Academic Webinar: Global Economics
Zongyuan Zoe Liu, fellow for international political economy at CFR, leads the conversation on global economics.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to today’s session of the Fall 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Zongyuan Zoe Liu with us to talk about global economics. Dr. Liu is a fellow for international political economy at CFR. She previously served as an instructional assistant professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service in Washington, D.C. And before that, she completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Columbia-Harvard China and the World program and the Center for International Environment and Research Policy at Tufts University.
She served as a research fellow and research associate at many institutions—the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies, NYU’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business, and at the Institute for International Monetary Affairs in Tokyo. Dr. Liu is the author of Can BRICS De-dollarize the Global Financial System?, published by Cambridge University Press; and Sovereign Funds: How the Communist Party of China Finances its Global Ambitions, forthcoming in 2023 by Harvard University Press. So we will stay tuned for that.
So, Dr. Liu, thank you very much for being with us. This is a very broad topic, but it would be great if you could give us your analysis of the state of the global economy today.
LIU: Yeah, thank you very much, Irina, for inviting me to do this. I really, truly appreciate the opportunity to engage with our college and national universities, both the faculties and the students. This makes me feel I’m very much still part of the academia community. So thank you very much, Irina, and thank you, everybody, for tuning in today.
So I wanted to begin by saying that as an economist one thing that I learned is that we are very bad at making forecasting. And, once that forecasting is already very bad, but—and forget about the long run. But that being said, I hope our conversation today can at least exchange some perspectives in terms of how we think about global economy and how we think about some policy-relevant natures. So the first—I will begin by saying two statement, and then I will delve into it. The first statement I would say that I’m afraid that geopolitics probably would make economic forecasting, which is already a very difficult business, but geopolitics would likely make this business even more difficult going forward.
And this is because global economic prospect will be more influenced by geopolitics and geopolitical tensions, in addition to pure supply and demand. So that is to say, for our—all our college students and our graduate students, who are either pursuing a political science degree, international relations, or economics, or anybody who are vaguely interested in understanding global economics, now this is the time to realize, well, the models may not—the models had their limitations before, and their limitations are probably going to be even more pronounced going forward. The pure supply-demand dimensions—price is set in certain ways—probably are not necessarily going to go that way.
One such example would be the European Union and the United States are considering putting a price cap on Russian oil. And what does that mean? That probably means, well, it almost feel like for a long period of time there was this global cartel called the OPEC or OPEC+. These are the so-called sellers’ cartel. And they have the power, the monopolistic power almost, in terms of setting the price of oil in the global market. But now we are probably going to see the other part of the story, which is what about a global buyers’ cartel? And that is essentially what a price cap means. So long story short, I think geopolitics would play a lot into our analysis of global economics forecasting going forward.
And then my second sort of quick statement would be in terms of global economic status today. I would say the key—like, let me take a step back. When we think about economic development, we tend to think about factors of production. Like, for our—again, for our students who probably learned this at the beginning of the semester, this is the time to refresh your concept. But key factors of production—one is resource, the other is technology, and then the other is labor. In terms of resources, you can think about natural resources as well as capital.
So these three fundamental factors of production, I would say, they are all going through a period of changes. And these changes are not necessarily in a good way. So that, long story short, a lot of the changes now in global economic conditions may not necessarily be good. And I’m happy to go into a detailed analysis of why resources are not necessarily changing in a good way, or technology, or in terms of labor and demographics. But I’m also happy to stop here and then sort of answer questions or explain further going forward as well.
FASKIANOS: Great. We will go to all of you to ask your questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
So we already have a question. It’s from Fordham University. Raised hand. So you’re going to tell us—have to tell us who you are and unmute yourself, or accept the unmute prompt. There you go.
Q: Can you hear me?
Q: OK, great. Yes, so I’m a third-year student at Fordham University. My name is Valerie Bejjani.
And my question for you, Dr. Liu, pertains to your paper—your Cambridge-published paper—about non-dollar alternatives, which I find very fascinating. And it made me think about something I read for an international political economy class about how Keynes first introduced a non-dollar alternative called the bancor during the Bretton Woods Conference, but the U.S. shot it down. So I was curious about your opinion on this, whether you think it was a mistake for the U.S. not to accept it, and what you think the implications—the historical implications are for BRICS countries today that are trying to devise their own non-dollar alternatives?
LIU: Thank you very much, Valerie, for your great question. And I have to—since we’re on the record—I just have to say, this is not a planted question. (Laughs.) And I very much appreciate that you’ve given me the opportunity to talk about the research that I did before.
