The issue of the global debt crisis–and particularly the onerous debt levels of developing world (“Southern”) countries–was a topic that we covered in POLI 1100 today. It will allow me to combine two class topics–issues pertaining development and underdevelopment, and interest groups (NGOs)–into one blog post. The interest group, Global Issues, is dedicated to analyzing “social, political, economic, and environmental issues that affect us all” and has a section on debt relief for the developing world. Here are some facts and figures related to the scale of the debt crisis in the developing world:
Consider the following:
- In 1970, the world’s poorest countries (roughly 60 countries classified as low-income by the World Bank), owed $25 billion in debt.
- By 2002, this was $523 billion
- For Africa,
- In 1970, it was just under $11 billion
- By 2002, that was over half, to $295 billion
- Debts owed to the multilateral institutions such as the IMF and World Bank is currently around $153 billion
- For the poorest countries debts to multilateral institutions is around $70 billion.
$550 billion has been paid in both principal and interest over the last three decades, on $540bn of loans, and yet there is still a $523 billion dollar debt burden.
Here are some remarks by Professor Susan George on how to tackle the debt crisis. Money quote:
…there is no level of human suffering, which in and of itself, is going to change policy. The only way policy changes is because people demand it, and in this case, it has to be the people of the North, because the people of the South have very little political clout.
In my previous post, I noted that the narrator of the Globalization is Good documentary claimed that there was a strong correlation between how globalized a country is and poverty. Specifically, those countries that are globalized are likely to have less poverty. How does this claim stand up to empirical scrutiny? Well, one answer comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“The evidence strongly suggests that export growth and incoming foreign investment have reduced poverty everywhere from Mexico to India to Poland. Yet at the same time currency crises can cripple the poor.”
Does globalization, as its advocates maintain, help spread the wealth? Or, as its critics charge, does globalization hurt the poor? In a new book titled Globalization and Poverty, edited by NBER Research Associate Ann Harrison, 15 economists consider these and other questions. In Globalization and Poverty (NBER Working Paper No. 12347), Harrison summarizes many of the findings in the book. Her central conclusion is that the poor will indeed benefit from globalization if the appropriate complementary policies and institutions are in place.
Harrison first notes that most of the evidence on the links between globalization and poverty is indirect. To be sure, as developing countries have become increasingly integrated into the world trading system over the past 20 years, world poverty rates have steadily fallen. Yet little evidence exists to show a clear-cut cause-and-effect relationship between these two phenomena.
Many of the studies in Globalization and Poverty in fact suggest that globalization has been associated with rising inequality, and that the poor do not always share in the gains from trade. Other themes emerge from the book. One is that the poor in countries with an abundance of unskilled labor do not always gain from trade reform. Another is that the poor are more likely to share in the gains from globalization when workers enjoy maximum mobility, especially from contracting economic sectors into expanding sectors (India and Colombia). Gains likewise arise when poor farmers have access to credit and technical know-how (Zambia), when poor farmers have such social safety nets as income support (Mexico) and when food aid is well targeted (Ethiopia).
The evidence strongly suggests that export growth and incoming foreign investment have reduced poverty everywhere from Mexico to India to Poland. Yet at the same time currency crises can cripple the poor. In Indonesia, poverty rates increased by at least 50 percent after the 1997 currency crisis in that country, and the poor in Mexico have yet to recover from the pummeling of the peso in 1995.
Without doubt, Harrison asserts, globalization produces both winners and losers among the poor. In Mexico, for example, small and medium corn growers saw their incomes halved in the 1990s, while larger corn growers prospered. In other countries, poor workers in exporting sectors or in sectors with foreign investment gained from trade and investment reforms, while poverty rates increased in previously protected areas that were exposed to import competition. Even within a country, a trade reform may hurt rural agricultural producers and benefit rural or urban consumers of those farmers’ products.
