Tech startups and business angels are not what comes to mind when thinking of the Czech Republic (CR). Instead, this small central European country is known for its beer, scenic bridges crossing the Vltava river, and existential writers. Not so easy to add “vibrant entrepreneurial hub” to the list as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, that's exactly what the CR policymakers intend to do.
CR has what it takes to be an entrepreneurial hub for Central Europe
Europe and Central Asia
The Picard leather goods factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh produces bags, purses and wallets that are sold in upmarket stores throughout the developed world under various well-known brand names, and in their own chain of stores in Germany. The factory is clean, efficient and goods are produced under all the relevant international standards.
But Picard are a rarity, and most Bangladeshi manufacturing looks just like it did 50 years ago. They produce cheap goods for the local market, but are a huge distance from producing at global standards. Unfortunately, this is also the case with most manufacturers in emerging economies. And all manufacturing is being changed by a range of new technologies known as Industry 4.0, with manufacturing becoming more global, more automated, more highly skilled, more infused with technology and more integrated with services. Whole manufacturing sectors, but in particular Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) face real challenges if they are to adapt rather than be left behind.
Market conduct supervisors in the financial sector have a tough job. And it’s getting tougher.
Their core work involves collecting data from disparate sources and undertaking complex analyses to identify and assess risks. They must also determine compliance with rules that are often principles-based. For example, what do complaints data, consumer agreements and marketing materials indicate about whether a financial service provider is treating its customers fairly?
This Saturday, June 16, we celebrate International Day of Family Remittances to recognize “the significant financial contribution migrant workers make to the wellbeing of their families back home and to the sustainable development of their countries of origin.”
Which is why
In recent years, the international remittance services industry has been subject to the so-called “de-risking” phenomenon. Banks believe that anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations and enforcement practices have made serving money transfer operators (MTOs) too risky from a legal and reputational perspective. For banks, the profit of serving MTOs is not considered sufficient to justify the level of effort required to manage these increased risks.
In November 2016, we published the “Practical Guide for Measuring Retail Payment Costs”, an innovative methodology that can be customized to country needs and circumstances, without losing the international comparative dimension.
The guide enables countries to measure the costs associated with retail payment instruments, based on survey data, for the payment end users, payment service/infrastructure providers, and the total economy. The guide also enables countries to derive projected savings in shifting from the more costly to the less costly payment instruments.
Ukraine is not a newcomer to the world of science and technology. One positive legacy from the country’s Soviet history is a talented and technically qualified workforce that persists even today. Eighty percent of 19-25 year-old Ukrainians are enrolled in universities, the country has one of the largest pools of IT developers and programmers in the world – 90,000 strong – and its high-skilled diaspora has spread through Europe and North America. As a result, the country has a booming ICT sector, estimated at $2.5 billion in exports in 2015, and is home to globally competitive startups such as Looksery, which was bought by Snapchat for $150 million in 2015, PetCube, and others. On the surface, the country has the ingredients and the potential to be an innovation-driven economy.
More than half of the world’s population lives in Asia and its robust growth is supporting the world economy. After weathering well the 2008 crisis Asia is now in the spotlight with currencies depreciating and capital markets in retreat. One widely voiced concern is rapid expansion of credit in the past decade fueled by abundant liquidity. Globally, and in Asia, regulatory response to the 2008 crisis has been to strengthen financial regulation and de-risk financial intermediation. Yet the reality of credit markets in most Asian economies is quite different from that in high income economies. While domestic credit by financial sector represented on average over 100% of GDP for high income OECD countries, emerging Asia’s average in 2014 stood at 60%. The differences across countries are substantial in this diverse region, but in two thirds of Asian economies domestic credit is less than 60% of GDP. The reality for most economies in Asia is that of limited and often inefficient financial markets which do not serve fully their growth needs. Low level of financial inclusion is a major contributing factor and a major challenge.
Wasting billions of dollars, time and time again, to stage self-indulgent sports spectacles is no way for any society to build shared prosperity for the long term. But just try explaining that common-sense economic logic to the sports-crazed cities that keep lining up to purchase a moment of fleeting fame – and that end up squandering vast sums, by building use-once-throw-away “white elephants” for one-off events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer tournament.
The sports-industrial complex continues to beguile the gullible and the grandiose, even though scholars have long warned of the futility of sports-event-driven spending. Beijing spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games, and Sochi spent upwards of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games – while Brazil spent $20 billion to host (and heartbreakingly lose) the final rounds of 2014 World Cup soccer. Not to be outdone for extravagance and excess, Qatar reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 billion for the 2022 festivities.
