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Economy, Society

Jeff Bezos Is No Longer The World’s Richest Man

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has lost the title as the world’s richest man, paving the way for tenacious Bill Gates to grab the top spot after Amazon’s lacklustre Q3 results resulted in Mr Bezos losing nearly $7 billion in stock value.

Amazon shares fell 7 per cent in after-hours trading on Thursday, leaving Mr Bezos down to $103.9 billion.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is currently worth $105.7 billion.

Mr Bezos ended Mr Gates’ 24-year run as the richest man in 2018 and became the first man on earth with a net worth of $160 billion.

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Amazon CEO says tabloid owner blackmailed him

Chief Executive of Amazon Jeff Bezos posts a blog saying the parent company of tabloid The National Enquirer tried to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos.” Ryan Brooks reports.

Amazon reported a 26 per cent drop in net income in its third quarter, its first profit decline since 2017, reports Forbes.

In after-hours trading, Amazon dropped nearly 9 per cent to $1,624 per share.

Gates debuted on Forbes’ first ever billionaire list in 1987 with a net worth of $1.25 billion.

Mr Bezos first joined The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 1998, one year after Amazon went public, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, the report added.10 COMMENTS

The Bezos couple finalised their divorce in April in what was reported as the biggest divorce settlement in history, entitling MacKenzie Bezos to Jeff Bezos’ stocks worth around $36 billion.

Economy

Economy in tailspin…doing very badly, says Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee

NEW DELHI: Sandwiched between the World Bank and International Monetary Fund reducing India’s FY20 growth estimates was the Nobel Economics Prize for IndianAmerican Abhijit Banerjee — who shared the award with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer
— and the media interaction following the Nobel announcement in which Banerjee’s key observation on India’s economy was that it’s in a “tailspin” and “doing very badly”.

The government’s main focus has to be on reviving demand, the Nobel Laureate said, responding to questions on India’s economy, adding that worries about monetary balance should take a back seat. “The Indian economy is going into a tailspin; it is the time when you don’t worry so muchabout monetary stability and you worry a little bit more  demand,” Banerjee said at a press conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I think demand is a huge problem right now in the economy.”
‘Fight Over Data’ He said the country’s economy is “doing very badly” even as the government has started to recognise that there’s a problem. “There is an enormous fight going on in India about which data is right and the government has a particular view…all data that is inconvenient to it is wrong,” Banerjee said.
“But, nonetheless…I think even the government is increasingly recognising that there is a problem. So, the economy is slowing very fast.
How fast, we don’t know — there is this dispute about data — but I think fast.” Referring to the numbers put out by the National Sample Survey, which come out every 1.5 years and give estimates about the average
consumption in urban and rural areas, he said, “…we see in that…between 2014-15 and 2017-18, that number (consumption figure) has
slightly gone down. And that’s the first time such a thing has happened in many, many years.

So, that’s a very glaring warning sign.”
The government has a large deficit but right now it’s sort of at least aiming to please everybody by pretending to hold to some budgetary
targets and monetary targets, Banerjee said.
He said he does not know exactly what to do. “That’s a statement not about what will work in the future but about what’s going on
now-…that I’m entitled to have an opinion about,” he said.


Both the Bank and the Fund, in commentary alongside their downsized growth estimates, have said the main policy challenge for the
country is to address the sources of softening private consumption as well as address problems behind weak investment sentiments.


Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had last week evaded a direct reply to a question on whether the government accepts there is an
economic slowdown, and had said the government is giving relief to all sectors which need help.
Over the last one month, the government has announced several measures, including reduction in corporate tax rates and asking banksto organise loan disbursals. The government has said disbursals crossed Rs 80,000 crore in nine days. Reserve Bank of India has cumulatively lowered the repo rate, or the rate at which it lends money to commercial banks, by 135 basis points since January with the latest 25 bps cut coming on October 4.

The central bank has also slashed its growth forecast for the country to 6.1% for 2019-20 from the 6.9% forecast in August, noting that the “continuing slowdown warrants intensified efforts to restore the growth momentum”.

