Thursday, April 25, 2013

China Radio International Panel Discussion: 2013-04-23 G20 Finance Minister Meeting With Additional Commentary

On Tuesday morning I was a guest on China Radio International's (中国国际广播电台) "Today" show, which broadcasts live Monday to Friday on Beyond Beijing. They hold in-depth panel discussions on domestic and global news and current affairs to give the story behind the headlines. Expert guests from around the world share their views and debate the issues to give the locally-produced show international flavor. "Today" broadcasts to 24 cities around the world, including Washington DC, Canberra, Toronto, Auckland, Colombo, Monrovia, and Kandahar.

The topic was a discussion of the recent meeting of the IMF, World Bank and G20 Finance Ministers in Washington. It was structured as a panel discussion around the following topic:
Global financial leaders have finished a series of meetings in the US capitol Washington, DC.The so called spring meetings included a G20 finance minister meeting, and annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank.In the days before the Spring meetings of the IMF, World Bank and G20, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim highlighted the global growth power of emerging nations.
Panelists included: Cao Can, CEO of Shengya Capital; Luca Silipo, Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis Bank; and Larry Cata Backer, Professor of Law and International Affairs at the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University.  The show's hosts were Brandon Blackburn-Dwyer & Sunny Zhao.

In preparing for the panel I worked through some additional issues around the topic.  The quesiotns and my responses are included below.



PART 1 (10:05-10:20)- The Economy Today

OVERVIEW (Brief Opening Statements)

This past weekend saw three major gatherings: the G20 Finance ministers, the IMF, and the World Bank. These meetings all touched on some element of the global economic situation, how would you define the theme or unifying message delivered from these summits?
· A very conservative and backwards looking agenda. The focus is on system stability and on avoiding currency wars; it evidences an intention to engage in a balancing act between public debt management and economic recovery. And then there are the outlying goals--nudging the US to abide by its agreements with respect to quotas, fear of a Japan out of control fiscally, an Eurozone that may spin apart and the World Bank’s focus on ending poverty on 20130--whatever that means.What is most disconcerting is that the meetings invoked two quite irreconcilable discourses; the first is political and based on the internal politics of states; the second is economic and based on the emerging structural imperatives of global economic concerns. 


The IMF describes the global economy as stuck in a three speed recovery with emerging nations leading the way, sluggish Japan and economy in the middle and laggard Europe dragging behind. Is this how you would describe the current situation?

● Were I am official in a developing state, including China, I would be quite horrified with this framework and what it suggests. I might suggest that what we are acknowledging is a perhaps permanent state of fiscal decay in the most advanced economies in Europe, a crisis in the structure and operation of traditionally identified leading economies--that of the US and Japan, which requires perhaps profound structural changes--and the devolution of the lead in shaping global economic increasingly nodding toward China, principally, and through China to the other BRICs. The establishment by China of its own development bank in association with the BRICs a few weeks ago is good evidence of this potentially fundamental and paradigmatic shift.

● This 3 speed framework should deeply concern developing states, if only for its political implications. That framework effectively inverts the traditional logic of development and macro finance policy. In effect it suggests either that leading economy status is by definition a condition of systemic fiscal disaster (that is that the essence of leadership is its unsustainable character standing alone) or it suggests the re-introduction of the old colonial framework in which the advanced economies survive only through heavy subsidies from BRIC economies and developing states remains as effective now as it was a century ago.

The G20 blamed a lack of confidence on uncertain government policies, impaired bank lending, public debt loads, and incomplete rebalancing. This sounds like a lot of challenges and very similar to what the world faced during the height of the financial crisis, is the G20 telling us anything new about the challenges facing us?

● What is new is that, by repeating unchanged the challenges facing the global economy, the G20 is subtly suggesting the failures to date of its much-touted Financial Stability Board. The FSB was supposed to represent a broad public-private effort to reframe the regulatory culture of the global economy. Moreover, these suggestions, while quite on point, mostly only reflect the problems associated with those advanced economies within the G20, especially the U.S., whereas these problems are less applicable the emerging economies in the G20, especially in the case of China. It is true enough these structural problems have been identified from the beginning of the financial crisis in one form or another.

