Do not take peace for granted: Adam Smith’s warning on the relation between commerce and war

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By Maria Pia Paganelli and Reinhard Schumacher

Is trade a promoter of peace? Adam Smith, one of the earliest defenders of trade, worries that commerce may instigate some perverse incentives, encouraging wars. The wealth that commerce generates decreases the relative cost of wars, increases the ability to finance wars through debts, which decreases their perceived cost, and increases the willingness of commercial interests to use wars to extend their markets, increasing the number and prolonging the length of wars. Smith, therefore, cannot assume that trade would yield a peaceful world. While defending and promoting trade, Smith warns us not to take peace for granted. We unpack Smith’s ideas and their relevance for contemporary times in our recent article in the Cambridge Journal of Economics.Read More »

Currency crisis in Argentina or the IMF’s tango

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By Roberto Lampa and Nicolás Hernán Zeolla

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 »

Unanswered Questions on Financialisation in Developing Economies

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The discussions of the processes behind the growing importance of finance, financial transactions and financial motives, as well as the sustainability of the financial systems, have been located in the critical political economy debate of financialisation and neoliberalism (Crotty, 2003; Epstein, 2005; Fine, 2013; Lapavitsas, 2013; Palley, 2016; Sawyer, 2013; Stockhammer, 2004).

The analysis of financialisation in developing and emerging economies (DEEs) is relatively novel (Bonizzi, 2013). It is rooted in earlier discussions about the risks of financial globalisation and liberalisation (Akyuz & Boratav, 2005; Barbosa-Filho, 2005; Crotty & Lee, 2005; Frenkel & Rapetti, 2009; Grabel, 2003; O’Connell, 2005; Palma, 1998; Taylor, 1998), including the Latin American Structuralist literature on the hegemonic role of the US dollar and its financial and monetary implications for DEEs (Belluzzo, 1997; Braga, 1997; Fiori, 1997; Miranda, 1997; Tavares, 1997); the debate on capital account liberalisation and capital market integration (Cohen, 1996; Rodrik, 1998; Stiglitz & Ocampo, 2008; Strange, 1994); and the Minsky-inspired currency and boom bust dynamics of financial crisis in developing economies (Arestis & Glickman, 2002; de Paula & Alves, 2000; Dymski, 1999; Kregel, 1998; Schroeder, 2002).Read More »

A Soft Law Mechanism for Sovereign Debt Restructuring

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By Martin Guzman and Joseph E. Stiglitz

The ultimate goal of sovereign debt restructuring is to restore the sustainability of public debt with high probability[1]. But this is not happening. Since 1970, more than half of the restructuring episodes with private creditors were followed by another restructuring or default within five years[2] — evidence inconsistent with any sensible definition of “restoration of sustainability of public debt with a high probability.” This evidence suggests that relief for distressed debtors is often insufficient for achieving the main goal of a restructuring, delaying the recovery from recessions or depressions, with large negative social consequences.[3]

The lack of a statutory regime for dealing with distressed sovereign debt makes sovereign debt crises resolution a complex process — marked by inefficiencies and inequities that take multiple forms[4]. The current non-system is characterized by bargaining based on decentralized and non-binding market-based instruments centered on collective action clauses and competing codes of conduct. The IMF often plays the role of the facilitator in this process of bargaining between a distressed debtor and its creditors.[5] But it has not always been successful in ensuring that restructuring needs are addressed in a timely way — indeed, it has often failed; and as we have already noted, even when restructuring processes have ultimately been carried out, they have often not been deep enough.[6]Read More »

Emerging Market Downgrades: Panic at the Disco?

When it rains, it pours. For emerging markets, the downpour has come in the form of credit rating downgrades by the big three global ratings companies. Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P took a record 1,971 negative rating actions on emerging market sovereign and government-related entities in 2016. Emerging economies are right to be concerned. With a ‘good’ credit rating (AAA), a sovereign state can borrow at very low rates of interest from investors. A poor rating could force states to pay significantly higher borrowing costs. Rating downgrades could have negative ripple effects throughout the affected economies, raising the cost of borrowing for banks and firms, and, in turn, consumers.

Infrastructure projects, business ideas, and consumer credit extensions, become unprofitable due to the higher cost of credit to banks, businesses, consumers, and governments. If a country is downgraded to ‘junk status’ (more formally known as ‘non-investment-grade’ or ‘speculative-grade’), it risks the mass exodus of investors from its bond markets. As the cost of borrowing for governments increases, this can lead to a dangerous downward spiral as borrowing and spending dries up business and consumer activity declines.

Getting back on course
So what is the best set of policies for emerging markets to recover their credit ratings? On one side are economists who argue for ‘austerity’. In their view, recovering from a ratings downgrade requires sharp reductions in state spending, even if this results in poor conditions in the short term. The benefits are twofold: It can reduce inflation and prices, thereby helping restore a country’s price competitiveness in international markets; and it can enhance the credibility of a government when it comes to containing profligate spending.

Former British Prime Minister David Cameron called this philosophy ‘expansionary austerity’. The problem is that there is not much evidence to support this idea. The EU enforced austerity among its member states in response to the 2007 financial crisis, until it helped propel a ‘double dip’ recession in 2011/12. Following this largely unsuccessful adventure with austerity, the EU turned towards more pro-growth policies, which supported expansions in infrastructure and fixed-capital investment, with notable success.Read More »

The Trouble with Sub-Saharan African Debt

By Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven

Over the past decade, the Sub-Saharan African countries’ ability to draw on new debt in international capital markets has become a central characteristic of their development experience. Yet, the determinants of their borrowing costs are driven by external factors where investor perception plays a key role. This raises concerns over the sustainability of the current development model.

In the mid-2000s, 30 African countries received substantial debt reduction through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s Heavily-Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative. Only a decade later, many of the same countries are again facing debt distress. The African Development Bank recently warned its members of the dangers of rising debt obligations, while the IMF has called for an “urgent need to reset” the region’s growth policies.

In our new paper entitled “Assessing Recent Determinants of Borrowing Costs in Sub-Saharan Africa” in the November 2016 issue of the Review of Development Economics, we trace the latest round of borrowing back to 2006 with Seychelles as the first sub-Saharan African (SSA) country to issue a sovereign bond, with the exception of South Africa, in 30 years. Since then, DR Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania, Namibia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia have all followed suit, accumulating over $25 billion worth of bonds, with a principal amount of more than $35 billion (see Figure 1 for totals by country).Read More »