report here, the decision is a response to long-running frustrations among emerging economies, which reckon the Fund has  not been tough enough on its biggest shareholders, led by the United States.

The move reflects a number of things. First, it shows the growing clout of emerging economies within international institutions. The G-20, for example, is arguably now more influential than the old , richer G7. Secondly, it graphically underlines the current world-turned-upside-down state of the global economy, in which profligate rich economies are struggling to keep above water while supposedly poorer and less-developed ones enjoy solid growth and relatively stable finances. This graph makes the point:

Taxing spoils of the financial sector

If you want less of something, tax it.

That truism is often used as an argument against a tax on profits, or health benefits, or employment, but in the case of the rents extracted from the economy by the financial services industry here’s hoping it proves more of a promise than a threat.

The International Monetary Fund has put forward two new taxes on banks to pay the costs of future rescues, one of which is a fairly conventional “Financial Stability Contribution,” with an initial flat levy on all banks, to be refined later into something with more precise institutional and systemic risk adjustments.

More interestingly, the IMF is also proposing a “Financial Activities Tax,” (FAT) a tax on bank pay and profits which, if correctly designed, could serve as a tax on rents — the unwarranted spoils — of the financial sector.

Icelandic, Greek sagas show sovereign risks

– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Developments in cash-strapped Iceland and Greece nicely illustrate two themes for 2010: sovereign risk and financial balkanization.

Iceland is balking at crushing terms demanded as part of its making whole overseas depositors in its ruined banking system, while Greece is involved in a game of chicken with the euro zone authorities over how, when and with whose assistance it heals its fiscal difficulties.

from The Great Debate UK:

Why is the UK still in recession when the U.S. isn’t?

Recent U.S.  gross domestic product data show the world's biggest economy emerged from recession in the third quarter, while in the UK data show that in the same period Britain's economy contracted.

British economist and author John Kay theorizes that Britain is mired in its worst recession on record in part because government support has not been evenly distributed across sectors.

"We've poured money into the financial sector -- by and large the financial sector in Britain is doing OK," he said.  "But very little of that is getting through to small and medium-size businesses out there in the rest of the economy."

from The Great Debate UK:

Bats and balls the key to economic bounce

simon_chadwick-Simon Chadwick is the Director of the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University, and runs the blog ‘Daily Sport Thought’ in which he addresses many of the important challenges currently facing sport. The opinions expressed are his own.-

I love sport, I have always loved sport, and I make my living researching, writing and talking about sport. As such, I do not need to be convinced about the social, cultural, psychological and health benefits associated with our engagement in sport. I also do not need any convincing about the economic benefits of sport, although some people will always and inevitably exclaim, "he would say that wouldn’t he!"

Well, it is not me it is actually the United Nations which states that sport may account for as much as 3 percent of global economic activity. It is the European Union that estimates sport to be worth 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). And it is the British government that has recently acknowledged just how significant sport as an industry has become by commissioning research which will result in the development of robust measures for the contribution that sport makes to the British economy. Previous estimates already indicate that sport may generate as much as 2.5 percent of GDP, in which case this means it is an industry bigger than agriculture and not so far behind manufacturing.

from The Great Debate UK:

A reality check from Standard & Poor’s

REUTERS-- Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own --

Standard & Poor's could have chosen a better day to kick the British economy, by placing the UK onto "negative outlook", the usual precursor to a downgrade of S&P's rating of an issuer's debt.

The move came minutes before the Debt Management Office closed its massive auction of 5 billion pounds of 2014 stock, and minutes after the release of figures showing the Public Sector Net Borrowing Requirement leaping to 8.5 billion pounds in April, a sum which not long ago would have been considered high for a whole year.

Economist Howard Archer at Global Insight immediately called the figure "dire, starting the new fiscal year off as it is highly likely to continue."

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