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The permeance of global debt

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Lanka will subsist on a diet of perpetual debt

by Kumar David

The thesis of this essay, conveyed within my 1,700 word-mandate, is that the world economy has entered a phase of near universal debt. Lanka’s inexorable overload of domestic and foreign debt is part our own making part footnote of the global story. Everywhere, mighty USA and European Union included, the state is mired in debt that will not vanish so long as Finance Capital (FC) rules the world. The surpluses created by economic activity are amassed by a few institutions and individuals. Thomas Piketty drew attention to inequity of wealth and income. The market capitalisation of the world’s largest 2,000 companies is $100 trillion, but the value of all the property (land, houses, other fixed assets) of the poorer 50% of the world’s population is just $10 trillion. The heft of bank balance sheets, private-equity, mutual and hedge funds, pension & social welfare coffers, sovereign wealth funds and holdings of personal wealth, leave one dumb struck by their magnitude. FC rules the world.

Recently, post the 2009 recession, Central Banks including especially the Fed in the US expanded money supply not by billions but by trillions. Governments issued bonds, that is borrowed from FC’s (money-market) gigantic holdings to splurge on fiscal deficits or “sold” Treasury Bonds to Central Banks, which printed money (electronically) to “buy” on never-never terms. Debts to Central Banks will never be repaid, simply rolled over in perpetuity. Central Banks also ‘Quantitative-Eased’ hundreds of billions to banks and private funds to lubricate asset purchases (equities and property) which merely ballooned an asset price bubble and exacerbated wealth inequality. I don’t want to stud this piece with statistics which readers will find easily enough on the Internet and will limit myself to three numbers. The US national (government) debt of $26.5 trillion exceeded US GDP during 2020 and will not decline in the foreseeable future – in Japan it’s 230%. Second, global government debt is $60 trillion but global GDP in nominal (not PPP) terms is $75 trillion. The third point is that the total debt of non-financial corporations, globally, is about 95% of global GDP according to the IMF.

 

A nominal currency (not PPP) comparison

This essay is intended for my non-specialist readers and the data gives a broad idea of magnitudes and distributions. It is not easy to gauge indebtedness of financial institutions as reliable data is hard to come by. And it is meaningless to tot up household debt globally because $1,000 has a different meaning for say the denizens of the USA as against an Indian or an Indonesian. The idea I would like you to take away is not only that States and Corporations are deeply mired in debt, but more important things will get worse not better in the 2020s decade. This is commonplace in countries where productivity is low and which will never export enough to cover imports plus investment for capital projects plus surpluses to accommodate graft for the political classes. But I put basket cases to a side to deal with chronic diseases of the mighty. I cannot within the confines of this essay deal with the US, the EU and China, the big three whose capital shapes the world, and I have to limit this essay mainly to the US

Classical Keynesianism held that when demand and employment were low and economic activity in decline, the state should intervene and prime the pump with monetary and fiscal injections. ‘Monetary’ means to hold interest rates down and lend (print) to would-be investors; fiscal stimulus is big spending by governments to build infrastructure and create employment. Roosevelt’s New Deal helped but it was really WW2 (capitalism loves wars, armaments production and sales) that did the trick. In theory, economic revival should allow the government to recoup its outlay via higher taxes and duties. The “Keynesian multiplier” was said to be greater than one. It worked in the glorious boom from 1945-1970 when capitalism shone and socialist ideas were put away in a dog-box. But Keynes-Thought lost its shine after the oil-shocks of the 1970s and welfare capitalism slumped into Stagflation – economic growth was stuck in the mud; high inflation could not be reduced and high unemployment persisted. The world did not learn a lesson and turn against capitalism. On the contrary, there came neo-liberalism; Regan, Thatcher, Pinochet and JR slashing welfare, smashing trade unions, privatising and swinging political philosophy to the far right. Except Pinochet, mostly within the bounds of democracy unlike ultra-right populism today.

The gurus of neo-liberalism like Heinrich Hayek, Robert Barro and Robert Lucas, theorised that the Keynesian-multiplier was less than one. Barro father of the now discredited ‘rational expectations theory’ said that if the state spent more, people will realise that higher taxes were on the way and would spend less, erasing the hoped for increase in demand. Nothing of the sort is happening today; reality has stood ‘rational expectations’ on its head. The US housing market is rising because of low interest rates (interest rates are negative in Japan). Consumer spending remains undamped without engendering inflation because the US consumer is tapping into a global, mainly Asian, dirt cheap by US prices, one-billion worker labour-market churning out goodies for pampered North American and European consumers. Inflation in the Eurozone is negative; Japan is in perpetual deflation. Fifteen dollars per hour! An Asian or south of the US-border worker will be lucky to take home $15 (LKR 2800) a day. What Barro and his ilk failed to take into account was much-integrated global goods, services and labour markets. US inflation stays stubbornly low because producers for the US market de facto pay minimal wages to their producers (workers). In any case governments and Central Banks can’t stimulate the economy in perpetuity, you can’t defy gravity forever.

