By Brian Winter SAO PAULO | Tue May 15, 2012 9:55am EDT
(Reuters) – President Dilma Rousseff plans to cut and simplify taxes for electricity producers and distributors, two senior officials told Reuters, as part of a strategy to reduce Brazil‘s high business costs and stimulate its struggling economy.
Brazil has been on the brink of recession since mid-2011 as high taxes, an overvalued exchange rate and other structural problems squeeze what had previously been one of the world’s most dynamic emerging economies.
Rousseff has in recent months announced targeted tax cuts for stagnant sectors such as the automotive industry, embracing an incremental approach to reform that has drawn criticism from investors who say more drastic changes are needed.
But the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the tax reductions for electricity companies would likely be the most far-reaching to date.
They said Rousseff will announce the plans in coming weeks. Brazil has the world’s third-highest power costs so Rousseff is aiming to give relief to consumers as well as companies in energy-intensive areas such as steel and petrochemicals.
Internal government studies suggest that, depending on which taxes are cut, electricity costs could fall by between 3 and 10 percent starting as early as 2013, the officials said.
That would have a measurable impact on inflation, and thus aid Rousseff’s quest to push Brazilian interest rates lower.
“We know that taxes in Brazil are crazy, and we’re trying to do something about it,” one senior official said. “(Electricity) seems like a case where we can make a big difference quickly.”
Rousseff probably will not pass the tax cuts by decree, so she will have to negotiate them with Congress and other groups.
She plans to use her record-high popularity ratings to push through cuts to taxes at both the federal and state level, with a special focus on eliminating levies that overlap or are difficult to calculate, the officials said.
Brazil’s tax code is so complex that an average company spends 2,600 hours a year calculating what it owes, according to the World Bank‘s annual Doing Business study, which compares business practices around the world. That is almost 14 times the time needed to do taxes in the United States, and by far the highest among the 183 countries in the bank’s survey.
“The focus is as much on simplifying taxes as reducing them,” a second official said.
Brazil’s electricity industry includes state-run companies such as Eletrobras (LIPR3.SA) as well as multinationals like AES Corp. (AES.N) and GDF Suez (GSZ.PA). Hydroelectric power supplies about three-quarters of Brazil’s electricity needs, with nuclear, thermal and wind power accounting for the rest.
If the initiative is successful, Rousseff will use a similar blueprint to reduce taxes for other industries in coming months, possibly including telecoms, the officials said.
Specific details such as the size of the tax cuts, which taxes will be targeted, and the timing of the announcement are still being finalized by Rousseff’s team, the officials said. One said the plan would likely be unveiled in late June, before politicians nationwide turn their attention to municipal elections in October.
POWER COSTS A PROBLEM FOR INDUSTRIES
Electricity prices are a big component of the so-called “Brazil cost” – the mix of taxes, high interest rates, labor costs, infrastructure bottlenecks, and other issues that have caused the economy to become less competitive.
After a decade of strong performance, Brazil grew below the Latin American average in 2011 and so far this year.
Brazil’s average electricity cost of $180 per megawatt hour is exceeded only by Italy and Slovakia, the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a private think-tank, said in a 2011 study based on data from the International Energy Agency.
High electricity rates have contributed to stagnant investment and production in energy-intensive industries. Despite Brazil’s bauxite and alumina resources, no new aluminum factories have been built in Brazil since 1985 and two have closed, keeping production levels stagnant, the Getulio Vargas study said. It added that electricity accounts for 35 percent – “an insane proportion” – of the industry’s production costs.
Pittsburgh-based aluminum producer Alcoa (AA.N) said in April it was considering big production cuts at two of its Brazil factories in part because of high electricity costs.
One of the officials who spoke to Reuters said the situation at Alcoa had added urgency to Rousseff’s plan to cut taxes.
All told, taxes account for about half of the cost of electricity in Brazil, studies show. The taxes themselves are roughly evenly split between the federal and state level.
Cutting or simplifying taxes at the federal level will be relatively straightforward for Rousseff. However, she also believes she can push through tax cuts at the state level by using leverage from upcoming debt negotiations.
Several states are asking for lower interest rates on debt they owe the federal government. Rousseff will likely ask the states to simplify or cut their taxes on electricity in return, one of the sources said.
The left-leaning president will also ensure that any tax relief is fully passed along to consumers, the officials said.
Although the electricity sector is partly privately controlled, Rousseff believes she can use the pricing power of state-run companies to effectively push rates lower if needed, they said. An upcoming renegotiation of concessions in the industry could also be an opportunity to push for lower rates.
