Malaysia’s Economic Report Card: Positive


July 26, 2017

Malaysia’s Economic Report Card:  “Malaysia is on the right course”, says Prime Minister Najib Razak

In delivering his keynote address at InvestMalaysia 2017 in Kuala Lumpur today (July 25), Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak highlighted the economic transformation under his leadership.

He also launched a scathing broadside at the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan, whose chairperson is his former mentor turned nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Among others, Najib claimed that there has been a concerted campaign to send misinformation overseas to damage Malaysia’s economy for selfish political objectives.

“So if you receive these smears, or you read it in publications that do not check the facts properly, please beware,” he told his audience, comprising local and foreign investors.–www.malaysiakini.com

Full Text of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Keynote Address (Salutations Removed)

Image result for Najib Razak at InvestMalaysia Forum 2017

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, addressing some 2,000 local and international investors attending the Invest Malaysia 2017 Forum–July 25, 2017

As the Prime Minister of Malaysia, I want to lay out the foundations needed for our nation to be counted among the very top countries in the world. We want that competitive edge, and to be a knowledge-based society – but we must always work towards those goals in ways that are sustainable, inclusive and equitable. No Malaysian must ever be left behind. All must participate and benefit from this amazing journey that we are on.–Prime Minister Najib Razak

Seven years ago, in 2010, I introduced our New Economic Model – right here, at Invest Malaysia. This model was designed to transform Malaysia into a high- income nation, and our country into a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable society, with no one left behind, opportunity made available for all, and the right fundamentals put in place to secure a stable and successful future.

We had a plan of reform – economic transformation and taking the tough but responsible choices. And it is clear today, that, aided by the hard work of millions of Malaysians, the plan has worked and is continuing to work.

Let the facts speak for themselves:

Between 2009 and 2016, Gross National Income has increased by nearly 50 percent, and GNI per capita using the Atlas method increased to US$9,850. Based on the World Bank’s latest high-income threshold of US$12,235, we have narrowed the gap towards the high-income target from 33 percent to 19 percent.

2.26 million jobs have been created, which represents 69 percent of the 3.3 million target we want to reach by 2020. Clearly, we are making the right progress towards those goals.

Inflation and unemployment have been kept low. We have attracted unprecedented levels of Foreign Direct Investment, which shows the confidence the world has in Malaysia.

But no wonder. For our growth has been the envy of the advanced economies, even during years of turmoil in the global economy. This year, the World Bank has upped their estimate. We are expected to record a rise in GDP of 4.9 percent, considerably higher than their earlier prediction of 4.3 percent.

Others have also increased their predictions – Morgan Stanley now says 5 percent, while Nomura’s forecast is for the Malaysian economy to grow by 5.3 percent this year. Only yesterday, the IMF has reviewed their forecast from 4.5 percent to 4.8 percent. And growth is expected to be higher next year. So we are on the right trajectory.

Other sets of figures support confidence in Malaysia. In the first quarter of 2017 our trade, for instance, recorded an increase of 24.3 percent – up to RM430.5 billion – compared with the same period last year.

In March, exports breached the RM80 billion mark for the first time. At RM82.63 billion, it was the highest monthly figure for Malaysian exports ever recorded.

The capital market increased by nine percent to a level of RM3.1 trillion in the first six months of this year, and now ranks fifth in Asia relative to GDP. It continues to attract wide interest from both domestic and foreign investors. In fact, in the equity market, there were net inflows of RM11 billion in the first half of 2017, compared with RM3 billion of net outflows during the whole of 2016.

The Malaysian bond market grew to RM1.2 trillion in 2016, while our Islamic capital market has recorded a hugely impressive average annual growth of 10 percent over the last six years, reaching RM1.8 trillion in June 2017.

Malaysia is also home to the largest number of listed companies in ASEAN. At US$29 billion, Bursa Malaysia also recorded the highest amount of funds raised in the last five years in any country in our 10-nation association.

And our currency, the ringgit, has been described by Bloomberg recently as, and I quote, “easily the strongest major Asian currency this quarter, climbing twice as much as the next best, the Chinese yuan”.

All of this can point to only one conclusion – our economy continues to prosper, and we are stronger than ever as a result of the reforms and the programmes the government has put in place.

The markets, the business community and companies like strength and stability. They want the certainty provided by a government that understands that the prosperity of its people is best served by being business-friendly, and that sovereignty is not compromised one inch by the record Foreign Direct Investment this government has secured.

No. It will help build the new Malaysia of the 21st century, and bring many benefits, from knowledge and skills transfers to a rise in the standard of living for the people.

The business community wants the certainty of knowing that the government is committed to the necessary reforms, and is committed to fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and to transparency, accountability, and good regulation.

On that note, I can announce that the government has, in principle, agreed to the establishment of an Integrity and Governance Unit at all GLCs, and state and ministry-owned business entities, under the supervision of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, precisely to strengthen the confidence all can, should, and do have in Malaysia.