Demand is slack in advanced countries because the one percent rich can only splurge that much on consumer goods and prefer to invest in assets, and secondly production companies are risk-averse in the face of Asian competition hence domestic investment in manufacturing remains weak. The pre-COVID picture was bleak since state revenue was slack in the rich world due to slow growth, and it was falling in the US thanks to Trump’s tax handouts to the rich. Post-COVID expenditure has risen even further due to large expenses on medical and subsistence grants and unemployment payments. Hence pressure for trillion-dollar stimulus packages. The end point is that substantial fiscal deficits have become a permanent feature. In the US for example the fiscal deficit for 2020 and 2021 taken together will be three to five trillion dollars. There is no way out except to borrow-print-hold interest rates low or negative, and live with debt for eternity. Eurozone stimulus will be hundreds of billions per years for many more years. This nexus of extra-loose monetary policy and unescapable fiscal deficit blurs the divide between monetary and fiscal policy; they merge. Government borrowing without constraint has got a new name, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Adherents of MMT dismiss concerns that excess borrowing will induce inflation or will bring countries to the brink of an abyss. They have no fear that if interest rates go up governments will have to default or that the financial system will die in convulsions.

I need to repeat the thesis that underpins my essay before moving on: The world economy has entered a period of universal debt – government, corporate and household. I now need to say a few words about high-finance in China; I am avoiding the term finance-capital (FC) when dealing with China because how financial interactions will unfold in the context of a state-led economy cannot be foreseen yet.

High-finance is moving into China on a not insignificant scale. I am on tenuous ground, but I make a ball-park guess that about 10% of global high-finance is networked with China – add 5% to 10% if Hong Kong is included. True, New York, London, Tokyo and Frankfurt dominate bank, investment-fund and equity-market capital. High-finance however is on the move; asset managers (BlackRock and Vanguard), giant investment banks (JP Morgan Chase) and others are setting up shop in China (HSBC is already there), and Ant Group’s Hong Kong stock market launch later this year will be the largest ever IPO, eclipsing Saudi oil giant Aramco’s recent listing. Let us imagine that global high-finance has a quarter of its roots in the PRC by 2030. Remember that China took over as manufacturing workshop of the world in 20 years from 1980 to 2000; finance is a great deal more fluid than industry.

High-finance will be affected if the reach of China’s financial sector becomes even half as big as its global manufacturing. Some of the influences that will underpin change in the decade of the 2020s are easy to discern. The stranglehold of the US dollar as world reserve currency and mechanism of payment will need to be broken. Within five years an alternative global payments system and a currency based on two or three of the following, gold, yuan, yen, Euro and US$, will need to be initiated. (The US is the only country that can run eternal deficits, print mountains of money and export its economic problems because the world remains hungry for dollars till the value of the dollar declines). Second, the world needs other payments mechanism to overcome the US stranglehold known as sanctions – Cuba, Iran, Hong Kong, China, Venezuela, Turkey and Russia are among affected countries. Third, Belt & Road expenditure will be facilitated by an alternative global currency and banking and payments mechanisms.

A few words about Lanka before I sign off. The merging of monetary and fiscal policy is already advanced. Prof Lakshman’s task is to stay on the phone borrowing from whoever will lend and burning the midnight oil ensuring that the printing presses keep rolling. We are familiar with Lanka’s Central Bank borrowing billions again and again from China, India, the IMF or money-markets to repay China, India, the IMF or money-markets, again and again! Debt keeps growing as interest compounds while capital indebtedness persists. The balance of payments will remain in the red if not forever, for the foreseeable future. I don’t know it can be reversed both because governments need to survive politically and there is no big-enough feasible economic strategy. I am certain China, India, Japan and the US will not let us sink on the balance of payments issue since none of them wants a chaotic and anarchic country in this geographic location. For this reason I do not see sudden collapse but slow irreversible decline.

This essay has turned into heavy reading; I feel sorry for myself. No one pays attention to well researched stuff that is not simple to skim and digest. Anything on the Sinhala-Tamil brawl or derogatory of persons, regimes or regime-opponents draws stampeding crowds. Oh well, what to do!

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Features

Hair Growth and Thickness

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

 

* Oil:

Oiling is an old home remedy for hair growth and thickness. Oiling is also used for the strength, shine, and length of hair, from ancient times. The use of coconut oil, especially, is very effective when it comes to the amplification of hair health. Additionally, there are many essential oils for faster hair growth which you can use, too.

* How to Use: Generally, hair oiling works best when applied overnight. You could use this therapy every night, or after each night, then wash your hair, in the morning, before heading for studies, or work.

 

* Aloe Vera:

Aloe vera has long been used as a home remedy for hair growth, thickness, and treating hair loss problems It contains vitamins A, C, and E. All three of these vitamins are known to contribute to cell turnover, supporting healthy cell growth and shiny hair. Plus, vitamin B-12 and folic acid are also included in aloe vera gel. Both of these elements can keep your hair from falling out. Aloe vera plants can be easily grown indoors. A leaf can be plucked, occasionally, and cut open to reveal its gel. This gel needs to be applied on the scalp, basically, to provide nourishment to the roots.

