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

Emerging Asia: Hard Road Ahead?

In recent years, emerging market countries—in particular, those in Asia—have been among the global economy’s star performers. Even during bad times, such as during the Global Financial Crisis, Asian EMs have seen their economies hold up better than most others.

For much of the COVID crisis, that story held true. Many Asian economies, such as Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan, seemed to have COVID under control, while Asian EMs appeared to have significant monetary and fiscal policy room to help address any economic impact of the crisis. In April 2021, the IMF’s projections for growth in the region were extremely bullish, with a recovery to 8.5 percent growth in emerging Asia this year and 6.0 percent in 2022. Two months later, expected growth had been downgraded, to a still-healthy 6.3 percent and 5.2 percent over the same two years (see Table). The ADB was even more optimistic in its July 2021 projections, pointing to growth of 7.2 percent and 5.4 percent this year and next.

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Review of Isabella M. Weber, How China Escaped Shock Therapy

Routledge, May 2021.

Isabella M. Weber’s “How China Escaped Shock Therapy” is a painstakingly researched but fundamentally flawed account of one key thread of the economic reform debates that took place in China during the 1980’s. For those who are already familiar with those debates it is a useful and often engrossing account of the nitty gritty details of the process by which price policy was determined. For those who are not familiar, the flawed underlying argument of the book poses the risk of creating considerable misunderstanding.

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Economics of the Pandemic, 2020 (Part III): Monetary Policy

 

Asia's response to the pandemic has rested largely on fiscal policy with monetary policy playing a facilitating role to varying degree. Fiscal policy is the subject of the second post in this series. The first post looks at factors influencing the impact of the pandemic on GDP growth, specifically, infection incidence, mobility loss due to transmission mitigation measures, and export decline.

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Economics of the Pandemic, 2020 (Part II): Fiscal Policy

 

Asian economies have been hit differently by the pandemic and have responded differently by way of fiscal and monetary policy. The first post in this series traces differences in economic impact to differences in infection incidence, mobility loss due to transmission mitigation measures, and export decline. This post on fiscal policy and the next on monetary policy look at macro policy responses within the context of policy space.

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Economics of the Pandemic, 2020 (Part I): Covid Cases, Mobility Loss, and Exports

Why have the economies of Asia fared so differently under the pandemic? In 2020, the economy of the Philippines contracted by 9.5 percent and that of India by 8.0 percent. Meanwhile, Bangladesh achieved growth of 3.8 percent, Taiwan 3.1 percent, Vietnam 2.9 percent, and China 2.3 percent.

This post looks at three channels through which the pandemic impacted economic activity: infection incidence; mobility loss due to transmission mitigation measures; and export decline. Subsequent posts consider fiscal and monetary policy responses.

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The Complicated Question of COVID-19 vs The Economy

The logic is straightforward that policy interventions that seek to break the chain of COVID infection also lower economic activity. Frictions in value creation result from limiting operations for dining and entertainment outlets, curtailing travel, or in general making mobility more stringent. Such disruptions destroy jobs and businesses. Longer term, human and social capital will deteriorate through school closures and reduced business and personal contact . In this reasoning, there is a tradeoff between social safety and economic performance. Call this the stringency effect. The dilemma for policy-making then is a choice between COVID safety and economic prosperity where one comes at a cost to the other.

In reality, however, this tradeoff is offset by an opposing force. Even absent stringency effects, COVID-19 is simultaneously a negative supply shock and a negative demand shock because output will fall from ill health and mortality in the workforce. With heightened concern over COVID, consumption will decline due, for example, to: heightened job insecurity and lowered consumer confidence; increased savings; and lowered propensity to take vacations or eat restaurant meals. Increased risk aversion will depress entrepreneurial activity and reduce investment. In this reasoning, combating the pandemic helps lift economic activity. The higher is social safety, the greater is confidence that life will return to normal, and thus the higher will be economic growth. The correlation here is positive between social protection and economic prosperity. Call this the shock effect.

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ASSA 2022 Panel on Covid & Recovery in Asia

When:  7-9 January 2022, Boston, Massachusetts

Sponsor:  American Committee on Asian Economic Studies

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The Exchange Rate in East Asia's Macro Stabilization Policy: Contrast with Latin America

Co-Author: Roberto Meurer

The conclusion of the previous post in this series is that East Asia has worked out a policy routine for managing exchange rates in service to macroeconomic stabilization. For Latin America, by contrast, such a routine is not in evidence.

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The Exchange Rate in East Asia's Macro Stabilization Policy: It's Not Just China

China has long gotten a bad rap on currency manipulation. The fact is, however, that China is no different from other East Asian economies when it comes to exchange rate management.

The essence of the East Asian model is to steer the exchange rate along a steady long-run course, erring toward undervaluation in the face of uncertainties about the future. Any perception of overvaluation runs

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The Economic Costs of Low-Level Hostility in the Western Pacific

The western Pacific Ocean is not literally pacific—it is not peaceful. In the south, overlapping claims to rocky islets have led to clashes over oil and gas reserves and fishery resources between a half dozen countries. In the north, there are also conflicting claims to maritime features. Across the region low-level hostility is not uncommon.

Problems between Japan and South Korea are particularly thorny. Recently, before the current COVID-19 pandemic, tensions mounted, partly reflecting South Korean resentment over Japanese treatment of Korean women during World War II and Japanese reluctance to recognize this issue. Japanese claims to the South Korean administered island of Dokdo (Takeshima in Japanese) are a continuing touchstone inflaming the discussion.

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Is It Tantrum Time Again?

   

In May 2013, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, hinted at the possibility of the Fed reducing (“tapering”) its purchases of government bonds sooner than previously expected, leading to a reassessment of the likely path of US monetary tightening. Market turbulence and economic volatility in emerging market countries (EMs), including those in Asia, quickly followed. Capital inflows turned to outflows, leading interest rates to rise, asset prices to decline and—despite a run-down of foreign reserves—exchange rates to depreciate. This event came to be known as the Taper Tantrum.

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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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