New Book Spotlight: “A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance”

We recently published A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance as part of our Finance and Banking publishing programme. This release comes on the heels of a forthcoming series on alternative asset investing and a major book project on business modelling.

A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance is a compact volume presents an approachable but detailed guide written by industry experts from an international perspective. Topics they address include the credit process from the initial application sage to the expiration phase of the policy. The book offers practical information on the history of trade, the need for protection against trade credit risks, and a short term credit focus.

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Anthem Press Prize at the 2015 Global Digital Humanities Conference

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From 29 June-3 July 2015, the University of Western Sydney will host the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations’ (ADHO) annual conference. This year in Sydney marks the first occasion the 26-year-old conference will not take place in Europe or North America. Times Higher Education has named the University of Western Sydney one of the best universities under the age of 50, and the university is home to Australia’s inaugural chair in Digital Humanities.

Keynote speakers at Global Digital Humanities 2015 are Genevieve Bell, vice president and fellow at Intel, Jeffrey T. Schnapps, cultural historian and faculty at Harvard University, and Tim Sherratt, a digital historian and cultural data hacker who manages Trove at the National Library of Australia.

At the conference, the Anthem Press Prize will be awarded to the best poster as judged by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations Award Committee. The prize will be announced during the closing ceremonies. We will also be displaying featured titles.

The Anthem Scholarship in the Digital Age series investigates the global impact of technology and computing on knowledge and society. Tracing transformations in communication, learning and research, the groundbreaking titles in this series demonstrate the far-reaching effects of the digital revolution across disciplines, cultures and languages.

Recent titles in Anthem’s digital age series include Belinda Barnet’s Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext, Katherine Bode’s Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field, and Michael Bhaskar’s The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network.

‘Green Growth, Smart Growth’: Q&A with Ralf Fücks

9781783084739_hi-resRalf Fücks’ Green Growth, Smart Growth, with a foreword by Anthony Giddens, is released today in English. Green Growth, Smart Growth draws on the German policy experience of tackling climate change and outlines a positive way forward using science, technology and democracy. Fücks is the current president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and he has written widely on environment policy and political economy. In this brief Q&A, Fücks shares his thoughts on achieving ‘green growth’.

In the introduction to Green Growth, Smart Growth, you talk about how ‘the growth debate is experiencing a renaissance’. What do you think is mainly responsible for this renaissance?

There’s a mix of different motives and considerations at play. First, there is a sense of alarm that the current growth model is driving us into environmental disaster. The basic belief—that economic growth will lead to rising living standards and well being of the broad majority of people—is eroding. In fact, in most western societies, a small minority at the top of the social ladder monopolize the benefits of growth. Last but not least, young academics feel disaffected by the commandments of ‘turbocapitalism’: ever increasing performance demands, high speed, total flexibility, etc.

4069341120_7eddee80dd_bWhat are the main obstacles to achieving ‘green growth, smart growth’?

Basically, the concept of ‘green growth’ is cast into question by powerful players in politics and business, and, ironically, by the environmental community. For them, sustainability and growth are mutually exclusive. Therefore, they either go for growth regardless of the environmental consequences, or they oppose economic growth in the sake of the planet. So we have to convince all three of them—policy makers, business people and green activists—that you don’t have to choose between economic prosperity and a healthy environment. In addition to that, there are of course powerful vested interests involved, especially ‘Big Coal’ and ‘Big Oil’, who see their business model at risk. Like every revolution, the green industrial revolution is about structural change, and the profiteers from the status quo are trying to defend their special interests.

In the book, you list the key elements of the approaching Green revolution which include ‘a revolution in efficiency’, ‘zero waste, zero emissions’, ‘agricultural greening’ and ‘sustainable mobility’. What can the average person do in order to support these efforts?

Of course every one of us should and can be an agent for change. We can change our eating habits, replace our private cars with public transport, biking and car2go, and watch out for environment-friendly products. But I won’t shift all the responsibility to the private individual. Policy and technical innovation matter even more.

Did your position as Green Party politician influence how you wrote Green Growth, Smart Growth?