SHADOWS OF STRATEGY WITH BANKS
Rousseff’s tactics are similar to those she used to cut interest rates in recent months – another pillar of her strategy to reduce the “Brazil cost.”
Her government has frozen billions of dollars in spending, allowing the central bank to slash its benchmark interest rate by 3.5 percentage points since August. When some private-sector banks balked at lowering rates for consumers, Rousseff and senior officials publicly hectored them for having some of the world’s largest spreads.
State-run banks then announced lower interest rates for customers, and the private banks soon yielded and followed suit.
Such tactics have caused friction between Rousseff and some members of the business community, especially banking executives, who privately accuse her of trying to bully the private sector.
Yet the officials said Rousseff is using the best tools available to her to restore Brazil’s competitiveness. Congress blocked attempts at a comprehensive tax reform by her predecessor as president, and Rousseff, herself a former energy minister, believes the only politically viable alternative is to move one sector at a time, they said.
“I’m fully aware that Brazil needs to reduce its tax burden,” Rousseff told reporters while on a visit to India in March. “What I have done is take little measures that, in their totality, create greater tax breaks, which is fundamental for the country to grow.”
(Reporting by Brian Winter; Editing by Kieran Murray and Sofina Mirza-Reid)
- Brazil counts on ruthless tax ‘lion’ to keep it afloat (business.financialpost.com)
- Criminal charges and $22 Billion in Lawsuits Raise Questions About Brazil (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Brazil’s Rousseff to link returns on some savings accounts to central bank lending rate (theglobeandmail.com)
- Brazil expands welfare benefits (bbc.co.uk)
- Brazil president Dilma Rousseff blasts Western QE as ‘monetary tsunami’ (telegraph.co.uk)
Friday, April 20, 2012 – by Staff Report
Huge’ water resource exists under Africa … Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater. They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. The team have produced the most detailed map yet of the scale and potential of this hidden resource. Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies. Across Africa more than 300 million people are said not to have access to safe drinking water. Demand for water is set to grow markedly in coming decades due to population growth and the need for irrigation to grow crops. – BBC
Dominant Social Theme: Water, water everywhere … it’s a miracle! Who would have thunk …
Free-Market Analysis: We’ve charted this elite meme for several years – water scarcity. The powers-that-be create fear-based scarcity promotions and then propose globalist solutions. Water scarcity is a big promotion for them – and this meme is a central one these days.
Right on schedule, it’s been determined that Africa has water after all. Of course, Western scientists had to make this determination. This is part of the larger “cult of the expert” that the elites seek to inculcate. Until it can be documented by elite facilities, it doesn’t exist.
But now it does. There’s LOTS of water in Africa after all (just as there is LOTS of oil in the world, and lots of food as well, if the powers-that-be would only stop tampering with seeds). Here’s some more from the article:
Now scientists have for the first time been able to carry out a continent-wide analysis of the water that is hidden under the surface in aquifers. Researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London (UCL) have mapped in detail the amount and potential yield of this groundwater resource across the continent.
Helen Bonsor from the BGS is one of the authors of the paper. She says that up until now groundwater was out of sight and out of mind. She hopes the new maps will open people’s eyes to the potential.
“Where there’s greatest ground water storage is in northern Africa, in the large sedimentary basins, in Libya, Algeria and Chad,” she said.
“The amount of storage in those basins is equivalent to 75m thickness of water across that area – it’s a huge amount.” Due to changes in climate that have turned the Sahara into a desert over centuries many of the aquifers underneath were last filled with water over 5,000 years ago.
The scientists collated their information from existing hydro-geological maps from national governments as well as 283 aquifer studies. The researchers say their new maps indicate that many countries currently designated as “water scarce” have substantial groundwater reserves.
Note: the scientists didn’t really discover anything new. They “collated” their findings “from existing hydro-geological maps from national governments as well as 283 aquifer studies.” In other words, it was all a promotion, folks. “Parched Africa” was never more than an elite scarcity campaign. The maps showing plenty of water were there all along.
So what now? Having discovered that Africa has plenty of water, will the private market be left to make its magic? Not so fast.
A simple Internet search shows us that the other shoe may be dropped. That shoe, of course, would be globalist involvement. The whole point of creating scarcity memes is to propose globalist solutions that bring us closer to the world government so avidly sought by the powers-that-be.
