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Centennial Asia Advisor’s Chairman Roberto De Ocampo was one of the invited speakers at the 3rd Singapore Global Dialogue.
Presentation of Dr. Roberto F. de Ocampo, OBE Former Philippine Finance Minister Delivered at the 3rd Singapore Global Dialogue, Sept. 21, 2012 Shangri-la Hotel, Singapore “Is the World Economy Governable?”It’s a Different World When I accepted the invitation to speak in this 3rd Singapore Global Dialogue on the panel session, “Is the World Economy Governable?” my first reaction was why was this question being asked in the first place? I figured that this question is being considered because there is some sense that the world economy has become less than governable. The first clear reality that predicates the question is that when we speak of the world, the reality is that it’s a far different world now from what it was even as recently as five years ago. To put things in perspective, one could say that the world economy was so much simpler and, thus, governable when the Bretton Woods agreements were established giving rise, among others to post-war global institutions and procedures to regulate the international monetary system. The Bretton Woods system achieved its objectives to stabilize exchange rates and enhance economic growth. It gave importance to world institutions that it established, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development better known as the World Bank.
The important element of the Bretton Woods was theobligation of countries to adopt a monetary policy that maintained theexchange rate by tying their currencies to the US dollar. It was alsocharacterized by the ability of IMF to provide immediate relief for countrieswith problems in balance of payments. The system generally worked as ithelped establish a period of relative stability until 1971 when the USAabandoned fixed exchange rates. A fundamental difference since Bretton Woods is the change inthe balance of economic power (and perhaps along with it, political leverage).A new configuration in world economy emerged after a series of financialcrises in recent years that affected the dominant economicpowers, particularly the USA and the European Community. These crises alsoraised questions about the effectiveness of the Bretton Woodsinstitutions, especially the IMF. The issue of world economy being governablehas become more challenging.
These financial crises started in certain national economies, andquickly triggered impact of regional and global proportions. Among thesewere the Mexican peso crisis in 1994 that triggered the “tequila effect’ inSouth America; the collapse of Thailand’s baht in 1997 that sparked the Asianfinancial crisis; the sub prime mortgage crisis in the US in 2007 that set off aglobal economic recession; and, the government debt crisis in Greece in 2009which contributed to the Euro zone financial crisis that is still ongoing. Along side these crises there has developed a defining event in theworld economy, namely the emergence of China as a dominant power. Its welldocumented economic growth has enhanced its global influence. Thus sincethe time of the Bretton Woods agreements world balance of power has gonefrom Cold War relationships between the USA and Russia, the collapse ofCommunism and the emergence of the USA as the world’s predominant worldpower, and now the rise of a new balance of power primarily between theUSA and China. One can also make a case that there is a shifting of the world’sbalance of power towards Asia, particularly with the rise of EmergingEconomies most of whom are Asian and the ongoing weakness and turmoil ofthe Eurozone.
Another difference in the world economy involves not just the economicconfiguration, but the demand for governance to underpin the new structure.Bretton Woods provided the platform for the economic powers, particularlyWestern Europe and USA, to be the dominant players in world economy. Theyset the rules of the game, so to speak, thus proving true the golden rule: hewho has the gold makes the rules. But these rules, as they refer to the conduct of business in internationalfinance and economics, were broken by these very same dominant economieswho made the rules, thus resulting in various financial scandals that rockedthe world economy and giving rise to the issue of world governability. Inshort, if the rule makers themselves have broken the rules, who is in a positionto enforce the rules on them or can they be relied upon to right themselves? We have seen in the last decade or so notable instances whencompanies employed questionable accounting tricks, financialengineering, complicated risk metrics, and outright fraud in order to hidelosses and inflate profits. There was
the Enron scandal in 2001, WorldCom which inflated its cash flow by some $3billion, and posted positive performance when it really lost money, theLehman Brothers collapse that triggered the still on-going financial andeconomic difficulties in the USA, the most recent Barclays scandal, and ofcourse the nerve wracking seemingly intractable saga of the Eurozone. Companies in the dominant economies were obsessed with hitting theirprofit and share value targets. They let their people on their merry way, farfrom the executive suites, manipulating fuzzy numbers and obscure financialtransactions with total absence of oversight by their superiors. The result wasfinancial collapse that triggered a global crisis In reaction to these, the noted economist Paul Krugman once wrotethat he thought banking should be made boring again. But in the years thatfollowed the US Financial Services Modernization Act “banking becameanything but boring. Wheeling and dealing flourished, and pay scales infinance shot up, drawing in many of the nation’s best and brightest youngpeople. And we were assured that our supersized financial sector was the keyto prosperity”. Instead, and as Krugman stated “finance turned into themonster that ate the world economy”.
