The Missing Ingredients of Growth


January 15, 2018

The Missing Ingredients of Growth

by Michael Spence and Karen Karniol-Tambour

Several positive macroeconomic trends suggest that the global economy could finally be in a position to achieve sustained and inclusive growth. But whether that happens will depend on whether governments can muster a more forceful response to changing economic and technological conditions.

Image result for Michael Spence

Nobel Laureate in Economics, Professor Michael Spence, Stern Business School, New York  University

MILAN/NEW YORK – Most of the global economy is now subject to positive economic trends: unemployment is falling, output gaps are closing, growth is picking up, and, for reasons that are not yet clear, inflation remains below the major central banks’ targets. On the other hand, productivity growth remains weak, income inequality is increasing, and less educated workers are struggling to find attractive employment opportunities.

After eight years of aggressive stimulus, developed economies are emerging from an extended deleveraging phase that naturally suppressed growth from the demand side. As the level and composition of debt has been shifted, deleveraging pressures have been reduced, allowing for a synchronized global expansion.

Still, in time, the primary determinant of GDP growth – and the inclusivity of growth patterns – will be gains in productivity. Yet, as things stand, there is ample reason to doubt that productivity will pick up on its own. There are several important items missing from the policy mix that cast a shadow over the realization of both full-scale productivity growth and a shift to more inclusive growth patterns.

First, growth potential can’t be realized without sufficient human capital. This lesson is apparent in the experience of developing countries, but it applies to developed economies, too. Unfortunately, across most economies, skills and capabilities do not seem to be keeping pace with rapid structural shifts in labor markets. Governments have proved either unwilling or unable to act aggressively in terms of education and skills retraining or in redistributing income. And in countries like the United States, the distribution of income and wealth is so skewed that lower-income households cannot afford to invest in measures to adapt to rapidly changing employment conditions.

Second, most job markets have a large information gap that will need to be closed. Workers know that change is coming, but they do not know how skills requirements are evolving, and thus cannot base their choices on concrete data. Governments, educational institutions, and businesses have not come anywhere close to providing adequate guidance on this front.

Third, firms and individuals tend to go where opportunities are expanding, the costs of doing business are low, prospects for recruiting workers are good, and the quality of life is high. Environmental factors and infrastructure are critical for creating such dynamic, competitive conditions. Infrastructure, for example, lowers the cost and improves the quality of connectivity. Most arguments in favor of infrastructure investment focus on the negative: collapsing bridges, congested highways, second-rate air travel, and so forth. But policymakers should look beyond the need to catch up on deferred maintenance. The aspiration should be to invest in infrastructure that will create entirely new opportunities for private-sector investment and innovation.

Fourth, publicly funded research in science, technology, and biomedicine is vital for driving innovation over the long term. By contributing to public knowledge, basic research opens up new areas for private-sector innovation. And wherever research is conducted, it produces spillover effects within the surrounding local economy.

Image result for Karen Karniol-TambourKaren Karniol-Tambour (right)

 

Almost none of these four considerations is a significant feature of the policy framework that currently prevails in most developed countries. In the US, for example, Congress has passed a tax-reform package that may produce an additional increment in private investment, but will do little to reduce inequality, restore and redeploy human capital, improve infrastructure, or expand scientific and technological knowledge. In other words, the package ignores the very ingredients needed to lay the groundwork for balanced and sustainable future growth patterns, characterized by high economic and social productivity trajectories supported by both the supply side and the demand side (including investment).

Ray Dalio describes a path featuring investment in human capital, infrastructure, and the scientific base of the economy as path A. The alternative is path B, characterized by a lack of investment in areas that will directly boost productivity, such as infrastructure and education. Though economies are currently favoring path B, it is path A that would produce higher, more inclusive, and more sustainable growth, while also ameliorating the lingering debt overhangs associated with large sovereign debt and non-debt liabilities in areas like pensions, social security, and publicly funded health care.

It may be wishful thinking, but our hope for the new year is that governments will make a more concerted effort to chart a new course from Dalio’s path B to path A.

Michael Spence, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Advisory Board Co-Chair of the Asia Global Institute in Hong Kong, and Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models. He was the chairman of the independent Commission on Growth and Development, an international body that from 2006-2010 analyzed opportunities for global economic growth, and is the author of The Next Convergence – The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World.

Karen Karniol-Tambour is Head of Investment Research at Bridgewater Associates.

 

Trump’s Abominable Snow Job


January 12, 2018

Trump’s Abominable Snow Job

Image result for Trump’s Abominable Snow Job
“America first” means workers come last– The Abominable Snowman.

In the 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump presented himself as a populist who would protect America’s “forgotten” workers from the disruptions of trade and immigration and the nefarious designs of unnamed elites. But, a year after assuming office, it has become abundantly clear that “America first” means workers come last.

Almost one year ago, beneath a gray sky and before a middling crowd, Donald Trump was sworn in as US President. In his inaugural address, he vowed that, “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” And to the “forgotten men and women of our country,” he vowed, “I will never, ever let you down.”

Trump had campaigned on a promise to tear up “unfair” trade agreements and crack down on immigration. And in his first weeks and months in office, he abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. He banned entry to the United States for Muslims from seven countries. And he has cleared the way for the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans who have been living in the US legally for a generation or more.