Here’s an excerpt from a World Bank report, courtesy of Businessdayonline:
Finance required to raise infrastructure in Sub Saharan Africa to a reasonable level within the next decade is estimated at $93 Billion every year, a World Bank report has shown. The estimates cover the Information Communication Technology, Irrigation, Power, Transport and Water Supply and Sanitation sectors.
Of the total required, existing expenditure is estimated at $45 Billion per annum and after accounting for efficiency gains of $17 Billion, the funding gap remains at about $31Billion. ‘Infrastructure is a cardinal challenge facing Africa, thereby creating room for the inability of Africa to key into the avalanche of economic and commercial opportunities available in the continent,’ says Kenneth Okpara, Commissioner for Economic Planning, Delta State during March Breakfast forum of Nigerian-South African Chamber of Commerce sponsored by Warri Industrial Business Park.
Okpara noted that Africa’s infrastructure stocks and quality is among the least in the world, noting that lack of good governance is a major problem that prevents the continent from taking its rightful place as regards socio-economics. ‘One approach to address this challenge is to facilitate the increase of private provision of Public–Private Partnership (PPP),’ he notes, saying that the partnership assumes transactions where the private sector retains a considerable portion of commercial and financial risks associated with a project.
Okpara added that leveraging private sector financing through public private partnership and capital market (bonds) are the means through which the gap can be addressed.
It is fairly predictable, is it not? Africa suffers from a water problem – that turns out not to exist. But having raised the alarm, Western facilities stand ready to help. Chief among them is the World Bank that will provide much needed cash to reap the benefits of these aquifers, etc.
What may occur is wearily predictable. The World Bank lends cash to corrupt governments that squander or loot resources. The “country” is eventually unable to pay and the IMF arrives to impose “austerity” – including higher taxes and an asset sale.
Thus the powers-that-be consolidate command and control. Global governance – or at least its influence – expands.
Conclusion: Thanks to the Internet, we can clearly see the patterns now. Africa, in our view, is being readied for significant Western exploitation and it is no coincidence they are reappearing here – and now.
- Africa Has Incredible Amount Of Untapped Water Aquifers (inquisitr.com)
Countries in Europe and Asia have expressed interest and even firm commitments in contributing more money to the fund. The U.S. and Canada, however, have said they won’t contribute any more cash to an effort EU leaders should be able to resolve themselves.
While we could hear more pledges over the course of the day, so far Japan, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and the euro area have all made dollar commitments totaling $320 billion, according to Bloomberg:
Read more: BI
- Selected Headlines from Business Insider, April 19, 2012 (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- IMF Director LaGarde responds to move to rescind U.S. tax dollars (humanevents.com)
- IMF Exploits Euro-Crisis to Create Global Money Power (mb50.wordpress.com)
Are George Soros, The IMF And The World Bank Purposely Trying To Scare The Living Daylights Out Of Us?
Over the past couple of weeks, George Soros, the IMF and the World Bank have all issued incredibly chilling warnings about the possibility of an impending economic collapse. Considering the power and the influence that Soros, the IMF and the World Bank all have over the global financial system, this is very alarming. So are they purposely trying to scare the living daylights out of us? Soros is even warning of riots in the streets of America. Unfortunately, way too often top global leaders say something in public because they want to “push” events in a certain direction. Do George Soros and officials at the IMF and World Bank hope to prevent a worldwide financial collapse by making these statements, or are other agendas at work? We may never know. But one thing is for sure – many of the top financial officials in the world are using language that is downright “apocalyptic”, and that is not a good sign for the rest of 2012.
Right now, George Soros is saying things that he has never said before. Just check out what George Soros recently told Newsweek….
“I am not here to cheer you up. The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career,” Soros tells Newsweek. “We are facing an extremely difficult time, comparable in many ways to the 1930s, the Great Depression. We are facing now a general retrenchment in the developed world, which threatens to put us in a decade of more stagnation, or worse. The best-case scenario is a deflationary environment. The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system.”
Later on in that same article, Soros is quoted as saying that we could soon see the U.S. government using “strong-arm tactics” to crack down on rioting in the streets of major U.S. cities….
As anger rises, riots on the streets of American cities are inevitable. “Yes, yes, yes,” he says, almost gleefully. The response to the unrest could be more damaging than the violence itself. “It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong-arm tactics to maintain law and order, which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained, which would be a break with the tradition of the United States.”
It almost sounds like George Soros is anticipating the same kind of a breakdown of society that many survivalists and preppers are getting ready for.
So how bad are things going to get?