Confidence was a theme at the IMF and the G20. Have government not done enough to inspire confidence? Europe is sticking with Austerity and the US is sticking with a middle ground, is there really a sense that macro policies will wildly shift?

● No, of course not; no wild shifting. But the problem is systemic and grounded in the tension between political realities of states and the economic realities of an emerging global economic system. So, we can start with the simple notion that wildly shifting macro policies do not inspire confidence. But then we can complicate the analysis because different forms of macro policy are particularly suitable but also politically necessary for the political stability of different states. Our problem here is that the democratic sensibilities of states may not be easily harmonized with the efficiency concerns of global macroeconomic policy.


Europe seemed to dominate much of the discussion, are their problems the biggest risk to international growth and stability?
● It would be so easy just to blame Europe and be done with it. I suspect that unfortunately all states are complicit in the current unstable state of the macro global economy. Any catastrophe within any of the leading states, including Japan, the US or China, would have as profound an effect on recovery as a catastrophe in the Eurozone. The real issue is which of these pieces of the global puzzle is most vulnerable and I suspect that the Eurozone would be very high on my list.

The American and Japanese economies were also a major focal point with a lot of discussion on their monetary policies and debt. The US is growing faster than Europe, should the world relax about the near term fears over US economic problems?
● No, until the US gets its political house in order there is always danger of continuing paralyzing partisanship. The political rhetoric has become ideologically driven in ways that do not mirror well the economic challenges faced in the US. The increasing separation between domestic political rhetoric and the discourse of global economics should be quite worrisome; it is as if they are being undertaken on two quite different spheres that do not intersect. Moreover, it is not clear that macro recovery will produce sustained and deep recovery within all economic sectors, and the tendency to drop the poorest sectors out of recovery analysis may produce or sustain political instability.

The G20 focused on incomplete rebalancing, is this a direct attack on China and Germany? Is this incomplete because it has been artificially delayed or because organically its unrealistic or really slow?
● Yes. Both states have been bragging for years about their successful export policies and now the rest of the global trading community wants parity in demand as well as supply. That requires some visible effort to reorient consumerism in China and Germany. The difficulty for China and Germany is the same as it is for all other states where large international organisms seek to change the cultural economics of a resident population. Neither the Chinese nor the German state may have the power to influence economic culture--to produce and then manage the scope and rate of consumer demand--the way one can turn a spigot to regulate water. However, it is also true that China, certainly, has been aware of this and has sought to develop its internal markets in line with its own sense of protecting the internal public welfare of the nation.

●China appears willing to cooperate but remains suspicious that they might be saddled with subsidizing the bad behavior of other states. Yi Gang, a People’s Bank of China deputy governor, said yesterday that the yuan’s trading band will be widened “in the near future,” (Bloomberg).Yi said yesterday (April 17th) at an IMF conference in Washington. “Last year, they increased the floating band from 0.5 percent to 1 percent. I think in the near future they’re going to increase the floating band even further.” (source is the same as above). Speaking on Friday from the Washington G20 meeting, the Deputy Governor of China’s People’s Bank on Friday voiced his grave concern on the prospect of “a race towards the bottom” in terms major economies begin to engage in currency wars. (Xinhua news). However, China is expected to continue to liberalize its currency, allow the RMB to fluctuate more against the USD.

PART 2 (10:20-10:32)- Economic Policies


A major point of disagreement going into these meetings was Japan’s aggressive monetary policy. The G20 and the IMF officially backed the policy, with the G20 saying currency weakening was only a byproduct of fighting deflation and not active currency manipulation. Do you agree with this assessment? Shinzo Abe claimed his goal was weakening the currency in his campaign, how can he claim that’s not what he’s doing now?