But, as Trump prepares to deliver his second “State of the Union” address, it is clear that many other major promises have fallen by the wayside. The wall he promised to erect on the border with Mexico is no closer to being built than it was a year ago. The 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) remains un-repealed. American infrastructure remains neglected and underfunded. And, rather than “drain the swamp” of entrenched insiders and vested interests that shape so much US policy, he’s stocked it with bigger alligators.

To be sure, Trump’s predecessors had similar failures. Barack Obama never did manage to shut down the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay. George W. Bush failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform. And Bill Clinton could not deliver on health care. But they at least upheld the spirit of their commitments.

As Project Syndicate commentators have documented, the same cannot be said for Trump. During his first year in office, US domestic and foreign policies have amounted to a full-scale betrayal of American workers and families, including those in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to whom he owes his presidency. And, with his approval ratings pinned at historic lows, many others who voted for him in 2016 presumably feel the same way.

Soaking the 99%

The Trump policies that will most obviously affect American workers and families relate to health care and taxes. After joining with congressional Republicans last spring and summer in a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, the Trump administration introduced regulations to bypass key provisions of the law, such as a new rule allowing companies and organizations to band together to purchase skimpier coverage. Trump says his executive orders are intended to shore up wobbly insurance markets, but many observers expect the measures to drive up premiums for millions of Americans and introduce new inequities in coverage over time.

 Image result for joseph stiglitzColumbia’s Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed in December, similarly backloads the pain. In the near term, American workers will see modest bumps in their paychecks. But within the next decade, Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz notes, the law “will increase taxes on a majority of Americans in the middle (the second, third, and fourth quintiles),” and add at least $1-1.5 trillion to the deficit by 2027, all so that tax cuts for corporations can remain permanent.

That timing, says Nouriel Roubini of New York University, is no coincidence. The tax plan was designed with the 2018 midterm congressional election firmly in mind. Until then, Roubini explains, Trump and the Republicans “can brag about cutting taxes on most households.” And after that, “they can expect to see the economic-stimulus effects of tax cuts peak in 2019, just before the next presidential election – and long before the bill comes due.”

But both Stiglitz and Roubini are skeptical that the GOP’s ruse will work. After all, Stiglitz writes, “voters are not so easily manipulated,” and there is much in the Trump tax package that workers, in particular, should regard skeptically.

For example, despite Trump’s promise to “bring back” jobs to the US, Roubini shows that provisions in the tax law “will give US multinationals an even greater incentive to invest, hire, and produce abroad.” And, contrary to Trump’s campaign promise that “no one will lose [health-insurance] coverage,” the tax law repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, which “will cause 13 million people to lose health insurance, and insurance premiums to rise by 10%, over the next decade.”

Moreover, as Stiglitz points out, contrary to Trump’s explicit promise to “eliminate the carried-interest deduction and other special interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors,” the dodges remain intact, and will continue to be exploited by “job-destroying private-equity firms.” The tax law also does little for workers whose jobs have been eliminated or displaced. As the University of California, Berkeley, economist Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca of New America observe, the law “prioritizes investment in physical and financial capital over what the US really needs: more investment in human capital and lifelong learning to help workers and communities cope with the disruptive effects of automation and artificial intelligence.”

 

Image result for laura tysonLaura Tyson@ University of California

 

But that is not all. Tyson and Mendonca remind us that the law will also heap costs on Americans living in Democratic-leaning states such as New York and California, by imposing an “across-the-board limit on mortgage deductions,” and “by capping the federal deduction for state and local income and property taxes.” The combined effect of these provisions, Tyson and Mendonca conclude, will be to increase “the marginal tax rate on millions of workers in the country’s most productive locales and industries.” Rather than encouraging innovation, Trump’s tax law will stifle it.

Economic Impossibilities for Our Grandchildren

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Jeffrey Frankel
Beyond the tax plan’s immediate, concrete effects, it could also have adverse long-term implications for US economic growth and prosperity. Harvard University’s Jeffrey Frankel points out that, whereas previous Republican tax cuts, such as in the early 1980s, came after economic downturns, the new law lands on an economy that is already near full employment. That means it could hasten the rate at which the US Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, which, Stiglitz notes, will lead to slower “investment, and thus growth,” regardless of whether “the consumption of the very rich increases.”
 

Frankel also laments that the law will reduce government revenue at a time when baby boomers are “retiring at a rate of about 10,000 people per day, meaning that Medicare and Social Security outlays – for health insurance and pensions, respectively – will increase rapidly.” Such cost increases, Roubini says, play directly into the “starve the beast” strategy long beloved of congressional Republicans, whereby party leaders will “use the higher deficits from tax cuts to argue for cuts” in social programs for “elderly, middle-class, and low-income Americans.” But, while Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan has already expressed his eagerness to pursue entitlement reform in 2018, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is much more reluctant.

