The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the SDR

By Warren Coats and Dongsheng Di

Jin Liqun, President of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) announced on January 17, 2016 that all of its loans would be in U.S. dollars, “signaling that Beijing will not use the development bank as a platform to promote renminbi internationalization.”[1] In this note we argue that the AIIB should make all of its loans in SDRs. Doing so would make a major contribution to promoting the replacement/supplementation of the U.S. dollar for international payments that was called for by People’s Bank of China’s Governor, Zhou Xiaochuan in 2009.[2] As the SDR valuation basket will include the Chinese renminbi after October 1, 2016[3] it will also contribute, but more modestly, to the international use of the renmimbi.[4]

As the AIIB is a Chinese initiative and is headquartered in China, it was initially thought by some that its operations would be denominated in RMB. However, denominating its loans in RMB and actually disbursing RMB would suffer several disadvantages for the AIIB and for its loan recipients. There was concern by some that the use of the RMB might further strain the already complicated US-China bilateral relationship. In might also force the pace of China’s financial and capital account liberalization faster than other conditions warrant. Moreover, with greater exchange rate volatility of late, loan recipients would be exposed to greater exchange rate risk. The AIIB’s choice of the U.S. dollar avoids these risks but continues to subject its borrows to exchange risks associate with the dollar, which has varied considerably over the years. For these reasons the IMF, for example, denominates its loans and other financial operations in its Special Drawing Right (SDR), whose value is based on the market value of specific amounts of the five freely useable currencies in its valuation basket.[5] Thus for most countries, the international value of the SDR is more stabile than is the value of the dollar or another of the other currencies in its valuation basket. This logic applies fully to the operations of the AIIB and other development banks. The case for creating “private” SDRs to disburse to AIIB loan recipients rests on the contribution it would make toward developing the SDR issued by the IMF into a global reserve asset to supplement or replace the U.S. dollar, Euro and other national currencies in countries foreign exchange reserves.

The development and use of private SDRs, SDR denominated bank liabilities, is described in detail in an article one of us wrote over thirty four years ago in the IMF Staff Papers.[6] The AIIB would establish SDR denominated deposits with its bank (e.g., the BIS) and instruct its loan recipients to establish SDR accounts with their banks. AIIB loans would be disbursed by transferring the appropriate amounts of its SDR balances at the BIS to the recipients’ account at its banks. The dollar value of these SDRs would be determined in the same way as is the IMF’s official SDR. Following the procedures used by the IMF when disbursing its SDR denominated loans, recipients could request to receive their loans in the equivalent value of a freely usable currency of their choice (or in any or all of the five currencies in the valuation basket). In the first instance, AIIB loan recipients are likely to be governments with accounts in their central banks. Thus these central banks would need, in addition to their SDR accounts with the IMF, to establish (private) SDR accounts for their governments and commercial banks. If the loan recipient is able to spend these SDRs (pay its contractors and suppliers) directly it would do so, but most often it would need to exchange them for the currency wanted the ultimate recipients. This exchange would most likely be executed by its bank providing the SDR deposit.

Cross border private SDRs payments would be cleared and settled in the same general way as are U.S. dollar payments. Net outflows of SDRs from the banks of one country via their central bank to another country via its central bank, would be settled by the transfer of official SDRs on the books of the SDR Department of the IMF. Alternative clearinghouse arrangements are also possible has suggested by Peter Kennan in his comments on the 1982 IMF Staff Papers article. When such loans are repaid, if the repaying government (or other loan recipient) doesn’t have sufficient balances in its private SDR account with its central bank to transfer to the AIIB’s account with the BIS it would use other currencies to buy additional private SDRs. It might also use its official IMF allocated SDRs to either buy private ones or to transfer directly to the AIIB (assuming that like most other development banks and the BIS it has become an “other holder” of official SDRs). Private and official SDRs would have essentially the same relationship with each other as do base money and bank money in national currencies.

