Silk vs. Automobile – Why Countries Need to Defy Comparative Advantage In Order to Develop Comments Off on Silk vs. Automobile – Why Countries Need to Defy Comparative Advantage In Order to Develop 1076

Once upon a time, the leading car-maker of a developing country exported its first passenger cars to the US. Unfortunately, the product was a total failure. Most US consumers thought the little car looked lousy and were reluctant to spend serious money on a car that came from a place where only shoddy products were made. The car was such a failure that it had to be officially withdrawn from the US market.

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This disaster led to a major debate in the country. Many argued that the industry should be shut down. Here was an industry, they said, whose best company could not penetrate even the lowest of the low end of the US market. And that was after the country’s government had given it 25 years of high tariff protection and banned foreign direct investment for 20 years.

The critics argued that the country should forget about industries like automobile, ship building and steel, which its government had been promoting – these industries were too capital-intensive for a country with very little capital and a lot of labour. The country should instead, they argued, concentrate on industries that intensively use its abundant labour force. After all, silk was the biggest export item of the country at the time.

They pointed out that the received economic theory supports their argument. The theory of comparative advantage, the most widely accepted trade theory, tells us that given its resource endowment, the country should specialise in labour-intensive products in which it has comparative advantage, rather than capital-intensive products in which it does not have comparative advantage.

The reader will be shockd to learn that the year was 1958, the country was Japan and the company was Toyota, and the car was called Toyopet. Japan’s automobile industry had been protected with high tariffs since its inception in 1933. Since it kicked out General Motors and Ford in 1939, in the run up to the Pacific War, the Japanese government had not allow any foreign company to produce automobiles in Japan. We may add that Toyota was doing so badly that in 1949 the Japanese government had to inject public money through the Bank of Japan, the Central Bank, to bail it out.

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By: Prof. Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge South Korean institutioal economist, specialising in development economies Consultant at World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Investment Bank

Today, Japanese cars are considered as ‘natural’ as Scottish salmon or French wine, but only two generations ago most people including many Japanese, thought that the Japanese car industry simply should not exist. Indeed, at the time, the Japanese car industry was, to put it bluntly, a joke. In 1955, all the Japanese car companies combined (there were around a dozen of them) produced 70,000 cars (with Toyota, the biggest company producing 35,000 cars) compared to 3.5 million cars that was produced by General Motors alone and 7 million cars by the US automobile industry as a whole.

Starting from this stark reality and going against one of the most widely accepted theories in economics (that is, the theory of comparative advantage), Japan persisted with the promotion of the automobile industry. By the late 1970s, it conquered the smaller car market, prompting the US and the European countries to impose quotas on Japanese car imports – euphemistically called ‘voluntary export restraints’. Even so, when the Japanese companies announced in the late 1980s that they are going to enter the luxury car market with new brands (Toyota’s Lexus, Nissan’s Infiniti, and Honda’s Accura), most people sniggered, muttering, “Japanese luxury car, that is an oxymoron, isn’t it?”. By 2008, however, Toyota became the biggest car-making company in the world beating General Motors, and the Japanese luxury car brands are neck-and-neck with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Do a little thought experiment to see how monumental the progress of the Japanese automobile industry has been. Suppose that you went back to 1958 and told people that there is this totally unknown third-rate car company called Toyota in Japan but that the company will in 50 years beat General Motors, you would be lucky if people thought you were writing a science fiction. More likely, they would have put you in a mental hospital.

The car industry is not alone. Japan developed its other key industries – such as steel, shipbuilding, electronics, and so on – by using similar mixtures of tariff protection, ban on foreign direct investment, subsidised loans from government-regulated banks, subsidies for R&D, special treatment for domestic firms in government procurement programmes (especially important for the development of the main frame computer industry), and many other internvetionist measures.

Moreover, Japan is not alone in this. It is well known that countries like Korea and Taiwan and more recently China, have used similar policies to industrialise and develop their economies. Less well known is the fact that virtually all other rich countries – the UK (in the 18th and the early 19th century), the US (throughout the 19th century and the early 20th century), Germany and Sweden (in the late 19th and the early 20th century), and others – also promoted their economic developments in similar ways.

Thus, given that virtually all countries have developed their economies by defying their comparative advantages and ‘artificially’ developed industries in which they do not have comparative advantage, we need to seriously re-examine the theory of comparative advange as the guideline for a country’s trade, industrial, and even development policies.

The concept of comparative advantage was first developed by the 19th century British economist David Ricardo. It is actually a very counter-intuitive idea. Before Ricardo, everyone believed that a country should trade with another only when it can produce something more cheaper than the other. This is known as the idea of absolute advantage. However, using the concept of comparative advantage, Ricardo argued that even a country with no absolute international cost advantage in any industry (that is, even if it cannot produce anything more cheaper than other countries can), the country will still be better off if it specialised in industries in which it is least bad at and traded with other nations. Conversely, even if a country can produce everything more cheaply than other countries can, it will still pay for that country to specialise in industries in which it is particularly good at and engage in international trade, rather than trying to produce everything itself.
The theory of comparative advantage is often misunderstood. I have heard professional economists saying things like “such-and-such poor country does not have comparative advantage in anything”. This is a logical impossibility. All countries, however inefficient they may be compared to other countries, have comparative advantage in something. To put it more starkly, even if you are rubbish at everything, there must be something at which you are the least rubbish at, and that is where your comparative advantage lies and that is therefore what you should specialise in.