Furthermore, the process of globalization has been instrumental inthe shift of the balance of economic power. Globalization not only facilitatedinteraction among the new and old dominant or important players in theworld economy through trade, capital and investment flows. Moreimportantly, it facilitated the exchange of information, concepts and standardsthat these economies have come to acknowledge the critical value ofgovernance for growth and development to be sustainable.
There was a lot of blame to pass around. The easy-money policies of theUS Federal Reserve have been suggested to be a leading cause of the subprime mortgage crisis. Another school of thought maintains that the reasonpeople commit these financial shenanigans and a fraud is greed. Whatever the reason, the near-collapse of the world financial system in2008 and the global credit crisis that followed, the continuing Eurozone saga,and the shifting balance of economic power has given rise to widespread callsfor changes in the regulatory system and the structure of decision making ininternational finance. From G7 to G20 This realization of a new economic paradigm was not lost on theeconomies that were dominant or principal players of the Bretton Woods era,namely the Group of Seven comprising of USA, UK, West Germany, Italy,Japan, France and Canada, and thus the G7 expanded to the G20. The G20’s Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central BankGovernors has declared itself as the "premier forum for internationaleconomic cooperation" but it continues to suffer from "input" legitimacy dueto its exclusive nature and lack of broader representation.
Some have observed that “The G-20 is a self-appointed group. Its composition is determined by the major countries and powers. It may be more representative than the G-7 or the G-8, in which only the richest countries are represented, but it is still arbitrary.” A study by the Danish Institute for International Studies (2011) makes the following points:• The claim by the G20 that its “economic weight and broad membership gives it a high degree of legitimacy” is not convincing. It permanently excludes 173 countries.• This fact alone undercuts its claim to representational legitimacy.• In addition to this fundamental problem, the composition of the membership of the G20 is problematic from a representational perspective because (i) the African region is grossly under-represented (South Africa is the only African member country) and (ii) low-income countries and small, open economies are completely absent
While the G20 has invited ‘representatives’ from underrepresentedregions – such as Vietnam for ASEAN and Ethiopia and Malawi or theAfrican Union – to participate as ad hoc ‘observers’ in G20 summits thistantamount to ‘concessions at the margins’. Representational legitimacyrequires universal participation on equal terms, such as when all countriesparticipate with voting power in proportion to their GDP.
Even a World Bank/ IMF paper critiqued that the G20 membership is based on no explicit criteria and includes several countries which are obviously not “systematically important” such as Argentina and Australia.• Lacking explicit membership criteria, the G20 contains no mechanism for adjusting membership to reflect changing realities of the global economy.• The G20 claim for being representative due to its high share of the world economy is misleading because its figures include the whole of the EU via the EU chair. Take out the non-G20 countries in the EU and the shares fall to 77% of world GDP, 60% world trade, and 62% of world population.• There is also the further question of why the EU is privileged as a full member while representatives from two other regional organizations (African Union and ASEAN) are marginal invited guests, and why other regions (such as Latin America, Middle East) have slight or no representation.
Some say that it also suffers from "output" legitimacy, namely itsability or lack of it to strengthen international cooperation and come upwith effective solutions. Among issues raised in this regard have been that: the results ofreform processes started in the U.S., E.U. and several individual countriesafter the 2009 Pittsburgh Summit are very meager, or are too slow andcome too late.
Examples cited are the Basel III Agreement which is still notfinalized, 4 years after Lehman, the stress test for European banks thatfailed to recognise that the entire banking sector in Spain wasinsolvent, and in the US, after passing the Dodd/Frank-Act establishingnew structure of supervisory system, stress tests were made but shortlythereafter J.P. Morgan Chase had to confess to a loss of USD2bn. Thelosses are now estimated at USD5.9bn. All thse criticisms notwithstanding, I don’t think it is our intentionto answer the question asked in this panel, “Is the World EconomyGovernable?” with a proposal for a supra “world government” withsupreme exercise of political and economic authority. This is of courseunrealistic. What is realistic is “world governance”. This is a requisite forgrowth and development to be sustainable. But definitely, the G20 as amechanism for world economic governance is still at this point a work inprogress.
