Author Archives: Aleksandr Gevorkyan

About Aleksandr Gevorkyan

Dr. Gevorkyan is the author of Innovative Fiscal Policy and Economic Development in Transition Economies (Routledge, 2013 & 2011) and the editor and translator of How Did I Survive? (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008).

The red table

From the ninth-floor balcony the view opened at another unremarkable high-rise across the street, followed by few others on all sides. The mountain breeze, sneaked into the city’s center through the towering urban structures and car exhaust, occasionally brought that rare mid-day freshness one imagines would be natural in high-altitude location. The two doves courting each other and, probably, building a nest around the balcony, gave a hopeful feel to the trip.

It was visibly hot, draining all energy and tiring. By mid-day things would turn to the worse by absolutely insane traffic pattern and lack of natural shade. The cars were on top of each other in a Brownian motion, though luckily, managing to advance in the same direction on a one-way street. The breeze also delivered a mix of sounds from a far. Amidst random conversations, some odd noise from what seemed to be a passing protest accompanied by a cacophony of sirens meshed with the sounds of wine-drinking public at a festival along the “wine street”…

Every early, by city’s standards, morning, at about 8AM, a red table would be rolled out in front of a barber shop across the street from the ninth-floor balcony building. That barbershop had two different flags attached to its awning. The red table would be out every morning in a ritualistic manner, rain or shine (well, it didn’t rain much). It was a basic metal summer table, often used in public parks or less-so trendy restaurants for outside seating. Yet, that was the most remarkable part: it was a red table.

Was the table needed to attract new customers or provide the workers with an opportunity for mild gossip before full day’s work? Perhaps both. But every day, coffee was served and barbers, hairdressers, patrons, friends, friends of friends, bystanders, neighbors, and just random tourists… anyone could stop by the red table. The table gave a different perspective than the balcony view of course. The former was a street level, on the ground, connected with the exhausted and expressive drivers stuck in choking traffic jam.

That traffic was due to part of the city center being blocked for either protests or celebrations. Most of the time the two events occurred at the same time, just a block apart and yet always separate from each other. Often, faster than some sports cars, the scooters ran over pedestrians on the sidewalks, which was quite audible up at the ninth-floor but barely making the local news. “You’ll get used to it,” was the common refrain.

The city breathed and exhaled heat. Anyone drinking water from the drinking fountains, scattered along the narrow streets, was up for a new sensation of their life never having had to try water of such distinct taste, coolness, and freshness. In this heat the street fruit sellers watched their produce ripe in a matter of minutes. It was best to enjoy the true taste of apricots and mulberry before the dust settled and choked off oxygen to the tiny worms found in the fruit’s natural core. In this rushing cacophony of sounds and colors, the loudest was the unspoken silence of the flags, out there, on the hill, thousands of them… Seemed the same from a far, the flags trembled and danced in the wind each to their own tune and character as individual they were…

Few steps outside the city there was a different world ripe for discovery. That was the world of mysterious five-thousand-year-old past and three millennia old fortresses the laid the foundation to the city. It was the world of sleeping volcanoes towering the city but invisible from the other parts of the country where the mountains rival that of any other place in their magisterial height, relevance, and history. That was the world of bad roads, crane nests, and most hospitable sincere people living very simple modest lives. It was the world of grand high elevation freshwater lakes and myriads of hiking paths: the world of sheep overrunning highways and picturesque mountain views frozen in time and memory of anyone who might had a misfortune of seeing those cliffs at least once. Every color known to a human eye and every that is yet to be explored would reveal itself in those mountains through the day and late into the night when the moon would take over the sun. But much of that world would largely be left unknown to the urban dwellers busy buying electronic cigarettes and sipping cappuccinos in the narrowly seated cafes.

Back in the city, not counting the tourists, there were roughly four groups at any given moment. The first was active, out there in the sun and immeasurable heat demanding to be heard. The second group was busy either setting up for or attending some event or celebrations or planning Mediterranean vacations. The third was meeting for business lunches or working from remotely in coffee-shops (though at some point one realizes the coffee was losing its taste). And the fourth was busy toiling through the day with philosophical stamina of taxi drivers or that framed by poorly air conditioned offices and the overpaid computer screens. The tourists, some staying longer than others, were everywhere and spread across all four groups; some might argue forming their own movement. Often, the same people would cross over from one to another group multiple times during the day and that was just ok…

Just like the mountainous rivers relentlessly rushing through anything in their way, the evenings brought fresh respite from the day’s heat. The mind was functioning again. People walked the streets late into the night with hope and smiles, meeting up with old and new friends, but also distancing from the reality, persevering through the day. As one climbed up the stairs the air tasted fresher and cooler. That delicate afternoon mountain breeze was now turning into a wind. That was enough for a day.

