Living at the edge of chaos, climate change is not fake science


 

Nature’s fury: A car dealership is covered by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters near Houston, Texas. The chaos caused by the hurricane proves that climate change is not fake science. — Reuters

THIS month, two Category 4 hurricanes hit the United States within 17 days of each other. In Asia, North Korea is threatening nuclear Armageddon, and floods and famine are putting thousands of lives at risk from Bangladesh to Yemen. How can one survive in this chaotic era?

A first step must be to make sense of the apparent chaos. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have proved that climate change is not fake science, but real threats to home and security. When hailstones the size of golf balls hit Istanbul in the middle of summer, even the agnostics accept that climate change is serious business.

The biggest uncertainty that has hit Asia recently is the shock that North Korea has not only developed possibly a hydrogen bomb, but also the missile capability to deliver it even to the United States. This has changed the geopolitical balance not only in North Asia, but globally because it is no longer possible for the United States alone to contain nuclear proliferation.

Physics teaches us that chaos is often a characteristic of transition from one order to another. Chaos is also a pattern in which there is apparently no discernible pattern.

But there is a seismic transition from a unipolar world led by the United States to a multi-polar world of competing powers and ideology, particularly after the 2007 global financial crisis. As the share of US GDP in the world declines relative to the rest, the rise of China, India and increasing assertion by Russia and non-state players like IS means that the United States’ ability to dominate militarily and ideologically is being challenged.

At the same time, increasing stresses from social inequalities and paranoia of terror, immigration and job loss have tilted the United States to become more inward looking. The Trump administration has dramatically begun to dismantle the neoliberal order of multilateral trade and finance that shaped US foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.

There is a raw open division within the United States in outlook and values. The Democratic Left believes in maintaining the old order of moral leadership on human rights, democracy and multilateral global stability and prosperity. The Republican Right questions these beliefs and prefers America First, negotiating bilaterally to achieve that premier status.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon asked the Rand Corporation to conduct a review on “Alternative Options for US Policy toward the International Order”. The key questions for the New Global Order are: Who sets the rules and how binding are the rules?

The study breaks the future order into two camps of rule-makers – the US and its allies or a concert of great powers. Under such a division, there are two conditions where rules are binding – one dominated by the US camp to enforce rules and the other where the great powers agree to a global constitutional order enforced by institutions. The other two conditions where rules are not binding involve a coalition of states aligned to counteract against revisionism and a new concert of great powers.

The immediate problem with the Rand categorisation of New Order Visions is that the existing liberal, rules-based order is not being challenged by others, but by the US itself.

First, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comment earlier this year that Europe must begin to look after its own interests, it is no longer clear that America’s traditional allies are going to follow the US leadership when there are serious disagreements on trade, climate change and immigration. It is no coincidence that the largest trade imbalances are no longer between China or oil producers with the US, but between Europe and the United States. Germany alone is running a current account surplus equivalent to around 8% of GDP.

Second, within the Middle East, alliances are shifting almost by the day. The quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has riven the Gulf Cooperation Council, while Turkey is playing an increasingly pivotal role within the shifting alliances.

Third, North Korea’s bid for nuclear power membership, despite being a small state, means that Great Powers may have to accommodate new players whether they like it or not.

Fourth, climate change in the form of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma demonstrate that nature can impose larger and larger economic losses on nations and regions, which will require global public goods that the current order is neither willing to fund, nor able to agree on how to address. The economic losses from Harvey alone is estimated at US$180bil, equivalent to the annual GDP of a middle-income economy. The existing multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank are facing serious resource shortages relative to these new global demands.

The bottom line is that the current order has neither the resources nor the collective will to enforce rules when the human population growth puts increasing competition for scarce water, food and territorial spaces. Chaos arises from the breakdown of rules and borderlines.

In short, globalisation of trade, information and human migration has meant that traditional borders in many regions are becoming non-enforceable. For example, it is 101 years since the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement divided up the collapsing Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of interest and eventual control. These borders were drawn and enforced by the Great Powers through their military superiority.

Seen from the long lens of history, with the Great Powers being unwilling to put troops on the ground to enforce borders drawn up under the colonial era, these artificial borders are failing.

A hallmark of the times is that even the best of think tanks cannot map out how to navigate through this era of disruptive technology, unpredictable climate and shifting alliances and interests. What history teaches us is that the fault lines will be at the borderlands, at the confluence of emerging forces and stresses.

We should therefore be prepared for not only disruption at the borderlands of physical space, but within the realms of cyberspace.

By Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

Related Links:

Proton CEO to resign Sept 30, China’s Geely to nominate CEO for main unit –
Business News

Related posts:

Humans Are Destroying the Environment  PETALING JAYA: They are supposed to be guardians of the environment, and yet “certain enforcem…

Behind BJ Cove houses at Lintang Bukit Jambul 1 is an IJM Trehaus Project.  Approximate Coordinates : 5°20’38.47″N,100°16′..

Advertisements

Crisis of the West or crisis of faith, year of living dangerously?


Global standard: A man walks past a poster showing a US dollar outside an exchange office in Cairo. The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference. — AP

 

OVER the Chinese New Year holidays, we were all treated to the Trump Reality Show, changing the world we thought we understood with various tweets or executive orders.