Well, George Soros is publicly warning that the coming financial crisis could end up being even worse than 2008. Just check out the following quotes from him that appeared in a recent Businessweek article….
“We have a more dangerous situation now than in 2008,” Soros, 81, said in response to a question at an event in the southern Indian city of Bangalore today. “The crisis in Europe is more serious than the crash of 2008.”
But George Soros is not the only one issuing these kinds of warnings.
Once again, the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has made a speech in which she openly warned that we are heading for a repeat of the “1930s”.
She told an audience in Berlin on Monday that the globe is facing “a 1930s moment, in which inaction, insularity and rigid ideology combine to cause a collapse in global demand”.
During the speech she called for a trillion more dollars to support financially troubled governments, and she made the following statement….
“It is not about saving any one country or region. It is about saving the world from a downward economic spiral.”
As I wrote about the other day, the World Bank has also been using apocalyptic language about the global financial situation. In a shocking new report, the World Bank revised GDP growth estimates for 2012 downward very sharply, it warned that Europe could be facing financial collapse at any time, and it instructed the rest of the world to “prepare for the worst.”
The lead author of the report, Andrew Burns, said that the “importance of contingency planning cannot be stressed enough” and that if there is a major financial crisis in Europe the entire globe will be deeply affected….
“An escalation of the crisis would spare no-one. Developed- and developing-country growth rates could fall by as much or more than in 2008/09.”
So should we be alarmed that George Soros, the IMF and the World Bank are all proclaiming that a financial nightmare could be just around the corner?
Of course we should be.
Whether their motives are pure or not, they are telling the truth about the global financial situation in this case. As I have written about so frequently, there are a whole host of signs that indicate that we could be on the verge of a major global recession.
A lot of folks in the investment world are warning that hard times are about to hit us as well. For example, the following is what legendary investor Joseph Granville recently told Bloomberg Television….
Joseph Granville, whose “sell everything” call in 1981 sparked a decline in U.S. stocks, said the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDU) will drop toward 8,000 this year because of waning momentum and volume.
“Volume precedes prices,” Granville, 88, a technical analyst who has been publishing the Granville Market Letter from Kansas City, Missouri for about 50 years, said in an interview on “Street Smart” on Bloomberg Television. “You are seeing much lower volume. That tells you that prices are going to go much lower, much lower than most people think possible and very few people have projected.”
Considering all of the warnings out there, it only seems prudent to prepare for the worst.
But unfortunately, a lot of people are just going to leave their holdings sitting out there like a dead duck, and they are going to be absolutely devastated by the coming financial tsunami.
Those that believe that the United States can somehow escape the coming financial storm don’t really know what they are talking about.
In fact, there was very troubling news for the U.S. dollar just the other day. It was announced that India will start paying for its oil from Iran in a currency other than U.S. dollars.
But this is just another sign that the rest of the world is starting to reject the U.S. dollar. For decades, the U.S. dollar has been the reserve currency of the world and this has given us a tremendous advantage. Unfortunately for us, that is now changing.
U.S. newspapers are not talking about what is going on, but mainstream newspapers in Europe are. Right now, some of the biggest countries in the world are working on plans to quit using U.S. dollars for the buying and selling of oil.
The following comes from a recent article in The Independent….
In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.
Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.
The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.
This is a very big deal, and if this gets pulled off it is going to have devastating consequences for the U.S. dollar and for the U.S. economy.
But of course when it comes to troubles for the U.S. financial system, there are a whole host of issues that could be talked about.
An environment for a “perfect storm” is developing, and most Americans have absolutely no idea what is about to happen.
Fortunately, there are some researchers out there that are working hard to sound the alarm bells. For example, the following quote comes from a recent interview with Gerald Celente….
I believe that we have to watch out for something along the lines of an economic martial law. The European system is in collapse. The financial system in the United States is just as tenuous, if not more, and I believe they will not admit there will be a financial crash but rather they will use a geo-political issue to get the people in a state of fear and hysteria whereby they’ll then call a bank holiday or devaluation of the currency, or a hyperinflation of the currency, and blame it on somebody else.
It would be wise to listen to what experts such as Gerald Celente are saying.
Now is the time to take stock of where you are at and to make plans for the coming year.
Just because things have “always” been a certain way does not mean that they will continue to be that way.
Just because certain things have “always” worked in the past does not mean that they will continue to work in the future.
Our world is experiencing fundamental changes. It is changing at a faster pace than we have ever seen before. The way that we all live our lives five or ten years from now will be vastly different from how we live our lives today.