The international business community knows that it has that certainty – with this government. Indeed, they are voting with their feet. HSBC is investing over RM1 billion to build its future regional headquarters in the Tun Razak Exchange, recognising Malaysia’s increasing status as an international financial and business centre.

Broadcom Limited, one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies with a market capitalisation of nearly half-a-trillion dollars, is going to transfer its Global Distribution Hub from Singapore to Malaysia in 2017, from where it will manage the group’s global inventory of RM64 billion a year.

Huawei, a leading global ICT solutions provider which serves more than one- third of the world’s population, has made Malaysia its global operation headquarters, data hosting centre and global training centre, with a total project cost of RM2.2 billion and employing more than 2,370 people.

Saudi Aramco is investing US$7 billion – that’s its biggest downstream investment outside the kingdom – for a 50 percent stake in Petronas’ Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development in Johor. That is the single largest investment in Malaysia, and shows the confidence Saudi Arabia has in our people, our technology, and our ability to be a strong partner with their most important business.

Others who are already here are expanding their operations. Finisar Corporation, a global technology leader in optical communications, will invest a further RM610 million in its operation in Perak – bringing its total investment in Malaysia to RM1 billion.

Coca-Cola has already invested RM1 billion in Malaysia since 2010. It announced in March an additional RM500 million investment to expand the size and production capacity of its plant at Bandar Enstek.

I could go on and on. The point is that the confidence and certainty global businesses have in Malaysia brings jobs, lifts wages and helps our workforce upskill.

It is this government that offers that certainty to businesses both in Malaysia and overseas. The opposition offers none at all. They are in chaos. Two leading members of one party can’t agree if the old opposition alliance still exists in the state of Selangor. “Yes, it does”, says one. “Oh no it doesn’t!” says the other. It’s like a Punch and Judy show!

And the latest leadership structure the opposition announced is farcical, sounding a bit like a return-to-work programme for old-age political pensioners!

It is also cynical and deceptive, with three leaders but no clarity on who has executive power among them, and DAP kept deliberately invisible despite controlling the opposition behind the scenes with the vast majority of their parliamentary seats.

As for their Prime Minister candidate, the opposition is so desperate that they are now trying to make the people believe it will be a nonagenarian – who isn’t even a member of parliament, and whose party has just one seat!

But the truth is that in a democracy numbers don’t lie, and DAP remains by far the most dominant party in the opposition. The DAP leader of the last half century is now hiding behind the man who jailed him, trying to deceive Malays into thinking that former leader is their interim candidate for Prime Minister.

Neither can the word of the opposition be relied on. Just recently, a leading member in one party said that, if Malaysia had such good relations with Saudi Arabia, why had the hajj quota not been increased? But it has! Twice this year, from 22,230 to 27,900 and then up to 30,200.

That’s another example of the benefits this government’s policies bring to the people of Malaysia – in this case, our foreign policy of forging friendship abroad, rather than holding grudges for decades, as that certain former leader still does.

But you won’t hear about the very real benefits from our engagement with Saudi Arabia, China, India or anywhere else from the opposition. In fact, they’ll tell barefaced lies about it, just as they have been feeding lies about the economy and stoking fears of economic disaster in Malaysia.

There has in fact been a concerted campaign to send such misinformation overseas to damage Malaysia’s economy for their own selfish political objectives. So if you receive these smears, or you read it in publications that do not check the facts properly, please beware.

It is not fair to the Malaysian people, and it’s not fair to the business community, both at home and abroad.

They, and you, deserve the truth. So let me tell you what a cross-section of respected international bodies has to say about this government’s record.

The OECD’s most recent economic assessment of Malaysia stated, and I quote: “Malaysia is one of the most successful Southeast Asian economies… thanks to sound macroeconomic fundamentals and its success in transforming its economy into a well-diversified and inclusive one.”

We are ranked second in ASEAN in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017 – and 23rd overall, among 190 economies globally.

We were ranked second among the Southeast Asian nations in the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index 2016, up one place from last year’s third spot.

We are ranked third among 190 economies, worldwide, for Protecting Minority Investors, by the World Bank Doing Business Report 2017.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 ranks Malaysia fourth among 138 economies for Strength of Investor Protection.

We rank eleventh out of 125 countries in the Venture Capital and Private Equity Attractiveness Index, by the IESE Business School in Spain.

The ratings agency Fitch recently reaffirmed our A- rating and stable outlook.

And a recent survey by BAV Consulting and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania declared Malaysia to be the “best country to invest In”. It said, and I quote, “Malaysia is the clear frontrunner in this ranking, scoring at least 30 points more than any other country on a 100 point scale.”

There is clear international unanimity that Malaysia is on the right course, and the figures and accolades I have reported to you today are the direct results of this government’s steering of the economy through uncertain and choppy global waters.