China and the AIIB are in a strong position, working through the IMF or bilateral discussions, to urge central banks to open private SDR accounts for their governments and their commercial banks toward the fulfillment of their obligation under the IMF’s Articles of Agreement to make the SDR “the principal reserve asset in the international monetary system” (IMF Article XXII). Through their representatives at the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and their New BRICS Development Bank they could press these institutions to disburse in SDRs (private and/or official) as well. As an important purchaser of oil and other globally traded commodities they could encourage their pricing in SDRs. In the first instance, many loan recipients would choose to convert their SDRs into one or more of its basket currencies. But as private SDRs and supporting clearing and settlement arrangements proliferated, holding and using SDRs for international transactions would become more convenient and would potentially grow rapidly. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.

References

Coats, Warren, 1982   “The SDR as a Means of Payment,” IMF Staff Papers, Vol. 29, No. 3 (September 1982) (reprinted in Spanish in Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos Boletin, Vol. XXIX, Numero 4, Julio–Agosto de 1983).

1983, “The SDR as a Means of Payment, Response to Colin, van den Boogaerde, and Kennen,” IMF Staff Papers, Vol. 30, No. 3 (September 1983).

2009, “Time for a New Global Currency?” New Global Studies: Vol. 3: Issue.1, Article 5. (2009).

2011, “Real SDR Currency Board”, Central Banking Journal XXII.2 (2011), also available at http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/25

2014, “Implementing a Real SDR Currency Board”

_____. Dongsheng Di, and Yuxaun Zhao, 2016, Why the World needs a Reserve Asset with a Hard Anchor, http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/34/

Footnotes

Dr. Warren Coats retired from the International Monetary Fund in 2003 where he led technical assistance missions to more than twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, Serbia, Turkey, and Zimbabwe). He was Chief of the SDR Division of the Finance Department from 1982-88. His PhD from the University of Chicago was supervised by Milton Friedman. He was part of the IMF’s program team for Afghanistan from 2010-2013 and is a U.S. citizen. Wcoats@aol.com

Dr. Dongsheng DI is an associate professor of International Political Economy with School of International Studies, Renmin University of China and also a Research fellow with International Monetary Institute of RUC. In 2015 he is a visiting researcher at Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University. His research interests include the political economy of global monetary affairs, RMB internationalization, and Chinese Domestic Reforms. He is also a policy advisor to NDRC and China Development Bank and is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. didongsheng@vip.sina.com

[1] China’s New Asia Development Bank will lend in US dollars, Financial Times Jan 17, 2016 http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/762ce968-bcee-11e5-a8c6-deeeb63d6d4b.html#axzz3xWiTvQZD

[2] Zhou Xiaochuan, “Reform the International Monetary System”, Website of the People’s Bank of China, March 23, 2009;

[3] The amount of the China currency in the SDR valuation basket will be determined on September 30, 2016 such that its weight in the basket on that day is 10.92% of the total value of one SDR.

[4] Banks offering SDR denominated deposits will generally balance them with SDR denominated assets or assets in the five currencies in the SDR’s valuation basket similarly weighted.

[5] The RMB will be added to the existing basket of four currencies—USD, Euro, GBP, JPY—from October 1, 2016.

[6] Warren Coats, “The SDR as a Means of Payment,” IMF Staff Papers, Vol. 29, No. 3 (September 1982); “The SDR as a Means of Payment, Response to Colin, van den Boogaerde, and Kennen,” IMF Staff Papers, Vol. 30, No. 3 (September 1983).

Posted in Money, News and politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fighting Terrorists

A front-page article in the Washington Post announced that: “Saudi Arabia launches alliance to fight terrorism.”[1] This news truly gave me pause. If the irony of this does not hit you in the face, and even if it does, please read on.

Before exploring approaches to fighting terrorism, we need to define who or what our terrorist enemy is. The failure to do so clearly has badly undermined our efforts to defeat this enemy. Clearly the thousands of young men and women from around the world fighting in Iraq and Syria under the self designated Islamic State are terrorist enemies, as are Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who killed 15 of Farook’s co workers in San Bernardino, California recently, and so are the French and Belgian Jihadists who killed 130 people in Paris on November 13th. Dropping bombs on San Bernardino or Paris or carpet bombing the Levant will not stop this enemy and the collateral damage, both human and physical,… well, you get the point.