*  How to Use:

Rub this gel on your head properly, leaving no area dry; wash after half an hour or so. Keeping this massage as a part of your weekly routine will eventually make your hair thick and long.

 

*  Green Tea:

Green tea is often consumed as a home remedy for weight loss. Surprisingly, it has many other benefits, including hair-related benefits.

* How to Use:

Consuming green tea once every day can add to the strength and length of your hair. If your body is extremely comfortable with green tea, then you may even consume it twice every day.

 

* Onion Juice:

A bi-weekly application of onion juice can relieve you of your tension, regarding hair health. The smell can really torture you, but divert your attention in doing something else for a while, like making a puzzle or washing the dishes. From an early age, onion juice has been used as a home remedy to control hair fall. Research has shown that onion juice has been successful in treating patchy alopecia areata (non-scarring hair loss condition) by promoting hair growth .

* How to Use:

Take half onion and blend it. Apply the mixture on every nook and corner of your scalp and let it sit for some 60 minutes, or so. Shampoo it off when it’s time for the hair-wash.

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Features

Fun-loving, but… sensitive

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This week, my chat is with Nilu Vithanage. She is quite active, as a teledrama actress – having done four, already; her first was ‘Pavela Will Come In The Cloud, Mom’ (playing the role of a nurse). Then Came ‘Heavenly Palaces’ (student), ‘Black Town’ (a village character Kenkaiya), and ‘Wings Of Fire,’ currently being shown, with Nilu as a policewoman. You could checkout ‘Wings Of Fire,’ weekdays, on Swarnavahini, at 7.30 pm. Nilu is also active as a stage drama artiste, dancer…and has also been featured in musical videos.

And, this is how our chit-chat went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

Let’s say, I’m a bit on the playful side, and I like to have a lot of fun. But, I do find the time to relax, and, at home, it’s dancing to music! Yeah, I love dancing. Oh, I need to add that I’m a bit sensitive.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I get angry quickly. Fortunately, that anger doesn’t last long – just five to 10 minutes. But I wish I could get rid of anger, totally from my system!

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Nope, can’t think of anything, in particular. Everything is fine with us, and I’m proud of my only brother, and I feel safe when he is around. Or, come to think of it, if I did have another brother, I would feel doubly safe…when going out, in particular!

4. School?

I did my studies at two schools – C.W.W. Kannangara Central College, and Panadura Sumangala Girls’ School for my higher studies. Representing my school, I won first place in a speech competition and dance competition, as well.

5. Happiest moment?

When my husband comes home, or talks to me on the phone. He is stationed in Hatton and those calls and home visits are my happiest moments

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I really find a lot of happiness feeding the fish, in ponds. I love to see them rush to pick up the tidbits I throw into the pond. That’s my kind of happiness – being close to nature.

7. Are you religious?

I would say ‘yes’ to that question. I like to go to the temple, listen to sermons, participate in meditation programmes, and I do not miss out on observing sil, whenever possible. I also find solace in visiting churches.

8. Are you superstitious?

A big ‘no.’ Not bothered about all those superstitious things that generally affect a lot of people.

9. Your ideal guy?

My husband, of course, and that’s the reason I’m married to him! He has been a great support to me, in my acting career, as well in all other activities. He understands me and he loves me. And, I love him, too.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say my Dad. I truly appreciate the mentorship he gave me, from a young age, and the things we received from him

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

My family.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

A camel would be ideal as that would make it easier for me to find a way out from a desert island!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

One day, recently, with the greatest of difficulty, I managed to join a one meter distance queue, to withdraw money from an ATM. And, then I realised I didn’t bring the card along!

14. Done anything daring?

I would say…yes, when I ventured out to get involved in teledramas. It was a kind of a daring decision and I’m glad it’s now working out for me – beautifully.

15. Your ideal vacation?

I would say Thailand, after reading your articles, and talking to you about Amazing Thailand – the shopping, things to see and do, etc. When the scene improves, it will be…Thailand here I come!

16. What kind of music are you into?

The fast, rhythmic stuff because I have a kind of rhythm in my body, and I love to dance…to music.

17. Favourite radio station:

I don’t fancy any particular station. It all depends on the music they play. If it’s my kind of music, then I’m locked-on to that particular station.

18. Favourtie TV station:

Whenever I have some free time, I search the TV channels for a good programme. So it’s the programme that attracts me.

19. What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Maybe a bird so that I would be free to fly anywhere I want to.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m currently giving lessons to schoolchildren, in dancing, and I plan to have my own dancing institute in the future.

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Features

Snail-napping sets the stage for CGI road trip

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The SpongeBob Movie:Sponge on the Run

By Tharishi hewaviThanagamage

Based on the famous and one of the longest-running American animated series that made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ is the latest addition to the SpongeBob movie franchise, coming in as the third installment after ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’ (2004) and ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).

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