So just a quick background about that research that I did, I finished the research last year—yeah, last year in the summer, in July. So when I submitted my manuscript, there was a review process, right? And then that was the moment when not everybody were interested in SWIFT, in SPFS, in China’s cross-border banking—Cross-Border Payment System, or CIPS. So a lot of these alphabetic soups that everybody here are familiar with now, last year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nobody was even interested. And one of the reviewers was even telling—had a comment there saying that, well, you know, don’t necessarily think that these are good examples that deserve to—so many real estate. (Laughs.)
But and then my publisher somehow engineered it such that my—that Cambridge publication came out right on the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was—that was—as a researcher, you probably can never hope the timing in that way. So going back to your question, Valerie, I would say I highly appreciate that you raised the question. And I respect that—highly respect that you are already getting yourself familiarized with Keynesian and all the other historically speaking alternative monetary system or monetary concept as well. So that’s all good. So keep doing what you are doing now and I look forward to continuing our conversation going forward.
So your question, if I understand it correctly, so is it a good idea for the United States to shut it down, right? So I mean, if I were—I was obviously not in the policymaking room in those days, but I can certainly understand why the United States would want to maintain the dollar’s dominant currency status in the global financial system. That’s because if you are able to—if the dollar were the dominant currency, in the existing dollar—in the existing global financial system, that basically means on the one hand we can issue debt cheaply. And that literally means the U.S. Treasury is the proxy for risk re-asset. That has huge implications not just for our government debt and our physical expenditure. It also has a tremendous amount of stabilizing factor for our domestic financial institutions and the expansion of our banks in the international market. So from both public perspective and the international perspective, those are good. And the United States has, from a policymaking perspective, all our financial policymakers had their right to shut it down.
Now, but if you ask this question from an alternative perspective—say, if you ask the question for—to, let’s say, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney—former governor. If you ask him, he would probably tell you, well, this is a terrible idea that the United States would shut it off, because he specifically said in 2019 at the Jackson Hole symposium, when all the major central bankers were gathered in the big hall and talking about monetary policies, he was the one standing in front of everybody saying that, well, it’s a terrible idea to have one single currency, which is the U.S. dollar, to dominate the global financial and monetary system. That is the reason why the system is not stable, hence we need to have an alternative system. Like a basket currency or something like that.
So, if you ask people like him, he would be—like, be in favor of the diversity—of a more diversified global monetary system. And again, if you ask the countries like China or, for that matter, Russia or Iran, they would be way much more in favor of a much more diversified monetary system as well. And that may not necessarily, from, exchange rate perspective, exchange rate risk is an important aspect, but the more important aspect probably is from the geopolitical hegemonic power of the U.S. dollar. Which means, the U.S. sanctioning power really resides in the dollar being the dominant currency. So right now, we hear about U.S. can sanction Russia, sanction other countries. How that is being executed, it is literally being executed by our banks no longer processing the bank transactions of all the Russian banks. Hence, when people talk about kicking Russia off the SWIFT system, it’s not just that the transaction cannot go out. It literally means in practice nobody can send a message with Russian banks. Like, there was no communication.
So the entire dollar system is based upon the SWIFT system, which 90 percent of the messaging to process the transactions are using dollar. And then, because the expansive power of our U.S. banks, it literally means all international trade literally has to be settled—the settlement has to be done by U.S. bank, who has U.S. dollars. And in order to access that transaction mechanism, only SWIFT can get the job done. You also have to literally tap into either the Fedwire System or the CHIPS system, which is the clearinghouse system based here in New York. So in order for this whole system—in order to have this whole system to make your dollar payment work, you literally have to maintain on the one hand a connection, on the other hand have connections with the dollar settlement system.
And that’s why when Russia was kicked out of SWIFT, a lot of other countries who are not necessarily on the good side of the United States started to get worried because people used to think, well, kicking somebody—kicking some banks off the SWIFT system is almost the financial version of a nuclear bomb. It’s the nuclear option of cutting somebody from the international financial system, of which the U.S. dollar is the dominant currency, the primary invoicing currency as well. And then on the other hand, lesson learned from this sanction experience, especially from the perspective of China, is that, well, previously we’ve already laid out a lot of this planning system—meaning the infrastructure used to internationalize the renminbi, such as the China—the China’s CIPS system. Policymakers inside China started to wonder, well, since the planning is already there, it’s not too much to ask just to add additional function.
So the previously, from a functional-wise, China’s renminbi payment infrastructure is really not about bypassing sanctions, because in my research I realized when—I interviewed people who actually participated in the designing of the system. And I remember talking to three people on three different occasions, and they all mentioned one point, which is without the CIPS system, the international using of renminbi, really—the user experience was really, really terrible. And the reason it was terrible was simply because there are more than two thousand of small and medium-size banks in China. You are familiar with the big four—ICBC, Bank of China and all that—but those are the major banks. More Chinese bank—more than two thousand of the smaller Chinese banks, they don’t have a direct connection with the SWIFT system. Which basically means in order to make transactions across border, it really takes time and the cost of transactions are extremely high.
