“If goods don’t cross borders, armies will” – the case of Russia

Recently I have been thinking quite a bit about the apparent rise of protectionism across the globe and in my quest to find data on the rise of protectionism I found some very interesting comments regarding the Global Trade Alert‘s annual report for 2013 (here reproduced from the Moscow Times January 11 2014):

Russia enacted more protectionist trade measures in 2013 than any other country, leaving it as the world leader in protectionism, according to a new study.

Furthermore, Russia and its partners in the Customs Union, Belarus and Kazakhstan, accounted for a third of all the world’s protectionist steps in 2013, said the study by Global Trade Alert, or GTA, a leading independent trade monitoring service.

A total of 78 trade restrictions, almost a third of all those enacted by Group of 20 countries, were imposed by Russian legislators last year, the study said.

With the new restrictions, Russia now has 331 protectionist measures in place, or a fifth of all protectionist policies registered worldwide .

Belarus is ranked second, with 162 measures.

The Russian-led Customs Union, which the Kremlin has presented as an alternative to the European Union, came under harsh criticism from the report’s authors.

“The Customs Union was responsible for 15 times as many protectionist measures as China while having only an eighth of the population,” said GTA coordinator Simon Evenett, in comments carried by Reuters.

He described Russia’s policy of economic restructuring as “nothing more than a potent mix of rampant subsidization and aggressive protectionism,” which contradicts the World Trade Organization’s principles.

Russia joined WTO in 2012.

The other members of the Customs Union, Kazakhstan and Belarus, are negotiating entry into the WTO.

Of Russia’s protectionist policies, 43.4 percent were targeted bailouts and direct subsidies for local companies, the report said. Tariff measures accounted for 15.5 percent, while anti-dumping, countervailing duty or safeguard provisions constituted almost 10 percent. Other steps included cuts in foreign worker quotas, export subsidies and restrictions, and sanitary measures

A surge in protectionism occurred around the world starting in 2012, the report said. The 2013 data indicate that the trend, which could slow down international economic growth in the next several years, is likely to continue.

Given recent events in Ukraine it is hard not to come to think of the old free trade slogan normally attributed to Frédéric Bastiat “If goods don’t cross borders, armies will”.

—–

PS if you want to think of a “model” of the recent rise in geopolitical tensions around the world then think of this causal relationship: Monetary policy failure => deflationary pressures => rising political populism and an increase in protectionist measures => increased geopolitical tensions. I will try to return to this topic in later posts as I increasingly think there is a relationship between monetary policy failure and increased political uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

PPS 14 years ago I wrote a short article on the relationship between protectionism and war. You will find it here (page 25-26). It is unfortunately in Danish, but Google Translate might help you.

PPPS a couple of posts on monetary policy failure in Russia. See here, here, here and here.

Recommend reading:

Doug Irwin

 

 

A clean break with Hollande (A lesson for Piketty)

Over the past week we have had reports of the deteriorating state of public finances in France and particular the drop in tax revenues. It seems like Hollande’s steep tax increases are not bringing in any extra revenue. President Hollande has been hit right in the face by the Laffer curve.

This is from BBC.com (it is not exactly news – the story is six days old):

The French government faces a 14bn-euro black hole in its public finances after overestimating tax income for the last financial year.

French President Francois Hollande has raised income tax, VAT and corporation tax since he was elected two years ago.

The Court of Auditors said receipts from all three taxes amounted to an extra 16bn euros in 2013.

That was a little more than half the government’s forecast of 30bn euros of extra tax income.

The Court of Auditors, which oversees the government’s accounts, said the Elysee Palace’s forecasts of tax revenue in 2013 were so wildly inaccurate that they cast doubt on its forecasts for this year.

It added the forecasts were overly optimistic and based on inaccurate projections.

The figures come a week after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was appointed in March following the poor showing of Mr Hollande’s Socialists in municipal elections, appeared to criticise the president’s tax policy by saying that “too much tax kills tax”.

The failed policies of Mr. Hollande have reminded me of an excellent quote from Bernard Connolly’s great book “The Rotten Heart of Europe”:

“Mitterand had spoken of ‘making a clean break with capitalism’. Capital immediately decided to make a clean break with him: funds flowed out of France at a dizzy rate in the days following his triumph”

Yesterday, I finished reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century. In the book he is advocating a global tax on capital – indicating a capital gains tax in excess of 80% would be preferable. This is the kind of policies that Mitterrand tried and failed with and that Hollande is now trying again.

What strikes me is that neither Mitterrand nor Hollande had any idea about how economic incentives work. And frankly speaking when I read Piketty’s book then my main take away was exactly the same – Piketty doesn’t seem to understand incentives. It is social planing or engineering rather than economics.

The state of the France economy would be so much better if French policy makers studied the real great French economists – Jean-Baptiste Say and Frédéric Bastiat – rather than Thomas Piketty.

%d bloggers like this: