By Kevin Gallagher
In Germany this week Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff rebuked industrialised countries for creating a “liquidity tsunami” of speculative capital that is bubbling currencies, stock and bond markets across emerging markets and the developing world. To stem the tide, her government extended a tax on speculative inflows of capital into Brazil.
A new task force report entitled Regulating Global Capital Flows for Long-Run Development, released this week, argues that regulating flows to tame the liquidity wave are justified more than ever in the wake of the global financial crisis. Countries have more flexibility to deploy such measures given the new consensus in the peer-reviewed academic literature and at the IMF that capital account regulations have been effective tools to prevent and mitigate financial crises. In this new environment Brazil, Indonesia, Taiwan, Peru, Thailand, South Korea, and many others have regulated flows.
Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff
However, the report also expresses serious concern that many countries lack the ability to regulate flows because many of the world’s economic integration clubs and trade and investment treaties have started to mandate capital account liberalisation.
By Kevin P. Gallagher
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AFP/Getty Images
Emerging markets have fallen victim to unstable capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis. In an attempt to mitigate the accompanying asset bubbles and exchange rate pressures that come with such volatility, a number of emerging markets resorted to capital controls. Although these actions have largely been supported by the International Monetary Fund, some policy-makers and economists have decried capital controls as protectionist measures that can cause spillovers that unduly harm other nations.
Recently-published research shows that these claims are unfounded. According to the new welfare economics of capital controls, unstable capital flows to emerging markets can be viewed as negative externalities on recipient countries. Therefore regulations on cross-border capital flows are tools to correct for market failures that can make markets work better and enhance growth, not worsen it.
By Kevin P. Gallagher
At the recent annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank Taiwan’s Central Bank governor Perng Fai-nan urged emerging market nations in Asia to use capital controls to promote financial stability.
Yesterday, this call was echoed by Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. She singled out China, India, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea as the most vulnerable nations in need of controls
These statements would have been unthinkable a decade ago, and shows how much has changed.
Part of the stigma attached to capital controls has been dampened by the new tune at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In a February 2010 staff position note and in the IMF‘s Global Financial Stability Report (GSFR) the IMF said that capital controls are a legitimate part of the toolkit for emerging markets. What’s more, the IMF’s economists found that those countries that deployed capital controls in the run-up to the current crisis were among the least hard hit from the global financial crisis.
It is time for the debate over capital controls to shift from whether to deploy controls to how and when.
The problem is that many of the world’s trade and investment treaties, especially those with the US, make it very difficult to effectively use capital controls.