This behaviour reminded me of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi waking up and was not sure he was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that it was a man. Mr Trump is either a butterfly disguised as President or a truly smart politician disguised as a butterfly. The tragedy is that the rest of us have to live with the consequences.

This week, after humiliating Mexico and reversing his position on Nato, Trump and his advisers have switched to stoking a currency fire, accusing China and Japan of manipulating their currency and even suggesting that Berlin is exploiting a “gross undervalued” euro.

Whatever you think of Trump, he was smart enough to appoint someone like Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. You always can judge a leader by the people he or she surrounds himself with. Steve Bannon is pure American success story – Harvard trained, ex-Goldman Sachs, ex-navy, and founding entrepreneur of Breitbart news, a platform that claims to represent the alt-right and third most influential news channel after Bloomberg and Reuters.

In a remarkable 2014 speech (https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world), Bannon claimed that (this) … “is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

Taken on its own, there is nothing wrong with someone having a view of the world in crisis. But Bannon is now in a pivotal position to do something about it.

The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference.

The rest of the world is now stuck with a “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t” dilemma. If we continue to rely on the dollar, how do we avoid being accused as manipulators, when in reality, so far the market forces are stronger than any central bank on its own? If we don’t rely on the dollar, we will anyway be accused as manipulators, particularly if the currency depreciates against the dollar.

In other words, what is at stake is not a crisis of the West or its faith (which the Rest cannot change), but a crisis of faith within the Rest on the leadership in the West. The dollar remains the anchor of global stability, but when the solo anchor itself is adrift, we need to find alternative anchors. Single anchors are efficient but dangerous if they wobble. We need two or three anchors to triangulate global stability.

Here is another inconvenient truth – it’s Trump’s dollar, but the Rest’s savings. Based on the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US has net global liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.7% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. This has deteriorated from US$2.5 trillion or 16.8% of GDP at the end of 2010. The cumulative current account deficit (from trade) between end 2010-2016 Q3 was only US$2 trillion, which meant that the rest (US$3.3 trillion) was due to valuation changes (change in US dollar exchange rate) or financial account flows.

In other words, it is capital flows rather than trade that is the major driver of the exchange rate, with interest rate differentials influencing also the exchange rate.

If that is the case, going forward, the US net debt position will depend largely on the future global savers, mostly Europe and Asia. And if the savers are subject to constant lecturing by the Trump Administration, an alt-dollar solution will have to be found.

During the Asian financial crisis, Europe sided with the US to reject an Asian Monetary Fund in a move against regionalisation. But if today, the America First strategy is designed at isolating the Rest, then the Rest must unite to protect global trade and investments. If the non-dollar zone can maintain currency stability against the dollar, then there will be less accusations of currency manipulation, forcing the debate into how the US can restore its own fiscal and trade balance to maintain its own savings equilibrium.

In short, the Rest needs to remind the US that she is important, but cannot blame the Rest for all her own problems.

The reserve currency central banks have a major role to ensure currency stability, which can be only preserved by ensuring liquidity and discipline. So far, the Fed has shown responsible leadership, with strong support from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank. But if the dollar is being politicised, then alternatives can and should be found.

All options are now on the table. If the US is no longer dependent on oil and energy, then oil and energy suppliers can price oil trade in currencies other than the dollar. We have seen this before in the competition between different technology standards. The leading standard becomes dominant because it is willing to provide public goods (lots of freebies). But when the dominant standard becomes predatory or extractive in using its monopoly position, then it is time to use alternative standards.

No one should take their position or customers from granted. The Rest will not stand still whilst Trump and his cohorts decide to change allies and foes by the tweet. None of us are against the dollar but for global stability, common sense and mutual respect. The euro, sterling, yen, yuan and SDR’s time has come.

Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

By Andrew Sheng

Year of living dangerously

 

Rash move: The effectiveness of Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the US is highly questionable. — AFP

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

WHEN the world’s most powerful man conducts diplomacy over Twitter, keeping his words to 140 characters, we’d better prepare ourselves for trouble.

And indeed, since Donald Trump took over as President of the United States, there has been a series of totally unpredictable and unconventional decisions made, some mind boggling, even bordering on insanity.

And it has just been a little over two weeks since he moved into the White House.

There is no question that many Americans are troubled by a possible mass influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

This does not involve just the US but also affects several parts of Europe, including Britain, France and Germany, which explains why politicians who play the right-wing card – with the anti-immigrant agenda – are winning.

Trump clearly understands the pulse of the average American, especially those in the rural mid-west, the US heartland.

These are folks who watch conservative Fox TV and whose interaction with people of other races, religions and cultures is limited.

They are not like the liberal city folks of New York or Los Angeles, who turn up at airports and train stations, waving placards and hugging Syrian refugees, as shown on international TV news.

It is probably a different story in Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas or South Carolina but we do not hear the voices of these rural folks on CNN.

Trump won simply because he understood the fears of the average American well. He has continued to play the Islamophobia card because he knows his fearmongering works.

It doesn’t help that most of these refugees want to go to the US or Britain and not the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East. The question remains if these Arab countries are even offering places to the refugees or do the refugees themselves prefer Western secular and democratic values.

