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Moderator:  Calla Wiemer (calla.wiemer@acaes.us)

ASEAN and Megaregionalism: Challenges Ahead

Co-Authors: Peter A. Petri; Fan Zhai    

In December 2015 the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) went into effect. It was the culmination of a process that began with the Bangkok Declaration in 1967 and represents the most significant economic integration initiative among developing economies in the world. A notable milestone to be sure, but the region has a long way to go before it will be able to attain its original goal of creating a 21st century single market and production base. Meanwhile, ASEAN needs to nest the next stage of its cooperation program in the context of emerging megaregional trade arrangements, namely, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the future expansions of both. In addition, it has to do this at a challenging time for the global trading system upon which it depends; the US-China trade war continues with no clear resolution on the horizon, the World Trade Organisation is at an impasse, and the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated global trade in the short run and may have long-term implications (UNCTAD 2020).

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'The New Fiscal Consensus' As Per Blanchard & Subramanian Interpreted for Southeast Asia

The 'new fiscal consensus' holds that major advanced economies have the fiscal space to go big on stimulus and should do so in response to the pandemic. In a recent webinar sponsored by the Ashoka Centre for Economic Policy in Haryana, India, Olivier Blanchard made the case for the new fiscal consensus and Arvind Subramanian then responded on the relevance for emerging market economies such as India. This post extends elements of their analysis to the major emerging economies of Southeast Asia: Indonesia; Malaysia; the Philippines; Thailand; and Vietnam.

Blanchard explained that to preserve a stable debt/GDP ratio, the following condition must hold:

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Review of Keun Lee, The Art of Economic Catch-Up

Cambridge University Press, 2019.

The received image of catch-up growth has developing countries following steadfastly along a path trodden by their predecessors. Keun Lee, professor of economics at Seoul National University and 2014 winner of the Schumpeter Prize, upends that image arguing that if latecomers aim merely to follow in the footsteps of countries that have gone before, they will never catch up. Rather, each country must find its own way to advance based on cutting-edge innovation along ever shifting frontiers.

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The Geography of Innovation in China

Co-authors: Fushu Luan; Ming He; and Donghyun Park 

This post draws on a paper presented at the Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in a session sponsored by the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies on "Economics of Innovation in Asia", 3 January 2021, video here.   

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Fabrication vs Knowledge Activities in Global Value Chains: Contributions to Asian Development

Co-author: Elisabetta Gentile

This post draws on a paper presented at the Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in a session sponsored by the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies on "Economics of Innovation in Asia", 3 January 2021, video here.  

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Intellectual Property Rights in Economic Development: The Korean Experience

Co-Authors:  Raeyoon Kang; Donghyun Park

This post draws on a paper presented at the Allied Social Science Association Annual Meeting in a session sponsored by the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies on "Economics of Innovation in Asia", 3 January 2021, video here.  

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On China As a Model for the Philippines (Fabella Review Addendum)

In the book Capitalism and Inclusion under Weak Institutions, reviewed in a previous post, author Raul Fabella points to a lack of social coherence in the Philippines as undermining economic progress and contrasts this with the Chinese case where "a strong sense of identity and mission" has propelled phenomenal economic growth. Judging by differences in receptivity to the statement "most people can be trusted", Fabella may be onto something. Survey results presented in Figure 1 show 62.7% of Chinese agreeing with this statement versus just 2.8% of Filipinos. Personally, I am mystified by these results having spent many years in both countries and not finding Filipinos any less trustworthy than Chinese. Yet the results do lend credence to Fabella's thesis.

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Review of Raul Fabella, Capitalism and Inclusion under Weak Institutions

published by the University of the Philippines, Center for Integrative and Development Studies, 2018. pdf download

The lackluster development performance of the Philippines over the span of many decades is routinely blamed on "weak institutions" by Filipinos. In this thought-provoking book, University of the Philippines economics professor and Philippine National Scientist Raul Fabella advises on how to overcome the curse of weak institutions to achieve robust growth with poverty reduction.

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Stringency, Mobility, and Economic Activity under Covid-19

Co-Authors: Shiela Camingue-Romance; Irfan Qureshi; Shu Tian.

To halt the spread of Covid-19, Asian countries have imposed varying forms and degrees of restrictions, ranging from nationwide lockdown – e.g., India and Malaysia – to much more targeted policy responses – e.g., Japan and Korea. The diversity of restrictions across the region reflects the diversity of technological, administrative, and other country-specific factors. For example, Korea did not have to resort to stringent restrictions because it has a technologically advanced contact tracing system. But the Korean experience is unlikely to be relevant to countries that do not have advanced technology and strong administrative capacity.