The relationship between globalization and poverty is complex, Harrison acknowledges, yet she says that a number of persuasive conclusions may be drawn from the studies in Globalization and Poverty. One conclusion is that the relationship depends not just on trade or financial globalization but on the interaction of globalization with the rest of the economic environment: investments in human capital and infrastructure, promotion of credit and technical assistance to farmers, worthy institutions and governance, and macroeconomic stability, including flexible exchange rates. The existence of such conditions, Harrison writes, is emerging as a critical theme for multilateral institutions like the World Bank.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) has just released a new report on the influence of diamonds on the political situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). We’ve read various papers on the link between resource wealth (“lootable resources”) and political outcomes, such as regime type and economic outcomes. This report analyses the link between the presence of large stores of diamond wealth in CAR, the level of political instability (it’s essentially a failing state) and the existence of endemic conflict. From the executive summary of the report:
In the diamond mines of the Central African Republic (CAR), extreme poverty and armed conflict put thousands of lives in danger. President François Bozizé keeps tight control of the diamond sector to enrich and empower his own ethnic group but does little to alleviate the poverty that drives informal miners to dig in perilous conditions. Stringent export taxes incentivise smuggling that the mining authorities are too few and too corrupt to stop. These factors combined – a parasitic state, poverty and largely unchecked crime – move jealous factions to launch rebellions and enable armed groups to collect new recruits and profit from mining and selling diamonds illegally. To ensure diamonds fuel development not bloodshed, root and branch reform of the sector must become a core priority of the country’s peacebuilding strategy.
Nature scattered diamonds liberally over the CAR, but since colonial times foreign entrepreneurs and grasping regimes have benefited from the precious stones more than the Central African people. Mining companies have repeatedly tried to extract diamonds on an industrial scale and largely failed because the deposits are alluvial, spread thinly across two large river systems. Instead, an estimated 80,000-100,000 mostly unlicensed miners dig with picks and shovels for daily rations and the chance of striking it lucky. Middlemen, mostly West Africans, buy at meagre prices and sell at a profit to exporting companies. The government lacks both the institutional capacity to govern this dispersed, transient production chain and the will to invest diamond revenues in the long-term growth of mining communities.
Chronic state fragility has ingrained in the political elite a winner-takes-all political culture and a preference for short-term gain. The French ransacked their colony of its natural resources, and successive rulers have treated power as licence to loot. Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the CAR’s one-time “emperor”, created a monopoly on diamond exports, and his personal gifts to French President Giscard d’Estaing, intended to seal their friendship, became symbols of imperial excess. Ange-Félix Patassé saw nothing wrong in using his presidency to pursue business interests and openly ran his own diamond mining company. Bozizé is more circumspect. His regime maintains tight control of mining revenues by means of a strict legal and fiscal framework and centralised, opaque management.
The full report can be accessed here. Here is a Al-Jazeera English news report on the situation in CAR.
Victor Shih, currently an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, keeps a blog at which he addresses issues related to Chinese politics. The blog deals mainly with topics related to Chinese political economy (an increasingly important topic as the rate for your car/home/student loan is intimately connected to the amount of US Treasury bonds purchased by the Chinese Central Bank) and elite politics in China.
The average person may not know the difference between “offshoring” and “outsourcing”, but one would think that it would be a condition of employment for someone who writes for the business section of the Washington Post. In an otherwise informative story on the decreasing attractiveness of China as an “outsourcing” location for US companies, we are witness to another example of a member of the traditional media seemingly uninformed of basic facts.
Outsourcing is simply the idea that a company chooses to have another company produce a good or service rather than produce that same good or service in-house. Outsourcing has been happening for a long time, and an example is when the Ford Motor Company decided that it would be better to use their productive capacity to produce engines, and outsource the task of making tires to a different company rather than make tires itself. This helped increase productivity by allowing Ford to concentrate on the making of engines, and have the other company (Goodyear, Bridgestone) focus on making better tires.
Offshoring simply means sending work beyond one’s national boundaries. Notice that not all offshoring is also outsourcing. In fact, I have previously read (but I can’t find the source) that most offshoring is, in fact, not also outsourcing. How can this be? Well, what happens when General Motors decides to close down a car factory in Flint and make begin producing vehicles in Windsor, Ontario instead? That production (and the jobs accopanying it) has been offshored (moved to a different country–Canada) but it hasn’t been outsourced, since GM is still producing the vehicles. Here’s a little chart that will help you understand the difference.
As for the article itself, it demonstrates that rising fuel costs have increased the cost of shipping to such an extent that the potential savings for a US company of producing in China are completely eliminated. One such company has repatriated production to the US from China (I suppose that’s called “onshoring”?) We read:
SHANGHAI — Harry Kazazian built his business on sleeping bags that are made in China and shipped across the ocean to the United States, but he realized recently that the math doesn’t work anymore.
With fuel prices at record highs, the cost of sending a standard 40-foot container of goods has gone from $3,000 in 2000 to about $8,000 today, squeezing profit.
So this summer Kazazian, chief executive of Exxel Outdoors, a Los Angeles-based maker of recreational equipment, did something radical: He moved the manufacturing back to Haleyville, Ala.
Soaring energy costs, the falling dollar and inflation are cutting into what U.S. manufacturers call the “China price”– the 40 to 50 percent cost advantage once offered by Chinese producers.
