Oikonomia is Back, for Now

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Plato and Aristotle, at The School of Athens. Photo by By Raphael – Web Gallery of Art.

The current pandemic is a human tragedy on an enormous scale, not only in terms of death and illness but also in loss of employment, disruption to education and increased anxiety. Perhaps of most concern to politicians, the various restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have had large negative effects on national and regional economies. 

As a result, many leaders have opted to ‘re-open’ their economies prematurely, partly since economic performance affects electoral cycles. In some cases there have been disastrous consequences to such loosening of social distancing restrictions, with spikes in infections in various countries or states. This has led to a discussion of a false dichotomy – between protecting human life and reviving the economy. 

This dichotomy is false for several reasons. At the most basic level, if large parts of the population get infected and either die or are unable to work, this would not bode well for the economy either. But more fundamentally, what we think of as ‘the economy’ is really broader than just profits and asset values. Read More »

Financializing state capitalism: Exchanges, financial infrastructures & the active management of capital markets in China

DCE trading floorThe development of capital markets has been a core focus of financialization research. For Epstein, financialization ‘means the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies’, while Pike and Pollard define financialization as the ‘growing influence of capital markets, their intermediaries and processes in economic and political life’. Other scholars also attribute a significant role to capital markets in financialization processes, be it in the dissemination of market-based financial activities and practices, the rise of shareholder value-oriented corporate governance, or ‘the increased ability to trade risk’. At the heart of and as a precondition of many aspects of financialization stand capital markets and their development. 

This is not only the case when it comes to financialization in advanced economies, but also with respect to the study of financialization in developing and emerging economies. Financialization processes are not uniform, they are rather variegated and refracted by national institutional settings that lead to different trajectories of financialization. As Lapavitsas and Powell emphasized, ‘both the form and the content of financialization vary according to institutional, historical and political conditions in each country’. This has also been picked up in debates about the relationship between financialization and the state. Previously, many scholars argued that financialization often results in a relative loss of state power vis-à-vis finance and the effects on developing economies are often described as potentially negative with financialization for instance decreasing their borrowing capacity and thereby policy space or deepening existing power asymmetries between states. But stemming from earlier discussions on transformations of the developmental state, more recent scholarship has highlighted that financial market development has often been actively facilitated by states. It argues that an increasing hybridization of financialization processes takes place in which state and (quasi-)state institutions often co-constitute financialization processes. 

Contributing to the growing literatures on variegated financialization and the state, in a paper titled ‘Financialization with Chinese characteristics? Exchanges, control and capital markets in authoritarian capitalism’ (recently published in Economy & Society) I argue that states are not only important actors facilitating financialization but can also exercise a considerable degree of control over financialization, thereby shaping its very form. Instead of a financialization process that follows a neoliberal logic and constrains state power, what we see in China is a ‘financialization with Chinese characteristics’ where the state actively tries to manage financialization and its social outcomes. Read More »

Cambridge Journal of Economics Special Issue on Financialisation in developing and emerging economies: Manifestations, Drivers and Implications Deadline 31st August 2020

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 08.07.58In December 2018, we organised a two-day workshop on “How to Conceptualise Financialisation in Developing and Emerging Economies? Manifestations, Drivers and Implications” at Girton College, University of Cambridge. The idea behind this event was to move away from a significant focus on developed economies when discussing financialisation phenomena and give more space to find out what is happening in developing and emerging economies (DEEs). Existing studies on DEEs have often focussed on particular case studies. Investigating empirical aspects already observed in developed economies, There have been both limited attempts to engage with the concepts and perspectives from the Global South and at systematising the literature and in analysing particularities of DEEs.

The workshop was a success in many fronts, such as attendance, quality of papers and exchange of ideas. Five roundtables attempted to encompass key crucial aspects of this discussion in the context of DEEs, namely, Financialisation and The Global Economy, Financialisation and Production, Variegated Financialisation, Financialisation and the State, and Micro-financialisation. This was complemented by two excellent plenaries approaching both the theorisation of financialisation in DEEs and the avenues for future research. See the programme here.Read More »

Facing a liquidity tsunami? Profit, risk, and discipline in emerging markets

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In April 2012, at the White House on her first visit to the United States since her election in 2010, Brazilian president Brazil Dilma Rousseff scolded advanced capitalist economies for unleashing a ‘tsunami de liquidez’, a ‘liquidity tsunami’, onto the developing world. The expression liquidity tsunami suggests that the sheer scale and volume of financial capital flows to developing and emerging markets had become an issue. It indicates that these quantities were overwhelming and could trigger devastating damages. 

This in itself is puzzling. Have we not been told by development economists and practitioners that financial capital flowing into the poorer areas of the world economy is something good and desirable? That one of the main causes of underdevelopment is actually the lack of capital and domestic savings in developing countries, and that this should be compensated with foreign capital inflows? Following this line of reasoning, vast swathes of financial capital flowing into emerging markets surely should be seen as a boon.

And there was some truth to that. The capital flow bonanza from the mid-2000s to late 2013 (coupled with the primary commodity super-cycle) did deliver some benefits to emerging markets. It helped governments fund themselves at better conditions. It provided the material basis for significant redistribution via a number of social policies. It contributed to economic growth performances much higher than over the previous decade. It also made a minority of people much richer in a very short period of time. In sum, the capital flow boom temporarily helped deliver some economic and social gains, and this was instrumental in consolidating social contracts between governments and their populations.Read More »

Lean on me: Development financial struggles and national development banks

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National development banks are back in fashion and here to stay. A number of countries benefited from the global economic boom during the 2000s as exports and commodity revenues surged. These countries’ governments stored some of the current and fiscal account surpluses and used the capital to expand state financial institutions. Two prominent types of institutions have grown rapidly, namely sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) and national development banks (NDBs), which often have financial return and development stimulation as their core mandates, respectively. Much attention has been afforded to how these organisations’ activities have turned into a global force. For example, the Norwegian SWF’s investment spans across 73 countries, including shares in more than 9,000 companies, and China’s NDBs have emerged as the developing world’s leading project backer.

More recently, NDBs have been identified as important agents in funding domestic development projects in a wide range of developing and advanced countries. The perceived role of NDBs is shifting from a reactive counter-cyclical role towards a proactive patient capitalist role. Popularity in NDBs may appear to be obvious due to the rising interest in pursuing state-designed development planning and industrial strategies over the past decade. While many observations have focused on the growing inclination towards state activism as catalyst to NDBs’ expansion around the world, this piece examines three structural challenges incentivising developing countries to mobilise NDBs. Read More »

The currency hierarchy and the role of the dollar as world money

dollar-1445476_1920There has recently been much talk that the hegemony of the United States is crumbling, from the decline in its share of world GDP to its possible submission to a new economic power such as China. However, little has been said about the fundamental pillar that sustains the power of the United States, the US dollar.

Globally, the dollar is the most utilized currency, both in trade in products and services and in cross-border financial operations. Given the continued dominance of the US dollar as the key currency of the international monetary system, it is difficult to speak of a declining US hegemony. But how to explain the power of the dollar and the apparent immunity of the United States hegemony in times of financialization?Read More »

NEW BLOG SERIES: State capitalism(s) – Interrogating the ‘return’ of the state in development

6a00d83452719d69e2014e86055c29970d-800wi.jpgFrom Quantitative Easing to neo-mercantilist policies, the renewal of industrial policy, the multiplication of sovereign wealth funds and marketized state-owned enterprises, increased state participation in global value chains and global networks of corporate ownership, the state seems to be ‘back in business’ everywhere. This raises a series of questions:

  • Are we witnessing a shift to state-led development? A return of ‘state capitalism’ under a globalised and financialized form? Are these processes challenging market ascendance and/or neoliberalism as a global development regime?
  • Has there been a transformation of the developmental state and of the logics and instruments of ‘catch-up’ development? New tools of state intervention for industrial and innovation policy?
  • What are the implications of the resurgence of ‘state-capital hybrids’ (state-sponsored investment funds, state-owned enterprises, development banks, etc.) as key actors in development? Are these transforming the global development finance architecture? What is the relationship between, on the one hand, state-owned, state-controlled, and state-directed capital, and on the other hand, private capital?
  • What are the wider geopolitical and geo-economic shifts in which the rise of the new state capitalism is embedded? What is new about the recent ‘wave’ of state capitalism across the global economy? What are the strategic, structural/epochal, and contingent drivers of its emergence?
  • What is the progressive potential of these developments, both in the global South and in the global North? What are the limits to the new state capitalism, and the various forms of resistance to it?

Read More »

Finance Damages Democracy – and Brexit Will Make it Worse!

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The ‘do or die’ Brexit deadline this Halloween has come and gone without bringing much certainty about the policy and political landscape going forward. UK voters who hoped for a clear-cut end of the Brexit saga were disappointed as big questions remain unanswered while new ones have been added: What will the December election bring? Will there be a second referendum? A different deal? A further extension? 

There seems, however, one definite outcome of the Brexit process: UK democratic institutions have been hollowed out permanently. Individual politicians have certainly contributed to this outcome. However, it would be too easy to blame the disintegration of democracy in rich countries entirely and exclusively on Johnson, Trump, and the like. Rather more systematic and structural trends are at play, which raise the old question of whether capitalism and democracy are compatible or rather contradictory systems. The claim that capitalism will usher in democracy, since free markets rely on an open societal order, or at least fundamentally weaken authoritarian regimes, has been proven untenable. This is particularly clear as the Chinese Communist Party tightens its grip over social media, using information technology to survey ever-growing parts of Chinese people’s lives.   

It is striking though that among rich countries the crassest examples of democratic disintegration are unravelling in the two Anglo-Saxon economies which have been hailed as economic success stories during the 1990s and early 2000s: the UK and US. Much of their growth spurts over this period was fuelled by the increasing size and influence of their finance industries and so is the current hollowing-out of their democratic institutions. In brief, we are currently experiencing the effects that financialisation has on democracy. Of course, capitalism and democracy are generally difficult to reconcile as convincingly argued by Polanyi. The fact that a democratic order calls for equality of all citizens before the law and provides all of us with the same vote, while our economic order simultaneously introduces a strict hierarchy based on ownership is possibly the clearest illustration of the conflict between democracy and economic order. But it is further stoked under financialisation. This blog post unpacks how financialization affects democracy in a variety of ways, through three examples, namely social provisioning, the Euro crisis, and the Brexit saga.Read More »