Surplus. What All Could Social Activists Do, But Debate?


The social surplus is a basic concept of classical political economy which has been revived in the post-war period by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy. They defined it as

.. the difference between what a society produces and the costs of producing it. The size of a surplus is an index of productivity and wealth, and of how much freedom a society has to accomplish whatever goals it may set for itself. The composition of the surplus shows how it uses that freedom: how much it invests in expanding its productive capacity, how much it consumes in various forms, how much it wastes and in what ways.

The surplus can be calculated in alternative ways. One is to estimate the necessary costs of producing the national product, and to deduct the costs from the national product. This raises the conceptual problem of calculating the necessary costs of production. Some of the outlays recorded as costs by firms (such as outlays for superficial product differentiation and advertising) may be unnecessary from the social viewpoint. Hence the determination of the necessary costs is crucial for this first method. A second method is to estimate the various expenditures absorbing the surplus (non-essential consumption, investment etc.) and to add them up.

The re-elaboration of the surplus concept in the post-war period is connected to the evolution of certain features of capitalism. In Monopoly Capital Baran and Sweezy argued that capitalism had made a transition from a competitive phase to a monopolistic phase in the twentieth century. In their view, the concentration of capital in giant corporations enables them to fix prices, in contrast to nineteenth century capitalists who worked under more intense competition. These giant corporations set their sales prices by adding mark-ups to production costs. Such price setting gives the corporations control over the partition of the value added with their workers. Corporations also strive to increase their profits by reducing their production costs. On the macroeconomic plane, the general endeavour to reduce production costs (inclusive of labor costs) tends to raise the share of the surplus in GDP. This rising surplus can be sustained only if it is absorbed. The consumption of capitalists, the consumption of employees in non-productive activities (e.g. superficial product differentiation, advertising, litigation etc.), investment and some part of government expenditure (e.g. public investment, military outlays) are the main outlets for absorbing the surplus.

As almost sixty years have elapsed since the above framework was formulated, it is legitimate to ask: has the increasing ratio of trade to global output impaired the diagnosis of Baran and Sweezy with regard to the monopolization of capital, and with respect to the inclination for the surplus in GDP to increase? Has increasing trade and integration of markets raised competitive pressures so as to restrict the pricing latitude of industrial conglomerates?

The immediate effect of global trade expansion obviously must be to increase overall competition, as greater numbers of firms would come to compete in formerly segregated markets. But a countervailing effect would emerge when large firms with greater financial resources and organizational advantages eliminate smaller firms (as happens when large transnationals take on firms of peripheral countries in opened markets). Another countervailing trend to the competition-enhancing effect of trade expansion is mergers and acquisitions, on which there is evidence in the core countries. A powerful trend increase in the extent of firm level concentration of global markets share could be observed in industries as diverse as aerospace and defence, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, trucks, power equipment, farm equipment, oil and petrochemicals, mining, pulp and paper, brewing, banking, insurance, advertising, and mass media. Indications are that the competition-enhancing effect of trade is balanced (perhaps even overwhelmed) by the monopolizing effect of the centralization of capital, which may sustain the ability of large corporations to control the market prices of their products.

On the other hand, if mergers and acquisitions imply an increase in the average size of the workforce of corporations, this could stimulate a counterbalance to corporate power by higher unionization and worker militancy. However, the increasing mobility of capital, goods and services on the one hand, and unemployment on the other is weakening unionization in the core countries, and making workers accept temporary employment, part-time employment, flexibility in hiring and dismissing, flexible working days and weeks, and flexibility in assigning tasks in the workplace. Increasing flexibility in labor relations shifts various risks related to the product markets and the associated costs from firms onto workers. Enhanced flexibility cannot but boost gross profits. Hence the trend towards increased flexibility in labor practices clearly implies increased surplus generation for given output in individual countries.

The neoliberal global reform agenda also includes measures to increase surplus generation through fiscal and institutional reforms, both in developed and underdeveloped countries. Lowering taxes on corporate profits, capital gains and high incomes; increasing taxes on consumption; raising fees on public services and privatization of these services, of utilities and of social security – all these policies aim at disburdening the high income earners and property owners of contributing to financing essential services for the maintenance of the labor force. These reforms also contribute to increasing the share of surplus in total output.

In brief, in the era of neoliberal policies evidence does not seem to suggest that the tendency for the share of surplus in GDP to rise in individual countries may have waned. If so, what is happening to the surplus generated in international production?