The main experience that influenced the way I think is the global perspective I gained from joining the Heinrich Böll Foundation—a green think tank and international policy network—almost twenty years ago. We’re active in around about 60 countries around the globe and we work not only with partners from civil society, think tanks, environmental activists, but also with protagonists from politics and the business community. From the sum of these experiences, I perhaps got a sharper sense of global challenges we’re facing as well as grasped the possibilities for a solution. I’m worried, but I’m not pessimistic. ‘Yes we can!’—this is the message I want to convey with my book.

Green Growth, Smart Growth is out now. 

Visit the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s site for additional thoughts from Ralf Fücks. 

Security and Anxiety in News Consumption

9781783084067 3It was a humid Monday evening in early June 2009 when I visited my informant Amparo at her home in Park 7. It was my first time visiting her house, as our previous chats were held in the more easily accessible basketball court, which functions as a makeshift town plaza where neighbours meet and gossip. I was a few minutes late for our scheduled TV Patrol viewing; I had lost a half hour going back and forth narrow, serpentine alleys looking for Malunggay Street, stopping every so often for directions. When I arrived, Amparo, a lively, confident woman approaching her forties, was quick to say, ‘Oh! Come in, come in! You might miss the latest!’ As Amparo helped me up the wooden ladder to her home, I had to blink my eyes a few times to help adjust from the dim outdoors to what was unmistakably the bright white glow from the television in the centre of her home. We sat on the floor and started watching the news.

Amparo’s melodramatic approach to her life is in a way mirrored by her affective consumption of the news.

That evening in June, there was a news report about the first week of classes and conflicts between government and local state schools. The story discussed how elementary school principals were rejecting pupils because their classrooms were already packed with ninety students each. Interviews with officials were interspersed with images of small classrooms, children elbow-to-elbow sharing textbooks and tearful mothers making appeals for help. A few seconds of the report were devoted to a five-year-old boy standing and sobbing in a corner; the journalist explained that the boy was frustrated that he had nowhere to sit in the overcrowded classroom. Footage of the teacher determinedly lecturing inside a cramped, chaotic room closed the story.

After this, Amparo turned to me, her eyes blinking, as if holding back tears, ‘I just feel sad for that boy. I just remembered my childhood [...] I remember how I told myself that I would not allow that to happen to my daughter.’ As other news clips played, Amparo continued talking about this report and her personal disappointment with not making it past fifth grade. I tried to console her, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’ She said, ‘Yes. I know it will be okay. In fact, when I watch the news, I gain inner strength (lumalakas ang loob). I will not let that happen to my family, I say. And I remember I am so blessed by God that our family is complete, that we have food to eat.’ She cited the previous week’s news about a capsized passenger boat where several children had perished. When she watched that, and other stories of that kind, she said that she realized how ‘lucky’ she actually was, how their family was ‘still blessed by God’.

The logo of TV Patrol in the Philippines

The logo of TV Patrol in the Philippines

Amparo’s melodramatic approach to her life is in a way mirrored by her affective consumption of the news. Just as we saw viewers of Wowowee gain a sense of hope and security by comparing their personal situations with the more pitiful plights of others, Amparo and other lower-class respondents draw resources for coping from the news. They reflect on how the conditions of people featured in individual news clips might compare to their own. As mentioned earlier, local conventions of ‘personalizing’ public issues through the perspective of the poor encourage viewer identification. Local news conventions of portraying ‘private’ scenes of mourning (i.e., especially of family members of the victims covered by news stories) and depicting graphic images of accidents and disaster, whilst heavily criticized by cultural elites such as Carlos Celdran (in Santiago 2009), provoke emotional responses of compassion and indignation from lower-class audiences. [1]

Just as lower-class respondents engaged with contestants in Wowowee and found resonances with sufferers’ life stories, the news likewise becomes a similar occasion for damay (sympathy/mourning), whereby feelings of sorrow, (self-)pity, blessedness and enduring hope are expressed. News is retold not only as discrete events or isolated stories, but also in referential and personal ways, where individual victims of tragedy stand in for many other poor people like themselves. Though previous studies have also uncovered how populist news helps people ‘cope with their lives’, here it is less about the news being an ‘endless source of laughs’ than news engendering among viewers thoughtful reflections and comparisons between grave and graver realities of suffering. [2]

Contrary to studies of compassion fatigue that argue that the news fosters feelings of helplessness among audiences, I observe that viewers can actually derive a sense of personal agency for themselves from being made aware of others’ experiences of suffering.