This will be a very challenging time to be alive, but it is also going to be a very exciting time to be alive.
So what do all of you think is going to happen in 2012?
- Soros Warns of ‘Riots,’ ‘Brutal’ Clampdowns & Possible Total Economic Collapse (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Soros Mouthpiece Calls On Google To Police “Conspiracy Theories” (mb50.wordpress.com)
- George Soros Says … (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- George Soros on the Coming U.S. Class War – The Daily Beast (tribuneofthepeople.com)
By Brian Winter SAO PAULO | Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:20am EST
(Reuters) – Here’s an economic riddle of sorts: Which economy grew faster over the last seven years? A) President Hugo Chavez‘s Venezuela, famous for its forced nationalizations and “21st century socialism,” or B) Chile, long renowned as a capitalist paradise for investors.
It might surprise some outsiders to learn that the answer is actually A. In recent years, commodities prices have dictated growth in Latin America more than any other factor, meaning that countries could trample on businesses but still grow briskly as long as they exported plenty of raw materials such as oil and iron ore to China and elsewhere.
Venezuela, the region’s No. 1 oil exporter, has averaged about 4.6 percent economic growth since 2005, compared to 4 percent in Chile, the world’s leader in copper. An even clearer example of commodities’ almighty reign was Argentina, which averaged 7 percent growth during the same period as record soy and other farm exports helped offset the government’s hostile stance toward energy companies and some other investors.
Now, it looks as if the trend is shifting. In Latin America, 2012 seems set to be the year in which business climate clearly reestablishes its supremacy as the main driver of growth.
The countries expected to grow the fastest in 2012 are also generally the ones that are perceived by the World Bank and others as treating investors the best. That means Chile, Peru and Colombia should lead the pack, while Venezuela and even Brazil will lag a step behind – just as they did last year.
Graphic on region’s economies: r.reuters.com/bed95s
What has changed? The global economy.
Demand for many commodities is expected to slacken in 2012 due to economic problems in buyer markets such as China and Europe. That means it will be up to Latin American countries to generate more of their own growth – and the ones that fare best will be those who have made their labor laws more flexible, cut red tape, and taken other steps to stimulate business.
“There’s no question we’re seeing a change,” said David Rees, Latin America economist for Capital Economics in London. “The external drivers of growth are drying up and these countries will have to look to other sources like investment in order to keep up the pace.”
A DOGFIGHT FOR FIRST PLACE AMONG INVESTORS
One way to measure the trend is by looking at the World Bank’s annual “Doing Business” study, which ranks the business climate in 183 countries around the world based on how well they protect investors; the ease of starting a business; the simplicity of paying taxes; and other factors.
The cluster of Latin American countries that rank a clear step above their other regional peers in the survey are Chile (39), Peru (41) and Colombia (42).
All three of those economies are forecast to grow 4.5 percent or more this year, according to the International Monetary Fund‘s latest forecasts, made in October. Countries that rank lower in the Doing Business survey, such as Guatemala (97), Brazil (126) and Venezuela (177) are all forecast to grow in the 3.5 percent range or lower.
The divergent trend is even more pronounced in more recent 2012 forecasts by Wall Street firms such as Morgan Stanley.
The region’s other two big economies also appear to be headed in opposite directions.
Growth in Argentina (113) is expected by the IMF to be around 4.5 percent this year – but that’s just about half of last year’s pace. Meanwhile, Mexico’s (53) relatively open, low-tax economy should show resilience, with growth of 3.6 percent – well above its roughly 2 percent trend level since 2005.
Most of the countries at the top of the economic league table have vigorously implemented pro-business reforms in recent years, often with the explicit goal of improving their standing in the Doing Business rankings.
Peru, Chile and Colombia have been battling each other for supremacy within Latin America for years, said Luis Plata, a former Colombian trade minister. “We fought hard to be first,” he said in an interview. “It became a competition.”
“The rankings improve your standing with investors, but … the real reason to do it is to help you identify deep changes in the system, things that will help your economy grow better,” Plata said.
For this year’s “champion,” the dividends are clear. Chile saw foreign investment of $13.79 billion in 2011, a historic high that contributed to the country’s fastest economic growth in years. A top Chilean official told Reuters last month that the government expects a new record in foreign investment this year.
STALLED REFORMS IN BRAZIL
In countries closer to the bottom of the table, attitudes are notably different.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has shown few signs of softening an antagonistic stance toward some investors that in recent years has seen her government nationalize private pension funds and face widespread suspicions of manipulating basic economic data such as inflation.
