Brazil’s Election in the Shadow of the Impeachment

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Earlier this month the final deadline arrived for political parties in Brazil to register their candidates for the presidential election in October 2018. The official launch of candidates allows us to discuss more concretely the political forces and players that will be shaping the election. It means that coalitions, alliances, and vice-president choices have taken place. So we asked, what can be said about the first candidates leading the polls? What are the main political forces underlying this election?

The Brazilian political landscape has been extremely polarised since the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. If the left-right dichotomy has recently been considered blurry or outdated, in Brazil one can argue that, due to the impeachment, this dichotomy has a new face, with the coup winners on one extreme and the coup losers on the other.

The nuances between right and left on the political spectrum have largely been overshadowed due to this dichotomy, with one side leading a moral crusade for a clean and corruption-free country and the other side highlighting the ongoing attack on democracy. The political mayhem reached its peak with Lula’s trial and conviction in April, which has led to a great deal of uncertainty over this period (see recent Lula’s Op-Ed from prison in the NYT).

President Termer may have been able to “keep the markets calm in” throughout such political instability, but Brazil’s economic recovery has been weaker than expected, hardships for many families have increased (see IBGE indicators for increases in income inequality, poverty, unemployment and insecurity) and the country has just set a new record for homicides at 63,880 deaths in 2017, with violence against women also increasing. There is a lot at stake in this election.Read More »

Think Positive, Climb out of Poverty? It’s Just Not So Easy!

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Social mobility in Brazil: Positive thinking and ambitious aspirations can create lots of frictions“

A few weeks ago, Professor Seema Jayachandran from Northwestern University published an article in the New York Times in which she discussed the role of positive thinking and of believing in oneself for overcoming poverty. Jayachandran argues that there is “growing evidence that it can used as an anti-poverty strategy”, while also warning about placing too much emphasis on positive thinking alone. This post will dwell on the latter point, arguing that we should pay much more attention to limitations and broader contexts of positive thinking in development. I do not want to deny the role of self-worth and forward-looking aspirations for poverty reduction and quality of life more generally, but I will emphasize the importance of considering their role only as part of a broader policy mix.

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How History Matters in Post-Socialist Economies

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Though it has been suggested that The Beatles Rocked the Kremlin’ it was “Wind of Change” by Scorpions in the early 1991 that captured the minds of the new generation of Eastern Europe (EE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

The promise of more open societies following Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika announcement set in motion powerful dynamics completely transforming the world. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and by the end of 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated bringing down the entire socialist institutional edifice. Newly independent nation-states emerged across Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This new “wind” was that of hope, progressive stability and economic prosperity, or so it seemed at the time. And yet, “[f]or whom the wall fell?” as Branko Milanovic has recently inquired, is not as straightforward as might have been expected.

Despite the independence premium in national policy and in parallel with evidence suggesting recent strong economic growth the post-socialist economies are yet to achieve the ideals announced at the outset of market reforms. Ironically, the most unfortunate economic plan was the 1990s script of transition from planned economy to free market in the EE and FSU.

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Increasing and Diminishing Returns – Africa’s Opportunity to Develop

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‘This tendency to Diminishing Returns was the cause of Abraham’s parting from Lot, and of most of the migrations of which history tells’ wrote the founder of neo-classical economics, Alfred Marshall, in the first edition of his textbook Principles of Economics (1890). In a footnote he refers to the Bible’s Genesis xiii : 6: ‘And the land was not able to bear them that they might dwell together; for their substance was great so they could not dwell together’. (Marshall 1890: 201)

Marshall’s observation also applies to today’s migration patterns: from countries where most activities are subject to constant or diminishing returns to countries whose key economic activities are subject to increasing returns to scale. Diminishing returns occur when one factor of production is limited by nature, which means that it occurs in agriculture, mining, and fisheries. Normally the best land, the best ore, and the richest fishing grounds are exploited first, and – after a point – the more a country specialises in these activities, the poorer it gets. OECD (2018) shows how this occurs in Chilean copper mining: every ton of copper is produced with a higher cost than the previous ton.

