JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Emerging markets have been reeling since the beginning of the new year. The currencies and stock markets of Argentina, South Africa, Turkey, among other countries, have declined substantially, prompting their central banks to increase interest rates to stem the outflow of capital. The emerging-market rout, the worst start to a year on record, is widely believed to be related to the winding down of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program.
Now joining us to discuss this is Jane D’Arista. She’s a research associate with the Political Economy Research Institute, or PERI, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she also cofounded an economist committee for financial reform called SAFER, or Stable, Accountable, Fair and Efficient Financial Reform.
Thank you so much for joining us.
JANE D’ARISTA, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, PERI: My pleasure.
NOOR: So let’s start off by just quickly again explaining what quantitative easing is. And talk about why the Fed is winding down this program.
D’ARISTA: Well, quantitative easing is a program the Fed instituted as part of its out-of-the-box thinking to increase liquidity in the markets. And it meant that it was buying assets at a huge rate, about $85 billion a month over a period of time, and was using it to keep interest rates at zero and provide the liquidity.
So the feeling is now that the economy has gotten much better, that there are real signs of progress. Growth has increased. They’re not as happy as they might have been about employment, but they feel that it is time to begin to taper the program, not to buy quite so many every month as they have been buying, and therefore allow interest rates perhaps to rise a little bit to accommodate a faster-growing economy.
NOOR: And what’s your take on that? Do you believe the economy actually is growing?
D’ARISTA: Well, the economy is growing, but it’s growing in a very dysfunctional way. I mean, it is growing out of proportion. It is not growing in areas that affect Main Street, small businesses, wages, etc. And so it is a concern that that is going.
Now, part of the concern, I would like to say, is also where is this money that the Fed has created gone. And that’s where we get into the issue of emerging markets. We have had a pattern over the last two decades of which this is exactly a replica—not exactly, never exactly, but it’s pretty close. A core country, say, the hegemon, the United States, but others as well, will go into recession. The central bank will start pumping in liquidity. It brings down interest rates in that economy, in the core economy, the developed economy.
The investors turn around and start looking for better rates, more income, search for yield, as they called it. And they have started going, as of the 1990s, into emerging markets to find increased profits.
Now, the first major case, of course, was Mexico, and in that case the money flowed out of the United States. It was there in the international transactions accounts. It went to Mexico. It drove up the stock market in a couple of years by 400 percent. Over this time, of course, Mexicans were using their inflated stocks to borrow from their banks. The money that flowed in was, of course, gone into the peso, and therefore the exchange rate was rising. And so it looked like a wonderful thing for Mexico for a while.
But as in every other case, the Asian crisis, etc., and the one that we’re facing today, there’s a tipping point, the tipping point when the exchange rate becomes overvalued. And that means that while imports are cheaper, exports become more expensive, and you develop a current account deficit, meaning the difference between what the country imports and exports widens and it’s exporting less. And, therefore, to make up that difference it has to start using its foreign exchange reserves.
At this point, the investors look at the situation and they say, oh dear, this is not good and it’s time for us to go, and in the meantime, the core country, the developed countries, one or more of them, have begun to raise interest rates, and the investors flock home. And in that case—and today they’re flocking back into the euro, back into the dollar, etc., and this leaves the countries in crisis.
So we are at a point where we are at the tipping point now with many of these economies. And what we have seen over the last—well, since 2010, the figures are that there’s been about $1 trillion a year flowing into the emerging market economies. Well, it has not been doing a very good job of resuscitating the U.S. economy, because it’s gone away, and therefore it will come back, we’ll get growth, more growth in the U.S. as it begins to come back, but we will have crises elsewhere. And those crises will be severe. That pattern has been with us for 20 years, as I say.
So the question is: why? What are we doing? And why aren’t we stopping it? What’s wrong with this pattern? Who does it hurt? Well, it hurts everybody and it has delayed a recovery in the U.S. and in Europe, with particularly dire results for Southern Europe. And it is now about to do another whammy on the emerging market economies.
NOOR: And so you just mentioned who is hurting. I think it’s also worth mentioning who it’s benefiting.
D’ARISTA: Well, at this point it—we’re at the tipping point. So it’s beginning to come back. So, for example, European funds are back into Europe, but they’re also going into the U.K. and into Japan. So there are benefits there. I mean, the capital flows. What we’re talking about here are capital flows. And what we are seeing in all this underlying is the extent to which the world, and especially the developed economies, have backed the idea of the free market and continue to do so. Every trade agreement, the World Trade Organization enshrines the idea of free capital flows. And the International Monetary Fund, a few questions now and then. But the U.S. also takes the view that capital controls on the part of these countries that might like to prevent so much money coming in and/or so much money going out so quickly is a very bad thing. I mean, the idea is the free market. It should solve the problem. It has not solved the problem for 20 years, and here we go into another crisis once again which will affect those economies.
During this period of time, yes, some people in the U.S. who stay in emerging-market assets may be hurt, but the reflow back to the U.S. will be beneficial to the U.S. and to Europe, etc.
NOOR: And the whole time, the big banks are the ones that are making a killing off this.
D’ARISTA: They are the ones. They are the investors. They are the privileged ones in the global economy.
There was recently a book that was advertised that said the media is at fault, because over the years they have pitched all of their reporting and analysis to the investor, not to policy and not to Main Street and not to business. The investor. The investor is, as you say, the big banks, it’s the hedge funds, it’s the mutual funds. It’s even some treasuries of major corporations. These people are the ones who move their money around. They’re the ones who are looking for the highest yield at all times, irrespective of what it will do to the economies of the various countries that are involved.
NOOR: Jane D’Arista, thank you so much for joining us.
D’ARISTA: My pleasure. Thank you.
NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter. Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.
Thank you so much for joining us.