Sunita Narain

While climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, traditional system of flood management through lakes and connected water channels has been forgotten. This makes flood and devastation inevitable.

The floodwaters devastating large parts of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir caught the people and the government unawares, it is said. But why should this be so? We know every year, like clockwork, India grapples with months of crippling water shortage and drought and then months of devastating floods. This year offers no respite from this annual cycle but something new and strange is afoot. Each year, the floods are growing in intensity. Each year, the rain events get more variable and extreme. Each year, economic damage increases and development gains are lost in one season of flood or severe drought.

Scientists now say conclusively that there is a difference between natural variability of weather and climate change, a pattern brought about by human emissions that is heating up the atmosphere faster than normal. Scientists who study the monsoons tell us that they are beginning to make that distinction between normal monsoon and what is now showing up in abnormal extreme rain events. Remember, the monsoons are known to be capricious and confounding. Even then scientists can see the change.

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John Miller, Guest Blogger

John Miller is a professor of economics at Wheaton College (Norton, Mass.). This post appeared originally in the September/October issue of Triple Crisis’s sister publication Dollars & Sense , as Miller’s regular “Up Against the Wall Street Journal” column.

After Horror, Change? Taking Stock of Conditions in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory building, just outside of Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, collapsed—killing 1,138 workers and inflicting serious long-term injuries on at least 1,000 others.

While the collapse of Rana Plaza was in one sense an accident, the policies that led to it surely were not. Bangladesh’s garment industry grew to be the world’s second largest exporter, behind only China’s, by endangering and exploiting workers. Bangladesh’s 5,000 garment factories paid rock-bottom wages, much lower than those in China, and just half of those in Vietnam. One foreign buyer told The Economist magazine, “There are no rules whatsoever that can not be bent.” Cost-saving measures included the widespread use of retail buildings as factories—including at Rana Plaza—adding weight that sometimes exceeded the load-bearing capacity of the structures.

As Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, testified before Congress, “the danger to workers in Bangladesh has been apparent for many years.” The first documented mass-fatality incident in the country’s export garment sector occurred in December 1990. In addition to those killed at Rana Plaza, more than 600 garment workers have died in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2005. After Rana Plaza, however, Bangladesh finally reached a crossroads. The policies that had led to the stunning growth of its garment industry had so tarnished the “Made in Bangladesh” label that they were no longer sustainable.

But just how much change has taken place since Rana Plaza? That was the focus of an International Conference at Harvard this June, bringing together government officials from Bangladesh and the United States, representatives of the Bangladesh garment industry, the international brands, women’s groups, trade unions, the International Labor Organization (ILO), and monitoring groups working in Bangladesh.

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Sara Hsu

Recently, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba officially listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the United States, and not on the Shenzhen or Shanghai stock exchanges in mainland China, to the chagrin of many yield-seeking Chinese citizens. As Alibaba’s listing underscores, China’s domestic stock exchanges remain unappealing IPO destinations. Why? Excessive listing rules and procedures, coupled with inadequate supervision and a significant presence of fraud and insider trading, have rendered the Chinese stock markets a second-best choice for competitive and innovative companies. But there’s potential for it to become a more attractive option for companies like Alibaba.

China’s stock market is the third largest in the world by market capitalization, weighing in at $3.7 trillion in 2013. However, despite recent reform proposals for a streamlined registration-based listing system that would allow companies that meet criteria for making a public offering (instead of the current system in which the China Securities Regulatory Commission approves IPOs), China’s stock market remains one of the poorest-performing in the world. This can be seen in the MSCI Index, calculated by Morgan Stanley, and even in the Shanghai Composite Index.

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Martin Khor

External debt is rearing its ugly head again. Many developing countries are facing reduced export earnings and foreign reserves.

No country would like to have to seek the help of the International Monetary Fund to avoid default.

That could lead to years of austerity and high unemployment, and at the end of it, the debt stock might even get worse.

