Category Archives: energy

Yunus advocates an additional financial system

Quartz magazine’s  Eshe Nelson spoke with Nobel prize-winner Mohammed Yunus at the One Young World summit at The Hague, which brings together 2,000 young people from 190 countries who are working to improve their societies, and the world at large, by fighting to end sexual violence, improve access to education and demand justice and human rights accountability from governments. The conversation has been summarised for this website.

Yunus believes that the whole capitalist system has failed: “The very number of poor people shows that it has failed. It pushes all the wealth to the top continuously and the top became very fat and owned by few people. What kind of system is that? We have to redesign the system”. He continues:

“Today, there’s only one kind of financial institution, which are banks for the rich. You are asking the banks for the rich to lend to the poor. The very system is designed in a completely different way. This machine doesn’t work for them. The way to really address the problem of the rejected people from the financial system is to create a new financial system. Capitalism went wrong because it started with the wrong premise. It misrepresents human beings and says we are driven by self interest. But human beings are both driven by self interest and selflessness.

The economic system forgot the selflessness part, and once we include it into the business, you have two kinds of business:

  • business to make money
  • and business to solve problems.

Then the economic system becomes different”.

In the 1970s, Yunus began work on what would become Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which provides small loans to entrepreneurs, primarily women, who otherwise couldn’t access funds due to a lack of collateral and other resources. Grameen Bank takes deposits to finance the loans it offers; it decided in 1995 that it wouldn’t accept donations – for Yunus, ending poverty isn’t about charity. Last month, the 10-year-old US division of Grameen announced that it had provided more than $1 billion in loans to 106,000 women. Over the next decade, it plans to provide $1 billion in loans every year, and nearly double the number of branches, to 42. He comments:

“Microcredit still remains the same as when we started in Bangladesh 40 years back. But many more people around the world have started microcredit programs. Some took advantage of credibility of the word “microcredit”—they used it to make money for themselves, turning into loan sharks. After 42 years it’s not gone into the mainstream. Microcredit has remained at the NGO level, a footnote in the financial sector.

“Earlier this year, the World Bank showed how little progress there has been: The proportion of people with active accounts has stagnated and the gap in financial inclusion between men and women has stayed the same.

The very word “inclusion” is suspect. This is not about inclusion; it’s about having a separate kind of banking institution to address the people at the very bottom.

“Governments are used to giving grants to poor people for survival. Whether you are a rich country or a poor country, every country does that. Instead of giving grants, it’s much cheaper to do it as a loan. The money comes back, covers its own cost, and is sustainable. It’s a market-based system. Whichever way you do it, it has to create income. In order to create income you have to encourage people to become entrepreneurs”.

His view on giving cash transfers to entrepreneurs versus credit

“If it comes as a grant then there’s no responsibility, and the money can be misused easily. A loan comes with responsibility: you have to create a return from it. People become very relaxed if they are guaranteed money because they will get it again. If you fail, the second round of cash transfers will come, so why make an effort?

“The welfare system never produced any entrepreneurs. The welfare system in every country, you don’t see anybody coming out. They go in and stay there because you take care of them. Universal Basic Income is the same thing; it’s a welfare system. Charity doesn’t create activity. Charity is a dependence creation. Dependence creation is always a negative thing for a society. Systems should be geared towards creating activity. Creating entrepreneurship rather than dependence. Taking risk. That’s what human beings are for”.

 

 

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What is the main solution to the UK’s weak productivity growth?

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Chris Giles (FT) is examining why Britain is suffering from weak productivity growth. As part of his series, he wants to hear what readers think is the main solution to the UK’s weak productivity growth since the financial crisis of 2008. Share thoughts directly with him at ask@ft.com. Some may be published in a follow-up piece.

Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex, who tweets here, has already published thoughts on the subject. Briefly:

UK company dividends are high & investment low

This lack of investment and innovation means that the country’s productivity is low. The output per hour worked in the UK is about 16% below the average for the rest of the G7 advanced economies. The UK productivity is around 27% below that of Germany – despite the UK labour force working almost the longest hours in the western world and the country is neither rebuilding its manufacturing base, nor developing new technologies.

He itemises the boardroom dominance of accountants:

Sikka then argues that short-termism, leading to the neglect of the long-term prosperity of companies and the economy, has been accelerated by the boardroom dominance of accountants.

