China, Taiwan, Four Asian Tigers and 1997 Asian Financial Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 18th, 2013

History 101

Both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek were rather Brutal to any Political Opposition

Today many of the things we buy are stamped ‘Made in China’.  Because the Chinese can manufacture things cheaply.  For they have a booming export economy.  Which the Chinese built by introducing a little capitalism to the communist state.  And some things that were as un-capitalistic as you can get.  Like artificially low interest rates.  Currency manipulation.  Cheap labor.  And the strong arm of the communist ruling party to keep that labor cheap.  All of this to make their exports about the most inexpensive in the world.  Giving them a huge trade advantage.  Filling stores around the world with products stamped ‘Made in China’.

But before there was ‘Made in China’ there was ‘Made in Taiwan’.  Taiwan.  Officially the Republic of China (ROC).  Not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  AKA mainland China.  Taiwan (or the ROC) is an island in the Pacific Ocean off the China coast with Japan to the northeast and the Philippines to the south.  And is where Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang or KMT) fled to during the Chinese Civil War when Mao Zedong and his communists conquered mainland China.

Both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek were rather brutal to any political opposition.  But while the PRC suffered some of the world’s worst famines and abject poverty Taiwan at least modernized into an advanced industrial economy.  Helped in large part by the KMT taking China’s gold reserves.  Their foreign currency reserves.  As well as the intellectual and business elites.  Who typically flee ahead of advancing communists.  As those are the people the communists usually kill or send off to reeducation camps.

International Investment poured into Southeast Asia and Spread the Asian Miracle beyond the Four Asian Tigers

Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers.  Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong developed advanced economies beginning in the early Sixties.  Thanks in part to laissez-faire economic policies of free trade, open markets, privatization and deregulation.  They also shrunk the size of their public sector.  And had a high savings rate.  Providing the capital for their industrialization.  While keeping personal and public debt levels low.  Because debt matters.  And the more of it you have the more difficult it is to get through a crisis.

But some of these countries also implemented non-laissez-faire economic policies.  Such as keeping domestic interest rates artificially low.  Even having special low rates for select export industries.  And there was some crony capitalism.  Government loaning to their crony capitalist friends.  Some of which disappeared thanks to a certain amount of corruption.  While a lot of it was used to make bad investments.  What those in the Austrian school of economics call malinvestments.  Investments not driven by the laws of supply and demand.  But for non-business reasons.  Growing big for the sake of being big.  Expanding just because of cheap interest rates.  Or the government choosing which businesses to expand.  And often choosing wrong.  Because those decisions were based on political reasons.  Or just a poor understanding of business in general.

The Asian Tigers served as a model for other nations.  Who followed their lead.  And got onto the export bandwagon.  Some even attracted foreign capital to build an export economy with high interest rates.  And pegged their currencies to the U.S. dollar.  To further encourage foreign investors to invest in their countries.  And it worked.  International investment capital poured into Southeast Asia.  Spreading the Asian Miracle beyond the Asian Tigers.

The Asian Tigers recovered the quickest thanks to their Laissez-Faire Economic Policies and their High Savings Rate

Then came the 1997 Asian financial crisis.  Starting in Thailand.  A nation that had a lot of foreign investment.  And a currency pegged to the U.S. dollar.  Then came a massive speculative attack on the currency.  Speculators were trying to force a devaluation of the Thai currency (the baht) by selling mass holdings of the baht.  In hopes of profiting by entering into agreements to repay a debt in baht at a later date.  If the baht devalued they could repay that debt with a cheaper baht.  Thus making a profit.  Thailand fought this devaluation, though.  By selling their foreign reserves to buy baht to maintain the peg to the U.S. dollar.  But they eventually ran out of foreign reserves to sell.  And had to let the baht float.  Causing a massive devaluation.  Making all that foreign debt much more expensive to repay.  Leading to defaults.  And bankruptcies.