From my lower-class interviews, I found little evidence of textbook ‘compassion fatigue’, if we are to understand it as avoidance of televised suffering or desensitization to repeated images of suffering. [3] Whilst there is indeed repetition – what with the natural disasters and deaths depicted on a daily basis – this repetition is experienced by the lower class as a continuation of a larger story of suffering that unites them with an imagined moral community with other poor sufferers. Whilst there is a sense that the ‘story is the same’ (that life is still hard) and ‘only faces change’ (that new characters are substituted for timeless roles of villains or victims), their story of ‘patient endurance’ (pagdaos; pagtitiis) in the face of suffering continues. Contrary to studies of compassion fatigue that argue that the news fosters feelings of helplessness among audiences, I observe that viewers can actually derive a sense of personal agency for themselves from being made aware of others’ experiences of suffering. [4]

Additionally, lower-class audiences provide the occasional judgment that sufferers in the news are undeserving of either news visibility or significant attention from audiences. This judgment is given when they assess that the news subject’s condition is less grave than their own, more ‘authentic’ condition of suffering. An important idea here is that, similar to their expectations of Wowowee producers, they expect news editors and journalists to prioritize ‘authentic’ sufferers who are truly deserving of news visibility, particularly the suffering Filipino poor. I remember here the forty-two year-old laundrywoman Elsa, who criticized a news report about a fire that ravaged a middle-class subdivision; ‘surely,’ she said, ‘there could have been graver events’ covered by the news.

11d5d76b-d7d9-499f-a92f-25b6f7f950a3Jonathan Corpus Ong’s new book The Poverty of Television: The Meditation of Suffering in Class-Divided Philippines is out today. Ong is a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, and he is currently Co-Investigator to the ESRC-funded Humanitarian Technologies Project, an 18-month ethnography on the uses of communication technologies in disaster recovery in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

[1] ‘The Good, the Sad, the Ugly’, Radikal Chick [website]. Available at http://www.radikalchick.com/the-good-the-sad-the-ugly/ (accessed 10 December 2010).

[2] Bird, For Enquiring Minds: A Culture Study of Supermarket Tabloids, pp. 204-5

[3] Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, pp. 190-1

[4] Höijer, ‘The Discourse of Global Compassion: The Audience and Media Reporting of Human Suffering’, Media Culture & Society 26 (2004), p. 523.

BBC’s India’s Daughter and the Shock to Collective Consciousness

India's Daughter

On International Women’s Day last Sunday, BBC4 broadcasted India’s Daughter, a documentary focused on the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. India’s Daughter, by British director Leslee Udwin, explores the murder of Jyoti Singh, a medical student who was assaulted by six men on a privately-run bus and died thirteen days later of her injuries. Singh had hoped to open a hospital in her village and on the day of her attack, she had completed final exams. India has banned showings of the documentary, and according to Guardian, India’s parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu deemed the film “an international conspiracy to defame India”. In 2013 when she delivered her sentence against the four adults tried in the case, Judge Yogesh Khanna stated that the case “shocked the collective conscience” of India and sentenced the men to death by hanging. To learn more about this concept collective consciousness in the criminal justice system, read the study Émile Durkheim and the Collective Consciousness of Society, written by Ken Smith and recently published by Anthem Press

December Book of the Month: “Central Banking at a Crossroads”

CentralBanking

“This rigorous and novel investigation is a ‘must-read’ for all who either approve or disapprove of the unconventional instruments and practices used by central banks that have extended the mandate and blurred the traditional line between monetary and fiscal policy.” —Brigitte Young, University of Münster, Germany

“The book’s thought-provoking and sometimes controversial views are very welcome to the discussion even if one would not necessarily agree with all of them.” —Erkki Liikanen, Governor of the Bank of Finland

‘Central Banking at a Crossroads – Europe and Beyond’ is our Book of the Month for December. The book analyses the dramatic changes central banking has undergone post-Lehman Brothers and addresses the tougher questions: Have these changes allowed central banks to reach their inflation targets and ensure financial stability? One of the book’s authors, Jakob Vestergaard, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, agreed to answer a few of our questions.

