China figures point to slowdown; Militant economics; Volkswagen profit tumbles

1 China figures point to slowdown (BBC) China’s industrial output rose 8.6% in January and February, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Retail sales – a key measure of consumer spending – also increased 11.8% from the year before, government figures show. The figures were less than analysts had been expecting, adding to fears of a slowdown.

Fixed-asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, expanded 17.9%. The data comes as China’s leaders wrap up their parliamentary session, known as the National People’s Congress (NPC). During the session, the government unveiled plans to push ahead with a pilot programme of privately-owned banks, in order to help open up the financial sector.

At the start of the NPC earlier this month, China’s Premier, Li Keqiang, announced that the government was expecting the economy to expand at the rate of 7.5% this year, which is the same target rate as last year. There are worries about the pace of growth in the Chinese economy, after the country’s exports dropped by 18% in February from the previous year, leading to a trade deficit of $23bn for the month.

2 Militant economics (Khurram Husain in Dawn) What we’re actually seeing happen before our eyes in Pakistan, what lies behind the sustained and painful ‘debates’ on the merits of talking or fighting, is an inexorable process where the state itself is being superseded by other, cheaper, more agile, and certainly more determined models for the deployment of armed force. An entire world stands to be transformed along the way.

The rise of the nation state, for instance, brought with it new modern publics, institutions for the administration of populations, the measurement of economic welfare, a discourse of rights, notions of citizenship and participation and entitlements. For the first time, rulers were exhorted to earn their right to rule “from the just consent of the governed”, an idea largely alien to rulers of ages past.

The supersession of the nation state will necessarily see all these ideas replaced by something else. But the replacement will not be smooth, principally because the new notions that are struggling to be born are far from clear about how they can form a basis for the exercise of power over large populations.

Even the modern state inflicted terrible savagery on its own people before recognising them as citizens, as opposed to subjects. The journey to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights goes through slavery, colonialism and civil war, for instance. The new militias that are increasingly challenging the nation state derive their own sustenance from the very economic and social order that the nation state presides over. Even the smallest band of determined fighters needs to eat, and needs ammunition and fuel. It also needs recruits to replenish its ranks. These recruits usually have families and other social obligations.

In some places, these militias are able to ‘live off the land’, so to speak. Crime and plunder can keep them going for a while, but when the fighting gets intense — like the Congo or Afghanistan — it takes powerful patrons to survive. In short, the very emergence and rise of these militias poses an economic question. What sort of an economy can their leaderships envision? How do they see their relationship with the resources they need to sustain their fight?

3 Volkswagen profit tumbles (William Boston in The Wall Street Journal) Volkswagen AG, Europe’s largest automotive group, has posted a 58% drop in net profit for 2013 and issued a cautious outlook for the new business year amid a sluggish recovery in global car demand and currency risks from emerging markets.

The Wolfsburg, Germany-based auto group said momentum in global car markets would remain weak this year and that there are “big risks” for the global economy, especially from “increasing headwinds” in some emerging markets. “The automotive year 2013 was especially for European car makers extremely challenging,” said Martin Winterkorn, VW’s chief executive. “In light of the uncertainties our forecast for 2014 is comparatively cautious,” Mr. Winterkorn said.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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