Dear Renaissance-Network, Nov. 30 The three items below shed some interesting light on the current financial crisis in East Asia. It is all too easy for people in North America to convince themselves that East Asia's crisis is largely due to an unfortunate regional tendency for corruption. Certainly, our mass media seem convinced of this glib explanation. So thank you to Eric Fawcett in Canada, Daryl Copeland (also in Canada, I think) and Wendell W. Solomons in Sri Lanka, for these articles. all the best, Jan PS For those of you who tried to send messages (re: Pinochet) to Jack Straw and Robin Cook, it turns out only Jack Straw has e-mail; the other address doesn't work. ******************************************************************** Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 23:03:30 -0500 From: Eric Fawcett <•••@••.•••> Subject: Malaysia's real sin is against the New World Order From: Eric Fawcett <fawcett> see also REPLY below for a "reality check" by Daryl Copeland, who unlike the media commentators at APEC know something about Malaysia Malaysia's sin is NOT violation of Human Rights, as all the western media are saying, but defiance of the Nuclear Powers, and worse even, refusing to submit to the IMF "reform" measures. The second is the greater challenge to the New World Order, but they are two sides of the same coin, which means that after achieving nuclear abolition our struggle must continue! The roots of war are the lust for power, and the nuclear states and their allies in NATO see their weapons in this light. 1] Malaysia in 1997 (and again in 1998) introduced at the United Nations a resolution calling for negotiations, starting in 1998 (1999) on a treaty banning all nuclear weapons, in accord with the 1996 World Court opinion. 2] APEC Meeting, report by John Stackhouse, Globe and Mail, Nov 18, 1998 Heading: Malaysian PM ridicules Chretien on human rights Sub-heading: Blames North American Greed for Asian crisis On the eve of the annual gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders, host Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad lashed out at Canada for its human rights stand in the region, and at North American greed for throwing Asia into crisis. In a major speech to business leaders, Dr. Mahathir called for swift action against currency speculators, blaming them for driving Asian currencies to unprecedented lows, and blocking any hope for recovery. He also condemned the Group of Seven industrial powers, including Canada, for failing to rein in currency traders. "We still believe that currency traders are too powerful and completely irresponsible." Dr. Mahathir said. "They don't mind bankrupting countries and regions, impoverishing millions of workers and destroying whole economies in their quest for profits." ~snip After firing his deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, an ardent market liberaliser, in September, Dr. Mahathir shut down currency trading in Malaysia, froze the value if the ringitt, and announced that investors would not be allowed to withdraw their money from the country for one year. Other counties that opted for the tough medicine of the International Monetary Fund are still ailing, Dr. Mahathir said. "The people in these countries are suffering unemployment and acute shortages of food and other goods," he said. "None of the currencies of these countries have regained their previous strength." ========================================================================= REPLY From: Daryl Copeland <•••@••.•••>, editor "Behind the Headlines" Eric - I think that you are on to something. And the larger story is instructive as a case study in international political economy. Malaysia is a country of many interesting twists and ironies, and its govvernment of course makes mistakes and has problems. The Malaysian press, for its part, is with few exceptions simpering, self-censoring and sycophantic. But Western political leaders and their own media toadies in Kuala Lumpur for the APEC festivities earlier this week did little to raise the benchmarks of informed discourse or good governance. Indeed, many of the events and much of the foreign commentary surrounding this week's APEC leaders meetings had the quality of a fiasco. Subtlety, nuance, and a knowledge of the subject matter were notable mainly for their absence. >From the analytical perspective afforded from this side of the Pacific, the sense of disconnect throughout the proceedings was palpable. Perhaps somebody handed poor Al Gore the wrong speech. Or maybe he thought he was somewhere else. But the content and context of of his celebrated remarks about "people power, doi moi and reformasi" and references to the brave Malaysian people calling out for democracy were nothing short of astonishing. International media coverage of this intervention and other instances of human rights sermonizing was bereft of background research and was appallingly unquestioning and superficial. Malaysia has held elections fastidiously since independence. I was working in the country during the last contest, in 1995; it was lively and pluralistic. The most effective opposition to the ruling UMNO coalition came, interestingly, from the PAS, an Islamic party with a strong base of support in the Northeast. Mr. Mahathir, a strong believer in the secular state, nonetheless won his largest majority ever, with 65% of the popular vote. Though I can't rule it out, it is far from clear to me that the Malaysia's PM has lost his touch. He is sometimes erratic, often outrageous and always unpredictable, but he is a canny politician whose pronouncements always contain enough truth that they cannot be dismissed. He has styled himself as a lightning rod for issues close to NAM and G77, and clearly relishes exposing what he considers to be Westerm duplicity and double standards. This has made him unpopular in some quarters. Malaysia is not, however, Indonesia, and the tendency to put Mr. Mahathir in the same archtypal box (corrupt, unrepresentative, authoritarian, etc.) as former President Suharto is a serious mistake which should have been resisted. Dr. Mahathir's careful, if calculated management of inter-communal relations has been at times heavy-handed, but