If we understood why they were doing what they are doing, either at home or in far off places, we might be better able to deter them. What is their goal? Several steps are needed to reach such an understanding, but they all claim to be fulfilling what they understand to be their obligation to Allah to kill non-believers who refuse to convert to Islam:

I have been ordered by Allah to fight and kill all people (non-Muslims) until they say “No God except Allah.”

The above statement is a hadith collected and recorded by Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the two most important compilers of the oral history of the words and deeds of Muhammad.

So our enemies are young Muslims who accept martyrdom and the prospect of early entry to paradise by fulfilling the commands of their religion as it has been taught to them. Those of us who live beyond this period of desperate searching for the meaning and purpose of our lives and make it to a more mature adulthood generally find less demanding objectives and meanings for our lives. Do most Muslims accept this version of their religion? This is a complicated subject but obviously we see the vast, vast majority of Muslims living in compliance with the laws and customs of whatever country they live in. Have they embraced a more peaceful understanding of Islam or have they managed to ignore those aspects of their religious beliefs that are clearly unacceptable in the modern civilized world?

Following 9/11, once I was able to return to the U.S., I asked a Pakistani colleague why he and his fellow Muslims did not speak out to condemn this barbaric act made in the name of Islam. He replied that it was very difficult for a Muslim to publically criticize a fellow Muslim. I only now think I understand what he meant. For a Muslim to criticize or renounce his religion is called apostasy. According to Dr. Tawfik Hamid in his very illuminating book Inside Jihad: “The portion of Sharia concerned with apostates is known as Redda law, and according to the literal implementation of Redda in Saudi Arabia, the punishment for apostasy is death.”[2]  Thus condemning Muslim’s who kill non-believers can be dangerous.

The proponents of this strict, fundamentalist form of Islam are called Salafists. According to Dr. Hamid: “Salafists desire a return to the Islamic Caliphate. They do not respect secular states or weak Islamic regimes. They believe Sharia law should constitute, ideally, the only legal system in any society, because it is the divine law…. For Salafists, the perfect world is one in which apostates are slain, adulterous women are stoned to death, enslavement of war captives is permitted, polygamy is admired and wives can be beaten when the husband deems it appropriate.”[3] Such views are not compatible with our Constitution or culture nor with any other modern culture and should be condemned as unacceptable.

According to Dr. Hamid, Salafist interpretations of Islam promulgated around the world by the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam financed by the Saudi Arabian government has come to dominate the understanding of the teachings of Muhammad by most Muslims. In exchange for the commitment of the Wahhabi leadership to respect and not politically challenge the Saudi royal family, the Saudi rulers financed the Wahhabi movement and its expansion. So the irony of Saudi Arabia launching an alliance to combat terrorism is that it is Saudi Arabia that continues to finance its primary cause, the Salafist version of Islam. For starters the Saudi government should cut off the funds it now provided to the promotion and spread of such teachings.

If the United States or any other military were able to kill every ISIS fighter in the Levant (Iraq and Syria), even if it could do so without destroying the cities and communities and kill their citizens that ISIS now occupies and controls, and even if it could leave behind or install a creditable, peaceful, and broadly accepted government that could prevent a new ISIS from arising, this would not end the threat of Islamic terrorism. As long as young men and women around the world continue to believe that their ticket to paradise entails fulfilling their religious duty to kill infidels, innocent people will continue to die at their hands and we will remain at risk.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has the right idea, if he means it, that “we” must “stop the flow of funds to terrorists and confront the ideology of extremism that promotes killing of the innocent.”[4] But according to Dr. Hamid, this is not enough. “Islamic terror is not likely to decrease until Muslims cease being passive terrorist and become active defenders of hard truth, true peace and real tolerance.”[5] “For every jihadist in the world there is a much larger number of individuals who quietly approve of his conduct. Islamic terror often makes passive terrorist secretly proud.”[6] This is because the passive terrorist believes on the basis of Salafist teachings that the active terrorist is fulfilling the requirements of Islam. “In the case of passive terrorists the schism is one between the cultural mind and the religious mind.”[7]

Islam needs a reformation. While peaceful forms of Islam already exist (e.g., Sufism), Dr. Hamid argues that a more rigorous and scholarly reinterpretation can emerge from a refocusing on the Koran (the word of Allah), which does not contain many of the offending texts in the hadiths and Sunnah (the words and deeds of Muhammad), and placing certain commands and acts in the historical context in which they originally occurred as is generally done when interpreting the Bible.