Nationalist politicians have already whipped up anger, pointing out that if these Middle East refugees hate Western culture so much and refuse to assimilate, then why should they be let in.

But Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries from entering the US, supposedly to protect the nation from “radical Islamic terrorists”, is highly questionable, especially its effectiveness.

The president has signed the order temporarily suspending the entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen into the US for at least 90 days.

This is odd because if we wish to identify terrorism acts, then surely there’s a high number of terrorists from Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Why were these countries not on the list?

Obviously, Trump did not want to offend US allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Despite the US’ constant lecture on democracy, we all know these two countries are often “spared”, despite their horrifically poor human rights record because they are strategically important to the US. We also should not forget that at one time, the vital oil supply was from Saudi Arabia.

The fact is that in the past four decades, 3,024 people have been killed by foreign terrorists on US soil.

The reality is that the Sept 11 attacks, perpetrated by citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, account for 98.6% of those deaths – 15 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers once called Saudi Arabia home.

In fact, over that period, no American has been killed on US soil by anyone from the nations named in the present president’s executive order.

The San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 22 injured in 2015 was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, who is of Pakistani descent, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who grew up in Saudi Arabia.

The Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 died and 53 were injured last year, was carried out by Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was orchestrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, both of whom were Russian, killing three and injuring several hundred people.

But as the world jumped on Trump, news reports have emerged that Kuwait does the same.

Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans have reportedly not been able to obtain tourism or trade visas to Kuwait since 2011.

Passport holders from the countries are not allowed to enter the Gulf state while the blanket ban is in place, and have been told not to apply for visas, it has been reported.

Likewise, the ban on citizens from fellow Muslim-majority nations has failed to prevent Kuwait from being targeted in a number of terrorist attacks over the past two years – including the bombing of a mosque in 2015 which left 27 Kuwaitis dead.

Kuwait is the only country in the world to officially bar entry to Syrians, until the US named Syria among the seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering its borders.

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style of leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

There will be homegrown terrorists, including Americans – and even radicals entering the US holding other passports – who plan to carry out their crazy acts.

He has also made the work and lives of career diplomats more difficult with his brazen diplomacy. It came as no surprise that 900 State Department diplomats signed a memo to oppose his ban.

According to CNN, the “memo of dissent” warned that not only will the new immigration policy not keep America safe but it will harm efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

The ban “will not achieve its stated aim of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the memo reportedly noted.

Trump has actually provided oxygen to the radicals, who will now thump the noses of moderates in Muslim countries.

There should be no surprises if the recalcitrant Trump expands his list of countries whose citizens would be banned from entering the US.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that 2017 will be a Year of Living Dangerously under Trump. Let’s be prepared for the unexpected from him.

Source: On the beat Wong Chun Wai The Star

Related posts:

Western dominance on the global stage coming to an end, entering the era of Chinese influence

China’s President Xi Jinping speaking at the World Economic Forum AP https://youtu.be/dOrQOyAPUi4 Western dominance on the global s..
The world at a T-junction

 an 22, 2017 Jan 20, 2017, marked the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump. Next week, the Lunar Year of the Monkey …

Nov 12, 2016 I was going to write about disruptive technology but the whole week was taken up
with the disruption that Donald J Trump caused in upsetting …
 
Jan 2, 2017 With his extreme views and bulldozing style, President-elect Donald Trump is set
to create an upheaval, if not revolution, in the United States …

The world at a T-junction


Jan 20, 2017, marked the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump. Next week, the Lunar Year of the Monkey ends, ushering in the Year of the Rooster. This is where monkey business ends and the chickens come home to roost.

Trump’s election marks a watershed between the old liberal order and a new populist phase that is clearly a rejection of the old order. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer defined this change as “Goodbye to the West” – a concept that the US was committed to the defence of its allies, mostly Western Europe, Australia and Japan.

Trump has turned the old establishment on its head. Policy is not made by consensus, but by tweets. World thought leader Mohamed El-Erian, whom I had the great fortune to moderate at his keynote address to the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong earlier this week, argued that the world is at a T-junction.

The old order has come to a dead-end. It is not even at the cross-roads, where you have the option of moving forward. At a T-junction, you either move right or move left. Volatility and the range of possibilities have increased, because no one knows which policy and which rule will change with the next tweet.

There is, of course, no difficulty in picking where Trump will move. Indeed, anyone who said Trump is unpredictable is wrong – he is very predictable.

He will do whatever is in his best interest, saying that it is in America’s interest. He will move right, because the populist sentiment has rejected the old leftist liberal order. Our only concern is – how far right will he go? Based upon the inclinations of his appointees so far, it looks pretty far right.

Trump’s election marks a very important juncture in Pax Americana. Two Democratic presidents marked the rise of the present American Exceptionalism – Franklin D Roosevelt (1933-1945) and John F Kennedy (1961-1963). The first brought in the New Deal to get America out of the Great Recession and then won the Second World War, confirming the new American order. The second inaugurated a more inclusive America, ushering global idealism of the American dream, providing aid, trade and culturally, an Age of Camelot.

New deal

Trump’s ascension signals the end of the rule-based era for the public good, with a new era of clear and present self-interest, changing allies and allegiances by the tweet. Allies and foes alike do not know how to react to this new Art of the Deal.