It seemed that none of the past [or even the present] mattered at that moment. But it was the past that determined absolutely every action, spoken word, and thoughts for everyone at that every split of the moment.

The following day the red table would be out again and city life would resume its cycle. There is no end to history. For now…

Ten books for the summer 2022

Summer 2022 just can’t get here fast enough; with hopes of ending that long year of 2020 and an opportunity to read more [and travel, of course]. Adding to the previous suggestions [here & here], listed below are my ten books to read this summer.

View of Tolors, Armenia. July 2019. (c) AVGevorkyan

So far, we have been talking economic systems, development patterns, and competitive pressures across industries, … and more. There are two rising economic issues: 1) new social contract in the advanced economies and 2) the fate of the “small economy.” The global economy is likely to go through major realignments in economic policy, trade patterns, supply chains, consumer markets, and, importantly, access to new technology. Much of it has already been happening since (and before) 2020, and intensifying recently [some preliminary thoughts here and here].

But back to the readings… This selection [as before, avoids the latest blockbuster issues and] is motivated by the above and exchanges with students, colleagues, and on social media [for which, I’m sincerely grateful], but still, subjectively, reflects what I find relevant to the confusing intellectual and policy web of economic development.

  1. Assa, Jacob. 2016. The Financialization of GDP: Implications for economic theory and policy. London: Routledge
  2. Darby, Paul; James Esson; and Christian Ungruhe. 2022. African football migration: Aspirations, experiences and trajectories. Manchester University Press.
  3. Eichengreen, Barry; Asmaa El-Ganainy; Rui Esteves; and Kris James Mitchener. 2021. In Defense of Public Debt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Grossman, Vasily. 2013. An Armenian Sketchbook. New York: New York Review of Books.
  5. Horvat, Branko. 2017 (1976). The Yugoslav Economic System: The First Labor-Managed Economy in the Making. Oxford: Routledge.
  6. Russell, Bertrand. 2004. In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays. Oxford: Routledge.
  7. Samuels, Richard. 1996. Rich Nation, Strong Army: National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  8. Sen, Amaratya. 1997. Resources, Values, and Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  9. Thirwall, A. P. 2013.  Economic Growth in an Open Developing Economy The Role of Structure and Demand. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
  10. Zeidan, Rodrigo. 2018. Economics of Global Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Hopefully, the diversity of the book list will be sufficient for potential readers to find at least one book to add to their readings. Oh, and claiming monopoly powers, I hope you might challenge your priors and look through my Transition Economies: Transformation, Development, and Society in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. The linearity of economic thinking has led on the false path of crushing hopes. The book is an attempt to provide a holistic analysis of the region’s economic history nonlinear trajectories, explaining the present and peaking into the future…

Winter readings__2021-2022

Winter [with snow] makes for more pensive pass times… Following up to my summer 2021 book list, here’s a modest attempt to a thoughtful winter reading motivated in part by recent Twitter exchanges on economists reading (or not)… the classical authors.

This year, 2021, has been an oddly difficult one…filled with hope, promise, disappointment, and more tragic disappointment and hope again. Perhaps, these books may help one shift their thoughts, albeit temporarily, away from the hard realities outside and gain emotional strength and practical wisdom to carry on.

Carry on we must…

The books are listed alphabetically by author. Very subjectively, reflecting my current interests, mixed with the classics and books about them are the readings on New York City, the post-socialist transition economies, and modern international economics.

Happy New Year and Happy Readings!

  1. Ivan Berend. 2009. From the Soviet Bloc to the European Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Thomas Dyja. 2021. New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
  3. Henry George. 1879. Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy. Available online: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/55308 and https://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
  4. Robert L. Heilbroner. 1999. The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers. 7th ed. New York, NY: Touchstone by Simon & Schuster
  5. Tarron Khemraj. 2014. Money, Banking and the Foreign Exchange Market in Emerging Economies. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
  6. Janos Kornaj. 1992. The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  7. Hyman Minsky. 2008 [1986]. Stabilizing an Unstable Economy. New York, NY: McGraw Hill [New Haven and London: Yale University Press].
  8. Susie Pak. 2013. Gentlemen Bankers The World of J. P. Morgan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  9. Steven Pressman. 2013. Fifty Major Economists. 3rd ed. London and New York: Routledge.
  10. Adam Smith. 2010 [1759] The Theory of Moral Sentiments. New York, NY: Penguin.

