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The world economy
An open and shut case
The consensus in favour of open economies is cracking, says John O’Sullivan. Is globalisation no longer a good thing?
THERE IS NOTHING dark, still less satanic, about the Revolution Mill in Greensboro, North Carolina. The tall yellow-brick chimney stack, with red bricks spelling “Revolution” down its length, was built a few years after the mill was established in 1900. It was a booming time for local enterprise. America’s cotton industry was moving south from New England to take advantage of lower wages. The number of mills in the South more than doubled between 1890 and 1900, to 542.
By 1938 Revolution Mill was the world’s largest factory exclusively making flannel, producing 50m yards of cloth a year.
The main mill building still has the springy hardwood floors and original wooden joists installed in its heyday, but no clacking of looms has been heard here for over three decades.
The mill ceased production in 1982, an early warning of another revolution on a global scale.
The textile industry was starting a fresh migration in search of cheaper labour, this time in Latin America and Asia. Revolution Mill is a monument to an industry that lost out to globalisation.
In nearby Thomasville, there is another landmark to past industrial glory: a 30-foot (9-metre) replica of an upholstered chair. The Big Chair was erected in 1950 to mark the town’s prowess in furniture-making, in which North Carolina was once America’s leading state. But the success did not last. “In the 2000s half of Thomasville went to China,” says T.J. Stout, boss of Carsons Hospitality, a local furniture-maker. Local makers of cabinets, dressers and the like lost sales to Asia, where labour-intensive production was cheaper.
The state is now finding new ways to do well. An hour’s drive east from Greensboro is Durham, a city that is bursting with new firms. One is Bright View Technologies, with a modern headquarters on the city’s outskirts, which makes film and reflectors to vary the pattern and diffusion of LED lights. The Liggett and Myers building in the city centre was once the home of the Chesterfield cigarette. The handsome building is now filling up with newer businesses, says Ted Conner of the Durham Chamber of Commerce. Duke University, the centre of much of the city’s innovation, is taking some of the space for labs.
North Carolina exemplifies both the promise and the casualties of today’s open economy. Yet even thriving local businesses there grumble that America gets the raw end of trade deals, and that foreign rivals benefit from unfair subsidies and lax regulation. In places that have found it harder to adapt to changing times, the rumblings tend to be louder. Across the Western world there is growing unease about globalisation and the lopsided, unstable sort of capitalism it is believed to have wrought.
A backlash against freer trade is reshaping politics. Donald Trump has clinched an unlikely nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate in November’s presidential elections with the support of blue-collar men in America’s South and its rustbelt. These are places that lost lots of manufacturing jobs in the decade after 2001, when America was hit by a surge of imports from China (which Mr Trump says he will keep out with punitive tariffs). Free trade now causes so much hostility that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, was forced to disown the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal with Asia that she herself helped to negotiate. Talks on a new trade deal with the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), have stalled. Senior politicians in Germany and France have turned against it in response to popular opposition to the pact, which is meant to lower investment and regulatory barriers between Europe and America.
There is growing disquiet, too, about the unfettered movement of capital. More of the value created by companies is intangible, and businesses that rely on selling ideas find it easier to set up shop where taxes are low. America has clamped down on so-called tax inversions, in which a big company moves to a low-tax country after agreeing to be bought by a smaller firm based there. Europeans grumble that American firms engage in too many clever tricks to avoid tax.
In August the European Commission told Ireland to recoup up to €13 billion ($14.5 billion) in unpaid taxes from Apple, ruling that the company’s low tax bill was a source of unfair competition.
Free movement of debt capital has meant that trouble in one part of the world (say, America’s subprime crisis) quickly spreads to other parts. The fickleness of capital flows is one reason why the EU’s most ambitious cross-border initiative, the euro, which has joined 19 of its 28 members in a currency union, is in trouble. In the euro’s early years, countries such as Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain enjoyed ample credit and low borrowing costs, thanks to floods of private short-term capital from other EU countries. When crisis struck, that credit dried up and had to be replaced with massive official loans, from the ECB and from bail-out funds. The conditions attached to such support have caused relations between creditor countries such as Germany and debtors such as Greece to sour.