Baran and Sweezy argued that the surplus of underdeveloped countries had been and was being drained away to the centers of the world-system. Their description of core firms‘ overseas activities in Monopoly Capital can be read as a description of offshore outsourcing activities today if one replaces subsidiary with suppliers:

What they [giant multinational corporations] want is monopolistic control over foreign sources of supply and foreign markets, enabling them to buy and sell on specially privileged terms, to shift orders from one subsidiary to another, to favour this country or that depending on which has the most advantageous tax, labour and other policies…

The authors’ view was that imperialism had a two-fold function with respect to the surplus: finding cheap foreign sources of supply (which increases the surplus in the home country), and using other countries‘ markets as outlets (which helps absorb the surplus of the home country). A major motive of transnational companies in their current practice of outsourcing parts of production to underdeveloped countries is to cut production costs, hence to increase gross profits. When the corporation of a core country decides to outsource its production to a peripheral country, or when it shifts its sources of supply of intermediate inputs to a peripheral country, this increases global surplus creation. Global output remains the same, the costs of producing it decline. For the firm, the effect of offshore outsourcing is the same as if it were to reduce its own (in-house) costs of production, or were to outsource to a cheap supplier in the home economy. If the workers in the core country dismissed due to the offshore outsourcing find newly created jobs and continue to produce surplus, then global output increases and surplus creation increases a fortiori. If the workers dismissed due to the outsourcing remain unemployed, then their consumption (provided by family, unemployment benefits etc.) absorbs part of the surplus produced by other workers in employment. Should the supplier in the peripheral country expand her production to meet the order under subcontract, there will also be some increase in surplus creation in the peripheral country. In this case the total increase in surplus may accrue to both countries  economies – in indeterminate proportions.

It is worth noting that the effect of offshore outsourcing on productivity in the core economies is ambiguous. The formula

Productivity = (Sales Revenue – Material Input Cost) / Number of Workers

shows that an increase in material input cost (due to the increase in outsourced inputs) and a reduction of the in-house workforce (due to outsourcing) may ultimately affect the outsourcing firm‘s productivity either way. The gains that motivate firms to outsourcing are not gains in labor productivity (which arguably could legitimize outsourcing from a social viewpoint), but gains in gross profits – i.e. in surplus appropriation.

It emerges that the basic tendencies in the production and growth of the social surplus described by Baran and Sweezy have not changed under globalizing capitalism. New economic policies, corporate strategies and international rules of conduct appear to promote increasing surplus transfers from the periphery to the core of the world-system. In order to lift itself out of destitution the periphery is exhorted to remove restrictions on trade and capital flows, and to compete for advantageous positions in global value chains controlled by transnationals by improving quality, reducing costs, innovating etc. The export-led growth economic strategy compels peripheral producers to individually compete for exportation by repressing wages, and conceding much of the surplus produced to their trade partners in the core countries. Part of the surplus accruing to the periphery is consumed by transnational élites imitating the consumption of the well-to-do in the core societies. On the other hand dollarization, capital flight and official reserve accumulation exert downward pressure (a pressure unrelated to trade balances) on the exchange rate of peripheral currencies. The undervaluation of peripheral currencies, reflected in deteriorating terms of trade, translates into a loss of surplus to the core countries, and reduces the capacity of poor countries to import capital goods from the core. The resulting meager per capita fixed capital formation in the underdeveloped countries bodes grim prospects for the welfare of future generations of working people in the periphery. These trends are maintained by the insertion of millions of workers in Asian hinterlands into global production networks, and by the willingness of peripheral states governed by transnational élites to continue free trade and capital transactions policies, and to accumulate foreign exchange reserves. Africa’s poor populations await their turn to be drawn into the world labor market, to eke out a subsistence and produce a surplus, of which a large part will likely flow to the core.

In order to prevent the drift of the victims of globalizing capitalism to irrational reaction (religious or nationalist fanaticism, clash of civilizations etc.) and to focus their attention on the real issues, social scientists and activists should open to debate the social and economic consequences of the export-led growth idea, all the theories and policies that give precedence to global efficiency over national saving and investment, and the social psychology of consumerism. There is pressing need to promote socio-economic programs based on the principle of self-sufficient and self-reliant national development, wherein the people can decide through democratic procedures how they will dispose the social surplus they produce (how they will distribute it, how much they will save, invest, export) under less pressure from world markets dominated by transnational companies, and with less interefence from international institutions and core states. Within the framework of the capitalist world-system, there is little hope for solving the deep social contradictions the system reproduces. The solution, reason shows, lies outside the logic of the system.


