Thursday, January 29, 2015

Irá a Europa ceder à Grécia?

Why Europe Will Cave to Greece, por Clive Crook (Bloomberg View):

A prediction for you: Greece and the European Union will split the difference in their quarrel over debt relief. What's uncertain is how their respective governments will justify the new deal, and how much damage they'll inflict on each other before accepting the inevitable.

EU governments, with Germany in the lead, are saying that debt writedowns are out of the question. Debts are debts. Greece's newly elected leader, Alexis Tsipras, calls the current settlement "fiscal waterboarding" and says his country faces a humanitarian crisis. His government won't pay and wants much of the debt written off. Neither side is willing to give way.

What surprises me is that this all-or-nothing positioning takes anybody in. (...)

There's a serious risk that Greece will default unilaterally. This would not be in Greece's interests, but it's too close a call for comfort. The existing settlement will require the government to run primary budget surpluses (that is, excluding interest payments) in the neighborhood of 4 percent of gross domestic product. That means that if Greece defaulted, it could cut taxes or raise public spending substantially without needing to borrow.

The downside of default would be huge -- possible ejection from the euro system. That would be a calamity for Greece and, because of the risk of contagion, for the rest of the euro area as well. Nonetheless, if the EU offers Tsipras nothing, that's how things could turn out.

Therefore, in the end, the EU won't offer nothing. But the posturing on both sides needs to stop and discussions of a possible compromise need to start quickly, or Tsipras and the EU could talk themselves into the worst-case scenario they both want to avoid.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ainda sobre a empresa como uma economia de direção central

Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world?, por Yanis Varoufakis (na altura consultor da empresa de jogos de computador Valve):

Market-societies, or capitalism, emerged when, some time in the 18th century, the expulsion of peasants from their ancestral lands (the so-called Enclosures in Britain), and their replacement with sheep (whose wool had become an internationally traded commodity), gave rise to the gradual commodification of land (with each acre acquiring a value reflecting the value of wool that could ‘grow’ on it) and, then, of labour (as the, now, landless peasants were eager to sell their labour time for a loaf of bread, money, anything of exchange value). Once land and labour became commodities that were traded in open markets, markets began to spread their influence in every direction. Thus, societies-with-markets begat market-societies.
Interestingly, however, there is one last bastion of economic activity that proved remarkably resistant to the triumph of the market: firms, companies and, later, corporations. Think about it: market-societies, or capitalism, are synonymous with firms, companies, corporations. And yet, quite paradoxically, firms can be thought of as market-free zones. Within their realm, firms (like societies) allocate scarce resources (between different productive activities and processes). Nevertheless they do so by means of some non-price, more often than not hierarchical, mechanism!

The firm, in this view, operates outside the market; as an island within the market archipelago. Effectively, firms can be seen as oases of planning and command within the vast expanse of the market. In another sense, they are the last remaining vestiges of pre-capitalist organisation within… capitalism. In this context, the management structure that typifies Valve represents an interesting departure from this reality. As I shall be arguing below, Valve is trying to become a vestige of post-capitalist organisation within… capitalism. Is this a bridge too far? Perhaps. But the enterprise has already produced important insights that transcend the limits of the video game market. (...)

Many enlightened corporations do a song and dance about their readiness to let employees allocate 10% or even 20% of their working time on projects of their choosing. Valve differs in that it insists that its employees allocate 100% of their time on projects of their choosing. 100% is a radical number! It means that Valve operates without a system of command. In other words, it seeks to achieve order not via fiat, command or hierarchy but, instead, spontaneously.

The idea of spontaneous order comes from the Scottish Enlightenment, and in particular David Hume who, famously, argued against Thomas Hobbes’ assumption that, without some Leviathan ruling over us (keeping us “all in awe”), we would end up in a hideous State of Nature in which life would be “nasty, brutish and short”. Hume’s counter-argument was that, in the absence of a system of centralised command, conventions emerge that minimise conflict and organise social activities (including production) in a manner that is most conducive to the Good Life. (...)

Hume’s views influenced one young man in particular: Adam Smith, the economists’ patron saint. Indeed, Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ is no more than an application, and extension, of Hume’s spontaneous order to market-societies.(...)

While the concept of a ‘spontaneous order’ harks back to Hume and Smith, it was Friedrich von Hayek, the doyen of modern day libertarians, who coined the term. Taking his cue from Adam Smith, Hayek used the ‘spontenous order’ idea as a stick with which to beat into submission all ideas in favour of economic planning (socialist planning in particular) and all arguments in favour of an activist state. (...)