The G20, IMF and other international institutions must continue toevolve with the changing configuration of the world economy. Neweconomic centers or powers are emerging as others fade away. Neweconomic parameters and balances in world economy develop. Theseinstitutions must continuously assess their mandates, objectives, andmemberships lest they become an anachronism. The development process is not static, and depending on how acrisis is handled an economy can come out of it stronger. Asia, includingthe Philippines, was not as adversely affected by the 2008 global financialcrisis.
I recall that during my time as Chairman of the APEC FinanceMinistries at the onsent of the Asian Financial crisis Japan proposed a rescuefund that would operate like an Asian IMF, but calibrated according to thecharacter and context of the regional economic crisis. The proposal was notimplemented as dominant APEC member countries from the West objected toit, claiming that it would lead to moral hazard. If a proposal to establish a regional kind of an IMF is deemedineffective on the belief that it would create moral hazards, are the countriesas rule makers any more credible when they are themselves the rule breakers?Is it time now to revisit the concept of an Asian IMF as part of a new worldeconomic governance? More broadly, isn’t it time to review the organizational configuration ofthe Bretton Woods institutions? For instance, under some protocol orunderstanding, the US gets to appoint the World Bank President and Europethe IMF Managing Director. Does this still reflect the current balance of powerin a similar way that the current protocol reflects the balance during theestablishment of the Bretton Woods agreements?
The Sum is Equal to its Parts The world economy is indeed different now. But as always, the sum can only be equal to its parts. And the effectiveness of the sum, as it were, of a system of world economic governance can only be equal to the economic health and interactive harmony of its parts. Perhaps the progressive improvement of G-20’s role in world economic governance could start, as some suggest, with a more explicit and transparent criteria of size and regional representation. Furthermore, aside from the abovementioned issue concerning the appointment of its heads, consideration could also be given to the reconfiguration of the boards of World Bank and IMF. It has been suggested that instead of their current board structures where eight countries represent themselves whereas all others are grouped into multi-country constituencies, a more representative system be put in place dividing the world up into fewer main regions with more balanced representation and with voting shares more representative of the regions’ economic weight.
From the Asian perspective, the key is integration. As a memberof the External Advisory and Review Board of the ADB’s 2010publication, “Institutions for Regional Integration: Toward an AsianEconomic Community”, we identified certain challenges to make thisconcept of integration viable. Quoting from this publication, theintegration process creates the following challenges for policy maker: 1. Cementing recent gains: Although Asia’s economic growth hasbeen rapid, recent achievements are fragile. The region’s beneficialopenness to the rest of the world also has its downsides, not the least avulnerability to external shocks. And while regional economic cooperationhas progressed in recent years, existing obligations and commitmentshave yet to be implemented uniformly across Asia and the Pacific.
2.Broadening the process: Until recently, Asian economic integrationhas mostly focused on East Asia with ‘Factory Asia” being mainly an East Asianoperation. While trade between South and East Asia, notably between Indiaand China, is growing, not all parts of those regions, and not all sectors andactivities, are equally involved. 3.Deepening integration: The next steps is regional integration involvemoving from the integrated trade and production networks to more deeplyintegrated goods markets by lifting barriers to trade and competition,removing obstacles to interregional trade in services, allowing a freermovement of labor, and developing more resilient financial markets. 4.Ensuring the compatibility of regional and global integration: SinceAsia is highly integrated globally well as regionally, it is crucial that measuresto cement the region’s integration complement rather than jeopardize its linkswith the rest of the world.
Aside from this, it is still a reality that much of global governancedepends on the situation of the most powerful countries. It would beparticularly important for key parts, particularly regional aggrupations and themore dominant economies to bring themselves to a healthy economic stateand a continuing harmonious relationship. If, as they should, these leading economies, primarily the USA, theEurozone, and China are to credibly take the head, certainly the USA has toput in the financial regulatory framework to correct a financial system stillprone to unbridled capitalism’s excesses, the Eurozone has to face the realitythat monetary union without a better semblance of fiscal union will result incontinuing economic crisis firefighting, China must begin to increasingly showits ability to be a credible influential voice on the world economic stage. From the geopolitical perspective, considering the inevitable balanceof power and to some extent, rivalry between the US and China it would beimportant that the two do not misunderstand each others signals andintentions since, as always, when elephants battle, ants get trampled.Thank you.