The export model that has powered China and other Asian countries for three decades will be compromised if fuel prices continue to rise, said Stephen Jen, a managing director for Morgan Stanley.
“Globalization has gone a little bit too far. It has overshot,” Jen said. “We’re not saying Asia is going to crumble, but we are saying Asia enjoyed extraordinary conditions in the past. Now the conditions are changing very quickly because of the energy shock, and Asia is coming under pressure.”
The ripple effects have been far-reaching. The trade imbalance between the United States and China — a source of political tension for years — is beginning to right itself as Chinese exports fall and U.S. exports rise. Global trade routes are being transformed, suggesting a possible return to a less integrated world economy.
On the first day of class, I made the argument that in order for me to fulfill my pedagogical goals this semester, I need your help. I needed you to understand that what you choose to do (or not to do) in the classroom (and on your blog) will affect not only the grade you receive and how much you learn in this course, but will also affect the learning and grades of your peers sitting beside you in class. We live in societies, in which we all–to a greater or lesser extent–have an effect on those with whom we come into contact, with whom we share work places, roads, stadia, and class rooms. We all understand that if your neighbor’s house is unkempt and the lawn is overgrown, this will have a detrimental effect on your own property values.
Since we’re talking about property and the effects of social interaction, how is it that the town of Narvik, Norway (on the Arctic Circle) has had to miss a payroll for its municipal workers as the result of residents of Stockton (CA), Miami (FL), Flint(MI), and Worcester (MA), no longer being able to pay their residential mortgages? This New York Times article helps explain, and so does Jon Stewart’s guest, CNN Personal Finance editor Gerri Willis:
– At this time of year, the sun does not rise at all this far north of the Arctic Circle. But Karen Margrethe Kuvaas says she has not been able to sleep well for days.
What is keeping her awake are the far-reaching ripple effects of the troubled housing market in sunny Florida, California and other parts of the United States.
Ms. Kuvaas is the mayor of Narvik, a remote seaport where the season’s perpetual gloom deepened even further in recent days after news that the town — along with three other Norwegian municipalities — had lost about $64 million, and potentially much more, in complex securities investments that went sour.
”I think about it every minute,” Ms. Kuvaas, 60, said in an interview, her manner polite but harried. ”Because of this, we can’t focus on things that matter, like schools or care for the elderly.”
Norway’s unlucky towns are the latest victims — and perhaps the least likely ones so far — of the credit crisis that began last summer in the American subprime mortgage market and has spread to the farthest reaches of the world, causing untold losses and sowing fears about the global economy.
Where all the bad debt ended up remains something of a mystery, but to those hit by the collateral damage, it hardly matters.
Tiny specks on the map, these Norwegian towns are links in a chain of misery that stretches from insolvent homeowners in California to the state treasury of Maine, and from regional banks in Germany to the mightiest names on Wall Street. Citigroup, among the hardest hit, created the investments bought by the towns through a Norwegian broker…
…But Narvik has $34.5 million in a second Citigroup-devised investment, known as a collateralized debt obligation, which has also lost value as a result of the broader market turmoil. The town stands to lose at least some of that money, too.
Those investments represent a quarter of Narvik’s annual budget of $163 million, and covering the losses would necessitate taking out a long-term loan, which the town could only pay off by cutting back on services.
”You can calculate this in terms of places for schoolchildren or help for the elderly,” said Mr. Hermansen, a soft-spoken man who sat in his office in near-darkness, the lights switched off…
…In 2004, Narvik and a number of other towns took out a large loan, using future energy revenue as collateral. They invested the money, through Terra Securities, in the Citigroup debt vehicle, which offered a better return than traditional investments. In June 2007, as the subprime problems were brewing, Narvik shifted some money from that investment into an even more complex one, again through Terra Securities.
Do read the whole thing as it is interesting. Note, however, the really key part of the whole story in bold in the paragraph above and use the experience of Narvik to learn a very important lesson about investing. There is a clear immutable relationship in the investing world: the higher the expected return, the higher the level of risk associated with that return. If you expect to receive outsized returns, be prepared to accept outsized risk. Period. There may have been fraud perpetrated here (and it’s difficult to know without reading the signed agreements), but caveat emptor would have been valid advice in this situation.
What is the general link between subprime mortgages and other collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)–such as auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt–and the international political economy. Is there a general systemic risk to the global economy from new financial instruments, which Warren Buffett has referred to as “financial weapons of mass destruction?” Here is a panel at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos, which will shed more light on the financial industry.