Of course, for more recently published popular books, one option may be a list produced by Financial Times, click here.

Happy New Year! :-)

Books_Summer 2021

I was recently asked to recommend few books on general topics in economics to read over the summer. Well, there is a lot out there that is exceptionally interesting and thematic but would not fit into a “top ten” list…

So, instead of listing some of the newest highly ranked bestsellers, which in any case one can easily find elsewhere, here is a mixed selection that has motivated some thinking over the past year or so. These are the first ten that came to mind listed alphabetically by author and with no pretense for originality.

And yes, there are a couple that might not strike one as purely on “economics” but that’s the challenge to overcome perhaps. Happy readings!

  • Duncan Foley, Thomas Michl, and Daniele Tavani. 2019. Growth and Distribution, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb. 2014. Antifragile. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Oh… and because I was also asked to recommend something on game theory, but can’t decide which is better, here’s a list prepared by Ariel Rubinstein who’s clearly a way more respected authority on the subject!

The nuanced lessons of the pandemic

before the sunset at the Rockaways, NYC [January, 2021]

The obvious lack of systemic lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, lamented in the FT’s Covid has no grand lesson for the world (FT.com, December 29, 2020) challenges our thinking on economic systems and betrays a broad fallacy of our times.

As 2020 comes to a close there is hardly a socio-economic model swaying any superiority in battling the pandemic. Larger economies with generous public spending are facing similar pandemic-induced emergencies just as the smaller nations (some recovering from recent wars) where constrained fiscal space or weak healthcare infrastructure intensify the force of the crisis. In this world, as Leo Tolstoy reminds us, “[a]ll happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

But the recent intellectual effort to reduce these experiences to a generic institutional blueprint hides the strategic fallacy of our collective longing for a conceptually standardized policy toolkit.

Such one-size-fits-all approach is reminiscent of the early 1990s macroeconomic shock therapy prescriptions in the former Soviet economies. Abruptly dismantling the state’s social safety nets at the time to conform with a high-level liberalization model devastated all and the smallest economies most severely. Curiously, some of those earlier guarantees are now resurrected in the advanced economies as necessary policies in healthcare, employment, education, and other sectors.

The true lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is the acceptance of the complex plurality of the nuanced workable tactics. Pragmatism of survival requires sober appreciation for the local context specific mix of operational discipline, gradual change, and a responsible economic role of the state as a guarantor of social stability. This is coupled with a critical ability to learn from the past, one’s own and that of the others.

The post-pandemic world is often described as the one of greater international cooperation driven by emerging technologies. Perhaps, the future will be such. But there is no time to wait, for the global cooperative frameworks rooted in diversity of successful policy and institutional approaches are needed today to avert the growing common economic and social disasters. That would be prudent, if we are to learn from this uniquely global crisis.

Football

Back in 2003 Branko Milanovic wrote a curious paper titled Globalization and Goals: Does Soccer Show the Way (which came out in 2006 in the Review of International Political Economy)?

The paper shows how soccer (hmm, football) is a truly global sport that is accessible to all and with positive externalities for the global poor. Consider for example the fact that some of the greatest footballers come from modest backgrounds and developing countries.

There’s more in the paper and everyone should read it, but follow the link below for a draft of a presentation we are reviewing with students that we’ve put together on some of the tangible examples (beyond sports) of the greatest players contributing back to their communities and more: we have here Pele, Sadio Mané, Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Marcus Rashford , Juan Mata, Mohamed Salah, and couple of American footballers: Travis Kelce and Russell Wilson…

Hopefully more to come but here’s what have so far –> click here for PDF to open.

COVID-19 economic policy response in Transition Economies

Based on the available data, and mainly the IMF’s Policy Response Tracker, we’ve summarized some of the key economic policy measures implemented to-date across a select group of small (or very small) open post-socialist economies of Central and Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union. As new data become available we will try to keep this updated. See footnotes and data description below the table.

ArmEmpl

I was asked to comment on Armenia’s employment by industry, here’s what we find in the Armstat data. What’s happening with agriculture?