Low growth, recession, social and political turmoil are probable. This has been experienced by many African and Latin American countries in the past, and by several European countries presently.

When no solution is found, some countries then restructure their debts. Since there is no international system for an orderly debt workout, the country would have to take its own initiative.

The results are usually messy, as it faces a loss of market reputation and the creditors’ anger. But the country swallows the pill, rather than have more turmoil at home.

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By Jesse Griffiths, Guest Blogger

Jesse Griffiths is the director of Eurodad, European Network on Debt and Development.

The communiqué from this weekend’s G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Cairns tried to paper over increasingly evident cracks in the global economy, trumpeted an OECD initiative to reduce tax dodging which is not as good as it seems, continued to focus on privately funded infrastructure, and suggested G20 impotence in tackling big problems including too-big-to-fail banks and global governance reform.

The global economy: fragile and faltering

The G20 cannot hide the continued high levels of fragility, huge unemployment, and glaring inequality that continue to characterise the global economic situation. The finance ministers’ communiqué notes that, “the global economy still faces persistent weaknesses in demand, and supply side constraints hamper growth.” Recent reports that companies are buying their own stocks at record rates, helping stock market bubbles build rather than investing for future growth, is one reason the ministers “are mindful of the potential for a build-up of excessive risk in financial markets,” though they promise no new measures to tackle this.

Instead, their response has been to trumpet the promise they made in Sydney earlier in the year to “develop new measures that aim to lift our collective GDP by more than 2 per cent by 2018.” They get the seal of approval from the IMF and OECD’s “preliminary analysis, ” which, at three pages long, has so little detail it is impossible to assess its accuracy. Interestingly, according to the crystal ball gazing that inevitably characterises such attempts to assess global impacts of national policy changes, “product market reforms aimed at increasing productivity are the largest contributor to raising GDP,” which appears to largely mean changes in trade policies in emerging markets. The next biggest impact comes from public infrastructure investment commitments – highlighting the problems with the G20’s focus on private investments in infrastructure, discussed below.

Brief reference is made to the problem that dominated the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in February: developing countries’ concern about how the gradual ending of quantitative easing and possible future rises in interest rates in the developed world will affect capital inflows and outflows, which can create huge problems for them. The rich countries that dominate the G20 cannot offer more than the promise to be “mindful of the impacts on the global economy as [monetary] policy settings are recalibrated.”

Despite the fact that Argentina – currently fighting a rearguard action to prevent a US court ruling from undermining a decade of debt restructuring – has a seat on the G20, the issue of permanent mechanisms to deal with debt crises continues to be off the table. Instead it was picked up by the UN, which passed a resolution in September to negotiate a “multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring,” which could be a game changer for how sovereign debts are managed, offering the possibility of preventing and resolving debt crises: a consistent plague for many countries and a huge problem for the global economy.

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C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh

Rising inequality is now a concern on everyone’s minds, even amongst the rich. Unequal societies are actually more unpleasant and dangerous for everyone, not just for those deprived by the system. High and rising inequality can be dysfunctional for the economy: for example, many now argue that growing inequality and the suppression of wage incomes combined with the effects of financial deregulation to generate the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and that the subsequent poor performance of most economies is related to the slow and limited recovery of labour incomes. Policy makers seem to recognise that addressing inequalities is important not only for justice and social cohesion, but also for continued material progress.

This may partly explain the recent proliferation of academic studies on global and national inequalities, as well as the numerous reports on the subject that have come from UN organisations and other multilateral organisations. The huge media attention devoted to one academic study—Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century—is a sign of the times. The spotlight that is shone on the rising share of incomes of the rich and the substantial empirical data that have been brought to bear on establishing this are indeed welcome. But that book, like many other recent analyses of inequality, tends to ascribe some sort of inevitability to the process, as the result of the working of some inexorable economic forces. Piketty, for example, argues that there is a general tendency for wealth and income inequalities to increase because the rate of return on capital tends to exceed the rate of growth of the economy. There are various analytical concerns with this formulation, which relies on assumptions of full employment over the process of economic expansion and returns to factors like capital being determined by their marginal productivity (itself a problematic concept that is also impossible to measure).