In a section below I argue that Valve’s wheel is pertinent because it symbolises an attempt to create another form of spontaneous order (closer in spirit to Hume than to Hayek) within a corporation. One which, instead of price signals, is based on the signals Valve employees emit to one another by selecting how to allocate their labour time.

A corporation that tries to function as a type of ‘spontaneous order’ (i.e. without an internal system of command/hierarchy) seems like a contradiction in terms. Smith’s and Hayek’s spontaneous orders turn on price signals. As Coase et al explained in the previous section, the whole point about a corporation is that its internal organisation cannot turn on price signals (for if it could, it would not exist as a corporation but would, instead, contract out all the goods and services internally produced). So, if Valve’s own spontaneous order does not turn on price signals, what does it turn on?

The answer is: on time and team allocations. Each employee chooses (a) her partners (or team with which she wants to work) and (b) how much time she wants to devote to various competing projects. In making this decision, each Valve employee takes into account not only the attractiveness of projects and teams competing for their time but, also, the decisions of others. The reason is that, especially when insufficiently informed about projects and teams (e.g. when an employee has recently joined Valve), an employee can gather much useful information about projects and teams simple by observing how popular different projects and teams are (a) with others in general, (b) with others whose interests/talents are closer to their own.

Monday, January 26, 2015

O Syriza, a esquerda e a Europa

Syriza’s Victory, por James Meek (London Review of Books blog):

Syriza’s victory in the Greek general election is a hopeful moment for Europe. It shows how a radical left-wing political movement, brought together in a short time, can use the democratic system to attack three menaces: the rentier lords of jurisdiction-hopping private capital, the compromised political hacks of the traditional parties who have become their accomplices, and the panphobic haters of the populist right.~

Nationalist-conservative movements, it turns out, don’t have a monopoly on the anti-establishment wave. The future doesn’t have to belong to Golden Dawn, Ukip, the Front National, Pegida, the Finns Party, Partij voor de Vrijheid or the Sweden Democrats. It could belong to Syriza, or Podemos, or Die Linke, or to an as-yet non-existent British movement – anti-austerity, pro-Europe (...)

Tsipras’s programme will work only if he manages to ignite the Syrizification of the entire Eurozone; if he can win the implicit support of voters in enough national elections across the continent to force Angela Merkel and her fellow pro-austerity north Europeans into the position of isolation that Greece is in now.

Greece risks ostracism and expulsion from the Eurozone if it renounces the terms of the loan (‘unsustainable and will never be serviced,’ Tsipras says) it got from Europe to enable it to pay off the previous loans it couldn’t pay off.

The buzz in the financial world is that the risk of ‘financial contagion’ is low this time round, should Greece drop out of the euro. But that ignores the possibility of political contagion, on which Tsipras is staking his hopes; the idea that everything could be turned on its head and it become Germany, rather than Greece, that is pushed to make an in-out choice on the euro by an overwhelmingly anti-austerity Europe. (...)

A form of bankruptcy has always been open to Greece – quitting the Eurozone and defaulting. But Tsipras doesn’t want that. He wants to stay in the Eurozone, and for Athens to be able effectively to print euros, to be allowed to break out of its austerity straitjacket and embark on a Keynesian programme of expansion.

I have sympathy for Germans clutching their heads at this. Why, they might ask, should we let the Greeks dilute our currency? To which the Greeks might answer that it is their currency too, and sometimes, when a currency becomes sluggish, a bit of dilution is what it needs. And Tsipras’s demand is not as presumptuous as it sounds. There is a sense in which the bailout was a bailout of Greece’s creditors – big financial institutions – rather than the country. Really what Tsipras seems to be seeking for Greece is something like the Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules that exist in America, where a company can file for protection from creditors, continue to operate, and still borrow money to rebuild.

But Tsipras is issuing a much deeper challenge than that to the existing European dispensation. He is demanding that the rich parts of the Eurozone take the same direct responsibility for the less successful, or unluckier, areas as the richer parts of Germany or France do for the poorer regions within their own countries. He is seeking the mutualisation of giving a damn from the Arctic to the Aegean.

This idea has always existed in the abstract, but Syriza’s victory has given it flesh. And although it might seem Greece has no leverage, the European Central Bank’s launch of quantitative easing (money-printing) is a move in Tsipras’s direction. Who knows what influence a strong showing by Syriza’s Spanish counterpart, Podemos, in December might have on Portugal, Ireland and Italy, and what the consequences in France might be? The European Union may yet fragment into something looser. But should it move in the opposite direction, it may not be on Angela Merkel’s terms.