Economy

Reliance Industries resumes Venezuela oil imports in barter deal

India’s biggest private oil refiner Reliance Industries has resumed crude imports from crisis-hit Venezuela, using diesel exports to pay for them under a barter system that the company said Tuesday complies with US sanctions.
The Mumbai-based company owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani was forced to cap crude imports from the South American country in March following pressure from the United States.
It also stopped exporting diluents needed to process thick Venezuelan crude to the country.
But under the terms of the barter arrangement, the energy-to-telecoms conglomerate has resumed crude imports from the Latin American country, Reliance spokesperson Tushar Pania told AFP.
The deal will help ease Venezuela’s inventories after US sanctions left its state-owned oil company PDVSA with huge volumes of unsold crude.
“Reliance Industries is exporting diesel and importing crude oil from Venezuela in a barter arrangement,” Pania said.
“This is in compliance with US sanctions and Reliance is confident of adhering to them,” he added, declining to say when the company had resumed the shipments.
Venezuela — a once-rich oil-producing nation — is in the grip of an economic crisis and a political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro’s government and opposition leader Juan Guaido.
The situation has worsened with successive rounds of US sanctions against Maduro’s government, including steps that have severely curbed its oil exports.
PetroWatch editor Madhu Nainan told AFP the barter agreement was “a win-win situation for both as Venezuela is battered with crippling sanctions while Reliance aims to boost its profitability”.
“With this barter deal, Reliance can procure cheap crude… which will help their refining margins.”
Refining margins are a key profitability gauge for Reliance, which operates the world’s biggest refining complex in Gujarat state.
India became the top importer of crude from Venezuela in February after US President Donald Trump issued a de facto ban on imports.
In addition to Reliance, Nayara Energy — a Mumbai-based company that is partly owned by Russia’s Rosneft — is also a buyer of Venezuelan crude.(Agencies)

Economy

India should reverse monetary policy:World Bank

Gita Gopinath, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), holds up a copy of the World Economic Outlook while speaking at a news conference during the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank Group in Washington, DC.
By Asit Ranjan Mishra
India’s growth projection cut to 6.1% for FY20 amid a cyclical slowdown
The IMF said India’s economy decelerated in the June quarter, held back by sector-specific weaknesses

 India should opt for further monetary policy easing and broad-based structural reforms to reverse a cyclical demand slowdown, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday while slashing its growth projection for the country to 6.1% for the current fiscal from its July forecast of 7%.

“In India, growth softened in 2019 as corporate and environmental regulatory uncertainty, together with concerns about the health of the non-bank financial sector, weighed on demand,” IMF said in its biannual World Economic Outlook (WEO).

IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath told reporters that the government has taken appropriate steps but it needs to do a lot more, including cleaning up the balance sheets of commercial banks, to ward off the negative impact on growth from financial vulnerabilities. “On the fiscal side, there have been some recent measures including the corporate tax cut. There has been no announcement on how that will be offset through revenues at this point. So, the revenue projections going forward look optimistic. But it is important for India to keep the fiscal deficit in check,” she said.


Gopinath, in her initial statement, said the global economy is in a synchronized slowdown and that IMF is downgrading growth for 2019 to 3%, the slowest pace since the 2008 financial crisis. “Growth continues to be weakened by rising trade barriers and increasing geopolitical tensions. We estimate that the US-China trade tensions will cumulatively reduce the level of global GDP by 0.8% by 2020. Growth is also being weighed down by country-specific factors in several emerging market economies, and structural forces such as low productivity growth and ageing demographics in advanced economies,” she said.

(Graphic: Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)
(Graphic: Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)
The Indian economy is battling a severe demand slowdown and liquidity crunch that have resulted in economic growth slowing to 5% in the three months ended June, while growth in private consumption expenditure slumped to an 18-quarter low of 3.1%. India’s industrial output contracted 1.1% in August, its worst show in 81 months, signalling a further deepening of the economic downturn.

The multilateral agency said India’s economy decelerated in the June quarter, held back by sector-specific weaknesses in the automobile sector and real estate as well as lingering uncertainty about the health of non-banking financial companies.


IMF joins a parade of multilateral institutions, rating firms and brokerages in cutting economic growth estimates for India, after Asia’s third-largest economy grew at the slowest pace in six years in the June quarter. The World Bank on Sunday slashed its economic growth forecast for India to 6% citing a broad-based and severe cyclical slowdown. Last week, Moody’s Investors Service lowered its 2019-20 growth forecast for India to 5.8% from 6.2% earlier, saying the economy was experiencing a pronounced slowdown partly due to long-lasting factors. The rating agency’s projection is the most pessimistic so far.

The WEO report said growth in India will be supported by the lagged effects of monetary policy easing, a reduction in corporate income tax rates, recent measures to address corporate and environmental regulatory uncertainty and government programmes to support rural consumption.