In fact, the argument for entitlement reform – that US government debt is unsustainable and must be reined in – contradicts a central claim behind the Trump/Republican tax plan: that it will generate enough growth to cover most of its costs. As Stephen S. Roach of Yale University explains, this is the classic supply-side argument to which America now owes its swelling debt. After the Reagan-era tax cuts, Roach observes, “federal budget deficits ballooned to 3.8% of GDP during the 1980s, taking public debt from 25% of GDP in 1980 to 41% by 1990”; moreover, the US current account has “remained in deficit ever since (with the exception of a temporary reprieve in the first two quarters of 1991 due to external funding of the Gulf War).”

Higher deficits, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis reminds us, imply “higher long-term tax bills” for American workers down the road. Of course, taxpayers might be willing to accept that if the law’s corporate-tax provisions translate into higher wages across the board. But will they?

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Harvard’s Martin Feldstein

 

Harvard University’s Martin Feldstein, who believes the “economic benefits resulting from the corporate tax changes will outweigh the adverse effects of the increased debt,” is cautiously optimistic. Before the law passed, he predicted that reducing the corporate-tax rate from 35% to 20% (the final bill reduces it to 21%) would make the US far more competitive. And that, in turn, “will attract capital to the US corporate sector,” translating into higher “productivity and real wages,” possibly to the tune of “$4,000 per household in today’s dollars” by 2027.

But as Roach points out, US companies already “pay a surprisingly low effective corporate tax rate – just 22% – when judged against post-World War II experience.” The US is already third in the World Economic Forum’s yearly ranking of international competitiveness. And, at 9% of gross domestic income, “the current GDP share of after-tax [corporate] profits is well above the post-1980 average of 7.6%.”

Moreover, Tyson and Mendonca point to a “large body of economic research” showing that, “at most, 20-25% of the benefits of corporate tax cuts will accrue to labor; the rest will go to shareholders, about one-third of whom are foreign.” That suggests the long-run trend of wage gains trailing behind productivity growth could continue. While corporate profits have been rising, Roach observes, “the share of national income going to labor has been declining.” There is no reason to expect the Republicans’ tax legislation to change that.

The Great Growth Debate

Still, in the lead-up to the bill’s passage, Harvard’s Robert J. Barro pointed to three provisions in the tax plan that he believes will induce substantial business investment, and thus growth in output and employment. In addition to lowering the corporate-tax rate, the law also allows companies to write off the full cost of new equipment immediately, rather than over time; and it shortens from 39 to 25 years the period for writing off non-residential business structures. According to Barro’s calculation, the new tax regime will “raise long-run capital-labor ratios by 25% for non-residential corporate structures and 17% for corporate equipment,” implying “a large long-run increase in real per capita GDP – by around 7%.”

 

Image result for Harvard's Larry SummersHarvard’s Lawrence H. Summers

 

But Barro’s Harvard colleagues, Jason Furman and Lawrence H. Summers, who both served as senior economic advisers to Obama, criticized Barro’s analysis for making “the least favorable assumptions about current law and the most favorable assumptions about future policy” under the Trump/Republican plan. Using Barro’s own model, Furman and Summers calculate that the tax law will “yield an increase in the level of long-run GDP of about 1%.” That prediction is in line with assessments from most other economists and official budget scorers, including, they note, the “Republican-appointed Joint Committee on Taxation.”

In his own contribution to the tax debate, Stanford University’s Michael J. Boskin – who co-signed an open letter in November with Barro and seven other economists promoting the tax package’s growth potential – suggests that Furman and Summers have underestimated key effects of the bill. The impact of equipment investment on GDP growth, he contends, is “much larger than in the conventional models used in most studies, including those relied on by government revenue scorers,” owing to the “learning-by-doing effects” associated with new technologies.

Then again, tax policies are not the only factor weighing on investment decisions. Roach, for his part, suspects that weak business investment in recent years may be “due less to onerous taxes and regulatory strangulation, and more to an unprecedented shortfall of aggregate demand,” the latter being a more salient driver of capital expenditures. The extent to which the tax package will stimulate demand remains to be seen, and much will depend on whether Republicans follow through on spending cuts this year. If they do, Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley expects the ax to fall on programs that benefit “hand-to-mouth consumers, who will reduce their own spending dollar for dollar, denting aggregate demand.”

“America First,” Workers Last

Furnishing workers with more bargaining power could help to boost wages, and thus demand. And yet, as Roubini observes, Trump’s “deregulatory policies are blatantly biased against workers and unions.” The Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which polices workplace safety. And it has sided with corporations over workers in pending court cases, including one before the Supreme Court that could decide whether employees may be forced to sign arbitration agreements barring them from joining class-action lawsuits against their employers.

Likewise, Christopher Smart of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that Trump’s decision to abandon the TPP will actually make it harder for American workers to compete with cheaper labor abroad. Under the TPP, Smart explains, “Countries as diverse as Peru, Vietnam, and Mexico would have signed on to labor laws enshrining workers’ rights to form independent unions and engage in collective bargaining,” thus raising the cost of their labor vis-à-vis American workers. Of course, if a new Japanese-led effort to resuscitate the TPP succeeds, the 11 remaining Pacific-rim countries could still agree to higher uniform labor standards. But with the US remaining outside the proposed trade bloc, it will have less leverage to address other countries’ violations.