Worried foreign investors started pulling their money out of Southeast Asia.  As they sold their holdings they flooded the foreign exchange market with these devalued currencies.  Putting additional pressure on exchange rates.  At the same time the United States was raising their interest rates to head off inflation there.  Those nations that pegged their currency to the U.S. dollar had to strengthen their currencies, too.  Raising the price of their exports.  Making them less competitive.  So exports fell.  Those higher U.S. interest rates made investment there more attractive.  Increasing the capital flight from these countries.  To try and stop this capital flight countries raised their interest rates.  Which further hurt their economies.  As it was more difficult and more costly to borrow money.

Before it was all said and done currencies, stock markets and other assets lost a lot of value in countries hit by the crisis.  Including the Asian Tigers.  But thanks to their laissez-faire economic policies and their high savings rate (except for South Korea) they recovered faster from the crisis than the other Southeast Asian countries.  Of the Four Asian Tigers South Korea suffered the most.  Thanks to a high level of foreign investment.  And numerous corporate bankruptcies.  Because of those malinvestments.  The causes of the 1997 Asian financial crisis are still debated today.  However what can’t be disputed is that those who suffered the least were those nations that embraced laissez-faire economic policies the most.  And those who interfered with market forces to stimulate an export economy tended to suffer more.  Something China (PRC) is doing.  Interfering with market forces to stimulate an export economy.  And making a lot of malinvestments.  As they try to bring their economy up to the standard of Taiwan (ROC).  Only without the laissez-faire economic policies the ROC used.  All but guaranteeing another financial crisis in the region.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #24: “You cannot lobby a politician unless he or she is for sale.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2010

IT’S A PROFESSION as old as time.  Politics.  Prostitution, too.

Hooker:  Hey, baby, you got girlfriend Vietnam?

Joker:    Not just this minute.

Hooker:  Well, baby, me so horny. Me so horny. Me love you long time. You party?

Joker:    Yeah, we might party. How much?

Hooker:  Fifteen dolla.

Joker:    Fifteen dollars for both of us?

Hooker:  No. Each you fifteen dolla. Me love you long time. Me so horny.

Joker:    Fifteen dollar too boo-coo. Five dollars each.

Hooker:  Me suckee-suckee. Me love you too much.

Joker:    Five dollars is all my mom allows me to spend.

Hooker:  Okay! Ten dolla each.

Joker:    What do we get for ten dollars?

Hooker:  Every’ting you want.

Joker:    Everything?

Hooker:  Every’ting.

Joker:    Well, old buddy, feel like spending some of your hard-earned money?

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In the above scene from Full Metal Jacket, Private Joker (reporter for Stars and Stripes) and Private Rafterman (photographer for Stars and Stripes) are sitting at a table outside a cafe in Da Nang.  Minding their own business.  The hooker walks up to them.  She initiates the conversation.  She tells them that for a fee she’ll have sex with them.

Please note that it is the service provider that approached the two privates.  They did not go up to random women, offering them money in exchange for sex.  Why?  Because not all women are for sale.  They know this.  It would be a waste of their time to ask random women.   And it would be rather offensive to the laywoman in the street.  Now, Marines may be killers.  But they’re polite to the indigenous population.

When you’re selling favors, the onus is on the seller to find the buyers.  They have to put the word out that they are for sale (ultra-miniskirt, low-cut tops, high heels, heavy makeup, stand on a corner, flash their ‘wares’, etc.).  Or find someone who will broker these sales for them.  A pimp, if you will.  Or a brothel madam.  Or, mamasan, as she is called in Southeast Asia.  A prostitute must initiate the process with the ‘john’ (Hey, baby, you got girlfriend Vietnam?).  Or she goes to a place where other prostitutes ply their trade to a receptive clientele (such as a brothel).

A prostitute is often a victim of circumstance.  Few women seek this life.  They’re not shopping one day when a man walks up to them and says, “Wow.  I find you beautiful and would like to pay you to have sex with me.”   To which she replies, “okay” and leaves one life to start another.  It doesn’t happen like that.   Often it is some misfortune that forces them into the business.  And once there they have but one thing of value that they can sell for subsistence; a young attractive body.  For a limited time.

