On the web: US introspection, development aid, and challenging economic orthodoxy…

– This week’s Economist sees Lexington bemoan those advancing the discourse of American exceptionalism, suggesting that “[t]he last thing the country needs is to be distracted from its practical problems by the quest for an elusive greatness”. Elsewhere, The Spectator’s Coffee House blog remembers Jimmy Carter’s fabled 1979 speech in which he spoke of a US “crisis of confidence”.

Delivering the annual lecture at The Ditchley Foundation last week, Strobe Talbott suggested that the “promise” of the Obama Presidency – both in the domestic and the international arenas – is now “at risk”. “[W]hatever fate is in store for the current president of the United States”, Talbott argued,

“one thing is for sure.  His success in tackling the major issues of our time will depend on his establishing a degree of common purpose with his partners in national governance at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and with his partners in global governance around the world.”

– Elsewhere, over at The Cable, Josh Rogin reports on the slow progress of reviews into US development policy – the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.  The Economist, meanwhile, highlights Brazil’s growing identity as a significant aid donor.

– Finally, the head of the UK Financial Services Authority, Adair Turner, cautions against the default acceptance of prevailing economic ideology, suggesting that policymakers would do well to draw on a diversity of economic opinion. Joseph Stiglitz, meanwhile, explores the Keynesian prescription for the global economy.

The Long Financial Crisis (updated)

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It’s commonplace to describe the financial crisis as a once-in-a-century event, but I question whether that is the case. Perhaps we’re not in the midst of a short-lived financial shock, but a long crisis that stretches back into the 1990s.

Here’s Paul Blustein on Alan Greenspan:

The Fed chief told the G-7 that in almost fifty years of watching the U.S. economy, he had never witnessed anything like the drying up of markets in the previous days and weeks.

Greenspan wasn’t speaking in Autumn 2008 when Lehman’s collapsed, however, but ten years’ earlier in the wake of the spectacular blow-up of Long-Term Capital Management, which lost $4.5 billion almost overnight in what the fund’s principals post-rationalised as a 100-year flood.

Long-Term (with its superbly hubristic name) was brought low by derivatives, just as Lehman’s would be a decade later.

(Robert Rubin, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, was one of those left picking up the pieces – part of ‘the committee to save the world’, with Greenspan and Larry Summers. Rubin went on to preside over Citigroup as it needed a succession of massively expensive bailouts, when its derivatives tanked in the subprime crisis.)

Committee to Save the World

The proximate cause of Long-Term’s failure was Russia’s Rouble crisis, when the country defaulted on its debt after the IMF refused to mount a second bailout.

The Russian crisis itself came in the midst of a long series of dramatic economic failures that hits the world between 1997 and 1999, mostly in East Asia (Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia etc), but which also battered Brazil and would devastate Argentina in 2002. Blustein again:

Time and again, panics in financial markets proved impervious to the ministrations of the people responsible for global economic policymaking.

IMF bailouts fell flat in one crisis-stricken country after another, with the announcements of enormous international loan packages followed by crashes in currencies and sever economic setbacks that the rescues were supposed to avert.

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A Guide to the BASIC Coalition – climate after Copenhagen

One of the most significant developments at Copenhagen was the emergence of the BASIC coalition – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – which negotiated the final details of the Copenhagen Accord with the United States.

My understanding is that BASIC was formed at China’s instigation. China agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with India in October 2009, committing the two countries to working closely together at Copenhagen. It then invited Brazil and South Africa to join the party, at a meeting in Beijing a week before Copenhagen started. Sudan was also invited to represent the G77.

According to Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, the four countries decided that they’d walk out of Copenhagen together if necessary:

We will not exit in isolation. We will co-ordinate our exit if any of our non-negotiable terms is violated. Our entry and exit will be collective.

During Copenhagen, China worked extremely closely with India, with the two delegations meeting up to six times a day. It also engaged intensively with the other members of BASIC. In the final meeting with the Americans, China agreed to accept a limited international monitoring of its targets (India claims to have pushed China on this point).

The decision was also taken to drop language, setting a deadline for turning the Copenhagen Accord into a legally binding agreement. South Africa and Brazil both appear to have been unhappy with this decision.

Since Copenhagen, the BASIC countries have met once and have agreed to continue to get together on a regular basis. They want the Copenhagen Accord to set the stage for a ‘twin track’ agreement – with tough and binding targets for developed countries through Kyoto #2 and voluntary commitments for themselves under a new agreement.

No-one really knows how the US would fit into this picture. It is also increasingly clear that they and the US left Copenhagen with quite different impressions of what will happen next. The US believes that large emerging economies now have “very explicit activities and obligations”. I don’t think they believe they are committed to anything significant, beyond what they agreed at Bali or put on the table on a voluntary basis before Copenhagen started. Continue reading

Export-led growth: not so resilient

As David just noted, this morning’s Lex column in the FT is relatively upbeat about the dangers of protectionism, arguing that “the disaggregation of global supply chains, the source of the huge efficiencies that companies pass on to consumers, will not be easily undone.”