Crisis. Thought of the Day 66.0


Why do we have a crisis? The system, by being liberal, allowed for the condensation of wealth. This went well as long as there was exponential growth and humans also saw their share of the wealth growing. Now, with the saturation, no longer growth of wealth for humans was possible, and actually decline of wealth occurs since the growth of capital has to continue (by definition). Austerity will accelerate this reduction of wealth, and is thus the most-stupid thing one could do. If debt is paid back, money disappears and economy shrinks. The end point will be zero economy, zero money, and a remaining debt. It is not possible to pay back the money borrowed. The money simply does not exist and cannot be printed by the borrowers in a multi-region single-currency economy.

What will be the outcome? If countries are allowed to go bankrupt, there might be a way that economy recovers. If countries are continuing to be bailed-out, the crisis will continue. It will end in the situation that all countries will have to be bailed-out by each-other, even the strong ones. It is not possible that all countries pay back all the debt, even if it were advisable, without printing money by the borrowing countries. If countries are not allowed to go bankrupt, the ‘heritage’, the capital of the citizens of countries, now belonging to the people, will be confiscated and will belong to the capital, with its seat in fiscal paradises. The people will then pay for using this heritage which belonged to them not so long time ago, and will actually pay for it with money that will be borrowed. This is a modern form of slavery, where people posses nothing, effectively not even their own labor power, which is pawned for generations to come. We will be back to a feudal system.

On the long term, if we insist on pure liberalism without boundaries, it is possible that human production and consumption disappear from this planet, to be substituted by something that is fitter in a Darwinistic way. What we need is something that defends the rights and interests of humans and not of the capital, there where all the measures – all politicians and political lobbies – defend the rights of the capital. It is obvious that the political structures have no remorse in putting humans under more fiscal stress, since the people are inflexible and cannot flee the tax burden. The capital, on the other hand, is completely flexible and any attempt to increase the fiscal pressure makes that it flees the country. Again, the Prisoner’s Dilemma makes that all countries increase tax on people and labor, while reducing the tax on capital and money. We could summarize this as saying that the capital has joined forces – has globalized – while the labor and the people are still not united in the eternal class struggle. This imbalance makes that the people every time draw the short straw. And every time the straw gets shorter.

Conjuncted: Banking – The Collu(i)sion of Housing and Stock Markets


There are two main aspects we are to look at here as regards banking. The first aspect is the link between banking and houses. In most countries, lending of money is done on basis of property, especially houses. As collateral for the mortgage, often houses are used. If the value of the house increases, more money can be borrowed from the banks and more money can be injected into society. More investments are generally good for a country. It is therefore of prime importance for a country to keep the house prices high.

The way this is done, is by facilitating borrowing of money, for instance by fiscal stimulation. Most countries have a tax break on mortgages. This, while the effect for the house buyers of these tax breaks is absolutely zero. That is because the price of a house is determined on the market by supply and demand. If neither the supply nor the demand is changing, the price will be fixed by ‘what people can afford’. Imagine there are 100 houses for sale and 100 buyers. Imagine the price on the market will wind up being 100000 Rupees, with a mortgage payment (3% interest rate) being 3 thousand Rupees per year, exactly what people can afford. Now imagine that government makes a tax break for buyers stipulating that they get 50% of the mortgage payment back from the state in a way of fiscal refund. Suddenly, the buyers can afford 6 thousand Rupees per year and the price on the market of the house will rise to 200 thousand Rupees. The net effect for the buyer is zero. Yet, the price of the house has doubled, and this is a very good incentive for the economy. This is the reason why nearly all governments have tax breaks for home owners.

Yet, another way of driving the price of houses up is by reducing the supply. Socialist countries made it a strong point on their agenda that having a home is a human right. They try to build houses for everybody. And this causes the destruction of the economy. Since the supply of houses is so high that the value drops too much, the possibility of investment based on borrowing money with the house as collateral is severely reduced and a collapse of economy is unavoidable. Technically speaking, it is of extreme simplicity to build a house to everybody. Even a villa or a palace. Yet, implementing this idea will imply a recession in economy, since modern economies are based on house prices. It is better to cut off the supply (destroy houses) to help the economy.

The next item of banking is the stock holders. It is often said that the stock market is the axis-of-evil of a capitalist society. Indeed, the stock owners will get the profit of the capital, and the piling up of money will eventually be at the stock owners. However, it is not so that the stock owners are the evil people that care only about money. It is principally the managers that are the culprits. Mostly bank managers.