● First of all, Shinzo Abe did not originally advocate the devaluation of yen in his campaign instead he set up a goal with the focus on pulling out of deflation in the domestic market. Also, he insists that he does not think only of monetary policy for inflation can lead to the consolidation of its debt, but he thinks that at the same time in order to achieve monetary the ultimate consolidation of its debt, monetary policy for inflation must be an initiative action. Recall also that financial stimulus is only part of a consolidated policy package put forward by Shinzo Abe--the other important part both domestically and internationally is the construction with the US of a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) , consolidating economic markets within a wider trade zone, one that excludes China for the moment. Bottom line--the policy is risky but not reckless as far as Japan is concerned; but it may be a worry for China, especially if the combination of TPP and macro policy is meant to reduce China’s influence in shaping the rules of international trade and finance. Japan’s economic minister Akira Amari told World Economic Forum in Davos earlier in January that it was up to the market to determine the currency’s exchange rate; government and BOJ agreed on exceptional measures bc Japan had to ‘break prolonged cycle of deflation and economic contraction.’

Japan’s economic minister Akira Amari told World Economic Forum in Davos earlier in January that it was up to the market to determine the currency’s exchange rate; government and BOJ agreed on exceptional measures bc Japan had to ‘break prolonged cycle of deflation and economic contraction.’

Were members of the G20 too afraid to criticize the US and Japan over their monetary policies?

● There is a difference between fear and good politics. What states tell each other behind closed doors is far more important that then ritualized expressions produced to manage market and consumer expectations. Clearly everyone, including consumers and investors, understand the unease of states like China and the BRICs with respect to US and Japanese policy, but underlining that point now in public would be premature.  Moreover people are aware of the predictions for Japanese economic performance.  Five top Japanese think tanks reports the expectation of the real GDP growth. The average of 5 reports on the expectation in 2013 is 2.4, while in 2014 the growth will be only 0.1 or even minus 0.8 in a report of the Japan Research Institute. One of the reason would be private final consumption expenditure will be very low. (average of 5 reports is −1.1 and overcoming deflation will be much difficult ) “ (in Japanese) and (in Japanese).  It is likely that with the risks understood Japan will be permitted to experiment but kept on a relatively moderately long leash, one that other states expect to be able to yank back quickly.  Of course, the moment they yank they will imperil the current government.  

Brazil and India both backed Japan’s plan, yet particularly Brazil has been a huge critic of the US monetary policy, why are they now supportive of Japan’s which is twice the size of the US’s
● India and Brazil’s apparent support for Japan perhaps can be seen as part of an effort to present a somewhat unified voice from this meeting rather than reflecting their long term national positions. Keep in mind that Brazil did criticize the US monetary policy, but that was 2010, and it is now is 2013. Recall that China and Brazil in particular have been taking more coordinated positions lately, and Brazilian reaction towards the US may not be entirely indicative of its attitudes towards other countries, and reflects more multivariate political agendas, including trade agreement competition within Latin America between the US and Brazil. Also keep in mind that there’s a sizable and influential Japanese community present in Brazil.


The IMF chiefs warned while advanced economies pump out money to stimulate growth, others need to build up buffers to protect themselves from asset market bubbles and other side-effects, including the whiplash that could come when those loose monetary policies are tightened. "Many emerging market economies are concerned about the possible blow to output and financial system if large inflows of capital reverse rapidly." Are loose monetary policies creating asset bubbles in other nations?

● Japan may see itself as “too big too fail” just like the U.S. and China; therefore, Japan may believe that it does not necessarily need to adhere to those rules that are more strictly applied to smaller economies. The bubbles issue has certainly been raised with respect to US practices and history—housing and shares, for example. The real problem of Japan’s monetary policy is its spill over effect into other countries. If the infusion of cash does not stay in Japan, it is not clear that Japan’s policy will serve its purpose of contribute to fiscal stability in the region. The prospect of the spillover effect may explain the contradictions with the IMF policy, which on one hand encourages some economies to pump out money to encourage growth, but on the other hand would encourage other states to build up buffers to protect themselves from asset market bubbles and other side-effects.

Is there really a fear of tightening monetary policies causing capital flight? China still has tight capital controls, are these enough of a barrier to avoid this fate?

