In a recent article, I discussed the poor state of Latin American economies drawing on some rather obscure works by Raúl Prebisch, explicitly addressed to the disturbing role of capital flows on (primarized and open) Latin American economies. I find that the post-2008 cyclical trend of capital flows is an exacerbated version of what has been affecting Latin America since the days of Prebich .
Mainstream literature on capital flows to developing countries has shared two important commonalities since the 1990s. This literature, for example in the tradition of New Institutional Economics, tends to assume a beneficial effect of capital inflows, which leads to an improvement of peripheral institutions, whose deficiencies are ostensibly the main cause of economic turmoil and/or failure in attracting capital flows. In doing so, however, mainstream economists deliberately overlook the asymmetric characteristics of the international monetary system and the persisting hegemony of the US Dollar.
In 1825 a Javanese prince named Diponegoro touched off a five-year, ultimately unsuccessful, war of resistance against the Dutch colonial government. As detailed by Peter Carey in his biography of Diponegoro, one of the causes was a land-rent system imposed by the Dutch on the Javanese sultanate of Yogyakarta. Under this system, landowners were encouraged to rent their estates directly to European plantation owners for the production of cash crops. This had a disruptive effect on the local economy and the Governor-General ordered it halted. But there was a catch. As the land-rent system was unwound, the Javanese landowners were forced to buy out the plantation owners in order to get control of their land back.
Many had already used the rents to buy imported luxury goods, and they fell into debt paying out large and often inflated sums to the plantation owners. The sultan was expected to back-stop these debts using payments he received from the Dutch for granting them the right to collect revenue on the kingdom’s toll roads. This created a situation where a Javanese merchant travelling from Yogyakarta to Semarang had to pay fees to the Dutch toll road agents. A portion of those fees then went to the sultan, who used them to back-stop debts being incurred by Javanese landowners as they bought back their own land back from European plantation owners.
For several decades, countries of the periphery have been deeply in the grip of debt. The Covid-19-induced crisis has severely accelerated indebtedness and thus increased financial vulnerability. Recent policy measures by peripheral governments and central banks have brought momentary relief, but ultimately represent a manifestation of the interests of finance capital to get the most out of peripheral economies as long as it is still possible.
Because of the dependence of their currencies on international capital flows, political autonomy in peripheral economies is extremely limited due to the possible effects of political decisions on the movement of such flows. The enormous power of financial markets over monetary policy in the periphery is again becoming evident during the current crisis. The crisis in the global periphery is generally much more severe than in the central countries, not only because of often inadequate health systems that have been abandoned under three decades of neoliberal policy. As peripheral assets do not serve as a store of value, “investors” withdrew almost 100 billion dollars from “emerging markets” within three months, constituting a historically unprecedented capital flight. Factors such as the deflation of prices of primary resources, the fall in external demand for manufactured products, and the fall in cash flows due to decreasing remittances and tourism mean that financial pressure has increased even more. Consequently, peripheral currencies significantly depreciated with the beginning of the crisis, in some cases by as much as 20-30%, as in the cases of Brazil and Mexico.
Yet the Philippine state’s inadequate institutional capacity to respond to the epidemic goes deeper. Given the national economy’s position in the hierarchical global economic system, its structural weaknesses impacts on how effective the government’s response can be. The current mainstream approaches to resolve the pandemic and the multiple crises of capitalism would fail to address the convoluted historical process of maldevelopment of the Philippines. Thus, a radical political strategy with a new economic paradigm for post-pandemic reconstruction is needed. Read More »
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, developing countries have been exposed to massive withdrawals of capital flows. In this post, I unpack the financial challenges these countries are facing and consider what role the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) of the IMF can play in easing the burden.
According to the calculations by the Institute for International Finance (IIF), investors withdrew almost $80 billion over recent weeks from emerging markets (Wheatley 2020). During periods of crisis, investors ‘fly to safety’ by selling risky assets and purchasing safe assets such as US Dollars and the US Treasury Securities. As international investors flee to dollars amidst the financial turmoil caused by the Coronavirus, there is an acute concern that low and middle-income countries will be short of dollars. Furthermore, the scale of the withdrawal suggests that these countries will face great difficulty in raising funds for their sovereign debt payments. Besides governments, firms based in developing countries are also expected to face difficulties in raising foreign currency-denominated debt in international capital markets. Meeting this growing demand requires a global lender of last resort that can provide dollars on request. Within the existing global financial order, the Fed and the IMF are two major organizations that are capable of meeting this demand.
The Fed can provide dollar liquidity through swap lines, which allows global central banks access to dollars in exchange for their own currency with the promise that the principal, as well as the interest, will be paid later. When engaging in a swap operation, the Fed provides dollars to the recipient central bank for an equivalent amount of their currency at a given market exchange rate. After a certain period, the two central banks resell to each other their respective currencies at the initial exchange rate. The recipient central bank provides the dollars to financial institutions in its jurisdictions at the same maturity and rate. This way, swap lines provide dollar liquidity to recipient countries’ central bank and financial institutions (Bahaj and Reis 2018).Read More »
Omar al Bashir has fallen in Khartoum. Beyond regime change–managed by the military– there’s a deeper economic crisis.
In April 11th after five days of sustained protests outside of the compound of the Military High Command in Central Khartoum, the Minister of Defense and First Vice President of Sudan, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf made a televised broadcast to the nation, announcing the arrest of President Omar El-Bashir and an unspecified number of other high ranking officials primarily associated with Islamist Movement. Ibn Auf declared the military’s intention to form a transitional government, the makeup of which would be announced later, and a three month state of emergency including a curfew. His demands have been rejected by the Sudanese Professional Association and other groups like Girfna, which have declared that only a civilian transitional government would be acceptable. The Sudanese Professional Association have published a Declaration of Freedom and Change which outlines a plan for a four year transitional government made up of civilian technocrats. Chants of tsgut bas (Just fall) changed overnight to sgut (fallen).
The Argentinian government has requested financial assistance from the IMF to tackle the consequences of a serious currency crisis. Last Wednesday, the government emphatically announced the new terms of such an agreement. However, unpacking the terms of those agreements and the current situation reveals serious concerns about the country’s future .
A few months back (see here), we provided an analysis of the current Argentinian crisis, highlighting the excessive vulnerability of the economy produced by the abrupt financial deregulation carried out by Macri’s administration. Three aspects in particular threatened the country’s future prospects: the deregulation of foreign exchange that failed to stop capital flight, a boom in foreign debt (at a record level among emerging market economies) and the promotion of speculative capital inflows to carry trade (buying financial instruments issued by the Central Bank called LEBAC in order to pursue carry trade operations).
When international conditions worsened and the carry trade circuit came to an end, the “LEBAC bubble” exploded and produced a tremendous foreign exchange crisis that shook the Argentine economy, causing a sharp rise in inflation and a severe recession from which the country has not yet managed to escape. Read More »
Book review of N. Levy-Orlik & E Ortiz (2016), The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria: European and Latin American Experiences, Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham UK
Levy and Ortiz’s The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria is a timely book. It critiques mainstream economic theory and its limitations in explaining how economic conditions change or the transition from one state of equilibrium to another. Its analyses rely on Keynes, Kalecki, Kaldor, Minsky, Prebish, Furtado, and Marxists such as Luxemburg, Marini and Lapavitsas. Macroeconomic teachers interested in a heterodox approach may benefit from Levy and Ortiz’s book as complementary material with experiences showing the dysfunctionality of the global economy from the specific prism of financial disequilibria.