To address cyclical weakness and strengthen confidence in the economy, IMF

Economy, Society

Assam tea workers get nominal wage: Oxfam



Assam tea workers get only 7 per cent of price, says report
For a 200 gram packet of branded Assam tea sold in India for Rs 68, less than Rs 5 is left for workers.
By PTI |
GUWAHATI: Tea brands and supermarkets capture over two thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India with just seven per cent remaining for workers of estates, according to a research released on Thursday.
The new research, commissioned by Oxfam and undertaken by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), called for urgent action from supermarkets, tea brands and state authorities to end the suffering of Assam’s tea workers.

The “relentless squeeze by supermarkets and brands on the share of the end consumer price” for tea makes poverty and hardship for workers in Assam more likely, said the report after interviewing 510 workers in 50 tea estates in the state to ascertain the main challenges faced by workers.
But, combined with rising costs and the impacts of the climate crisis, it is also contributing to a severe economic crisis for the entire Indian tea industry, it said.
“The research also found that despite working for over 13 hours a day, workers earn between Rs 137 to Rs 167. It found that tea brands and supermarkets typically capture over two thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India – with just 7 per cent remaining for workers on tea estates”, said a release.
For a 200 gram packet of branded Assam tea sold in India for Rs 68, less than Rs 5 is left for workers while tea brands and supermarkets retain around Rs 40, according to the study.

The report-‘Addressing The Human Cost of Assam Tea’- stated that the proposed Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill can enable the struggling Assam tea industry viable.
It can also ensure fair wages and decent working and living conditions for tea plantation workers and their families.
Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said, “We welcome the attempts of the government to increase the wages of tea plantation workers and the upcoming Occupational Health and Safety bill. Both have the potential to address the systemic injustice faced by the tea workers in Assam.”
He said tea brands have often questioned the financial viability of paying fair wages to workers, but the research showed that “by sharing just two per cent additional value of the price of tea, fair living wages can be provided to millions of workers in the sector”.

Economy, Indigenous no-state people

 Arunachal Prades Tea touches the record heights set by Assam tea

 A variety of tea grown in Arunachal Pradeshon Wednesday touched the record heights set by Assam tea earlier this month selling for Rs 75000 per kg at the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC). 

Golden Needle‘ tea produced by Donyipolo Tea Estate in Arunachal Pradesh was sold by Contemporary Tea Brokers and was bought by city-based buyer Chattar Singh Narendra Kumar for online tea seller Absolute Tea, GTAC Buyers Association secretary Dinesh Bihani said. 

On August 13, Dikom Tea Estate of Assam had sold its Golden Butterfly tea at Rs 75,000 per kg at the GTAC, auction centre official said. 

Donyipolo Tea Estate had last year set a record when their tea was sold for Rs 39000 per kg, Bihani said. 

​Donyipolo Tea Estate had last year set a record when their tea was sold for Rs 39000 per kg. (Representational Image: www.taooftea.com​)
Donyipolo Tea Estate had last year set a record when their tea was sold for Rs 39000 per kg. (Representational Image: www.taooftea.com)

“These teas do not draw the real picture of the tea industry. But the industry should appreciate producers who are making top notch teas and are making a name for Indian Tea Industry in the world,” Bihani said. 

Arunachal Pradesh recently came up in the tea map of the country for producing speciality tea. These have been appreciated by tea lovers across the world, Bihani said. 

“We had bought Donyipolo Golden Needles in the past few years. The response has been superb and we expect a similar response this year,” Kumar said. 

The tea was made from the tips of selected clones by skilled artisans, Satyanjoy Hazarika, managing director, tea, of Contemporary Brokers said. PTI

Economy

The China–US Trade War and the Future of the Liberal Economic Order

by Dr Catherine Owen: ——-The topic on every internationally minded Chinese person’s lips when in conversation with a Westerner appears to be the US-China trade war. The following text summaries my informal discussions over lunch and during walks, with friends and colleagues in Shanghai, on the reasons behind, and potential consequences of, growing economic tensions between the world’s two largest economies. My interlocutors are researchers and postgraduate students at some of Shanghai’s elite universities, as well as start-up entrepreneurs and employees of major Chinese tech firms. Our discussions highlight a troubling thesis: many worry that this trade war may be a precursor to a greater conflict, driven by US reluctance to cede its hegemonic position to a rising China. Ultimately, the discussions illustrate that the trade war embodies two irreconcilable visions of global economic order.