 

Image result for Bill Emmott,Bill Emmott

Elsewhere on the trade front, Bill Emmott, a former editor-in-chief of The Economist, notes that, “Trump has often huffed and puffed about other countries’ unfair trade practices, just as he did during the 2016 election campaign; but he has done little to turn words into deeds.” After promising to label China a currency manipulator, for example, Trump has (wisely) abstained from following through. Still, Emmott expects Trump to ramp up his protectionist policies this year, now that tax cuts are behind him.

In December, the White House gave a preview of what that agenda might look like with the release of its National Security Strategy, which places an unprecedented emphasis on economics. In Feldstein’s view, the Trump NSS includes some “valuable initiatives” for “dealing with foreign trade” – including stepped-up efforts to crackdown on intellectual-property theft. The problem, for Feldstein, is that the NSS singles out “unfair policies pursued by China and other countries, without distinguishing between those that hurt American interests and those that, though ‘unfair,’ actually help Americans.”

The fear now is that Trump will take a broad approach and either eliminate Chinese policies that are good for American consumers – such as exporting excess goods at fire-sale prices – or precipitate a full-scale trade war. If the latter happens, Kaushik Basu of Cornell University warns, no country “will suffer more than the US itself.”

Trump’s first-year record on immigration is a similarly mixed bag. After multiple tries, he managed to implement a Muslim-focused travel ban that passes judicial muster (it now also bars travelers from North Korea and Venezuela). And yet it is not clear what, if anything, his immigration policies have done for American workers, even those who believe that immigrants take American jobs and contribute less to the economy than they consume in public services. After all, notes Roubini, “the ‘Muslim ban’ doesn’t affect the supply of labor in the US”; nor does “the administration’s plan favor skilled over unskilled workers.” In fact, as Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff warns, measures that “sharply reduce immigration” would “have significant adverse effects on growth,” and thus on jobs and wages.

Nationalism for Dunces

In his inaugural address, Trump also promised to “reinforce old alliances and form new ones,” and to “seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world,” while always putting “America first.” Foreign policy does not have as obvious an effect on US workers and households as tax cuts do. But if an incompetent or dangerous administration were to undermine the US dollar’s standing as the world’s main reserve currency, that loss of status would most likely prove to be more consequential than any domestic legislation.

Image result for Benjamin J. Cohen Benjamin J. Cohen, University of California@ Santa Barbara

The dollar’s exalted status in global financial markets, explains Benjamin J. Cohen of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is what allows America to “go on spending whatever it needs to sustain its many security commitments around the world, and to finance its trade and budget deficits.” If other countries suddenly soured on the dollar, the US could experience capital flight; at a minimum, the government would have to pay more to service its existing debt, implying a larger burden on taxpayers.

As it happens, the dollar performed poorly during Trump’s first year, losing almost 10% of its value when one might have expected it to appreciate with the strengthening of the US economy, a widening interest-rate differential with other advanced economies, and the promise of corporate-tax cuts. Last August, Cohen observed that, after Trump’s tweet threatening North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury” – and even before his refusal to recertify the Iran nuclear deal – investors were “looking for alternative safe havens in other markets, from Switzerland to Japan.”

Similarly, Eichengreen cautioned in October that if the Trump administration continues to discredit America in the eyes of its allies, it could provoke a dollar crisis. Eichengreen imagines a scenario in which South Korea and Japan – both of which are “thought to hold about 80% of their international reserves in dollars” – are forced to find a new financial refuge. A failure on Trump’s part to manage the North Korean nuclear crisis, for example, could create an opening for China to step in. “And where China leads geopolitically,” Eichengreen writes, “its currency, the renminbi, is likely to follow.”

 

Image result for Christopher R. HillAmbassador Christopher R. Hill

 

If that sounds far-fetched, bear in mind that North Korea has now bypassed the US altogether to hold talks with South Korea, with China’s blessing. Meanwhile, notes Christopher R. Hill, the chief US negotiator with North Korea during George W. Bush’s presidency, Trump has made it increasingly clear “that he has no idea what to do next” when it comes to Kim’s regime. Indeed, a year ago this month, Trump responded to Kim’s threat to test a new ballistic missile by tweeting, “It won’t happen!” Since then, North Korea has conducted eight missile tests – demonstrating, among other things, that the regime now has the capability to strike the US mainland – and what appears to have been its first test of a hydrogen bomb.

As 2017 came to an end, the Trump administration had further discredited itself with its approach to the Middle East. Trump’s unilateral decision in early December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, notes Columbia University’s Jeffrey D. Sachs, was immediately and “overwhelmingly rejected” by most United Nations member states, including many US allies. According to the Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, the decision also defies the wishes of most Americans, and seemed to be aimed at satisfying Trump’s “small base of US Christian Zionist evangelicals,” as well as leading Republican donors such as the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

As anyone familiar with the Middle East could have predicted, Trump’s Jerusalem policy has already proved self-defeating. According to Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, “anti-American powers” such as Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, and Turkey have wasted no time in taking “Trump’s divisive decision as an opportunity to enhance their own regional influence, at the expense of the US and its allies.”

