EU Elite on the (Far) Right Side of History

By John Weeks

There seems some disagreement as to whether Nero played the violin or the harp as Rome burned in AD 64.  Whatever happened 1,954 years ago, there was considerable complacent fiddling in Brussels after the 4 March Italian election.  To replace the centrist government of neoliberal Matteo Renzi Italian voters cast 60% of their ballots for two anti-EU parties, the aggressively xenophobic coalition of Lega neo-fascists and the anti-immigrant 5 Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S).

Confounding the hope and expectation of the EU elite, this pair formed their misbegotten government in Rome in April.  The anti-EU rhetoric of these two parties, plus their promise to breech EU budget rules – end fiscal austerity – ended the fiddling and set off alarm bells.

The EU elite quickly moved to prevent this anti-establishment government from rocking the Brussels neoliberal consensus.  The nominally neutral Italian president refused to accept the first proposed coalition government of the Lega-M5S.  The refusal did refer to thee proposed racist immigration policies, nor to its aggressively anti-Roma policies.   Unacceptable to the president that the person nominated for finance minister, who had long standing opposition to the euro (see commentary by Yanis Varoufakis).

Should anyone miss the implied priories of the Italian establishment, the president sought to form an interim government that would continue Brussels-designed austerity policies. To lead that government the president chose a former functionary of the International Monetary Fund.  This affront to the electoral process proved short-lived.  Soon the far right Lega and eclectic right M5S were back in government with a different, but no less anti-austerity, finance minister.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Mexican Farmers Are Hopeful About López Obrador’s Win

By Timothy A. Wise

The victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his Morena party in Sunday’s Mexican elections has stunned international observers. The center-left insurgency received an estimated double the votes of its nearest rival in a multi-party presidential race, winning more than 50 percent of the vote, several important governorships including the first woman to run Mexico City, and an absolute majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. However the final tally ends up, López Obrador has a resounding mandate for change.

Many observers have interpreted the results as a vote against rampant corruption; given the pervasive graft and influence-peddling in Mexico, López Obrador’s clean, austere reputation was certainly a factor for voters. But economic factors also motivated many voters, especially farmers. The majority of Mexicans have been left behind in a failing strategy to hitch the country’s fortunes to open trade with the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

As one recent report summarized, “Poverty is worse than a quarter century ago, real wages are lower than in 1980, inequality is worsening, and Mexico ranks 18th of 20 Latin American countries in terms of income growth per person in 21st century.” It is hard to imagine worse outcomes in a country with privileged and historic access to the largest capital and consumer markets in the world—the U.S.

Among those rejoicing now over López Obrador’s victory are Mexico’s farmers, who have been largely abandoned by the government while unregulated imports of below-cost maize, wheat, pork, and other agricultural goods flooded Mexican markets under NAFTA. (See my report.) After the agreement took effect in 1994, maize farmers endured a 400-percent increase in imports of U.S. maize priced 19-percent below its costs of production, resulting in a punishing 66-percent drop in producer prices. Producers of other farm goods faced similar pressures, forcing many to become migrant workers in the strawberry fields of multinational growers or migrate to the U.S. without documentation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Global Financial Governance Ten Years After the Crisis

The financial crisis of 2008, which resulted in the near meltdown of the world’s financial and banking system, has left a lot of questions unanswered regarding reform and whether enough has been done to avoid another similar crisis. A leading authority on financial governance, Ilene Grabel, Professor of  International Finance at the University of Denver, spoke to C. J. Polychroniou about where things stand today ten years after the biggest capitalist crisis since the Great Depression. (Cross-posted at Global Policy.)

C. J. Polychroniou: It’s been ten years since the outbreak of the financial crisis, and the verdict on the effect of that crisis on global financial governance remains largely ambiguous.  Nonetheless, all this may soon change as a result of the publication of your recent book titled When Things Don’t Fall Apart: Global Financial Governance and Developmental Finance in an Age of Productive Incoherence.  In this book, you argue that much has in fact changed since the East Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 and especially since the global financial crisis of 2008. In what ways has global financial governance changed over the last couple of decades?

Ilene Grabel: I argue that the contradictory effects of the East Asian financial crisis (EAFC) of 1997-8 laid groundwork for consequential (albeit paradoxical) shifts in several dimensions of global financial governance and developmental finance that deepened during and since the global crisis. The EAFC solidified neoliberalism through the leverage granted to external and domestic actors who had been previously unable to secure liberal reform prior to the crisis. The EAFC also inaugurated a gradual, uneven rethinking of capital flow liberalization. In addition, the crisis gave the IMF a vast new client base. But the crisis was ultimately costly to the institution because its crisis response led EMDEs to implement strategies (such as reserve accumulation) to escape its orbit. Reserve accumulation was enabled by the fortuitous global economic conditions that followed the EAFC.  The Asian Monetary Fund (AMF) proposal catalyzed by the EAFC was quickly scuttled by tensions between Japan and China, tensions that were adroitly exploited by the IMF and the U.S. government, both of which strongly opposed the AMF. Though the AMF proposal failed, the crisis ultimately bore fruit in the region and beyond. Not least, it yielded the creation of a currency reserve pooling arrangement among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, China, and South Korea (ASEAN+3). More broadly, the EAFC stimulated in other regions of the developing world an interest in regional mechanisms that could deliver countercyclical liquidity support and long-term project finance through institutions that are, to some degree or other, independent of the Bretton Wood Institutions (BWIs, namely, the IMF and World Bank). In sum, the EAFC marked the beginning of the end of a unified neoliberal regime.

