Brexit: British Business and Industries

The UK has long depended on heavy flows of investment from abroad to make up for the weaknesses in its own corporate and financial institutions. In 2015 the UK ran a deficit in its external trade in goods and services of 96 billion pounds ($146 billion in 2015), or 5.2 percent of GDP, the largest percentage deficit in postwar British historyand by far the largest of any of the G-7 group of industrialized economies. By comparison, the US ran a deficit of 2.6 percent of GDP, while Germany earned a surplus of 8.3 percent, Japan a surplus of 3.6 percent, and France broke even. In the memorable words of Mark Carney, the Canadian-born Governor of the Bank of England, the UK must depend on “the kindness of strangers” to remedy its trade gap.

The reason for this unusual dependency is that for decades the UK has been unable to produce enough goods that the rest of the world wants to buy. According to WTO statistics, between 1980 and 2011 the UK’s share of global manufacturing exports was halved, from 5.41 percent to 2.59 percent, so that by 2011, according to UN statistics, the dollar value of UK merchandise exports at $511 billion was not far off the level of Belgium’s at $472 billion, an economy with one six the UK’s population, (and not included in the Belgian figures, the value of German exports routed through Belgium ports).

Looking at export industries such as IT products, automobiles, machine tools, and precision instruments, all strongly dependent on advanced R&D and employee skills at all levels, the UK’s performance looks even worse. The period of 2005-2011 is especially revealing because it includes both the years of the Great Recession and the collapse of trade between the advanced industrial economies, but also years in which their trade with China and other BRIC economies such as India and Brazil grew rapidly. Since one of the chief claims of the Brexit campaigners has been that there are now these exciting new markets in BRIC countries waiting for British exporters to conquer, it is worth looking at how British companies actually performed during those years.

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Euro

Unusually perceptive of the political and historical roots of monetary union, the author begins and ends his book by reminding readers of Altiero Spinelli’s call for “the definitive abolition of Europe’s division into national sovereign states” (p. 1). The common currency, even though not specifically mentioned in the Ventotene Manifesto, may be seen as the most radical answer to Spinelli’s call to end the nation state. At the same time, the success or failure of the euro could well turn out to be the ultimate test of Spinelli’s proposition.

The book has little sympathy for objections inspired by a narrow reading of “optimal currency area” theory (interestingly, its original proponent, Robert Mundell, came out in favour of the creation of the euro). In contrast to American economists such as Kenneth Rogoff (“a giant historical mistake”) and, more recently, Joseph Stiglitz (“fatally flawed from birth”), Sandbu argues that the architecture of the common currency has been wrongly blamed for the Eurozone crisis, and has been used as a decoy by policy makers for their own unforced errors.
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SIPRI: Top 100 arms sales for 2015 still are 37 per cent higher than those for 2002

Sales of the world’s 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies totalled $370.7 billion in 2015. Compared with 2014, this is a slight decline of 0.6 per cent. While this continues the downward trend in arms sales that began in 2011, it signals a significant slowdown in the pace of decline. However, despite the decrease, Top 100 arms sales for 2015 are 37 per cent higher than those for 2002, when SIPRI began reporting corporate arms sales.

Companies headquartered in the United States and Western Europe have
dominated the list of Top 100 arms-producing and military services companies
since 2002. And, true to form, this was the case for 2015: with sales reaching $305.4 billion, companies based in the USA and Western Europe accounted for 82.4 per cent of the Top 100 arms sales. Continue reading

Our complex economic, technical, political and social systems, eroded by energy-related and other biophysical constraints, are showings early signs of failure

Thought provoking.

Slow economic growth is not just an after-effect of the Great Recession but part of a deeper malaise that predates, and indeed may have helped cause, the financial crisis. A number of narratives have emerged in recent years to try to explain this global dearth of growth, such as the ‘debt overhang’ narrative, which states that growth is primarily hampered by an excessive indebtedness of economic agents, or various versions of the ‘secular stagnation’ narrative, which sees the cause of slow growth in a chronic shortfall of demand resulting from population ageing and the rise of income and wealth inequality, and/or in the diminishing returns of technological innovation. These various narratives probably all have some degree of validity. However, they tend to focus on developments that, even if they act as mutually reinforcing drags on growth, are in fact symptoms of the world’s economic predicament rather its deeper root causes.

Even more than from what most economists usually look at, i.e. constraints on capital and labour and on the productivity of their use, the slowdown of global economic growth since before the financial crisis might be resulting from factors that they typically ignore, i.e. constraints on the supply of energy and other biophysical resources that feed into the economic process and impact its functioning. In fact, the world’s capacity to create additional wealth is getting increasingly eroded by biophysical boundaries that over time tend to raise the acquisition costs, constrain the quantity and degrade the quality of the flows of energy and natural resources that can be delivered to the economic process, as well as by the constantly increasing costs of some of the economic process’ side effects (i.e. ‘negative externalities’ including environmental degradation and climate change), and the growing need to ‘internalise’ them into the price system. These biophysical constraints, as they increase, tend to weigh more and more on the economy’s productive capacity, thus eroding the potential for productivity and output growth.
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Immigration and wages

In fact, we might go even further. Restrictions on free movement may actually reduce wages and workers’ standards.

Because we know from history that immigration doesn’t stop when it becomes harder. Just look at Mexico and the United States. If more EU nationals enter the UK undocumented, they will be working outside official channels, labour laws and the official minimum wage.
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U.S. Defense Contractors: Russian Threat Is Great for Business

Retired Army Gen. Richard Cody, a vice president at L-3 Communications, the seventh largest U.S. defense contractor, explained to shareholders in December that the industry was faced with a historic opportunity. Following the end of the Cold War, Cody said, peace had “pretty much broken out all over the world,” with Russia in decline and NATO nations celebrating. “The Wall came down,” he said, and “all defense budgets went south.”

Now, Cody argued, Russia “is resurgent” around the world, putting pressure on U.S. allies. “Nations that belong to NATO are supposed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “We know that uptick is coming and so we postured ourselves for it.”
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