Crossing the river by feeling the stones is possible, when there are still some stones. But crossing the swamp where waters are murky with crocodiles and leeches will be much more complicated.

I was forced to dust off my copy of German historian Oscar Spengler’s Decline of the West, written between 1911 and 1922, to get a sense of how we should think about this era from a long-term historical perspective. Vastly simplifying his magnum opus, Spengler’s thesis is that when parlimentarian politics fail, history tends to replace disorder with great men like Julius Caesar or Napoleon.

Of course, one has to recognise that troubled times do not always get great statesmen, but may get little despots and decadent failures like Caligula or Nero, who eventually bankrupted Rome.

A significant minority of Americans voted for Trump because he argued that he could make America great again. But the irony is not that America is weak, but that America is strong and on the verge of achieving the strongest recovery among the advanced economies.

The perceived weakness comes from the insecurity of a significant majority of the working class that has become disadvantaged, not by globalisation, but by the benign neglect of the Washington/Wall Street elite who favoured themselves at the expense of the working class.

Globalisation has not failed. It is the high priests of globalisation trying to deflect the populist anger against anyone but themselves that created Trump. The same high priests are joining the Trump camp, cheering the markets for the greater suckers.

What are Asians going to do in this Trumpian Reality Show?

First, we need to distinguish the signal from the noise.

All the breast-beating at the Davos World Economic Forum this week was about how the caviar-champagne-forecasters got it all wrong. They were simply too self-congratulatory, self-referential and self-satisfied. They did not do the reality checks of simply looking at what was truly happening – the anger of the masses.

Second, despite the fact that the dollar is strong and will remain strong if Trump gets his economic policies right, the US is still funded by global savings – mostly from Asia. Asia remains the world’s largest and fastest growing region with the highest savings. What we need to do is to channel that savings to Asian markets, even as the US and European banks retreat home.

Third, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was always an empty promise because going forward, technology and moving manufacturing jobs back to the US will not create greater exports for US trading partners.

The Asian global supply chain is changing very fast from all points-to-one market (US) to point-to-point; South-to-South, because with more than half of world population and a growing middle class, the potential for global trade, investment and financial expansion is still in trade between India, China, Indonesia and all the emerging markets of the world.

If the US turns inward under Trump, then Asians need to heed Franklin Roosevelt’s wake-up call at his inauguration, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Under Trump, we have much to fear, but remember, it’s “his dollar, but our savings”. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis data showed that the US had net foreign liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.8% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. In the Year of the Rooster, this is not chicken-feed.

As America moves to a new T-(for Trump) junction, the choice is not between left or right, but between a Great America or a small-minded America.

Time for Asians to think and act for themselves.

By Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

 

Related:

Analysis: AmeriChina is the right way to go – CGTN

Related Posts:

Disruptive Donald J.Trump, US president-elect policies 
Donald Trump Wins US Presidential Election 
Xi, Trump discuss China-US cooperation 
Trump and China’s bumpy ride begins 
What Trump means for Asian investors? 
US presidential hopefuls show a country lacking in leadership, debate falls into trite format 

What Trump means for Asian investors?


In the lead-up to January 20 when Donald Trump becomes US president, Asians are guessing about the outlook for their savings.

Trump is particularly difficult to read because he made so many wild statements on the campaign trail. Everyone accepts that campaigning politicians promise heaven and deliver mostly hell, but when they win elections, most become much more sober. So far, it looks like Trump’s policy will follow his campaign threats.

The Trump presidency will be bi-polar – either highly successful if he reboots American dynamism, or one that may bankrupt the country trying, including getting involved in another war.

His rise to power has been accompanied by wild swings in investor mood as markets yo-yo from hesitation to rally, with the Dow currently peaking.

So far, Trump family members appear to have more clout than was the case with any previous , with perhaps the exception of President Bill Clinton.

Disappointingly, the favourite to be Trump’s treasury secretary is ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, which means Wall Street would have another insider running the status quo. It remains to be seen whether he can simultaneously deliver the promised spending on infrastructure, tax cuts for the rich and containment of effects of a stronger dollar.

All signs are that the dollar will strengthen, bringing echoes of the famous phrase, “my dollar, your problem”. In its latest health check on the US economy, the International Monetary Fund reported in June that “the current level of the US dollar is assessed to be overvalued by 10-20 per cent and the current account deficit is around 1.5-2 per cent larger than the level implied by medium term fundamentals and desirable policies”. The IMF thinks that the risk of the dollar surging in value is high, and estimates a 10 per cent appreciation would reduce American GDP by 0.5 per cent in the first year and 0.5-0.8 per cent in the second year.

Trump is likely to be highly expansionary in his first year because the Republicans, having control of the Congress, Senate and the White House, must revive growth and jobs to ensure voters give them a second term. Note carefully that Trump’s election promises of stopping immigration, scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, imposing sanctions on China and cancelling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are all inflationary in nature.

This is why if the Fed does not raise interest rates in December this year, it may be under pressure next year not to take any action to slow a Trump economic recovery. The Fed’s independence will be called into question, since Trump’s expansionary policy will put pressure on his budget deficit and national debt, already running at 3 per cent and 76 per cent of GDP respectively. A 1-per-cent increase in nominal interest rates would add roughly 0.7 per cent to the fiscal deficit, making it unsustainable in the long run.