 

Image result for Richard N. HaassCouncil on Foreign Relations’ Richard N. Haass

 

At the same time, Trump has invited still more international derision by insisting that his decision on Jerusalem – for which he received nothing in return from Israel – still leaves the door open for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, warns former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, “America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could mean the end of the two-state solution once and for all.” At a minimum, argues Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Trump has squandered the opportunity created by an ongoing rapprochement between Israel and Sunni Arab powers that share its interest in countering Iran.

Before Trump’s decision, Saudi Arabia might have been willing to back or even help lead an effort to end the Israel-Palestine conflict, which itself would have solidified the region’s anti-Iranian opposition. But now, Haass notes, the Saudis will be “reluctant to be associated with a plan that many will deem a sellout.” Ultimately, they “are likely to prove much less of a diplomatic partner than the White House had counted on.” In other words, Trump’s recklessness could leave the US sidelined and humiliated yet again.

As with Trump’s domestic record, it is hard to see how alienating allies, escalating nuclear tensions with North Korea, fomenting anti-American sentiment around the world, and threatening the international standing of the dollar will do anything to “benefit American workers and American families.” Far more likely, laments Ian Buruma of the New York Review of Books, is that the Trump presidency will “turn out very badly” for his supporters, to say nothing of the majority of Americans who never supported his agenda.

Politics and the Changing Face of Corporate Malaysia


January 3, 2018

Politics and the Changing Face of Corporate Malaysia

by Chua Su-Ann

 

http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/state-nation-politics-and-changing-face-corporate-malaysia

Image result for terence gomez book

Dr. Edmund Terence Gomez and Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

THE face of Corporate Malaysia has changed many times over the decades and it is not driven by pure market forces. Instead, it is inextricably linked to state intervention in the economy and politics, says Universiti Malaya’s Prof. Dr. Edmund Terence Gomez.

“The nature of state intervention in the economy is very much driven by the politics of the country,” Gomez says at a lecture at Monash University Malaysia in Bandar Sunway, Selangor.

His lecture illustrated the scale and implication of the nexus between politics and business. These are among the findings that will appear in his book Minister of Finance Inc: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia.

Image result for terence gomez book

From Gomez’s research, there are several defining moments that are inextricably linked to Malaysia’s politics and history.

“Many of the outcomes we see today have been shaped by who was the prime minister at particular moments in Malaysian history,” says Gomez.

The first defining moment, according to him, was in 1970 when the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced by then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein (dec 1976) to fight poverty and redistribute wealth more equitably. It was then that the government decided to cast away its laissez-faire policy and actively intervene in the corporate sector.

“The NEP was a policy that the country needed. It involves state intervention to rectify the problems that had occurred under colonial rule where the bypassing of Malays in business was a key problem,” says Gomez.

According to his analysis of the most valuable companies in 1971, the key players in the economy were foreign-owned firms and family businesses — owned mostly by the Chinese — which controlled 61% and 23% of the economy respectively.

It was in the 1970s that the state intervened by creating well-funded public enterprises that went out and acquired the assets of foreign companies.

The next turning point came in 1981, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister.

Image result for dr. mahathir mohamad

Malaysia’s Father of Crony Capitalism

“He decided that the purpose of the NEP was to create bumiputera capitalists or bumiputera businessmen, not GLCs (government-linked companies). The [NEP’s] emphasis on education diminished and its focus moved to business,” says Gomez.

This is notwithstanding the fact that the most valuable companies in 1997 were still government controlled, including Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Malayan Banking Bhd and Petronas Gas Bhd, all in the top four.

But it marked the start of an era where many public enterprises were privatised in order to help create a class of bumiputera capitalists.

Gomez’s analysis of the top 30 most valuable Malaysian companies in 1997 shows that prominent businessmen controlled 11 of the top 30 firms. They included Tan Sri Halim Saad (United Engineers Malaysia Bhd, Renong Bhd), Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli (TR Industries Bhd, Malaysian Airline System Bhd), Tan Sri Rashid Hussain (Development and Commercial Bank Bhd), Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad (Edaran Otomobil Nasional Bhd, Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd, Heavy Industries Corp of Malaysia Bhd) and Tan Sri Azman Hashim (AMMB Holdings Bhd).

Then came the 1997 Asian financial crisis, another turning point. “The financial crisis came and all this fell apart. We see the move from private businesses to GLCs coming to the fore and taking control,” says Gomez.

Analysis of the most valuable companies in 2001, after the financial crisis was over, shows the fall of the bumiputera capitalist class. Among the top 30 most valuable firms, Rashid’s RHB Capital comes in at No 14 and Azman’s AMMB Holdings clocked in at 23rd.

Similarly, in 2013, the year of the last general election, the only two bumiputera-controlled companies in the top 30 list were SapuraKencana Petroleum Bhd (controlled by the Shamsudin family) and Azman’s AMMB Holdings at No 15 and 20 respectively.

“The key figures in 2001 were the GLCs, and 12 years later, in 2013, the key figures in the corporate sectors were still the GLCs. The GLCs have emerged as key players in the economy and have sustained themselves,” say Gomez.

What does this say about the GLCs? Gomez cautions against assuming that GLCs are underperformers or run-of-the-mill firms. “What we are seeing here are dynamic firms maintaining their performance as the top companies in the country.”

