Italy, Europe, Pakistan and the rest

Been six days since I blogged. Was travelling again on May 30-31. Backlog of blogging builds up. So, this one is a potpourry.

Almost done with reading ‘Final hour’ Sir Martin Rees. Recommend it.

Of course, ‘Adults in the Room’ by Yanis Varoufakis remains the highlight of the year in terms of readings completed. He has a fairly sober piece on Germany (Merkel, in particular) being at the heart of the problems confronting Europe. In his attempt to be politically correct, I think, he has finessed his lines.

Paul Krugman has three tweets on the Italian President denying the Italian election winners the right to form the government by denying them their Finance Minister nominee.

But, Yanis makes this interesting point:

Trump understands one thing well: Germany and the eurozone are at his mercy, owing to their increasing dependence on large net exports to the US and the rest of the world. And this dependence has grown inexorably as a result of the austerity policies that were first tried out in Greece and then implemented in Italy and elsewhere.

Today, I heard Raghuram Rajan in Singapore saying that, one of the reasons behind the austerity policies in the UK was (or, could be) that their banks were too big relative to their economies and that the austerity was an accommodation of the demands of such a big banking sector on the government’s fiscal resources. Same goes for Europe. He was not defending this, however. Rajan was delivering the 9th MAS lecture today in Singapore.

Nonetheless, I am not advancing this either as an explanation or justification for the ‘Troika’ to impose austerity – and that too with utter hypocrisy (I am yet to write a full review of ‘Adults in the Room’) – on Greece. Simply recording something I heard today related to the word, ‘austerity’.

Inter alia, UK Government sold some of its stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland at a hefty loss today.

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has such a massive conflict of interest with what he is doing at the ‘Evening Standard’ that I do not know where to begin. Read this to figure it out yourself. Equally, I am not surprised that Google took up his offer. They should be embarrassed but will they be?

The implications of this story are staggering and overwhelm me. How is India, for example, going to find employment for its youth with or without formal education? Is technology such a holy grail that it should be pursued, no matter what? That is where I find Sir Martin Rees thoughtful and humane. See the beginning of the post.

Prof. Atif Mian at Princeton has a series of fourteen tweets on development, the vicious poverty trap and how public policy and prejudices make it more vicious. First tweet here.

Australia charges Citi and Deutsche Bank for cartel-like behaviour in their underwriting of ANZ shares a decade ago. The authorities have made a criminal charge and that is serious stuff. Banks will be banks, I suppose.

A damning verdict on American universities by Rana Foroohar. They are now hedge funds, she says. Ed Luce wishes she were not right. He concurs.

A powerful way to understand what we (humans) have wrought to the climate. Found it via the twitter handle of Atif Mian.

Gulzar shared this pithy and perceptive blog post by Tyler Cowen on how Trump’s foreign policy might outlast him in America.

This should tell us why Europe has not earned Trump’s respect.

A good summary of Pakistan’s acute ‘Balance of Payments’ situation.

More later.

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Stuff that happened

I was at the MINT Asia-HT Leadership Summit held in Singapore on Friday, 13th April. Found Chandrababu Naidu impressive in terms of presenting his views. Of course, he was selling too hard. Nitin Gadkari was disarming and had a smiling disposition. Wish the Indian Prime Minister copied some of that. Tony Blair delivered the keynote speech after lunch. He was impressive. Had a self-deprecating humour. He is partially responsible for the mess that Iraq still is. But, one has to admit that he did come across as a thoughtful guy.

He said that politicians enter office most popular and least capable and leave office least popular and most capable!

He also recalled how Bill Clinton deftly dodged a reporter’s question on whether he was speaking to the next British Prime Minister when he was meeting with Tony Blair, then the leader of the Opposition. Either a YES or a NO would have been bad answers. Clinton was facing his own re-election in 1996 in a few months when this incident happened. He deftly said that he hoped that Tony Blair was speaking to the next President of the United States! That is really on-the-feet thinking and diplomacy.

India’s former foreign secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar made some pertinent observations on the state of play between Asia and West. He said that if Asian nations favoured a multipolar world, they should work towards multipolarity in Asia, to begin with. Second, he said that it might be premature to write off the West. I quite agree with both.

That said, writing this on Saturday, after the ‘surprise’ America-led missile attack again on Syria, one year after the last attack and the last charge that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, I find myself nodding in appreciation that China has opposed the Western air strikes. As the British MP George Galloway told a reporter, there is no due process. In any case, how can the Western media that criticses Trump at every opportunity suddenly finds something to appove of? In their eyes, how does this one become right? The response of the journalist in this interview to the former British General is simply stunning.