To give you an example. Imagine I have 2% of each of the three banks, State Bank, Best Bank and Credit Bank. Now imagine that the other 98% of the stock of each bank is placed at the other two banks. State Bank is thus 49% owner of Best Bank, and 49% owner of Credit Bank. In turn, State Bank is owned for 49% by Best Bank and for 49% by Credit Bank. The thing is that I am the full 100% owner of all three banks. As an example, I own directly 2% of State Bank. But I also own 2% of two banks that each own 49% of this bank. And I own 2% of banks that own 49% of banks that own 49% of State Bank. This series adds to 100%. I am the full 100% owner of State Bank. And the same applies to Best Bank and Credit Bank. This is easy to see, since there do not exist other stock owners of the three banks. These banks are fully mine. However, if I go to a stockholders meeting, I will be outvoted on all subjects. Especially on the subject of financial reward for the manager. If today the 10-million-Rupees salary of Arundhati Bhatti of State Bank is discussed, it will get 98% of the votes, namely those of Gautum Ambani representing Best Bank and Mukesh Adani of Credit Bank. They vote in favor, because next week is the stockholders meeting of their banks. This game only ends when Mukesh Adani will be angry with Arundhati Bhatti.

This structure, placing stock at each other’s company is a form of bypassing the stock holders

– the owners – and allow for plundering of a company.

There is a side effect which is as beneficial as the one above. Often, the general manager’s salary is based on a bonus-system; the better a bank performs, the higher the salary of the manager. This high performance can easily be bogus. Imagine the above three banks. The profit it distributed over the shareholders in the form of dividend. Imagine now that each bank makes 2 million profit on normal business operations. Each bank can easily emit 100 million profit in dividend without loss! For example, State Bank distributes 100 million: 2 million to me, 49 million to Best Bank and 49 million to Credit Bank. From these two banks it also gets 49 million Rupees each. Thus, the total flux of money is only 2 million Rupees.

Shareholders often use as a rule-of thumb a target share price of 20 times the dividend. This because that implies a 5% ROI and slightly better than putting the money at a bank (which anyway invests it in that company, gets 5%, and gives you 3%). However, the dividend can be highly misleading. 2 million profit is made, 100 million dividend is paid. Each bank uses this trick. The general managers can present beautiful data and get a fat bonus.

The only thing stopping this game is taxing. What if government decides to put 25% tax on dividend? Suddenly a bank has to pay 25 million where it made only 2 million real profit. The three banks claimed to have made 300 million profit in total, while they factually only made 6 million; the rest came from passing money around to each other. They have to pay 75 million dividend tax. How will they manage?! That is why government gives banks normally a tax break on dividend (except for small stockholders like me). Governments that like to see high profits, since it also fabricates high GDP and thus guarantees low interest rates on their state loans.

Actually, even without taxing, how will they manage to continue presenting nice data in a year where no profit is made on banking activity?

Sustainability of Debt

death scythe

For economies with fractional reserve-generated fiat money, balancing the budget is characterized by an exponential growth D(t) ≈ D0(1 + r)t of any initial debt D0 subjected to interest r as a function of time t due to the compound interest; a fact known since antiquity. At the same time, besides default, this increasing debt can only be reduced by the following five mostly linear, measures:

(i) more income or revenue I (in the case of sovereign debt: higher taxation or higher tax base);

(ii) less spending S;

(iii) increase of borrowing L;

(iv) acquisition of external resources, and

(v) inflation; that is, devaluation of money.

Whereas (i), (ii) and (iv) without inflation are essentially measures contributing linearly (or polynomially) to the acquisition or compensation of debt, inflation also grows exponentially with time t at some (supposedly constant) rate f ≥ 1; that is, the value of an initial debt D0, without interest (r = 0), in terms of the initial values, gets reduced to F(t) = D0/ft. Conversely, the capacity of an economy to compensate debt will increase with compound inflation: for instance, the initial income or revenue I will, through adaptions, usually increase exponentially with time in an inflationary regime by Ift.

Because these are the only possibilities, we can consider such economies as closed systems (with respect to money flows), characterized by the (continuity) equation

Ift + S + L ≈ D0(1+r)t, or

L ≈ D0(1 + r)t − Ift − S.