● The difficulty here is that we keep thinking about capital globally, and policy locally, but that approach is incoherent and therefore doomed for bad analysis. I’m not saying that capital control is harmful, but the management of capital flows is a transnational problem and requires multilateral coordination See, Jonathan D. Ostry, Atish R. Ghosh, Karl Habermeier, Marcos Chamon, Mahvash S. Qureshi, and Dennis B.S. Reinhardt (2010-02-19). "Capital Inflows: The Role of Controls." Staff Position Note 10/04. Yet the IMF tends to focus on state action, even coordinated state action, as the basis of a solution to this problem. Lastly, even if you could coordinate national practice and international policy, the benefits of state based capital controls appears to be of dubious value. See Bernardo S. de M. Carvalho, Márcio G. P. Garcia, International Monetary Fund. Ineffective Controls on Capital Inflows under Sophisticated Financial Markets: Brazil in the Nineties, in Financial Markets Volatility and Performance in Emerging Markets (2008), University of Chicago Press This paper is available as PDF (477 K) (The main conclusion is that controls on capital inflows, while they may be desirable, are of very limited effectiveness under sophisticated financial markets.)


The IMF is calling for some nations to back off of their austerity programs and look to pro-growth strategies. Are we seeing a global pullback on Austerity?

● This goes back to the issue of cultural choices in economic policy. In effect the question is whether the German polity’s taste for fiscal austerity can be successfully transposed to other states--within the Eurozone to the European South. Indeed the result of lockstep in economic approaches may be to export political instability along with economic austerity. The pullback away from austerity may reflect, in part, a sense that there has to be a balance between the exportation of the political preferences of strong economies and the political realities of states in economic stress with respect to the best way to manage economic recovery.

Have austerity measures actually helped economies? The US is pushing the comparison of the US avoiding intense austerity and growing while the UK adopted Austerity and is not growing. Is the US going to be proven right?
● No, perhaps only half right. Austerity measures do not automatically lead to economic growth, it merely deals with the debt side of the problem. The bottom line--imitating states whose austerity preferences frame their economic structures may not solve your problems in the long term. Economic policies have to be geared to the political and social realities of the state in which it is imposed.

PART 3 (10:32-10:47)- Structural Reforms


The G20 has seemingly backed off of “hard targets” for Debt to GDP ratios, instead saying they will consider soft targets for their July meeting. What is a soft target? And is the reality that the G20 has abandoned plans for hard targets and debt cutting requirements?
● I can only hope so. Across-the-board hard debt target is simply unrealistic and unenforceable.  

The German finance minister says there is no alternative to cutting debt, is this really true? Isn’t the IMF calling for pro-growth, pro jobs strategies going to embolden deficit spending and a move away from debt reduction?
● It is true that the  German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday that “The Group of 20 leading economies agree that Japan's expansive monetary policy should not be permanent and that Tokyo must also implement structural reforms.” (Reuters). There is always an alternative to debt reduction, and the consequences are not always clear. The German insight hasn’t seemed to apply to the United States at all; I suspect it won’t apply to Japan either or any economy too big to fail. Debt cutting is certainly an important facet in the overall strategy for recovery, but any single minded approach is unlikely to provide comprehensive solutions to structural problems.

Members of the G20 praised efforts at cutting deficits yet no nation has actually cut its debt, will we see any better commitment now with less pressure from the G20?
● Of course not! States have to satisfy their people--their voters--and people tend to produce stable nations when their bellies are full and their future does not appear threatened. Maco policy is hardly the stuff of local politics.


The US and Japan were singled out and told to mind their long term debt burdens. Are we seeing a concerted plan from either? How concerning is this?
● The interesting thing about structural debt is that, since there is no longer an exogenous standard against which value is measured, like gold, and since currency value is essentially now measured only by the confidence of the community per participants, then in fact the issue of structural debt becomes in a sense an fantasy. Where value in endogenous rather than exogenously valued, then structural debt is effectively meaningless outside of the context of its effects on confidence of consumers, lenders and other states.