he has secured social peace in a country with profound ethnic, racial and religious differences. In many other countries with a similarly volatile mix - Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, much of central Asia - things have not gone as well. Mahathir's vision of economic development has taken a toll on the environment and indigenous peoples, but he has achieved much for the country in terms of health care, education and infrastructure. Among the majority in the kampongs and rural areas, the standard of living has improved markedly on his watch. I suspect that he continues to enjoy widespread support. The country's human rights record is relatively good, especially if assessed by regional standards. Former Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim, moreover, is a rather unusual victim and unlikely hero. He certainly would not have been my choice of champion if I was a speechwriter for a visiting dignitary. PM Mahathir's former protege and heir apparent rarely spoke out during his 15 years in government. He was silent during the harsh crackdown against the Al Arquam religious movement in 1994, which ended in an unseemly show trial its leader, and a televised confession of religious "deviance". Mr. Ibrahim's strongest defense against charges that his family had benefitted unduely from schemes to distribute wealth to ethnic Malays was that he did not sit on any of the committees charged with making such decisions... I don't doubt that his persecution is politically motivated, but he is apparently being accorded due judicial process and the court is still in session. Malaysia's response to the Asian financial crisis, imposed against the advice of Mr. Ibrahim, provides another telling illustration of the gap between appearence and reality. Fearing the kind of chaos wrought on Thailand and Korea, and sensitive to anything which might jeopardize its delicate inter-ethnic balance, the Mahathir fired Anwar, assumed the finance portfolio and instructed the government to place minimum length of stay requirements on foreign investment, peg the value of ringgit and limit its convertability. The fact that Chile, Hong Kong and China, respectively, have been praised for pursuing elements of this strategy seems not to have occurred to most international financial commentators. Instead, this action had the effect of stimulating World Bank types, investment house pundits and sundry cheerleaders for neo-liberal ideology to dump on Malaysia from great heights, conjuring an inevitable future marked by the darkest consequences. What happened as a result of this re-regulation? The stock market rebounded, interest rates fell, and after a 5% contraction in 1998 (modest indeed by regional standards) the economy is forcast to grow by 2% in 1999. Social costs have to date been contained, and for most Malaysians life goes on much as before. Compare that performance to those who bought into the conventional analysis and swallowed the IMF's bitter "recovery" pill: Russia? Indonesia? Brazil? Most of the underlying factors of production which made Malaysia an attractive destination for foreign investment in the first place still apply. Time will tell regarding the possibility of grave downstream impacts as a result of experimenting with alternative approaches to the challenges of globalization. It may be significant that although his call began as a cry in the wilderness, more and more voices are now speaking in support of Dr. Mahathir's critique of speculative currency flows and their sponsors. It is a short road from heresy to prophesy. And as regards contemporary Malaysia, so far the rich broth of received wisdom is tasting rather like thin gruel. ************************************************************************ Date: Sun, 22 Nov 1998 18:19:30 -0800 From: "Wendell W. Solomons" <•••@••.•••> Subject: IMF and East Asia Subject: Robert Wade on Asia's Monetary Fund The Economist, November 7-13, pp. 19-21 "The resources lie within" Robert Wade and Frank Veneroso ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Robert Wade is a professor of political science at Brown University and the author of, among other works, Governing the Market, a celebrated study of economic development in East Asia. Frank Veneroso of Veneroso Associates is an adviser on global investment strategies. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- THE world is awash with proposals for new crisis-fighting mechanisms. The United States, Canada, France and Germany have all expressed serious interest in the idea of an expanded IMF , or a financial supervisory organisation parallel to the IMF , or even a second Bretton Woods conference to rethink the world's financial architecture from scratch. Part of the hidden agenda is to prevent the Asians from going off on their own. In August 1997 Japan proposed an Asian Monetary Fund to deal with the crisis in South-East Asia. It secured pledges of $100 billion mostly from itself, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. The United States Treasury pulled out all the stops to kill the proposal, and it died. The Treasury explained that the IMF should be the sole co-ordinator of the rescue effort. Now the idea is again being seriously discussed in the region. This time the West must encourage it. The Asian fund could make an important contribution to recovery in Asia and the rest of the world. Too much is at stake to worry about Asia going its own way. How would the fund help? It would be better able to appreciate and build on the distinctive strengths of Asian financial systems than the IMF has proven to be. It would allow Asian governments and companies to refinance their expensive western loans and provide selective new loans for recovery programmes. And the creation of the fund would send a signal that Asians were taking charge of their own destiny and no longer dependent on bail-outs. This may prompt western bankers and portfolio managers to supply new finance-helping to solve Asia's current short-term funding problems. The Asian model Talk of "the Asian financial system" is no doubt too simple. But many countries in East and South-East Asia share enough features to make a simple picture tolerably