The topic on every internationally minded Chinese person’s lips when in conversation with a Westerner appears to be the US-China trade war. The following text summaries my informal discussions over lunch and during walks, with friends and colleagues in Shanghai, on the reasons behind, and potential consequences of, growing economic tensions between the world’s two largest economies. My interlocutors are researchers and postgraduate students at some of Shanghai’s elite universities, as well as start-up entrepreneurs and employees of major Chinese tech firms. Our discussions highlight a troubling thesis: many worry that this trade war may be a precursor to a greater conflict, driven by US reluctance to cede its hegemonic position to a rising China. Ultimately, the discussions illustrate that the trade war embodies two irreconcilable visions of global economic order.

Background to the Trade War

The roots of the trade war lie in accusations by the US and other countries of economic malpractice by the Chinese government, in particular, the violation of intellectual property rights and the privileging of Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the domestic market. First, intellectual property theft has allegedly occurred in two ways: through the requirement that foreign companies share their technology when accessing Chinese markets, and through the use of spyware and hackers, both by the Chinese government [1] and by businesses, such as Huawei (though no evidence for this has yet emerged). Second, the Chinese approach to economic management, consisting of state subsidies for SOEs and preferential treatment for SOEs vis-à-vis foreign companies, is seen to violate WTO regulations stipulating a level playing field for international trade. In short, the US is demanding profound structural changes in the way that Beijing manages the Chinese economy – that it ditches, or at least softens, its commitment to a managed economy.

Thus, the Trump administration launched an investigation[2] immediately upon taking office in January 2017, having long been critical of Chinese financial practices. Since March 2018, the Trump administration has applied over $250 billion worth of trade tariffs onto Chinese goods imported into the USA, arguing that the tariffs will make Chinese goods less competitive and encourage consumers to choose products made in America, thereby reducing the US’ large trade deficit with China. Predictably, Beijing responded by applying $110 billion of trade tariffs onto US goods. At the time of writing, the trade war has been paused to allow negotiators to try to reach a deal before the 2nd March deadline when a further $200 billion of US tariffs on Chinese goods are due to come into force. Progress, unfortunately, is slow.

The perceived poster child for these practices is arguably ‘Made in China 2025’[3], China’s strategic plan to move away from its position as the global ‘shop floor’ for cheap manufactured goods, and catch up with high-tech Western companies in the fields of robotics, transport, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and energy and agricultural equipment. Launched in 2015, the aim is to increase the market share of domestic high tech suppliers to 70% in ten years and ensuring that a specific number of component parts in various products should be produced domestically. Critics argue[4] that in order to achieve these lofty goals, MiC2025 will involve a smorgasbord of economic malpractices, including both intellectual property theft and preferential treatment for Chinese companies. In the wake of this criticism, MiC2025 has mysteriously disappeared from the media limelight in recent months; it is however unlikely that the project has been abandoned.

Obscured in the British media by the omnipresent and all-consuming Brexit coverage, the trade war is an issue with far reaching consequences, not only slowing growth in China, but also in other Asian economies, such as Japan and South Korea, which depend on exports of specialised parts to China that are then used to make technical equipment and mobile phones. Furthermore, the trade war is also impacting the US economy, and the IMF[5] and World Bank[6] have both issued concerns that it could trigger a global recession.

Chinese Views

The Chinese intellectual classes have been following developments very closely. Yet, due to the lack of diversity of viewpoints represented in the Chinese media, several common themes emerged during my discussions. The most prevalent view among my interlocutors, also widely promulgated in the Chinese popular press, is that the West believes that China is rising too fast and has applied a trade war in order to prevent China from becoming a global superpower. The phrase, ‘Thucydides’ Trap’[7], coined by US political scientist Graham Allison to describe the near inevitability of war when a rising power seeks to displace the hegemonic power, is well known.

More than one Chinese linked the discussion to a consideration of why Xi Jinping last year extended his presidency indefinitely. Was it because the defining task of his presidency is to ensure China becomes the new global hegemon and, in order to do this, a war is necessary? Friends pointed to the defining acts of other important Chinese leaders – Mao Zedong’s establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up of the country – and suggested that Xi believes his historic task is to finally place the Middle Kingdom at the centre of the global order. This is not a prospect that my interlocutors relish; comfortable members of the nascent middle class, they do not want military conflict to threaten new-found stability.