Like the deluded leaders of declining Rome – who distracted their once-industrious city into passivity by pacifying the populace with what the poet Juvenal derided as panem et circenses: "bread and circuses" – modern-day civic leaders are allowing their obsession with media-moment athletic fame to trample economic logic. The scale of their civic hubris – and the malign self-interest of the construction firms, financiers, flacks and fixers who goad credulous Olympic-wannabe cities into wanton overspending – is insightfully dissected in a valuable new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College.
In recent remarks at the World Bank, Zimbalist deplored the reckless rush that stampedes many cities into bleeding their civic coffers in the quest for Olympic notoriety. The saddest example may be the city of Montreal, whose debt from the 1976 Summer Games burdened the sorry city for 30 years.
Yet the suckers keep taking the bait. Boston, said Zimbalist, recently put forth an extravagant multibillion-dollar bid for the 2024 Summer Games – and only later, after the initial headlines and hoopla had abated, did more complete statistics reveal the likely scale of Boston’s folly. And, of course, the Olympic organizers would again stick the long-suffering taxpayers with the bill for any revenue shortfall.
Zimbalist’s logic is a wake-up call for those who somehow imagine that “this time is different” – that one-shot wonders might somehow produce long-term economic benefits. Some occasional exceptions suggest how very rare it is that optimists are rewarded: London, for example, may have gained a much-needed morale boost after its successful 2012 Summer Games, and two (but only two) Olympic festivals actually turned a profit – both of them in Los Angeles, which shrewdly re-used some of its 1936 Olympic facilities when it again played host to the Summer Games in 1984. But for most cities – Montreal in 1976, Sarajevo in 1984, Athens in 2004 and many more – the money spent on soon-to-crumble stadia, ski jumps and swimming pools was a diversion from urgent human needs and productive investment.
Zimbalist makes a compelling case – yet beyond the diagnosis of the malady, one seeks a prescription to cure it. Can such Olympic megalomania be tamed? Are there other ways to build, and pay for, worthy sports facilities that honor the spirit of the Olympic Games while avoiding the overspending that bleeds their hosts dry?
A potential solution arose amid Zimbalist’s recent World Bank discussion. Rather than build one-shot Olympic facilities that are destined to be discarded as soon as each extravaganza is finished, why not build just one enduring set of permanent Olympic facilities that can be refurbished and re-used, year after year? Build it right, and build it only once: That way, the cost of building and maintaining an Olympic complex could be spread over generations.
Pursuing that solution seems especially timely right now, and here's why. Where is the historically logical place to locate such a permanent Olympic site? Why, in Greece, of course, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. and continued until 393 A.D. There could be no more authentic place to have today’s marathoners run than in Marathon itself – no more meaningful place to have skiers schuss than on Mount Olympus, or to have boaters ply the very waters that warmed Odysseus’ odyssey.
“All roads lead to Rome” may have been true in ancient times, but policymakers during this Spring Meetings season in Washington have been focused on another classical crossroads: All roads now lead to Athens, as the intensifying eurozone crisis is again stoking fears that Greece may soon “crash out” of the European common currency system – potentially dealing a severe shock to the still-fragile global financial markets.
“The discussions about Greece have pervaded every meeting” during this fast-forward week of finance and diplomacy, said the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. That viewpoint was reinforced by a studious chronicler of the Greek drama’s daily details, Chris Giles of The Financial Times, who asserted – in an unusually dismissive swipe – that “the antics of Greece dominated the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.”
The Greece-focused anxiety was palpable to many Spring Meetings attendees, judging by the number of corridor conversations and solemn sidebars that dwelled on the eurozone drama – especially on the Fund’s side of 19th Street NW. While most forums and panels on the Bank’s side of the street focused on the progress of many developing countries, events at the Fund seemed consumed by the policy contortions within Greece's faltering economy, as Meetings-goers monitored every tremble of their text messages to follow the week’s the week’s staccato bulletin-bulletin-bulletin news of Greece’s financial flailing.
“The mood is notably more gloomy than at the last international gathering,” said Osborne, “and it’s clear . . . that a misstep or miscalculation on either side [of the Greece negotiations] could easily return European economies to the kind of perilous situation we saw three to four years ago.” Having received a $118 billion bailout in May 2010 and a second package of $139 billion in October 2011, Greece is now at an impasse with its creditors: the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. A new government in Greece – having denounced the loan conditions reluctantly accepted by its predecessor governments – is debating how, or whether, it should comply with lenders’ pressure for far-reaching reform. Greece's foot-dragging has exasperated the lenders even as Greece envisions a potential third bailout program.
As the Greek tragedy unfolds, the doleful observation of Wolfgang Münchau in the FT seems all too apt: “Until last week, discussions with Greece did not go well. That changed when the circus of international financial diplomacy moved to Washington for the Spring Meetings. Then it became worse.”