MacroScope

The wavering faith of capitalism’s high priests

Yet another guardian of market orthodoxy has uttered what was once an unspeakable heresy.

This week, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development‘s (EBRD) acknowledged that its old approach of encouraging growth in client economies by reducing the role of the state and fostering private ownership was “simplistic”.

“The problem with this view is that markets cannot function properly unless there are well-run, effective public institutions in place,” the London-based development bank said in its annual transition report.

The EBRD was set up at the end of the Cold War to help former Soviet bloc economies make the transition to free markets so this admission is startling to say the least.

Barely three years ago, the belief that untrammelled free markets were anything but a force of good was unassailable. Other tenets of this creed were that market forces could best allocate resources and that ‘light-touch’ regulation of the financial industry ensured growing prosperity for all.

What emerging animal are you?

Ever since Goldman Sach’s Jim O’Neill came up with the idea of BRICs as an investment universe, competitors have been indulging in a global game of acronyms. Why not add Korea to Brazil, Russia, India and China and get a proper BRICK? Or include South Africa, as it wants, to properly upper case the “s” – BRICS or BRICKS?

Completely new lists have also been compiled — HSBC chief Michael Geoghegan has championed CIVETS to describe Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa (ignoring the fact, as Reuters’ Sebastian Tong points out here, that a civet is a skunk-like animal blamed for the spread of the deadly SARS outbreak in Asia).

Fun though some of this is — and no one can argue that BRICs has not had an impact — there is a danger that the acronym could become more relevant  than the actual countries involved. For example, imagine Mexico, Uruguay, Panama, Philippines, Egypt, Turkey and Sierre Leone being lumped together because they spell MUPPETS.

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:

Will China make the world green?

Workers remove mine slag at an aluminium plant in Zibo, Shandong province December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Joschka Fischer was never one to mince words when he was Germany’s foreign minister in the late ’90s and early noughts. So it is not overly surprising that he has painted a picture in a new post of a world with only two powers — the United States and China — and an ineffective and divided Europe on the sidelines.

More controversial, however, is his view that China will not only grow into the world’s most important market over the coming years, but will determine what the world produces and consumes — and that that will be green.

Fischer, who was leader of  Germany’s Green Party, reckons that due to its sheer size and needed GDP growth, China will have to pursue a green economy. Without that, he writes in his Project Syndicate post, China will quickly reach limits to growth with disastrous ecological and, as a result, political consequences.

Who will win this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics?

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And the Nobel laureate for economics in 2010 is?

Thomson Reuters expert David Pendlebury might have an idea. At least one of the picks from his annual predictions of winners (economics, chemisty, and so on) has won a Nobel prize over the years. Here is his short-list for economics this year.

* Alberto Alesina of Harvard University in Massachusetts for research on the relationship between politics and macroeconomics, especially politico-economic cycles.

* Nobuhiro Kiyotaki of Princeton University and John Moore of Britain’s University of Edinburgh and the London School of Economics for their Kiyotaki-Moore model, which describes how small shocks to an economy may lead to a cycle of lower output. It described Japan’s real-estate crisis in the 1990s and could describe some of the causes of the recent U.S. recession.

The econ blogosphere speaks

The economic blogosphere has spoken — and it is not too happy with what it sees. The Kauffman Foundation has just published a survey of 68 economic (but not necessarily economist) bloggers showing that they are pretty gloomy about the U.S. economy’s progress.

Feedback from the likes of  Oregon University’s Mark Thoma and UC San Diego’s James Hamilton suggests the U.S. is at some kind of tipping point with a good number expecting it to fall rather than maintain balance:

68 percent (said) that conditions are mixed, and the rest split three to one toward weakness rather than growth. For an economy in which growth is the norm, 47 percent of respondents think that the U.S. economy is worse than official statistics indicate, and only 5 percent believe it is better.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

The rule of three

It is beginning to look like financial markets cannot handle more than three risks. First we have, as MacroScope reported earlier,  Barclays Wealth worrying about U.S. consumers, euro zone debt and Asian overheating.

Now comes Jim O'Neill and his economic team at Goldman Sachs, with three slightly different notions about risks in the second half, this time in the form of questions. To whit:

1) How deep will the U.S. economic slowdown be and what will  the policy response be? (That's two questions, actually, but let's not nitpick).

Slowing growth, MPC splits? That’s so 2008

Sixties nostalgia was all the rage in the late 90s, and towards the end of the last decade we looked back only 20 years or so for a massive 80s revival in electronic pop and fashion.

INDONESIA/With the 2010s in full flow, the current vogue of choice derives from just two years ago – at least among those noted trendsetters, economists.

Back in mid-2008, the signs for the UK economy were confusing and ominous. Inflation was too high, forward-looking indicators pointed to a slowdown of some sort in the near future, and the July minutes of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee showed they debated both easing and tightening interest rate policy.

What are the risks to growth?

Mike Dicks, chief economist and blogger at Barclays Wealth, has identified what he sees as the three biggest problems facing the global economy, and conveniently found that they are linked with three separate regions.

First, there is the risk that U.S., t consumers won’t increase spending. Dicks notes that the increase in U.S. consumption has been “extremely moderate” and far less than after previous recessions. His firm has lowered is U.S. GDP forecast for 2011 to 2.7 percent from a bit over 3 percent.

Next comes the euro zone. While the wealth manager is not looking for any immediate collapse in EMU, Dicks reckons that without the ability to devalue, Greece and other struggling countries won’t see any great improvement in competitiveness. Germany, in the meantime, has sped up plans to cut its own deficit.  It leaves the Barclays Wealth’s euro zone GDP forecast at just 1 percent for next year.

Some good econ reads from the Blogosphere

From the econ blogosphere:

UK BUDGET
– The libertarian Adam Smith Institute says here that the UK government should look at every government job, programme and department, and ask whether they are really needed. “Do we really need new school buildings….? Should taxpayers really stump up for free bus passes, or winter fuel and Chistmas bonuses for wealthy pensioners?”

CHINESE FX
– VOX publishes this post from senior research fellow Willem Thorbecke of the Asian Development Bank on China’s latest move on the dollar peg. “China’s action may facilitate a concerted appreciation in Factory Asia, helping the region redirect production away from western markets and towards domestic consumers.”

U.S. JOBS
– Karen Dynan, vice president for economics studies at Brookings, looks here at the latest U.S. jobs data and argues that Congress needs to extend unemployment benefits. “Reinstating the benefits would … help the broader public by contributing to overall demand in goods and services and thereby mitigating the risks of a double dip in the economy.”