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Drifting Toward Plutocracy: Inexorable Concentration of Capital Undermines the Drive for 'Shared Prosperity'

Christopher Colford's picture

Like seismic waves rippling outward after a tectonic shift, reverberations are roiling the economic-policy landscape after the U.S. launch of the groundbreaking new analysis by Thomas Piketty, the scholar from the Paris School of Economics whose landmark tome – “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – has newly jolted the economics profession.

Any Washingtonian or World Bank Group staffer who somehow missed the news of Piketty’s celebrated series of speeches and seminars last week – in Washington, New York and Boston – received an unmistakable signal this week about what an important intellectual breakthrough Piketty has achieved. President Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday cited Piketty while putting the issue of economic inequality at the top of his list of priorities during his review of the Spring Meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Noting that he was already about halfway through reading Piketty’s “Capital,” President Kim sent a clear message that the skewed global distribution of wealth, as analyzed by Piketty and emphasized by many officials at the Bank and Fund's semiannual conference, should be top-of-mind for policy-watchers at the Bank and beyond – indeed, at every institution that hopes to promote shared prosperity.

Piketty’s scholarship is now receiving widespread acclaim as a landmark in economic analysis, and is being recognized both for its “exhaustive fact-based research” and its sweeping historical perspective. More of a patient dissection of hard data than a political roadmap, Piketty’s book has quickly become the subject of multiple praiseworthy reviews, notably in the New York Times and the Financial Times. One usually level-headed Bloomberg View analyst, recoiling from the “rapturous reception” accorded to the book, may have gone slightly overboard this week in asserting that Piketty's insights had been greeted by American liberals with “erotic intensity.”

Predictably, Piketty's book has also quickly become the target – “Piketty Revives [Karl] Marx,” blared a Wall Street Journal headline; “Marx Rises Again,” warned the New York Times’ lonely conservative scold – of the whack-a-mole ideological purists in laissez-faire Op-Ed columns, who forever seem tempted to equate modern-day liberalism with long-gone Leninism. Eager to publish denunciations of any idea, however modest, that might justify (heaven forfend) tax increases on stratospheric income-earners and the top-fraction-of-the-One Percent, the free-market fundamentalists on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board – unabashed cheerleaders for plutocracy – have opened up one of their trademark barrages via their Op-Ed columns (“This book is less a work of economic analysis than a bizarre ideological screed”; “The professor ought to read ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Darkness at Noon’ ”). The Journal's jihad clearly aims to demean or discredit anyone who might flirt with such Piketty-style notions as restoring greater progressivity to the tax code. (Egad: Progressive taxation? Next stop: Bolshevism.)

Have 'Special Economic Zones' Entered the 21st Century Yet? A Tale of Two Cities

Martin Norman's picture

At the World Free Zone Convention in Izmir, Turkey, which I attended in December, an important question was asked:  Have "Special Economic Zones" entered the 21st Century?  Evidence shows that, in many ways, they have – but in many instances we are still seeing across the globe the same isolated economic enclaves with few linkages to the local market and little economy-wide impact.

More than ever, special economic zones (SEZs) are on the defensive, despite the fact that the more than 3,500 SEZs worldwide have provided employment for more than 60 million people.

I believe that two zones, in particular, can shed light on the factors of success and failure in SEZs today:  Shenzhen, China, which is almost universally considered to be a success story, and the Calabar Free Trade Zone in Nigeria, which has failed to live up to its original projections. 
 

Sri Lanka - Resplendent Island, Raring to Deliver

Parth Shri Tewari's picture


Sri Lanka conjures up different images in the minds of different people: lush green tropical canopies, steaming cups of aromatic tea, and hardworking fishermen in their dinghy boats.

For me, the country also packs enormous promise for growth and development. There is not the slightest doubt that Sri Lanka will have to come clean and deal with the aftermath of its prolonged civil war. However, at a fundamental level, there is a sense of hunger in its people to rebuild their lives and their country. The new-found peace that engulfs the population is cherished by most, and is part of dinner conversations especially with foreigners like me.




Sri Lanka already holds a strong position in certain agricultural and industrial exports, like tea or uncut diamonds. Combine this with its strategic location – situated at the crossroads of major shipping routes connecting South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East – and you have a potent combination, a promise waiting to be fulfilled.

I recently spoke at an event organized by the country’s top business newspaper, the Daily Financial Times, in partnership with the well-regarded Colombo University MBA Alumni Association. The focus of the forum was the country’s emerging six-hub strategy – Maritime, Commercial, Knowledge, Aviation, Energy and Tourism: the cornerstone of its further economic development.

The euphoria leading up to the event was palpable. The ceremonial drums and lighting of the auspicious lamp to evoke good omen created the perfect ambience. I was nervous, not because of stage fright, but because I was about to present a contrarian viewpoint to private-sector and public-sector experts, while sharing the stage with the Minister of Economic Development and the Governor of the Sri Lanka’s Central Bank. Even though my arguments were well-thought-through and fact-based, it was going to be a delicate dance, as I was about to communicate some tough arguments against the implementation of the full-blown six-hub strategy.

The Piracy Money Cycle: ‘Trickle-Round Economics’

Stuart Yikona's picture
Also available in: Français



Sitting in a safe house, an ocean away, three former pirates reflect on their past lives as ”footsoldiers” aboard  skiffs preparing to attack unsuspecting cargo vessels off the Horn of Africa. Our research team is transfixed by their stories.
 
We listen as they describe to us how they got involved in the piracy business, how much they earned, how they spent their money and, perhaps most interesting, what they know about their ”masters” – the pirate financiers, investors and negotiators.
 
These footsoldiers were merely small fish in a big sea.  They would be sent out to hijack shipping vessels, which would only be returned to the ships’ owners for a hefty ransom.
 
Following research for our report   “Pirate Trails,” studying acts of piracy off the Horn of Africa, we estimate  that between US$339 million and US$413 million was handed over  in ransom payments between April 2005 and December 2012.  The exact amount is very hard to pin down, given the reluctance of the shipping companies and pirates to reveal the cost and rewards of piracy.