Therefore, in order to improve user experience, they literally had to design a system that can facilitate this cross-border transaction. But when geopolitics plays into it, especially since 2018 when U.S.-China trade war started to get really escalated to a higher level, a lot of those conversations started domestically. And then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine really accelerated this whole process. So I hope that sort of give you a broader—it’s a long answer, but I hope that gives you a deeper understanding of what has been going on, and what are the—what are the instrument—the functions of the instrument.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. I’m going to take a written question from Abraham—he goes by Abe—Borum.
Dr. Liu, you mentioned OPEC within the context of NATO and the U.S. efforts to limit Russia energy policy. What are the second- to third-order effects on other sectors of global markets? And Abe is a graduate student at the National Intelligence University.
LIU: Abe, that’s a great question, I have to say. And I would strongly encourage everybody here, especially our undergrad and graduate students—to think not just the first-order or direct impact, but also the second-order effect. So I appreciate this question, because then you give me a little bit opportunity to elaborate on why I think on the natural resource aspect our global economy is not necessarily heading towards the right direction.
So just tie back into Abe’s question to begin with, right now since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the hydrocarbon prices, and more specifically oil prices, oil prices have been increasing. Although in recent—in recent weeks, it has relatively been stabilized a little bit, but it’s still way much higher than pre-pandemic, that would be 2019, right, Irina? 2019, right? (Laughs.) My timeline is all blurred. So I checked this morning, price might have changed slightly. But when I checked it this morning Brent today, this morning when I checked, it was trading about $88 per barrel. And remember in 2019 what the price was? That was something around—the average price in 2019, that was $64. So we are literally talking about more than $20 per barrel more expensive.
And then WTI, that is, what, U.S. benchmark, right? WTI was trading at $96 per barrel – close to 96 (dollars). Like 95.99, something like that. And in 2019, Brent was trading on average $57 per barrel. So close to double. So higher energy prices, that basically would directly translate into higher production costs across the board for energy—because every sector need energy, whether it is electricity, whether it is other types of energy. So it directly translate into higher electricity prices. This is important for the United States. This is very relevant for the European Union as well. So higher production costs would literally raise the price of the output. And that is going to further exacerbate the inflationary pressure. And that is going to make the Federal Reserve, and the ECB, and the Bank of England measures to curb inflation even more difficult.
And then on the other hand, I also wanted to mention that right now the added layer of geopolitics making this even more difficult. We already see this happening, which is, Biden made his trip to Saudi Arabia, but it did not get the intended consequence or intended result, which is trying to get Saudi Arabia and OPEC in general to stabilize the global oil market. And OPEC+, about a week ago, decided that they are going to cut their production by about two million barrels per day. That is about the daily consumption of, I believe it’s China, or something like that. So from that perspective, by limiting production, that is going to further—that is from a pure supply/demand perspective, right? If we hold supply—we hold demand constant and if you reduce the supply, that is going to further raise the upward pressure for the prices. So geopolitics is probably going to further put upward pressure for the prices as well.
And then finally, the final point I would want to make there is that right now OPEC countries—OPEC+ countries in particular—they might be—have this existential threat, which is the net zero transition. Right now, what is most valuable for Russia, or for Iran, for UAE, for Saudi Arabia—their most valuable export comes from hydrocarbon. It could be oil. It could be natural gas. So in the long run, when the entire global economy moved to zero dependence on hydrocarbon, that basically means for Russia—that’s probably more close to 70 percent of their GDP and government revenue. That is going to be gone. Think about how the Russian economy can make up that much amount of revenue in the short run? That’s very difficult to think about, especially these days. And this can be applied for countries like Saudi Arabia as well.
Therefore, these countries—these hydrocarbon-exporting countries—they have this existential threat. Which is their most valuable export might become no longer valuable in the long run. So that’s why they are—they are inherently very interested in carving a closer relationship and, more importantly, a relatively stable relationship with their stable buyers. And the buyers these days are going to not necessarily be the United States because, you’ve heard all these stories about the U.S. are energy independent and so on and so forth. But, you know, we can—that’s a different story. And when people say U.S. is very largely energy independent, there are so many reasons that argument can be rebutted. But let me just say, U.S. does not necessarily consume a lot of energy from—exported by Saudi Arabia.