Let us concentrate on sovereign debt and briefly discuss the fiscal, social and political options. With regards to the five ways to compensate debt the following assumptions will be made: First, in non-despotic forms of governments (e.g., representative democracies and constitutional monarchies), increases of taxation, related to (i), as well as spending cuts, related to (ii), are very unpopular, and can thus be enforced only in very limited, that is polynomial, forms.

Second, the acquisition of external resources, related to (iv), are often blocked for various obvious reasons; including military strategy limitations, and lack of opportunities. We shall therefore disregard the acquisition of external resources entirely and set A = 0.

As a consequence, without inflation (i.e., for f = 1), the increase of debt

L ≈ D0(1 + r)t − I − S

grows exponentially. This is only “felt” after trespassing a quasi-linear region for which, due to a Taylor expansion around t = 0, D(t) = D0(1 + r)t ≈ D0 + D0rt.

So, under the political and social assumptions made, compound debt without inflation is unsustainable. Furthermore, inflation, with all its inconvenient consequences and re-appropriation, seems inevitable for the continuous existence of economies based on fractional reserve generated fiat money; at least in the long run.

Political Ideology Chart


It displays anarchism (lower end) and authoritarianism (higher end) as the extremes of another (vertical) axis as a social measure while left-right is the horizontal axis which is an economic measure.

Anarchism is about self-governance, having as little hierarchy as possible. As you go to the left, the means of production are distrubuted more equally; and as you go to the right, individuals and corporations own more of the means of production and accumulate capital.

On the upper left you have an authoritarian state, distributing the means of production to the people as equally as possible; on the lower left you have the collectives, getting together voluntarily utilizing their local means of production and sharing the products; on the lower right you have anarchocapitalists, with no state, tax or public service, everything operated by private companies in a completely free and global market; and finally on the top right you both have powerful state and corporations (pretty much all the countries).

But after all, these terms change meanings through history and different cultures. Under unrestrained capitalism the accumulation of wealth both creates monopolies and more importantly political influence. So that influences state interference and civil liberties also. It also aspires for infinite growth which leads to the depletion of natural resources which is another diminishing fact for the quality of living for the people. At that point it favors conservatism rather than progressive scientific thinking. Under collective anarchism, since it’s localized, it is quite difficult to create global catastrophes, and this is why in today’s world, the terms anarchism and capitalism seems as opposite.

Techno-Commercial Singularity: Decelerator / Diagram.

H/T Antinomia Imediata

If the Cathedral is actually efficient, the more it happens, the less it happens. Decelerator.

  1. taxation: this deviates resources from capital and buries them into the consumption of the tax-receivers (namely the Cathedral bureaucracy). trash and shit.
  2. regulation: there are various ways this could work, insofar as regulation is very inventive. but the main pattern has to do with deviating capital from the most rentable (i.e., (self-re)productive) investments, into those that are most likely to become un-recyclable trash, at least in the long run.
  3. politicization: this deviates brain-power from technological producing theories into, well, bullshit research departments, especially through politicization of academic funding of hard sciences.
  4. protectionism: since this protects technical developments from properly feeding back into the commercial cycle, it breaks the link between technical advantage and capital accumulation, leading lots of resources into stupid gadgetry.

all these being forms of fucking up the incentive structures that allow the accelerative cycle to be. in diagram form:unnamed (2)



BRICS Bloc, New Development Bank and Where the Heck is it


Some of this post is a bit dated, as this was meant to be written as an editorial for a BRICS Journal way back towards the fag end of 2015, and a lot of water has flown under the bridge ever since, with India holding the BRICS Summit in October last year in Goa, which also saw parallel sessions being organized by Peoples’ BRICS Forum, a conglomerate of civil society organizations from BRICS member countries raising concerns over the possible funding patterns the Bloc would be undertaking at the expense of environmental degradations and human rights violations. So, let us get on with it:

The BRICS bloc, a conglomerate of five of the biggest emerging economies is home to 43% of the world’s population with a share of 22% of the global GDP. These staggering statistics make Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa truly a force to reckon with. The bloc’s initiative to erect a development finance institution in the form of New Development Bank (NDB), is often attributed in the West as a reaction to the institutional sclerosis of Washington-DC-dominated World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whereas it is a catalyst complementing rather than challenging the Bretton Woods institutions or the Asian Development Bank in fighting poverty in the emerging economies. Whatever be the attributions, the logic of fighting global poverty is itself steeped in controversies ranging from applying mathematical and statistical juggleries to determine the number of poor according to standards that are a far cut from realities on ground, to economic measures built upon the plinth of models that on many occasions forgo the human capital in a relentless pursuit of development agenda, which is meaningless if only persevered in concentrating on the extreme poverty and purblind to the gap yielding inequalities.