Tucker Carlson of Fox News is worth watching in these two videos.

MarkGB, in his blog, has this explanation as to the real motivation behind the missile attack on Syria:

Of course your government would lie to you, they are lying to you right now. This has nothing to do with saving lives – bombing kills people. This is about preventing the Syrian government regaining total control of the country. It’s about what it’s always been about – breaking the country up, taking the oil, putting the Qatari pipeline through Syria to rival Russia’s dominance of the European oil market. It’s about keeping the region de-stabilsed so that the Apartheid regime in Tel-Aviv can take more of the energy resources in the Golan Heights…and sooner or later…take the water resources in southern Lebanon. [Link]

Asia in the fast lane?

In a piece, he wrote for ‘Project Syndicate’, Prof. Kaushik Basu, former Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India made the following prediction:

in 50 years, I predict that the world economy is likely (though not guaranteed) to be thriving, with global GDP growing by as much as 20% per year, and income and consumption doubling every four years or so. [Link]

I am happy to take the other side of the bet, if there is one.

But more than that, what caught my eye was this:

From 1500 to 1820, according to data collected by the late Angus Maddison, the world’s annual growth rate was just 0.32%, with large sections of the world experiencing no growth at all….Industrial Revolution, which lifted average annual global growth to 2.25% from 1820 to 2003?

The Angus Maddison database at the website of Groningen Growth and Development Centre did not give me information for the year 1500. Second, it only gave me per capita GDP for individual countries and regions measured in 1990 PPP GK (Geary-Khamis) dollars. The Excel sheet I could download had information starting only from the year 1820 (see link above).

On that basis, world per capita GDP (1990 GK $) experienced a CAGR of 1.27% from 1820 to 2010. Asia’s number 1.26%. For the world, the pre-WW I (1820-1913) growth rate was 0.84% and post-WW I (1913-2010), including the war periods, the growth rate was 1.69%. Double.

For Asia, the difference is more striking. The comparable figures were 0.15% and 2.34%.

It gets even more interesting if one split the data into two periods, 1820-1950 and 1950-2010. For the world, the growth rate in per capita GDP (in 1990 GK $) for the first 130 years since 1820 was 0.84% per annum. For the next 60 years, it was 2.21%.

It is more striking for Asia. The comparable figures are 0.10% and 3.84% respectively. Amazing speed of growth and catch-up. Put it down to Japan and China, post-1950. Roughly, the first thirty years from 1950 was the story of Japan and the next thirty years, it has been the story of China. What comes next? Who comes next?

Singapore weather and climate

Just caught up with the Singapore annual climate assessment reports of 2015 and 2016.

Highlights:

2015:

There has been a warming trend over Singapore over a number of decades. The
average rise is 0.25ºC per decade from 1948 to 2015. This is higher than the global
warming rate of 0.12ºC over a similar period (1951 to 2012).

(If one looked at figure 9 on page 7, we would notice that Singapore’s warming trend accelerated from the 1980s. Price to pay for ‘development’)

2015 was the joint warmest and 2nd driest year on record for Singapore. 2015 set new monthly records for the warmest July and December; and tied the records for warmest October and November.

For Singapore, 2015 tied with 1997 and 1998 as the warmest years on record. Eight of the ten warmest years in Singapore have occurred in the 21st century and all have occurred since 1997.

Increasing frequency of warm nights and decreasing frequency of cooler nights. In this regard, 2015 and 2016 were literally off the charts! (See figures 10A and 10B in 2015 and figures 13 and 14 in 2016).

Singapore has a tropical climate which is warm and humid, with abundant annual rainfall of about 2400mm. Generally, the eastern parts of Singapore receive less rainfall
compared to other parts of the island. (Damn!)

2016:

2016, with a mean annual temperature of 28.4°C, is Singapore’s warmest year on record since 1929. This is 0.1°C higher than the previous joint record set in the years 2015, 1998 and 1997. All months in 2016 recorded mean temperatures above the 1981-2010 climate normal. With on-going global warming, new record temperatures for Singapore are increasingly more likely. (Oh, well!)

Singapore’s temperature displays a stronger long-term warming beyond average global land temperature. Being a city state, Singapore has been impacted by other human activities influencing the local climate. For example, urbanization cannot be easily identified as it is not possible to measure what the temperature increase would be without the urbanisation effect which is contained within the station network observations. Thus, although greenhouse warming has contributed to the rise in temperature over Singapore, it does not account for all of the increase; urbanization has played a role in the warming over Singapore as well, as measured by MSS’ network of instruments. Most of the additional warming however (when compared to the global warming over land) appears to have occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s.