By 2013, seven of the top 10 companies were GLCs, which also made half of the top 30.

During Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time, he pushed for GLC transformation, which saw a new class of professional managers take the reins at important companies.

The other interesting development in 2013 is that foreign-controlled firms were re-emerging as important players in the economy. They included DiGi.Com Bhd, British American Tobacco (M) Bhd and Nestlé (M) Bhd, which are among the top 30 most valuable companies in Malaysia in 2013.

Gomez also points out another important finding — manufacturing firms are no longer a major force in the economy. “The industrial elite of old have fallen away. Industrial companies have not been investing in R&D. They have been fearful of the state,” says Gomez.

“Where are all the companies involved in the high-technology sector or highly innovative companies? If you look at this list, we are looking at companies involved in utilities, finance, construction and property development. It’s not going to take you anywhere in the long run.”

Where does it leave us today?

The first phase of Gomez’s research focuses on the government-linked investment companies (GLICs), which are major players in the economy by virtue of their web of ownership and control over a vast empire of companies.

The seven GLICs analysed by Gomez’s team are Minister of Finance Inc, Permodalan Nasional Bhd, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP), the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Lembaga Tabung Haji and Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera.

These GLICs control over 68,000 companies directly and indirectly with minority interest. “The seven GLICs control important companies in the economy. They have majority ownership of 35 public-listed companies and in terms of market capitalisation, they control about 42% of the entire Bursa Malaysia,” Gomez says.

He argues that this is of concern because this points to extreme concentration of power in Minister of Finance Inc.

The nature of corporate control was different under the different prime ministers. “The nexus between state and business is under constant transition. Under Razak, it was about public enterprises, Mahathir was about big business, Abdullah was focused on SMEs and [Datuk Seri] Najib [Razak] is back to the GLICs.”

As Gomez describes it, Dr Mahathir was “extremely involved” in the economy while Abdullah was not very involved. Najib, on the other hand, is selectively involved in the economy.

“There is an unprecedented concentration of power in the executive. The key company here is MoF Inc, the super entity … What does this control allow the executive to do?” he asks.

Gomez is proposing several reforms to reduce this concentration of power. He says that to ensure proper checks and balances, the prime minister cannot also maintain the finance portfolio.

Gomez is also calling for an operational oversight body for GLICs and GLCs, instead of concentrating it in the Ministry of Finance. This could provide policy coherence and coordinate GLIC and GLC activities to achieve specific social and economic objectives.

Gomez points out that the professional managers of the GLICs and GLCs should be given autonomy to run their respective companies. “Professional managers with autonomy but accountable to parliamentary select committees headed by opposition members. This can be done tomorrow.”

 

 

The World Economy in 2018


December 26, 2017

The World Economy in 2018

ttps://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/world-economy-2018-predictions-by-michael-boskin-2017-12
 

In the tenth year since the start of the global financial crisis, the US economy reached a new high-water mark, and the global economy exceeded expectations. But whether these positive trends continue in 2018 will depend on a variety of factors, from fiscal and monetary policymaking to domestic politics and regional stability.

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Michael J. Boskin, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the T. M. Friedman Professor of Economics at Stanford University,Palo Alto, California

STANFORD – All major macroeconomic indicators – growth, unemployment, and inflation – suggest that 2017 will be the American economy’s best year in a decade. And the global economy is enjoying broad, synchronized growth beyond what anyone expected. The question now is whether this strong performance will continue in 2018.

The answer, of course, will depend on monetary, fiscal, trade, and related policies in the United States and around the world. And yet it is hard to predict what policy proposals will emerge in 2018. There are relatively new heads of state in the US, France, and the United Kingdom; German leaders still have not formed a governing coalition since the general election in September; and the US Federal Reserve has a new chair awaiting confirmation. Moreover, major changes in important developing economies such as Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil have made the future outlook even murkier.

Still, we should hope for the best. First and foremost, we should hope that synchronized global growth at a rate of just under 4% will continue in 2018, as the International Monetary Fund projected in October. Growth not only raises incomes, but also makes vexing problems such as bad bank loans and budget deficits more manageable. As former US President John F. Kennedy famously said in an October 1963 speech in which he promoted his proposed corporate and personal tax reductions, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

For my part, I predict that the global recovery will continue, but at a slightly slower growth rate of around 3.5%. The two most obvious risks to keep an eye on will be Europe, where a cyclical upturn could stall, and the oil-rich Middle East, where tensions could flare up once again.

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Second, let us hope that the Fed, guided by the steady hand of its new chair, Jerome “Jay” Powell (pic above), will continue or even accelerate its monetary-policy normalization, both by raising its benchmark federal funds rate, and by shrinking its engorged balance sheet. And we should hope that economic conditions allow the other major central banks, especially the European Central Bank, to follow suit.

On this front, I predict that the major central banks will continue to normalize monetary policies more gradually than is necessary. The biggest risk here is that markets may try to test the Fed under its new leadership, for example, if inflation rises faster than anticipated.

Third, let us hope that the Republican tax package will, if enacted, deliver on its promise of increased investment, output, productivity, and wages over the coming decade. Here, I predict that the legislation will pass, and that investment in the US over the next few years will be relatively higher than if no action had been taken.