IMF reported that the resilience of our economy was due, and I quote, to “sound macroeconomic policy responses in the face of significant headwinds and risks”. And these sound policies are the reason why they said that: “Malaysia is among the fastest growing economies among peers.”

And lastly, the World Bank has shown that it agrees as well. In its latest report, issued just last month, it said that the government’s “macroeconomic management has been constantly proactive and effective in navigating near-term challenges in the economic environment”.

It concluded, and I quote: “The Malaysian economy is progressing from a position of strength.”

Does that really sound like the Malaysian economy is failing, and that we are in danger of going bankrupt, as the opposition would have you believe?

I think the World Bank, the OECD and the IMF know what they are talking about – and I’m sure, ladies and gentlemen, that you do too.

We have only arrived at that position of strength because we put in place a far-reaching economic plan; and because we have been unafraid to take the tough decisions to build up the resilience of the Malaysian economy.

We have diversified government sources of income, including reducing reliance on oil and gas revenues from 41 percent in 2009 to 14 percent today. Given the huge drop in the price of oil, just imagine how we would be suffering if we had not done that.

We also needed to widen the tax base, and so, in common with around 160 other countries, we introduced a goods and services tax, or GST. It was not popular, but it was the right thing to do – as every reputable economist has confirmed.

GST has helped us in our determination to steadily reduce the deficit – we are on course to reduce it to three percent this year, from 6.7 percent in 2009 – and GST has been crucial to retaining our good assessments by the international ratings agencies.

Yet the opposition says they would abolish it. Tell me, from where exactly would they produce the RM41 billion collected in GST revenue last year? Out of a hat?

If GST was abolished, it would not just be a matter of a revenue shortfall. The deficit would rise from 3.1 percent to 5 percent. Our ability to fund the construction of schools, hospitals and other essentials would be affected.

Government debt would rise above our self-imposed level of 55 percent of GDP. Our sovereign credit ratings would then be downgraded. Lending costs for all, such as loans for personal use, for business and for housing, would increase. The people would suffer, and they would suffer directly.

One of Malaysia’s prominent independent analysts, the Director of Economics at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, had it right when he said the idea of getting rid of GST was, and I quote, “preposterous” and “economically nonsensical”. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want to do that,” he said.

It is another example of what the opposition do when faced with tough decisions: they seek the easy or the populist way out, regardless of whether it makes sense or is even possible. They are not being straight with the Malaysian people.

This government, however, will always be straight with the people and we will always do right by the people. We will always put their interests first, from economic welfare to security. Even if it is not the most popular thing to do, we will not hesitate – because it is the responsible thing to do for the country.

This is also one of the reasons I am not very popular with that certain nonagenarian. Under his leadership many corners were cut, and the Malaysian people had to pay a very high price so that a few of his friends benefited, even when symbols of national pride had horrendous and catastrophic decisions inflicted on them.

But I say to you now that under this government, we are cracking down on crony capitalism. No more sweetheart deals. No more national follies kept going to stroke the ego of one man. No more treating national companies as though they were personal property.

Because it is the people who suffer, and we will not tolerate a few succeeding – and not on their own merits – while the many are denied opportunities, all for the interests of a selfish few.

Now some of you may be thinking that I have not mentioned national companies where there have been issues. At 1MDB it is now clear that there were lapses in governance.

However, rather than bury our heads in the sand, we ordered investigations into the company at a scale unprecedented in our nation’s history. Rather than funnel good money after bad to cover up any issues 1MDB may have faced – the model embraced by a former leader – I instructed the rationalisation of the company.

And it is progressing well. Indeed, many of the assets formerly owned by 1MDB are thriving. One only needs to drive past Tun Razak Exchange to see the new construction for confirmation.

But let’s not forget that while there were issues at 1MDB, certain politicians blew them out of proportion, and tried to sabotage the company, in an attempt to topple the government in-between election cycles.

At the time we knew the real issue was not 1MDB, and that if 1MDB hadn’t been around they would have chosen another line of attack to try to illegitimately change the government. So we stood steadfast, and resolute, in the face of this orchestrated campaign. Because we will not be deterred from our duty, as the democratically elected government, to serve the nation.

Our priorities were made crystal clear when we introduced the concepts of the “capital economy” – which refers to the macro perspective – and the “people economy”, which is focused entirely on the people, the most precious asset of our great country.

We face challenges ahead, of course. We need to improve productivity. We need to raise the levels of education and skills. We need to put innovation and creativity at the heart of the economy of the future.

This why we have partnered with the Chinese technology leader Alibaba to create the Digital Free Trade Zone, the world’s first special trade zone that will promote the growth of e-commerce, and provide a state-of-the-art platform for both SMEs and larger enterprises to conduct their digital businesses and services.

