mercoledì 2 giugno 2010

Come fare convivere formiche e cicale

Dalle colonne del Financial Times, Martin Wolf continua la rivisitazione dell'economia internazionale aggiungendo le locuste alle formiche e alle cicale. Ma la questione fondamentale secondo Wolf è

(...) is there a way to ensure ants and grasshoppers coexist harmoniously?
A part of the answer must be to reduce the instability of financial markets.
This is the focus of the debate on regulation – a topic I have discussed previously.
I would add two points here: first, seek to reduce the extremes of the property cycle by taxing the
rental value of land; second, remove incentives for leverage from the tax code.
Yet the biggest single problem of the global system, in my view, is the attempt by ants to provide
so much “vendor finance” to grasshoppers. In the end, both ants and grasshoppers have ended up disappointed.
A more productive use of the surplus savings and productive capacity of ageing ant nests
would be to lend to younger ones. So finance should flow to emerging countries, in general, and
fixed investment in emerging countries, in particular. It is in the latter that the best opportunities
for new investment should exist. It is the latter that are also most likely to generate the ability to
service and repay the loans they have received.
This seemingly sensible proposition runs up against two huge difficulties:
the first is that almost every attempt to generate large net flows of capital to emerging countries
over the past three decades has ended up in a crisis; the second is that, as a result, the emerging
world has decided to run current account surpluses and recycle those surpluses into ever larger
foreign exchange reserves: in 2010, for example, according to the International Monetary Fund,
the current account surplus of emerging countries will be $420bn, with an accumulation of reserves of $630bn.
Thus, in aggregate, emerging countries are recycling current account surpluses,
plus the net private capital inflow, into reserves. Nearly all of these surpluses are generated
by emerging Asia, in general, and China, in particular, though these countries have the best
investment opportunities.
So long as this remains true, the grasshopper colonies of the developed world are likely to remain net
recipients of capital, which they will surely continue to waste. Yet, under the pressure of the crisis
itself, many erstwhile grasshopper colonies are being forced to become more “ant-like”. If today’s rich
ant nests do not change their behaviour, potential surpluses will be huge. Either the emerging world as
a whole starts to absorb these surpluses into potentially productive younger nests,
or the world will be stuck in a demand trap, with everybody seeking export surpluses.
Flows of finance from export-driven ant nests to advanced grasshopper colonies end in tears.
Flows of finance from old ant nests to young ones have not worked out either.
If a way is not found to fix these failures, the open global economy itself may disappear.

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