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Estimating the Effects of Mega-Regional Trade Agreements in a General Equilibrium Framework with Global Value Chains

Co-Author: Ken Itakura

In recent years we have witnessed increasing prominence of trade in intermediate goods and services. The fragmentation of global value chains (GVCs) has been motivated by sourcing intermediate inputs from more cost-efficient producers in order to enhance efficiency. In estimating welfare and sectoral effects of mega-regional trade agreements (MRTAs), such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it is necessary to construct a global dynamic computable general equilibrium (CGE) model that incorporates the GVC structure.

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Abenomics: A Retrospective

With the August 28 announcement by Prime Minister Abe of his intention to step down from his position within weeks, his record in a number of areas will inevitably face scrutiny and evaluation. Here, I lay out, in brief, my views on his government’s macroeconomic policies, which quickly became known as Abenomics. Like most governments, his had both successes and missed opportunities. But Japan clearly has changed as a result of his economic policies. And the debate around Abenomics anticipated issues that remain highly relevant in the current global policy debate.

The context

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East Asia's Fiscal Response to Crisis, Then & Now

When the last global crisis hit in 2008-09, the major economies of East Asia, but for one, had ample fiscal space to respond, and took advantage of that. This time around, the positioning is more mixed and the threat potentially much greater.

In Asia, the shock of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) was inflicted mainly through export loss and capital flight. Domestic financial systems remained sound and productive capacity intact. A quick shot of fiscal stimulus was just the remedy to tide an economy over until global trade rebounded and financial capital returned. Use of such a strategy shows up in Figure 1 as a sharp increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2009 for Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, and Taiwan, with the ratio then declining or stable in 2010. Two countries – the Philippines and Indonesia – saw no increase in their debt ratios in 2009, riding out the crisis without recourse to fiscal stimulus.

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The State of Journal Publishing: Elsevier on Gender

 

The dominant publisher of economics journals suffers from a dearth of women among its top tier editors. The underlying problem is that academics are not making the selections; rather, the choices are made by Elsevier staff who do not read the journals they manage or appreciate how those journals distinguish themselves. They thus rely on superficial criteria and succumb to subjective biases on gender in picking editors. 

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Can Japan Learn to Work from Home?

Japan has, for several decades, experienced a toxic combination of an aging and shrinking population, slow growth, and very large fiscal deficits and debt. Looking forward, Japan’s potential growth is expected to approach zero, in large part owing to its demographic profile (see IMF).

These interrelated issues have led policy-makers in Japan on a search for meaningful structural reforms to raise potential growth and offset the impact of eventual fiscal adjustment. One area that has received significant attention has been the Japanese  labor market, which is characterized by low female labor force participation; a significant duality between heavily-protected workers and “non-regular” workers with few protections and lower productivity; and limited flexibility regarding working conditions and modalities (Figure 1).

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The Real Reason for China's Unbalanced Growth (Orlik Review Addendum)

This post follows up on my review of Tom Orlik's wonderful book "China: The Bubble that Never Pops". The book explains why constant predictions of China's economic collapse due to mounting debt and financial risk have not been borne out, and the explanation is altogether compelling. My one quibble with the book regards Orlik's view of the underlying driver of the saving/consumption imbalances that motivated debt driven stimulus. Orlik emphasizes China's one-child policy as the source of the imbalances, going so far as to call it China's original sin in an interview. The argument is that with China's weak social welfare system, having only one child makes for insecurity about old age that induces parents to save more during their working years. I'm not convinced that this holds up as a reason for China's imbalances. Let me hasten to add that, regardless, the book's original contribution in explaining why no crash has occurred holds up very well. The source of the imbalances is a separate issue, but one worth pursuing in its own right.

There is a sense in which I agree that the one-child policy has been a factor in China's high saving. The exceptionally sharp decline in the birth rate in China's case accentuated the demographic transition that is common among countries during economic development. A couple of decades on, the drop in the birth rate brings a bulging labor force relative to a shrinking share of old and young age dependents in the population. Per the life cycle hypothesis of Modigliani (1970), saving is done by those in their working years who generate income whereas the young and old consume without producing any income from which to save. The decline in China's dependent share was particularly steep in the 2000-aughts and relatedly, so was the rise in the saving rate, as shown by Bonham and Wiemer (2013). So while the one-child policy mattered, it did not matter until two decades after it was introduced and not because it prompted precautionary saving to provide security in old age but because of the long-run demographic forces it intensified.