This initiative is part of the digital roadmap which aims to double e-commerce growth from 10.8 per cent to 20.8 per cent by 2020.

But we can only achieve such targets with the people, and by empowering the people. To ensure the dignity of all, we have virtually eliminated poverty, to less than one percent. We are delighted that the income of the bottom 40 percent households has been increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 12 percent since 2009, when I took office.

But we know that cost of living issues hit those with low incomes the hardest; which is why we distributed RM5.36 billion in 1Malaysia People’s Aid, or BR1M, to 7.28 million households in 2016. This is why we ensured that essential foods and necessities are zero-rated for GST.

At the same time, we have many agencies promoting affordable housing programmes, and why we built and restored nearly 95,000 houses for the rural poor last year. Other affordable housing projects include PPA1M, for civil servants; PR1MA, for the urban middle income group; and the People’s Housing Programme for the lower income group, or Bottom 40, with monthly rents as low as RM124.

Infrastructure, too, is absolutely vital. It is crucial for our cities, and life-changing for rural communities. From 2010 to 2016 we delivered 6,042 kilometres of new rural roads, provided 350,000 houses with access to clean water, and connected 154,000 houses to electrical services.

At the end of last year, the first phase of the Mass Rapid Transit project was completed, and recently, the second phase of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT Line has been launched. We now have 51 kilometres of operational line with 31 stations.

This will take 160,000 cars off road, making Kuala Lumpur more liveable. It created 130,000 new jobs, of which 70,000 are direct employment. And best of all, it was completed ahead of schedule and RM2 billion below budget. We are now planning for MRT 2 and 3.

The Pan Borneo Highway in Sarawak and Sabah will be a game changer for our people there, encouraging greater mobility, boosting industry and tourism and creating thousands of new jobs.

In a few years time, we will have the first high-speed rail link connecting Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, which will cut travel time between the two cities to 90 minutes, as compared to more than four hours by car.

And the East Coast Rail Link will bring huge benefits, jobs and a new connectedness to the people of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan in particular.

In other areas, we are seeing the benefits of our programmes for all the people. The national pre-school enrolment rate rose to 85.6 percent in 2016, for instance, as opposed to 67 percent in 2009; and we have achieved almost universal enrollment for the five years and upwards age group.

Women have seen great strides as well. The female labour force participation rate has increased from 46 percent in 2009 to 54.3 percent last year. That’s over 700,000 more women in the workforce.

And I am delighted to be able to announce that Malaysia has reached its target of women making up 30 percent of top management – that’s 1,446 women, out of a total of 4,960 in top management excluding CEOs, as of December 2016.

We want to go further, though, and have set 2020 as the date by which we want all public listed companies (PLCs) to have at least 30 percent women at board level. Because we know that when women succeed, we all succeed.

Unfortunately, we still have 17 “top 100” PLCs that have no women at all on their board. This just is not good enough, and I call on these companies to immediately address this lack of diversity. I would like to announce that, from 2018, the Government will name and shame PLCs with no women on their boards.

As many of you will know, SMEs make up 97 percent of businesses in Malaysia, and one of the hallmarks of my administration has been its support and encouragement for this backbone of our economy.

So I am pleased to be able to officially launch today the Leading Entrepreneur Accelerator Platform Market, or LEAP Market, by Bursa Malaysia. This is a new qualified market which will offer an alternative way for small and medium companies to raise funds and grow their business to the next level.

It is in line with our SME Masterplan which aims to raise the share of GDP contributed by SMEs, their numbers of employees, and their volume of exports.

And it is another of the many initiatives that my government has put in place in pursuit of our transformation, and that prove our trustworthiness as a business-friendly government of a vibrant economy.

We want you to see Malaysia as a gateway to ASEAN and the region, and with the eventual conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, we want you to see Malaysia as a base from which to access almost 50 percent of the world’s population, and over 30 percent of global GDP.

This year, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of independence. From relatively humble beginnings, we have grown and evolved into a modern economy and society with a record to be proud of. But we are looking to the future as well – which is why we have produced the 2050 National Transformation, or TN50, initiative.

Through TN50, we want to listen to our rakyat. We want them to be heard. And through our dialogue sessions, we are listening to the aspirations of our youth for what they want the Malaysia of 2050 to be.

As the Prime Minister of Malaysia, I want to lay out the foundations needed for our nation to be counted among the very top countries in the world. We want that competitive edge, and to be a knowledge-based society – but we must always work towards those goals in ways that are sustainable, inclusive and equitable. No Malaysian must ever be left behind. All must participate and benefit from this amazing journey that we are on.

We invite you be to part of that journey, and I hope today we are able to shed light on the tremendous opportunities that Malaysia has to offer. We urge to you to look at our potential; to look at the great achievements the government’s transformation programme has delivered, and continues to deliver; and invest in Malaysia.