The United States and other secular societies need the help of peaceful Muslims, those who have accepted the secular laws of their country (e.g. the U.S. Constitution) and thus rejected those Salafist teachings that contradict them. We need their help in attracting Muslims to its acceptable and peaceful versions and we need their help in isolating and exposing the few Islamic terrorists among them. These peaceful Muslims, in turn, need our condemnation of the intolerant and violent elements of Salafism, to help support their campaign for reformation. To ignore that Islamic terrorists are acting on their understanding of their religion, i.e. that they are Islamic, undercuts any effort and hope for the reformation that Islam needs in order to peacefully take its place in the modern world.

In his farewell speech to the Nation in 1988 Reagan spoke of America as a shinning city on the hill: “In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Implicit in Reagan’s vision was that anyone “with the will and heart to get here,” had already embraced the laws and customs of their new land. Those who have and who satisfy our other requirements for immigration should be welcomed.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/saudi-arabia-launches-islamic-military-alliance-to-combat-terrorism/2015/12/15/ad568a1c-a361-11e5-9c4e-be37f66848bb_story.html

[2] Tawfik Hamid Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why it Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat it, Mountain Lake Press, 2015 page 83. http://www.tawfikhamid.com/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Washington Post Op. Cit.

[5] Hamid, Op. cit. page 98

[6] Ibid. page 87

[7] Ibid. page 102

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What to do about Syrian refugees?

When frightened most people take or support steps to reduce risks to their security even at the expense of their liberties or other normally valued principles. Failure to do so might even be considered foolish if such steps might actually increase their safety. On the other hand, we regularly accept small risks in exchange for more interesting lives. The fact that 92 people died every day on average in the U.S. in traffic accidents in 2012 (about the same number who died from falling) has not kept most of us home, where we would have faced the risk that an average of 7 people per day died of from home fires.

I am prompted to return to this subject (for an earlier blog see: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/are-we-becoming-a-nation-of-cowards/) by a recent Bloomberg poll in which the majority of adult American’s surveyed (53%) following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people said that “the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.” Leaving aside that this is an almost unnoticeable share of the more than 3 million Syrians who have fled their country and the 6.5 million displaced within Syria, and leaving aside the causes of the horrors from which they are fleeing, are we justified in refusing to accept refugees if it makes us safer? But before taking that on, we should have a clear understanding of whether it is likely to make us safer.

The concern, of course is that among these poor desperate souls, terrorist might pose as refugees in order to gain entry to the U.S. (or Europe) in order to wreak havoc. Despite best efforts this possibility cannot be ruled out any more that we can rule out dying by fire if we lock ourselves in our homes. But the recent Paris attacks were carried out by French and Belgian citizens, not refugees. “Then there was the curious case of the Syrian passport found near the body of a suicide bomber. Who takes a passport to a terrorist operation? Someone who wants it to be found.” (Frida Ghitis, CNN, November 18, 2015: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/18/opinions/ghitis-isis-self-destructive/index.html)

Gaining entry to the U.S. as a political refugee is a time consuming and difficult process. I have written a number of letters in support of applications by Iraqis and Afghans I have worked with and that is a very small part of what is required. Ms. Ghitis’ very interesting article continues: “The Paris operation had multiple objectives. The passport was a way of provoking the West to turn against refugees. The attack sought to provoke France, NATO and Europe to fight ISIS and the public to turn against the Muslim population and against refugees. ISIS wants a war between Islam and the rest of the world, with Muslims on its side, as a way of creating and expanding its so-called ‘caliphate.’ ISIS wants the world’s Muslims to feel they are at war with the modern world. It also wants to stop the flow of Syrians to the West, because it’s more than a little embarrassing that Muslims are fleeing its utopian Islamic ‘state.’”

