Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cherry and globalizacin

Cherry Blossoms and anti-globalization rallies. For years, these were the rites of spring in Washington. Not anymore. The beautiful cherry trees are blooming, but street demonstrations have gone off. The protests coincided with the tops spring that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank held every year at this time in the U.S.

capital. The protesters, many and from all over, protesting against the free market, poverty and American foreign policy. They also had specific requirements, for example, slow economic reforms (fiscal austerity, privatization, trade liberalization, deregulation) that the IMF and World Bank imposed as a condition for countries to provide credit.

Or cancel the debts of poor countries to international banks. Or abolish free trade agreements. Often, these marches ended in clashes with police. This year will certainly be some strengths, but will be less crowded, tumultuous and visible than before. Why? Where have been the protesters? The responses are interesting, since the decline of these protests is indicative of significant changes in the world.

First, the economic reforms that the IMF required countries as a condition for financial help are not as controversial. Almost all countries have implemented their own. On the other hand, the IMF and World Bank have become less dogmatic. The IMF, for example, recently adopted a more tolerant policy toward some countries imposed controls on foreign capital, which used to be anathema.

Nor does there appear strong reasons to protest against free trade agreements: these global negotiations have stalled over a decade. And support for social policies is now a priority. But there are deeper changes. For decades, developing countries attending the meetings of the IMF / World Bank for new loans and negotiate the changes that they would take in exchange for money.

In these meetings were given speeches urging rich countries to undertake politically difficult but necessary reforms to strengthen their economies. In turn, the private bankers waited in their luxury hotels to the procession of finance ministers who came to beg for loans or persuade them that was attractive to invest in their countries.

That world no longer exists. Poor countries by now have strong economies and large international reserves, while many rich countries are bankrupt. In the past decade, developing countries grew at an average of 6.1% per year. In contrast, the advanced economies grew an anemic 1.8% on average.

If in 2000 developing countries accounted for a fifth of the world economy, today its participation reaches more than one third of the total. Emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia have weathered the recent financial crisis better than most advanced nations. They are mired in a severe recession, like Spain, have not had to rescue their banks, like the U.S., no need to beg aid, such as Ireland or Portugal, and do not require draconian cuts in public spending, such as the United Kingdom.

And now they are private bankers who wait patiently for an audience with ministers in Beijing, Brasilia and New Delhi. And more. After each financial collapse (in Latin America or Asia), the heads of state met in summit which concluded with promises of drastic reforms of the financial system.

The need for "a new international financial architecture" became the mantra of all these conclaves post-crisis. But this new architecture never comes. Once past the initial shock, the political will to make changes evaporates. The leaders stop talking about "new financial architecture" and technocrats are the stars, promising, however, improvements in the plumbing system: tighten banking regulations, accounting standards review to examine the role of hedge funds and credit rating agencies and other similar measures.

This is important, but very boring. Motivate young idealists to protest, for example, against Basel III (in the jargon of the industry, this refers to new rules governing bank capital) is certainly much more difficult to encourage them to go out to demand the annulment of the debts that stifle the poor.

Are these changes in thinking, economic power and political realities that explain why this spring in Washington's cherry trees are blooming, but the protests against the IMF.

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