THEY WEREN’T PERFECT.  The Founding Fathers had their faults.  They knew the evils of a strong central government.  And they knew the dangers of a weak central government.  John Adams wanted to build ‘wooden walls’ (i.e., a navy) to protect America.  Jefferson opposed standing armies and expensive navies.  Washington was a nationalist.  Hamilton, too.  Madison and Jefferson were more states’ rights men.  Hamilton was a capitalist and wanted a national bank.  Jefferson hated capitalism, banks, cities and Hamilton.  It was a rocky start.  They had different views about what America should be.  But the administrations of the Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Munroe) were for the most part honest.  There was partisan fighting, but political corruption was still gestating.   Our first Democratic administration would give it real life.

Government was growing.  There were more federal jobs to hand out.  And with property ownership no longer a requirement to vote, more and more voters had no skin in the game.  People were now voting to have a say in how to spend other people’s money.  You put the two together and you get political patronage and spoils.  Those who help to ‘get out the vote’ to get Democrats elected were rewarded with federal jobs.  The more you helped the better the job.  And when Andrew Jackson won the election in 1828, federal job seekers overran Washington.

It may have started with the Democrats, but soon everyone was using the spoils of an election victory to repay their most loyal supporters.  And government continued to grow.  Back then, it was just politics.  Egregious, but just politics.  Patronage and spoils turned into graft and kickbacks.  And the bigger government got, the more money poured into and out of Washington.

Soon, congressmen, senators and presidents steered legislation and/or policy in exchange for sweetheart mortgage deals, vacation junkets, campaign contributions, legal defense funds, retirement of campaign debt, libraries, etc.  They were now offering services for a fee.  And for a lot more than subsistence.  During a limited time.  Due to the circumstance of holding public office.  Now, they’re not saying “me love you long time,” but they are taking money and someone is getting screwed.  And it’s a pretty sweet deal.  The prostitute has to earn her money the hard way.  She has to put out.  A politician, on the other hand, doesn’t.  They get rich the easy way.  While the public takes it up the pooper.

PEOPLE HATE LOBBYISTS.  They hate their influence.  They hate Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Oil, Big Finance and the other ‘Bigs’ that lobby Big Government.  But these ‘johns’ only exist because politicians are more than willing (and make it known) that they are for sale.  You gotta pay to play in Washington. 

Are we to believe that politicians are as pure as the wind-driven snow until a lobbyist corrupts them?  Yeah, right.   If you believe that be wary of anyone trying to sell you a bridge.  It’s a game.  And they write the rules.  And if you don’t play nice, they can make it pretty unpleasant for you.  Anti-business legislation, justice department probes, attorney general investigations, public attacks by administration officials, etc.  Nasty things for a business.  And costly.  Often the cost of avoiding these (i.e., playing the game) is a cheaper option.  The business that does not lobby, then, may find themselves under assault by Big Government or at a disadvantage against their competitors who do.  So they enter the fray, hedging their bets by throwing large sums of money on both sides of the aisle. 

And even though the Republican Party is supposed to be the party of Big Business, have you seen who Big Business often contributes to?  More times than not they’re in bed with the Democrats.  Who did General Electric endorse in the 2008 election?  Obama.  Why?  You tell me.  For I have no idea.  They make MRIs.  And electricity-generating windmills.  I’m not sure how they could benefit by an administration that was going to reform health care and promote green energy.  It just baffles the mind.

THE CORRUPTION CONTAGION knows no party lines.  Unabashed greed is universal.  Especially with other people’s money.  Washington has become what the Founding Fathers feared.  Big, powerful and awash in cash.  Even during record deficits.  The days of disinterested public service are long gone.  Getting to Washington has become the objective.  Not what you do when you get there.  Because if you make it to Washington, you leave it rich.  And live comfortably ever after.

And now I must apologize to prostitutes everywhere.  For they truly earn their money.  It is unfair and unjust to compare them to politicians.  And the ultimate injustice is the fact that politicians enjoy their services.  One of the perks of being in Washington.  High-priced call girls at your beckoned call.  Paid for, of course, by others.

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