Other, less sensationalist perspectives acknowledge that China has been violating WTO regulations for some time, and that its transparency record is indeed poor. However, they also observe that China is far from alone in failing to adhere to WTO best practice and fall back on the fear of China’s rise thesis to explain why the US is targeting them over other states. Some point to the personal characteristics of Donald Trump, a businessman with a ‘zero-sum’ mentality, who is thought unable to see trade from the ‘win-win’ perspective of the Chinese. A third, much smaller group suggest that the impact of the trade war has been overblown by the Chinese government to mask other failings in the Chinese economy, such as the impossibly high tax rates for small and medium sized businesses, the ageing population, and slowing consumption patterns.

An Ideological Impasse?

The trade war, in some senses, can be seen as a battle of capitalisms. China’s rise has demonstrated that countries able to control their economies, especially via protectionist measures in particular sectors, are able to achieve remarkable economic performance. Indeed, the ‘China model’ of state capitalism has lifted over 500 million people out of poverty since 1981, reducing the percentage of those living on less than two dollars a day from 88% to 6.5%; meanwhile the poverty rate in the US has remained more or less constant between 11.5 and 15%.[8] This fact rankles the current defenders of global free market capitalism; yet, ironically, in demanding that China opens its economy, the US imposed trade tariffs actually damage the openness of global trade on which this order is founded. While the astonishing growth of China’s middle class is now inevitably levelling off, China’s rise nevertheless poses an existential challenge to the universal applicability of Western-oriented capitalist model. Could this trade war constitute the first sign of the death throes of the liberal economic order?

[1] Chinese Officer Is Extradited to U.S. to Face Charges of Economic Espionage, October 2018, New York Times,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/10/us/politics/china-spy-espionage-arrest.html

[2] Section 301 Report into China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation, March 2018, Office of the US States Trade Representative https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/march/section-301-report-chinas-acts

[3] State Council of The People’s Republic of China, http://english.gov.cn/2016special/madeinchina2025/

[4] How ‘Made in China 2025’ became a lightning rod in ‘war over China’s national destiny’, January 2019,  https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/2182441/how-made-china-2025-became-lightning-rod-war-over-chinas

[5] US trade war would make world ‘poorer and more dangerous’, BBC, October 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45789669

[6] WTO chief warns of worst crisis in global trade since 1947, BBC, November 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46395379

[7] Is war between China and the US inevitable?, Ted Talks, September 2018, https://www.ted.com/talks/graham_allison_is_war_between_china_and_the_us_inevitable

[8] Following the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive 14, the U.S. Census Bureau uses a set of dollar value thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty see https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.pdf 

Economy, International

FPC Briefing: The Authoritarian-Populist Wave, Assertive China and a Post-Brexit World Order

by Dr Chris Ogden

Over the last decade, the rise of authoritarian tendencies represents an increasing illiberal wave in international politics. Such a wave is not limited to smaller countries but increasingly typifies the political leadership and underlying nature of the international system’s foremost powers, in the guise of the United States (US), Russia, China and India, who are normalizing authoritarian-populism as a dominant global political phenomenon. In this regard, we must recognise that authoritarianism and democracy are not opposing political systems but are fundamentally inter-related on one continuum, whose characteristics co-exist and significantly influence each other.  China is at the vanguard of this phenomenon and provides a clear counterpoint to western liberal democracy. With western democracies heavily reliant upon China’s continued economic growth and facing significant political upheavals and crises, in particular, Brexit, the essence of the liberal world order may soon be on the verge of capitulation to China’s preferred authoritarian basis.

Authoritarian and populist tendencies are escalating in the international system, transforming the nature of domestic and global politics. Permeating the domestic proclivities of countries ranging from Hungary, Poland and Turkey, to Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines, ‘nearly six in ten countries … seriously restrict (their) people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression’.  Authoritarian-populism is now also a shared phenomenon among the world’s most influential countries, and the rise of authoritarian tendencies among the great powers characterises an increasing illiberal theme in international politics over the last decade[2].

‘Anti-elitist’, assertive and nationalist-minded leaders all currently lead the world’s great powers – the United States (US), Russia, China and India – with each proactively proclaiming a common nationalistic goal of restoring their countries’ past glories and status. Via their economic, military and diplomatic strength, as well as substantial, growing and evermore vocal populations, it is these four major powers – more than any other countries – that will determine and delineate the foundations of world politics – and of the prevailing world order itself – in the decades to come.

