Browsing the archives for the World Economy category.

Annals of the global financial crisis, Eurasian edition (or why the Kazakhs better grow their hair)

Economy, World Economy

“Last year,” Leopolis notes, “if one said that Kazakhstan was the “Iceland of Central Asia” it would have been a compliment.”

Now, not so much. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported, Kazakhstan’s central bank devalued the national currency, the tenge, by 18%.  Propping up the currency at the old rate proved unsustainable after the country spent $1.6 billion, or 6% of its foreign-currency and gold reserves, in January alone to do so. Economic growth is down from a healthy 10% to 1%. Profit for Kazakhstan’s 37 banks plunged 93%. The four biggest banks were seized by the government as part of an emergency program costing the equivalent to 20% of GDP. (In comparison, the $800 billion the US federal government reserved for TARP last year amounted to less than 6% of America’s GDP.) The government is now trying to hawk off the largest bank to the Russian Sberbank. 

Experts are expecting future currency devaluations, even if central bank chairman Grigory Marchenko emphatically rejects the prospect. As one said: “As long as oil prices remain subdued, there is nothing telling you to buy the tenge and there will be pressure there.” The one-sided character of the Kazakh economy makes it very vulnerable, Stratfor noted: the country depends on oil for 70% of its export revenue and 76% of all FDI. With the oil price down and the government spending $21 billion – or another 18% of its GDP – on a stimulus plan this year, the oil-funded National Fund which the country had built as buffer for bad times will all but run out this year.

As Nouriel Roubini commented to Bloomberg:

Kazakhstan looks like a small version of Iceland with its banks borrowing from abroad [..] A currency crisis becomes a banking crisis, it becomes a housing crisis, a sovereign-debt crisis, it becomes a corporate crisis because each one of these agents in these economies has a large amount of foreign liabilities. 

Kazakhstan has one of the highest rates of privately-held foreign debt, Stratfor explains; one which equaled 100% of the country’s GDP in 2007 (compared to 35% for Russia).

And still, how unique is this? The Russian currency is down 35% and the Ukrainian one down 47%, Bloomberg notes. The size of the Kazakh bailout-cum-stimulus seems exceptional, it’s true, with the sum total equalling 38% of the country’s GDP. In comparison, Russia is spending $240 billion, or close to 20% of its GDP, on bank bailouts and stimulus, while the combined bill for TARP I and the new stimulus bill Congress will vote on now will be about 10% of America’s GDP (though TARP II will come on top of that).

Still, at least Kazakhstan is still recording some economic growth, however anemic. The Czech economy entered in a recession in the last quarter of 2008 and will probably see a 2% contraction in 2009, while Hungary, which also entered a recession and is registering the worst data since 1996, may face a 4-5% drop in GDP this year. Which pales, in turn, in comparison with the numbers from the Baltic states, where Estonia’s economy contracted 9% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, and Latvia’s GDP plummeted 11%. Latvia, in particular, is looking economic collapse in the eye as its GDP may shrink by as much as 20%.

The Baltic states, like Kazakhstan but unlike Hungary, at least enjoyed a number of years of high economic growth until now, with annual growth reaching up into double digits. That doesn’t mean that people have been able to built a protective buffer for the crisis setting on now, though. The economic growth characteristically benefited the upper middle class, and especially the top layer, disproportionally. The collapse now, conversely, is likely to hurt the poor and elderly hardest.

So basically, we’re fucked. Luckily far-right Russian demagogue and all-round buffoon Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is also deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, had some advice on surviving the crisis. “I have been thrifty,” he boasted last year: “I am not having my hair cut. My hair has already grown longer than ever. I only shave every other day. [..] There is no need to buy new clothes. They can be swapped with others. I am prepared to give a couple of suits to someone, several pairs of shoes, a wristwatch.”

Personal hygiene products are just “all [..] chemical and hazardous” anyway, so you can leave those as well. (Though this, admittedly, wouldn’t present much in the way of savings for the Kazakhs, as anyone who’s seen Borat will know.) Finally, when it comes to the holidays, well: “no need to travel abroad or to go to a restaurant. Stay [..] at home or invite yourself over to someone else’s place”.

So there you are. When you fall on hard times this year, go to Vlad for clothes. Just make sure to stock up on vodka and cabbage rather than soap and shampoo in case he shows up in turn for Easter. He won’t mind the smell.

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Bernie Sanders’ beef with Geithner

Economy, Politics, US Politics, World Economy

Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont, was one of the members of the Democratic caucus who voted against the confirmation of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. He has his statement about why he did so up now. It’s short, and has nothing to do with Geithner’s tax problems; Bernie’s criticism is more systemic:

Massive deregulation of the financial services industry has led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  We need a treasury secretary who will support strong and robust regulation of the financial services sector.  

“Mr. Geithner was at the Fed and the Treasury Department when the deregulatory fervor that got us into this mess ran rampant. He was part of the problem.  I hope he becomes part of the solution, but I could not support his nomination at this time.

Meanwhile, I dug up this link from 1998 that may provide a bit of backstory hinting at the larger ideological disagreements at play. Back then, Bernie was still in the House, and Geithner was Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at Clinton’s Treasury Department. Geithner came to the House to testify in a review of the operations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Later on, of course, Geithner would himself move to the IMF. 

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Sanders was (and I assume still is) a harsh critic of the IMF, as his introduction in the review illustrates, and had a rather contentious exchange with Geithner, in which he accused him of disobeying the law. Why, for one - he asked citing the State Department’s human rights reports on Indonesia – did the US not vote against IMF loans to General Suharto’s Indonesia? Why did it not oppose IMF loans to authoritarian governments that violate human rights and jail labor leaders?