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Review of Thomas Orlik, China: The Bubble that Never Pops

Oxford University Press, May 2020.

As much as China's crash has been predicted, someone needed to explain why it hasn't happened. And no one could be more credible in doing so than Tom Orlik who has reported insightfully on China since 2011, first with the Wall Street Journal, then with Bloomberg where he is now Chief Economist. 

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Small Business Is Bleeding in the Pandemic: Evidence and Policy from Bangladesh

Co-Author:  Monzur Hossain

Small businesses in Bangladesh are usually started out of necessity and operate informally. They generally lack access to bank credit, possess little capital, and sell their output locally. The very nature of these small businesses makes them extremely vulnerable to the shock of COVID-19.

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What Is Stalling Private Sector Innovation in India?

Co-Author: Madan Dhanora

“Need to focus on 5 things to bring India back on growth path – Intent, Inclusion, Investment, Infrastructure and Innovation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while delivering the inaugural address at the Confederation of Indian Industry Annual Session 2020 – “Getting Growth Back”. Among the 5 I’s, we focus on innovation in the private sector which is stalling in India. As per the Department of Science and Technology, only 42% of total R&D spending was by the private sector during 2016-17, while in developed economies like the United States and another emerging economy, China, a larger share of R&D spending comes from business enterprises – upwards of 60-70% of total R&D expenditure in each. The contribution of 42% in India, though not on par with international magnitudes, has increased considerably from 19% in 2001-02. This increase may be attributable to liberalization and other policy initiatives to stimulate innovation including reforms in intellectual property rights.

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The State of Journal Publishing: Barriers to Entry

Starting a new journal has never been easy, but in recent years it has gotten very much harder. This is the sad reality the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies (ACAES) came up against in its own quest following loss of the Journal of Asian Economics to a takeover by Elsevier (see previous post). Start-up is inherently difficult simply because reputation is so crucial to attracting submissions, and reputation takes a long time to establish. But start-up has of late become even more difficult because the journal publishing industry is caught in a state of limbo between an old model that relies on selling subscriptions to libraries and a new model that features open access with the business angle of that yet to be worked out. The dominant player in journal publishing and its major customers have squared off and failed to come to terms.

The dominant player by far in journal publishing is Elsevier. As the first post in this series documents, Elsevier's share of articles published in the top 200 economics journals was an overbearing 58.6% for the last decade. Elsevier has exploited its market power to the point that such major customers as the University of California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have finally halted negotiations and canceled their subscriptions. UC broke off negotiations in January 2019 (its struggles chronicled here). More recently, on June 11, MIT announced it was following suit. Many European universities have also taken a stand, organizing their resistance by country. In particular, a consortium of German universities canceled subscriptions in January 2017. At times, boycotts have also been staged in Taiwan and Korea.

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How to Kill Entrepreneurship—Limit LGBT Freedom: The Impact of Discrimination in Brunei

The news from Brunei Darussalam is grim. The small Southeast Asian, oil and gas-rich country, has announced plans to implement a new legal code that, among other things, calls for amputation for those convicted of theft and for death by stoning for homosexual acts. After an international outcry, the Government has delayed the imposition of the death penalty, but it maintains the laws as the presumptive legal framework.

These laws violate basic human rights, but from experience, I realize that this argument doesn’t seem to be convincing to everyone. As a development economist, I then thought, what are the economic costs of this? Particularly, I wondered if there was likely to be an impact on the broader economy of restrictions on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. As I discuss below, the answer is, ‘yes, over the long-run, a lack of freedom for the LGBT community is associated with a less entrepreneurial economy—a less dynamic economy.’

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The State of Journal Publishing: Elsevier vs Academics

Loss of the Journal of Asian Economics to a takeover by Elsevier and less than encouraging responses from other publishers to inquiries about starting a new journal prompt these remarks. Why did the model of an academic society choosing editors, setting a vision, and developing content stop working for Elsevier? And is there a future for such a model?

The Journal of Asian Economics was founded in 1990 by the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies. During its 30 year run under ACAES auspices, the Journal was helmed by three Editors-in-Chief: founder Manoranjan Dutta (1990-2007); Michael Plummer (2007-2015); and myself (2015 to the June 2020 issue). The Editor-in-Chief served concurrently as President of ACAES with endorsement by the organization's voting members.

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