But who does? China and India. So right now, China’s largest energy—in terms of volume—largest energy supplier is Russia. But in terms of pure monetary value that China actually pays, and the largest receiver of Chinese money for energy, that is Saudi Arabia. Therefore, earlier this year you probably read the news about Saudi Arabia might consider allowing renminbi to pay for Saudi oil. There might be more opportunity in there, because they might be very interested, especially MBS, because of all his behaviors, might expose a lot of the Saudis individuals under U.S. sanctions. And on the other hand, China already established a renminbi denominated oil futures market. And that—although, the volume today is relatively—the volume today is relatively low, but the growth is very rapidly.
So if all these major oil-exporting countries hypothetically—if they decided to suddenly switch their—the pricing of their oil overnight into renminbi instead of the dollar, we could potentially see the dollar’s pricing power and invoicing power in global trade would be diminished. And that is because the infrastructure, the facility is already there. Although the volume of renminbi-denominated oil futures is still relatively low, the plumbing is there. And once you have the plumbing there, there is no way to go back.
So now what the United States should do is to make sure that everybody is still very much interested in maintaining the existing dollar-based system and maintaining the pricing of commodity using U.S. dollar. And that brings in the discussion about putting an oil price to Russian oil instead of just a wholesale sanction of Russian oil. As long as we are putting a price cap to it, that basically means we are—yes, we are hurting Russian export, but still we are allowing Russian oil flowing into the international market. That still makes the dollar’s pricing power in global commodities relevant. So from that perspective, I think it’s the right move to preserve the dollar system. But on the other hand, those countries that are not—again, not necessarily on the geopolitical good side of the United States, they do have the intention to hedge against the risk of being sanctioned. And they need the—they need buyers to buy whatever that they have are valuable today. I hope that makes sense to you.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. I’m going to take the next question, a spoken question, from Dr. Seebal Aboudounya, an associate lecturer at the University of College London. You can correct me on the pronunciation of your name.
Q: Yes. Hi. The pronunciation is perfect. Thank you very much.
So I have two students here from the international public policy program. And they would like to ask questions. So I will just hand over to them. Thank you.
Q: Hi, professor. I’m Cici and I’m a graduate student from UCL. I’m really glad you can give me a speech and answer my questions.
And I want to ask questions about Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As we all know, that Belt and Road Initiative has employment more than ten years, since 2013. And it seems as the most important foreign policy for China and their President Xi. And it has already achieved many success. So I want to ask, what’s the core purpose of Belt and Road Initiative, and how can we evaluate it? And do the countries in BRI view it in a positive or a negative way? Thank you.
Q: Thank you very much. And the second student will now ask a question.
Q: Hi, Doctor. My question is, what’s the future of global economy under the impact of Ukraine war, China-U.S. competition, and COVID-19? Thank you.
Q: Thank you very much.
LIU: All right. Thank you very much, Professor Aboudounya.
And let me just being with the first question from Cici, right? Thank you very much, Cici, for asking this important question. And I’m so glad that you are asking something about BRI, because I do think it’s important for people to understand this whole Chinese initiative. You are absolutely right that the BRI is a very important Chinese foreign policy initiative. And I would even say that the BRI is—or, the Belt and Road Initiative—is Chinese President Xi Jinping, his signature foreign policy initiative during his first two terms. Now he just recently got his—as the general secretary of the party—he just got this third term. So we’ll see how BRI being played out going forward. But at least during his first term as the president of China and as the party general of the Chinese Communist Party, that was his signature foreign policy initiative, or grand strategy, if you will.
So in terms of what it is and how we think about it, those are great questions. So there are very simple answer to say—to describe what BRI is. You can think about it as a global-spanning infrastructure project. So that’s what it looks like. If you just put—if you just—if we have an Excel spreadsheet and we just look at, at least all the—every single project that BRI has been doing, it’s really about infrastructure. And more specifically, more than 70 percent of BRI infrastructure projects are related to energy, are energy-related infrastructure projects. Therefore, you can also think about BRI as infrastructure orientated and combined with the idea of establishing China’s access to global energy resources.
And then, if you think about it from China’s domestic perspective, why Xi Jinping decided to start this BRI initiative and what are the connections of the BRI with previous Chinese policies? I would say the reason—fundamental reason why Xi Jinping started this BRI was because of the fundamental domestic problem which is the overcapacity in China’s production sector, especially steel, concrete, and a lot of these infrastructure-related sectors. And that takes place after global financial crisis, and then China’s spending four trillion—four trillion yuan to stimulate its economy, and it created the major overcapacity issue at home. And the international economy—or international demand or demand from outside of China was not enough—or especially the Western market like United States or European market, they were not growing as fast to be able to absorb China’s overcapacity. Therefore China really have to think about how to distribute in a broader global market to solve its overcapacity issue.