 

South-East Asia’s future looks prosperous but illiberal


July 24, 2017

More money, less freedom

South-East Asia’s future looks prosperous but illiberal

Democracy is losing ground even as the region grows richer

Print edition | Asia

Image result for ASEAN Forging ahead --Economic Intelligence Unit

ASEAN–Peace, Stability and Economic Development First

THE young woman with the microphone cajoles, hectors and wheedles customers with the breathless enthusiasm of a livestock auctioneer at a county fair. She is standing behind a table stacked high with blue jeans; most of the milling crowd is dressed in lungyis, Myanmar’s skirt-like national dress. The fancy mall around them is anchored by a huge department store, dotted with banks and mobile-phone stalls and topped by a cinema and video arcade.

Myanmar has been growing so fast—by an average of 7.5% a year for the past five years—that the boom is reverberating in Mae Sot, just across the border in Thailand. Two years ago, says a longtime resident, the site of the mall was a swamp, and Mae Sot was a poky little border town with two small grocery stores. Today huge supermarkets, car dealers, electronics outlets and farm-equipment showrooms line the wide new road from the border into town, patronised by a steady stream of Burmese shoppers. Skeletons of future apartment blocks loom; the Thai government is building a new international airport. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecasts that Myanmar’s growth will hit 8% next year.

The region is full of such stories. Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam have been growing only slightly more slowly. Overall, the ten countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) grew at an annual rate of 5% over the past five years: not quite as fast as China or India, but much faster than Europe, Japan or America. The region’s 625m-odd people are growing richer and better educated; they will live longer, healthier and more prosperous lives than their parents. Of course, plenty of poverty remains—most people in Myanmar are still subsistence farmers—but the region’s economic trends are promising.

Back from the red

It was not always obvious that the South-East Asian economies would do so well. Only a generation ago Myanmar was cut off from the world by despotic generals; Cambodia’s 25-year-old civil war was still sputtering; and Vietnam was only just beginning to experiment with some timid market reforms. The wealthier countries in the region, meanwhile, had seen their economies, and the underlying models of growth, shattered by the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

The crisis proved salutary. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand all adopted sounder macroeconomic policies and made some effort to curb the cronyism that had accompanied earlier growth. Nominally communist Laos and Vietnam and autarkic Myanmar all embraced free markets, up to a point. The days of nationalisation and central planning seem to be over. In much of the region inefficient and coddled state-owned businesses endure, and rent-seeking, corruption and protectionism are all more common than they should be. But across South-East Asia, liberal economics has won the argument.

Politically, however, the region is moving in the opposite direction. The Asian crisis may have brought huge economic hardship, but it did at least unseat Suharto, Indonesia’s strongman of 32 years, and instigate political reforms elsewhere. In the years that followed, imperfect democracies in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand appeared to be gaining strength. And Myanmar, after years of isolation and repression, embarked on an unexpected transition to democracy.

But hoped-for openings never came in Laos and Vietnam, where the Communist Party has always been nakedly repressive. Singapore remains an illiberal, albeit effective, technocracy. The leaders of Malaysia and Cambodia, Najib Razak and Hun Sen, have proved depressingly adept at locking up critics and persecuting opponents. Cambodia’s most prominent opposition politician, Sam Rainsy, lives in exile to avoid imprisonment for a spurious conviction for defamation. Opposition figures in Malaysia find themselves in court on charges as varied as corruption and sodomy.

The junta that seized power in Thailand three years ago promises an election next year. Even in the unlikely event that it is free and fair, the constitution—which the army wrote and the new king signed in May—creates a junta-led Senate, imposes the generals’ 20-year plan on the country and provides ample grounds to remove any elected leader whom the army finds lacking. All this is designed to prevent voters from electing the “wrong” leaders, in the army’s view, as they have done at every opportunity over the past 15 years.

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Democratic institutions are not yet quite that weak in the region’s two biggest countries, Indonesia and the Philippines, but in both liberals have more cause for fear than hope. Filipino voters, justifiably frustrated by the way that a few prominent families dominate politics, and by how recent economic growth has failed to reduce the high poverty rate, elected Rodrigo Duterte as president last year. Alone among the five candidates, he seemed to care about ordinary people; his brutal anti-drug campaign has appalled foreigners but is popular at home.

Mr Duterte reminisces fondly about the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and seems to crave dictatorial power himself. He has declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao (see Banyan), and often muses about doing the same nationally. He veers between indifference and hostility to troublesome principles such as due process, the separation of powers and the rule of law—all of which need shoring up, not weakening.

An election for Governor of Jakarta in April, meanwhile, has harmed Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance (see next story). Islamist agitators campaigned against the Christian incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, falsely claiming that he had insulted the Koran. Anies Baswedan, one of his rivals, embraced their shameless attempt to stir up sectarian tension, and won. Prabowo Subianto, a tub-thumping nationalist who lost the presidential election in 2014, backed Mr Baswedan. The fear is that Mr Prabowo, inspired by Mr Baswedan’s success, will try to foster similar divisions at the national level.

