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Financial Sector

Back to the Future

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Imagine if, in 1799 – the year in which Napoleon seized power – a research institute had published its global forecasts for the next 20 years. Its researchers would have known about the tremendous changes that took place over the previous two decades: from the United States’ declaration of independence, through the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI, up to Napoleon’s victory over Austria in his Italy Campaign.

Even so, the chances of the researchers accurately predicting the events that came to pass over the subsequent 20 years, including their impact on the 19th century’s world order, would have been infinitesimal. No one could have anticipated that Napoleon would have plunged Europe into non-stop war for a decade until being overcome at Waterloo, or that, by the time of his defeat, he would already have swept away the foundations of traditional structures and initiated an unstoppable wave of reforms.

Because of its industrial might, this Europe would dominate the rest of the world during the 19th century. When European rivalries exploded into World War One, the face of the earth had already changed considerably compared to the previous century. And, having changed the world, Europe set the conditions for the demise of its own empire. Even before World War One, Teddy Roosevelt had heralded the start of the United States’ ascension to its current hegemony.

Financial Reform and Fiscal Discipline

Eliana Cardoso's picture

It was in 1714 that Bernard de Mandeville defended his view of the economic world in a long poem with pretensions to uncovering the moral basis of modern society – The Fable of the Bees: Private Vices, Public Benefits. According to him, industrialists, businessmen and politicians are like pimps, quacks, pickpockets and forgers: tireless professionals who, through their cunning, use the work of others for their own purposes. Mandeville claims that it matters little if every trade and place is tainted by trickery and every profession, by chicanery. What does matter is that everyone, whether saint or sinner, contributes to producing the comforts progress provides, by looking after their own interests.

But you and I believe that where people live off ill-gotten gains the community will suffer and, thus, we reject the poem’s cynical view of the world. Yet, the lesson of The Fable of the Bees (that civilization advances in the measure that individuals seek to satisfy their needs and desires) is still alive and kicking.

Is India's Fiscal Consolidation at Hand?

Eliana Cardoso's picture

“What you don’t touch, for you lies miles away. (…) What you don’t coin, you’re sure is counterfeit.” These sophisms are voiced by Mephistopheles, under the guise of the Court Fool, in Goethe’s Faust. He aims to convince the Emperor to mint more coins, for money buys everything: parks and palaces; breasts and rosy cheeks. The Commander-in-Chief accompanies the scene and speaks his mind: “The Court Fool is wise, for he promises benefits to all.”

Economic theory, in contrast to the Commander-in-Chief, the Court Fool and other populists, states that all government handouts come at a cost – regardless of whether they are distributed in the form of subsidies or direct transfers. Financing them is only possible by raising taxes and getting into debt (or creating more money… and inflation).

Food Prices and the Inflation Tax

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Oscar Wilde, suspecting that the relationship between price and value hides reasons that reason itself ignores, observes in the Lady Windermere’s Fan that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The economist will laugh at Wilde’s one-liner. But after a brief moment, she would protest. Theory tells her that value and price is one and the same thing. And she will insist that what matters for South Asians today is the difference between an increase in the price level and an increase in the inflation rate.

The price level increases when there is a supply shock, such as an increase in food and fuel prices. The initial increase in the price level tends to transmit itself to other prices when the economy operates close to capacity. If the price increase is accommodated by monetary policy, the supply shock transforms itself in a spiral of prices and wages and inflation goes up. Monetary authorities do right by not tightening monetary policy in response to the primary impact of supply shocks, but have to be attentive in case the increase in food prices begins to encourage secondary inflationary effects.

