New Internationalist

The Global Economy – The Facts

Issue 320

‘Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation.’ John Maynard Keynes

RIDING THE WHIRLPOOL

More than $1.5 trillion changes hands daily on global currency markets.

. The annual global trade in merchandise and services was $6.5 billion in 1998, the equivalent of just 4.3 days of trading on foreign exchange (forex) markets. . Actual foreign exchange reserves in the hands of all governments in the same year totalled $1.6 trillion or just over a day's trading on forex markets. . An estimated 95% of all forex deals are short-term speculation; more than 80% are completed in less than a week and 40% in less than two days. . The amount of private financial flows entering poor nations exploded from $44 billion in 1990 to $256 billion in 1997.4

CORPORATE RULE

Huge global corporations are becoming ever more powerful, eroding the regulatory powers of nation-states and riding roughshod over the rights of citizens to determine their own future.


ENGULF AND DEVOUR, INC.

Globalization has sparked a frenzy of corporate mergers and acquisitions (M&As). These new mega-corporations threaten competition and increase the risk of monopoly.


. This investment has become a major component of foreign direct investment (FDI) as companies buy up overseas competitors. In 1997, 58 of these deals were worth more than $1 billion each.

. In 1997 more than $1.6 trillion was spent on corporate mergers and acquisitions. Most have been in financial services, telecommunications, insurance, life sciences and the media. Some of the biggest recently include:2

Daimler Benz bought Chrysler: $43 billion Sandoz bought Ciba (creating Novartis): $36.3 billion WorldCom bought MCI Communications: $30 billion MCI WorldCom bought Sprint Corp: $115 billion ComTravelers Insurance bought Citicorp Bank: $82.9 billion

BABY, YOU'RE A RICH MAN TOO

Economic globalization has boosted income inequality dramatically, both within and between countries. The income gap between the fifth of the world's people living in the richest countries and the fifth living in the poorest jumped from 30:1 in 1960 to 74:1 in 1997.

Richard Ellis / Camera Press
Bill Gates: $60 million man Richard Ellis / Camera Press

. The world's 200 richest people more than doubled their net worth from 1994-98 to more than $1 trillion.

. The assets of the top three billionaires are more than the combined GDP of the least developed countries which have a total population of more than 600 million.1 . Since the 1970s in the US the top 1% of households have doubled their share of the national wealth. The top 1% now have more wealth than the entire bottom 95%. . The world's richest person, Microsoft boss Bill Gates, is worth well over $60 billion - more than the combined gross national products of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Jamaica and Bolivia.3

DEADLY DEBT

The Third World debt burden grows yearly with little hope of repayment. New debts are contracted to pay off current interest charges, resulting in a continual haemorrhage of wealth from poor countries to Western banks, governments, corporations and agencies like the IMF and World Bank. Recent debt write-offs may reduce the level of increase for some of the poorest countries but are unlikely to lighten the burden overall.

Peter Stalker
Peter Stalker

. In 1996 sub-Saharan Africa paid $2.5 billion more in debt service than it received in new long-term loans and credits. . The external debt of the region has ballooned by 400% since the IMF and World Bank began managing African economies through imposed 'structural adjustment' conditions. . The IMF has transferred over $3 billion out of Africa since the mid-1980s and the continent spends four times more on debt-interest payments than it does on healthcare.5 . Latin America's most indebted country, Brazil, owes more than $235 billion even though it paid off $216 billion in interest from 1989 to 1997.6

PINBALL CAPITAL

Short-term speculative capital whizzes around the world leaving ravaged economies and human devastation in its wake. East Asia (Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines) suffered a destructive net reversal of private capital flows from 1996 to 1997 of $105 billion.1


CRASH AND BURN

The Asian financial meltdown had far-reaching human costs.1

Chris Stowers / Panos Pictures
Thai worker demonstrates against his country’s falling currency. Chris Stowers / Panos Pictures

. Indonesia - number of poor increased by 40 million people or 20% of the population. . Malaysia - 435 firms went bankrupt from July 1997 to March 1998. . Korea - Unemployment climbed to 1.5 million and average real wages fell by nearly 10%. . Thailand - An estimated 100,000 students have quit school as a result of higher school fees.

  1. Source: 1 Human Development Report 1999, UN Development Programme/Oxford University Press. 2 'Giant Corporations Dwarf States', Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 1998. 3 Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing Wealth Gap in America, United for A Fair Economy, Boston, 1999. 4 The Global Gamblers, British Banks and the Foreign Exchange Game, War on Want, 1999. 5 '50 Years is Enough' Website http://www.50years.org/factsheets/africa.html . 6 People's Tribunal on Debt Statement, Jubilee 2000 Brazil Committee, São Paulo, 1999. 7 Financial frenzy, liberalization, speculation and regulation, War on Want, London, 1999.

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