Note the 2018 data is in thousands, the rest are actuals as per ArmStat’s files

[since few will scroll down] data sources are

2018 https://www.armstat.am/file/article/trud_2019_4.pdf

Dec 2019 https://www.armstat.am/file/article/sv_01_20r_142.pdf

April 2020 https://www.armstat.am/file/article/sv_05_20r_142.pdf

June 2020 https://www.armstat.am/file/article/sv_06_20a_142.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1bSyzOS515oNucZuAvDph6wdj8UrIa_VivVAOdzNKlsPy7lRTN7iHQ-Wo

Employed Persons by Types of Economic Activity

CODE INDUSTRY 2018 (in ‘000s) DEC 2019 APRIL 2020 JUNE 2020 2018 DEC 2019 APRIL 2020 JUNE 2020
A Agriculture, forestry and
fishing
266.2 8,195.0 7,367.0 10,502.0 25.4% 1.3% 1.3% 1.7%
B Mining and quarrying 9.1 10,483.0 10,239.0 10,891.0 0.9% 1.7% 1.8% 1.7%
C Manufacturing 104.1 72,296.0 70,091.0 77,333.0 9.9% 11.5% 12.1% 12.2%
D Electricity, gas, steam and
air conditioning supply
21.5 20,750.0 20,274.0 20,624.0 2.1% 3.3% 3.5% 3.3%
E Water supply; sewerage,
waste management and
remediation activities
3.7 6,384.0 6,412.0 6,747.0 0.4% 1.0% 1.1% 1.1%
F Construction 98.4 22,102.0 19,039.0 23,348.0 9.4% 3.5% 3.3% 3.7%
G Wholesale and retail trade;
repair of motor vehicles and
motorcycles
119.1 107,171.0 98,579.0 109,479.0 11.4% 17.1% 17.0% 17.3%
H Transportation and storage 45.5 21,157.0 19,332.0 20,088.0 4.3% 3.4% 3.3% 3.2%
I Accommodation and food
service activities
26.3 29,441.0 20,143.0 25,593.0 2.5% 4.7% 3.5% 4.0%
J Information and
communication
21.0 25,516.0 23,924.0 26,371.0 2.0% 4.1% 4.1% 4.2%
of which: Information Technology 13,204.0 13,334.0 14,431.0 2.1% 2.3% 2.3%
K Financial and insurance
activities
14.6 22,143.0 19,914.0 21,643.0 1.4% 3.5% 3.4% 3.4%
L Real estate activities 2.4 8,422.0 7,532.0 8,767.0 0.2% 1.3% 1.3% 1.4%
M Professional, scientific and
technical activities
14.8 22,109.0 19,035.0 21,230.0 1.4% 3.5% 3.3% 3.4%
N Administrative and support
service activities
4.3 15,144.0 13,891.0 16,043.0 0.4% 2.4% 2.4% 2.5%
O Public administration and
defence; compulsory social
security
90.7 38,437.0 35,244.0 37,184.0 8.7% 6.1% 6.1% 5.9%
P Education 105.6 114,543.0 110,427.0 110,668.0 10.1% 18.2% 19.1% 17.5%
Q Human health and social
work activities
46.2 46,842.0 43,763.0 47,400.0 4.4% 7.5% 7.6% 7.5%
R Arts, entertainment and
recreation
16.6 18,737.0 17,177.0 17,860.0 1.6% 3.0% 3.0% 2.8%
S Other service activities 30.9 17,959.0 16,104.0 20,933.0 2.9% 2.9% 2.8% 3.3%
T Activities of households as
employers
4.1 0.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
U Activities of extraterritorial
organisations
3.3 0.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
TOTAL 1,048.4 627,831.0 578,487.0 632,704.0 100% 100% 100% 100%

Pakistan’s diaspora bond

A comment on recent diaspora bond interest.

The article by Farhan Bokhari on the diaspora bonds by Pakistan, while bringing much needed attention to the potential of national diasporas, cites $21bln in remittances sent by Pakistanis abroad to their families back home. Unfortunately, this just repeats a common misunderstanding of diaspora, its potential, and possible success of a diaspora bond.

Unfortunately, temporary migrant workers who send the remittances can hardly pass for the larger financial donors needed for a successful bond issue. As such remittances flows cannot  be the sole determinant of the diaspora bond’s success.

By definition, remittances are individualistic going from a sender to a very specific family. These transfers are motivated by the specific household’s needs and working migrant’s abilities to generate sufficient earnings. A diaspora bond is a more complex international capital markets instrument requiring a long-term investment with bond prices significantly above typical labor migrant’s transfer to family. Of course, if a government issuing a diaspora bond can overcome these limitations it may still tap into this new diaspora made up of migrants.