The world is watching with keenness on the mushrooming of New Development Bank, which was officially launched in Shanghai in July, 2016. What would be the underlying rationale of this model? How and where would the finances flow? If the investments were complemented to fill a vast infrastructural gap, how would the safeguards be architected to prevent socio-economic and environmental violations on ecologies? What of the democratic set-up that underlies the formation of this bloc and subsequently of NDB getting hijacked by the political and economic clout and prowess of China? These have been some of the pressing and contentious questions that could either derail the rationale behind this initiative or leave no stone unturned in replicating the western-dominated financial institutions that find themselves increasingly in the eye of the storm for fostering irreversible violations and damages. Aside from that, China’s growing eminence in G20 is a step to rival G8’s macroeconomy, international trade and energy capitalisation lending it legitimacy for a foreign policy geared towards a north-south dialogue in addition to the south-south dialogue efficacious through BRICS and G20. Moreover, China views G20 as an economic platform with other emerging countries on board for a resolve on international affairs. G20 along with BRICS Bank is a contrivance for a financial architecture that focuses on development issues on the one hand, and internationalising its currency on the other. Clearly, it is not a case of what Deng Xiaoping called for “China keeping a low profile”. So, is it merely a speculative materialism that is the engine behind China’s true intentions?

The Asian Development Bank has calculated an infrastructural gap worth $8 trillion in the Asia Pacific needing to be filled by 2020. This is where NDB would cash-in most, and likely create a polarity between infrastructural funding and other developmental concerns. But, what is infrastructure is as hazy as the fuzzy logic of the calculated gap. It is a prerogative to continuously industrialise the BRICS, of building and upgrading ports, gateways, intelligent transportation and communication, power generational and distributional capabilities to augment developmental agenda, which incidentally sets parameters for economic prosperity, the fruits of which permeate to the hitherto-considered peripheries in a fight against poverty. However, the Articles, according to NDB President KV Kamath have a purpose sketched out for the Institution, “To mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies, complementing the existing efforts of multilateral and regional development banks.” This is imperative of sustainability, pragmatism, innovation and speed of execution, of which the last could accelerate in a more experimental manner. The speed could pierce through bureaucratic red tapes, blunt operating procedures, and intensify delivery of massive infrastructural projects. Dang Xiaoping, in a rather philosophically pensive manner referred to reform as a process of feeling stones while crossing the river. Although, this should be the dictum NDB needs to seriously gravitate to, dangers of transgressions are lurking heavily.

The BRICS economies are undergoing economic upheavals, and China, the second largest economic power in the world with a nominal GDP more than the rest of bloc’s combined GDP is seeing NDB along with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as cardinal tools of its foreign policy initiatives. All of the three have a vision to revive China’s economic might through One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Silk Route through regional collaboration on the one hand and transcending state boundaries for facilitating trade links on the other. How would this augur for India is as important a question as how would the Government in India prioritize its policies for the NDB to plug in? The Government has sockets in place to provide the necessary plug ins, be they in the form of new tax allocations providing more funding for the states in order to empower growth, set budgetary allocations in order to expedite transport, communication and power capacities, proposal to create National Investment in Infrastructure Fund with a base capital of $3.25 billion, to planning and implementing regulatory reforms keeping a steady eye on growing influx of private capital and associated technologies to finally expunge bottlenecks to growth-led development model as a result. This is crucial, not just for India but for the entire bloc as a whole, since NDB’s priorities will be in line with the national development banks of member countries in effectuating the removal institutional roadblocks to growth. With a stated lending of up to $34 billion every year to begin with for filling up the huge infrastructural gap, NDB will act as an additional source of funding for India where the estimated gap in infrastructure is up north of $500 billion till 2020.

For the vast number of Indians, reality is far from development modelled on growth as envisaged by the political machinery at the centre. Growth forecasts have been revised downwards fearing a significant deceleration in exports and a capital flight from the country, courtesy unfavourable investment climes and a pitiable ease of doing business standards. While the Index of Economic Freedom ranks the country at 128 on a scale that defines the economy as situated in a mostly “unfree” zone, socio-economic concerns like malnutrition, falling public health indices, extreme poverty and growing inequality continue to plague the country. NDB’s role will be put under an intense scanner in addressing such internal contradictions of a magnitude that cannot be resolved merely by an external makeover tied to a growth that belittles its own citizenry. Unless Human Development Index, which emphasises life expectancy, education and income and GINI Coefficient Index, which measures inequality representing income distribution to country’s citizens are brought to affect the rating agencies’ take on India’s investment climate, Government’s relentless pursuit of developmental ends would never reach the multitude of people caught between the scylla and charybdis of regimental vagaries.