Those who think that recovery in US growth would be good for trade are likely to be disappointed. So far, the recovery (which is stronger than in either Europe or Japan) has led to little increase in imports, due to three effects – lower oil prices, the increase in domestic shale oil production and more onshoring of manufacturing. The US current account deficit may worsen somewhat to around 4 per cent of GDP, but this will not improve unless sanctions are imposed on both China and Mexico, which would in turn hurt global trade.

Why is a strong dollar risky for the global economy?

The answer is that the global growth model would be too dependent on the US, while the other economies are still struggling. Europe used to be broadly balanced in terms of current account, but has moved to become a major surplus zone of around 3.4 per cent of GDP. Germany alone is running a current account surplus of 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2016, benefiting hugely from the weak euro.

Japan has moved back again to a current surplus of 3.7 per cent of GDP, but the yen remains weak at current levels of 107 to the dollar. I interpret the Bank of Japan’s QQE (qualitative and quantitative easing) as both a financial stability tool and also one aimed at ensuring that the capital outflows by Japanese funds would outweigh the inflows from foreigners punting on a yen appreciation.

The Bank of Japan’s unlimited buying of Japanese government bonds at fixed rates would put a cap on losses for pension and insurance funds holding long-term bonds if the yield curve were to steepen (bond prices fall when interest rates rise). Japanese pension and insurance funds have been large investors in US Treasuries and securities for the higher yield and possible currency appreciation.

In short, the capital outflow from Japan to the dollar is helpful to US-Japan relations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to call on Trump and likely dangled a carrot: Tokyo will fund Trump’s expansionary policies so long as Japan is allowed to re-arm.

From 2007 to 2015, US securities held by foreigners increased by $7.3 trillion to $17.1 trillion, bringing its gross amount to 94 per cent of GDP, official figures show. Japan already holds just under $2 trillion of US securities and, as a surplus saver, has lots of room to buy more.

The bottom line for Asia? Don’t expect great trade recovery from any US expansion. On the other hand, Asian investors will continue to buy US dollars on the prospects of higher interest rates and better recovery. This puts pressure on Asian exchange rates.

Of course, it’s possible that US fund managers will start investing back in Asia, but with trade sanctions and frosty relations between US-China in the short-term, US investors will stay home. If interest rates do go up in Asia in response to Fed rate increases, don’t expect the bond markets to improve. The equity outlook would depend on individual country responses to these global uncertainty threats.

In short, expect more Trump tantrums in financial markets.

Think Asian By Andrew Sheng, a former central banker, writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

 

Related posts:
Disruptive Donald J.Trump, US president-elect policies

 Nov 12, 2016 By Andrew Sheng, Asia News Network/The Star The writer, a Distinguished Fellow of Hong Kong-based think-tank Fung Global Institute, writes …

Jul 24, 2016 When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences. By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on.

Dealing with the new abnormal negative …

Jun 15, 2016 When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences. By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on.

Mar 5, 2016 Modern finance and money being managed like a Ponzi scheme! Economic Collapse soon? Ponzi schemes and modern finance. Andrew…

 

Beware when elephants Trump-et! Trump victory a major …

Mar 19, 2016 When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences. By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on…

One phone to rule all; Fintech, the healthy disruptors of

 Apr 16, 2016 WHO dominates the phone dominates the Internet. The whole world of information is now available in your hand, replacing your own mind as a …

https://rightways.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/dd58a-penang_andrew2bsheng.jpgRejuvenating George Town, Penang 

Oct 30, 2010 THINK ASIAN By ANDREW SHENG EVERY time I open my window, I see paradise – not heaven, but a neon sign for Paradise hotel in Penang …
Why do Chinese think differently from the West? 
 Aug 6, 2016 By Andrew Sheng, Asia News Network The writer, a Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Global Institute, writes on global issues from an Asian …

Oct 3, 2016 We will know by November, By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is Distinguished Fellow, Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong.

 

The alchemy of money

 May 14, 2016 In medieval times, only those with real money could afford alchemy. If it was true then, it remains true today. Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on …

Why do Chinese think differently from the West?


Sculptures of Confucius with his students are seen near the headquarters office building of Chambroad Holding in Boxing, Shandong Province, China, June 27.PHOTO: REUTERS

We live in an age of science and technology, so strictly speaking science should be able to forecast the future and help us make decisions better. But in this Age of Uncertainty, the best economic models did not predict the global financial crisis.

How did the ancients attempt to make better decisions? They relied on history, their own experience or oracles, astrology or mumbo-jumbo. In a situation of uncertainty, you make decisions on the basis of information that you have, and if don’t have that information, you simply have to consult someone or something you believe in.

Some people turn to old sacred text, such as the Bible, with a priest to interpret what God intends. The Greeks used the Delphic Oracle, dating back to 1,400 BC, whose predictions were in riddles that were interpreted by the female diviners. Divination was then serious business, with astronomers studying the stars for some cosmic order.

