Jayati Ghosh

Almost everyone now knows that the world of international finance is not a particularly robust one, nor is it particularly just or fair. But it has just got even weirder and more fragile, if this can be imagined. A recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, refusing to hear an appeal by the government of Argentine against a decision of a lower court on a case relating to its debt restructuring agreement with creditors over a decade ago, is not just a blow against the state and people of Argentina. It has the potential to undermine the entire system of cross-border debt that underlies global capitalism today

The case has its origins in the 1990s, when the government of Carlos Menem fixed the Argentine peso at the value of one U.S. dollar, through a currency board arrangement that restricted base money supply to the amount of external reserves and sought to increase its spending through the build-up of external debt. This was obviously an unsustainable strategy, which exploded in a financial crisis in 2001, bringing on a major devaluation of the currency and a default on around $100 billion of external debt.

In 2005, the government of Nestor Kirchner, which had then managed to revive the economy to some extent, offered its creditors debt swaps that significantly restructured the debts. Since Argentine bonds were anyway trading at a fraction of their face value in the secondary market, this deal, which reduced the value of the debt by nearly 75 per cent, was acceptable to most of the multinational banks and other creditors. (Since unpaid interest is added on to the principal and compounded, the actual face value of the debt in such cases is typically much more than the amount originally borrowed or lent out.) Indeed, creditors holding 93 per cent of government bonds participated in the debt swaps of 2005 and 2010.

However, a tiny minority of creditors held out and refused to accept the negotiated settlement. These then sold their holdings to hedge funds (in this case known as “vulture funds” that take on distressed assets in the hope of recouping a higher value from them). One of the most prominent of these funds in the Argentine case is NML Capital, a subsidiary of Elliot Capital Management, which is run by U.S. billionaire and major Republican party donor Paul Singer. This fund has a history of using aggressive tactics to force struggling sovereign debtors to pay the full value of debts that have already been deeply discounted by the market. In the past, it has successfully sued the governments of Peru and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Sunita Narain

Sixty people died in a building collapse in Chennai earlier this month. There is much more than the municipal incompetence that needs to be fixed to avoid such tragic incidents. This building was located on the Porur lake, a water body that provides services, such as groundwater recharge and flood management, to an otherwise water-starved city. If you care to ask the obvious question how construction was permitted on the wetland, you will get a not-so-obvious response.Wetlands are rarely recorded under municipal land laws, so nobody knows about them. Planners see only land, not water, and greedy builders take over. The water body is filled, buildings are constructed, and a crucial service provider is killed.

It is time we realised that a water body is not an ornamental luxury or a wasted land. A city’s lake is its lifeline
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Kevin Gallagher

Conveniently scheduled at the end of the World Cup, leaders of the BRICS countries travel to Brazil in mid-July for a meeting that presents them with a truly historic opportunity. While in Brazil, the BRICS hope to establish a new development bank and reserve currency pool arrangement.

This action could strike a true trifecta — recharge global economic governance and the prospects for development as well as pressure the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — to get back on the right track.

The two Bretton Woods institutions, both headquartered in Washington, with good reason originally put financial stability, employment and development as their core missions.

That focus, however, became derailed in the last quarter of the 20th century. During the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and the IMF pushed the “Washington Consensus,” which offered countries financing but conditioned it on a doctrine of deregulation.
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John Weeks, Guest Blogger

A previous article of mine on Triple Crisis trashed the arguments for the international trade proposal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and applies as well to the loathsome Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These “partnerships” represent but two more attempts to sell the pernicious nonsense of “free trade”. In my new book, Economics of the 1%, I go to the analytical roots of the neoliberal trade ideology to rubbish the incantation of “gains from (international) trade.”

I recently attended a meeting in London with environmental activists, including a well-known British climate scientist. As a result of that meeting, I realize that my critique of “free trade” was far too timid and narrow. The essential problem is not these attempts by the U.S. bourgeoisie via our government to gain advantage in international markets. The problem is international trade itself. The charts below show why. The two countries with the most exports in 2012 are the United States and China, with Germany and Japan considerably further back (both the U.S. and China over US$2 trillion, Germany at just over US$1.5 trillion).

By no accident, China and the United States are at the top of the pollution list, with Japan #5 and Germany #6. But, “wait,” you say, these are also the largest economies in the world, so the issue is their domestic energy use, not whether what is produced is exported.

Well, actually, No.

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Sara Hsu

In the news, we have heard about China’s need to rebalance its economy, its slowdown in GDP growth, its debt buildup, and its government’s vague outline for economic reform. There is a great deal of uncertainty about where the world’s second largest economy will head in the near future.

So, how can we think about how growth might and should occur in the coming years? From an economist’s perspective, there are three questions that we can ask regarding potential growth industries:

  1. Where is the demand? Or, which buyers have the incomes and potential for repeat purchases of the product or input?
  2. What are industries or niches with a global comparative advantage?
  3. What areas have the fewest institutional or regulatory barriers to growth?

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Nikhil Rao, Juan Montecino, and Gerald Epstein

At the onset of the global financial crisis, many financial institutions that engaged in risky practices were on the verge of bankruptcy as the housing market crashed. Top regulators soon discovered that shocks suffered by large banks spread quickly throughout the financial system and then to the whole economy. Those large firms, colloquially dubbed “too big to fail,” were also highly interconnected. Jane D’Arista, James Crotty, and a few other economists had identified these inter-connections, but most economists and policy makers had remained clueless.