To be sure, whether investment will rise from its currently subdued level will depend on many other factors than the corporate-tax rate. But the tax package can still be expected to boost output, productivity, and wages. The question is not if, but when.2

If the full effects of the legislation are not felt before the 2018 or 2020 elections, that lag could prove politically consequential. The biggest danger is that its benefits will be delayed, and that its key provisions will be reversed whenever the Democrats are back in power.

Fourth, let us hope that governments everywhere begin to address the looming crisis in public-pension and health-care costs, which have been rising for decades. As social programs become costlier, they crowd out government expenditures on necessities such as defense, while generating ever more pressure to impose higher growth-suppressing taxes.

Europe, in particular, must not let its cyclical rebound lull it into complacency. Many European Union member states still need to reduce their government debt, and the eurozone needs to resolve its “zombie bank” crisis. Beyond that, structural labor-market reforms of the kind French President Emmanuel Macron is pursuing would be most welcome.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that progress on structural reforms will be sporadic, at best. The danger is that slow growth will not lead to sufficient wage gains and job creation to defuse the ticking time bomb of high youth unemployment in many countries. Another risk is that reform attempts could provoke a political backlash that would be harmful to long-term investment.

Fifth, let us hope that the eurozone can avoid a currency crisis. This will depend largely on whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel can form a coalition government and restore political stability to Europe’s largest economy.

Sixth, we should hope that the EU and the UK can agree on a reasonable Brexit deal that will preserve fairly strong trade relations. The main risk here is that localized declines in trade could spill over and cause broader harm

And, beyond Europe, let us hope that negotiations between the US, Canada, and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will result in an arrangement that still facilitates continental trade. For trade generally, the biggest risk is that the Trump administration could start a lose-lose trade dispute, owing to its understandable eagerness to help American manufacturing workers

Seventh, let us hope that new policies targeting information and communication technology (ICT) strike the right balance among all stakeholders’ competing and legitimate concerns. On one hand, there is reason to worry about certain Internet companies’ concentration of market power, particularly in online content and distribution, and about the effects of new technologies on personal privacy, law enforcement, and national security. On the other hand, new technological advances could deliver immense economic gains.

It is easy to envision a scenario of too much regulation, or of too little. It is also easy to envision a large-scale public backlash against the major technology companies, particularly if poor self-policing or a refusal to cooperate with law enforcement leads to some horrible event.

Here, I predict that achieving an appropriate policy balance will take years. If some future event strikes an emotional chord, the public’s mood could swing dramatically. Ultimately, however, I suspect that competition and innovation will survive the forthcoming regulations.

Finally, and most important, let us hope that terrorism is thwarted everywhere, conflicts subside, democracy and capitalism regain some momentum, and greater civility and honest dialogue return to the public domain. Should that happen in 2018, it will be a very good year indeed

Michael J. Boskin is Professor of Economics at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was Chairman of George H. W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1989 to 1993, and headed the so-called Boskin Commission, a congressional advisory body that highlighted errors in official US inflation estimates.

Beijing unveils eight economic aims for 2018


December 22, 2017

Beijing unveils eight economic aims for 2018

The economic focus for China next year is high quality development, continued economic reformation and an emphasis on growth that is stable and sustainable

China has announced its eight economic aims for 2018 after leaders finished the annual three-day Central Economic Work Conference on Wednesday (December 20, 2017).

The conference, convened by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council, traditionally sets China’s economic agenda for the coming year. This year, the delegates first act was to rubber stamp the program set at the 19th Party Congress while also agreeing to follow the principles of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.

Third, the scientific development of the rural economy will be encouraged. China will improve the quality of produce in the agricultural sector and, by deepening the reform in grain reserve system, will help stabilize produce prices.

Fourth, the government will promote regional development and the increased cooperation among different cities. Government will try to provide equal public services and infrastructures so people across different geographies will enjoy roughly the same living standard. The Jingjinji Metropolitan Region of Beijing, Tianjin and Hubei will continue to be developed as the capital region of China. Other key projects include the green development along the Yangtze River Delta, the Belt and Road developments and the Greater Bay Area Initiative in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau area.

Fifth, China will work to further open its economy to attract foreign investments. The country will steadily open markets to foreign firms and will protect their investments and intellectual properties. China will follow standard international conventions when it comes to the restriction of inward foreign capital and will launch more free-trade-zone test sites.

Sixth, China will work to improve living standards and the country’s social security system. More emphasis will be placed on improving primary and secondary school education, early-age education and child care services. The country will also improve the pension fund system and encourage private funds to work in the elderly-care and healthcare sectors.

Seventh, the country will establish a rental housing market. It will establish new rules to better protect both property renters and leasers and will work to ensure healthy development in the property sector.

Eighth, China will increase its pace in ecological development and enhance environmental protection. It will launch large-scale green campaigns and encourage public and private funds to invest in the environmental protection sector by promoting the notion that “only truly green areas can become prosperous”.

The conference called for all government departments to stay united with Xi Jinping as a core leader and implement the country’s economic development plan for 2018.