In short, the risks of terrorist attacks (or attacks by deranged students at schools, etc.) in the U.S. come almost totally from our own citizens, just as do virtually all other crimes, violent or otherwise, in the U.S.  We call their perpetrators criminals and have vast and expensive programs to minimize such acts and to protect us to the extent compatible with our values from the crimes that nonetheless still take place. Aspects of these programs are the promotion of respect for the rights of others and for law and order and addressing and minimizing injustices toward individuals or groups that might provide the basis for grievances and hostility. For the rest we rely on the police to maintain order and arrest those who persist in crime (violent or otherwise). Crime and its perpetuators have always been and always will be with us. Some approaches to containing them have worked better than others and we should continuously strive to find the most effective balance between our freedom and our security.

So will ending the already negligible immigration of Syrians or Muslims improve our safety? If anything at all, it will worsen it by alienating and angering some of the almost 3 million Muslim’s already living here. The cry by some Governors and Presidential candidates and others to close the door to Muslims is much more likely to turn an American Muslim into a terrorist than to prevent one from entering the country from abroad. Thus these ugly cries by understandably frightened people fail on all counts (the promotion of American values and the promotion of security).

We need champions of the “Land of the free, home of the brave.” We have been the “Home of the free because of the brave;” not the brave young men and women sent off as cannon fodder to fight wars all over the place by deranged neocons but those brave enough to stand tall for the values of human respect and freedom that have (and hopefully still will) define America.

 

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What is wrong with PC?

Almost five years ago I wrote about political correctness (PC, politeness and caondor): https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/pc-politeness-and-candor/. In short, I said that what would normally be considered “good manners,” — values and behavior of free individuals– was becoming a stifling imposition of expected behavior by various authorities, another manifestation of the nanny state. Given our laudable propensity to generally rebalance excesses in one direction or another, I assumed that PC would be fading by now.

In 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley, I participated with other students from the far left to the right (University Conservatives and Young Republicans– we didn’t have far right students at Berkeley) in demonstrations AGAINST the University administration’s efforts to limit our freedom of speech. This was the famous Free Speech Movement. Thus I am shocked to read that today’s students are demanding restrictions on speech by the authorities. What is going on here?

On November 9 the WSJ reported that: “On Oct. 28 Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee blasted out an email advising students against ‘culturally unaware’ Halloween costumes, with self-help questions such as: ‘If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?’ Watch out for insensitivity toward ‘religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc.’ In short, everyone.

“Who knew Yale still employed anyone willing to doubt the costume wardens? But in response to the dean’s email, lecturer in early childhood education Erika Christakis mused to the student residential community she oversees with her husband, Nicholas, a Yale sociologist and physician: ‘I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns,’ but she wondered if colleges had morphed into ‘places of censure and prohibition.’

“And: Nicholas says, ‘if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.’

“Some 750 Yale students, faculty, alumni and others signed a letter saying Ms. Christakis’s ‘jarring’ email served to ‘further degrade marginalized people,’ as though someone with a Yale degree could be marginalized in America” Read the whole sickening story: http://www.wsj.com/articles/yales-little-robespierres-1447115476

It is hard for me to grasp that some Universities now carve out limited spaces within which students may freely express their opinions on controversial issues. Charles Murray’s reaction resonates with me: “Safe space. That’s the POINT of a university. To be a safe space for intellectual freedom in a world largely hostile to that concept.” FACEBOOK, Nov 10, 2015.

It is a good thing that today’s students are more sensitive to bad behavior among their peers and hopefully better behaved themselves. However, the swing from students demonstrating to defend free speech to students demonstrating to restrict it represents, in my view (as correctly noted by the brave Mr. Christakis in the above article) a swing from each or our personal responsibilities to exhibit, defend and promote good manners to a wide ranging state—big brother—to oversee and enforce all that in its wisdom we should believe and do. We will be a weaker and more subservient country as a result.

Posted in Government, Musings, News and politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Keystone XL pipeline madness

By his own admission President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project is political rather than scientific.