As such, in the US, the populist President Trump openly questions civil liberties, attacks the media, and side-lines and undermines major bureaucratic and legal bodies. In China, President Xi’s repressive government has increased internet surveillance, imprisons human rights activists, and threatens and re-educates religious activists. In Russia, an autocratic President Putin silences liberal opposition groups, restricts free speech, and controls media outlets. And in India, Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist rule is typified by heightened state censorship, the frequent banning of non-governmental organisations, and increased violence towards minority groups.

A range of key factors critically binds these four leaders together; primarily their highly personalistic leadership styles, their desire for centralized political control, their appeal to mass public audiences, and their sustained intolerance of dissent. Of note too is that even before President Trump gained power, the US was downgraded to the status of a “flawed democracy” in the Economist’s Democracy Index 2016[3]. India holds a similar standing, whilst Russia and China are considered authoritarian. The Index bases its comparison across a range of factors, including the electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties, underscoring the commonalities between these countries.

Given the vital role that these great powers perform as the shapers and creators of global institutions – and therefore of accepted behaviours and practices in the international sphere – as they become more authoritarian in nature so too will the dominant world order. Moreover, how they understand, demonstrate and deploy authoritarian-populist traits via their autocratic leaders has the potential to threaten the stability of democratic societies throughout the world, including in Britain and the European Union. Critically, we need to see that authoritarianism and democracy are not opposing and exclusive political systems but that they are fundamentally inter-related on one continuum. In this way, there is no fixed, binary divide between democracies and authoritarian regimes but instead, they are essentially fluid, inter-connected and impermanent entities, whereby democracies can display particular authoritarian inclinations and vice versa.

Chinese-Style Authoritarianism

Through a one-party state dating from 1949, the Chinese Communist Party presently rule with an authoritarian political basis that seeks to inhibit political pluralism, sanction political participation, imprison opponents (including political, ethnic and religious groups, most notably China’s Uighur population), and use state apparatuses to strictly monitor, control and command their population. China’s specific political nature relates to core elements of its specific world vision, in particular a set of desires pertaining to centralized control, territorial restoration and restored recognition, along with the continued impact of Confucian beliefs concerning harmony, peace, hierarchy, respect and benevolence – principally across East Asia. These various factors are informed by particular leadership styles, especially the more assertive and nationalistic Xi Jinping, who in October 2017 pertinently stated that ‘no one political system should be regarded as the only choice and we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries’[4].

China’s authoritarian-populism is deep-seated in nature and is the hallmark of the country’s bureaucratic, legal and security institutions. These elements produce a political basis that critically contrasts to core dynamics integral to the current world order orientated around Western liberalism, as based upon democratic practices, tolerance, the rule of law, and protecting individual (rather than collective) human rights. As China’s stature increases, via the country’s ongoing economic, military and diplomatic rise, its global pre-eminence will allow the country to influence the functioning of the international system and threaten the predominant parameters of the current world order. This will allow for the realisation of Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream’ that ‘is a dream about history, the present and the future’, and inter-connects China’s longstanding values with its ambitions. By enabling a new world order, China’s supremacy in 1) economic, 2) institutional and 3) normative terms will be paramount and echo the country’s specific domestic values, which are deeply historically engrained in the mind-sets of its leaders, thinkers and people.

Economics

With China now possessing the world’s largest economy[5], it is acquiring a system-determining capacity that allows it to cast its own vision of authority, order and control throughout the contemporary international structure. The country’s gradual embrace of liberal economics – often merged with specific Chinese values and characteristics based upon state control and a blurring between public and private ownership – has given it this ability. This has resulted in an economic system defined as being authoritarian-capitalism that diverges from the western liberal economic ideal. In addition, China’s ever-increasing demand for resources, markets and energy has made the world’s composite national and regional economies dependent upon it as a major import and export market, cheap labour provider and fruitful foreign investment destination[6].

Beijing’s wild success in rapidly transforming the economic fortunes of its population, pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty and conducting its international trade in a non-ideological manner, also acts as an inspirational developmental model for countries across Africa and Asia – particularly those with authoritarian regimes. By doing so, China deeply questions the legitimacy of western liberalism’s declaration that economic growth inevitably leads to democracy, and – by presenting a viable alternative to it – shows that such a world order can be usurped and replaced.  Beijing’s planned Social Credit System[7], which will come into force in 2020, inter-links educational achievements, financial behaviour and social media activity to produce a transparent and publicly available social score, will extend the Chinese state’s capability to control its people.  The technologies central to this control are being exported to other countries[8], and their underlying principles are evident in the west, such as for credit scoring or screening terrorists[9].