But it is Myanmar that most encapsulates the region’s democratic reversal. When the army ceded power last year to Aung San Suu Kyi, its Nobel-prize-winning opponent of 30 years, expectations were astronomically high, even though the constitution the generals had written severely limited her powers. That has made her government’s craven and repressive acts all the more bewildering. It has charged more reporters with defamation than did her military-backed predecessor. She has been shamefully silent about the continuing persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, not even admitting, let alone trying to stop, the army’s well-documented campaign of rape, murder and destruction against Rohingya villages. It does not help that since Donald Trump became president, America, long the loudest champion of liberal values in the region, has more or less let the subject drop.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “More money, less freedom”–The Economist

 

Trump and the Truth About Climate Change


July 22, 2017

Trump and the Truth About Climate Change

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

http://www.project-syndicate.com

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Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, the United States took another major step toward establishing itself as a rogue state on June 1, when it withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. For years, Trump has indulged the strange conspiracy theory that, as he put it in 2012, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” But this was not the reason Trump advanced for withdrawing the US from the Paris accord. Rather, the agreement, he alleged, was bad for the US and implicitly unfair to it.

While fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, Trump’s claim is difficult to justify. On the contrary, the Paris accord is very good for America, and it is the US that continues to impose an unfair burden on others.

Historically, the US has added disproportionately to the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and among large countries it remains the biggest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide by far – more than twice China’s rate and nearly 2.5 times more than Europe in 2013 (the latest year for which the World Bank has reported complete data). With its high income, the US is in a far better position to adapt to the challenges of climate change than poor countries like India and China, let alone a low-income country in Africa.

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After 6 months in office, Trump has shown that he is incapable of getting his agenda going. He cannot get at the issues which require his leadership.

In fact, the major flaw in Trump’s reasoning is that combating climate change would strengthen the US, not weaken it. Trump is looking toward the past – a past that, ironically, was not that great. His promise to restore coal-mining jobs (which now number 51,000, less than 0.04% of the country’s non-farm employment) overlooks the harsh conditions and health risks endemic in that industry, not to mention the technological advances that would continue to reduce employment in the industry even if coal production were revived.

In fact, far more jobs are being created in solar panel installation than are being lost in coal. More generally, moving to a green economy would increase US income today and economic growth in the future. In this, as in so many things, Trump is hopelessly mired in the past.

Just a few weeks before Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord, the global High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, which I co-chaired with Nicholas Stern, highlighted the potential of a green transition. The Commission’s report, released at the end of May, argues that reducing CO2 emissions could result in an even stronger economy.

The logic is straightforward. A key problem holding back the global economy today is deficient aggregate demand. At the same time, many countries’ governments face revenue shortfalls. But we can address both issues simultaneously and reduce emissions by imposing a charge (a tax) for CO2 emissions.

It is always better to tax bad things than good things. By taxing CO2, firms and households would have an incentive to retrofit for the world of the future. The tax would also provide firms with incentives to innovate in ways that reduce energy usage and emissions – giving them a dynamic competitive advantage.

The Commission analyzed the level of carbon price that would be required to achieve the goals set forth in the Paris climate agreement – a far higher price than in most of Europe today, but still manageable. The commissioners pointed out that the appropriate price may differ across countries. In particular, they noted, a better regulatory system – one that restrains coal-fired power generation, for example – reduces the burden that must be placed on the tax system.

Interestingly, one of the world’s best-performing economies, Sweden, has already adopted a carbon tax at a rate substantially higher than that discussed in our report. And the Swedes have simultaneously sustained their strong growth without US-level emissions.

America under Trump has gone from being a world leader to an object of derision. In the aftermath of Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris accord, a large sign was hung over Rome’s city hall: “The Planet First.” Likewise, France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, poked fun at Trump’s campaign slogan, declaring “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

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But the consequences of Trump’s actions are no laughing matter. If the US continues to emit as it has, it will continue to impose enormous costs on the rest of the world, including on much poorer countries. Those who are being harmed by America’s recklessness are justifiably angry.

Fortunately, large parts of the US, including the most economically dynamic regions, have shown that Trump is, if not irrelevant, at least less relevant than he would like to believe. Large numbers of states and corporations have announced that they will proceed with their commitments – and perhaps go even further, offsetting the failures of other parts of the US.

In the meantime, the world must protect itself against rogue states. Climate change poses an existential threat to the planet that is no less dire than that posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. In both cases, the world cannot escape the inevitable question: what is to be done about countries that refuse to do their part in preserving our planet?

A New Course for Economic Liberalism


July 17, 2017

A New Course for Economic Liberalism

by Sebastian Buckup

Sebastian Buckup is Head of Programming at the World Economic Forum.