Venezuela’s economy remained buoyant for years thanks largely to its status as South America’s biggest oil exporter, but Chavez’s frequent confrontations with business have hollowed out much of the private sector and left the economy dependent on state spending.
In Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, the picture is slightly more complex. While successive governments have catered to private enterprise to a much greater extent than Argentina and Venezuela, Brazil has also failed to push any major pro-business reforms through Congress in a decade.
As a result, investors have become frustrated with the country’s high costs and red tape. Brazil dropped six spots in the latest Doing Business survey – more than any other big economy in Latin America – and ranks in the world’s bottom third in categories such as trading across borders, dealing with construction permits, and ease of paying taxes.
Partly as a result of the business climate, some economists believe that Brazil may be downshifting into a new era of 3 percent to 4 percent economic growth, which would be a letdown after the faster pace of previous years.
“Brazil hasn’t kept pace with some other (Latin American) countries on some of the really important long-term questions, and they may pay the price for that,” said Gray Newman, chief Latin America economist for Morgan Stanley.
“People focus on things like inflation, and that’s good, but what about – How long does it take to open a business? How easy is it to hire and fire?” Newman said. “The economies that are moving forward are the ones that have looked at those metrics, and have put them at the heart of government policy.”
(Editing by Todd Benson and Kieran Murray)
- Iranian president to tour Latin America (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Here’s What Lies Ahead For Latin America This Year (businessinsider.com)
- Ahmadinejad in Latin America: What’s Iran’s Agenda in the Western Hemisphere? (globalspin.blogs.time.com)
- Why Your Business Needs Latin America (greatfinds.icrossing.com)
- 2011 Tech Rewind: This year in Latin America (thenextweb.com)
- Iran’s president looks to Latin America as global sanctions grow (news.blogs.cnn.com)
- Is there a threat to the U.S. behind meetings of Latin American, Iranian leaders? – Alaska Dispatch (alaskadispatch.com)
On a drizzly evening in Zuccotti Park this week, where the Occupy Wall Street protesters are camped out with the modern revolutionary’s gear of iPhone, blue tarp and cappuccino, I spotted one young man wearing a T-shirt with an image of Ronald Reagan and the words “Bad Religion.”
It was the right outfit for the occasion. That’s because the greatest significance of the wave of leftist demonstrations that started in Lower Manhattan and rippled across the United States over the past few weeks is the potential challenge it poses to the Reagan Revolution.
During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama drew shrieks from the Democratic base, particularly its Clinton wing, by naming Ron rather than Bill as a president who had “changed the trajectory of America.”
But Obama was right. We are all living in a world shaped by Reagan and his ideology of small “l” liberalism.
Three decades later, the triumph of Reaganism is remarkable. In the United States and Britain taxes shrank, regulation, especially of the financial sector, was pruned back, and state companies were sold off. Even Brussels was nudged toward liberalization.
The impact on the rest of the world was even more profound. Soviet Communism collapsed, China converted to capitalism and entered the world economy, India dismantled its protectionist License Raj, and many emerging market economies in Latin America and Africa embraced liberalization as the path to growth.
“Going back to the 1970s and 1980s is crucial,” said Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist and author of The Haves and the Have-Nots, a 2010 book about income disparity around the world. “The ideology drove everything that happened in the next 30 years. Deng Xiaoping captured it best — ‘to get rich is glorious.”’
One result has been an unprecedented global economic boom. Its biggest beneficiaries have been some of the world’s poorest people, particularly in China and India: Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion of the World Bank have found that between 1981 and 2005, the number of people living in poverty in the developing world fell by 500 million. The West prospered as well, with relatively strong and consistent economic growth over the past three decades.
But something else has been happening, too. The triumph of economic liberalization has coincided with a sharp increase in income inequality. The growing gap is a worldwide phenomenon — it has been most striking in the United States and China, but income inequality has also grown, especially in the last past decade, in most developed countries, and in many emerging markets.
“What we now call the Reagan Revolution was a turning point in the American economy,” said Jacob S. Hacker, a political science professor at Yale University in Connecticut and author, with Paul Pierson, of Winner-Take-All Politics. “These patterns of rising inequality were established then.”
Economists, most notably Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, the data jocks who are the gurus of income inequality studies, have been pointing out the growing gap for a decade. But, particularly in the United States, which still determines the ideological weather for the rest of the world, that increasingly skewed distribution failed to catch fire as a political issue.
“Among elite opinion, this wasn’t talked about,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York and author of The Price of Civilization, published this month, told me. “It was viewed as impolite, it was viewed as class warfare.”