Most people think that Chinese philosophy began with Confucius [551-479 BC], but his school became famous because it compiled the existing ancient books into the Five Classics, of which the I Ching (or Book of Change) is one. The problem with any translation of ancient text is that we can never differentiate translations from interpretation. How an ancient text is read depends very much upon the translators’ biases or ignorance. This is why reading of sacred text is always personal.

My own view is that the I Ching deserves to be considered a book of early Chinese science, rather than as a book on divination, considered at best as pseudo-science.

The I Ching comprises two books, an earlier classic dated to roughly 1,000 BC, and an interpretive text written about 400-600 years later. The earlier classic comprises the Eight trigrams, attributed to Fuxi, one of the legendary founders of China, and the 64 hexagrams, reputedly invented by Duke Zhou, one of the founders of the Zhou dynasty. In simple terms, the Eight trigrams simply stand for eight possible situations, from good to bad; whereas the 64 hexagrams stand for 64 possible predictive outcomes. The later text is attributed to Confucius and his disciples, which helps the interpretation of what the hexagrams mean. To use the I Ching for divination or decision purposes, you randomly choose a hexagram and then consult the I Ching for what it means.

Herein lies a fundamental difference in decision making between Western science and the Chinese approach to life.

Science developed in the West partly because of the alphabetic language, derived from the Arabs, which means that you can define words and meaning much more precisely, since the English language comprises today over a million words. As the philosopher Wittgenstein argued, all concepts are defined by language.

The Chinese language, on the other hand, is basically ideogramatic and phonetic, meaning that each character comprises radicals that originally were pictures. For example, the character for man can easily be identified as a drawing of a standing man. Because there are limited sounds for each character, each character carries four or five tones, and complex words comprise combinations of different characters. Most people can read basic Chinese with about two to three thousand characters, with the maximum number of characters being roughly 50,000. Complex words are combinations of two or three characters.

Given limited sounds, tones and characters, the Chinese language is not as precise as English. A single character can have different meanings and different sounds, so that Chinese words and phrases can only be understood in context. So when I hear a Chinese speak, I often have to ask in what context is that particular sound/word being used? In other words, we have to add contextual information in order to interpret the meaning of what is being said.

Western science, following the Aristolean logic, is essentially reductionist and linear, seeking cause and effect. The language enables the conceptualisation to be precise and the logic flow to be consistent. The imprecision inherent in the Chinese language means that conceptual thinking is more organic and fluid, and subject to interpretation, including guessing.

In other words, whilst natural sciences could be more precise in communication between two machines, the communication between two human beings carry a huge amount of uncertainty. The social sciences are much more qualitative because one human being cannot by definition fully comprehend the other person’s life experience, values and preferences. Uncertainty is built into the social sciences.

Modern economics dealt with this problem by assuming perfect information, which actually assumed away uncertainty. Economic models based on such perfect information and rational players (mechanical decision-making) gave rise to precise or “optimal”, first-best outcomes. The first best ideal is then thought to be a natural outcome, and life will simply revert back to equilibrium or a stable situation.

Real life is obviously not so simple. The eight trigrams mean that in binary good and bad or black and white terms, there are eight possible outcomes in any decision: good, bad and six mixtures of good/bad. The 64 hexagrams makes life even more complicated, since black and white are only two possible manifestations of any system, the rest being 62 shades of grey (mixture of black and white).

By definition, any fundamentalist view of life is more likely to be wrong, because life is mostly shades of grey.

The best games that illustrates this difference between Western and Chinese thinking are the games of chess and Go (weiqi). Chess has defined linear moves with six types of pieces. It forces one to think logically and sequentially. Go comprises only black and white pieces, but the player has to think spatially, playing the piece in any position on the board, continually trying to outguess the other player.

Without understanding these fundamental differences in language, context and decision-making under uncertainty, it would be difficult to bridge the yawning gap between both sides of the Pacific. It also means that the Chinese approach to economics and geo-politics will be quite different than is more commonly interpreted outside China.

By Andrew Sheng, Asia News Network

The writer, a Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Global Institute, writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

Related posts:

 

 Jul 24, 2016 When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences. By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on.right-waystan.blogspot.com


Dealing with the new abnormal negative …

Jun 15, 2016 When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences. By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on.

Mar 5, 2016 Modern finance and money being managed like a Ponzi scheme! Economic
Collapse soon? Ponzi schemes and modern finance. Andrew…

Beware when elephants Trump-et! Trump victory a major …

Mar 19, 2016 When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences. By Andrew Sheng Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on…

One phone to rule all; Fintech, the healthy disruptors of

Apr 16, 2016 WHO dominates the phone dominates the Internet. The whole world of information is now available in your hand, replacing your own mind as a …

Rejuvenating George Town, Penang

 Oct 30, 2010 THINK ASIAN By ANDREW SHENG EVERY time I open my window, I see paradise – not heaven, but a neon sign for Paradise hotel in Penang …

 

The global mahjong winner’s curse


There is grave concern that the world economy is slipping into what Harvard professor and former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers calls the global secular deflation. In simple terms, growth has slowed without inflation, despite exceptionally stimulative monetary policy. Larry’s view is that the advanced countries can use fiscal policy to stimulate growth, using massive investments in infrastructure. If needs be, this can be financed by central banks.