Two environmental concerns have been raised. The first is that the emissions of greenhouse gases are about 17% higher for oil from oil sands compared to conventional sources. However, the rejection of the pipeline proposal will not materially change the production and consumption of Canada’s oil shale crude, which will now be transported to market by more expensive means. “Rail transport has expanded to carry oil sands to the United States, soaring from just 16,000 barrels in 2010 to 51.2 million barrels in 2014 before dropping somewhat this year. But rail transport is more expensive than pipeline transport…. Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, said last year that the company had bid for space on another pipeline to move its oil-sands crude to Canada’s east coast and from there to world markets, including Gulf Coast refiners. ‘We’re covered. I’m good,’ he said in an interview. He said that ‘the argument that Keystone is a bad idea because it will somehow enable development of resources in Canada is to some extent flawed,’ adding that other alternatives would emerge.” (This and other quotes are from today’s Washington Post in the article linked below)

The second environmental concern arises from the possibility of oil spills from breaks in the pipeline. This possibility needs to be compared with the possibility of spills from rail accidents or breaks in alternative pipelines.

Because the pipeline would cross international boundaries it must be approved by the State Department. As the application was being reviewed, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on October 15, 2010 that the department was “inclined” to approve project. “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada,” she said. On August 26, 2011 the State Department issued its final environmental impact statement determining “there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project corridor.” And again on March 1, 2013 the State Department issued another environmental review that raised no major objections to the Keystone XL oil pipeline saying that other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries were worse for climate change.

Canada’s new liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, supported the project. “TransCanada’s president and chief executive, Russ Girling, issued a statement saying his company was ‘disappointed. Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science — rhetoric won out over reason,’ Girling said…. Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said Friday that ‘Obama has also solidified a legacy as a pompous, pandering job killer.’” (same Post article).

“As Obama rode from the White House to the campus [Georgetown on June 25, 2013, he], said he would approve Keystone XL only ‘if it does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.’” But his own State Department found that it does not. So what is going on?

“By late 2013, Obama and Kerry had concluded that the pipeline failed their climate test — not because blocking it would guarantee that Canada’s fossil fuels would remain in the ground, but because denying the permit would strengthen America’s position in international climate negotiations…. ‘The reality is that this decision could not be made solely on the numbers — jobs that would be created, dirty fuel that would be transported here, or carbon pollution that would ultimately be unleashed,’ Kerry said in a statement. ‘The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves.’”

In short the President lied (not an uncommon practice among politicians, but we might hope for a higher standard from American Presidents). But apparently not. The Obama administration has authorized the selling of coal owned by the U.S. government that would not meet our C02 emission standards to third world countries, which helps our emission record but not the world’s. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-exports-its-greenhouse-gas-emissions–as-coal-profitable-coal/2015/10/08/05711c92-65fc-11e5-bdb6-6861f4521205_story.html

“The Washington Post’s editorial on the pipeline today began: “President Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, ending an unseemly political dispute marked by activist hysteria, GOP hyperbole, presidential weakness and a general incapability of various sides to see the policy question for what it was: a mundane infrastructure approval that didn’t pose a high threat to the environment but also didn’t promise much economic development. The politicization of this regulatory decision, and the consequent warping of the issue to the point that it was described in existential terms, was a national embarrassment, reflecting poorly on the United States’ capability to treat parties equitably under law and regulation.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/11/06/obama-ditches-evidence-to-capitulate-on-keystone-xl/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/11/06/obama-set-to-reject-keystone-xl-project-citing-climate-concerns/

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Two approaches to American governance–The case of higher education financing

Hillary Clinton deserves credit for setting out her positions on individual policy issues so that we can have an intelligent discussion of their pros and cons. She is nothing if not a tireless policy wonk. Think of her exhaustive but failed effort to “fix the provision of health care in America” during her husband’s presidency. While the Clinton’s are Democratic Party centrist, they still embrace a top down government/regulatory approach to dealing with many of societies challenges/problems. Mrs. Clinton’s plans to make college affordable provide a recent example of this approach. It is thoughtful and balanced from a left of center, regulatory approach perspective. I prefer a difference, right of center, more market oriented approach.