How policymakers can manage the opposing forces of economic diffusion and concentration.

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The New Man in France–President Emmanuel Macron

Since the Agrarian Revolution, technological progress has always fueled opposing forces of diffusion and concentration. Diffusion occurs as old powers and privileges corrode; concentration occurs as the power and reach of those who control new capabilities expands. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution will be no exception in this regard.

Already, the tension between diffusion and concentration is intensifying at all levels of the economy. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, trade grew twice as fast as GDP, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Thanks to the globalization of capital and knowledge, countries were able to shift resources to more productive and higher-paying sectors. All of this contributed to the diffusion of market power.

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But this diffusion occurred in parallel with an equally stark concentration. At the sectoral level, a couple of key industries – most notably, finance and information technology – secured a growing share of profits. In the United States, for example, the financial sector generates just 4% of employment, but accounts for more than 25% of corporate profits. And half of US companies that generate profits of 25% or more are tech firms.

The same has occurred at the organizational level. The most profitable 10% of US businesses are eight times more profitable than the average firm. In the 1990s, the multiple was only three.

Such concentration effects go a long way toward explaining rising economic inequality. Research by Cesar Hidalgo and his colleagues at MIT reveals that, in countries where sectoral concentration has declined in recent decades, such as South Korea, income inequality has fallen. In those where sectoral concentration has intensified, such as Norway, inequality has risen.

A similar trend can be seen at the organizational level. A recent study by Erling Bath, Alex Bryson, James Davis, and Richard Freeman showed that the diffusion of individual pay since the 1970s is associated with pay differences between, not within, companies. The Stanford economists Nicholas Bloom and David Price confirmed this finding, and argue that virtually the entire increase in income inequality in the US is rooted in the growing gap in average wages paid by firms.

Such outcomes are the result not just of inevitable structural shifts, but also of decisions about how to handle those shifts. In the late 1970s, as neoliberalism took hold, policymakers became less concerned about big firms converting profits into political influence, and instead worried that governments were protecting uncompetitive companies.

With this in mind, policymakers began to dismantle the economic rules and regulations that had been implemented after the Great Depression, and encouraged vertical and horizontal mergers. These decisions played a major role in enabling a new wave of globalization, which increasingly diffused growth and wealth across countries, but also laid the groundwork for the concentration of income and wealth within countries.

The growing “platform economy” is a case in point. In China, the e-commerce giant Alibaba is leading a massive effort to connect rural areas to national and global markets, including through its consumer-to-consumer platform Taobao. That effort entails substantial diffusion: in more than 1,000 rural Chinese communities – so-called “Taobao Villages” – over 10% of the population now makes a living by selling products on Taobao. But, as Alibaba helps to build an inclusive economy comprising millions of mini-multinationals, it is also expanding its own market power.

Policymakers now need a new approach that resists excessive concentration, which may create efficiency gains, but also allows firms to hoard profits and invest less. Of course, Joseph Schumpeter famously argued that one need not worry too much about monopoly rents, because competition would quickly erase the advantage. But corporate performance in recent decades paints a different picture: 80% of the firms that made a return of 25% or more in 2003 were still doing so ten years later. (In the 1990s, that share stood at about 50%.)

To counter such concentration, policymakers should, first, implement smarter competition laws that focus not only on market share or pricing power, but also on the many forms of rent extraction, from copyright and patent rules that allow incumbents to cash in on old discoveries to the misuse of network centrality. The question is not “how big is too big,” but how to differentiate between “good” and “bad” bigness. The answer hinges on the balance businesses strike between value capture and creation.

Moreover, policymakers need to make it easier for startups to scale up. A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem remains the most effective antidote to rent extraction. Digital ledger technologies, for instance, have the potential to curb the power of large oligopolies more effectively than heavy-handed policy interventions. Yet economies must not rely on markets alone to bring about the “churn” that capitalism so badly needs. Indeed, even as policymakers pay lip service to entrepreneurship, the number of startups has declined in many advanced economies.

Finally, policymakers must move beyond the neoliberal conceit that those who work hard and play by the rules are those who will rise. After all, the flipside of that perspective, which rests on a fundamental belief in the equalizing effect of the market, is what Michael Sandel calls our “meritocratic hubris”: the misguided idea that success (and failure) is up to us alone.

This implies that investments in education and skills training, while necessary, will not be sufficient to reduce inequality. Policies that tackle structural biases head-on – from minimum wages to, potentially, universal basic income schemes – are also needed.

Neoliberal economics has reached a breaking point, causing the traditional left-right political divide to be replaced by a different split: between those seeking forms of growth that are less inclined toward extreme concentration and those who want to end concentration by closing open markets and societies. Both sides challenge the old orthodoxies; but while one seeks to remove the “neo” from neoliberalism, the other seeks to dismantle liberalism altogether.

The neoliberal age had its day. It is time to define what comes next.

