Current Affairs

Putin’s Plan A: Long game, squeeze Ukraine, force deep federation, formalize Russian influence & primacy in SE

Plan B: Invade

The link to that tweet is here.  There is more from Ian here.

I find it worrying that Putin is suspending food imports from parts of the West.  (Note that the text of the ban may be deliberately ambiguous.)  Commentators are criticizing the economics of such a move, but I think of this more in terms of Bayesian inference.  Long-term elasticities are greater than short.  Under the more pessimistic reading of the action, Putin is signaling to the Russian economy that it needs to get used to some fairly serious conditions of siege, and food is of course the most important of all commodities.  Why initiate such a move now if you are expecting decades of peace and harmony?  Or is Putin instead trying to signal to the outside world that he is signaling “siege” to his own economy?  Then it may all just be part of a larger bluff.  In any case, Eastern Europeans do not take food supply for granted.

Bernie Ecclestone, is to make a $100m (£60m) payment to end his trial on bribery charges, a district court in Munich has confirmed.

Ecclestone, 83, went on trial in Munich in April over allegations that he bribed a former German banker as part of the sale of a major stake in the motorsport business eight years ago.

German law provides for some criminal cases to be settled with smaller punishments, such as fines, though the size of the payment in Ecclestone’s case has led some to question a system that effectively favours wealthy defendants.

The Munich court said in a statement that $99m would be paid to the German treasury and a further $1m to a German children’s hospice charity. The money will be paid within a week, after which time the trial will officially be abandoned.

The full story is here, not quite China punishment of the day.

For the pointer I thank Dan Jackson.

That campaign is one of the more notable events going on in a busy and event-rich world, so it feels remiss not to cover it at all.  Here is John Minnich:

The anti-corruption campaign is one of those steps. It serves many overlapping functions: to clear out potential opponents, ideological or otherwise; to consolidate executive power and reduce bureaucratic red tape so as to ease the implementation of reform; to remind the Chinese people that the Communist Party has their best interests at heart; and to make it easier to make tough decisions.

Underlying and encompassing these, we see the specter of something else. The consensus-based model of politics that Deng built in order to regularize decision-making and bolster political stability during times of high growth and that effectively guided China throughout the post-Deng era is breaking down. It can no longer hold in the face of China’s transformation and the crises this will bring. Simply put, now that its post-1978 contract with Chinese society — a social contract grounded in the exchange of growth for stability — is up, the Party risks losing the public support and political legitimacy that this contract undergirded. A new and more adaptive but potentially much less stable model is being erected, or resurrected, from within the old. This model is grounded more firmly in the personality and prestige of the president and more capable, or so Chinese leaders seem to hope, of harnessing and managing the Chinese nation through what could well be a period of turmoil.

This does not necessarily mean a return to Imperial China, nor does it mean a return to the days and methods of the Great Helmsman, Mao. It doesn’t even mean the new model will succeed, even remotely. What it means will be decided only by the specific interplay of structure and contingency in the unfolding of history. But it is this transformation that serves as the fundamental, if latent, purpose for Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

The full piece is here, and for the pointer I thank Jim Olds.  “Be careful what kind of anti-corruption campaign you wish for…”

Sentences to ponder

by on August 5, 2014 at 1:25 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

“…while we don’t expect deflation, we do think inflation will remain in negative territory in the coming months.”

That one is about Spain, from Victor Echevarría at BNP Paribas.

The number of distressed neighborhoods in the suburbs grew by nearly 140 percent, compared to 50 percent in urban areas.

That is since 2000, from Danielle Kurtzleben.

Monopsony and its drawbacks

by on August 3, 2014 at 1:45 am in Current Affairs, Law | Permalink

The Bully Fire, which has burned more than 12,600 acres in Shasta County, is nearly contained. In the two weeks since it ignited, about 2,000 firefighters have battled the blaze. Nearly half of them — 900 — are inmates with the California Department of Corrections. These “low-level offenders” making just $2 a day are a crucial component in how the state battles wildfires.

Yet there is some extra compensation:

Once they’re in the program they never spend a night in a prison facility.

Nonetheless:

A few other men say they might try firefighting when they’re released, but most, citing the hot, hard work and long hours, say, “No way.”

There is more here, via Michael Makowsky.

Ghana will turn to the International Monetary Fund for help after the west African country’s currency plunged roughly 40 per cent this year against the dollar, making the cedi the worst performing currency in the world in 2014.

Nearly three years after the start of oil production, which was meant to further strengthen the country’s fiscal position, the public purse is looking empty. Ghana is battling a double-digit fiscal deficit after a 75 per cent increase in public salaries over two years. Inflation is rising rapidly as the cedi plunges.

Ghana ran a fiscal deficit equal to 10.1 per cent of gross domestic product in 2013. The government has promised to lower the deficit to 8.5 per cent this year, but observers believe it would struggled to reduce it below 10 per cent.

