Tag Archives: Super regions

Do civilisations collapse?

By Guy D Middleton – We also need to think about what we apply the term ‘collapse’ to – what exactly was it that collapsed? Very often, it’s suggested that civilizations collapse, but this isn’t quite right. It is more accurate to say that states collapse. States are tangible, identifiable ‘units’ whereas civilization is a more slippery term referring broadly to sets of traditions. Many historians, including Arnold Toynbee, author of the 12-volume A Study of History (1934-61), have defined and tried to identify ‘civilizations’, but they often come up with different ideas and different numbers. But we have seen that while Mycenaean states collapsed, several strands of Mycenaean material and non-material culture survived – so it would seem wrong to say that their ‘civilization’ collapsed. Likewise, if we think of Egyptian or Greek or Roman ‘civilization’, none of these collapsed – they transformed as circumstances and values changed. We might think of each civilization in a particular way, defined by a particular type of architecture or art or literature – pyramids, temples, amphitheatres, for example – but this reflects our own values and interests.

It is the same with the Maya and with the Easter Islanders. In both cases, civilization and state have been confused and conflated. The Maya world was spread across a huge area with many different environments, from the dry northern Yucatán Peninsula to the river-fed lowlands in the south, and beyond into the mountains. It was an old and interconnected world of cities and kings, divided up among super-states of wide influence and more modest kingdoms that could fall under their spell. There were probably 60 to 70 ‘independent’ states; the fortunes of all waxed and waned. It was a bigger and more complex world than Late Bronze Age Greece.

he idea of a collapse of Maya civilization seems just wrong – and it carries with it the wrong kind of implications – that the Maya all disappeared or that their post-collapse culture is less important or less worthy of our attention. Via many individual collapses, Classic Maya society transformed through the Terminal Classic and into the Postclassic – a development that is hardly surprising when compared with the changing map of Europe across any five-century period. Maya society continued to change with the arrival of the Spanish, and through the colonial and modern eras. If we value the Maya’s so-called Classic period more than their culture at other times, this is our choice – but it is one that should be recognized and questioned. more>

Updates from McKinsey

The future is now: Closing the skills gap in Europe’s public sector
As the need for digital government capabilities increases during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European public sector can close the skills gap by focusing on three areas.
By David Chinn, Solveigh Hieronimus, Julian Kirchherr, and Julia Klier – The advance of digital technologies and especially artificial intelligence (AI) presents the European Union and the United Kingdom (the EU-28) with enormous opportunities for growth. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that if digitally lagging sectors—such as manufacturing, mining, healthcare, and education—double their use of digital assets and increase the digitization of labor, the EU-28 could add €2.5 trillion to its GDP by 2025, boosting GDP growth by 1 percent per year until then. In its 2020 European Digital Strategy, the European Commission is attempting to realize this potential through measures such as increasing investments in AI development to more than €20 billion per year through 2030, compared with €3.2 billion in 2016.

The advance of digital technologies has raised European businesses’ and citizens’ expectations regarding improvements in smart regulation and citizen experience—for instance, through the digital delivery of public services—as well increased funding for technological development. Today, the COVID-19 outbreak is not only intensifying the need for the digitization of a wide range of administrative services (such as unemployment benefits), but it is also making digital skills a prerequisite for employees to successfully work from home. While the pandemic poses immense challenges, the current crisis is also an impetus for governments across the EU-28 to accelerate and deliver on their digital ambitions.

Indeed, governments across the EU-28 have already launched a range of initiatives toward end-to-end e-government. However, our analysis suggests a shortage of digital and technological skills to successfully and rapidly implement these initiatives—a total of 8.6 million people across the EU-28 public sector without the necessary skills by 2023 (exhibit). As a result, opportunity exists to harness the full benefits of technology, such as improving efficiency and transparency of government operations, advancing service quality for citizens, and improving the EU-28’s overall competitiveness. The public sector also faces the dual challenge of shaping how the digital revolution affects business and society while empowering its own employees, which constitute roughly 17 percent of all employees across the EU-28, to learn and apply new technical and digital skills.

To close the skills gap and best equip the workforce to operate in an increasingly digitized and automated world, governments will need to focus on recruiting, upskilling, and reskilling efforts. And in the context of COVID-19, moving quickly in these areas is more essential than ever. more>

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The New World Normal

By Erol User – The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the shift towards multipolarity. Besides the United States and China, a stronger and more centralised European Union will emerge and behave like a more classically geopolitical entity.

Russia will become a buffer zone between China and Europe, India will play an increasingly large role in the global economy, and Turkey will seek to become a dominant force in the Mediterranean. There will be more integration within these various networks, but between these networks, there will be less economic interaction.