 

Singapore–Smart City Smart State


July 15, 2017

Singapore –Smart City Smart State

I am in the process of completing my read of Kent E. Calder’s excellent book, Singapore, Smart City Smart State. I must admit upfront that I am an admirer of Singapore and the city state’s leadership going back to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and his team of brilliant men to  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his colleagues.

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Calder’s book, therefore, intrigues me. In it,  Professor  Calder provides clear answers why Singapore  can serve as a model of unique governance for other advanced  economic economies and  the emerging world.

He believes “…its sustainable state and urban policy model, leveraged by the Digital Revolution and the Internet of Things, provides such a fresh and apt perspective on governance in today’s world.It shows how to tackle the challenges of transnational importance in a world where markets are almost completely globalized, but governance is not. As Singapore is an economically advanced  and technically sophisticated city-state, in the heart of the developing world, its example is not only timely but also broadly relevant. It provides insights for dealing with both G-7 welfare- state crises and also the epic rural-to-urban transition under way in the developing world, in an era of historic technological change” (p.163 of the book).–Din Merican

The G20 and the Inequality Crisis


July 13, 2017

The G20 and the Inequality Crisis

by Helle Thorning-Schmidt*

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/g20-solutions-to-ending-inequality-by-helle-thorning-schmidt-2017-07

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*Former Prime Minister of Denmark, is the Chief Executive of Save the Children and a Commissioner on the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

Almost a decade ago, facing a near-collapse of the financial system and the risk of a depression, the world needed a new form of leadership to navigate and restore confidence in the global economy. That’s why, in 2009, at his first global summit as US President, Barack Obama joined then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to spearhead the G20’s upgrade, making it the world’s preeminent economic forum. What they created helped solve one immediate problem, but it let linger another global challenge.

With the Obama-Brown upgrade, the G20 – comprising 19 of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, plus the European Union – took over the role played by the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US). Obama and Brown knew that a group that did not include rising economic powers, like China and India, could not propose effective solutions to the global economy’s biggest problems.

Whatever one thinks of the G20 – and it is by no means perfect – this more inclusive grouping helped to overcome the consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis. With an expanded coterie of world leaders taking charge, jittery financial markets stabilized, and the G20 then helped launch, and sustain, a global economic stimulus, led by China, which reversed the downward spiral.

Today, the G20, now meeting in Hamburg for its annual summit, must confront the challenge of inequality. With the world’s richest 1% now owning 40% of its assets, the benefits of growth are not being shared in a way that is either economically efficient or politically sustainable.

This crisis had been building for many decades, but it accelerated sharply after the global financial meltdown that the G20 helped stem. As a result, disillusioned and disaffected voters in advanced economies are challenging established political parties to find solutions or cede power, while millions of people from poor countries, unable to envision a future at home, are risking their lives by crossing deserts and seas in search of economic opportunity.

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It is up to the G20 to deal with the global inequality crisis with the same urgency it showed during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Just as Obama and Brown led the way then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must respond purposefully and powerfully to the widening divide between rich and poor, which has become an acute danger to the world economy, and to social cohesion and political stability.

The G20, which Germany now leads, could take many steps to address the crisis of inequality, but three are most important.

First, the G20 needs to get serious about accelerating work on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs set a bold but achievable agenda for addressing poverty, reducing inequality, improving education and health, and protecting the planet. But almost two years after their launch, a business-as-usual approach prevails in most countries, and accountability has been reduced to exercises in collecting data. The G20 countries, which collectively account for most of the world’s population and resources, should lead by translating the SDGs into national policies, and by harnessing government budgets and their private sectors to drive implementation.

Second, the G20 must crack down on economic abuses that weaken states and markets, and erode public trust. Tax avoidance by big corporations and wealthy individuals, which by some estimates cost poor countries $200 billion a year, is a case in point. Many business leaders do understand that the future of the world economy, and their own companies, depends on reducing poverty, and that this is becomes harder to achieve as inequality widens. But to tackle a crisis of this scale, the entire business community must be on board.

Finally, the G20 should lead the way toward giving every child access to quality education by 2030. This is the real game changer when it comes to addressing inequality. For example, teaching all students in poor countries to read could help pull more than 170 million people out of poverty, equal to a 12% decline in the number of poor people worldwide.

But this would require a dramatic increase in education spending, including more funding for existing programs, like Education Cannot Wait, which supports the continuation of schooling for children in disaster areas, and the Global Partnership for Education, which provides grants to support education in countries with the most need. It must also include investment in proposed initiatives, like the International Finance Facility for Education, which aims to bring public and private donors together to increase global education financing by more than $10 billion dollars a year.

The G20 is still the world’s leading forum when it comes to the global economy. It helped us through the global financial crisis. Now is the time for the G20 to step up again, and to act with genuine resolve, to address the global inequality crisis.