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August 2016

Toward a more durable form of globalization, beyond 'neoliberal' negligence

Christopher Colford's picture

“Globalization and technological change create huge challenges for modern economies, but they are not uncontrollable forces of nature. The economy we have is the economy we choose to build. It is time to make different choices, and show that capitalism can be remade.” — Prof. Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex and Prof. Michael Jacobs of University College London, the editors of “Rethinking Capitalism.”

The shadows lengthen and the daylight shortens amid these elegiac end-of-summer evenings — but there’s a palpable feeling nowadays, in Washington and other capitals, that we’re approaching not just the sunset of a season, but the twilight of an era.

The sudden change in the policy discourse over the past year has shattered the familiar old contours of the globalization debate, with a “populist explosion” in the world’s developed economies forcing policymakers everywhere to reconsider the boundaries of “the art of the possible.” In many of the world's developed economies, a recalibration of globalization is under way.

In this insolite interim, the fraught phrase of Antonio Gramsci comes to mind: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot [yet] be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Three incisive recent analyses illustrate the impassioned arguments that underscore this end-of-an-era feeling. Together, the analyses set the stage for the imminent publication of a new book of essays by a group of eminent economists, whose ideas may chart the way toward a more durable, more inclusive approach to globalization.

 
  • Second: Diagnosing how a phase of economic history may have run its course, Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz (a former Chief Economist of the World Bank) in Project Syndicate asserts that the laissez-faire approach to globalization has reached its (il)logical conclusion: “The failure of globalization to deliver on the promises of mainstream politicians has surely undermined trust and confidence in the ‘establishment.’ . . . Neoliberals have opposed welfare measures that would have protected the losers [of globalization]. But they can’t have it both ways: If globalization is to benefit most members of society, strong social-protection measures must be in place. The Scandinavians figured this out long ago; it was part of [their] social contract. . . . Neoliberals elsewhere have not – and now, in elections in the US and Europe, they are having their comeuppance.”  
 
  • Third: A series of insightful columns by Martin Sandbu in The Financial Times – tracing an “insurrection [that] has been a long time coming” – explores the links among economic stress and social-class anxiety that provoked this year’s social eruption: “Over the past generation, the trajectory of the white working class has no doubt changed the most for the worse, compared with the previous generation.”


The history-minded reflections of Jacques, Stiglitz and Sandbu underscore the fact that many economists are still pondering how so many of their policy prescriptions went so badly wrong, opening the way for the global financial crisis.

‘Smartest Places’ via smarter strategies: Sharpening competitiveness requires ingenuity, not inertia

Christopher Colford's picture

Defeatist demagoguery marred the 2016 election season, and it continues to resonate with many beleaguered voters in advanced Western economies, who dread the gloom-and-doom scenarios sketched by narrow-minded nationalists. For reassurance about positive strategies for economic renewal, try a dose of optimism about urban “hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool” – thanks to a book that champions smart public policies, delivered through an activist approach to Competitiveness Strategy.

Gazing into the rear-view mirror is a mighty reckless way to try to drive an economy forward. Yet backward-looking nostalgia for a supposedly safer economic past – with voters' anxiety being stoked by snide sloganeering about “taking back our sovereignty” and “making the country great again” – infected the policy debate throughout the dispiriting 2016 election year, and its defeatist aftermath, in many of the world’s advanced economies.

Scapegoating globalization and inflaming fears of job losses and wage stagnation, populists have harangued all too many voters into a state of paralysis or passivity. Lamenting the loss of a long-ago era (if ever it actually existed) of economic simplicity, nativists and nationalists have been conjuring up illusions about an era when inward-looking economies were (allegedly) somehow insulated from global competition.

Optimism has been in short supply lately, but an energetic new book – co-authored by a prominent World Bank Group alumnus – offers a hopeful perspective on how imaginative economies can become pacesetters in the fast-forward Knowledge Economy. Advanced industries are thriving and productivity is strengthening, argue Antoine Van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, now that many once-declining manufacturing regions have reinvented their industries and reawakened their entrepreneurial energies.