Compared with other developed countries, UK companies are paying out the highest proportion of their earnings in dividends.

According to the Bank of England’s chief economist, in 1970 major UK companies paid £10 in dividends out of each £100 of profits – but by 2015 the amount was between £60 and £70. 

And at the same time as paying this large percentage in dividends many companies were downsizing labour and reducing investment, lagging behind the EU average:

Sikka asserts that the most effective way to disrupt the accounting-think prevalent in boardrooms is by appointing directors who are focused on the long-term – appointing employees and consumers so that they can challenge the obsession with short-term returns and promote investment in productive assets.

Giles quotes Lord Andrew Tyrie, new chair of the Competition and Markets Authority, who told companies in July to stop “ripping people off” or face the full force of the watchdog’s sanctions. His focus is mostly on regulated markets such as banking and energy, where companies are accused of exploiting vulnerable households by extracting a “loyalty penalty” if they do not switch suppliers.

Lord Tyrie told MPs during his confirmation hearing for the CMA in April that retail banking and auditing were parts of the economy that did not work in the interests of the public or productivity.

Scott Corfe, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation, a think-tank, claimed that pro-competition moves had some potential for raising productivity growth rates. He suggested that consumers should be switched between energy suppliers automatically after several years to stop companies exploiting customer inertia.

See this video: https://www.ft.com/content/ae25a5bc-9405-11e8-b747-fb1e803ee64e (possible paywall)

After noting that since the mid-2000s, British industries have become more concentrated, with fewer companies enjoying larger market shares, Giles focusses on this ‘one key question’:

Is inadequate competition contributing to Britain’s feeble growth in output per hour worked? 

 

We look forward to the next article in the series.

 

 

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Climate change should be placed “front and centre” of the central bank’s mandate to boost green investment

A Green Bank of England, Central Banking for a Low-Carbon Economy

Delphine Strauss (Financial Times) summarises advice in this report (link to pdf above) from the campaign group Positive Money.

It recommends that climate change be placed “front and centre” of the Bank of England’s mandate so that the central bank can boost green investment.

The report has won backing from Lord Deben, who chairs the independent Committee on Climate Change which was set up by the government to monitor the UK’s progress in meeting its statutory targets for cutting emissions:

“They are right to seek some radical measures, because the issues are radical. I think that monetary policy does need to reflect these risks”, he said, adding that central banks should do more to ensure the availability of green finance and divest from fossil fuel companies that showed no inclination to change their business.

The BoE has been reviewing UK insurers and banks’ exposure to climate-related risks and supports efforts to develop international standards for voluntary disclosure.

Mark Carney, the BoE’s governor, has repeatedly warned of the physical damage climate change could wreak on the economy and the risks to financial stability that might result from a sudden revaluation of carbon-intensive assets.

Positive Money argued that this concern for financial stability will look “incoherent” unless the BoE does more to boost investment in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Its report urged the government to rewrite the mandate of the Monetary Policy Committee to include green objectives explicitly and called on the BoE to look at ways to build climate-related risks into its macroeconomic models.

The Positive Money report urges the BoE to set an example:

  • by disclosing the carbon risks of assets on its own balance sheet
  • by ending the practice of buying bonds issued by fossil fuel companies
  • and by financing green projects via quantitative easing during any recession.

It argued that the BoE has unintentionally promoted high-carbon sectors because its criteria for asset purchases favoured the bonds of large fossil fuel companies.

 

 

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In condemnation of privatisation – the naked pursuit of wealth

The ideology of competition and superiority permeates our culture, and the cult of privatisation is at the root of sub-standard, expensive railways, electricity, gas and water; miserable prisons; inadequate care; decreasing legal aid; and failing mental health services.

Personal success and the creation of wealth are goals in a wilderness of private interests. ‘Success’ has widely come to be defined in terms of superiority over others.

Our system of knighthoods and damehoods – the invidious use of ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ – symbolise a power structure where outsiders are tolerated, and often quietly absorbed into a corrupt environment.

People motivated by greed, like the authors of devastated pension funds, suddenly and mysteriously reappear in positions of authority. It is as if history has ceased to exist. Those with the courage to expose them are vilified.