From this concept, a whole body of theoretical edifice has been constructed to argue that free trade will naturally make countries specialise in industries in which they have comparative advantage, thereby making them better off. From there, it is but a small step to argue that following comparative advantage is the best development strategy.

The theory of comparative advantage is absolutely correct – in so far as the assumptions that underlie the theory are met. However, there are many assumptions that underlie the theory that do not hold in reality. The theory assumes that there is perfect competition, when the real world economy is dominated by monopolies and oligopolies. It assumes that there is no slack in the economy, when in the real world you have under-utilised resources and unemployed workers. And the theory does not work without the assumption that capital and labour can easily be re-deployed across sectors if changes in trade flows demand so. However, in reality machines and worker skills are very specific to the industry they are deployed in and cannot be used elsewhere.

There is nothing unusual about the fact that the theory of comparative advantage make all these assumptions that do not hold in reality. All theories, not just this theory, are constructed on the bases of certain assumptions and therefore do not hold if those assumptions are not met. What is special about the theory of comparative advantage, however, is that it has been used as a guide to economic development despite making assumptions that assume away the very core issues of economic development – that is, the nature of technology and the development of technological capabilities.

The currently dominant version of the theory of comparative advantage, known as the Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson model (after Eli Heckscher, Bertil Ohlin, and Paul Samuelson, who constructed the theory in the mid-20th century), assumes that there is only one best technology for producing a particular product and more importantly, that all countries have the same ability to use that technology. The only difference between countries in this model is the relative amounts of capital and labour they have – richer countries have more capital than labour and poorer countries have more labour than capital. So, in the Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson model (henceforth the HOS model), if Sri Lanka should not be producing things like BMWs, it is not because it cannot do it, but because doing that has too high an opportunity cost, as producing BMWs will use too much of its scarce factor of production, capital.

Thus seen, the main problem with the theory of comparative advantage is that it is not a theory that is useful in understanding the process of economic development. It is largely true that in the short run, a country will benefit the most by specialising in products in which it has comparative advantage in (I say ‘largely’ because the theory has assumptions that are often not met in reality even for this to be true). However, in the longer run, a country’s development success depends on how it finds a way to defy its comparative advantage and get into industries with dynamic demand growth, faster technological progress, and greater impacts on other sectors of the economy.

In doing so, the theory of comparative advantage can act as the ‘compass’ that tells a country’s policy-makers where their country stands and how much of the static gains from trade they are going to forego if they protected industries in which their country does not have comparative advantage. However, in the same way in which a compass cannot tell us where to go and, even less, how to get there, the theory of comparative advantage cannot tell the policy-makers which path of development path of their country should take and how to navigate the country through that path.

For far too long, developing countries, including Sri Lanka, have been told that sticking to their comparative advantages by following free-trade, free-market policies is the best development strategy. It is time that developing countries realise that the theory of comparative advantage is not a theory about economic development. It is only like a compass, helping us figure out where we are, but is of little use unless they have a clear destination, a good detailed map, and a knowledge of how to navigate the terrain that is full of physical obstacles, dangerous animals, and unpredictable weather conditions.

BiZnomics Global Out-front Comments Off on BiZnomics Global Out-front 880

Article By: BiZnomics Research Team

USA Monetary Policy-Fed Dilemma

BiZnomics-Global-Out-front-03Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell mentioned that  US Monetary policy is “well positioned” to support the strong labor market, which is just now starting to benefit workers on the margins. He added that “the benefits of the long expansion are only now reaching many communities, and there is plenty of room to build on the impressive gains achieved so far,” a close look at the adjustments to employment data suggested the labor market may not have been as strong last year as previously thought, and thus we could once again witness a shift for lower interest rates. The September data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated a downward revision of the estimated job creation numbers. The agency said the economy added 170,000 jobs a month in the 12 months through March 2019, half a million fewer jobs than previously estimated. Powell in fact commenting on the job data numbers mentioned that “While this news did not dramatically alter our outlook, it pointed to an economy with somewhat less momentum than we had thought,”.

Germany Consumer Demand Shines

The mood among German consumers rose unexpectedly  heading into December, a survey showed this week that household spending will continue to prop up growth in Europe’s biggest economy at the end of the year. Record-high employment, inflation-busting pay hikes and historically low borrowing costs have turned household spending into a steady and reliable driver of growth in Germany, helping to cushion its export-dependent economy from trade problems. The consumer sentiment indicator, published by the Nuremberg-based GfK Institute and based on a survey of around 2,000 Germans, improved to 9.7 from 9.6 in November. A Reuter’s poll of analysts had predicted a stable reading. GfK said a subindex measuring economic expectations jumped as Germans became more optimistic about the growth outlook due to “tentative signs of easing” 

 