One reason the rest of society went along with that reticence is suggested by University of Chicago economist Raghuram Rajan, in his 2010 book Fault Lines — that the credit bubble of the 1990s and 2000s masked the stagnating wages of the U.S. middle class.
The financial crisis of 2008 brought that self-deception to an abrupt halt. And while the middle class is still in the doldrums, the top 1 percent has largely recovered, thanks in part to muscular intervention by the state. That one-two punch is why the old American taboo on talking about income distribution is lifting, particularly in Zuccotti Park.
“‘Class warfare’ has seldom had much traction in American politics because Americans tend to idealize the ‘free market’ as a separate sphere of life, with its own (rough) justice,” Larry M. Bartels, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and author of “Unequal Democracy,” wrote in an e-mail reply to my questions.
“Escalating inequality and the wreckage of the Great Recession may now be focusing increasing anger on that top sliver — especially bankers, who are, conveniently, prominently implicated in the malfeasance that led to the financial meltdown of 2008 and (still) immensely rich.”
But the left shouldn’t declare victory quite yet. That’s because the anger of the United States’ squeezed middle class is also being harnessed by the right, and, at least so far, with greater and more focused political effect.
If you doubt that the winner-take-all U.S. economy is one of the Tea Party’s inspirations, consider the remarks this week by its heroine, Sarah Palin. In a speech in Seoul, she railed against “crony capitalism,” complaining that “well-connected banks get bailed out” and “certain companies get special deals through governments.”
Palin’s remedy to crony capitalism is to double down on the Reagan Revolution — lower taxes and shrink government further. Progressives have not yet come up with a solution of such seductive simplicity. Their standard prescription — higher taxes, more regulation, a stronger social welfare net, and more investment in education — may be sensible. But it lacks the rallying power of Palin’s call to smash crony capitalism by depriving the elites of their political tool — big government.
Even the energized protesters in Zuccotti Park know their left-leaning populist movement has found its complaint — “we are the 99 percent” — but not its remedy. They heard as much from Slavoj Zizek, the best-selling Slovenian philosopher, who was this week’s celebrity intellectual speaker: “We know what we do not want. But what do we want?”
After a lecture on income inequality and its pernicious consequences delivered on the square on Tuesday by Sara Burke, a policy analyst at a New York research organization, and illustrated with charts from I.M.F. economists, one listener said she was keen to “educate” people about the issue. But to do that, she wanted Burke to help her with something: “What’s my sound bite?”
The politician who answers that question will be the Reagan of the left.
- Bloomberg Backs Down On Evicting OWS Protesters From Zuccotti Park (crooksandliars.com)
- Friday Free-For-All: #OWS Hidden Agenda Exposed (nicedeb.wordpress.com)
- Occupy Wall Street protester: I want my college tuition paid because that’s what I want; Update: Landlord asks cops to clear Zuccotti Park – for cleaning (hotair.com)
Richard Miniter, Contributor
When Venezuela’s strongman Hugo Chavez announced plans to move virtually all of his nation’s overseas gold stock—211 tons of gleaming bars stored in vaults in New York, London, Zurich and elsewhere—back to South America, investors were stunned. Why make one of the largest physical transfers of gold bullion since the end of World War II?
Here and now, I will solve this mystery—and the solution will spark new doubts about Venezuela’s bonds and about President Obama’s foreign policy. The solution hits two populist presidents with the same sad stone.
It is not that investors don’t believe the official story; there is no official story. The Central Bank of Venezuela announced the extraordinary move in a short memo, in Spanish, that is entirely silent on the regime’s reasons.
So speculators speculated wildly. Did Chavez need collateral to secure his loans from China? Did he plan to steal the treasure if he lost the 2012 presidential election? Was Venezuela about to devalue its currency? Does Venezuela believe that, like Ethiopia, some of its holdings are actually gold-plated steel? Was he following the lead of ideological forebears, the Spanish communists, who, in the 1930s, shipped their nation’s entire gold reserves to Moscow to keep them from Franco? Every sleuth had a different theory.
Veteran observers of Venezuela’s central bank were equally puzzled. Reached on the streets of Caracas, economist Richard Obuchi bluntly told me: “I can see no economic reason for this move.” Moving vast stores of gold away from world markets, especially at a time when gold is testing new highs, he added, just doesn’t make sense.