Recent media expositions relating to the House of Saud and the huge-scale laundering of the ill-gotten gains of oligarchs and dictators through the City of London, for example, portray the corruption. Empty luxury flats are more desirable than homes for people.

Armaments, for some, are more important to our wellbeing than the lives of underprivileged Yemeni families.

This presents a challenge. Condemnation is not the way to tackle the cult of success. We need successful artists, business people, musicians, actors, social workers, doctors, scientists and engineers – and we must find ways of stimulating and supporting them.

A redefined concept of success will lie in focusing on the huge potential of every single member of our society and not just those with the existing resources – physical, mental, economic – to realise themselves. 

Edited from an article by Roger Iredale in the Friend, 23 February 2018

 

 

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Nurture and rebuild local economies and international relations: Hines, Corbyn, McDonnell

Opposition to open borders and failed neo-liberal policies that transferred wealth to the private sector and cut funding public services, fuelled the Brexit result, Donald Trump’s election and the continued rise of Marine Le Pen in the French polls. Colin Hines, in a letter to the Financial Times, said that these trends all point to the conclusion that the future will be one of protectionism, asking “The question is, what kind?” His answer:

“President Trump is a 1930s-style one-sided protectionist. He wants to curb imports that cause domestic unemployment, but at the same time plans to use “all possible leverage” to open up foreign markets to US exports”.

To avoid a re-run of the 1930s, when the US and others took a similar approach, Hines advocates a very different kind of “progressive protectionism” – one that can benefit all countries by nurturing and rebuilding local economies, reducing the level of international movement of goods, money and services. Policies geared to achieving more job security, a decrease in inequality, and protection of the environment globally would be championed.

Shadow Chancellor: a focus on developing strong local economies 

Sienna Rodgers reports that the shadow chancellor is in Preston today, a city whose ‘co-operative council’ has taken an innovative approach to funding in the face of swingeing budget cuts (see Localise West Midlands). In his speech McDonnell will champion “creative solutions” for local authorities suffering under austerity, from bringing services back in house to setting up energy companies, with a focus on developing strong local economies.

Such economic action, many believe, must be accompanied by a profound change in our foreign/defence policy 

A serious commitment is required to averting armed conflict, wherever tensions rise, by diplomacy, mediation and negotiation, redirecting the wealth currently used to subsidise the arms industry and to prepare for aggressive military action. This has also long been advocated by John McDonnell   (see Ministry for Peace, archived).

These are the policies of Jeremy Corbyn, who has made peace and disarmament his major international priorities. He has already appointed MP Fabian Hamilton as shadow minister for ‘peace and disarmament’, with a brief to ‘reduce violence, war and conflict’, participating in multilateral disarmament meetings at the UN in New York.

Mr Hamilton, who will prioritise reducing supplies of guns and other weapons worldwide, said that Labour is strongly committed to helping to reduce the violence, war and conflict in the world which destroys so many innocent lives every day and – many would add – cripples the economies of many regions, forcing their citizens to emigrate to find peace and to make a living.

 

 

 

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Green quantitative easing – good sense

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Richard Murphy and Colin Hines published the Green QE report, which is summarised below.

In March 2009 the Bank of England began a programme of quantitative easing in the UK – in effect, the Bank of England granted the Treasury an overdraft but to keep the European Union happy had to do so by buying Government gilts issued by the Treasury from UK commercial banks, pension funds and other financial institutions.

There were three reasons for doing this:

  1. To keep interest rates low;
  2. To provide banks with the money they needed to lend to business and others to keep the economy going.
  3. To make sure there was enough money in the economy to prevent deflation happening

No one was sure whether quantitative easing would work, and as we note, no one is sure for certain whether it has worked.

We do however suggest in this report that several things did happen:

  • The banks profited enormously from the programme, which is why they bounced back into profit so soon after the crash– and bankers’ bonuses never went away;
  • The entire government deficit in 2009/10 of £155 billion was basically paid for by the quantitative easing programme. If you wanted to know how the government met its costs, now you do; There was a shortage of gilts available for investment purposes as a result of the Bank of England buying so many in the market. Large quantities of funds were invested instead in other financial assets including the stock market and commodities such as food stuffs and metals.
  • The USA also undertook quantitative easing at the same time as the UK, which meant that despite near recessionary conditions commodity prices for coffee and basic metals such as copper have risen enormously. This has impacted on inflation, which has stayed above the Bank of England target rate;
  • Deflation has been avoided, although the relative role of quantitative easing in this versus the previous government’s reflation policies is unclear;
  • Interest rates have remained low.