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I and I and the international financial crisis

Economy, Funny, Music, World Economy

I’m guessing this might be a first: a dub reggea track about the international financial crisis. Called “The international financial crisis”. Could someone please explain to me / this problem with liquidity? Should be #1 in the guy’s MySpace playlist.

Mr Brown he acted quickly
for that we must give him thanks,
He made a Big Decision
and he nationalised the Banks,

France and Germany
they quickly followed suit,
It’s a tempory solution
now we got to get to the root
of this …

International Financial Crisis
International Financial Crisis

Then again, JC Carroll isn’t your average rastaman. Once upon a day, in 1976, he was a trainee merchant banker. Then he joined The Members, which were good for a couple of definite UK punk classics. I still play their Solitary Confinement and Sound of the Suburbs – infectiously simple songs that combined the punk spirit with an irresistible guy-next-door vibe. Check their Wikipedia page for an odd little rundown of events that feels like one of the band members must have had a hand in it – judging on all the talk about “the Tesco-Carroll axis that .. dominate[d] the band” maybe JC himself?

Fast forward 30 years: Tesco’s been in a couple of bands, including the hilarious Leningrad Cowboys, and become a journalist at Music Week, while Carroll established a clothing shop or two and is now online on sites like these. I’m a sucker for obscure post-rock fates and all the idiosyncrasies involved in journeys like the one from here to here. For curiosity value, then, check out the YouTube vid of Carroll announcing and performing the “World Exclusive” of International Financial Crisis on “the legendary Manhattan Cable Show” Rant and Rave too. The MySpace version is definitely better, but … yeah, I’m a sucker for meandering life paths.

Anyway, Carroll may have the first dubby take, but there is, apparently, already something called “recession pop”. And I had to hear it from my septuagenarian father, who got it from the Freakonomics blog. The couple who sent in a home video of their song Fannie Mae Eat Freddie Mac and Cheese surely rival Carroll’s Rant and Rave performance, and Casey Shea’s “hushed and hopeful” Everybody’s Getting Bailed Out (Except for Me) brings romance to the economic angst. But the “noisy and apocalyptic” third exhibit will have to be the poster child for recession pop for now:

Constantines – Credit River

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Taking a moment to realise how different it could have been

Economy, European Politics, Politics, US Economy, US Politics, World Economy

This is Josh Moulitsas-Soros, acting CEO of Observationalism.com.

Most readers know that the views expressed on this blog are…

OK, just joking.

Ezra Klein uses the progressive blogosphere’s shitstorm in a teacup of the day to reflect on the agenda of the Third Way think tank, and how events since 2004 have overtaken it and made it irrelevant. It’s a good way to consider just how different things could have gone – and while we’re at it, to consider the looming reversal of roles between US liberals and European lefties.

It’s just four years ago, when Third Way was announced on November 11th, 2004, that this seemed like a good idea:

This was a week after John Kerry lost the presidential election, and the young organization was sold as a DLC for the next-generation. “As Democrats continue to stagger from last week’s election losses, a group of veteran political and policy operatives has started an advocacy group aimed at using moderate Senate Democrats as the front line in a campaign to give the party a more centrist profile,” wrote The Washington Post.

In other words, Third Way was formed under the theory that the Democrats’ problem in 2004 was that they were too far to the left, and as such, had lost middle class voters. The organization focused on upper middle class voters and followed the Mark Penn strategy of machine gun bursts of small, bite-sized policies meant to attract professional whites and rural voters.

Ezra does a good job in briefly sketching how quickly the Third Way’s strategy became an anachronism:

This year, Barack Obama was, on domestic policy, the most moderate of the major Democrats, which put him substantially to the left of every major Democrat running for president in 2004. His health care plan was more universal than Gephardt’s, his Iraq plan was more aggressively focused on withdrawal than Dean’s, and he was a black liberal from an urban center. Clinton and Edwards ran on similar platforms. None of them bore any obvious resemblance to the office park bait Third Way advocated. [..]

Third Way [..] were built as the vessel for a particular argument about the path to a Democratic resurgence, and their side of that debate lost. [..] Democrats have won atop something like the opposite of their advice and very different from their predicted majority coalition, which may explain why they’re acting so defensive.

All of which provides a good Zen moment to consider, even amidst my kind of bellyaching about Obama’s appointees, the blessings there are to count. You could have ended up with the Third Way recipe. Instead, the Democratic Party’s has moved left even as it gained political dominance.

This doesn’t just hold up in comparison with what the future looked like in 2004, either. Take the 850 billion euro economic stimulus plan the Democrats are preparing. That’s 6% of America’s GDP, more or less. Now compare the €200-billion stimulus plan that EU leaders eventually agreed on last week that involves the member states pumping the equivalent of 1.5% of GDP into their economies.

Alternatively, consider the £20-billion British stimulus package that Gordon Brown is proposing. On the eve of the EU summit, it stirred the German finance minister into a frenzied tizzy in Newsweek about “tossing around billions,” a deplorable “breathtaking switch” to “crass Keynesianism,” and the “breathtaking and depressing … speed at which proposals are put together .. that don’t even pass an economic test” – and that’s a plan that involves, if I’m getting the numbers right, all of 1.6% of British GDP.

Basically, after years in which European lefties like me groaned about a Democratic Party so milquetoast it would be a right-wing party in our countries, we’re suddenly faced with American peers who are moving more boldly to tackle the economic crisis than any EU government seems able or willing to do. While Obama’s party appears to be prepping a rapid shift of perspective to rediscover the wisdom of Keynesianism, the European governments are shackled by the EU’s deficit rules. It might not be long before we actually cast a jealous eye on those American peers we disdained just a few years ago.

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