I have not read Mrs. Clinton’s detailed proposal and rely completely on the following Washington Post summary: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/08/10/clinton-proposes-a-350-billion-plan-to-make-college-affordable/

Background

Americans believe in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcomes. We are not egalitarians. There is nothing we can do about the fact that each person is born with different predispositions and capabilities. But it has been a long-standing, broadly shared principle that everyone should have access to the education she is capable of. We have lived up to this goal very imperfectly. Tuition vouchers and school choice are moving us closer to this goal for K-12 by making the state’s financial contribution to education more equal for each student and subjecting schools to greater competition in producing good results. Unlike primary and secondary education, however, which in the United States is financed by the states (generally by municipalities), college is not for everyone. An important public policy issue is who should pay for higher education for those who do go.

When the government began to supplement private universities and colleges with state run, public ones, it generally funded the cost from tax payers charging only nominal tuitions, if any, to those attending. Milton Friedman and others pointed out that this resulted in a perverse redistribution of income from lower to higher income people. University graduates enjoy incomes two or three times the average of non-college graduates. In response to this criticism, state colleges and universities in recent decades have raised their tuitions in order to finance more of the cost of the education by its beneficiaries.

It is desirable for those from low-income families with the intelligence and desire to pursue careers requiring a college education to have that opportunity. This accords with our belief in providing an equal opportunity to all and increases our individual and national wealth by facilitating the maximum productivity of every citizen. But how can we best accomplish this goal without perversely redistributing taxpayers’ money to the better off? Along with higher tuitions, many universities offer financial assistance to such students in order to attract and graduate the best students. Having the best graduates enhances their reputations. A number of private organizations provide fellowship to promising low-income students. America is renowned for its extensive private charities. Many companies do the same, generally for the children of their employees. These have the substantial advantage over government bureaucrats of being closer to the beneficiaries of their largesse and thus better able to determine who in their communities will benefit the most from such assistance.

Determined students often work while studying and/or borrow from their families and friends (this was my approach). In business, future benefits from current investments are normally financed with borrowed money or by giving investors a stake in the outcome (selling shares in the hoped for profits). Unless they are family or friends, lending to someone with potential future human capital as collateral (i.e. lending to a student based on the expectation that she can repay out of higher future income) is a riskier proposition than, say lending to someone with a job to buy a car or a house (both of which can be use as collateral). So bank lending to college students was rather limited and expensive (interest rates high enough to cover the higher risks to the lender) until the government began to guarantee such loans.

Solutions

To address this problem, and building on the experience with financing college for veterans of World War II in the “GI Bill” of 1944, Congress adopted what became known as Pell Grants, financial aid to low-income students in undergraduate college programs, in the Higher Education Act of 1965. This Act also provided limited government loans, which over time expanded in various ways to include students from middle-income families (Middle Income Student Assistance Act of 1978) and studies at graduate and professional schools. Over time the scope and terms of government assistance continued to expand. Grad PLUS was added by that spend thrift George W Bush in 2006 to help finance graduate education. “For the first time, it gave professional and graduate-school students unlimited access to below-market-rate loans from the government, which, of course, borrows the money to begin with.”[1]

This has enabled more American’s to go to college– a potentially good thing. The increased demand for places in colleges is likely to increase the cost of supplying more (higher salaries for college professors in order to attract more into teaching), but hardly justifies what has happened. According to The Economist “Tuition fees have doubled in real terms in the past 20 years. Student debt has trebled in the past decade, to $1.2 trillion.” Seventeen percent of these loans are now in default or seriously delinquent. Many of these students have dropped out of school or not found the jobs they were trained for.

The government (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) has established a number of programs to help and Hilary Clinton “proposes capping the repayment of college loans at a maximum of 10% of income over 20 years. If a loan is not paid off by then the government will pick up the tab. The estimated bill for her scheme…, comes to $350 billion over ten years.”[2] This may be sensible within the context of government aid. But this top down government approach suffers from a number of weaknesses. One is the propensity for such programs to grow as different special interests succeed in getting added to the list: “Despite all the talk about the government’s $1.1 trillion student loan portfolio, and the burden it represents for college students, some 40 percent of the money is owed by graduate and professional school students — who make up only 16 percent of all student-loan borrowers.”[3] Another is the inferior ability of government bureaucrats, with no financial stake in the outcome, to evaluate the appropriateness of each individual loan or grant. A third is the limited incentive for government to find new innovative ways to deal with the problems that invariably arise.