The full FT story is here, here are ungated sources, here is one account from Ghana.

Shares in Gazprom, a company that made $32bn in net income last year, trade at only 2.6 times forward earnings.

That is from FTAlphaville.

The notice is here, signers include Bob Solow and Dani Rodrik.  I agree with their arguments, and you will find my slightly different but still consistent earlier critique here.  Here is one bit from the press release:

“It’s a widely shared opinion among economists that the court’s attempt to force Argentina into a default that nobody – not the debtor nor more than 90 percent of creditors – wants, is wrong and damaging,” said Mark Weisbrot, economist and Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who helped circulate the letter.

Matt Levine has a good post on the situation here.

As the conflict rages, displacing hundreds of thousands, U.N. and Palestinian officials say some families have made a macabre calculation: to split up, with each group seeking refuge in different parts of Gaza. If one part of the family gets killed, others will live on to help the survivors and keep their dynasty alive.

But most families, officials say, still move together as a source of strength and comfort. Some are now living with other relatives, further increasing their familial size, while others have taken shelter in U.N.-run schools and other refuges.

From Sudarsan Raghavan, there is more here.  Note that if there is a “single (cost-adjusted) safest perceived place,” splitting up the family into two or more locations is increasing the net expected danger to some family members, without making any members safer.

Ukraine fact of the day

by on July 30, 2014 at 10:59 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

The Ukrainian economy shrank 4.7 per cent annually in the second quarter, far deeper than expected and casting a cloud over the assumptions that underpin the International Monetary Fund’s $17bn bailout.

That follows a 1.1 per cent year-on-year contraction in the first quarter. Given the ongoing unrest in eastern Ukraine, where much of the industrial base can be found, economic growth is unlikely to pick up later this year.

There is more here.

David Brooks writes:

But when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell, the military leaders cracked down. They sentenced hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leadership class to death. They also closed roughly 95 percent of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, where the Brotherhood’s offshoot, Hamas, had gained power.

As intended, the Egyptian move was economically devastating to Hamas. Hamas derived 40 percent of its tax revenue from tariffs on goods that flowed through those tunnels. One economist estimated the economic losses at $460 million a year, nearly a fifth of the Gazan G.D.P.

Hamas needed to end that blockade, but it couldn’t strike Egypt, so it struck Israel. If Hamas could emerge as the heroic fighter in a death match against the Jewish state, if Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade. Civilian casualties were part of the point. When Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, dismissed a plea for a cease-fire, he asked a rhetorical question, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?”

The eminent Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff summarized the strategy in The Times of Israel, “Make no mistake, Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel. But Hamas is firing rockets at Tel Aviv and sending terrorists through tunnels into southern Israel while aiming, in essence, at Cairo.”

The full column is here.

While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have earned at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year.

In various news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.

These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year.

In its early years Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.

The full story is here. by Rukmini Callimachi.  Oh, and don’t forget this:

Negotiators take a reported 10 percent of the ransom, creating an incentive on both sides of the Mediterranean to increase the overall payout, according to former hostages and senior counterterrorism officials.

It turns out that Al Qaeda hardly ever executes prisoners any more.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

Israel’s major problem is that circumstances always change. Predicting the military capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds in 50 years is difficult. Most likely, they will not be weaker than they are today, and a strong argument can be made that at least several of their constituents will be stronger. If in 50 years some or all assume a hostile posture against Israel, Israel will be in trouble.

Time is not on Israel’s side. At some point, something will likely happen to weaken its position, while it is unlikely that anything will happen to strengthen its position. That normally would be an argument for entering negotiations, but the Palestinians will not negotiate a deal that would leave them weak and divided, and any deal that Israel could live with would do just that.

What we are seeing in Gaza is merely housekeeping, that is, each side trying to maintain its position. The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can. But nothing lasts forever, and over time, the relative strength of Israel will decline. Meanwhile, the relative strength of the Palestinians may increase, though this isn’t certain.

Looking at the relative risks, making a high-risk deal with the Palestinians would seem prudent in the long run. But nations do not make decisions on such abstract calculations. Israel will bet on its ability to stay strong. From a political standpoint, it has no choice. The Palestinians will bet on the long game. They have no choice. And in the meantime, blood will periodically flow.

There is more here, of interest throughout, via Eric Reguly.

Germany fact of the day

by on July 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, Law | Permalink

…in Germany, the government is rolling out a red carpet by simplifying immigration procedures, funding free language classes, even opening “welcome centers” for newcomers looking to carve out a piece of the German dream.

In the rankings of the globe’s most prosperous countries, this economic powerhouse of 82 million has now leapfrogged Canada, Britain, Italy and Spain to become the largest destination for immigrants after the United States, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The article is here.