The Dutch Disease has not Infected Bangladesh, not yet any way

Zahid Hussain's picture

The Netherlands’ discovery of large natural gas deposits in the North Sea in the 1960s had serious repercussions on important segments of its economy, as the Dutch guilder became stronger, making Dutch non-oil exports less competitive. This has come to be known as "Dutch disease" or “resource curse.” Although generally associated with a natural resource discovery, it can arise from any large inflow of foreign currency--foreign assistance, foreign direct investment and remittances, among others. A surge in remittances can be expected to result in appreciation of the currency in the receiving country with all its attendant consequences of crowding out exports, crowding in imports, and induce movement of resources into the production of non-traded goods.

Bangladesh has experienced a remittance boom since FY01—with annual flows rising from $1.9 billion to $9.7 billion in FY09—growing at a compounded annual rate of 22.6 percent for eight years and still counting! As a result, remittance has now reached nearly 11 percent of GDP and is now the single largest source of foreign exchange earnings.

India’s Turn

Eliana Cardoso's picture

An Ideal Husband, the play by Oscar Wilde, tells a story of unrealistic expectations. Lady Chiltern, a woman of strict principles, idolizes her husband, a rising star in politics. Their life is filled with nectar and ambrosia, until the appearance of Mrs. Cheveley. She comes with a letter – one that proves Sir Robert Chiltern’s fortunes were made on the back of privileged information during the construction of the Suez Canal. In exchange for this letter, she seeks support for the construction of a new canal in Argentina.

Is Bangladesh Getting Public Investment Right?

Zahid Hussain's picture

Economic growth in Bangladesh began to decline since FY06 at roughly the same time that its public investment rate started falling. The decline in growth also appears to coincide with slowdown in growth of infrastructure capital in the hard infrastructure sectors; particularly energy, transport and communication. It is therefore tempting to think that the two may be correlated.

Indeed, economic theory suggests that the availability of economic and social infrastructures makes it conducive for the private sector to invest; higher public capital increases productivity and reduces production costs; and by increasing demand public investment gives rise to profit and sales expectations which in turn induce private investments. These are known as the crowding-in effects of public investment.

Crowding in, however, cannot be taken for granted. Public investment can also crowd out private investment if it is made in activities that compete with the private sector. In addition, the growth impact of increased public investment depends on how it is financed. If it is financed through higher public debt, which implies higher future taxation levels, private investments may get crowded out.

How Can South Asia Overcome its Infrastructure Deficit?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Last week, I discussed the two very different South Asias and the need for regional cooperation to bring the lagging regions up to the standards of thriving regions. However, increased market integration by itself will not be sufficient to accelerate growth and benefit the lagging regions. South Asia suffers from a massive infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure is like second-nature geography, which can reduce the time and monetary costs to reach markets and thus overcome the limitations of physical geography.

Improved infrastructure that enhances connectivity and contributes to market integration is the best solution to promoting growth as well addressing rising inequality between regions. The Ganga Bridge in Bihar in India is a good example of second-nature geography. The bridge has reduced the time and monetary costs of farmers in the rural areas in north Bihar to reach markets in Patna, the largest city in Bihar. The Jamuna Bridge in Bangladesh is another good example of spatially connective infrastructure. The bridge has opened market access for producers in the lagging Northwest areas around the Rajshahi division. Better market access has helped farmers diversify into high value crops and reduced input prices.

South Asia suffers from three infrastructure deficits. First, there is a service deficit, as the region’s infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with a growing economy and population.

Integrating the Two South Asias

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Regional Cooperation can be the key instrument to promote increased market integration in South Asia through greater flow of goods, services, capital, and ideas. This is appropriate for a region which is the least integrated region in the world, although many countries share analogous cultures and histories, as well as a passion for cricket and curry.

It is also very timely given the global downturn and the slowdown in global trade. Increased regional trade could more than compensate for the potential loss in global trade. It is estimated that increased intra-regional trade could add two percentage points to South Asia's GDP growth. This could raise South Asia's real GDP growth from 6% to 8% in 2010. Unlike fiscal stimulus, increased market integration and regional trade could add to GDP growth, without increasing public debt. It is the most efficient and cost effective instrument for South Asia to cope with the global downturn.

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