So Xi Jinping, in one of his meetings, he had this saying—and I think it’s very revealing, so I quote him. So he did say this, and I translate it, obviously, into English. So he said: Our overcapacity problem might be other countries—might be beneficial to other countries. In other word, we are producing a lot of this stuff that we do not use, and we are losing money. But if we are able to sell it to other countries, that might be good for them and good for us, as well.
So that was—could we—if we give him the benefit of the doubt, is that a good way—is that a good intent? Sure. If we give him the benefit of the doubt, if everything he implemented perfectly, that could be mutually beneficial. And indeed, if you look at all these BRI forums or BRI summit, a lot of these are related to improve their connectedness, solve overcapacity issue, and even BR specific government-to-government level industrial production coordination fund. In other word, if government are establishing lots of money to coordinate—so much you are going to produce, how much I am supposed to produce. The idea is really to tackle the problem of overcapacity.
But again, reality when you are looking at how this is being implemented, nowadays it varies. There’s a very good Rhodium Group report that you probably—if you just google Rhodium Group BRI, they have this report analyzing the BRI lending. And that’s where BRI really come into—really encountered a lot of problem.
So you are probably familiar with the whole narrative of the data trap, so depending upon who you are talking to—so if you talk with—if you talk to Chinese project managers, or if you talk to Professor Deborah Bräutigam at SAIS/Johns Hopkins who runs the China Africa Research Initiative—if you talk to folks like them, they might tell you, well, you know, it’s really not about the data trap but really speaks to the fact that China is really, really inexperienced in terms of the development finance and in terms of lending, and that the reason is that they really have a limited capacity to do, on the one hand, the environmental impact assessment. Many of these—you will be shocked. Many of these projects they do not even have a real environmental impact assessment. And on the other hand, because a lot of these lendings are directly being lent out by Chinese policy banks—and more specifically, if you look at Africa, that would be China import and export bank, they have a limited capacity to evaluate all these business plans.
And I remember talking to a project manager in Mali, so I asked him, have you interacted with all those folks on how you do your—how you do your bidding in order to get the money. So this person, he was very frank with me, and he said, well, I understand how the—I understand how they want the number to look like in order to give me the loan, so I just cook the numbers so that I can get the loan. In other word, there is not necessarily an internally robust risk management process in getting out of these loans. Therefore, am I surprised to see that so much of Chinese—so much of China’s BRI loan now are in trouble, like in countries like Zambia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and a couple of others.
So am I—am I surprised about that? I’m not surprised because if you followed this and if you realized that there is a lack of the internal risk management process, that’s the result you are going to get. And it is also because of the debt, combined with the contract term, which is when you are signing a contract like—it’s like, I go to the bank and I say, I am Zoe, and I bank with Charles Schwab or Bank of America. Hey, I’m going to buy a house, so how about you lend me the money. This is literally the way how contract negotiating works. And then, guess what? The banks are going to say, hey, Zoe, I do not know who you are, although you look like a good person. I do not want to lend you the money at this rate. I’m going to lend you the money, and you have to put down a collateral. So collateral is the idea that, in case I, Zoe, can no longer pay back my loan, I literally have to give up some sort of tangible asset to the bank.
Now in the case of Sri Lanka, that was what happened to Hambantota. So long story short, is that combined with the collateralization of this BRI debt really feeds this debt trap narrative because, well, if it looks like you are setting the countries up to debt, and you are collateralizing their critical infrastructures, this looks like debt trap to many observers.
So I can’t—I have a lot of sympathy to this debt trap narrative, but really, when we think about BRI debt and how BRI is being implemented, we really need to think about two sides: on the one hand, the policy side; and the other side is really about implementation, because without implementation the policies are only a piece of paper, isn’t it?
So, I really encourage you to look more specifically into the details, and if you are interested in learning more about BRI, there are a lot of data set that are available. On the one hand, William & Mary—William & Mary have the aid data. If you just google William & Mary and google aid data, you will see their entire data related to BRI. And then the other website that—I would have to say, my colleague and I here at the Council, we have this BRI tracker. My colleague Benn Steil, he run—he had this BRI tracker. So you can take a look at that.
And then the Council also published a BRI report last year—last year, right, Irina? We have a BRI Task Force report, so definitely check that out. And then finally there is also Boston University has the global policy institute. They have this China—they have a specific China-oriented research team, and they have—they also run seminars occasionally, and webinars—you can sign up for it and you can have access to their research. We also have this BRI data, so make sure that you check those out so that you can look at all the contract, you can look at what are the—where exactly—at what level project are being implemented. I hope that sort of covered the ground for that with BRI.