However, one thing has not happened, and that is that the funds made available have not resulted in new bank lending. In fact bank lending has declined almost steadily since the quantitative easing programme began.

there is an urgent need for action to stimulate the economy by investing in the new jobs, infrastructure, products and services we need in this country and there is no sign that this will happen without government intervention.

For that reason we propose a new round of quantitative easing –or Green QE2 as we call it.

Green QE2 would do three things. First it would deliver the Green New Deal – the innovative programme for investment in the new economy the UK needs as outlined by the Green New Deal group in its reports for the New Economics Foundation. This would require three actions:

  1. The government would need to invest directly in new infrastructure for the UK.
  2. The government needs to invest in the UK economy, in conjunction with the private sector, working through a new National Investment Bank;
  3. The government must liberate local authorities to partner with the private sector to green their local economies for the benefit of their own communities, and it can do this by providing a capital fund for them to use in the form of equity that bears the residual risks in such projects.

A second round of quantitative easing should involve direct expenditure on new infrastructure projects in the UK.

For example there is a desperate need for new energy efficient social housing in this country, for adequate investment in railways, not to mention a reinstatement of the schools rebuilding programme. Undertaking these activities would give the economy and immediate shot in the arm as well as providing infrastructure of lasting use which would more than repay any debt incurred in the course of its creation.

This is the result of the ‘Keynesian multiplier’ effect. This is the phenomenon that occurs when government borrowing to fund investment takes place during a time of unemployment.

That borrowing directly funds employment.

That new employment does four things.

First it reduces the obligation to pay benefits.

Second, it means that the person in that new employment pays tax.

Third, it means their employer pays tax on profits they make.

And finally the person in employment can then save, which means that they help fund the government borrowing which has created their own employment.

As Martin Wolf, the eminent Financial Times columnist has said in this FT video: “Borrowing is no sin, provided we use the funds to ensure that we bequeath a better infrastructure to the future”.

This is what we believe the programme we recommend would do and this is precisely why it is appropriate to do it now when the cost of government borrowing is so low, a point Wolf and Skidelsky also make.

Borrowing now to spend into the economy is the basis for the first stage of Green QE2 – and of the Green New Deal.

Read the whole report here: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/16569/1/GreenQuEasing.pdf

 

 

 

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Paul Hohnen: a better physically connected Europe could deliver multiple benefits

In the Financial Times today, Paul Hohnen* writes about the ‘hard realities of climate change’ showing across Europe, with the historic drought in Italy and Spain being only the latest example. He continues:

What seems increasingly clear is that Europe, with or without Britain, needs to invest hugely in climate abatement and adaptation infrastructure.

 A better physically connected Europe, in the form of enhanced inter-country electricity grids (for sharing surplus renewable power) and upgraded water catchment and distribution systems, could deliver multiple benefits.

In addition to reducing the risks to food, water and energy supplies, now and in the future, a grand European project to become collectively more resilient to energy and water stress could be just what is needed to give Europe the new and positive shared narrative so urgently needed. Not to mention the jobs, economic growth and technological innovation involved.

The EU’s enormous political and economic achievements over the past six decades are at risk on multiple fronts, including the environmental.

An ever closer power and water infrastructure union would help demonstrate why the European project is as relevant as ever.

*Mr Hohnen was trained as an international lawyer, closely involved in the 1992, 2002 and 2012 UN sustainability summits, as well as in a wide range of climate change and other global treaties. He worked from 1975 to 1989 as an Australian diplomat at the OECD in Paris (global economic, development and environmental issues), at EU institutions in Brussels, and in Fiji and Sri Lanka. He was with Greenpeace International (1989-1997, as Head of Climate Policy, later Director, Political Division), and Strategic Director of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). An independent consultant since 2004, his clients have included government ministries, intergovernmental agencies, business and non-profit organisations.

Read his views on the broader canvas in Reasons to be both hugely disappointed and very excited

 

 

 

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