Tag Archives: Capital

Class struggle à la droite

Populism is boosted by economic crises, but its roots are cultural.
By Claus Leggewie – Populism is a method. It works by mobilizing an imaginary homogeneous entity called ‘the people’ against an equally ill-defined and generally despised ‘elite’, thus radically simplifying the political and social field. Such simplifications have served to orchestrate conflicts since the 19th century and in particular during economic and cultural crises—on the left, in terms of a class struggle against the powers that be; on the right, in terms of a confrontation with an ‘other’, be it foreigners or minorities.

Sometimes these two tendencies have gone hand in hand—for instance, when migrant workers have been portrayed as wage-squeezing competitors. In fact, though, a populism that purports to be about solidarity with the ‘common people’ always promotes social disunity.

As a catchphrase in political debates, populism may be useful; a productive analytical concept it however certainly is not. The ‘people’ our modern-day, nationalist populists champion are no longer defined socioeconomically (as in the ‘proletariat’). Rather, the populists employ ethnic constructs (such as Biodeutsche or français de souche), which suggest a homogeneous community with a shared ancestry, a long history and a solid identity.

It is to these ‘people’—not the actual, pluralist demos—that populists ascribe an authority which exceeds that of institutions: ‘The people stand above the law,’ as a slogan of the Austrian ‘Freedom Party’ goes.

In this view, there is no legitimate ‘representation’ through democratic processes. Instead, ‘the people’ form movements which back charismatic leaders and legitimize them retroactively by means of plebiscites. Right-wing movements may be diverse, but what they all have in common is a worldview that is utterly authoritarian (and usually patriarchal and homophobic too).

One’s own nation, ethnically defined, takes center-stage—think ‘America first!’ or La France d’abord! more>

Saving Capitalism from Inequality

Robust middle incomes deliver the demand that businesses need to produce.
By Robert Manduca – After decades of praise heaped on “job creators,” viewers today may find it disorienting to see the consumer—and a middle-income one at that—cast as the hero of the economy, instead of the investor or the entrepreneur.

Yet Fortune, which produced the video in 1956, was hardly an outlier. In the mid-twentieth century, advertising, popular press, and television bombarded Americans with the message that national prosperity depended on their personal spending. As LIFE proclaimed in 1947, “Family Status Must Improve: It Should Buy More For Itself to Better the Living of Others.”

This messaging was not simply an invention of clever marketers; it had behind it the full force of the best-regarded economic theory of the time, the one elaborated in John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936). The key to full employment and economic growth, many at the time believed, was high levels of aggregate demand.

But high demand required mass consumption, which in turn required an equitable distribution of purchasing power. By ensuring sufficient income for less well-off consumers, the government could continually expand the markets for businesses and boost profits as well as wages.

Conversely, Keynes’s theory implied, growing income inequality would lead to lower demand and slower economic growth.

The basic Keynesian logic of demand-driven growth came to be accepted across U.S. society in large part due to significant postwar efforts to explain, communicate, and popularize it. Proponents of Keynesian thinking worked hard to educate the public about the new economic theory and the possibilities of abundance that it foretold. A particularly compelling example is the book Tomorrow Without Fear (1946). more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How multinational companies help spread recessions
By Bob Simison – The Great Recession a decade ago was one example of how economic cycles across the world can move in parallel, a phenomenon that economists don’t fully understand. It could be that a common event, such as a surge in oil prices, affects many economies at the same time—or perhaps linkages between countries transmit economic shocks from one country to the world economy.

One such linkage is multinational corporations,  according to Marcus Biermann, a postdoctoral scholar at the Catholic University of Louvain, and Chicago Booth’s Kilian Huber, who explore the role of multinationals in spreading the global recession by analyzing the ripple effects of one German bank’s struggles during the 2008–09 financial crisis.

Commerzbank was Germany’s second-biggest commercial lender behind Deutsche Bank. Losses on trading and investments abroad hammered the bank, especially after Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008. Commerzbank’s capital fell by 68 percent between December 2007 and December 2009, which forced the bank to reduce its aggregate lending stock by 17 percent. Biermann and Huber find that this pullback in credit available to German parent companies affected subsidiaries in other countries, thus helping to transmit the economic contraction. more>

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From the Revolution of 2020 to the Evolution of 2050

By Basil A. Coronakis – European societies are already on the move and 2020 will shape the direction that they go in. Within 30 years, in one way or another, the new world’s political condition will be settled.

The potential options for 2050 are numerous, from too extreme to everything in-between. The point is that whichever option is good, as well as whichever is bad, is a question that cannot be given a reply by either science or faith, but only philosophically.

However, since the “kings” of our society, and not the “philosophers”, will decide for the next big social step to take (or not),

Under the circumstances, we stand before two extreme scenarios and cannot say which of the two is the good and which is the bad, as we are all part of the problem. As a result, none of us can have an objective view. Therefore, will consider scenario A and scenario B without qualifying any.