Q: An alternative title to your book would have been, ‘Re-thinking Central Banking: Post-Crisis Successes and Remaining Challenges’. Could you explain to what extent we have to “rethink” the system of central banking?

Jakob Vestergaard: Three things are clear. First, unconventional monetary policy was necessary to handle the financial crisis of 2008 when widespread financial disruptions had rendered the key policy tool in conventional central banking, the short term policy rate, largely ineffective. Second, five years down the road it is difficult to discern whether any real healing has taken place: is the banking system more robust and resilient today, and has the global economy bounced back from the shock of the 2008 crisis? In many countries, banks are still not lending at a scale required to contribute to a pick-up in economic activity, and there is little to suggest that bank resilience to adverse macroeconomic shocks has significantly increased. This leads to the third point: with quantitative easing close to what many see as its limits in terms of positive effects on the economy, it does not seem obvious what central banks in core countries can do to escape the trap of disinflation and stagnation (such as is the current trend in the Euro zone and in Japan), nor how central banks in the periphery are to tackle a potential sudden reversal in capital flows. In my view, the practice of central banking needs a substantial rethink, to the extent of tearing down the walls – previously zealously guarded and policed – between fiscal, monetary and other macroeconomic policies. These policies must be developed and formulated in a much more integrated and coherent way, as opposed to well-intended, ex-post ‘coordination’. The era of ‘compartmentalized’ macroeconomic policymaking is over, or it will be soon.

Q: Can you highlight the key innovations that central banks have introduced since the financial crisis of 2008?

JV: Central banks replaced conventional tools with new instruments and practices beyond their mandates, thus blurring the traditional separation from private financial markets and from governments. For the past five years, central banks have intervened in both public and private debt markets, taking on functions of market makers or dealers of last resort. Some – as Bank of England – plan to formalize these interventions into their day-to-day toolkit. Our book offers meticulous examination of a number of the key innovations in central banking over these past few years, but it is also a book that takes a step back, to ask the tougher, more general questions: Have central banking innovations enabled them to reach their ‘traditional’ objectives in terms of inflation targets? From the Euro zone over Japan and to Brazil, that seems not to be the case. Have central banks, through their new unconventional tools, ensured financial stability? The concurrence of substantial asset price inflation with consumer goods disinflation and low, job-less growth in most Western countries, does not suggest to me central banking has been reinvented so as to be able to operate effectively in our post-crisis global economy. Banks that were too big to fail five years ago are even too bigger to fail today. Banks that were undercapitalized five years ago are still undercapitalized. To see progress in these important respects requires very strong looking glasses and a very generous eye too. Central banks have thrown trillions of dollars at dysfunctional financial markets, in ways that may or may not have been to some extent ‘innovative’, but the banking system is neither more robust or resilient, nor is it lending to the real economy at a significant scale. Shadow banking is growing in potentially destabilizing ways and there are few signs that central banks really know what to do about it; certainly, the notion that so-called macro prudential policies will come to our rescue in managing new unsustainable credit booms seems optimistic at best. In the meantime, most economies are either in recession, stagnating or experiencing a considerable slow-down of economic activity.There is still a long way to go, I think, before we have new modes of thinking that tackle the key problems, as opposed to just pushing them ahead of us, in a process that may well only makes them larger (even if, for a while, less visible).

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The Bank of England, London

Q: Why does there exist an observed reluctance to seriously recapitalize Europe’s banks by imposing a de facto ceiling on capital requirements?