Read the rest of this entry »

Warnings of a New Global Financial Crisis

By Martin Khor

Cross-posted at Inter Press Service.

There are increasing warnings of an imminent new financial crisis, not only from the billionaire investor George Soros, but also from eminent economists associated with the Bank of International Settlements, the bank of central banks.

The warnings come at a moment when there are signs of international capital flowing out of some emerging economies, including Turkey, Argentina and Indonesia.

Some economists have been warning that the boom-bust cycle in capital flows to developing countries will cause disruption, when there is a turn from boom to bust.

All it needs is a trigger, which may then snowball as investors in herd-like manner head for the exit door. Their behaviour is akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy: if enough speculative investors think this is the time to move back to the global financial capitals, then the exodus will happen, as it did in previous “bust” phases of the cycle.

Read the rest of this entry »

Growing Resistance: The Rise and Fall of Another Mozambique Land Grab

By Timothy A. Wise

The rice fields of Xai-Xai, three hours up the coast from Maputo, are vast, coming into view as we descended onto the alluvial plain from the villages that dot the hills above. They stretch across the plains toward the Indian Ocean as far as the naked eye can see, in the flat green monochrome of a rice plantation. Mozambique was one of the leading targets of large-scale agricultural investment projects, widely denounced as “land-grabs” by critics. Community resistance had prevented most such projects in Mozambique, including ProSAVANA, the controversial Brazil-Japan initiative, which was slated to be the largest land grab in Africa. As I’d seen in the field, it seemed to grow not crops but only rumors, threats, government proclamations, and community resistance.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Blank Check for Development Banks

By Kevin P. Gallagher and Jörg Haas
Originally published at Project Syndicate
Global financial leaders convened in Washington, DC, last month for the annual spring meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. This year, they asked the world’s taxpayers to grant the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) more capital to fill global infrastructure gaps.

Increasing the capital – and optimizing the existing capital – of the world’s MDBs is of the utmost importance. But doing so makes sense only if that financing is used to move the world economy in a direction consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, the world needs to invest an additional $3 trillion per year in sustainable infrastructure in order to keep global warming below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels – the target enshrined in both the SDGs and the Paris agreement. Today, however, infrastructure contributes heavily to global warming, with about 70% of all greenhouse-gas emissions coming from its construction and operation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Do All Communities Have Equal Access to Energy Efficiency in Massachusetts?

By Liz Stanton

Massachusetts’s electric and gas providers’ draft plans to make energy efficiency measures available to consumers were released for public review on April 30, 2018. Massachusetts’ Green Communities Act, signed into law in 2008, requires electric and gas distributors to provide “all cost-effective” energy efficiency measures. That means any program, product, or policy—from insulation to LED lightbulbs to letters sent to consumers comparing their energy use to their neighbors’—must be provided to households and businesses, so long as it will cost the state less than the cost of the energy it saves. If it’s cost effective, distributors must make it available to their customers.

This far-reaching efficiency policy has led Massachusetts to rank first in the United States in energy efficiency for seven years running: a commendable achievement. However, Massachusetts state law places no obligation on the electric and gas distributors regarding how cost-effective energy savings are distributed across communities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking International Environmental Agreements

By Edward B. Barbier

In recent article in Science, How to pay for saving biodiversity”, my co-authors and I argue that it is time to rethink the global approach to saving the world’s remaining biodiversity and habitats.

Twenty-five years after establishing the Convention on Biological Diversity, the world is facing “biological annihilation”, according to a scientific study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year.  The problem is mainly due to lack of funding.  Governments and international organizations alone cannot fund the investments needed to reverse the decline in biological populations and habitats on land and in oceans.  For example, it will take around $100 billion a year to protect the earth’s broad range of animal and plant species, and current funding fluctuates around $4-10 billion annually.

In our article, we follow others’ lead and propose creating a new Global Agreement on Biodiversity (GAB) modeled after the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord.  But instead of focusing on just governments as parties to the agreement, we argue that the corporations in industries that benefit from biodiversity should also formally join the GAB and contribute financially to it.

Read the rest of this entry »

China’s Embrace Of An Intellectual Property System Imposed On It By The United States

According to Peter Drahos, Professor of Law and Governance in the Law Department at the European University Institute in Florence, the two biggest scientific powers, the U.S. & China, need to rethink the world’s intellectual property-based innovation system to safeguard citizen interests or else this privatization of technology, an arms race mentality in science, will produce a dark, dystopian future none of us really want.  Drahos was interviewed by Lynn Fries of the Real News Network. Find the original TRNN post, which contains links to related stories, here.

China’s Bid To Assist Assad In Syrian Reconstruction Is About Security and Profit

By Sara Hsu

Even as the West favors airstrikes against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and steers clear of supporting the president in rebuilding Syria, China has stated that it is interested in reconstructing the war-torn nation, and Chinese firms are lining up to become part of the process. The reconstruction cost is expected to amount to $250 billion, according to the United Nations. China’s motivations are apolitical, and are not aimed at opposing the policies of Western nations. Rather, China is propelled by economic and security reasons to take part in rebuilding Syria.

Chinese firms interested in reconstruction include infrastructure construction companies such as China Energy Engineering Corporation and China Construction Fifth Engineering Division. In addition, a Syria Day Expo held in Beijing was attended last year by hundreds of Chinese infrastructure investment firms. At the First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects held last summer, officials pledged $2 billion for the reconstruction process. Chinese energy firms might have benefited as well, since before the Syrian war began, Syria’s main energy contracts were held with Western energy companies such as Shell and Total. However, Russia has been given exclusive rights to produce oil and gas in Syria.

Read the rest of this entry »