[Um pessimista poderia argumentar que isto tem algumas semelhanças com a estratégia dos bolcheviques em 1917, que fizeram a revolução assumindo que em breve teriam o auxilio de um governo revolucionário alemão]

"No-go zones" na Europa?

A respeito das notícias (ou, talvez mais corretamente, observações de passagem) da Fox News de que haveria em França e Inglaterra "no-go zones" islâmicas, onde a polícia não entrava e vigorava a sharia, o insuspeito John Derbyshire (no site anti-imigração VDARE):

On January 10th, the Saturday following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, terrorism expert and author Steve Emerson was on the Fox News program Justice with Judge Jeanine. Discussing the situation of Muslims in Europe, Emerson said the following thing:

In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones. There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.

That was an unfortunately absurd thing to say. In the 2011 national census 22 percent of Birmingham’s inhabitants identified as Muslim, 46 percent as Christian, 32 percent as other religions or none.

Birmingham is Britain’s second most populous city at 1.1 million. The municipal boundaries encompass 103 square miles, putting Birmingham midway in size between Sacramento and Salt Lake City—but in, of course, a much smaller country. For non-Muslims to be excluded from a place that size would be astounding. (...)

These two little episodes generated much comment and analysis, of quality both high and low, on the whole subject of no-go-areas and local enforcement of shariah law in European cities.

As best I can judge after a couple of hours reading through this material, the stories about no-go zones are somewhat overblown. The famous French government list of Zones urbaines sensibles (sensitive urban neighborhoods), for example, marks these neighborhoods as prioritized for slum clearance. No doubt they are bad areas with a lot of crime and vandalism, and predominantly African and/or Muslim; but I can’t find any evidence that police stay out of them. (...)

The police chief mentioned by Governor Jindal was not describing no-go areas so much as never-called-to areas:

There are cities in the Midlands where the police never go because they are never called. They never hear of any trouble because the community deals with that on its own … It’s not that the police are afraid to go into these areas or don’t want to go into those areas,’ he said. ‘But if the police don’t get calls for help then, of course, they won’t know what’s going on.

[Murders and rapes going unreported in no-go zones for police as minority communities launch own justice systems, by Sara Smyth; Daily Mail, January 17, 2015.]
Deplorable enough, but not unknown in the British slums long before mass Muslim immigration. [Where ‘Say Nothing’ Is Gospel, I.R.A. Victim’s Daughter Is Talking, By Katrin Bennhold, NYT, May 21, 2014] The chief also told the Daily Mail that attempts to enforce shariah law don’t go unpunished:

Last December, three members of a self-styled ‘Muslim Patrol’ vigilante group were jailed for harassing, intimidating and assaulting people in East London while claiming they were enforcing sharia law.
And plainly the police had gone into the area to make those arrests.

Prof. Daniel Pipes, who believes he coined the phrase “no-go zones” in this context in 2006, has since backed away from it.

[Derbyshire acha que as pessoas que falam em "no-go zones" estão erradas na descrição mas certas na tendência]

Sair do euro aumentaria a competitividade grega?

Grexit: An Escape to More of the Same, por JP Koning:

While the optimists tell a good story, they blithely assume a smooth switch from the euro to the drachma. Let's run through the many difficult steps involved in de-euroization on the way to an independent monetary policy. All euro bank deposits held at Greek banks must be forcibly converted into drachma deposits, and speedily enough that a bank run is preempted as Greeks desperately try to evade the corral by moving euros to Germany. At the same time, the Bank of Greece, the nation's central bank, needs to issue new drachma bank notes, the public being induced to use these drachmas as a medium of exchange.

Now even if Greece somehow pulls these two stunts off (I'm not convinced that it can), it still hasn't guaranteed itself an independent monetary policy. To do so, the drachma ₯ must also be adopted as the unit of account by the Greek public. Not only must financial markets like the Athens Stock Exchange begin to publish stock prices in drachmas, but supermarkets must be cajoled into expressing drachma sticker prices, employees and employers need to set labour contracts in terms of drachmas, and car dealership & real estate prices need to undergo drachma-fication.

Consider what happens if drachmas begin to ciruclate as a medium of exchange but the euro remains the Greek economy's preferred accounting unit. No matter how low the drachma exchange rate goes, there can be no drachma-induced improvement in competitiveness. After all, if olive oil producers accept payment in drachmas but continue to price their goods in euros, then a lower drachma will have no effect on Greek olive oil prices, the competitiveness of Greek oil vis-à-vis , say, Turkish oil, remaining unchanged. If a Greek computer programmer continues to price their services in euros, the number of drachmas required to hire him or her will have skyrocketed, but the programmer's euro price will have remained on par with a Finnish programmer's wage.

