Tag Archives: Business

How a World Order Ends

And What Comes in Its Wake
By Richard Haass -A stable world order is a rare thing. When one does arise, it tends to come after a great convulsion that creates both the conditions and the desire for something new. It requires a stable distribution of power and broad acceptance of the rules that govern the conduct of international relations. It also needs skillful statecraft, since an order is made, not born. And no matter how ripe the starting conditions or strong the initial desire, maintaining it demands creative diplomacy, functioning institutions, and effective action to adjust it when circumstances change and buttress it when challenges come.

Eventually, inevitably, even the best-managed order comes to an end. The balance of power underpinning it becomes imbalanced. The institutions supporting it fail to adapt to new conditions. Some countries fall, and others rise, the result of changing capacities, faltering wills, and growing ambitions. Those responsible for upholding the order make mistakes both in what they choose to do and in what they choose not to do.

But if the end of every order is inevitable, the timing and the manner of its ending are not. Nor is what comes in its wake. Orders tend to expire in a prolonged deterioration rather than a sudden collapse. And just as maintaining the order depends on effective statecraft and effective action, good policy and proactive diplomacy can help determine how that deterioration unfolds and what it brings. Yet for that to happen, something else must come first: recognition that the old order is never coming back and that efforts to resurrect it will be in vain.

As with any ending, acceptance must come before one can move on.

Although the Cold War itself ended long ago, the order it created came apart in a more piecemeal fashion—in part because Western efforts to integrate Russia into the liberal world order achieved little. One sign of the Cold War order’s deterioration was Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, something Moscow likely would have prevented in previous years on the grounds that it was too risky. Although nuclear deterrence still holds, some of the arms control agreements buttressing it have been broken, and others are fraying.

The liberal order is exhibiting its own signs of deterioration. Authoritarianism is on the rise not just in the obvious places, such as China and Russia, but also in the Philippines, Turkey, and eastern Europe. Global trade has grown, but recent rounds of trade talks have ended without agreement, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) has proved unable to deal with today’s most pressing challenges, including nontariff barriers and the theft of intellectual property.

Resentment over the United States’ exploitation of the dollar to impose sanctions is growing, as is concern over the country’s accumulation of debt. more>

How Bronze Age Rulers Simply Canceled Debts

By Michael Hudson – My book And forgive them their debts”: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year  is about the origins of economic organization ad enterprise in the Bronze Age, and how it shaped the Bible. It’s not about modern economies. But the problem is – as the reviewer mentioned – that the Bronze Age and early Western civilization was shaped so differently from what we think of as logical and normal, that one almost has to rewire one’s brain to see how differently the archaic view of economic survival and enterprise was.

Credit economies existed long before money and coinage. These economies were agricultural. Grain was the main means of payment – but it was only paid once a year, at harvest time. You can imagine how awkward it would be to carry around grain in your pocket and measure it out every time you had a beer.

We know how Sumerians and Babylonians paid for their beer (which they drank through straws, and which was cleaner than the local water). The ale-woman marked it up on the tab she kept. The tab had to be paid at harvest time, on the threshing floor, when the grain was nice and fresh. The ale-woman then paid the palace or temple for its advance of wholesale beer for her to retail during the year.

If the crops failed, or if there was a flood or drought, or a military battle, the cultivators couldn’t pay. So what was the ruler to do? If he said, “You owe the tax collector, and can’t pay. Now you have to become his slave and let him foreclose on your land.”

Suddenly, you would have had a slave society. The cultivators couldn’t serve in the army, and couldn’t perform their corvée duties to build local infrastructure.

To avoid this, the ruler simply cancelled the debts (most of which were owed ultimately to the palace and its collectors). The cultivators didn’t have to pay the ale-women. And the ale women didn’t have to pay the palace.

All this was spelled out in the Clean Slate proclamations by rulers of Hammurabi’s dynasty in Babylonia (2000-1600 BC), and neighboring Near Eastern realms. They recognized that there was a cycle of buildup of debt, reaching an unpayably high overhead, followed by a cancellation to restore the status quo ante in balance.

This concept is very hard for Westerners to understand. more>

How Capitalism Actually Generates More Inequality

By Geoffrey M. Hodgson – At least nominally, capitalism embodies and sustains an Enlightenment agenda of freedom and equality.

Typically there is freedom to trade and equality under the law, meaning that most adults – rich or poor – are formally subject to the same legal rules. But with its inequalities of power and wealth, capitalism nurtures economic inequality alongside equality under the law.

Today, in the USA, the richest 1 per cent own 34 per cent of the wealth and the richest 10 per cent own 74 per cent of the wealth. In the UK, the richest 1 per cent own 12 per cent of the wealth and the richest 10 per cent own 44 per cent of the wealth. In France the figures are 24 cent and 62 per cent respectively. The richest 1 percent own 35 percent of the wealth in Switzerland, 24 per cent in Sweden and 15 percent in Canada.

To what extent can inequalities of income or wealth be attributed to the fundamental institutions of capitalism, rather than a residual landed aristocracy, or other surviving elites from the pre-capitalist past? A familiar mantra is that markets are the source of inequality under capitalism. Can markets be blamed for inequality?

In real-world markets different sellers or buyers vary hugely in their capacities to influence prices and other outcomes. When a seller has sufficient salable assets to affect market prices, then strategic market behavior is possible to drive out competitors.

Would more competition, with greater numbers of market participants, fix this problem? If markets per se are to be blamed for inequality, then it has to be shown that competitive markets also have this outcome. more>

The Wounds Won’t Heal

By David French – We usually place outsized emphasis on elections that define our politics and too little emphasis on the values that define our culture.

But it was the nomination of Kavanaugh and the wrenching debate about core cultural and constitutional values that dominated American discourse these past few weeks. It’s a debate that illustrated the fundamentally different ways in which conservatives and progressives view the world, and it unlocked not just an intellectual response but an emotional response that has radicalized otherwise reasonable and temperamentally moderate individuals into believing that the other side hates even the good people in their own tribe.

And so when Ford came forward, it’s as if her allegations landed in two different countries. The good-faith residents of Redworld were skeptical and said, “Prove it.” The good-faith residents of Blueworld believed Ford and said, “Finally, she has a chance for justice.” The presumptions were diametrically opposite, and everything that followed turned on those different presumptions. more>

Updates from Adobe

BRIT(ISH): Visualizing the UK with Type
By Isabel Lea – I’ve always believed the role of a designer to be like that of a translator. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with words and languages, and so I’ve naturally gravitated towards a kind of design that allows me to translate these things from the written to the visual, bringing them to life.

As the first Adobe Creative Resident based in the United Kingdom, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to spend a year visualizing culture and language in our everyday lives through design. BRIT(ISH) is my starting project for the residency. The project is an attempt to explore insights and ideas about being young and British during this turbulent time. I aimed to visualize often-intangible emotions in a playful way that other people can understand. Each object in the collection directly responds to quotations, insights, and stories I collected from the environment around me in the UK.

For me, projects that respond to stories and insights are often the most interesting because they add a level of unpredictability to the process and can result in something much more authentic. more>

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Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis

By John T. Harvey – That’s fantastic. Good work, Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump. But just because we bailed the water out of the sinking ship doesn’t mean we patched all the holes. And while the former is a necessary first step, without the latter we won’t remain upright for long.

So what didn’t we fix that could still potentially cause a catastrophic leak? Too much. Here’s a short list of what we should have learned but didn’t.

  1. If you are going to bail someone out, bail out the debtor and not the creditor
  2. Financial institutions should be very closely supervised
  3. The market is not always right
  4. Deficit spending doesn’t cause inflation or bankruptcy

Most people assume that what financial institutions do is loan out other people’s money. That is, of course, part of what they do, but what is far more significant is the fact that they create money. I don’t just mean the intro-econ, money-multiplier story where banks make loans after the Federal Reserve injects new funds. In fact, that view is so wrong that economics professors are beginning to eliminate it from their curriculum (not nearly fast enough, but it’s getting there).

Rather, the standard scenario is one in which banks increase the money supply first by making loans to customers and then the Federal Reserve steps in second to supply the necessary reserves. Financial institutions make money out of thin air, not from someone’s savings, and if that leaves the system short of reserves then the Fed buys securities from banks. They do this to prevent interest rates from rising above their targeted rate and therefore the central bank accommodates rather than dictates when it comes to the supply of money. more>

Anthropic arrogance

By David P Barash – Welcome to the ‘anthropic principle’, a kind of Goldilocks phenomenon or ‘intelligent design’ for the whole Universe. According to its proponents, the Universe is fine-tuned for human life.