JV: Europe’s most recent Capital Requirement Directive, the CDR4, stipulates that if countries wish to impose higher capital requirements than those laid out in CRD4, they must ask permission from European authorities. For me, this constitutes a de facto ceiling on capital requirements. National authorities will be extremely reluctant to take such as step, for a range of reasons, including the negative signalling effect to financial markets. It’s would be akin to officially declaring, ‘Our banks are in the deepest possible mess, much worse than anywhere else in the EU.’ So, it’s not going to happen. The political rhetoric that drives this part of the CRD4 is the ideal of an internal market in financial services and a level playing field for European banks. But this is just one of many expressions of the European reluctance to seriously recapitalize its banks. In negotiating Basel 3, it was the Germans and the French that most fiercely resisted adoption of a minimum requirement for equity funding to total liabilities (a leverage ratio). The result was that a very low leverage ratio was adopted, based on a too broad category of capital, to be binding on banks only by 2019. The largest German and French banks still fund themselves with only approximately three per cent equity and 97 per cent debt, and they are quite happy with this ‘business model’, and all the government subsidies that it comes with, whether directly or indirectly.

Q: If, as you say in Chapter 5, the recapitalization orchestrated by the European Banking Authority (EBA) ‘is considered shallow and fails to bolster Europe’s ailing banks’, what alternative method do you recommend to strengthen their resilience?

JV: I am not suggesting that Europe should do something else. I am suggesting that our European institutions should do what they say they do: recapitalize Europe’s banks. Only seven out of the 24 banks that allegedly were ‘recapitalized’ in the 2012 recapitalization exercise, actually increased their ratio of equity funding to total assets. This is the magic that capital ratios measured relative to so-called risk-weighted assets offer to banks and regulators: banks that have raised basically zero new capital can come out of a recapitalization exercise appearing to have been significantly recapitalized. Europe should recapitalize its banks such that its equity funding to total liabilities increase to at least seven per cent over the next three years, starting by reaching five per cent by the end of 2015. Impossible? Of course not. If banks fail to raise capital on their own, public funding can be provided to fill the gap. This would be a much better use of public money than the repeated provisions of cheap liquidity that we’ve seen in recent years.

Q: In Chapter 5, you state that the core problem of continued undercapitalization of European Banking lies in the core of the Euro zone: French and German banks. Could you elaborate what you mean by that?

8463683689_baa33ca431_mJV: Few banks in Europe are as poorly capitalized as the largest German and French banks. This remains the case following the latest stress testing and asset quality reviews of the European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority. The results were released in late October. Of course, these banks are also so much larger than any Greek, Portuguese and Irish banks, that to look anywhere else for the core of the problem makes little sense. If you take EBAs adverse scenario at face value (which you should not, because it is far too mild), the four largest French and four largest German banks would be more than 220 billion Euros short of a five per cent threshold for equity funding (according to calculations in an ongoing study). This corresponds to almost 40 per cent of the aggregate capital shortfall for all 123 banks included in EBAs stress tests. This is what I mean. Seen against this background – and bearing in mind the continued close interlocking of the European bank and sovereign debt crisis – the moralizing discourse in core countries of the Euro zone about the ‘problem countries’ in its periphery, is problematic.

Q: What will the European ‘recapitalization reluctance’ mean for the financial prospects of the European Union?

JV: ‘The main function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable,’ Stanford economist Ezra Solomon famously said. I invoke Solomon here because I’m reluctant to make predictions about the financial prospects of the EU. Others are much better placed than me to do this. But a few points can be made. Several studies show a positive correlation between equity funding on one side, and resilience and lending on the other side. The longer European countries drag their feet on recapitalizing its banks, the slower will be the economic recovery in Europe (when eventually it comes) and the weaker its banks will stand in global competition for market shares. Thinly capitalized banks may be good for return-on-equity (ROE) performance, but they are good for little else.

JV: I stress that the views expressed are mine, not those of my co-editors or other contributors to the book. I take full responsibility for any errors and misjudgments committed.

For more information, check out the book’s webpage here.

Photos provided by James Pett and EpSos.de.