Whether or not that’s right (and like Willem Buiter, Martin Wolf is also a good deal more downcast than the Lex team), it’s interesting to compare today’s Lex column with what they had to say about capital flows to emerging markets just a couple of days ago.  Here’s the bit that made me sit up:

Take Brazil and India, the globe’s ninth and 12th biggest economies, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest estimates. While the developed world is expected to shrink by 2 per cent this year, the IMF reckons Brazil will grow by 2 per cent, and India by 5 per cent. Why? One answer is that they have stable banks, relatively closed economies, and large internal markets. This has insulated them from much of the global turmoil.

The contrast with East Asia is stark. Singapore’s economy shrank at an annualised 17 per cent rate at the end of last year, South Korea by some 20 per cent. Yet this is not for lack of capital. Asian economies, after all, are global creditors. Their economies have shrunk instead because they are heavily oriented towards collapsing international trade. Meanwhile, their local markets are undeveloped and weak. Asia’s challenge is how to best deploy its accumulated surpluses to boost domestic demand.

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A Tale of Two Cities


Image Author: mike_is_scrumptious

Image Author: mike_is_scrumptious

Assume a robust global deal on climate and the world’s cities will have to transform their infrastructure, economies and societies in little more than a generation.

Assume uncontrolled emissions growth and they face growing impact from a less hospitable and more volatile climate.

Either way – big changes are on the way. Few cities’ leaders grasp the scale of the challenge, especially in developing countries, where towns and cities will have an additional 1.5bn residents to cope with by 2030.

This new think piece has been prepared as part of the British Council’s Climate and Cities programme. Download the pdf (which has full references) or read the full text below the jump.

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Why should I listen to the IMF?

Courtesy Flickr user massdistraction

Courtesy Flickr user massdistraction

The IMF today predicted a grim economic outlook for 2009, with some green shoots in 2010.

The news is especially grim for the UK and Eurozone countries, with a 2.8% and 2% fall in output in 2009 and barely any growth in 2010. The US is predicted to do quite a lot better – a 1.6% fall this year, but 1.6% of growth next. That should cue a pleasant new wave of American triumphalism.

China floats through the crisis more or less unscathed. Growth slips to 6.7% in 2009, but bounces back to 8% in 2010. India does a little worse, Brazil suffers pretty badly, while the Mexican economy really tanks.

But I really don’t know why I even bothered to read the stats. Nine months ago at the Progressive Governance Summit, Dominique Strauss-Kahn told everyone that Europe and the US would experience a slowdown, but not a loss of growth (with the European economy expected to outperform the American one).

Even since it last ran its models in November (just three months ago!), the IMF has knocked 1.7 percentage points off world growth, and a staggering 6 points from its prediction for what were once known as the Asian tigers.

The IMF itself is forced to admit that “the uncertainty surrounding the outlook is unusually large.” Doesn’t that translate as “our models weren’t built for these crazy conditions, but we’ll run them anyway and PR them heavily to the 1000 or so media outlets that’ll reprint our speculation as fact”?

Or am I missing something here?

Climate’s new Stern

Nick Stern isn’t going to like this, but there’s a new Stern on the climate block: Todd Stern , who is set to be announced as the US’s new climate envoy.

(Todd) Stern has set out a fairly clear road map for US engagement in the climate process (nb. these are his personal pre-appointment views, not those of Obama or Clinton). He thinks the US should:

  • Start with domestic policy – get the National Academcy of Sciences to recommend (and review on regular basis) a stablization target; legislate cap and trade, not a carbon tax; supplement with regulation on energy efficiency and tex incentives for R&D.
  • Use domestic policy as a lever in the international arena – negotiating first with a core group of countries (the ‘E8’ – Brazil, China, EU, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa and the US); then building a post-Kyoto framework on the back of their agreement, with binding long-term targets for all developed and ‘as many advanced developing countries as possible,’ and a built-in mechanism to ratchet those targets up over time (and as scientific findings dictate).

Stern is fairly tough on China. The country needs to accept targets (calculated on what basis is a question he does not address), but he makes lots of positive noises. Joint action on a climate can form the basis of a new strategic partnership between the 800-pound gorillas, but only if it is elevated from “traditional place in the second tier of mutual concerns.”

Throughout, of course, he has an eye on the US Senate and ratification. Bottom up targets and sectoral agreements should be deployed if they can suck more countries into a climate deal, as this will shut up antsy Senators. Access to carbon markets should be used as another tool that creates an incentive for developing country participation.

But there needs to be a stick too, Stern believes – and that stick is trade. Unilateral tarrifs on carbon-intensive goods would be ‘profoundly alienating’ and ‘a prescription for mutual recrimination, not progress’, especially after the US has spent so many years in the climate wilderness. But:

Considered in a mutilateral context…the idea…is more interesting. Today, the carbon content of goods is not captured in their price…If the premise of a climate regime were that countries must capture those social costs by putting a price on carbon, whether by means of a cap-and-trade program, a carbon tax, or equivalent policies to cut emissions, tarrifs could then be imposed on the exported products of any country that lacked such policies.

The Europeans will welcome Stern’s appointment with open arms – the Brits in particular.  John Ashton, the UK’s climate envoy, gets name checked by his new US counterpart – and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the two working hand in hand…