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Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer

A number of changes have been taken or proposed as a result of the financial crisis of August 2007 and the “Great Recession” that are worth discussing in terms of the euro crisis. Most important, though, are the changes of the period between late 2011 and 2012: strict budget rules, banking oversight stripped from national governments might make the European Central Bank (ECB) become “lender of last resort.” We concentrate on the most recent ones at some length before we reach conclusions as to whether the euro has been saved from the euro crisis.

The European Union (EU) summit meeting, 28/29 June 2012, took a number of decisions: banking licence for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) that would give access to ECB funding and thus greatly increase its firepower; banking supervision by the ECB; a “growth pact,” which would involve issuing project bonds to finance infrastructure. Two long-term solutions are proposed: one is a move towards a banking union and a single euro-area bank deposit guarantee scheme; another is the introduction of eurobonds and eurobills. Germany has resisted the latter, arguing that it would only contemplate such action only under a full-blown fiscal union; not much has been implemented in any case.

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Edward B. Barbier, A Global Strategy for Protecting Vulnerable Coastal Populations, Science. Based on an earlier Triple Crisis blog post.

Gerald Epstein, Tom Schlesinger, and Matias Vernengo, Banking, Monetary Policy and the Political Economy of Financial Regulation: Essays in the Tradition of Jane D’Arista, Edward Elgar. See this blog post by Gerald Epstein on the contemporary relevance of the thought of Jane D’Arista.

Jayati Ghosh, India Faces Criticism for Blocking Global Trade Deal, But is it Justified? The Guardian.

Sunita Narain, India’s Double Challenge, Down to Earth.

Leonce Ndikumana, International Tax Cooperation and Implications of Globalization, Political Economy Research Institute.

Matias Vernengo, Independence and Monetary Unions, Naked Keynesianism.

John Weeks, Guest Blogger

John Weeks is author of Economics of the 1%: How mainstream economics serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy, Anthem Press.

Some older readers might recall that during 2010-2013 politicians and the media manifested great anxiety over the unmanageable level of the deficit and a disastrously high public debt. Prominent among the deficit/debt Cassandras were a Republican Congressman by the name of Paul Ryan and neo-Ayn-Randian Senator Rand Paul. (Paul Ryan, Rand Paul—could they be the same person cleverly occupying the House and the Senate simultaneously? The possibility cannot be ruled out.)

Representative Ryan contemplates the fiscal cliff in 2012? (Detail from the painting “Wanderer above a sea of fog.”) Turns out there was nothing for him to see.

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Ali Kadri

This is the final installment of a five-part series by regular Triple Crisis contributor Ali Kadri, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment (Anthem Press).

The series is based on an interview he granted to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics (LSE). The original interview is available here. The previous parts as they appeared on Triple Crisis, with Dr. Kadri’s revisions and additions, are available here, here, here, and here.

The Laboratory for Advanced Research on the Global Economy [part of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics] has as its objectives to provide a hub for creative work across disciplines and [to proceed] from theory to practice on issues central to concerns about justice under conditions of globalisation. How might the Lab’s mandate help inform your research?

The Lab anchors studies of development in the necessity to observe human rights as part of the broader picture to which societies may aspire in their day to day existence. The observance of human rights is not a luxury, but rather an obligation that states ‘must’ adhere to under international law. The overwhelming majority of states have ratified the international covenants on economic and social rights and the right to development. Yet, international law is the treaty attendant on the sovereignty of states. Sovereignty in turn is the rule and security of a dominant social class. Nations, such as those of the Arab world, whose working class security and sovereignty are voided by an alliance of international capital and their own merchant-bourgeoisie, can neither join a community of nations nor observe the application of the right to development in their favour.

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