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Is a big change underway in global capitalism? (Part 2)

By News Express on 29/01/2018

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Milwaukee-born short-seller Jim Chanos, founder and managing partner of New York-based Kynikos Associates, teaches University of Wisconsin and Yale business students about corporate fraud. During his life and career, he has witnessed seismic shifts in economic thinking and the relationship between labor and capital. In this second part of this culled interview, Chanos shares his thoughts on the world emerging from the election of Donald Trump and the tumultuous political events of 2016.

The period from the late 1970s to 1980 changed all that. You had Thatcher and the U.K. and Reagan in the U.S. Mao died in 1976, the Solidarity movement in Poland began in 1978, and the Soviet Union peaked in power in 1979. You saw that the pendulum had gone too far and now we’re going to cut taxes on capital, we’re going to be more globalistic, and trade was going to improve. Since then, capital has risen and assets have done better than labor. Taxes have been light on financial assets and heavy on labour. Everything was reversed on its head.

If we look at the events of 2016 — Brexit, the Italian referendum, Trump, and the rise of nationalist China — are these the harbingers of something bigger? Or are they just a coincidence?  The ground seems to be fertile for things to change globally. If so, does this give rise to a more nationalistic, protectionist, statist scenario?  Are labor prices going to go up again? Are we going to tax capital and emphasise wages? We’ll see…. 

Interviewer: Going back to Trump’s promise to bring jobs back to the U.S. — can the government even do that?

JC: In the case of the ’30s, you had massive public works spending and government spending, so you created construction workers. But on that front, we’re not going to compete anymore, as the Carrier guy said. Mexican labor is $3 an hour. No amount of retraining for a lower-skilled assembly job is going to change that. The only thing that will replace that Mexican worker himself is a robot. And a robot is infinitely cheaper than even the cheapest labor.

Surveys show that there are jobs open in the economy, but there’s just not a skill level to fill all of them. Our problem is the displacement in things like mining, assembly, low-end manufacturing – that’s where the job losses have occurred. It is just very hard under almost any scenario no matter what your politics are to see where those jobs are going to come back.

To the extent that you have wholesale, large, construction-like projects, then you will put people to work at relatively high rates, but the jobs are episodic and not necessarily career paths. When I was making $14 an hour working steel in Milwaukee in the summers in college, a steel worker could basically say, “all right, as long as I understand that I’m going to work in this factory, I can have a nice living for my family.” Those jobs are gone. The plants closed. So the whole idea that someone can now say, “I can work in the Carrier plant for $20 an hour and be assured of a job for life and security and put my kids through college” — that doesn’t exist anymore.

That’s where the problem and discontent will come — when you’ve sold that dream and it doesn’t happen. In that scenario, Trump begins to have a pretty short honeymoon.

You’ve long been linked with China. What do you make of the positions of China and the U.S. in the international economy, and how do you think they’re changing?

JC: To me, the rise of Xi Jinping is a big event still underestimated in the global political economy. He is more of a personality than either Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong, certainly higher in stature internally than his predecessors. He is not first among equals in the Politburo Standing Committee — he’s first. This goes along with the theory about the rise of nationalists such at Putin in Russia. Xi Jinping is also a nationalist. He talks about the China Dream, China getting back to past glories, and not exporting communism. What you would have heard Mao say.

He’s a member the Chinese Communist Party, but the Party exists now as a political apparatus, not an ideology. China would not have the type of capitalism it has today if this were not the case. So these are not Marxist-Leninists, but rather just a fantastic single party in control. We have to understand it in that light.

China is increasingly a geostrategic rival. In the past, China looked toward protecting what it had — making claims on Taiwan and Tibet and ancillary areas, but the Chinese were really content not to compete in the global Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Now we have this multi-polar world, and China sees itself clearly as the prime actor in the Pacific willing to fill any vacuum that the United States begins to pull away from.

Xi Jinping comes in and immediately he rewrites the passport maps. He sets the air traffic and extends the air defense zones. More ominously, he begins to militarize the South China Sea, and puts military bases on the islands, which alarms pretty much everybody. (And yet if you look at a map of the Pacific, the only country that really needs to traverse the South China Sea is China itself —oil going from the Middle East to Japan goes around it. The South China Sea is symbolic more than it is geostrategic).

I think, however, that Trump has decided that China makes a convenient media punching bag. You can claim that China took your jobs and China is a bogeyman. It seems to me that president-elect Trump does best when he has someone to fight against. However, the broader issue will be that foreign policy and national security events have a whole different dynamic than beating up on a defense contractor for an air conditioning plant.

What will be the ramifications? How will China react? What do you do about countries like the Philippines that are in the middle — a country that has elected its own interesting president, someone who seems to want to embrace China after decades of being staunchly a U.S. ally? What does this do for Japan? Japan itself has a nationalist, Shinzo Abe, who wants to increase military spending and take off the yoke of the Japanese constitution block on an expanded military.

There are many questions, but whatever you might think, China and Japan, while big trading partners, are not the best of friends in that neighborhood. Finally you’ve got the wacky guy in North Korea. What’s he going to do?

This whole area just keeps quietly but relentlessly getting to be more dangerous. I think that at some point in the first four years of the Trump administration, the Pacific is going to heat up again.

People are talking about starting a trade war with China but they haven’t really thought it through, because if you talk to corporate execs in the United States, they’re sort of quietly terrified.  Often the supply chain, even in U.S. manufacturing, relies on parts from Mexico and China coming in. We are pretty interconnected. Lots of businesses, and workers, too, will get disrupted in ways we can’t even think of in a trade war. There’s a reason why people studied the 1930s with the tariff walls that went up and the disruptions that happened. It’s negative for growth.

We would be continuing this discourse in the next article. For further details call on me for indepth discussions, business advisory services and training – send a message via WhatsApp or SMS.

•Lawrence Chukwuemeka Nwaodu is a small business expert and enterprise consultant, trained in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The Management School, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and MSc in Finance and Financial Management Services from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Netherlands. Mr. Nwaodu is the Lead Consultant at IDEAS Exchange Consulting, Lagos. He can be reached via nwaodu.lawrence@hotmail.co.uk (07066375847).

Source News Express

Posted 29/01/2018 9:03:37 PM

 

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