Some claim that the growing discontent in the rich world is not really about economics. After all, Britain and America, at least, have enjoyed reasonable GDP growth recently, and unemployment in both countries has dropped to around 5%. Instead, the argument goes, the revolt against economic openness reflects deeper anxieties about lost relative status. Some arise from the emergence of China as a global power; others are rooted within individual societies.
For example, in parts of Europe opposition to migrants was prompted by the Syrian refugee crisis. It stems less from worries about the effect of immigration on wages or jobs than from a perceived threat to social cohesion.
But there is a material basis for discontent nevertheless, because a sluggish economic recovery has bypassed large groups of people. In America one in six working-age men without a college degree is not part of the workforce, according to an analysis by the Council of Economic Advisers, a White House think-tank. In Britain, though more people than ever are in work, wage rises have not kept up with inflation. Only in London and its hinterland in the south-east has real income per person risen above its level before the 2007-08 financial crisis. Most other rich countries are in the same boat. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute, a think-tank, found that the real incomes of two-thirds of households in 25 advanced economies were flat or fell between 2005 and 2014, compared with 2% in the previous decade. The few gains in a sluggish economy have gone to a salaried gentry.
This has fed a widespread sense that an open economy is good for a small elite but does nothing for the broad mass of people. Even academics and policymakers who used to welcome openness unreservedly are having second thoughts. They had always understood that free trade creates losers as well as winners, but thought that the disruption was transitory and the gains were big enough to compensate those who lose out. However, a body of new research suggests that China’s integration into global trade caused more lasting damage than expected to some rich-world workers. Those displaced by a surge in imports from China were concentrated in pockets of distress where alternative jobs were hard to come by.
It is not easy to establish a direct link between openness and wage inequality, but recent studies suggest that trade plays a bigger role than previously thought. Large-scale migration is increasingly understood to conflict with the welfare policy needed to shield workers from the disruptions of trade and technology.
The consensus in favour of unfettered capital mobility began to weaken after the East Asian crises of 1997-98. As the scale of capital flows grew, the doubts increased. A recent article by economists at the IMF entitled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” argued that in certain cases the costs to economies of opening up to capital flows exceed the benefits.
First, jobs and pay have been greatly affected by technological change. Much of the increase in wage inequality in rich countries stems from new technologies that make college-educated workers more valuable. At the same time companies’ profitability has increasingly diverged.
Online platforms such as Amazon, Google and Uber that act as matchmakers between consumers and producers or advertisers rely on network effects: the more users they have, the more useful they become. The firms that come to dominate such markets make spectacular returns compared with the also-rans. That has sometimes produced windfalls at the very top of the income distribution. At the same time the rapid decline in the cost of automation has left the low- and mid-skilled at risk of losing their jobs. All these changes have been amplified by globalisation, but would have been highly disruptive in any event.
The second source of turmoil was the financial crisis and the long, slow recovery that typically follows banking blow-ups. The credit boom before the crisis had helped to mask the problem of income inequality by boosting the price of homes and increasing the spending power of the low-paid.
The subsequent bust destroyed both jobs and wealth, but the college-educated bounced back more quickly than others. The free flow of debt capital played a role in the build-up to the crisis, but much of the blame for it lies with lax bank regulation. Banking busts happened long before globalisation.
Superimposed on all this was a unique event: the rapid emergence of China as an economic power.
Export-led growth has transformed China from a poor to a middle-income country, taking hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. This achievement is probably unrepeatable. As the price of capital goods continues to fall sharply, places with large pools of cheap labour, such as India or Africa, will find it harder to break into global supply chains, as China did so speedily and successfully.
This special report will disentangle these myriad influences to assess the impact of the free movement of goods, capital and people. It will conclude that some of the concerns about economic openness are valid. The strains inflicted by a more integrated global economy were underestimated, and too little effort went into helping those who lost out. But much of the criticism of openness is misguided, underplaying its benefits and blaming it for problems that have other causes. Rolling it back would leave everyone worse off.
Turning Off the Dividend Spigot
Viral Acharya, Diane Pierret, Sascha Steffen
NEW YORK – European banks’ high litigation and restructuring costs have resulted in major losses on their books and abysmal stock-market performance. As the industry and European regulators now reflect on this dismal state of affairs and search for solutions, they should consider banks’ revenue distribution – including employee bonuses and shareholder dividends – as part of the problem.
The figure above shows our calculated capital shortfalls, using the EBA stress test’s “adverse scenario” losses and the cumulative dividends these banks have distributed since 2010.
Photo: European Pressphoto Agency
The Wells Fargo Standard
Imagine if the Treasury Secretary had to live by new rules for banks.
Democrats are waging a non-stop campaign to punish bank executives for misconduct, both real and imagined. After revelations that Wells Fargo WFC 0.04 % fired thousands of employees for setting up accounts without customer permission, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her colleagues were howling this week for Wells to claw back bonuses that had been paid to senior executives. Awkwardly for Ms. Warren and her colleagues, Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.) decided to pursue this line of argument a little too vigorously for Democratic tastes.
At a hearing this week in the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Garrett asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who helped preside over a titanic financial disaster at Citigroup C 0.08 % in 2008, whether the bank had clawed back any of his compensation.
YouTube viewers may be entertained watching the video of this exchange, in which Mr. Lew makes every effort to avoid answering the simple question. At one point the former chief operating officer of two troubled Citi units says, “I was responsible for administrative activities, not for designing risk products so let’s just remember what my role was.”
What makes this so awkward is not merely that Sen. Warren and her Democratic colleagues overwhelmingly voted to confirm Mr. Lew to run the Treasury. And it’s not merely that many of the regulators on Mr. Lew’s Financial Stability Oversight Council are now drafting clawback rules that other, less politically connected, bankers will have to live by.
There’s also the issue of scale. Jack Lew’s Citigroup consumed a series of multi-billion-dollar taxpayer bailouts and helped trigger a world-wide financial panic. Wells Fargo mistreated its customers, but its $2.6 million in remediation for those affected is a rounding error at a bank with $86 billion in annual revenue. If J.P. Morgan JPM -0.21 % ’s famous 2012 trading loss was triggered by a “London whale,” as a financial matter this is the San Francisco minnow.
Mr. Garrett sums up the lesson for bankers when he says that “so long as you’re a high-ranking Democratic official, you can make all the money that you want on Wall Street but if you’re not one of them then you have to play by the rules if the company collapses.”
Are Central Banks Taking Away The Punchbowl?
by: Mark Haefele
- The monetary policy debate has grown, with support for negative rates appearing to wane. We expect stimulus to continue. But central banks may use different tools.
- Investors can use alternative asset classes to limit volatility and generate returns that should beat cash and government bonds.
We introduce a preference for a basket of emerging market currencies versus a selection of G10 currencies. We remain overweight US equities versus government bonds, and prefer emerging market stocks over Swiss shares.
Les doy cordialmente la bienvenida a este Blog informativo con artículos, análisis y comentarios de publicaciones especializadas y especialmente seleccionadas, principalmente sobre temas económicos, financieros y políticos de actualidad, que esperamos y deseamos, sean de su máximo interés, utilidad y conveniencia.
Pensamos que solo comprendiendo cabalmente el presente, es que podemos proyectarnos acertadamente hacia el futuro.
Gonzalo Raffo de Lavalle
Las convicciones son mas peligrosos enemigos de la verdad que las mentiras.
Quien conoce su ignorancia revela la mas profunda sabiduría. Quien ignora su ignorancia vive en la mas profunda ilusión.
“There are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen.”
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.
No soy alguien que sabe, sino alguien que busca.
Only Gold is money. Everything else is debt.
Las grandes almas tienen voluntades; las débiles tan solo deseos.
Quien no lo ha dado todo no ha dado nada.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.
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