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Posts Tagged ‘lending

Retiring the American dollar

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Off into history's sunset, like the cowboy. This image (modified) is called 'Dollar Green' by the artist mancaalberto (http://mancaalberto.deviantart.com/)

Off into history’s sunset, like the cowboy. This image (modified) is called ‘Dollar Green’ by the artist mancaalberto (http://mancaalberto.deviantart.com/)

Seventy years ago, to the very month, a man named Henry Morganthau celebrated the creation of a “dynamic world community in which the peoples of every nation will be able to realise their potentialities in peace”. It was the founding of what came to be called the Bretton Woods institutions (named after the venue for the meeting, in the USA) and these were the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – better known as the World Bank – and the International Monetary Fund.

None of the lofty aims that seemed so apposite in the shattering aftermath of the Second World War have been achieved, although what has been written are libraries of counter-factual history that claim such achievements (and more besides) commissioned by both these institutions and their web of supporting establishments, financial, academic, political and otherwise. Instead, for the last two generations of victims of ‘structural adjustment’, and of ‘reform and austerity’ all that has become worthwhile in the poorer societies of the world has been achieved despite the Bretton Woods institutions, not because of them.

Now, seventy years after Morganthau (the then Treasury Secretary of the USA) and British economist John Maynard Keynes unveiled with a grey flourish a multi-lateral framework for international economic order, the Bretton Woods institutions are faced with a challenge, and the view from East and South Asia, from Latin America and from southern Africa is that this is a challenge that has been overdue for too long.

Let's get the de-dollarisation of the world started.

Let’s get the de-dollarisation of the world started.

It has come in the form of the agreement between the leaders of five countries to form a development bank. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma made formal their intention during the sixth summit of their countries – together called ‘BRICS’, after the first letters of their countries’ names – held this month in Brazil.

What has been set in motion is the BRICS Development Bank and the BRICS Contingency Reserves Arrangement. Both the new institution and the new mechanism will counter the influence of Western-based lending institutions and the American dollar, which is the principal reserve currency used internationally and which is the currency that the IMF and the World Bank conduct their ruthless business in (and which formulate their policies around, policies that are too often designed to impoverish the working class and to cripple labour).

At one time or another, and not always at inter-governmental fora, the BRICS have objected to the American dollar continuing to be the world’s principal reserve currency, a position which amplifies the impact of policy decisions by the US Federal Reserve – the American central bank – on all countries that trade using dollars, and which seek capital denominated in dollars. These impacts are, not surprisingly, ignored by the Federal Reserve which looks after the interests of the American government of the day and US business (particularly Wall Street).

In the last two years particularly, non-dollar bilateral agreements have become more common as countries have looked for ways to free themselves from the crushing Bretton Woods yoke. Only this June, Russia’s finance minister said the central banks of Russia and China would discuss currency swaps for export payments in their respective national currencies, a direction that followed Putin’s visit to China the previous month to finalise the gigantic US$400 billion deal between Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). It is still early, and the BRICS will favour caution over hyperbole, but when their bank opens for business, the sun will begin to set on the US dollar.

Spring fiction by the Bank-Fund troll

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Vendor at Mapusa market, Goa

"Bank? Fund? Do they have a clue about livelihood?"

Pay no attention to the announcements coming from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during what the troublesome twins call their ‘spring meetings’ of 2010 (an annual, very expensive, exercise in financial fiction, but an exercise which has disastrous consequences for many in developing countries). The global big media were inertly supportive, as usual, and had this to say:

Business Week: “The World Bank, created after World War II to eradicate poverty, received shareholder backing for two separate capital increases that will provide a combined $5.1 billion. The 186 member countries agreed to pay $3.5 billion for the bank’s unit that lends to governments, the first general increase in 22 years, the International Monetary Fund’s development committee said in a statement today.”

The New York Times provided a clue about the machinations behind the scenes to maintain US control over the World Bank: “Under the changes, China will become the bank’s third-largest shareholder, ahead of Germany, after the United States and Japan. Countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam will also have greater representation. Mr. Zoellick carefully devised the capital increase and voting changes to be adopted together. The $5.1 billion in so-called paid-in capital, which the bank can use for day-to-day operations, will bring the bank’s cash on hand to about $40 billion. Of the $5.1 billion, developing countries will contribute $1.6 billion in connection with a shift in representation that will give them 47.19 percent of voting power, up from 44.06 percent. The actions fulfill a pledge the bank’s members made in Istanbul in October.”

The Financial Times: “A package put to ministers at the World Bank’s meetings in Washington yesterday increased the bank’s $11bn (€8.2bn, £7.1bn) paid-in capital by $5.1bn in return for reforms to voting rights, which would mainly see a transfer of votes from smaller European countries to emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president, last year began campaigning to increase its capital in response to the global financial crisis. The bank increased lending by $100bn to combat the effects of the crisis on poor countries, helping to overcome the scepticism of countries such as France and the US. “This is a once-in-a-generation request to address the impact of a once-in-a-generation crisis,” Mr Zoellick said.”

Bahrain's Finance Minister and Chairman of the Development Committe Ahmed Al Khalifa (L) gives his opening remarks to the Development Committee at the World Bank April 25, 2010 in Washington, DC. Finance Ministers and Bank Governors around the world are attending the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings this weekend in Washington, DC. IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe

Rhubarb, rhubarb

As predicted just before the ‘spring meetings’ by the Bretton Woods Project, the capital increase and voting rights hogged most of the headlines. “The G20 group of the world’s biggest economies promised a 3 per cent shift in voting share towards ‘developing and transition countries’,” the Project had commented. “The Bank will proclaim success in achieving this, despite the fact that it fudged the definition of what is a ‘developing country’ so that the category included many countries that have achieved high-income status. With further reform being delayed until 2015, rich countries seem to have stemmed the surge of demands from the large emerging markets for deeper reform.”

The World Bank has asked its members to put up more money, as it had stretched itself to its limits to lend more during the financial and economic crisis in 2009. After a big debate over the size of the capital increase, the Bank has secured a US$60 billion nominal boost to its capital, which means it will receive about US$5 billion in actual cash (the rest is ‘callable capital’ that members would provide if ever asked by the Bank). Said the Bretton Woods Project: “This is a relatively small boost that will only allow the Bank to return to lending the same amount it did before the crisis. It also means that rich countries again rebuffed the large emerging markets who wanted a much larger capital boost and offered to pay for it entirely out of their own coffers.”

The point is that all these reforms and discussions have been kept completely out of the public eye until now. There have been no consultations with stakeholders and little discussion with most of the Bank’s members. That the rich countries won’t budge on governance issues was highlighted in a March report by a US Senate committee. The US is the largest shareholder, with an effective veto over any changes to the Bank’s governance. The committee called on the Obama administration to maintain “United States voting shares and veto rights at the international financial institutions” and questioned existing reforms to the selection of the World Bank president by demanding preservation of “United States leadership of the World Bank and senior level positions at the other IFIs.”