Central bank financing fiscal deficits is technically called “helicopter money”, named by the late monetarist economist Milton Friedman as the central bank pushing money out of the helicopter. Strict monetarism thinks that this would cause inflation.

The simple reason why the world is moving into secular deflation is that the largest economies are all slowing for a variety of reasons. Unconventional monetary policy applied since the 2007 crisis has brought central bank interest rates to zero or negative terms in economies accounting for 60% of world GDP.

Most economists blame current slow growth to “lack of aggregate demand” or “excess of aggregate production”. The rich countries are mostly aging and already heavily burdened with debt, so they cannot consume more. After the 2007 global financial crisis, the emerging market economies have slowed down, as demand for their exports have slowed. We are in a vicious circle where global trade growth is now slower than GDP growth, because the US economy is no longer the consumption engine of last resort. China, which has been a huge consumer of commodities, has slowed. Japanese growth has been flat due to an aging population. European growth has not recovered, partly because the leading economy, Germany, calls for austerity by its southern partners.

The Brexit shock threatens to weaken global confidence and send growth down another notch.

Former Bank of England Governor Lord Mervyn King famously called the global monetary order a game of sodoku, in which national current accounts in the balance of payments add up to a zero sum game. This is because in the global trade game, one country’s current account deficit is another country’s surplus. In the past, if the US runs larger and larger current account deficits, world growth is stimulated because everyone wants to hold dollars and has been willing to supply the US with all manners of consumer goods. This has been called an “exorbitant privilege” for the dollar.

The present global monetary order or non-order is a result of the 1971 US dollar de-link from gold, which gave rise to a phase of floating exchange rates and rising capital flows, which some people call Bretton Woods II. The old order, set at the Bretton Wood Conference of 1944, centered around a system of global fixed exchange rates, based on the US dollar link with gold price at US$35 to one ounce of gold.

But flexible exchange rates has resulted in a system where everyone seems to be devaluing their way out of trouble. Has the global secular deflation something to do with Bretton Woods II?

My answer must be yes. The reason lies in what I call, instead of sodoku, the mahjong winner’s curse. The Chinese game of mahjong has four players with a limited number of chips. If one player is the persistent winner, he or she ends up with all the chips and the game stops. Since the global game of trade cannot stop, the winner has both an exorbitant privilege (of being funded by the others) and an exorbitant curse (of bearing the loss if the others won’t or refuse to pay). To keep the game going, the winner has to give or lend the chips back to the other players, who play with the hope of winning the next round.

Indeed, if the winner is generous, the game can be made bigger, because the winner can issue more chips (defined as a reserve currency), which the others are more than willing to borrow and play.

The current world situation is that the Winners are the four reserve currency countries, the dollar, euro, yen and sterling, all of which have interest rates near zero or even negative. Until recently, the Winners blame China and the oil producing countries as having too high current account surpluses. But recently, after the huge European cutback in expenditure, Europe as a whole is the world’s largest current account surplus group of nearly 5% of GDP.

Herein lies the winner’s curse. The emerging markets should be able to stimulate global growth, but are unwilling to run larger current account deficits because they cannot get financing. The richer economies can stimulate global growth, but they are unwilling to do so, because they either feel that they already have too much debt or because they worry that stimulus would lead to inflation.

However, reserve currency countries have an advantage. As long as they are willing to run current account deficits, there will be little inflation because the world economy has huge excess capacity and surplus savings. If emerging markets run higher current account deficits, they will have to depreciate, which is exactly what Brazil, South Africa and others have done.

The winner’s curse is that if Europe is now unwilling to reflate and spend, the world will continue to slow. Indeed, in a world of greater geo-political risks, money is fleeing to the US dollar and the yen, causing both to appreciate.

What these capital flows into the reserve currencies when their interest rate is zero and they are unable to reflate imply is that the dollar and yen play the deflationary role of gold in the 1930s. As more and more mahjong players hold gold and don’t spend, the world global trade and growth game slows further. The mahjong winner’s curse requires the winners to stimulate and spend, bearing higher credit risks. That’s the privilege and responsibility of winners in the global game. If not, look out for more global secular deflation.

By Tan Sri Andrew Sheng who writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

Related posts

Mar 5, 2016 Modern finance and money being managed like a Ponzi scheme! Economic
Collapse soon? Ponzi schemes and modern finance. Andrew …

Dealing with the new abnormal negative interest rate …

 Jun 15, 2016 Modern finance and money being managed like a Ponzi scheme! Economic
Collapse soon? Ponzi schemes and modern finance. Andrew.

Beware when elephants Trump-et! Trump victory a major …

 Mar 19, 2016 In other words, growth accelerates exponentially until the economy reaches
maturity and slows down, and if there is no longer … Modern finance and money
being managed like a Ponzi scheme! Economic Collapse soon?

The alchemy of money

 May 14, 2016 Finance is a derivative of the real economy, which can be leveraged or multiplied
as … value of the underlying asset – which were triggers of the global crash of 2007, … all lending) can only be implemented after the next and coming crisis. …Modern finance and money being managed like a Ponzi scheme !

 

How do we get out of the debt trap without printing more money?