Even before COVID-19 became a pandemic, the global balance of power was inching inexorably towards a state of “multipolarity.” The period after the Soviet Union collapsed was a “unipolar” period, a time when the United States was, and behaved like, the most powerful country in the world. For a host of reasons, there is now more parity between the world’s strongest countries. The emergence of this multipolar environment has encouraged increased competition and protectionism. The current pandemic will accelerate that shift.

The logic of economic globalisation is dependent on a certain level of trust and goodwill between interconnected countries. At a minimum, a globalised economy requires a lack of fear, but now fear abounds. Borders are being closed and supply chains are being disrupted throughout the world in the race to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some of these supply chains and borders, like a pinched nerve, will revert to their previous state once the crisis has passed. Others, however, will not – especially in those cases where fear, suspicion, and politics become a primary motivating factor.

The clearest example of this will be in the decoupling of the US and Chinese economies. China currently enjoys a dominant position in many global supply chains. China achieved this highly and strategically important position because of its comparative advantage. It was, and is, able to produce and manufacture goods cheaper and quicker than its competitors.

Geopolitical advantage will now supplant comparative advantage. In the future, American companies will be looking for more than the cheapest producer, they will look for the cheapest producer and the most politically reliable supply chain. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Climate risk and response: Physical hazards and socioeconomic impacts
By Jonathan Woetzel, Dickon Pinner, Hamid Samandari, Hauke Engel, Mekala Krishnan, Brodie Boland, and Carter Powis – After more than 10,000 years of relative stability—the full span of human civilization—the Earth’s climate is changing. As average temperatures rise, climate science finds that acute hazards such as heat waves and floods grow in frequency and severity, and chronic hazards, such as drought and rising sea levels, intensify.

In this report, we focus on understanding the nature and extent of physical risk from a changing climate over the next one to three decades, exploring physical risk as it is the basis of both transition and liability risks.

We estimate inherent physical risk, absent adaptation and mitigation, to dimension the magnitude of the challenge and highlight the case for action. Climate science makes extensive use of scenarios ranging from lower (Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6) to higher (RCP 8.5) CO2 concentrations. We have chosen to focus on RCP 8.5, because the higher-emission scenario it portrays enables us to assess physical risk in the absence of further decarbonization.

In this report, we link climate models with economic projections to examine nine cases that illustrate exposure to climate change extremes and proximity to physical thresholds. A separate geospatial assessment examines six indicators to assess potential socioeconomic impact in 105 countries. We also provide decision makers with a new framework and methodology to estimate risks in their own specific context.

We find that physical risk from a changing climate is already present and growing. Seven characteristics stand out. Physical climate risk is:

Increasing: In each of our nine cases, the level of physical climate risk increases by 2030 and further by 2050. Across our cases, we find increases in socioeconomic impact of between roughly two and 20 times by 2050 versus today’s levels. We also find physical climate risks are increasing across our global country analysis even as some countries find some benefits (such as expected increase in agricultural yields in countries such as Canada).

Spatial: Climate hazards manifest locally. The direct impacts of physical climate risk thus need to be understood in the context of a geographically defined area. There are variations between countries and within countries. more>

Updates from McKinsey

How purpose-led missions can help Europe innovate at scale
By Ilan Rozenkopf, Pal Erik Sjatil, and Sebastian Stern – Europe is at an important economic inflection point. The continent has the required assets for future prosperity, including leading economically in worldwide sectors such as automotive and pharmaceuticals, and is making progress in important innovations that will help it compete. Nonetheless, European business faces a challenge that is eroding its economic position relative to other global powers: building new leading clusters or companies that can innovate at scale. Addressing this challenge is vital to the continent’s economic future.

We suggest building on Europe’s economic strengths and social capital to tackle the challenge. European business leaders should raise their sights and set new ambitions, both for their own organizations and for collaboration across private and public sectors on fundamentally important projects for the future. Building on a concept originally proposed by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, we call these “missions”—bold and inspirational initiatives to collaborate at scale on socially and economically important topics capable of attracting public support.

This approach can help Europe address its innovation challenge in its own distinctive way, marshalling resources and harnessing ideas and diverse cultures in a set of common ambitions. It could also compensate for structural disadvantages relative to China and the United States, such as a comparatively fragmented domestic market and a less cohesive system of government action.