And then go back to the other question—the other question about the future of global economy, especially the impact on Ukraine. I really appreciate this question as well because it’s—it’s really dear to my heart, too, and the research in itself is dear to my heart and to many of my colleagues here at the Council. And then, on the other hand, we also—everybody are surprised about how fast and how coherent the sanctions on Russia were able to take place. It used to be like—I myself included—like when the Europeans decided—the European Union decided, basically the next day after—following the U.S. sanctions, they basically decided that they are going to do the same. I was like, oh, gee, looking across the Atlantic, I don’t think I understand you guys. It almost feel like you guys could never agree on anything anytime soon, but now, it’s like overnight there is this agreement on sanction of Russia. I feel like, oh, this is unprecedented.
So from that perspective, I do think the—Russia’s war on Ukraine, it reunited the U.S. alliance system, and from economic perspective, I think it’s very important in the sense that a lot of the economic differences that we used to have—for example, the Eurozone or, in particular, the ECB might have interest in letting the euro play a bigger role in the global system and all that. So a lot of these are—a lot of these disagreement are going to be surpassed by the priority, which is to address Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
And then on the other hand, we are also seeing that, yes, European Union, despite of their heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas—and Russian gas in particular, they are willing to participate in setting a deadline to say by this—by the end of this year we are going to phase out Russia’s—our dependence on Russian energy. And in that context, it is good for American energy industry in the sense that we can—here in the United States we can—in the context of making sure that our domestic energy security is secured, right, or we can’t export our LNG to our—to meet the need of our European allies.
So that is another good aspect of it, and then in terms of—and then finally, I would—along the line of energy I would also say this probably is also going to accelerate the transition to net zero in terms of technology and putting more resources into this technology related to energy transition. That might be related to hydrogen. Canada is already exporting its hydrogen energy to Germany and German trains are now—some German trains are now run on hydrogen power. It would be cool to check it out—how it looks, right?
So that means, from energy perspective at least we are seeing the realignment of this energy supply, energy demand dynamic. And because energy is so important for production and for energy growth, that is sort of a stabilizing factor. But that being said, still we are not—I am not saying that the Europeans aren’t going to—are no longer having problems. And the Europeans are still going to have problems and the IMF revised downward European growth prospect next year. They downgraded to—even further to a lower point. I believe it’s point—it used to be—it used to be about 1.3 in the energy outlook earlier in July, but I think this time—a few days ago when I checked again, there are new economic outlook. They’ve revised it down for EU—European advanced economies that it was revised down to .06 percent growth. From that perspective combined with high inflation, literally we are seeing that Europe—the advanced European economies—or broadly speaking, Eurozone as a whole—probably are going to head towards, maybe recession is a very, very harsh word, but it definitely going to run into serious economic troubles. So in the long run, this is not a good—this is not good looking. And in the short run, at least, this is not good looking, right, and in the—if we broaden the horizon back, focusing on the economy.
Another factor that constrained European growth are, in particular, let’s say, the major powerhouses like Germany. A critical part of that is, they are suffering from two issues. One is their cost of electricity is simply too high, and I’m talking about this relative to—it’s much higher than the United States for sure, but they are not—they are much higher than China, as well. So China energy per kilowatt is in the magnitude of 0.002 or 0.003 magnitude. And where is Germany? Germany is something like ten times of that. We are talking about .38 per kilowatt. So that basically means if your fundamental electricity cost is high, and when energy price goes up higher, electricity price is also going to go up high, and then your entire manufacture industry is going to face a higher cost. And that, combined with demographic challenges, refugee challenges, it simply means that the government are going to have a whole lot of difficult time to deal with their expenditures.
So again, both from energy perspective, from cost-of-production perspective, from the demographic perspective—aging population, refugee problem—and on top of that you probably would also have to think of—take care of the aging population, meaning added social welfare costs and pension costs, so those are—those mean slowing economy, especially on advanced economies, are not necessarily looking nice.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Isaac Alston-Voyticky, who has written a question but also said, happy to ask it, so why don’t you unmute yourself, please, and give us your affiliation.
Q: Hello, my name is Isaac Alston-Voyticky. I am at CUNY School of Law and CCNY’s Colin Powell School.