However, in a probable successful scenario the key investors would be composed of the old diaspora, i.e. those with the sense of ethnic belonging but integrated in the host society on a more solid footing by either income or generations of expat life.

There are other proposals for engaging labor migrants’ potential, which should not go undiscovered, including a Migration Development Bank (as we propose here and a shorter write up here). This is true for Pakistan and others with large diaspora, including the post-socialist economies of Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union.

Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan // agevorkyan.com

The tunes of economic change or why ‘transformation’ and not ‘transition’ in the post-socialist transition economies

by Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan

The aim by itself is a lifeless universal . . .; and the bare result is the corpse which has left the
guiding tendency behind it.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit

The 2009 film, How The Beatles Rocked the Kremlin, documented forbidden music’s cultural influence across Eastern Europe (EE) and former Soviet Union (FSU) through 1970-1980s. By early 1990s what captured the minds was the Scorpions’ ballad, Wind of Change.

This “wind” was that of hopeful future, push for national independence, and promise of economic prosperity. By 1992, the disintegration of the socialist economy system brought chaos across newly independent nation-states in Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

Ironically, the most onerous economic plan was the EE’s & FSU’s transition from planned economy to romanticized free market. Yet, despite the independence premium in national policy and evidence suggesting recent strong economic growth, post-socialist societies are still to achieve the ideals of those reforms.

The EE and FSU collectively represented up to 15 percent of the world’s economy in the 1980s. By 2016, they represented 6 percent of the global economy. Russia, the largest in the group, averaged 3 percent, with the  remainder going to the smaller FSU and EE economies (according to The Conference Board’s Total Economy Database).

Post-World War II societies in the EE saw massive industrial growth. Their relatively loose controls, trade links with Western Europe, and sustained private agriculture was distinct from the FSU-like socialism. By the early 1980s the socialist economic model began to show signs of structural weakness as productivity declined worsening the competitiveness of the EE’s semi-open economies. Tamás Vonyo (2017) offers new empirical evidence suggesting that by then the declining investment, despite tapping international capital markets, in industrial and technological upgrades, largely caused the inefficiency.

By the early 1990s more tangible changes replaced political announcements. Social costs were deemed to be collaterally minor as opposed to a greater goal of market prosperity (an odd parallel to the spirit of the socialist past). Those EE & FSU economies with significant dependence on the socialist common market, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, suffered the worst macroeconomic and social impacts in the “transition.”

Through mid 1990s life expectancy dropped, the system of state-provided basic healthcare services, education, and other social support collapsed as unemployment skyrocketed with state-funded enterprises shutting down and hyperinflation pushing some into barter, income and wealth inequalities climbed up. In his 2009 book From the Soviet Bloc to the European Union, Ivan Berend voiced reservations over the haste to declare absolute victory [of “transition”], citing population displacement and emerging social pressures, unintentionally masked by the economic growth often dependent on the integration within EU’s supply chain.

What has emerged out of the ruins of the formerly socialist system is often termed as “varieties of capitalism.” Echoes of the dreadful privatization have shaped modern institutional structures across the region. Recent data suggest that only a handful of countries reached the 1989 per capita income levels as of 2000. Income inequality, social polarization, as measured in World Bank data, has become far too pronounced. Questions about transparent governance, sustainable spending, rise of populist movements, inconsistencies in judicial reform and, in the EE’s deviations from the European Union’s general principles, and other examples seem to be at odds with the melody of change some three decades ago.

The smaller is the country the greater is the challenge of sustaining broader economic activity, attracting competitive foreign direct investment, avoiding underdevelopment, and securing social inclusion; all without falling into dependence on the earlier mentioned expatriate remittances or debt pile-up. This has been highlighted in recent studies on transitional periphery, as those smaller economies are often identified in literature.

Objectively, today, the post-socialist societies are deeply transformed culturally, politically, and in economic terms and continue to evolve. Yet this transformation and its eventual outcomes are firmly connected with the legacies of the socialist era and intensity of the 1990s turbulent variants of the reforms.

Perhaps, a more evolutionary approach to macroeconomic and public policy of the 1990s may have proven to be more prudent.

We will never know.

However, how the ‘transition economies’ learn and interpret this complex collective history in their present conditions will shape their individual future. That is, also, why there is a need to objectively accept the past and pragmatically seek balance in the present.

________________________________________

Dr. Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan is the author of Transition Economies: Transformation, Development, and Society in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union  and Associate Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics and Finance of the Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University.