Read: Annual economic meeting embraces Xi Jinping Thought

Book Review: Exile in Colonial Asia


December 16, 2017

Book Review: Exile in Colonial Asia: Kings, Convicts, Commemoration

Ronit Ricci, ed. (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016. vii + 294pp.)

Reviewed by Craig Reynolds@www. newmandala.org

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Exile in Colonial Asia is a compact book, but it’s a large book in its treatment of forced migration, prisoner resettlement, and exile across the globe from East Asia to Africa. The ten essays cover people up and down the social hierarchy: rulers (kings, princes, sultans); pretenders to thrones; convicts; and a few pirates and smugglers.

The life of a slave might be better than that of a prince, and a prince one day might be a rebel the next, and soon after on a ship to another part of the world. Commemoration in the subtitle means memory. To restore lives lost to the historical record, the authors pick their way through grudging source material—letters, notes, trading company documents, and lists. It’s amazing what a detective-author can resurrect from the dry lists of people and objects buried in archival records.

In the period covered by the book the world was mapped not by countries but by empires: Portuguese, Dutch, British, French, Belgian, and Italian. Colonial authorities and trading companies like the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a quasi-state, removed people from their homelands and exiled them to foreign lands. The globe is criss-crossed with the movements of these people shown on maps drawn by Robert Cribb. Exile was not a peculiarly Western imperialist measure. Indigenous political systems—the Chinese and the Vietnamese, among others—also used exile and prison colonies to expand their territories. Not all the people sent into exile became alienated in their new surroundings. Some adapted by converting to a new religion, or by seizing opportunities in commerce or agriculture.

From ports in the Indonesian archipelago the VOC transported prisoners to the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa. From the French colonies in Indochina 600 prisoners were sent to Gabon on the west coast of Africa and the Congo. The French also sent prisoners from Indochina to French Guiana, New Caledonia, Madagascar, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. High-level political prisoners in the French colonies went to Algeria, Tahiti, and the Marquesas. The British sent Indian convicts to the Andaman Islands which became a penal colony after the Great Indian Revolt of 1857–58. Rebels against British rule in Ceylon were sent to Mauritius.

Prisoners built and fed European empires. Convicts laboured as brick and tile makers, blacksmiths, boatmen, cart drivers and grass cutters, or were engaged in experimental industry and agriculture. Convicts worked in tin mines in Burma, and in Mauritius in silk and cotton production and the cultivation of sugar and coffee.

This historical study on Asia is one of the few that sees fit to include Australia, in this case to illustrate a place that was both colony and penal settlement. In Asia proper we find ourselves in India, Lanka, Java, Singapore, the Malay world, Vietnam, and Burma. Siam is not among the case studies, because it was not colonised, but when the king of Siam visited Java in the early 1870s he saw what might become of him if the British and French decided to take away his crown and carve up his realm. He observed the sultan of Jogjakarta being marched around and guarded by troops. The Javanese sultan displayed the paraphernalia of royalty, but he was a prisoner in a gilded cage, dethroned and demoted within his own country. Native rulers could be packed off to other outposts of empire. Amangkurat III was exiled from Java to Ceylon. The last king of Kandy in Ceylon was sent to Madras. Maharaj Singh was banished from the Punjab, where he was considered a threat to colonial consolidation, and then sent to Singapore. Sultan Hamengkubuwana II of Yogyakarta was exiled to Penang after he opposed the British takeover of Java in 1811. Some exiles became submissive, some were moderate. Some became militant, some were already militant.

The book is not sentimental, but exile, banishment, and forced migration are melancholy topics. I came away empathetic not only with the individuals affected by dire circumstance but also with the authors’ struggles to salvage memories of those uprooted and sent away. Exiles pined for home, and if they were rulers they dreamed of regaining their thrones. Several authors discuss the emotional pain in the exiled life of their subjects. Anand Yang refers to his chapter as a meditation, and Ronit Ricci’s story of the return to Batavia of Amangkurat III’s remains after his death in Ceylon is told with sorrow.

The final essay by Penny Edwards is a fitting end, if not a conclusion, to the volume. Prince Myngoon, the son of a modernising Burmese king in the mid-nineteenth century, was an embodiment of the Burmese monarchy the British had just eradicated. Edwards calls him a trickster who outwitted the British as he darted from Rangoon to Pondicherry to Benares to Saigon. The prince was a subversive figure able to elude colonial administrators trying to keep track of him. His story is shaped by subterfuge that challenged colonial surveillance. Colonial power had its limits.

The book is not divided into sections, a bold decision by the editor assisted by Maria Myutel. Cross references cite other essays within the volume to make comparisons and contrasts, but not in a false or jarring way. The book began life as a workshop, that familiar factory of academic production, and the authors apparently arrived soon enough at a consensus about what to discuss. Clare Anderson’s introduction is a masterful account of exile as a global phenomenon that ties the essays together, and the book’s striking cover depicts wayang figures on a Dutch ship that conveys movement, one of the volume’s themes. No surprise that the International Convention of Asian Scholars this year awarded Exile in Colonial Asia an accolade for the best edited volume.

Readers of this book cannot fail to reflect on today’s accounts of refugees forced from their homelands by repression and civil war. History is present knowledge, and each author in his or her essay reaffirms human possibility in an inhumane world.