The policy challenge in my view is to bring more effective competitive pressure on colleges and universities to deliver more for less, to facilitate more careful and better informed decisions by potential students of what education they need and will benefit from and the best place for them to get it, and insuring at the same time that initial poverty does not prevent them from getting it.

Leaving the GI Bill aside as a special case, the arrangements for financing college and advanced degrees that existed prior to the Federal government’s involvement worked pretty well. Those of us needing financial assistance paid a great deal of attention to the cost and value of the educations we sought. We were also more careful about whether and what sort of higher education would benefit us. I have no doubt that the incipient revolution of on-line courses, perhaps supplemented with class room discussions, will dramatically reduce the cost of higher education without significantly sacrificing its quality. Everyone’s professors can be the best that exist. Universities will be forced by such competition to exploit these new technological tools to dramatically reduce the costs of their offerings. The very best students will still pay the premium to attend the University of Chicago’s of the world (pardon my bias). Hopefully they will be the best and not just the wealthiest.

Market based financing innovations are also more likely to come from basically private funding of education. The suggestion made by Milton Friedman in 1955[4] and repeated in Capitalism and Freedom in 1962 for sharing the risk of investing in higher education between the borrowing student and the lender is now being explored in the private sector. “Enter income-share agreements ( ISAs ), which are essentially equity instruments for human capital. Investors finance a student’s college education in return for a percentage of their future income over a fixed period. ISAs are not loans and there is no outstanding balance. If students earn more than expected, they will pay more, but they also will pay less—or nothing—if their earnings do not materialize.”[5] Sharing the risk in this way insures a financial interest by both borrowers and lenders that collage choices maximize the expected return to both. A lender, (especially loans made or guaranteed by the government) is not well placed to determine the career intentions of the borrower leading to what economists call adverse selection. Income sharing agreements overcome this problem because the student being financed has a large stake in making the best choices.

Government always has an important role to play. This issue is what the nature of that role should be. Private contracts such as loans or the ISAs described above require a legal framework of enforcement. Such framework for ISAs is currently rather unclear. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Tom Petri (R., Wis.) recently introduced the Investing in Student Success Act, which would set basic standards for ISA contracts. In addition their bill would provide for the collection and publishing of information on the cost and average earnings of graduates of different colleges and fields, which would help students choose where and how to invest in their futures.

Clinton’s and Rubio’s approaches represent very different concepts of how government can most constructively contribute to our flourishing. I prefer the approach of a more limited, legal framework role for government.

[1] Charles Lane, Washington Post Aug 26, 2015 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-student-loans-help-keep-expensive-schools-in-business/2015/08/26/e7d7f83a-4c11-11e5-902f-39e9219e574b_story.html

[2] The Economist, August 22, 2015.

[3] Charles Lane op. cit.

[4] Milton Friedman, “The Role of Government

in Education,” in Economics and the Public Interest ,

  1. Robert Solo, (Rutgers: Rutgers University

Press, 1955).

[5]   Miguel Palacios And Andrew P. Kelly, “A Better Way to Finance That College Degree” WSJ April 13, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303456104579485801253355622

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Cayman Financial Review, Q3 2015

Dear Friends,

The Third Quarter issue of the Cayman Financial Review is now available on the web: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/. I am on the Editorial Board and have two articles in this issue that might interest you. The first discusses the continued decline of U.S. world leadership exemplified in the case of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank located in China: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/08/19/US-leadership-and-the-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank/

The second is the final installment of my series on the Kabul Bank scandal. The failure of Kabul Bank in Afghanistan was probably the biggest bank failure and fraud in history on a per capital basis.  As this final article looks at some of the legal issues and developments in recovering stolen assets held abroad and Afghanistan’s uneven struggle to strengthen its criminal justice system, Gary Gegenheimer, a lawyer who also worked in Afghanistan, joined me to write this third installment: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/08/19/The-Kabulbank-scandal–Part-III/

I hope that you enjoy them.

Best wishes,

Warren

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