The policy options open to major economies, including China, to reduce debt, before another global crisis hits

ALL of us are worried about growing global debt as a precursor to another round of crises. After the last global financial crisis, 2007-2009, global debt rose to more than US$200 trillion or US$27,000 for each person in the world.

Since 2.8 billion or nearly 40% live on US$2 per day, there is no way that the debt can ever be repaid. The bulk of debt owed by governments, banks and companies will be repaid by creating more debt.

If we are happy to create money, we should be happy to create more debt. Right?

Wrong. The right question is not the size of the debt or liability, but where is the net asset? Individually, we can always repay the debt if we spend less than what we earn, or invested in an asset that generates sufficient income to pay the interest.

Collectively, the government can always borrow to repay, because it can always tax to repay, if not principal, at least on the interest. Countries only get into trouble when they owe foreigners and cannot raise enough foreign exchange to repay their debt.

Charles Goodhart, Emeritus Professor at London School of Economics and one of the foremost thinkers on money and banking has written a series of important articles for Morgan Stanley, analysing the current debt crisis.


Emerging markets

The reason we ended up with more debt than ever is due to three factors since 1970 – the willingness of the financial sector to lend, the increase in global savings relative to investment and the demand for safe assets. Professor Goodhart attributed the structural increase in savings to favourable demographics in the last forty years – particularly as emerging markets like China increased their savings from growth in their labour force that engaged in international trade.

The increase in savings relative to investments created a global savings glut, which meant lower real interest rates.

The willingness of emerging markets to park their excess savings in advanced countries in the form of official reserves and the banks willing to extend credit at lower interest rates created the boom in financialisation. Lower interest rates encouraged speculative activity (funded by debt) rather than investments in long-term productive projects.

When the bust occurred, the advanced central banks wanted to avoid a debt implosion and added to the bubble by lowering interest rates and flooded the markets with short-term liquidity.

The quantitative easing (QE) stopped the widening of the crisis, but its initial success enabled politicians to avoid taking tough action in structural reforms. The result was further slower growth from declining productivity, even as companies and governments continued to borrow, affordable only at near zero interest rates. In short, we are in a debt trap – more debt, little growth.

 

 

Negative interest rates as a policy tool was invented by small countries like Sweden and Switzerland to discourage large capital inflows that created excessive currency appreciation.

But for the eurozone and Japan to try that would actually destroy their banks’ profitability, which is why bank shares dropped after these were introduced. If banks think they will lose money, they will cut back lending to the real sector further, negating the objective of QE to stimulate growth. Banks receiving QE funds faced the double prospect of being punished for taking credit risks and also the need to increase both capital and liquidity due to the tighter bank regulations.

Helicopter money

Helicopter money is not about central bankers jumping out of helicopters to atone for their mistakes, but about central bank financing a massive increase in fiscal expenditure – truly monetary creation on a large scale. If this happens, watch out for a rise in gold prices.

Prof Goodhart has carefully analysed the three options for deleverging or getting out of the debt trap. The first is to deleverge by swapping debt for equity, being tried by China.

This is feasible when the country is a net lender and both borrowers and lenders are state-owned entities. The second option is to use inflation to reduce the real value of debt. As the recent experience showed, getting inflation even up to target was tough to achieve.

The third option is to address collateral by inducing lenders and borrowers to renegotiate their debt or make the debt permanent. This is both painful and difficult and is unlikely to be adopted unless other options are tried.

China’s banking regulator moves to contain off-balance-sheet risk

In my view, the true result of the Bank of Japan’s negative interest rates is a tax on the older generation, because they are the ones not spending.

Japan tried Keynesian fiscal spending, which failed to sustain growth but created a huge debt overhang.

The Japanese older generation and the corporate sector keeps on saving because they are worried about the future, not surprising given an aging population and sluggish demand for exports.

So if you can’t increase the inflation tax, or corporate taxation to reduce the fiscal debt, use negative interest rates to reduce the value of savings of retirees and the corporate sector. Only Japanese savers would not revolt under such inequity.

For countries that have net savings and large public assets, like China, there is a fourth option to get out of the debt trap, and that is to re-write the national balance sheet. Most foreign analysts who worry about China’s debt overhang forget that after three decades of growth, the Chinese state has also accummulated net assets (net of all liabilities) equivalent to 166% of GDP.

That can be injected as equity into the overleveraged enterprises and banks if and only if the governance and return on assets can be improved under better management.

In the short-run, a clean-up of the over-leveraged enterprise sector and local government debt, embedded in the official and shadow banking system, will help sustain long-run stable growth. How to do this technically will be explained in the next article.

By Tan Sri Andrew Sheng who writes on global affairs from an Asian perspective.

Related posts:

Mar 19, 2016 Increasingly, they use quantitative easing (QE) or unconventional monetary policy to try and expand aggregate demand. The trouble is that QE …
Mar 5, 2016 Under globalisation, the smaller reserve-currency countries like the euro zone
and Japan can engage in quantitative easing, because instead…

To fellow US interest rate hike or to cut rates?

  Dec 19, 2015 The European Union and Japan are still engaged in quantitative easing and are keeping rates near zero or in the case of the EU, in negative .

 Jan 24, 2016 … the recovery has been driven by asset market bubbles, blown up by theinjection of cash into the financial market through quantitative
%d bloggers like this: