Tag Archives: Capital

Politics, Pessimism and Populism

By Sheri Berman – Social democracy was the most idealistic, optimistic ideology of the modern era.

In contrast to liberals who believed “rule by the masses” would lead to the end of private property, tyranny of the majority and other horrors and thus favored limiting the reach of democratic politics, and communists who argued a better world could only emerge with the destruction of capitalism and “bourgeois” democracy, social democrats insisted on democracy’s immense transformative and progressive power: it could maximize capitalism’s upsides, minimize its downsides and create more prosperous and just societies.

Such appeals emerged clearly during the inter-war years, when democracy was threatened by populism’s more dangerous predecessor—fascism.

In the United States, for example, FDR recognized that he needed to deal not merely with the concrete economic fallout of the Great Depression, but also with the fear that democracy was headed for the “dust heap of history” and fascist and communist dictatorships were the wave of the future. This required practical solutions to contemporary problems as well as an ability to convince citizens that democracy remained the best system for creating a better future. As Roosevelt proclaimed in his first inaugural address:

‘Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for…. [Our problems are not insolvable, they exist] because rulers have failed…through their own stubbornness and… incompetence….This Nation asks for action, and action now….I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems….The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. more>

They Go Together: Freedom, Prosperity, and Big Government

Countries with larger government sectors tend to have more personal freedom
By Ed Dolan – The Human Freedom Index consists of two parts. One is the Economic Freedom Index (EFI) from the Fraser Institute, which includes measures of the size of government, protection of property rights, sound money, freedom of international trade, and regulation.

The other is Cato’s own Personal Freedom Index (PFI), which includes measures of rule of law, freedom of movement and assembly, personal safety and security, freedom of information, and freedom of personal relationships. The Cato and Fraser links provide detailed descriptions of the two indexes.

In order to explore the way freedom influences other aspects of human well-being, I will draw on a third data set, the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) from the Legatum Institute. The LPI includes data on nine “pillars” of prosperity, including the economy, business environment, governance, personal freedom, health, safety and security, education, social capital, and environmental quality.

The relationship between economic and personal freedom is partly explained by the fact that both are positively associated with income. As the next chart shows, that relationship is nonlinear for both measures of freedom. The log of real GDP per capita, expressed in U.S. dollars at purchasing power parity, provides a reasonably good fit.

There are many measures of prosperity and well-being available. I hope to be able to explore several of them and their relationships to human freedom in future posts. In this introductory treatment, however, I will limit myself to the education, health, and personal security indicators from the Legatum Prosperity Index. In what follows, I will refer to the average of these three Legatum “pillars” as the education-health-safety index, or EHS, measured on a scale of 1 to 100. more>

The Collapse Of European Social Democracy, Part 2

By Paul Sweeney – The privatisation of state assets in Europe has added little value and was a costly distraction from the proper management of public services and development of a strong public sector ethos, delivering excellent services. Despite the privatisation of hundreds of billions of asssets, the outsourcing of public services, and fresh privatised ways of funding public services, spending in the modern state has not shrunk, though the value of state assets has been reduced.

The public sphere, open spaces, public ideas and the scientific commons which are open to all are coming under threat of being fenced off, privatised by extensions and enforcement of Intellectual Property, trademarks, copyright laws etc.. This needs to be curbed. The state has been remiss in protecting its own assets from privatisation over the past four decades and, simultaneously, it has given away substantial parts of this public sphere to private interests. It has done this by being over-zealous in protecting the “rights” of major corporations, drug companies, tech and data companies and rich individuals through extended patent rights, and the like.

Patents serve the useful purpose of protection for inventors whose ideas should be rewarded in order to encourage further innovation. But the balance has shifted from protecting innovation to blocking it. It is the state which provides this protection through internationally agreed laws and through enforcement. The growth in patents, trademarks, copyrights and industrial designs has been very high. The state is now agreeing to renewing patents and granting extensions to the likes of branded drugs, thanks to lobbying. Many patents are acquired to build a monopoly and to act as a deterrent against rival innovations.

Some MNCs now troll and hoover-up patents and others exist to build major patent portfolios with the purpose of blocking others’ innovations, moving upstream to protect broad future possible inventions. more>

How The Handling Of The Financial After-Crisis Fuels Populism

By Guillaume Duval – Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers people are frequently asking themselves why the crisis has done so much to strengthen populism and nationalism everywhere you go. However, economically and socially, the process that lies behind this development is, unfortunately, all too easy to describe.

During the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, central banks’ rescue of finance continued on an unprecedented scale for ten years with what is called Quantitative easing (QE). The striking effect of this was to send prices of financial assets sky-high and thereby substantially enrich the bankers, speculators and the already rich holders of these assets at levels that are much higher than before the crisis.

At the same time, ordinary people found themselves lastingly out of work on a huge scale. Governments whose own finances deteriorated steeply – not least because of their aid to the financial sector – rushed to cut back on their spending, especially on welfare. Everywhere, classic right-wing governments but also social-liberal left ones as in France adopted deflationary policies to cut the cost of labor and loosen up the labor market rules, thus making ordinary people’s working and living conditions far worse. While cutting again the taxes on the super-rich and corporate earnings to preserve the country’s “attractiveness.”

These public policies – that have put all European countries permanently on the edge of recession and deflation – are also the main reason for the pursuit of the above-mentioned monetary policy that has so significantly increased inequalities. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth – Are profits passé?

Why we’re all impact investors now
By Chana R. Schoenberger – For nearly 50 years, many have been guided by the idea, laid out most famously by Milton Friedman, that the most appropriate way to create social change is to give profits to investors, and taxes to the government, and use that money to make an impact. For just as long, other investors have argued in favor of divesting from companies to make a political or social point—dumping shares of gun manufacturers or fossil fuel companies, for example.

But with the rise of index funds, divesting from individual company stocks has become more difficult, even though there are some funds that try to do this by designing a basket that tracks an index while excluding “sinful” stocks. It can even be counterproductive.

Investing with a social motivation has moved from divesting from certain companies based on values or preferences to a more regular form of seeking alpha, by investors who hope their stakes will generate returns as well as save the world.

Like financial philanthropists trying to affect specific social issues, these investors are often using markets and investing tools to shift behavior and create change. As a result, there are big shifts in thinking about the role of investors, who have had the luxury of worrying primarily about profits. Some prominent managers and investors are advocating for joining other stakeholders to push for change. more>

Related>

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>

Could China’s Raw Materials Strategy Leave US Automakers Behind?

By Charles Murray – China’s business relationships are so aggressive, said Jose Lazuen, an electric vehicle and supply chain analyst for Roskill, that it’s almost “too late” for automakers in other regions of the world to catch up now.

“The North American and European companies are not at the same level as the Chinese OEMs,” Lazuen stated. “They’ll face problems if raw material costs increase at some point.”

Chinese suppliers at the show said they view relationships with miners as a necessity, given the volatile and unpredictable nature of the market. “The only way you’re going to (get control) is to have a mindset to get ahead of the game by buying rights to those minerals to keep the prices down,” noted Robert Galyen, chief technology officer of CATL, a China-based company that is now the biggest battery manufacturer in the world.

The question of future metal costs is a growing concern, experts said this week, because lithium, cobalt, and nickel will continue to play key roles in future electric car batteries. One speaker at the show noted that the price of cobalt rose 130% last year, while lithium climbed by 50% and nickel was up 28%.

If those increases continue, raw material costs could negate any economies of scale that might otherwise be gained through increases in production volume. 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>

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>

Updates from ITU

Advocacy Target 4: Digital Skills & Literacy
ITU – Effective education systems are essential for meeting future challenges and delivering on the SDGs. Although rapid technological change has taken place over the last thirty years, education systems in many countries have remained largely unchanged over the last century. Education is about much more than merely providing people with the skills and knowledge to work, and must create a framework through which people can lead diverse and fulfilling lives. People of all ages should have opportunities to learn about their own cultures, in their own languages.

There is broad agreement that education needs to ensure that people gain four main skills: creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Alongside skills such as literacy and numeracy, people should now also gain basic digital skills. They need to have a comprehensive understanding of the rapidly changing world in which they live, as well as their roles and responsibilities within it. ITU’s Global ICT Development Index (IDI) includes a measure of digital skills and capabilities.

There is considerable debate as to what proficiency in digital skills and an ‘adequate’ level really mean. Digital skills have been broken down into three categories:

  1. the basic digital literacy needed for all workers, consumers and citizens in a digital society;
  2. the advanced ICT skills (coding, computer science and engineering) which are needed to develop innovative ICT products and services; and
  3. e-business skills or the specific know-how needed for digital entrepreneurshipn. Figure 15 shows how global averages for digital skills vary from 5.2% (using a programming language) to 43.7% (transferring files).

more>