The American populist reckoning – Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From Project Syndicate

Populism is an approach to government that relies on lavish promises that ultimately cannot be met. The most prominent historical cases since 1945 were, for a long while, mostly found in Latin America. There are always apologists who claim that a new source of economic miracle has been discovered. But the ending is always the same: some form of crisis and disaster. Populism today is again in the ascendancy, but now one of the most virulent forms is in the United States – and with the credibility of the central bank very much on the line.

Argentina under Juan Perón (1946-1955 and 1973-1974) and his successors is often held out as the canonical example of populist misrule. Each iteration of populism has its special features, but the general pattern is this: unsustainable wage increases, an overvalued exchange rate, and massive foreign borrowing (enabled by local recklessness and foreign short-sightedness). Critics are persecuted, experts disparaged, and ridicule piled onto anyone with any kind of reasonable concern. Central banks and other independent governmental bodies, such as courts, are always subverted through personnel changes and other pressures.

Then the reckoning comes, with some combination of inflation, significant exchange-rate devaluation, and a deep recession (or worse). All too often, the cycle then starts again with another round of promises that cannot possibly be met. The central bank’s credibility, once dismantled, does not easily return.

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What countries and companies can do when trade and cybersecurity overlap – Stuart Madnick, Simon Johnson, Keman Huang

MIT Sloan Professor Stuart Madnick

MIT Sloan Professor Stuart Madnick

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

Postdoctoral Associate, Keman Huang

From Harvard Business Review 

Cybersecurity as a key issue for trade policy is a relatively new development. In the last few years there have been a number of news reports about various governments’ incorporating spyware, malware, or similar programs into computer-based products that are exported around the world. The governments typically have worked with private companies in their countries to do it. In the internet-of-things era, almost all products can be connected to the internet, and most of them can also be used for spying and other malicious activities. Furthermore, since data is considered a critical asset, services, from international banking to payment systems to consumer websites, are part of this too.

In late 2016 and 2017, for example, the voice-activated My Friend Cayla doll made headlines for its technology, which could be used to collect information on children or anyone in the room. In 2017 Germany banned the doll, alleging that it contained a surveillance device that violated the country’s privacy regulations. Another famous example is the 2010 Stuxnet attack on the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in Iran. It was accomplished by planting malware, including Stuxnet, into industrial control systems that were shipped to Iran, resulting in the destruction of many centrifuges.

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Trumponomics is failing on growth – Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From Project Syndicate

WASHINGTON, DC – US President Donald Trump and his Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, have promised an economic miracle. They argue that when the United States adopts their policies, it will consistently achieve annual economic growth above 3%, or even above 4%. After a year of being in charge, pushing hard on deregulation, and getting what it wanted in terms of tax cuts, how is the Trump team doing?

We are still in the early days, but the results so far have been disappointing. And the US’s medium-term prospects for sustained growth could be endangered if Trump pursues the policies he claims to want.

Trump has repeatedly argued that America’s overall economic performance in 2017 should be seen as the direct result of his policies, and he has made a big deal out of the third-quarter growth rate, which was initially reported as 3.3%, then revised down to 3.2%. Yet, in the fourth quarter, growth was down to 2.6%, and initial estimates suggest that overall growth for the year will not surpass 2.3%. That is lower than what was achieved under former President Barack Obama in 2014 (2.6%) and 2015 (2.9%).

In fact, under Obama, the quarterly growth rate surpassed 3% seven times, and even reached 4.6% on two occasions. From the third quarter of 2009, growth was positive in every quarter, save two. But not only was headline growth sturdy under Obama; his administration also presided over considerable job growth – the economy added more than two million jobs annually in seven out of his eight years in office – as well as falling unemployment and higher labor-force participation. Read More »

China, the innovation dragon – Simon Johnson and Jonathan Ruane

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From Project Syndicate

China has achieved much since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping initiated the transition to a market economy. In terms of headline economic progress, the pace of China’s transformation over the past 40 years is unprecedented. The country’s GDP grew by nearly 10% per year on average, while reshaping global trade patterns and becoming the second-largest economy in the world. This success lifted 800 million people out of poverty, and the mortality rate of children under five years old was halved between 2006 and 2015.

The question now is whether China, well positioned to become the world’s innovation leader, will realize that opportunity in 2018 or soon after.

China’s transformation has been underpinned by an unprecedented manufacturing boom. In 2016, China shipped more than $2 trillion worth of goods around the world, 13% of total global exports. It has also pursued economic modernization through massive infrastructure investment, including bridges, airports, roads, energy, and telecoms. In less than a decade, China built the world’s largest bullet train system, surpassing 22,000 kilometers (13,670 miles) in July 2017. Annual consumption is expected to rise by nearly $2 trillion by 2021, equivalent to adding another consumer market the size of Germany to the global economy.

Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that, “China stopped being a low-labor-cost country many years ago, and that is not the reason to come to China.” The country’s manufacturing strengths now lie in its advanced production know-how and strong supply-chain networks. Understandably, China’s leadership wants to increase productivity and continue to move further up the value chain.

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It’s time to found a new republic – Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

MIT Professor Daron Acemoglu

From Foreign Policy

Most Americans tend to believe that they’ve lived under the same form of government, more or less, since the country was founded in late 1700s. They’re mistaken.

It’s true that there have been important continuities. The American conception of what government should and should not do is deeply rooted in clear thinking at the start of the republic; the country has long preferred limited government and effective constraints on capricious executive action. But this persistence of core ideas (and the consistent use of the same buildings in Washington, D.C.) obscures the dramatic changes that have taken place within the governing institutions themselves.

In fact, formidable challenges at the end of the 19th century were met by fashioning a transformation so thorough it could effectively be deemed a “Second Republic.” This new republic came with significantly different economic and political rules — and, as a result, enabled the American system to survive and even thrive for another century. Today, faced with serious economic and political dysfunction, we are in need of another round of deep institutional renewal: a Third Republic.

The conditions that brought about the first transformation of American society are strikingly similar to those we see today. At the root of the problems confronting the United States by 1900 was a wave of innovation that sped up growth. The direct benefits of these new technologies accrued to a few, while many others became more uncertain about their economic future.

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