Institutions

By binding members together around particular values, practices and understandings, and providing their instigators with a managerial role to govern and regulate international affairs, multilateral regimes aid the creation and maintenance of world orders. Such institutions innately reflect the specific interests, concerns and values of their creators, and are vehicles to disseminate particular visions of the world onto the global stage, as displayed by the western-originated International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations. For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, these institutions encapsulated the US-led vision of a western-orientated world order resting upon an image of international security via liberal free trade and democratic politics.

Underscoring this system-ordering potential, and also its differentiation from existing groupings, China’s beliefs concerning multi-polarity, global governance, human rights, peaceful development and non-intervention are engendering a new form of world order. China’s creation of different regimes, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB, a multilateral development bank founded in 2015), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, a Eurasian security organization initially initiated in 1996), encapsulates how its differing attitudes are inculcating a Chinese-led world order. Such an order inherently challenges rival western institutions, and – by extension – the very liberal values upon which they have been crafted, imagined and legitimized.

Normative

Drawing upon how leading great powers not only create world order but also provide leadership, as well as territorial, financial and existential security, a Chinese world order would necessarily change the very conduct and nature of global affairs. China’s domestic identity, history and behaviour pertaining to the acceptance of an autocratic and benevolent form of single- party rule all critically inform this discussion. So too do the wider realization and enactment of the notion of tian xia (“all under heaven”) that seeks to create a China-centred world order that is built upon tenets of hierarchy, paternalism and harmony in its various diplomatic relations across the world.

China’s underlying indigenous authoritarian values, practices and ideas have already altered the structure and workings of the international system, and as China becomes increasingly influential and powerful, they will lead to further significant transformations. Moreover, because authoritarian-populism is increasingly present in the politics of the great powers – as well as in many medium and lower tier countries – it acts as an enabling and legitimizing mechanism for China’s worldview. Such a convergence, accompanied by the weakening of western liberalism, the challenge that China poses to it, and the US’s continued retreat away from leading global affairs, illustrates how China’s authoritarian world order is becoming both feasible and achievable.

Thinking Ahead

The international system is currently experiencing a period of transition as economic, institutional and military power is being amassed by China, which is depleting the relative influence and stature of western countries and their associated values and worldviews. Moreover, Beijing is now able to articulate an alternative vision of world order premised upon different economic, institutional and normative conditions that are becoming increasingly legitimate in the eyes of many world leaders. Growing authoritarian and populist traits across the world – and its dominant great powers – accelerate this trend, as do pressure from domestic populations negatively affected by globalization, increased migration and growing economic disparities.

To effectively counteract the risk posed to their country by the authoritarian-populist wave, leaders in the UK – particularly in the context of Brexit – must remain aware that political systems are inter-connected and evolutionary in nature, and that such systems are all highly susceptible to:

  • Shock: Periods of tumult – in the form of a profound economic shock, recession or depression – will only serve to further accentuate and speed up a country’s assimilation to the authoritarian-populist wave. In such an atmosphere, nationalist tendencies will rise as domestic pressures and international uncertainties increase, especially in countries experiencing a deep identity crisis, such as the UK post-Brexit;
  • Slippage: In order to prevent them from being replaced by other worldviews, national values – and thus values underpinning particular world orders – require regular maintenance. Populations need to be actively (and regularly) informed concerning their rights, and how such rights were originally won, in order to better sustain the liberal world order. Without such a basis, citizens will be evermore vulnerable to alternative narratives; &
  • Isolation: countries separated from dominant economic and political groupings are more exposed to the core factors personifying the authoritarian-populist wave. This means not only nationalist forces – and more extreme political beliefs – but also alternative sources of financial and trade security, which China (and also the US) may be willing to provide but only subject to a tacit acceptance of its preferred worldview.