● Whereas debt issue has been one of the most heatedly debated (if not the most debated) topic in US political discussion, this is hardly the case for Japan. Unlike the U.S., Japan’s structural debt problem does not have a strong presence in the Japanese political discourse, and the general Japan public has been rather phlegmatic on this issue. Keep in mind that Japan’s structural debt has pretty much persisted since the 1990s with deflation, and perhaps the Japanese public has been somewhat inured about its hanging debt. They have learned to deal with it by not dealing with it--there is a certain stability in the current framework. Maybe that will persist even with stimulus.
●The Japanese insist that while austerity may be appropriate for smaller economies, it may be inappropriate for the largest economies.  For example they insist that  the deregulation of monetary policy is to achieve 2% of inflation rate in domestic market but not intended to induce devaluation of yen. Main goal for Japan is to make other members to understand the “real” intention of the current monetary policy. “Source: Mainichi Shinbun (newspaper).    Takatoshi Sato, the director of Japan Center for International Finance (JCIF) claims that “the Japanese government must emphasize that the stimulus plan will contribute not only to pull out of deflation in Japanese economy but also to the world economy as a whole.  Also, Japan needs to show its plans for strategic economic growth and sound finance (consolidation of its debts).” (Sankei Bitz: )
The focus on the US seems odd considering nations like China still seem hungry to buy American Debt, isn’t the market and the global community showing through their actions that the US still has room to engage in deficit spending?

● Not odd at all; recall, of course, that markets for sovereign debt are not merely economic markets--like those for business debt. Instead these markets also incorporate political considerations as well as economic ones. The fact that economists fail to adequately value political assets doesn't make them disappear or unimportant. The focus on US debt and its growth is as much a warning to buyers as it is a criticism to the US government.. But at the same time, the market response, despite macro economic arguments to the contrary, might suggest that the arguments rather than the market may have it wrong.


The G20 leaders urged the euro zone to quickly move toward a banking union, a key element in stabilizing the euro zone. However, Germany repeated on Friday its earlier position that European Union laws needed to be changed before one of the elements of the banking union, a scheme for winding down failing banks, can be introduced, is a banking Union really a near term possibility?

● No, of course not. The issue is intimately tied to that of the future of Europe. And that issue is very much uncertain right now. Until the political situation is sorted out do not expect economic solutions to come easy.

The G20 called on nations to engage in automatic sharing of bank information to cut down on tax evasion and work with all jurisdictions to reduce tax havens. Is there any real progress on this?

● There will likely be progress on this but it will be tied to political negotiations for the new form of trade agreement represented by the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). As well, it is likely that the anti-terrorism aspects of financial transparency may provide the gateway for broader cooperation but this will take time.


The goal of bank information seems to be avoiding tax evasion, but will this really work? Cayman islands is not a member of the G20, can the G20 influence it?

● Ha! Is it really to avoid tax evasion or is it a device to strengthen currency and capital flow controls? The idea behind G20 institutions like the Financial Stability Board, is grounded in the idea that when there is consensus among the biggest economic players that together they will be able to coerce other states to comply. I suspect that this idea is at work in the area of tax avoidance as well. The Caymans are hardly in a position to resist international agreement transposed to the domestic legal orders of the 20 largest economies without doing it substantial damage.

Not all nations have global tax regimes, cant people still keep profits off shore and legitimately hold money in foreign accounts?

● It depends on the political will and policies of a state and is subject to its web of international multilateral and bilateral agreements.

Is automatic bank account sharing an invasion of privacy by global leaders?

● Whose privacy? If the funds belong to a state owned enterprise do we have the same question that would be posed if the funds were held by someone’s grandmother? Moreover, privacy with respect to financial matters, especially where the taxing power of the state is involved, or where state security is implicated may not be as strong a political value as it would in other contexts.

PART 4 (10:48-10:58)- World Bank and Next Steps


The world bank is claiming they will “end poverty” by 2030, this seems a bold claim what are they really intending to do?

● They are intending to announce their good will and their highest aspirations. We should be glad for them but expect very little. The goal appears both unrealistic and designed to manage public opinion and perhaps be used strategically in the World Bank's relations with global civil society.

The goals are detailed as reducing the number of people living on 1.25 USD a day to 3 percent or less of the world’s population. Is this going to be accomplished with accounting magic of simply holding the 1.25 USD target steady and letting inflation push poor people’s incomes past it?

