A Big Banker’s Belated Change of Heart

Jeff Madrick

Last week, in a CNBC interviewSanford I. Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup, said that America should separate investment banking from commercial banking. This separation, of course, was the prime purpose of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a piece of legislation that Mr. Weill and other bankers had successfully watered down, with Alan Greenspan’s support, before Mr. Weill helped engineer its official demise in 1999. Now, Mr. Weill, the creator of what was once the largest financial conglomerate in the world, suggests that Citigroup and others should be broken up. Banks can no longer “be too big to fail,” he told CNBC.

But what was most eye-catching was Mr. Weill’s claim that the conglomerate model “was right for that time.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Protecting Developing Country Growth from Global Shocks

Stephany Griffith-Jones and Dirk Willem te Velde, guest blogger

The global financial crisis as well as food and fuel price increases have had a great effect on developing countries. Even though there is a common perception that poor countries were relatively unaffected by the 2008-2010 financial crisis, we estimate that sub- Saharan Africa lost around 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (compared with forecasts prior to the onset of the crisis). Contrary to perceptions, sub-Saharan Africa is a net oil importer (although there are of course some major exporters), and small and vulnerable countries (as a group) are net food importers, so high and vulnerable food and oil prices have very negative effects.

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Another Looming Food Crisis

C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh

Once again food prices have reached exorbitant levels in world trade, surpassing previous peaks and creating fears of another major global food crisis of massive proportions. What is particularly shocking this time around is how little has been learned from the last crisis just a few years ago, and how criminally slow the international community and national governments have been to put in place measures that would prevent a recurrence of these crazy fluctuations in prices.

It is not just that public memory is short – the more worrying feature is the denial on the part of policy makers about at least some of the important factors that have caused these dramatic price fluctuations; and the associated and continued refusal to take measures that will address the problem. As the last round of food crisis builds up once again and threatens the lives and material conditions of millions of people across the world, it is imperative to take a close and hard look at the evidence on global food prices and their determinants.

One major problem that prevents clarity of understanding on this matter is the persistent belief that prices in global food markets are still fundamentally determined by changes in real demand and supply…..

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Developing economies slowing down

Martin Khor

Developing countries are now facing an economic slowdown resulting from the Eurozone crisis, with a deterioration in GDP growth, exports and lending conditions.

Developing countries are increasingly being adversely affected by the economic recession in Europe and the slowdown in the United States.

The hope that major emerging economies like China, India and Brazil would continue to have robust growth, de-coupling from Western economies and becoming an alternative engine of global growth has been dashed by recent data showing that they are themselves weakening.

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The Eye of the Currency Storm: Currency war gives way to currency confusion

Ilene Grabel

Through much of 2010 and 2011 many of us watched the unfolding “currency war.” The currency war construct came into vogue after Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega began to complain openly in 2010 about the pressures placed on his economy and currency (and that of other rapidly-growing developing countries) by the cheap credit made available by the US Federal Reserve and other wealthy country central banks. Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, joined the rhetorical fray later in 2012 by calling US President Obama and European leaders on the carpet for what she termed the “monetary tsunami” of hot money coming from rich countries.

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How Wall Street Won and America Lost

Jeff Madrick

In his latest book, Age of Greed, former New York Times economic columnist Jeff Madrick tells how Wall Street triumphed and America paid the price. It’s the story of how, starting in the 1970s, right-wing economics – a mystical cult centered on small government, low taxes and financial deregulation – and human greed teamed up to produce not shared prosperity but obscene economic inequality and financial instability, through the ideas and doings of a bipartisan roster of politicians, financiers, and economists, some obscure, others prominent (hello, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers!). We recently got him on the phone to talk about the triumph of finance and the decline of America in our age of greed.

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Running on Empty: U.S. ethanol policies set to reach their illogical conclusion

Timothy A. Wise

I’m as cynical as the next policy wonk, but sometimes even I am surprised at the perverse outcomes of some of those policies. Take the bizarre scenario outlined in the new agricultural outlook report from the FAO and the OECD regarding the projected rise in ethanol trade – ethanol traded for ethanol – between the United States and Brazil. That’s right, 6.3 billion gallons a year sloshing between the world’s pre-eminent ethanol producers by 2021. And all in the name of the environment, without a single drop helping people or the planet.

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Weather dice is loaded

Sunita Narain

During my weekly conversation with my sister I told her about the unusual searing heat this June, the problems of power cuts and how we are coping in India. She, in turn, told me that in Washington DC, where she lives, there was a terrible storm that damaged her roof and uprooted trees in her garden. They were fortunate that they still had electricity, because most houses in the city were in the dark. She also said it was unbearably hot because the region was in the grip of an unprecedented heat wave. Both of us, living across the oceans, in different countries, with vastly different circumstances, were similarly placed.

Is this, then, what the future holds for us—a changing weather that has no boundaries or preferences. And why are we still so reluctant to make the connection between weather events and a changing climate?

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The Time Bomb of Public Private Partnerships

Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer

The South London Healthcare Trust, which runs three hospitals in south-east London, has recently been put into administration by the UK Secretary of State for Health as it struggles with its debts and deficits (see, for example, PFI will ultimately cost £300bn, Guardian, 5th July 2012). This story has much wider significance than a struggle with the effect of cuts in health expenditure, as much of the blame for the financial plight of this healthcare trust is being put at the door of the costs of the use of the private finance initiative (PFI) for the construction of two of the hospitals managed by the trust. It is also seen as a forerunner for further financial difficulties for many other healthcare trusts arising from the PFI-financed hospitals. It is indicative of the dangers of public partnerships which are costly, inflexible and disguise the financial implications of infrastructure investment.

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Spotlight G-20: Grain Reserves and the Food Price Crisis

Sophia Murphy, guest blogger

With the U.S. government announcement last week that this year’s corn crop is expected to be much smaller due to an extended drought, agricultural commodity markets are yet again headed for high and unstable prices this summer. Is the world better prepared for the shortfall then it was in 2007? Certainly, the United States is not. To cite agricultural journalist Alan Guebert:

Indeed, according to CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation), there is not one teaspoon of sugar, one pound of peanuts, one slice of butter, one wheel of cheese, one bushel of wheat or even one chickpea in USDA’s pantry. CCC has nothing—nada, zip, goose egg—to release into the marketplace to slow or moderate what’s certain to be fast-climbing food prices in the coming months.

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