[1] Quoted in People Power Under Attack 2018 (Monitor Civicus), https://monitor.civicus.org/PeoplePowerUnderAttack2018/

[2] Economist, Democracy Index 2016: Revenge of the “Deplorables” (London: Economist Intelligence Unit), http://www.transparency.org.nz/docs/2017/Democracy_Index_2016.pdf; Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2017 – Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy(Washington DC: Freedom House), https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017; Polity IV, Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions 1800-2013(Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace), 2014, http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4x.htm

[3] Economist, Democracy Index 2016: Revenge of the “Deplorables” (London: Economist Intelligence Unit).  Accessible at http://www.transparency.org.nz/docs/2017/Democracy_Index_2016.pdf

[4] Quoted in Tom Phillips ‘Xi Jinping Heralds “New Era” Of Chinese Power at Communist Party Congress’, The Guardian, October 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/xi-jinping-speech-new-era-chinese-power-party-congress

[5] See ‘Country Comparisons – GDP (Purchasing Price Parity)’, CIA World Factbook, 2017,https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/208rank.html#CH

[6] See ‘Foreign Direct Investment’, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2018,  http://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx

[7] Celia, Hatton, ‘China “Social Credit”: Beijing Sets Up a Huge System’, BBC News, October 2015. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-34592186

[8] Rui Hou,  ‘The Booming Industry of Chinese State Internet Control’, openDemocracy, November 2018, https://www.opendemocracy.net/rui-hou/booming-industry-of-chinese-state-internet-control

[9] Jimmy Tidey, ‘What China Can Teach the West About Digital Democracy’, openDemocracy, October 2017,  https://www.opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/jimmy-tidey/what-china-can-teach-west-about-digital-democracy

Development, Economy

Who is afraid of job survey?

The Centre has effectively sounded the death knell for a quarterly employment surveyBy Basant Kumar Mohanty in New Delhi

Union minister Arun Jaitley termed as 'preposterous' suggestions of job losses in the country
Union minister Arun Jaitley termed as ‘preposterous’ suggestions of job losses in the countryPicture by Shutterstock

Finance minister Arun Jaitley had on Tuesday called more than 100 academics “purported economists” and “compulsive contrarians” for issuing an appeal to restore the credibility of economic statistics and described as “preposterous” suggestions of job losses in the country.

Less than 24 hours later, it emerged how the Narendra Modi government was frittering away a golden chance to prove the “compulsive contrarians” and doubters wrong.

The Centre has effectively sounded the death knell for a quarterly employment survey by not clearing the air on its fate in spite of a funding deadline lurking round the corner.

An expert committee, appointed to look into whether it has lost its relevance, had recommended that the survey be discontinued. The quarterly survey was instituted in 2008 during the global downturn, covering establishments engaging over 10 workers in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, trade, transport, IT/BPO, education and health.

Curiously, the committee to review the relevance of the survey was set up in June 2018 after the figures showed that new jobs had remained below 2 lakh in all quarters since July 2016 and the growth was either negative or flat in manufacturing and construction.

In January this year, the committee headed by former chief statistician T.C.A. Anant recommended discontinuation of the quarterly survey as it felt that the “wealth of information” from the database of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (whose figures differed with those of the quarterly survey) “can be used more rigorously….”

However, by then, jobs had become a hot-button political issue and unpalatable questions were being asked about Prime Minister Modi’s pre-election promise to create 2 crore jobs every year.

Since then, a perceived suppression of indigestible statistics and periodical revisions have landed the official statistical machinery in controversies. Against this backdrop and with elections fast approaching, the government appears to have developed cold feet in taking a clear stand on the fate of the quarterly survey.

Concern had begun to grow in the Labour Bureau, a labour ministry wing that conducts the quarterly survey, because the request for funds to carry out the exercise has to be placed by the last week of March.

Unsure whether the survey will survive or not, the Labour Bureau had written to the Union labour ministry two months ago seeking a clarification.

But the labour ministry has not yet responded, sources said. The dithering stands in sharp contrast to the finance minister’s swift and acerbic response in less than five days to the appeal by 108 economists and social scientists to restore integrity to official data.

However, the Labour Bureau has sent a separate proposal for funds for implementing the newly started area frame survey, which gathers job data in informal units employing less than 10 workers in the eight sectors. The ministry is currently processing the proposal for funding for the new survey.

The Labour Bureau spends around Rs 10 crore every year on the quarterly survey. “The service of the surveyors engaged in the quarterly employment survey will end this month. The survey may stop completely from next month,” an official said.

Sources suggested that the government was not averse to dumping the old survey but it may not take any decision until the elections are over.

Not everyone agrees with the recommendation of the committee to scrap the quarterly survey. Santosh Mehrotra, chairperson of the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said the data sets from the quarterly employment survey and the EPFO were not comparable.

“The quarterly survey covered both organised and un-organised sectors. The EPFO covers only the organised sector,” Mehrotra said.