I am actually graduating this semester, so—(laughs)—anyway, so my question is you posed the three classic core components of economics. Would you think in the modern day, given the immaterial nature of so much of our global market and marketplace, that knowledge as the foundation of neoclassical economics, plays an equal role as a component of modern economics? And I mean that obviously in the concept that knowledge is known, unknown, real, surreal, and unreal, of course. But also, to your first kind of opening point when you said that, you know, it’s really hard for economists to model out and do predictions. When we talk about improving data sets and analysis across like IPE, international affairs, you know, implementation of international law, one of the issues we have is a lot of our economic models are still too variable-based, and that we haven’t really gone past that. So if we think about it from the quantum computing, we have X, Y, Z, and T, and that’s just your bare, you know, next level. And I would imagine we can do that if we find the right components so, hopefully—and, I mean, I don’t know what kind of answer you have, but I’m very interested to hear.
LIU: Yeah, Isaac, first of all, congratulations for getting—you are in CUNY, right? And so you are right here in the neighborhood, so you know—right? So feel free to—feel free to, on the one hand definitely check out our award-winning website, and then if me or our colleagues could be of help, just feel free to stop by.
And so these are two great questions obviously, and you touch upon a lot of the complaints and the frustrations that I have with modeling—(laughs)—right? So the first question, knowledge, I fully agree with you that so far our economic models have not been able to fully appreciate, or fully absorb, or fully model the role of knowledge; for that matter, even finance. Finance, at least has this term called the intangible asset when you are evaluating a firm, and therefore your mergers and acquisitions, you pay the so-called goodwill based upon how much you value the intangible asset; meaning like knowledge, expertise, and so on, so forth—so patent and all that.
So from that perspective, I think the knowledge is definitely going—knowledge is definitely going to be extremely more important going forward, and I say that both—from three aspects. The first is knowledge can improve the quality of your human resources, which touch upon basically the labor force which reverts back to one of our three factors of production. And then knowledge also is necessary for technology, and that is another factor of production. And then finally the other would be knowledge, technology, and other resources. So resources, there is capital and non-capital, meaning natural resource and all that. And there are—then the confounding factor of knowledge is being played more here because better financial expertise—well, obviously, depending upon how you use it, but sometimes, financial expertise tend to run itself in trouble. It outsmart itself; it’s not necessarily good. But if we are able to—if we have better knowledge about financial market, about our debt—I go back to your second question—better data about financial market and better knowledge to improve our use of natural resources or the efficiency—improve the efficiency. Or the next day, if we all have a battery and move toward renewables—these are going to be extremely—go back to the Schumacher model—these are going to be extremely disruptive, but in a very good way.
But the reason I am cautious about, you know, we may not necessarily going there overnight is because, on the one hand—technology R&D takes some time, it’s expensive, but then on the other hand, it’s just in the processing, the implementation part.
It’s really—a lot of geopolitical factors plays into it because when we think about knowledge, knowledge and the technology, those are the things that we tend to think they tend to diffuse themselves, like knowledge—you exchange knowledge, and that’s the foundation of new knowledge being created. You stand on the giant’s shoulders, right?
Knowledge and technology tend to diffuse itself, and right now what we are observing is, on the one hand, there are a lot of—there are a lot of export controls towards certain countries, and then on the other hand, countries like China are also—are trying very hard to lower the cost of the relatively cheaper technology, right, or the less advanced technology. And that basically means if a country can or—especially a country like China can quickly achieve economies of the scale, are able to find an alternative that is cheaper but at a lesser technology, but will still get the job done, then probably that—in the short term, it can service China and also service a lot of developing economies. But for a country like China, that is not necessarily good in the long run.
And then on top of that, because of export controls, because of a lot of geopolitical tensions between China and the rest of the world, but the long-run trajectory over China’s indigenous development capacity is still there; China’s people—there are still U.S.-trained Chinese scientists going back to China, but it is going to tremendously slow China down and making it very difficult and very costly.
So if we think that, for the past forty years or so—or for the past twenty years since China joined WTO, if we believe that cheap Chinese goods tend to be—tend to benefited the rest of the world in many ways, then a slowed-down Chinese economy is bad news for the global economy, probably more true than not. China is the largest trading partner for more than 120 countries in the world, so if Chinese economy slow down, that have major ramifications for the rest.
And then go back to your second question with regard to, you improve the database and in terms of modeling the limitations—that’s a frustration that I have nowadays. Yes, the model themselves—oftentimes I go into a meeting, listen to a talk—especially in the econ papers, the econ paper would begin with—it’s very sterilized. You begin with assumptions, and then you talk about your independent variables, your dependent variables. Right now we are really in a world where your independent variables can be—your independent variables might be suddenly changed because of geopolitics, or because of some disruptive technology, or simply because supply chain means you used to be able to get rare earth, but then if you are Japan in 2007, you were no longer able to get rare earth reliably from China. So those are going to significantly shift your calculation.