(One can have a day-long seminar or longer on the meaning and overall costs and benefits of economic growth, urbanisation, etc.).

Shame offensive

Neville Maxwell makes no attempt to hide his distaste for India. But, what is amusing is that he does not take into account contextual evidence of China’s behaviour towards other countries in the region, in the last several years.

See this brief from Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies on the exclusion of the Thailand Prime Minister from the Belt and Road summit.

This story suggests that the standoff between India and China near the tri-border with Bhutan is more a pressure on India to accept changing realities. That is realistic, compared to the Maxwell story above. But, are the realities really changing?

Frankly, China’s economy is far from healthy. It is brittle and vulnerable. Big time. It is overestimating its strength and underestimating American resilience, in my view.

STCMA – 19 July 2017

(1) Shock rise in China’s shadow banking enrages Xi Jinping. Quite why it should be shocking is unclear to this blogger. The interesting tidbit in the story is this:

… the shadow banking nexus is bigger than all other regular activities of the lenders put together. Regulators had thought it was equivalent to 42% of on-balance sheet business at the end of 2015. They have revised this drastically, admitting that it reached 110% by the end of last year.

(2)  Have the Economic Constraints on China’s Geostrategic Ambitions diminished? That is an interesting question to ask. But, as Brad Setser note,s there is room to disagree with the author’s recommendations.

(3) Headlines that tell the story together. No need for lengthy analysis

China’s Xi orders debt crackdown for state-owned groups [Link]

Chinese purchases of overseas ports top USD20bn in past year [Link]

(4) Barry Eichengreen on the 20th anniversary of the Asian crisis:

… if the emergence of China signifies how much has changed, it is also a reminder of how much remains the same. China is still wedded to a model that prioritizes a target rate of growth, and it still relies on high investment to hit that target. The government maintains liquidity provision at whatever levels are needed to keep the economic engine humming, in a manner dangerously reminiscent of what Thailand was doing before its crisis.

Because China’s government relaxed restrictions on offshore borrowing faster than was prudent, Chinese enterprises with links to the government have high levels of foreign debt. And there is still a reluctance to let the currency float, something that would discourage Chinese firms from accumulating such large foreign-currency-denominated obligations.

China is now at the same point as its Southeast Asian neighbors 20 years ago: like them, it has outgrown its inherited growth model. We have to hope that Chinese leaders have studied the Asian crisis. Otherwise they are doomed to repeat it.

(5) The real Takeaways from the weekend meeting in China:

(i) Support the real economy
(ii) reduce lending costs for the real economy
(iii) relegating financial opening up and currency reforms to the backburner – no more liberalisation. Concern over capital flows dominates.

The rest is all smoke and mirrors.

(6) Singapore blinks. [Link]

(7) Bill Gates cautions Europe on its open door immigration policy. Good stuff from the man. Speaking the truth.

(8) China’s Growth masks Unresolved Debt and Real-Estate Problems. Who knew?

(9) California confronts solar power glut with novel marketplace

(10) Conviction of former President of Brazil. I think Brazil is doing a far better job of cleaning up its politics than many other countries, including the so-called developed countries.

There is a big tale in this story

Revisited Chris Balding’s Twitter handle after a while. Came across this gem. (Arrived at this through this tweet)

According to new research based on data obtained under a Freedom of Information request by Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu, research analysts at Credit Suisse, foreigners are buying property at an annualised rate of $8 billion per annum, equating to 25% of new supply in New South Wales and 16% in Victoria in the past 12 months….

… The bombshell figures suggest that, along with local investors, the level of foreign investor activity in the housing markets has been a significant driver of the price growth of recent years, and the overwhelming majority — a staggering 80% in NSW — is coming from China.

Chinese buyers are evidently not having any problem in finding money to pay for the purchases even though Australian banks are not extending credit and that there are alleged capital controls imposed by China.

Now, if Australia were to impose restrictions on Chinese buying of Australian property, it would be dubbed anti-globalisation and anti-foreigner. But, that would be a perfectly legitimate response because this additional demand is making homes unaffordable for Australians. Now, if ordinary Australians therefore vote for a politician who clamps down foreign ownership of Australian property, would he necessarily be a reckless and dangerous demagogue?

Would commentators argue that such real estate bubbles and unaffordability are necessary evils for keeping the world open? How many ordinary people would subscribe to such a philosophical stance? How many ‘philosophers’ would take such a stance if they were personally affected?