(DATED) With the upcoming India-Africa Summit to be hosted by New Delhi in October, there is a likelihood of trade relations between the two regions getting an uplift. Not only are India-Africa relations much softer compared to China’s scrambling for the African continent, it could also signal the way NDB gets projected by India in tune with its own foreign policy and diversify trade patterns seeking inroads into natural resources rich countries to augment a new investment destination for the increasing global profile of Indian corporate sector. As the Bank’s focus is concentrated on private investments, this gears in well with India’s investment in Africa in services and manufacturing sectors, roping in a vast population of non-resident Indians on the continent in a drive to foster economic regionalism on the one hand and throw around diplomatic weight on the other in a benign manner underlying India’s unique power equations. NDB could be a strong node bringing these realities to fruition, by promoting a reform in global economic governance with far-reaching significance and consequences. What remains to be seen is how much the NDB will abide by operation guidelines and procedures to see itself as not only different from other multilateral development institutions in terms of expediency, but also hold true to safeguards that protect vulnerabilities rather than exploiting and expropriating them. The latter is still a desiderata!!

Where is it all headed now?

The bank is planning to raise funds by issuing bonds in India, denominated in the local currency, the rupee, after to issued renminbi-denominated bonds in China in 2016. “In 2017, predominantly we’ll aim at taking up more lending tools to raise another $2.5bn for projects spreading over our member countries that are sustainable and do economic good. Virtually, we will try to double the lending of 2016 this year. What we are doing here at NDB is only a fraction of the need. Beyond lending, we would like to act as a catalyst, to get more parties involved in the lending process for projects that contribute to economic growth and sustainability,” said Kamath.

Major challenges for the bank lie in the changing global economic situation, which is seeing interest rates rise in developed countries. But, developing countries’ fast economic growth will help offset the effects, said he. Kamath also called the China-led OBOR a sound initiative that would bring benefits across several countries by investing in a significant way and creating economic momentum. “The program also brings synergy, making regions come together all along the Belt and the Road,” he said. Further he called, “We see it as something that will clearly spur economic activity in the region, and we think that the program is going to succeed.” On to renewable energy, where the focus seems to be concentrated….

In October last year, a new strategic report was produced by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), reviewing how successful the NDB has been so far. The report looked both at the increased renewable capacity of all five BRICS countries, but also the economic strain of such an ambitious project, a strain that is clear from the funding gap already present.

The NDB set targets tailored to each of the BRICS countries, taking into account their plans and their existing renewable capacity. The bank is designed to offer loans quickly and flexibly to the BRICS countries to make achieving these possible. “They had financed about $911m and that they had declared intent to finance or increase their loan by about $1.2bn every year,” says IEEFA consultant and the report’s author Jai Sharda. “So [the NDB is providing] about 11% of the public capital required.”

The report uses the concept of blended finance to work out the progress made and the progress required by the BRICS countries. “The concept of blended finance is basically built on the idea that when there is public money going into a sector it draws private money into that sector,” Sharda explains. “For every one dollar of public finance – the sort of finance being provided by the New Development Bank – it is estimated that it will make four dollars more of private money. So we built our estimations on that basis.”

Developing countries are some of the biggest consumers of energy in the world, as expanding a country’s infrastructure is energy-intensive. Economic development often requires large-scale industrialisation, such as we have seen in China, which has led to a more prosperous economy but also meant that China is the largest producer of CO2 in the world. All five of the BRICS countries rank in the top 20 polluters.

As such, the NDB has set goals to reduce the BRICS environmental impact while increasing the amount of energy they produce through renewable energy sources. Brazil is arguably in the best position to do this, as in 2015, 74% of its energy came from renewable sources. According to the IEEFA’s report, “Brazil’s 2024 Energy Plan envisages an increase in total installed renewable capacity, including large hydropower, from 106.4GW in 2014 to 173.6GW in 2024.”

