Quote of the week: Ha-Joon Chang disputes the notion of ‘freedom’

EdibleEconomics“[W]ith the rise of capitalism and the accompanying ideology of free-market-free-trade economics, ‘freedom’ has become such a dominant concept in how we think about society and economy. Any idea that has the words ‘free’ or ‘freedom’ in it is considered good – free trade, free market, freedom of speech, free press, freedom fighters and so on. Anything that may be against these things, in turn, is considered primitive, repressive and backward-looking.

However, there are many different notions of freedom, and they cannot all be treated as being unequivocally good for everyone. In the case of ‘free’ in free trade, it only means freedom for those who are conducting trade across national borders not to be subject to regulations (eg., import bans) or taxes (eg., tariffs) by national governments. No more, no less. Hence the perverse situation like the first age of free trade (in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries), when ‘free’ trade was almost exclusively conducted by ‘unfree’ nations that had been deprived of the right to determine their own future through colonialism and unequal treaties. Even in a situation in which there is formal equality among nations, as in the current (second) age of free trade, free trade still does not mean that everyone benefits equally, as the rules of international trade are set and administered by stronger countries in their own favour.

Only when we understand the power imbalances that define international trade and do not get dazzled by the presence of the word ‘free’, can we understand why there are so many disputes and conflicts between nations about something that is supposed to be so unequivocally good for everyone as free trade.”

Ha-Joon Chang (2022), Edible Economics: A Hungry Economist Explains the World, UK: Allen Lane, p.75.

COVID and the broken global order — Real-World Economics Review Blog

from C. P. Chandrasekhar

When the COVID pandemic affected every one of the world’s nations, the way forward seemed obvious, even if difficult to traverse. Given the rapid spread of the disease and its severity that overwhelmed long neglected health systems, and the cost to lives and livelihoods that shutdowns of economic and social activity […]

COVID and the broken global order — Real-World Economics Review Blog

Quote of the week: Keynesianism and global economic problems

Copland-DouglasFollowing the extracts I have posted in recent weeks, this is the last in the series from the 1947 edited volume The New Economics: Keynes’ Influence on Theory and Public Policy. Once again the piece is from the chapter by Douglas Copland, this time on addressing the problems of the global economy while maintaining a policy of high employment. In particular, Copland discusses the balance of payments and the high demand for imports that will tend to result from such a policy. As before, it is of historical interest, being written while Keynes’ influence was in its ascendency. But it also remains relevant today, in that conflict over international trade is much less likely if the countries concerned are able to achieve full employment. Free trade by itself is not enough and is unlikely to be sustained if it is not associated with high levels of employment and widely-shared prosperity. Continue reading

A pact for industrial policy and development

Production_LineSince I was a student I have been fascinated by industrial policy and the role it can play in fostering economic development. It is important for all countries, not least the poorest, but also for those defined as ‘middle income’, which have already industrialised, and some of which have subsequently experienced economic stagnation and even premature deindustrialisation as they cease catching up with the richest countries or those at the technological frontier. Industrial policy in all its forms, whether it involves the promotion of industrialisation itself, or the discovery and commercialisation of new technologies, is vital for raising living standards and enabling the reduction of poverty and inequality around the world. Continue reading

Ending Covid with enlightened self-interest

The battle against Covid is coined by Martin Wolf in today’s Financial Times as a ‘gobal war’. He argues that the pandemic can be defeated within a year with the right approach to policy across the world. If this can be done, it will be optimism fulfilled. But it will require significant global cooperation, and support for the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

The advent of the pandemic shows that global health is very much a public good, requiring public action to manage effectively. Globalisation has suffered over the last year or so, with disruption to global supply chains and efforts to more closely manage national borders in attempts to prevent the importing of cases of the virus. Lockdowns have created major economic damage, both both nationally and, inevitably, internationally. No prosperous society or economy can remain isolated from the rest of the world, and while some of the richest can withdraw into greater self-reliance for a time, there remains a need to sustain international integration. Capitalist prosperity relies in part on the growth of global markets. Other pressing global crises remain, particularly environmental concerns such as climate change, pollution and the loss of biodiversity. Covid is diverting the energies of policymakers at a crucial time. Continue reading

Trade Wars are Class Wars – reforming the global economy?

PettisKleinTWACWThis is the fourth and final post in a recent series drawing on ideas contained in the book Trade Wars are Class Wars, co-authored by economic journalist Matthew C. Klein and economics professor Michael Pettis. The last three posts explored, respectively, the importance of a macro or systemic analysis in economics, the nature and dynamics of savings and profits in the economy and the two broad models of economic development as set out by the authors in the book.

The essential thesis of the book is that rising inequality within many nations is restraining global demand and weakening global growth, leading to conflict over trade at the international level. In particular, excess savings, sometimes called a ‘savings glut’, in countries such as Germany and China, are reflected in current account surpluses. The latter are one way of saying that total savings in these countries exceeds total investment.

These positive net savings, or total savings minus total investment, are in these cases the flipside of underconsumption. They have proven to be unproductive, since they cannot be absorbed by productive domestic investment, and have therefore ended up being absorbed abroad, by countries which are willing to run current account deficits, fueling rising debt-fueled consumption, or rising unproductive investment in the form of financial speculation and asset price bubbles. For several decades, this has particularly been the case for the US, which has been willing to absorb unproductive savings from the surplus countries, and has therefore acted as a global spender of last resort in its provision of demand. Continue reading