In sum, missions offer a significant opportunity for European business leaders to take an even stronger lead for more innovation at scale in Europe. Fostering ambition-led collaboration enables scaling of disruptive innovation and proven ideas in a way that leverages Europe’s strength in diversity and, thus, the harmony underpinning its social market economy. more>

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There is No Economics without Politics

Every economic model is built on political assumptions
By Anat Admati – There is absolutely no way to understand events before, during, and since the financial crisis of 2007-2009 while ignoring the powerful political forces that have shaped them. Yet, remarkably, much of the economics and finance literature about financial crises focuses on studying unspecified “shocks” to a system that it largely accepts as inevitable while ignoring critical governance frictions and failures. Removing blind spots would offer economists and other academics rich opportunities to leverage their expertise to benefit society.

The history of financial economics is revealing in this regard. By the second half of the 20th century, when modern finance emerged as part of economics, the holistic approach of early thinkers such as Adam Smith—which combined economics, moral philosophy, and politics—was long gone. Narrow social-science disciplines replaced the holistic approach by the end of the 19th century. In the 20th century, economists sought to make economics formal, precise, and elegant, similar to Newton’s 17th-century physics.

The focus in much of economics, particularly in finance, is on markets. Even when economists postulate a “social planner” and discuss policy, they rarely consider how this social planner gets to know what is needed or the process by which policy decisions are made and implemented. Collective action and politics are messy. Neat and elegant models are more fun and easier to market to editors and colleagues.

Lobbyists, who engage in “marketing” ideas to policymakers and to the public, are actually influential. They know how to work the system and can dismiss, take out of context, misquote, misuse, or promote research as needed. If policymakers or the public are unable or unwilling to evaluate the claims people make, lobbyists and others can create confusion and promote misleading narratives if it benefits them. In the real political economy, good ideas and worthy research can fail to gain traction while bad ideas and flawed research can succeed and have an impact.

Having observed governance and policy failures in banking, I realized that the focus on shareholder-manager conflicts is far too narrow and often misses the most important problems. We must also worry about the governance of the institutions that create and enforce the rules for all. How power structures and information asymmetries play out within and between institutions in the private and public sectors is critical. more>

Updates from McKinsey

How smart choices on taxation can help close the growing fiscal gap
The growing fiscal gap has policy makers in a difficult position. Swift action in a few areas can help them improve the operational efficiency of fiscal systems.
By Aurélie Barnay, Jonathan Davis, Jonathan Dimson, and Marco Dondi – Governments around the world have implemented a range of fiscal and debt measures to fund policy initiatives over recent decades. As a result, tax revenues as a proportion of GDP have risen four percentage points across Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries since 1980. However, many governments remain inadequately funded. Despite higher tax revenues, spending is rising faster than income, leading to widening budget deficits and higher levels of debt.

Four distinct trends are playing out: increasing automation in the workplace, leading to pressure on employment; the evolution of global trade through the proliferation of e-commerce and digital business, raising questions over cross-border taxation; rising self-employment; and an aging population. Each of these could further widen the fiscal deficit in the years ahead. Moreover, we see all four accelerating, placing policy makers in an ever-tightening fiscal bind.

Basic economics provides two options for balancing the books: either increase revenues or decrease spending.

The bottom line for governments is that there are no easy answers. Whether they seek to increase taxation or boost efficiency, they are likely to face headwinds. Still, decisive and rapid action is essential to optimize tax collections and keep pace with an inevitable rise in demand for services.

Tax revenues in OECD countries have risen slightly over the past 35 years. However, spending has risen more, leading to widening deficits that governments have bridged with debt. OECD tax revenues were 34 percent of GDP in 2017. Because of tax deficits and the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, the average ratio of gross debt to GDP rose from 66 percent of GDP in 1995 to 88 percent in 2017.

Sources of tax revenue have remained stable over time. Over three decades, personal income and consumption together accounted for 82 to 89 percent of revenues. The biggest single contributor was payroll and income tax, accounting for 50 to 55 percent of revenues (even though the contribution of personal income tax declined by nearly 7 percentage points). Consumption and excise duties remain little changed at 32 to 34 percent of revenues.

More people are working for themselves, either as a contractor to several companies or a single company. This emerging gig economy accounts for an estimated 28 percent of EU and US employment. The proportion would rise to 46 percent if everyone had their preferred working arrangement, according to MGI research.

However, the gig economy creates challenges for tax authorities. First, independent workers are generally less compliant than their employed peers, and in some countries are required to pay less taxes. Evidence from the US suggests that workers subject to limited information reporting, such as the self-employed, have an around 50 percentage point lower rate of tax compliance than traditional workers. There are also ongoing legal debates in some jurisdictions over whether gig economy workers are employees for the purposes of worker classification and social security contributions.

Governments can close the widening gap between revenues and expenditures in a variety of ways through tax revenues, nontax revenues, and spending optimization. In addition, some governments are either implementing or considering approaches based on monetary finance.