In Alfred Marshall’s theory, the ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’ is juxtaposed with ‘The Law of Increasing Returns’, also called economies of scale. Here we find the opposite phenomenon; the larger the volume of production, the cheaper the next unit of production becomes. Traditionally economies of scale were mainly found in manufacturing industry, and increasing returns combined with technological change has for centuries been the main driving force of economic growth. Increasing returns creates imperfect competition, market power and large barriers to entry for challengers – companies or nations – making it difficult for them to enter these industries. In contrast to the rents produced under conditions of increasing returns, raw materials – commodities – on the other hand, are subject to perfect markets, and productivity improvements spread as lowered prices. This is the essence of the theory which explains why former World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin was correct hen he asserted that ‘Except for a few oil-exporting countries, no countries have ever gotten rich without industrialization first’ (Lin 2012 : 350).Read More »

Trade for Human Rights as a Minimum Core Obligation

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In his report on the Minimum Core Doctrine (MCD) John Tasioulas states:

“the essence of the concept will be taken to be the sub-set of obligations associated with socio-economic rights that must be immediately complied with in full (obligations of immediate effect)” (p. 3).

He contrasts these against those obligations that require significant resources and are therefore subject to ‘progressive realization’. Thus, the defining characteristic of MCD is that it differentiates obligations between those of immediate effect and those of progressive realization. And the focus is on the nature of the obligations (what the state must do when) rather than the nature of substantive rights (the condition of people’s lives).

However, the discussion about what constitutes minimum core obligations in substance focuses on the nature of rights enjoyment and a package of minimum goods and services that would be required rather than the nature of obligations. This starts with General Comment 3 that refers to ‘a minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights’, and to the provision of ‘essential primary health care’ (ICESCR quoted in Tasioulas p. 5). Further, human rights-based practice begins to specify specific types of diseases to be treated and goods and services that would be included in the minimum, as under the ‘selective primary health care model’ adopted by UNICEF (Tasioulas p. 5).Read More »

An Alternative Economics Summer Reading List

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by Carolina Alves, Besiana Balla, Devika Dutt and Ingrid H. Kvangraven

This is a response list to Martin Wolf’s FT column recommending Economics books of 2018 for summer reading. While there are many good books listed, we were struck by the consistent monism in his choices, as the books are all by scholars based in either the UK or the US, 12/13 of the authors are men and most of them come from the same theoretical tradition. Such lists perpetuate the strong white male – and mainstream – biases in our field (the recent list by The Economist suffers from the same biases).

To counter these biases, and with the purpose of broadening our field to become more inclusive of diverse approaches and perspectives, we have put together an alternative list. We deliberately chose books by scholars approaching Economics with alternative theoretical frameworks and by scholars from groups that tend to be excluded from the field, namely women, people of color, and scholars from the Global South. We recognize that no one is exempt from biases, which is why we are providing an explanation for the motivation behind our selection. Due to institutional and language barriers we were unable to include as many scholars from the Global South as we would have liked. For example, we would love to read the new book Valsa Brasileira by Laura Carvalho, but we are still waiting for the English translation. We hope you enjoy it and welcome more suggestions in the comments section.

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Keynes or New-Keynesian: Why Not Teach Both?

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For economists, the Great Recession, the worst crisis the world economy has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, has highlighted the need for plurality in macroeconomics education. Ironically, however, there is a move towards greater insularity from alternative or contrasting points of view. Where as, what is required for vibrant policy making is an open-minded academic engagement between contesting viewpoints. In fact, there does not even exist a textbook which contrasts these contesting ideas in a tractable manner. This blog post is as an attempt to provide certain pointers towards developing macroeconomics in a unified framework.

Macroeconomics as a subject proper came into existence with the writings of John Maynard Keynes[i]. There were debates during his time about how to characterise a capitalist economy, most of which are still a part of the discussion among economists. Keynes argued that capitalism is a fundamentally unstable system so the state needs to intervene to control this instability.Read More »