As the crisis worsened, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, New York Fed President Timothy Geithner and others tried to come to grips with what was happening. They started referring to Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and other banks as “systemically important,” though former regulator Bill Black more aptly referred to them as “systemically dangerous”. A systemically important/dangerous institution is one that is so large and well-connected to other firms that shocks it suffers are transmitted to many other participants in that system. When these systemically important firms were failing, taxpayers bore the brunt of the impact as the government was compelled to inject massive amounts of taxpayer funds, or face massive economic losses, damages, and inefficiencies. This, of course, gave rise to the now well-known problem of moral hazard, where actors that do not directly bear the costs of risks are incentivized to pile on more risk. Taking into account the potential effects of systemically important firms, it is easy to understand why they can be closely associated with institutions that are “too big to fail.”

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Matias Vernengo

So the Argentine government decided to negotiate with the Vulture Funds to avoid a default, which is eminent if no agreement is reached, well, basically today [June 30]. This is not necessarily bad news, given the potential consequences of a default. It is also one of the frustrating results of the decision of the very Conservative (and pro-bussiness) Roberts Supreme Court. To preside over the negotiations Judge Griesa chose a Wall Street lawyer (who boasts in his CV to have sued Elliot Spitzer for exceeding his authority in investigating Wall Street fraudsters). Argentina is trying to pay today to the ones that renegotiated, but whether that will happen is still not clear (apparently without success).

Note that the consequences of the default could be dire indeed. It would put more pressure on the exchange rate, lead to further depreciation that would be both inflationary and contractionary, since it would basically reduce real wages. The economy would be forced to continue to grow at very low levels, as it has done since 2011, to avoid a current account crisis. In part, the problem exists even if Argentina does NOT default. Meaning the current account is already close to its limit and the reserves are not sufficiently high (around US$ 28 billions or so), and that’s the reason the government has tried to finish negotiations with creditors that did not enter the previous debt reschedulings, including the Paris Club.

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Patrick Bond

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part one is available here.

Two years ago, the Gaborone Declaration on Natural Capital Accounting was endorsed by ten African governments: Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tanzania. The reason: GDP has “limitations as a measure of well-being and sustainable growth.” Instead, natural capital should from now on be included in “national accounting and corporate planning.”

Even though the World Bank has traditionally lined up in favour of corporate looting of Africa via its “export-led growth” strategies and dogmatic philosophy of economic deregulation, several Bank staff in the “Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services” group played a major role in the Gaborone Declaration. Their view of “adjusted net savings” as an alternative to GDP is instructive.

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Sara Hsu

As China’s economy declines, inequality is growing. A recent study by Yu Xie and Xiang Zhou finds that China’s Gini coefficient surpassed 0.50 in 2010, remaining high through the present period. Despite the decline in investment and production, the sheer number of wealthy is increasing—Forbes states that China had 157 billionaires in 2013. The number of high net worth individuals, individuals with over US$1 million of investable wealth, rose by 17.8% in 2013 to 758,000, according to consultancy Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management.

Rapidly increasing wages in the financial and IT industries, contrasted with stable or slowly increasing wages in most other sectors (for example, utilities, construction, and transportation) has led to a sharp divergence between the income of the average worker and incomes of workers in privileged industries. What is more, the skyrocketing pay of top executives has enriched certain individuals over the masses.

China’s private financial wealth amounts to US$22 trillion, according to the Boston Consulting Group. This is equivalent to well over double China’s GDP in 2013. While the average per capita income was US$6,747 in 2013, Chinese executives averaged well over US$100,000. The poorest workers have also face delayed or partial payment of wages. In many cases, this has led to protests and legal action against employers.

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James K. Boyce

This is the final installment of a five-part series on climate policy adapted from regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce’s March 31 lecture for the Climate Change Series at the University of Pittsburgh Honors College. This installment lays out his case for a cap-and-dividend policy, which Boyce argues would put into practice the “widely held philosophical principle … that we all own the gifts of creation in equal and common measure.”  The first four installments of the series are available herehere, here, and here.

The full lecture and subsequent discussion are available, as streaming video, through the University of Pittsburgh website. Click here or on the image below.

The Case for Cap and Dividend

A carbon price is a regressive tax, one that hits the poor harder than the rich, as a proportion of their incomes. Because fuels are a necessity, not a luxury, they occupy a bigger share of the family budget of low-income families than they do of middle-income families, and a bigger share for middle-income families than for high-income families. As you go up the income scale, however, you actually have a bigger carbon footprint—you tend to consume more fuels and more things that are produced and distributed using fuels. You consume more of everything; that’s what being affluent is about. If you’re low-income, you consume less. So in absolute amounts, if you price carbon, high-income folks are going to pay more than low-income folks.

Well, under a policy with a carbon price, households’ purchasing power is being eroded by that big price increase, that big tax increase. But money is coming back to them in the form of the dividend. Because income and expenditure are so skewed towards the wealthy, the mean—the average amount money coming in from the carbon price and being paid back out in equal dividends—is above the median—the amount that the “middle” person pays. So more than 50% of the people would get back more than they pay in under such a policy. As those prices are going up, then, people will say, “I don’t mind because I’m getting my share back in a very visible and concrete fashion.” I would submit to you that it’s politically kind of fantastical to imagine that widespread and durable public support for a climate policy that rises energy prices will succeed in any other way.

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