The mystery only deepens the more one thinks about the costs and risks. An insurer, if one can be found, could easily charge 4% of the market value of the stockpile, plus security and shipping charges. All told, that could be almost $100 million. And moving the gold will almost certainly lower Venezuela’s credit rating, which Moody’s Investors Service puts at B2—well into junk-bond status. Standard & Poor’s also rates the nation’s creditworthiness as junk. Making Venezuela’s government assets more opaque will only lower their value. So shipping bullion makes matters worse and means Venezuela will pay even more in borrowing costs.
Don’t forget the risks. A bold pirate could seize tons of gold in a single brazen raid. Or a storm could take it to the muddy bottom of the Atlantic.
So why is Chavez moving his gold? What’s the strongman’s real reason?
First, some facts. Venezuela was once a growing economy that exported food, welcomed and rewarded foreign investment, and maintained the rule of law. Twelve years into Chavez’s socialist experiment, the South American nation imports food. Indeed, food imports have risen 442% over 2003 levels. Nationalizing farms and food distribution firms has meant long lines at supermarkets with half empty shelves due to the constant shortages of basic goods, including corn, coffee and sugar. Since 1999, Chavez’s troops have seized some 2.5 million hectares of land; only 50,000 hectares remain in use. Under the gaze of government managers, these lands have not become more productive.
Foreign investors are harassed and work under the ever present threat of expropriation. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips and more than a dozen other publicly-traded American companies have seen their assets seized. The total value seized tops $23.3 billion, according to Ecoanalítica, a Caracas-based research firm. Since 2007, the rate of nationalizations has climbed 924%, according to Coindustria, the equivalent of Venezuela’s chamber of commerce. The World Bank, in its 2011 Doing Business Report, finds that Afghanistan is a better place to do business than Venezuela.
Meanwhile, a Spanish judge has found that Chavez’s regime is linked to two terrorist groups, ETA in Spain and the FARC in Colombia. When Walid Makled, a drug lord with family roots in the Palestinian territories, was arrested in Colombia, he admitted to paying some $40 million to the Chavistas. He is also suspected of financing terror plots.
Finally, at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), American and European companies have filed at least 18 claims against Venezuela for illegally seizing their properties. Those claims total more than $14 billion.
The value of Venezuela’s overseas gold reserves? Roughly $12.3 billion.
So let’s connect the dots and solve the mystery of the moving gold.
Chavez knows that ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips will eventually prevail before the World Bank’s arbitration panel and win roughly $14 billion in compensation. If Chavez balks at paying his debts, court orders could be secured to seize Venezuela’s only real asset under American and European control—the gold in their vaults.
Even if Chavez could somehow hold the World Bank at bay, the growing evidence of human rights abuses and links to international terrorism boosts the likelihood of international sanctions. And the most effective sanction is holding Venezuela’s gold reserves until it reforms.
So Chavez is moving his gold to continue to cheat American shareholders out of their just compensation for their looted lands, plants, and oil fields as well as to continue to punish his own people with his miserable misrule.
Now consider the role of the Obama Administration. It has steadfastly refused to criticize the theft of billions of dollars worth of American property in Venezuela, let alone impose sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warmly greeted Chavez at a recent summit in Brazil. When reporters ask about the beleaguered American shareholder, the “on-background” guidance is always the same: the World Bank arbitration panel would put everything right. Let the process work. And so on.
So, when Venezuela announced one of the largest physical movements of gold in world history, the Obama Administration didn’t worry. Just routine. Nothing to see here, folks. The World Bank will straighten it all out.
Last week, Chavez’s regime began to formally withdraw from ICSID, the 157-member international body that will likely rule against him. Venezuela became a signatory State of the ICSID Convention in August 1993. Now Chavez is leaving before he gets stuck paying the tab for his illegal seizures. The Obama Administration, which was counting on the ICSID to do its work, is left holding an empty bag.
What does the Obama Administration say now? Crickets.
ExxonMobil’s shareholders can join Chrysler’s bondholders on Obama’s enemies list. If that seems a tad harsh, consider this: When made to choose between millions of American shareholders and one South American dictator, the Obama Administration chose Chavez.
Why is the Obama Administration sitting in paralyzed silence while Chavez removes himself from international accountability? Is it perceived ideological comradeship, a loathing of investors, simple dereliction of duty or some other reason? Now that is a mystery.
- Venezuela, Guyana to talk in territorial dispute (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The Mottled Relationship: Iran and Latin America (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Chavez Wants Gold Holdings Transferred To Venezuela (npr.org)
- Chavez to nationalize gold production in Venezuela (cnn.com)