As long as a significant portion of Greek prices are expressed in euros, Greece's monetary policy will continue to be decided in Frankfurt, not Athens. Should the ECB decide to tighten by lowering interest rates, then Greek prices will endure a painful internal deflation, despite the fact that Greece itself has formally exited the Euro and floated a new drachma.

We know that a unit of account switch (not to mention successful introduction of drachma banknotes) will be hard for Greece to pull off by looking at dollarized countries in Latin America. To cope with high inflation in the 1960s and 70s, the Latin American public informally adopted the U.S. dollar as an alternative store of value, medium of exchange, and unit of account. Even after these nations' central banks had succeeded in stabilizing their own currencies, however, dollarization proved oddly persistent. This is referred to as hysteresis in the economics literature. Economists studying dollarization suggest that network externalities are the main reason for hysteresis. When a large number of people have adopted a certain standard there are significant costs involved in switching over to a competing standard. The presence of strong memories of past inflation may also explain dollar persistence.

In trying to de-euroize, Greece would find itself in the exact same shoes as Latin American countries trying to de-dollarize. Greeks have been using the euro for 15 years now to price goods; how likely are they to rapidly switch to drachmas, especially in light of the terrible performance of the drachma relative to other currencies through most of its history? Those few Latin American countries that have successfully overcome hysteresis required years, not weeks. If Greece leaves the euro now, it could take decades for it to gain its own monetary policy. (...)

In sum, I fail to understand how Greece can ever expect to enjoy the effects of a drachma-induced recovery if the odds of drachma-fication or so low, especially given the sudden nature of a Grexit. At least if it stays part of the euro, Greece has a say in how the ECB functions thanks to the Bank of Greece's position in the ECB Governing Council. And at least Greece's inflation rate and unemployment rate will be entered into the record as official data worth considering by ECB monetary policy makers. For just as the Federal Reserve doesn't consider Panamanian data when it sets monetary policy (Panama being a fully dollarized nation), neither would the ECB care about Greek data if Greece were to leave the euro, though still be euroized.

Imagino que o principal efeito sobre a competitividade de um regresso ao dracma (que, para falar a verdade, nem sei se algum partido com representação parlamentar defende - talvez os comunistas do KKE?) seria nos salários - como o autor acima refere, as pessoas que fixam os preços dos seus produtos se calhar continuariam a usar o euro como unidade de referência; mas os assalariados, cujo valor da remuneração está fixado em contratos pré-estabelecidos, teriam o valor desses contratos alterado, por decreto, de euros para dracmas, levando a (a menos que tivessem força negocial - o que não deve ser o caso com 28% de desemprego - para obrigar os empregadores a alterarem o valor contratual) uma transferência de rendimento do trabalho para o capital.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Alguns momentos da história do Equador

2000 - O Equador adopta o dólar norte-americano como moeda

2008 - O Equador reestrutura unilateralmente a dívida

2015 - Neste momento (janeiro de 2015), o Equador continua a usar o dólar norte-americano como moeda

[post publicado no Vias de Facto; podem comentar lá]

Friday, January 23, 2015

Decapitações moderadas

King Abdullah's Moderate Beheadings, por Jesse Walker:

 From The New York Times' obit for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who just died at age 90:
Still, Abdullah became, in some ways, a force of moderation. He contested Al Qaeda's militant interpretations of the faith as justifying, even compelling, terrorist acts. He ordered that textbooks be purged of their most extreme language and sent 900 imams to re-education sessions. He had hundreds of militants arrested and some beheaded.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ainda acerca de empresas

A existência de empresas costuma muitas vezes ser explicada pela existência de custos de transação, o que leva a que em muitos casos seja mais eficiente afetar recursos atravez da micro-planificação que existe dentro das empresas do que através dos mecanismo mercantis puros.

Não sei se um dos maiores "custos de transação" não será exatamente o custo de contratar pessoas (tanto do ponto de visto do contratado como do contratante) - sobretudo num mundo em que não é muito fácil saber, de caras, quais são os pontos fortes e fracos de um potencial trabalhador, imagine-se a confusão que seria - em termos de entrevistas, psicotécnicos, etc. - se, para qualquer tarefa que fosse necessário executar, se fosse contratar especificamente pessoas para isso (em vez de haver empresas com um quadro de funcionários, em que os supervisores já têm uma ideia de, quando surge uma coisa para fazer, quem é o empregado mais indicado para encarregarem dessa tarefa).