Monday, January 18, 2016

The "mother of all [economic] crises" under way in the developing world?

Wolfgang Münchau sees current global economic developments as constituting the third phase of the world financial crisis that began in 2008. He sees the third phase as "die Krise der Entwicklungsländer," "the crisis of the developing countries." (Warum Schwellenländer für die Kurskrise sorgen Spiegel Online 15.01.2016)

For him the first phase was the bursting of the mortgage credit bubble in the US. The euro crisis was the second. Presumably, he doesn't see a sharp temporal division between the three. The euro crisis is certainly continuing and has long since become chronic.

He focuses on three of the BRICS. Russia is a petrostate and is being hit hard by the current low oil prices. "Russland ist dank Wladimir Putin eine ökonomische Monokultur," he writes. ("Thanks to Vladimir Putin, Russia is an ecoomic monoculture.") China has been investing a vast amount in construction, creating according to Münchau, "eine der größten Investitionsblasen der Menschheitsgeschichte" ("one of the largest investment bubble in the history of humanity"). In Brazil, he blames the current President Dilma Rousseff for "corruption and miserable economic policy." In the latter case, I suspect he's leaning too heavily on currently conventional wisdom; the decline of oil prices has also hit Brazil hard. Venezuela as well, but Münchau doesn't discuss that.

He sums up the "third phase" this way:

Fast alle Schwellenländer leiden ebenfalls darunter, dass sie sich in den guten Jahren kein robustes Bankensystem aufgebaut und sich auf ausländische Finanzdienstleister verlassen haben. Was wir jetzt erleben, ist die Mutter aller Krisen für diese Länder: Die Rohstoffpreise sind im Keller, die ausländischen Finanziers ziehen ihr Geld ab, die Dollar-Zinsen steigen, die lokalen Investitionsblasen platzen ebenfalls, die ganze Wirtschaft geht den Bach runter.

[Almost all developing countries in any case are suffering from the situation that in the good years they failed to build a robust banking system and left themselves {at the mercy of} foreign financial service providers. What we are now experiencing is the mother of all crises for these countries: raw material princes are in the basement, the foreign financiers are withdrawing their money, the dollar interest rate is rising, the local investment bubbles are bursting in any case, the whole economy is going into the ditch.]
I've learned to be very cautious about broad generalizations from economists or financial writers about "corruption" and bad economic management and the like in developing countries. "Corruption" especially seems to have become a simple term of contempt. From this viewpoint, massive corruption on Wall Street or at Volkswagen aren't signs of chronic corruption in the US of Germany, much less a hindrance to their economic development. But for Greece or Brazil, it expresses a belief in the inferiority of such countries in relation to the US or Germany.

But I also pay attention to Münchau's analyses. And he's hardly alone in noticing the current problems of development in many emerging-market countries. And he does pay attention to how the corruption at Volkwagen can affect Germany's own economic situation at this moment. Germany is currently experiencing such a large surplus in the export economy of which Angela Merkel is so proud that it is particularly susceptible to the growing crisis in the developing world. And since autos constitute a key sector for exports, the costs and brand damage to Volkswagen are likely to damage the German economy any more. As he puts it:
Die Kombination aus einer Exportkrise und einer durch den VW-Skandal verursachten Autokrise hat das Zeug, der deutschen Wirtschaft in einer Weise zuzusetzen, wie es unsere Generation noch nicht erlebt hat.

[The combination of an export crisis and an auto {sector} crisis as a result as a result of the VW scandal has the stuff to press the economy in such a way as our generation has never before experienced.]

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