Therefore I would say, I really don’t have a good answer in terms of how to improve at researcher perspective, but hopefully, as you said, quantum computing, artificial intelligence might help us to get as much better information as possible. But that being said, quantum—a lot of these quantum computing and artificial intelligence is—it used to be the case that a lot of statistics are garbage in, garbage out. Hopefully, our AI and the quantum computing, as we train themselves, they can learn better than the human beings.
I’m not exactly comfortable about saying that, but that’s my hope.
FASKIANOS: I have some—a written question from Todd Barry, adjunct professor at Hudson County Community College in New Jersey.
Is it possible that China would turn inwards and switch an economy to import substitution industrialization, producing all goods domestically, without imports, like Latin America tried to in the 1970's?
LIU: Right, that’s a great question, and when you were asking that I was immediately thinking about the Chile and its car industry. And that was a disaster.
The East Asian model, in terms of the import substitution—that’s the East Asian miracle, especially applicable to, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea to a certain extent, as well. In the case of China I would say I would be really hesitant to—in retrospect if we have this conversation twenty years down the road, I would be really, really—I would be really sad to realize that this year is the moment—or October is the—October 2022 is the moment when China started to turn inward because that is going to be disastrous for China’s long-term growth.
China’s decade-long of double-digit growth benefitted from an open economy, benefitted from being able to trade with the rest of the world, and the United States actually welcomed China into the global system. Therefore I would be very, very sad to see this is the moment.
Now is there a—is there the risk? I do see the risk, and I do see the narrative there, especially with President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on domestic circulation. If you think—I would argue—in my latest publication with the CFR.org, I made this argument to say the important—the dual circulation, especially the domestic circulation, it is a departure from previous going-on strategy because going out is starting from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao. These are really the idea of prioritizing the international market. It’s really about using international market to develop the Chinese economy. And dual circulation is a departure from that. It’s not to totally abandon globally—the global market, but it really is—it prioritizes domestic market: domestic demand, domestic supply, domestic technology and—domestic technological innovation capacity, and making international market relatively supplementary.
And if even—and Xi Jinping even—if Xi Jinping even intend to make the international market more dependent on China’s domestic market, meaning making the rest dependent more on China. So there is the narrative there.
However, in practice, I don’t—I don’t see how Chinese companies are able to do this because the Chinese company—a lot of Chinese companies, especially multinational Chinese companies, they still need to have access to global capital, global technology. And although it becomes—especially on the technology side has become increasingly difficult. But it is to the benefit of the Chinese company, Chinese people, and China’s long-term growth potential to maintain an open economy.
But there is the chance that might not happen, and if we think—if we do believe that Xi Jinping has a timeline with reference to Taiwan, then he—obviously, if there is a war breaking out, then obviously there will be consequences, and we can imagine Western sanctions, and that basically means the Chinese economy is going to be severely isolated from the global system. So from that perspective, right now a lot of these zero-COVID policies are very much—the way that I think about it is it could be interpreted as it’s a drill, or it’s a preparation to make sure that China is developing internal capacity to be able to absorb as much sanction shock as possible.
But I don’t think that—I do not think Xi Jinping is going to make up a decision and going to make a move to Taiwan, say, tomorrow. As long as we can kick the can down the road, I think that’s good.
FASKIANOS: Out of time, and I am sorry to say that we couldn’t get to all the questions, but we appreciate it.
Zoe did mention a few resources that our task force on the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as the Belt and Road tracker—we dropped the link in the chat, but we’ll also send a follow-up note with links to some of those things. She also does a lot of writing on CFR.org In Briefs and articles, so you should go to CFR.org. And you can follow her on Twitter at @zongyuanzoeliu. So I encourage you all to do that.
This has been a terrific hour, so thank you again, Zoe. We appreciate it.
LIU: Thank you, Irina, for having me. And I really do appreciate this opportunity to engage with every participant here. If I did not get a chance to answer your questions, or if you have other questions, just feel free to reach out to Irina or feel free to reach out to me. We are here, and the Council really appreciate and the—really appreciate the colleges and student, and the Council actually—we do a lot of stuff related to education, you know—not just at a college level. We also do at high-school level—
FASKIANOS: High school—
LIU: —middle-school level, and even—we also even have games for kids. So if you haven’t tried those out yet, just try it out.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Zoe.
So our next academic webinar will be on Wednesday, November 9, at 1:00 p.m. (EST) with Lauren Kahn, who is here at the Council, on military innovation and U.S. defense strategy.
And again, I just wanted to shout out. We have our CFR fellowships application deadline for educators is available. You can check it out at CFR.org/fellowships. The deadline is October 31 so it’s right around the corner. Follow us at @CFR_Academic. And again, go to CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org.
So thank you all for being with us. Have a great rest of your day.