The gap between government revenues and spending has widened and is likely to continue to do so. The onus, then, is on tax authorities to act now. more>

We’re All Free Riders. Get over It!

By Nicholas Gruen – Anathematized and stigmatized today, free-riders built the lion’s share of the prosperity we enjoy today.

Does that mean we should ‘share’ or ‘pirate’ more copyrighted things on the internet? Not necessarily. The free rider problem is real enough.

But here’s the thing. In addition to the free rider problem, which we should solve as best we can, there’s a free rider opportunity. And while we whine about the problem, the opportunity has always been far larger and its value grows with every passing day.

The American economist Robert Solow demonstrated in the 1950s that nearly all of the productivity growth in history – particularly our rise from subsistence to affluence since the industrial revolution – was a result not of increasing capital investment, but of people finding better ways of working and playing, and then being copied. A little of this innovation was fostered by intellectual property rights which give temporary monopolies in technology. But much less than you’d think.

Most innovation can’t be patented. And after patents expire in 20 years (it used to be less) it’s open slather. We’re not paying royalties to the estates of Matthew Bolton and James Watt for their refinements to the piston engine. But we’re still free riding on their work. In other words, free-riding made us what we are today.

At the birth of modernity Thomas Jefferson spoke of the free rider opportunity more eloquently than any statesman then or since:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

Far from wanting to ignore the free rider problem, Jefferson was on top of that too, spearheading the institutionalization of intellectual property. But having done so, throughout his life, including in his administration of patents, he sought balance between dealing with the problems and seizing the opportunities presented by free riding. more>

The Adaptive Age

No institution or individual can stand on the sidelines in the fight against climate change
By Kristalina Georgieva – When I think of the incredible challenges we must confront in the face of a changing climate, my mind focuses on young people. Eventually, they will be the ones either to enjoy the fruits or bear the burdens resulting from actions taken today.

Our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through various mitigation measures—phasing out fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy sources, improving land use and agricultural practices—continue to move forward, but the pace is too slow. We have to scale up and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. At the same time, we must recognize that climate change is already happening and affecting the lives of millions of people. There are more frequent and more severe weather-related events—more droughts, more floods, more heat waves, more storms.

Ready or not, we are entering an age of adaptation. And we need to be smart about it. Adaptation is not a defeat, but rather a defense against what is already happening. The right investments will deliver a “triple dividend” by averting future losses, spurring economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits to everyone, but particularly to those currently affected and most at risk. Updated building codes can ensure infrastructure and buildings are better able to withstand extreme events. Making agriculture more climate resilient means investing more money in research and development, which in turn opens the door to innovation, growth, and healthier communities.

The IMF is stepping up its efforts to deal with climate risk. Our mission is to help our members build stronger economies and improve people’s lives through sound monetary, fiscal, and structural policies. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

The evolution of economics and Homo Economicus
By Richard H. Thaler – Early in my teaching career I managed to inadvertently get most of the students in my microeconomics class mad at me, and for once, it had nothing to do with anything I said in class. The problem was caused by a midterm exam.

I had composed an exam that was designed to distinguish among three broad groups of students: the stars who really mastered the material, the middle group who grasped the basic concepts, and the bottom group who just didn’t get it. To successfully accomplish this task, the exam had to have some questions that only the top students would get right, which meant that the exam was hard.

The exam succeeded in my goal—there was a wide dispersion of scores—but when the students got their results they were in an uproar. Their principal complaint was that the average score was only 72 points out of a possible 100.

What was odd about this reaction was that the average numerical score on the exam had absolutely no effect on the distribution of grades. The norm at the school where I was teaching was to use a grading curve in which the average grade was a B or B+, and only a tiny number of students received grades below a C. I had anticipated the possibility that a low average numerical score might cause some confusion on this front, so I had reported how the numerical scores would be translated into actual grades in the class.

Anything over 80 would get an A or A-, scores above 65 would get some kind of B, and only scores below 50 were in danger of getting a grade below C. The resulting distribution of grades was not different from normal, but this announcement had no apparent effect on the students’ mood. They still hated my exam, and they were none too happy with me either. As a young professor worried about keeping my job, I was determined to do something about this, but I did not want to make my exams any easier. What to do?

Finally, an idea occurred to me. On the next exam, I made the total number of points available 137 instead of 100. This exam turned out to be slightly harder than the first, with students getting only 70 percent of the answers right, but the average numerical score was a cheery 96 points. The students were delighted! No one’s actual grade was affected by this change, but everyone was happy. From that point on, whenever I was teaching this course, I always gave exams a point total of 137, a number I chose for two reasons.

First, it produced an average score well into the 90s, with some students even getting scores above 100, generating a reaction approaching ecstasy. more>

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