Scenario A, which is likely to be the most probable as our “kings” are far for “adequately philosophizing”, and which although may have huge collateral damage and a generalized social upside-downs, in terms of long-term survival of humankind is not necessarily the worse.

Scenario A ends with an anarchy dominated chaotic social explosion that, when settled, will bring a new social order where the last will be first and the first the last. Of course, this will be the way of the “Parable of the Workers” from Matthew 20-16 in the New Testament but based on nature’s law of selection according to which the strong survives and the week disappear.

Scenario B is rather unlikely as it provides, after a smooth transition, that we will be living in the ideal city by 2050 – the contemporary version of Plato’s Utopia.

The so-called “in the between” will be simply a prolongation of the status quo, which ultimately will lead to scenario A, though with increased collateral damage. more>

Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay

By Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman – Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Employment Situation report (better known as the “jobs report”) to outline latest state of the nation’s economy. And with it, of late, have been plenty of positive headlines—with unemployment hovering around 3.5%, a decade of job growth, and recent upticks in wages, the report’s numbers have mostly been good news.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Are these jobs any good? How much do they pay? Do workers make enough to live on?

Here, the story is less rosy.

In a recent analysis, we found that 53 million workers ages 18 to 64—or 44% of all workers—earn barely enough to live on. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, and about $18,000 per year. These low-wage workers are concentrated in a relatively small number of occupations, including retail sales, cooks, food and beverage servers, janitors and housekeepers, personal care and service workers (such as child care workers and patient care assistants), and various administrative positions. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Four ways governments can get the most out of their infrastructure projects
Best practices can help governments invest in infrastructure that expands the economy and better serves the public.
By Aaron Bielenberg, James Williams, and Jonathan Woetzel – Infrastructure—for example, transportation, power, water, and telecom systems—underpins economic activity and catalyzes growth and development. The world spends more than $2.5 trillion a year on infrastructure, but $3.7 trillion a year will be needed through 2035 just to keep pace with projected GDP growth.

National, state, and local governments are devoting increased amounts of capital to meet these needs, and for good reason. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that infrastructure has a socioeconomic rate of return around 20 percent. In other words, $1 of infrastructure investment can raise GDP by 20 cents in the long run.

Gains from infrastructure are fully realized, however, only when projects generate tangible public benefits. Unfortunately, many governments find it difficult to select the right projects—those with the most benefit. Furthermore, infrastructure can provide social and economic advantages only when the capital and operating costs can be financed sustainably, either by the revenues a project generates or by the government sponsor. Too many projects become an economic burden and drain on finances when a government borrows money for an undertaking and neither its revenues nor its direct and indirect economic benefits adequately cover the cost.

Our framework includes four key best practices to help modernize decision making for infrastructure and to improve its social and economic impact. Each step is enabled by and contributes to a consistent, fact-based process for identifying and executing infrastructure projects. The first step—ensuring that projects yield measurable benefits—lays the foundation for all the rest.

  1. Develop projects with tangible, quantifiable benefits
  2. Improve the coordination of infrastructure investments to account for network effects
  3. Engage and align community stakeholders to promote inclusive economic and social benefits
  4. Unlock long-term capital

Consistent, transparent assessments are required to determine if infrastructure satisfies the elements of our framework—whether a project offers robust public benefits, is compatible with other projects and appropriately aligned with the community’s objectives, and uses the best long-term financing available. Thus, governments may have to invest in capabilities to evaluate the benefits of projects and commit themselves to transparent evaluations that include the necessary checks and balances.

Governments should assess their institutional capabilities against the framework’s elements, such as mapping current processes to develop infrastructure projects from concept to operation.

Can the government complete a structured quantification of public benefits?

Is there a way to assess the portfolio as a whole in light of the debt-management strategy? more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why central banks need to change their message
The US and European central banks thought they could manage their economies by bringing their secretive plans for interest-rate regulation into the light. But they didn’t account for an unreceptive public.
By Dee Gill – A lot of people don’t have a clue what central banks do, much less how the institutions’ ever-changing interest-rate targets ought to affect their household financial decisions. Recent studies, including several by Chicago Booth researchers, find Americans and Europeans oblivious to or indifferent to the targets’ implications.

This is a serious problem for policy makers. For a decade, monetary policy in many developed economies has relied heavily on forward guidance, a policy of broadcasting interest-rate targets that works only if the public knows and cares what its central bankers say.

“The effects of monetary policy on the economy today depend importantly not only on current policy actions, but also on the public’s expectation of how policy will evolve,” said Ben Bernanke, then chairman of the US Federal Reserve, in a speech to the National Economists Club in 2013. At critical times since 2008, forward guidance has been the Fed’s and the European Central Bank’s go-to tool for revitalizing their ailing economies and holding off widespread depression.

Forward guidance usually involves central banks announcing their plans for interest rates, which traditionally were guarded as state secrets. The openness is intended to spur investors, businesses, and households to make spending and savings decisions that will bolster the economy; typically, to spend more money during economic slowdowns and to save more when the economy is expanding.

Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber and his research colleagues, in several studies, tested the basic assumption that households will respond to forward guidance, and find it flawed. Most people, the researchers conclude, generally do not make spending and savings choices on the basis of inflation expectations. In personal financial decisions—for example, to pay or borrow money for a boat, refrigerator, or renovations, or to sock away funds for rainy days—words from central bankers hardly register. more>

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Capitalism’s Case for Abolishing Billionaires

Adam Smith wanted to keep the power of the rich in check.
By Linsey McGoey – Adam Smith is remembered as the patron saint of unregulated commerce, as the world’s greatest prophet of profit. His idea of the “invisible hand” has been used by countless economists and politicians to argue that capitalism works, despite its excesses and inequalities.

But this fairytale version is wrong. The actual Smith wrote of his dream for a more equal society, and condemned the rich for serving their own narrow interests at the expense of the wider public.

“The establishment of perfect justice, of perfect liberty, and of perfect equality,” he writes in Wealth of Nations, “is the very simple secret which most effectively secures the highest degree of prosperity to all the three classes.”

Today Smith’s call for “perfect equality” is either ignored or deliberately misrepresented.

But with 1% of the world’s population now owning half its wealth, that belief is being forcefully called into question. There are growing calls to abolish billionaires and their privileges, including preferential tax treatment, handouts to corporations, and grossly inflated executive salaries that are often subsidized by taxpayers.

Smith was scathingly critical of the wealthy’s disproportionate power over government policymaking. He complained about the tendency of the rich to shirk tax obligations, unfairly passing tax burdens on to poor workers. He heaped scorn on government bailouts of the East India Company. He thought dirty money in politics was akin to bribery, and that it undermined the duty to govern impartiality. He wasn’t alone.

The reality is that the historical case for abolishing billionaire privileges has a long heritage, stretching to enlightenment thinkers and the revolutionaries they inspired, including countless enslaved and working-class people in forgotten graves. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

The tax that could save the world
Most economists agree on how to tackle climate change. Can politicians make it happen?
By Michael Maiello & Natasha Gural – It was, perhaps, the closest that the economics profession has ever come to a consensus. In January, 43 of the world’s most eminent economists signed a statement published in the Wall Street Journal calling for a US carbon tax. The list included 27 Nobel laureates, four former chairs of the Federal Reserve, and nearly every former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers since the 1970s, both Republican and Democratic.

“By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” the economists noted. All revenue from the tax should be paid in equal lump-sum rebates directly to US citizens, they added.

Not all economists agree that the tax should be revenue neutral in this way, but the profession has been coalescing in recent years around the idea of a carbon tax. Most prefer such a tax to the most prominent alternative policy for tackling carbon emissions, cap and trade, according to a recent poll of expert economists.

But a carbon tax seems to be a political nonstarter in the United States. The bipartisan call for action from economists over the years has been echoed by a failure to act by presidents from both parties. President Donald Trump denies the need to confront man-made climate change. But although Barack Obama, his predecessor, in 2015 called a carbon tax “the most elegant way” to fight global warming, he didn’t push strongly for one to be introduced. “One of my very, very few disappointments in Obama when he was president is that he did not come out in favor of carbon tax,” Yale’s William D. Nordhaus told the New York Times last October, days after winning the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on economic modeling and climate change.

US states have shown that they, too, can reject a carbon tax. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

Building new businesses: How incumbents use their advantages to accelerate growth
By Matt Banholzer, Markus Berger-de Leon, Ralf Dreischmeier, Ari Libarikian, and Erik Roth – For large companies, building new businesses is essential for growth and reinvention. The key to success? Combining the strengths of an incumbent with the agility of a start-up.

With each passing day, established companies encounter valuable opportunities to grow and innovate—along with intense competition, which has made it harder than ever to stay on top. The companies listed on the S&P 500 index have an average age of 22 years, down from 61 years in 1958. One factor that sets winners apart is their ability to build successful new businesses repeatedly. According to our research, six of the world’s ten largest companies might be called serial business builders, having launched at least five new businesses during the past 20 years, and two more of the ten have built sizable new businesses.

This isn’t a coincidence. Established companies possess talent, funds, market insights, intellectual property, data, and other assets that can give their new businesses a decisive edge over stand-alone start-ups. Providing access to an existing customer base, for example, can lower the cost of acquiring customers and speed their uptake, thereby putting the new business on a faster growth trajectory. When established companies develop the ability to integrate their assets with tech-enabled business models, they can continually generate new businesses.

Doing so well requires four elements: strong CEO sponsorship, carefully structured relationships between the parent company and its ventures, the discipline to fund new businesses as they test and validate their ideas, and a skillful business-building team.

Business building is no longer a choice: it is an essential discipline that lets incumbents counter disruptive challengers and sustain organic growth. New businesses can also serve as proving grounds for agile and design thinking, so an incumbent’s executives can gain exposure to these practices before introducing them to core businesses. more>

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