● These hard money goals are unrealistic for the reasons you suggest in the way you pose the question. Clearly the object would be to provide enough financial power to meet basic needs, its measure is an entirely different and strategically dangerous exercise. Perhaps the world bank could as easily insist that all states devote a certain percentage of their tax revenue to the fulfillment of their international obligations under the Covenant for Economic Social and Cultural rights. That could get us to the same place, but instead of sending a family a few dollars, the state would commit to providing basic needs. The market would take care of the rest.

The plan calls for raising the incomes of the poorest 40 percent in each country. Is this truly possible? Raising the incomes of the bottom 40 percent in the US is very different than in a least developed economy, can they both be done at the same time? Will raising specifically wages cause immediate inflation?

● Again the problem isn’t one of income, it is one of meeting basic needs, And there are a number of ways of doing that. It seems to me that the market may not be the most efficient means to provide what the world is coming to see as foundational human rights obligations. An odd way of approaching public policy through indirect economic policy. I would rather see the World Bank committing to giving all poor people money for use in investment after securing state commitment to meet basic needs. With that scheme the market can do its work and the state can meet its minimum obligations to its people.


These goals must be accomplished while still protecting the environment, not excluding vulnerable people or increasing debt, are these variable that can truly be adhered to in the drive to alleviate poverty? Even the IMF is backing off calls for strict austerity, won't anti poverty programs require some stimulus spending or deficit spending?

● With regard to the protection of the environment, the answer is as a formal matter yes, of course; but as a practical matter, this course would be fiscally unsustainable. On the other hand, it may be possible to monetize environmental and other protections and by creating markets for remediation use environmental protection as a means of generating wealth. With respect to austerity, China might provide a better guide, where poverty reduction externalized into much bigger growth. China performed incredibly well over the last few decades in terms of reducing poverty, as China both focused on meeting the basic needs of its population but also utilizing market force to reduce poverty.

The World Bank highlighted challenges included needed investment in infrastructure and agriculture, where is investment in these fields supposed to come from that does not induce any debt?

● Funds can come form charity or the negotiation of infrastructure elements of bilateral trade and investment deals, The Chinese have started this program in Africa where as part of their investment strategy China committed to building critical infrastructure. This is a model that other poor states might use.


The G20 says it is committed to adopting reforms at the IMF yet the US congress has failed to ratify 2010 voting reforms. Will the IMF truly reform to give more power to emerging nations?

● Not without a fight--no state gives up power easily. There are two sets of discourse about economic policy, discourses that are increasing irreconcilable. The rhetorical ideology playing out through national politics is disconnected from the rhetorical and ideological underpinnings of global economic discourse. There is no push to harmonize them, and that will continue to cause problems.

What should these global organizations do next to strive for growth around the world?

● Continue to coordinate public and private economic power to the maximization of wealth production as broadly distributed as possible. The state can no longer do this alone; it requires the collaboration of the transnational private sector as well. Aside from the traditional transnational organizations such as the WTO, IMF, and G20, I’d like to also highlight two emerging collaborative frameworks---the TPP on one side, and the BRICS on the other side--that are worth to pay attention to in the future.


Will we see growth increase or slowdown this year?

● Stability will be bought at the price of political fracture. The world will become more dangerous even as its principal power holders seek to coordinate economic policy internationally as they permit chaos nationally. There will be substantial increases and decreases in certain sectors but overall the goal I think and the expectation is roughly stable.

Will Europe finally turn a corner?

● Yes, perhaps in our lifetime. But Europe may not be the same place after turning that corner.Europe in many ways is at a turning point, and the choices that will be made may turn as much on structural realities--demographics, for example--as it will on assertions of political will.

Will the World bank and IMF lose some of their power as new alternatives crop up like the BRICS development bank?

● In place of multilateralism we will increasingly see a world dominated by plurilateral efforts. This is a good thing--markets for economic may help more than rigid lock step global discipline now hurts. The global economic system is far too complex and dynamic for effective regulation by any single institutional or institutional framework. The market will always find a way, and popular demand will always prevail, against even the strongest desire to control and contain them. That being said, as the BRICS is comprised of emerging economies, it is possible to see the BRICS not only as an additional player in the management of international economics, but also as an incipient sign for a new norm-structure for macro economic regulation that differs from the post-WWII settlement.


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