Brexit does not matter outside UK – Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From The Business Times

THE contours of the 19th and early 20th century were defined in part by a series of consequential British foreign policy and economic decisions. As recently as 2007-2009, British policy affected global outcomes: whereas deregulation of the City of London contributed to the severity of the global financial crisis, British leadership at the London G-20 summit in April 2009 ultimately proved a stabilising influence. Today, however, despite all the political theatre and dramatic rhetoric, Britain’s impending exit from the European Union – Brexit – really does not matter for the world.

The global economy may have hit a patch of uncertainty, but this is more due to the mercurial actions of US President Donald Trump, self-proclaimed “Tariff Man”, who seems intent on undermining the credibility of the Federal Reserve, disrupting supply chains, and negotiating through random pronouncements. The eurozone is struggling to break out of its prolonged agonies, but the fundamental problem is still bad banking practices and potentially unsustainable public finances in some member countries. While Brexit may well prove an unfortunate idea for many inhabitants of the United Kingdom, the likely impact is lower British growth, not a significant disruption of regional – let alone global – trade.

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Globalism is under siege. Here’s how to save it — and why. – JoAnne Yates and Craig N. Murphy

MIT Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management JoAnne Yates

MIT Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management JoAnne Yates

From The Washington Post

Over the past few years, world politics have been governed by a backlash against globalization. From the Brexit mess in Britain to restrictive immigration policies and tariffs in the United States and elsewhere, global economic integration is under assault.

But such integration offers many benefits: a greater variety of less expensive goods, greater opportunities for travel and cultural exchange, a more cosmopolitan world. In this climate, nongovernmental entities may be crucial to preserving them.

Thankfully, engineers have spent the past century building just such international bodies, because they believed that economic integration must remain above politics. These organizations have long set voluntary standards to ensure integration even when the political winds blow against them. This conception of global business standards will be crucial in the years to come as we struggle to preserve the benefits of cohesive systems for international trade, even as politicians battle over how interconnected they want to be.

It is ironic that the British should find themselves in the Brexit mess, because it was British engineers who created the first of the national standards bodies. Their project, a forerunner of today’s British Standards Institution (BSI), was a product of the expansive British Empire. It was founded in 1901 to ensure that industrial products and transportation networks within the United Kingdom and across its empire would be compatible with one another. Although some government representatives were included in its processes, the engineers leading the effort believed such standards should be voluntary, not government-mandated.

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Micro-entrepreneurs making an impact in less developed communities – John Roberts

John Roberts, MIT Sloan Visiting Professor

From Entrepreneur Magazine

One might well ask, “What do micro-entrepreneurs in urban and slum neighborhoods across Cape Town, South Africa have to learn from the elite business schools of the world?  It turns out that the answer to this question is: “Plenty.”

I recently had the honour of being Chairman of Judges of the prestigious Gary Lilien Practice Prize given by the INFORMS Society for Marketing Science, in conjunction with the Marketing Science Institute and the European Marketing Academy. The award winning study proves that the tools of marketing science can make a major positive impact in helping to grow disadvantaged economies like the ones in Cape Town.

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Jack Ma is retiring. Is China’s economy losing steam? – Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Professor Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Professor Yasheng Huang

From New York Times 

GUANGZHOU, China — Earlier this month, Jack Ma announced that he was stepping down as executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the world’s largest e-commerce company. His decision caught many by surprise. At an economic forum in Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin reportedly asked him, “You are still so young. Why are you retiring?”

Maybe Mr. Ma, 54, knows something that Mr. Putin does not. Two of the three forces, globalization and marketization, that have propelled Alibaba to its current $500 billion valuation are dissipating. The third force, technology, is mired in the trade war between China and the United States, and its prospects in China are now uncertain.

Alibaba didn’t just transform e-commerce in China; it transformed the entire economy by helping build up the private sector. Mr. Ma’s departure from the company now — though he claims to have been planning it for a while — adds to a gathering sense that China’s private sector, the engine of the economy, is losing steam — and faith.

Alibaba is China’s globalization story par excellenceFounded in 1999, the company created a website that allowed people outside China to buy directly from Chinese exporters. At that time, China was opening up but foreign buyers were hampered by their lack of knowledge of Chinese suppliers. Alibaba set up a program called TrustPass, allowing third parties to verify the quality and trustworthiness of Chinese suppliers. This system enabled foreign buyers to bypass the slow and often bureaucratic state-owned intermediaries that typically performed verification, and it eased Chinese companies’ access to the global marketplace.

Alibaba also tapped international capital markets. The company’s founders hailed from modest backgrounds and had little capital, but they benefited from liberal policies that China had put in place as it was negotiating to join the World Trade Organization (which it did join, in 2001). During the company’s early years, its leaders turned to foreign suppliers of capital, such as Goldman Sachs, SoftBank and Fidelity Investments. Later on, Yahoo also provided funding.

In the early 2000s, Alibaba structured its investment arrangements via what are known as “variable interest entities.” V.I.E.s are intermediary structures in which foreign firms can invest to acquire contractual rights over revenues generated by Alibaba. They were an innovative solution to help foreigners navigate China’s murky legal system while bringing critical financing to Chinese high-tech entrepreneurs.

But today globalization is under assault. The Chinese government is enforcing more strictly regulations over V.I.E.s that it had long ignored, creating uncertainty for foreign investors. And the trade war between the United States and China is disrupting Chinese exports, threatening the supply chains of which Alibaba is an integral component.

Alibaba has elevated China’s private entrepreneurs in another way: by providing direct financing to them. China has a massive banking system, but it is almost entirely organized to support the less efficient state-owned enterprises, leaving China’s dynamic private sector chronically short of capital and credit. Alibaba, through its financing operations, has stepped in to provide much-needed capital, especially to China’s very small businesses.

Read the full post at New York Times.

Yasheng Huang is the International Program Professor in Chinese Economy and Business and a Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

Containing Contagion: ‘There is no replacement for good macro-fundamentals’ — Kristin Forbes

MIT Sloan Prof. Kristin Forbes

What began as a singular sovereign debt problem in Greece in 2009 quickly spread to the rest of Europe. First Ireland; then Portugal and Spain and Italy. Today—only three years after the first signs of trouble—virtually all Europeans have felt the destructive effects of the euro zone turmoil, and its impact is being felt around the world.

Contagion, a phenomenon where financial tumult in one country or region spreads to another country, is now a fact of life. The globalization of finance has, in many ways, made contagion inevitable. The world has become much more integrated through trade, investors, and banks, and these ties have caused countries’ financial markets to move together more closely during good times and bad. Read More »