Australian economy continues to struggle

Wage growth in Australia looks to be stuck in the slow lane and it will take a sustained fall in unemployment to lift it to more economically desirable levels, a top central banker said on Tuesday. In a speech on employment and wages, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said there was growing evidence that wage growth had become entrenched in a 2-3% range, down from the former 3-4% norm. This trend has been weighing on household incomes and spending, as well as dragging on the economy more broadly. “A gradual lift in wages growth would be a welcome development for the workforce and the economy,” said Debelle. “It is also needed for inflation to be sustainably within the 2–3% target range”. However, he held out little hope for acceleration any time soon, noting the bank’s liaison with firms showed 80% of companies expected steady wages growth and only 10% anticipated anything faster.” The more wages growth is entrenched in the 2s (2-3% range), the more likely it is that a sustained period of labour market tightness will be necessary to move away from that,” said Debelle. The central bank has cut interest rates three times since June, taking them to a record low of 0.75%, in part to try and drive unemployment down toward its goal of 4.5%.

China looks fragile

BiZnomics-Global-Out-frontOil prices slipped on Tuesday on concerns about economic growth and fuel demand as uncertainty remains about the ability of the United States and China, the world’s biggest oil users, to agree a preliminary deal to end their trade war. Brent crude futures were down 5 cents at $63.60, after rising 0.4% in the previous session. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 9 cents to $57.92, having risen 0.4% on Monday. Top trade negotiators from China and the United States held a phone call on Tuesday morning, China’s Commerce Ministry said, as the two sides try to hammer out a preliminary “phase one” deal in a trade war that has dragged on for 16 months.  “Oil traders remain hopeful a trade deal will get signed,” said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader. “Still, the lack of clarity around the tariff rollbacks, which is the key to economic growth and bullish for oil, continues to somewhat cloud sentiment. “China and the United States are “moving closer to agreeing” on a “phase one” trade deal, the Global Times – a tabloid run by the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily – reported earlier.

India Cuts Monetary Policy Rates for the six time

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The Reserve Bank of India will cut interest rates in December for the sixth time this year, and again before July, according to economists in a Reuters poll which forecast those reductions would either marginally boost the economy or have no impact. Currently the most aggressive major central bank in the world, the RBI has cut rates by 135 basis points this year to 5.15%, but inflation has remained low by historical standards and policymakers have barely moved the needle on growth. The Indian economy expanded 5.0% in the April-June quarter on a year earlier, its slowest annual pace since 2013, and was expected to grow 4.7% last quarter, according to the latest Reuters poll, taken Nov. 20-25.That was significantly lower than the 5.6% rate predicted in the last poll, and would mark six consecutive quarters of slowing growth, a first since 2012.

It also comes despite a recent series of fiscal stimulus from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which was re-elected in a landslide in May. “Further rate cuts are likely to have a limited impact on the economy as cost of borrowing is not the pressing issue. The lack of risk appetite and fragile sentiment are holding back fresh investment in the economy,” said Sakshi Gupta, senior India economist at HDFC Bank. “While further interest rate cuts would support growth at the margin, we need to see a turnaround in sentiment to restart the investment cycle.

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The Silver Lining, in the Emerging ‘Silver Economy’ 0 684

By: Dr. Kenneth De Zilwa

It has become a fad to argue that political and corporate leaders ought to be younger, the world around us has undergone extensive change over the past few decades. In the context of population ageing experienced in many parts of the world, it is argued in political and business realms that leaders require to be more age appropriate and not aged. The old guard, it is contended, is not in keeping with the winds of rapid technological transformation that is taking place.

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The 21st century business leadership belongs to the youth who are keeping abreast with technological innovations, robotics, and artificial intelligence in the corporate world. The global economic system seems to be sending out signals suggesting a need for change in the age composition of political and corporate leadership.

Silver-lining-02

Yet there are tendencies in the world today to embark upon a new strategy of capturing the potential of the silver economy which is estimated to be USD 15 trillion per year by 2020. The silver economy is thus becoming a significant mega trend that is shaping the world. In contrast to the past, we are living in an unprecedented era of the global longevity cycle. The age composition of world leaders and policy makers shaping this thought process is indicative of the fact that as the world population is ageing, & more and more business and political leaders will invariably be those with silver hair tips, representing the silver economic ethos. The data indicates that by 2050 the population segment of silver tips, i.e. those above the age of 60 years, will double from its current 890 million to reach 2 billion people, thereby accounting for 22percent of the global population. The UNDP projections also indicate that between 2018 and  2040, China’s 65+  population  would  jump  by  almost  150  percent,  from  135 to 340  million.  Thus by 2040, China will be a “super aged society” with 25 percent of its people being 62 years of age or older, while the Asia-Pacific region would be home to approximately 1.2 billion older people out of a total of 2.1 billion worldwide in that category by the year 2050. It’s not only the sheer numbers of individuals, but the sheer spending power of the silver hair tips that plays an even more important part in shaping global mega trends. According to Merrill Lynch, the investment bankers, the silver economy will grow from its current USD 7 trillion to a population segment with the spending power of USD 15 trillion per year by 2020. This would amount to approximately 16.4 percent of World GDP.  Such will be the scale and influence of this market segment.

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