The message is clearly an artificial one and not the result of random noise. Or maybe the Universe itself is alive, and the various physical and mathematical constants are part of its metabolism. Such speculation is great fun, but it’s science fiction, not science.

It should be clear at this point that the anthropic argument readily devolves – or dissolves – into speculative philosophy and even theology. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the ‘God of the gaps’ perspective, in which God is posited whenever science hasn’t (yet) provided an answer.

Calling upon God whenever there is a gap in our scientific understanding may be tempting, but it is not even popular among theologians, because as science grows, the gaps – and thus, God – shrinks. It remains to be seen whether the anthropic principle, in whatever form, succeeds in expanding our sense of ourselves beyond that illuminated by science. I wouldn’t bet on it. more>

Lessons From The Greek Tragedy Unlearnt

By Simon Wren-Lewis – Private banks were happy to lend to the Greek government because they mistakenly believed their money was as safe as if they were lending to Germany.

Other governments first delayed and then limited Greek default because they were worried about the financial health of their own banks. They replaced privately held Greek debt with money the Greek government owed to other Eurozone governments.

From that point voters would always want all their money back. In an effort to achieve that the Troika demanded and largely achieved draconian austerity and a vast array of reforms.

The result was a slump which crippled the economy in a way that has few parallels in history. Most economists understand that in situations like this it is ridiculous to insist that the debtor pays all the money back. For basic Keynesian reasons this insistence just destroys the ability of the debtor to pay: it is not a zero sum game between creditor and debtor. This is why so much of German debt was written off after WWII.

By July 2015 the Greek government was able to pay for its spending with taxes, so all it needed was loans rolled over. The Troika would only do that if the Greek government started running a large surplus to start paying back the debt i.e. further austerity. more>

Updates from Adobe

Inside the Mind of Digital Dreamer Archan Nair
By Charles Purdy – Self-taught visual artist and illustrator Archan Nair creates complex, imaginative, and lushly colorful digital art that expresses his fascination with the interconnectedness of the universe and the mysteries of existence. Working primarily in Adobe Photoshop CC, Nair creates compositions for a wide variety of clients, including Sony, GQ, Samsung, and Nike, as well as his own personal projects.

There are many ways to create a rough canvas on which to begin building an abstract Photoshop creation in Nair’s style. Nair started with a radial gradient layer; he used the Gradient Editor dialog box to experiment until he had a gradient he liked, consisting of two tones of reddish tan. (If you’re new to the Gradient Editor, check out this primer.) He then duplicated this layer, set the duplicate’s opacity to 15%, and changed the layer’s blending mode to Color Burn.

He added a photograph of a woman on a new layer, set that layer’s opacity to 25%, and changed the layer’s blending mode to Overlay. Then he duplicated that layer and changed the duplicate layer’s blending mode to Soft Light.

After making further adjustments, Nair added a layer on which to draw some outlines of the woman’s face, using a brush with sharp edges for definition. Then he deleted the layer with the original photograph on it. more>

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A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come

By Anne Applebaum – That moment has passed. Nearly two decades later, I would now cross the street to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party. They, in turn, would not only refuse to enter my house, they would be embarrassed to admit they had ever been there.

In fact, about half the people who were at that party would no longer speak to the other half. The estrangements are political, not personal.

Poland is now one of the most polarized societies in Europe, and we have found ourselves on opposite sides of a profound divide, one that runs through not only what used to be the Polish right but also the old Hungarian right, the Italian right, and, with some differences, the British right and the American right, too.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. All of these debates, whether in 1890s France or 1990s Poland, have at their core a series of important questions: Who gets to define a nation? And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation? For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled—but why should they ever be?

You can call this sort of thing by many names: nepotism, state capture. But if you so choose, you can also describe it in positive terms: It represents the end of the hateful notions of meritocracy and competition, principles that, by definition, never benefited the less successful. A rigged and uncompetitive system sounds bad if you want to live in a society run by the talented.

But if that isn’t your primary interest, then what’s wrong with it?

Sooner or later, the losers of the competition were always going to challenge the value of the competition itself.

More to the point, the principles of competition, even when they encourage talent and create upward mobility, don’t necessarily answer deeper questions about national identity, or satisfy the human desire to belong to a moral community.

The authoritarian state, or even the semi-authoritarian state—the one-party state, the illiberal state—offers that promise: that the nation will be ruled by the best people, the deserving people, the members of the party, the believers in the Medium-Size Lie. more>