Inequality is of concern for at least three reasons. First, lower inequality per se is an objective for a decent society. Second, lower inequality improves the efficiency of economic growth in achieving poverty reduction. Third, high inequality impedes growth itself, through its impact on social cohesion and the investment climate.
"You need to have the ability to delay gratification. You have to focus and you have to have a clear mind.”
- Zhang Lei, Chairman and CEO of Hillhouse Capital Management, one of the largest equities investment firms in Asia, speaking on his longterm investment strategy. Hillhouse, based in Beijing, typically invests in consumer, internet and media, medical treatment and healthcare, advanced manufacturing and commodity related sectors and manages $10 billion for leading endowments, sovereign funds, pensions and family offices. Zhang also serves as a board member for several Asian companies, including Jingdong (formerly 360Buy), Blue Moon, Qunar and MNC/Global Mediacom.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Three reasons investors are beginning to take sustainability seriously
Most of the ingredients for a healthy, secure, and fulfilling existence come to us from nature. Food, clean water, pollination, and natural hazard protection are all essential goods and services that underpin our economy and secure our wellbeing. But business models that exploit these benefits unsustainably are intensifying pressure on our planet's natural resources, putting their future – and ours – in jeopardy. How can we relieve this pressure before it is too late? As a first step, we need to recognise that rapidly declining natural systems are bad news for business. There is a two-way street between the economy and the environment: businesses damage the environment, and the damaged environment then creates risks to the bottom lines of businesses. But why should members of the investment community care?
Does transparency improve governance? Reviewing evidence from 16 experimental evaluations
Journalist's Resource- Harvard Kennedy School
The idea that transparency can make institutions more effective and provide greater accountability and better results for the public seems uncontroversial on the surface. But scholars and bureaucrats who have been involved in the wave of transparency initiatives over the past decade continue to debate the particular merits of various approaches. Some commentators have been troubled that as a reaction to scrutiny, malfeasance and inefficiency could increasingly be kept hidden and transparency could erode public trust in institutions and personal privacy. The many types of transparency initiatives around the globe are often confused, making sharp distinctions all the more essential.
“The most calamitous failures of prediction usually have a lot in common. We focus on those signals that tell a story about the world as we would like it to be, not how it really is. We ignore the risks that are hardest to measure, even when they pose the greatest threats...We abhor uncertainty even when it is an irreducible part of the problem we are trying to solve.” (Silver 2012)
Each year governments invest billions of dollars towards long-term development. Yet their investment decisions are engulfed in deep uncertainty – about long-term demography, economic growth, technological developments, cost of energy, the impact of climate change, and a host of other factors. Deep uncertainties are difficult to acknowledge, understand, and manage. We are more comfortable facing risks we can quantify and solving problems for which we have familiar, well-honed tools. Compounding the problem, analysts and decision makers routinely face pressure to demonstrate that a decision is risk-free. Political and cultural expediency presses them to ignore rather than acknowledge uncertainty and present their decision as advantageous and certain. Such thinking can keep us in the dark about the real threats to our decision, and may lead us to make brittle decisions that fail when the future surprises us.
The variation in investment among developing countries is truly remarkable. Over the course of the 30-year period between 1980--2010---a period of relative calm in the global economy that is often referred to as the "Great Moderation"[*]---the investment rate in developing countries ranged from a whopping 90 percent (Armenia in 1990) to a dismal 1 percent (Liberia in 2003). This variability is more than twice that of variance in economic growth---a topic that has preoccupied many more generations of researchers---and much of this variability stems from the developing world.
International long-term private finance to developing countries has changed dramatically in the wake of the global financial crisis. Caught in “post-crisis blues”, as my World Bank colleagues Jeff Chelsky, Claire Morel and Mabruk Kabir called it in a recent Economic Premise, some traditional sources of long-term finance are strained, and alternatives have not been able to adequately compensate. Private financing of infrastructure has been particularly hurt.
The Chinese economy has changed dramatically over the last three decades. While its per-capita income was only a third of that of Sub-Saharan Africa in 1978, it has now reached an upper-middle income status, lifting more than half a billion people out of poverty. The numbers are dramatic: per capita income has doubled for more than a billion people in just 12 years. What was once a primarily rural, agricultural economy has been transformed into an increasingly urban and diversified economic structure, with decentralization and market-based relations rising relative to the traditional government driven command-based economy.
Ninety years ago, in his A Tract on Monetary Reform Keynes famously wrote “In the long run we are all dead”. That observation recently stirred a lot of debate for all the wrong reasons, after Niall Ferguson obnoxiously claimed that Keynes did not care about the future because he was childless. Whether Keynes cared about the long-term future or not (and whether he had children or not) is completely irrelevant in this context, as many (e.g. Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman) have pointed out.
The actual context in which Keynes wrote this observation was a discussion about the quantity theory of money, which states that doubling the supply of money will only double the prices, but will have no consequences for other parts of the economy. This is the classical dichotomy between real and nominal variables. Keynes argued: “Now in the long run this is probably true”. But “In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.” So, Keynes’ point was obviously not that the future doesn’t matter. His point was that simple theories that might describe long-term relationships are just not good enough to deal with current issues. In the short run, changes in money supply can have all kinds of important consequences beyond the price levels. Economists will have to make their hands dirty and delve into the complicated dynamics of the here and now.
As the Carnival in Brazil kicked off last weekend, Brazilians were ready for a party. They have reasons to celebrate. Despite a lackluster GDP performance in the last two years, unemployment rates remain at record low levels.