accurate. Above all, they save a lot compared to western countries, and the savings are done mostly by households. Domestic savings run at roughly twice the American rate, or more than 15 percentage points of GDP higher. Households typically put most of their savings into (low-risk) banks rather than into (higher-risk) equities. Corporate investment is financed in large part by loans from banks. This mechanism has delivered extraordinarily high rates of investment. In America, by contrast, most household savings go to finance households' own investment in housing, and most corporate investment in real productive fixed capital is financed from depreciation and retained profits, with less reliance on bank debt. High levels of corporate debt must be buffered by long-term financial relations between firms and banks, with the government standing ready to support both firms and banks in the event of shocks that affect swathes of the economy all at once (such as sharp rises in interest rates, or sharp falls in demand). If long-term relations did not exist, such shocks would prompt creditors to call their loans and liquidate firms; and where debts are large, the failure of some firms propagates the failure of others much faster than where they are small. This is the financial rationale for what used to be called Asian "alliance capitalism", and has now come to be maligned as "crony capitalism". It is also the rationale of the "convoy" system of Japan, where strong companies support weak ones under various kinds of official encouragement. In some Asian countries, more household savings have been transferred to the enterprise sector through equity markets. Singapore and Malaysia have specialised institutions, such as pension and provident funds financed partly by payroll taxes, which purchase large quantities of equities. In Taiwan both government-and party-directed funds buy equities. However, these are all forms of government-sponsored forced-investment regimes. They share with the debt-transfer systems long-term relationships connecting government, financial sector, and enterprises. In a pure Anglo-American free-market regime, competition and short-term profit maximising make high-debt structures unstable in the face of shocks that interfere with debt-service payments. Creditors seeking to safeguard their assets call in loans and liquidate firms. Bank depositors "run" on banks that might be too exposed to defaults. This collective behaviour causes the whole financial system to shrink, and this spills over into price deflations and depressions. To avoid these outcomes Anglo-American nations long ago agreed that the state had to create a lender of last resort and a body of regulation that placed limits on the indebtedness of private firms, banks and households. These limits of prudent indebtedness were set far below the levels permitted in Asian alliance capitalism. A larger truth Alliance capitalism sounds like an invitation to corruption and insider dealing. The crisis has shown the truth in this allegation, most conspicuously in Indonesia. But there is a larger truth: until the mid-1990s, Asian alliance capitalism generated the highest sustained economic growth for any region in world history. It worked not only as a "catch-up" strategy for countries far from the world technological frontier, but also for Japan as it reached the frontier in the 1980s. To describe it as "a free-market veneer over a state-managed economic structure", which has "inevitably led to the investment excesses and errors to which all similar endeavours seem prone", in the words of senior officials at America's Federal Reserve, misses the point. For a variety of reasons most Asian governments opened their economies to foreign capital in the 1990s. Global banks and portfolio investors flooded in. After 1995 the rise of the dollar and the depreciation of the yen and the yuan led to a loss of export competitiveness in those Asian economies whose currencies were pegged to the dollar. The capital inflows exacerbated the real appreciation of the exchange rates and the loss of export competitiveness, resulting in large, and out-of-character, current-account deficits in Thailand and Malaysia. The inflows also contributed to domestic-asset bubbles, credit excesses, and a growing fringe of bad investments. Foreign investors were providing funds to Asian firms with debt ratios and long-term alliance relationships that would have been unacceptable in the West. When the crisis hit, the violence of the outflow owed much to the realisation that much of the capital should not have been committed in the first place, according to western prudential standards. Enter the IMF When the Fund negotiated its programmes with Thailand, Indonesia and Korea it demanded high real interest rates and fiscal restriction. This was based largely on its experience in Latin America. There, fiscal deficits tended to be large and inflation chronic. Currency devaluations set off hair-trigger inflationary expectations. The cure, quite plausibly, was IMF -style austerity. High real interest rates could be tolerated because corporate debt-to-equity ratios were quite low, because inflation kept eroding the real burden of the debt. In Asia, the Fund failed to see the danger of fiscal restriction where budgets had long been roughly in balance. More seriously, it also failed to see the danger of high real interest rates in economies with high levels of private indebtedness and low inflationary expectations. Under those circumstances, high real interest rates have disastrously deflationary consequences, which give rise to capital outflows regardless of the attractions of high interest rates. Further, the Fund tried to strengthen weakened Asian financial structures by imposing western measures of financial restructuring. Basle rules of capital adequacy were to be applied. Highly indebted banks and firms were to be closed. Labour laws were to be changed to make it easier to fire workers, facilitating the closures. Regulations on foreign ownership were to be lifted in order to allow foreign banks and firms to buy domestic banks and firms. Similar measures were applied in a narrower setting to solve the American savings-and-loan crisis