India, China and South Africa have all set impressive targets, and have begun work to reach them. India intends to increase its renewable energy production by 40% by 2030, as well as reducing emissions intensity by 33%-35% over 2005 levels. China’s targets are even greater, as it plans “to reduce emission intensity by 60%-65% over 2005 levels”, the IEEFA report says. “China is estimated to increase its solar capacity to 127GW by 2020 from 43GW at the end of 2015, and wind capacity from 145GW in 2015 to 250GW by 2020.” South Africa has the furthest to go of the BRICS, as at present it gets 94% of its energy from fossil fuels but has plans to install a further 17.8GW of renewable energy capacity by 2020.

Russia is slightly different to the other BRICS countries as it has technically already met its target. Russia’s target was to reduce emissions by 25%-30% over 1990 levels, and emissions are currently around 40% lower than 1990 levels. However, the country is planning a 4.5% increase in the amount of renewable energy it produces by 2020.

All five BRICS countries have made progress, although to different extents. Brazil currently produces the most renewable energy, with 74% of its energy coming from renewable sources, the vast majority coming from large hydroelectric plants.

Sharda suggests that Brazil’s current success is, in part, due to its long-standing history of renewable projects, necessitated by a lack of coal: “I think Brazil has been better off than especially China and India in implementing more renewable energy because they lacked fossil fuel alternatives.”

Despite their fast-growing economies, India and China have historically been slower to develop their renewables sectors. “India and China have massive amounts of coal deposits, similarly Russia has large amounts of oil and gas deposits, and South Africa is one of the biggest exporters of coal,” Sharda says. “All of these countries have had a traditional, natural advantage.”

But things are beginning to change for both China and India, and they are expected to see the biggest boom in renewable energy of any of the BRICS countries in the next few years. “China led the coal and thermal power boom, they didn’t have an issue with dealing with worsening environmental conditions at a national level then,” Sharda says. “But the government and policy makers have actually become very sensitive to environmental issues which are why they are focusing a lot on renewable energy now.”

There is a massive trend moving towards renewable energy sources in China so, despite the fact that 74% of its energy came from fossil fuels in 2015, the IEEFA report estimated that China would increase its solar capacity to 127GW and increase its wind capacity to 250GW by 2020. However, in January, China increased its targets and its spending on renewable energy, and now plans to invest at least $360bn by the end of 2020, solidifying its position as a global leader on clean energy. Meanwhile, India increased its renewable capacity to 225GW by August 2016, a huge leap from 97GW in 2005. This is predominantly from using hydro.

Russia and South Africa are making slower progress. South Africa still relies on fossil fuels, increasing its renewable capacity to just 2.1GW in March 2016 from 1.8GW the previous year. Russia is making small progress predominantly due to a lack of investment from the country itself, only allocating $1bn for renewable technologies in all 17 Russian states in 2014.

Despite rapid development in the BRICS countries, for Brazil, China, India and South Africa there is a long way to go for any country to meet its targets. There is a funding gap which the NDB, among others, need to fill to help stimulate the development of the renewable energy industries in each country. The IEEFA estimates that “meeting these targets would require an annual investment of around $177bn. In comparison, the investment in the renewable sector in BRICS countries in 2015 was $126bn, leaving an average shortfall of $51bn.”

It is clear, therefore, that a vast increase in investment is needed. “Brazil’s renewable capacity expansion plans would require an investment of $86bn, or 85.2% of overall electricity generation capacity investment,” the IEEFA report states. This is despite Brazil’s impressive hydroelectric infrastructure. Meanwhile Russia would require an investment of $44bn, India will require $128bn, China $254bn and South Africa $30bn.

Whilst these figures are for varying timescales and some countries, China in particular, are likely to be able to channel enough money to meet their targets, it is clear that a much greater and more sustained investment will be needed if the BRICS countries as a whole are to achieve their goals. Furthermore, these figures do not include the knock-on infrastructure upgrade costs that renewable energy generation will create. India alone will need a further $26bn over the next ten years to update its grid.

But more is going to be done, starting with an announced increase in the loans available from the NDB. “The development bank has actually declared that they were targeting to expand and increase their support of energy development this year,” Sharda says. “Their target is actually about 35% percent of the overall public capital required.” This large increase could make all the difference.

At present, despite impressive advances in renewable capacity in the BRICS countries, some look set to miss their targets. If the NDB and other multilateral development banks and financial institutions manage to increase investment, the BRICS could have a massive effect on the environmental damage currently being created by their energy systems. Their success will be evident across the next ten years and beyond, and will be keenly anticipated around the world.