Welcome to the brainbelt,” declares “The Smartest Places On Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” (published by Public Affairs books). Now that brainpower has replaced muscle-power as the basis of prosperity in an ever-more-competitive global economy, the key factor for success is "the sharing of knowledge." Longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, “Smartest Places” is receiving well-deserved attention among corporate leaders and financial strategists – and it ought to be required reading for every would-be policymaker.

The era of “making things smart” has replaced the era of “making things cheap” – meaning that industries no longer face a “race to the bottom” of competing on costs but a “race to the top” of competing on creativity. Knowledge-intensive industries, and the innovation ecosystems that generate them, create the “Smartest Places” that combine hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool.





Those optimistic themes may sound unusual to election-year audiences in struggling regions, which are easy prey for demagogues manipulating populist fears. Yet those ideas are certainly familiar to readers at the World Bank Group, where teams working on innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness have long helped their clients shape innovation ecosystems through well-targeted policy interventions that strengthen growth and job creation.

“Smartest Places,” it strikes me, reads like an evidence-filled validation of the Bank Group’s recent research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth.” That report, published last year, offers policymakers (especially at the city and metropolitan levels) an array of practical and proven steps that can help jump-start job creation by spurring productivity growth.
 

Olympic-sized ambition: Halt the Games' economic excess by building a permanent site for the Olympics — in Greece, their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Build it well, build it wisely, and build it only once — How investing to create a permanent site for the Olympic Games, ideally in their historic home of Greece, could reduce waste, deliver economic stimulus, and avoid "white elephant" monuments to extravagance.


The jeering of angry taxpayers and frustrated favela-dwellers may drown out some of the cheering of sports enthusiasts this weekend, as the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro. The government of Brazil and local officials in Rio have certainly done their best to stage the Games successfully, addressing a range of challenges that include the Zika virus outbreak, the doping scandal among athletes and the country’s prolonged economic slump and political traumas. Yet an enduring scandal in international finance — the chronic design flaw in the way that the Games are planned for and paid for — has again imposed an enormous economic burden on the Olympic host city. Struggling economies can ill afford the extravagance of repeatedly building use-once-throw-away sports facilities.

It was surely startling to see the deep degree of scorn and sarcasm with which many workaday Brazilians, who are now enduring a deep economic downturn, hurled derision at the arrival of the Olympic torch in Rio this week. They evidently saw that Olympic arrival ceremony as a symbol, not just of athletic ambition, but of financial folly.

The anxieties that Brazil has endured on the road to Rio 2016 should underscore a longer-term, Olympic-sized concern: Mismanagement by the Games' promoters has now been thoroughly documented, underscoring the abusive way that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the global sports-industrial complex have habitually foisted reckless costs on the taxpayers of hapless host cities.

By goading Olympic-wannabe cities to make ever-more-extravagant financial commitments – stoking their dreams of a media moment of purchased publicity – the mega-event industry has helped shatter the finances of one host city after another. No wonder that so many cities are now shunning the IOC’s bidding process, dreading the deadweight losses that are almost certain to burden any Olympic host.

Welcome as the IOC’s recent “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform proposals may be, it’s long past time to rein in the financial excesses of mega-event promoters. With a claque of financiers and flacks who are ready to manipulate the gullibility of the would-be hosts, the Olympic spirit has fallen victim to the self-interest of construction firms, property developers and publicists who seek to profit from host cities’ overspending.

An invaluable book documenting this Olympic-scale threat – discussed in detail at a World Bank’s InfoShop book-and-author seminar in June 2015 – should be top-of-mind for Olympics-watchers this week, as Rio de Janeiro enjoys its moment in the spotlight. “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” — by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College — can help other cities avoid an impulsive rush for momentary Olympic notoriety. A video of Zimbalist’s InfoShop presentation is archived at http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PUBLICATION/INFOSHOP1/0,,contentMDK:20289125~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html