in the late 1980s-and they worked. But it is one thing to undertake such reforms where real interest rates are very low and indebtedness not high (as in America), and another to undertake them where both real interest rates and indebtedness are high. In these conditions the result is closures and lay-offs, with deflationary repercussions and accelerating capital flight. This is why the IMF 's strategy for Asia has failed. The currencies did stop falling in early 1998. But by May deepening contraction, rising unemployment and fear of unrest combined to produce a second wave of capital outflows and renewed falls in currencies and stockmarkets. The second-quarter resumption of the collapse is what finally forced Asian governments to begin to turn away from the initial IMF strategy. They began to cut interest rates and turn fiscal restriction into fiscal expansion. Malaysia slapped on exchange controls in September, the better to engineer an expansion at home without risking further currency falls. South Korea has used government funds to buy out bad loans and finance bank mergers. Japan is seriously discussing nationalising the banks so as to break out of its current trap, in which the attempt to maintain Basle standards of capital adequacy while bank equity falls prevents the needed expansion of credit. Japan is also discussing the reintroduction of exchange controls to allow rapid monetary expansion without depreciating the yen (which might destabilise other currencies in the region and make trade frictions worse). China has suspended the restructuring of state enterprises and banks, because of the deflationary consequences of restructuring in crisis conditions. There is a growing insistence in the region that Asian arrangements have strengths which have been denied in the West-and which need to be built upon to speed recovery. Asia is the world's great savings-surplus region. Its governments' foreign-exchange reserves of almost $800 billion dwarf those of all other regions. Virtually all of these reserves are claims on America (Treasury bills and deposit holdings) and to a lesser degree Europe. The private sectors of Japan, Taiwan and Singapore are also large net lenders to the West. How ironic that a region with such massive savings surplus and net foreign assets should be plunged into crisis by the flight of capital belonging to institutions that reside for the most part in the United States, a massive net debtor with a savings deficit. So try an AMF An Asian Monetary Fund, or AMF , would build on Asia's savings surplus, foreign-exchange reserves, and net-creditor status (including reserves, Treasury bills, and the like). The most severely affected countries-South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia-have gross external debt of perhaps $400 billion, of which over $100 billion has long-term maturities and favourable terms and does not need refinancing. The amount of debt needed to be refinanced in order to stabilize the situation completely is small compared to the aggregate net-creditor position of the region-less than $300 billion. The degree of economic interdependence within Asia that has built up over the past decade means that crisis in one country hurts other Asian countries above all. The all-too-evident neighbourhood contagion effects give each creditor country a strong interest in pooling resources with others in order to avoid further disruption. The AMF would have core financing from subscriptions by member governments. The fact that pledges of $100 billion were quickly secured in August 1997 suggests that sizeable sums would be forthcoming. Additional resources could be tapped by issuing World Bank-type bonds on regional financial markets, guaranteed jointly by the members. The fund would make quick-disbursing loans available to members in difficulty, with conditionalities limited to stabilisation rather than to IMF -type structural reforms. It would operate to reinforce the demonstrated strengths of Asian-type financial systems, and not to disavow them. The AMF would save Asia money. At present the region lends much of its savings to the West at American Treasury bill and deposit rates of 5%, while it borrows from western creditors at 10% or more. With the AMF , Asian lenders would lend at slightly better than 5%, and Asian borrowers would borrow at only slightly more, say 6%. The borrowing governments could repay the more expensive western loans. Asia would then earn the risk premium in the interest rate on emerging Asia's external debt that is now paid over to western creditors. Taking charge of Asias destiny Would Asia not suffer by having western financial markets less involved in resource allocation-as Robert Rubin, America's Treasury secretary, and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, have been saying? No. Western financial institutions have failed to discriminate correctly among both sovereign and private borrowers. They piled in to fuel a speculative bubble, and then stampeded out even in the face of high risk premiums, cheap assets, and current-account surpluses. The economic performance of the emerging Asian economies prior to the crisis suggests that Asian governments and their financial institutions can allocate resources more efficiently than that. Isn't an AMF by now redundant? Aren't the current efforts-some bilateral, some involving the existing mutlilateral machinery-quite adequate? No. The existing machinery is based on a "bail-out of basket-cases" myth. The AMF approach says that Asia is unique in having ample financial resources to handle the external financial difficulties of its weakest regional members. It calls on Asians to take charge of their own destiny, and even, in part, to close the door to the West. The threat of closure may even encourage capital flows back to the region, as western bankers try to retain their Asian markets and as portfolio managers, now underweight in Asia, seek to restore their positions and ride the recovery curve. Of course the AMF would compete with the IMF . But the IMF wants competitition for others, and should not be averse to it for itself. The only serious losers would be the western speculators who extract a risk premium they do not deserve.