Pocket change—mountains of it can shape or re-shape society, politics, and most certainly the economy. The rise and fall of governments, democracies, and tyrannies alike are all too often at the mercy of the ebb and flow of plain, hard cash. Currencies today are very much the defining feature of nations, individually and collectively. A flailing and fragmented Europe seeks to hang together—retain its global reach—on the strength of a single currency that has taken on a life or near-death of its own, its very existence becoming an end in itself. Across Africa and Asia, the Americas north and south, continents and peoples are all too often held hostage by forces unleashed in the name of money. It is this kaleidoscope of silver, gold, and paper, often in the magnitude of tsunamis, that we set out to explore in the Summer issue of World Policy Journal.
The global banking system is the fundamental conduit of value within nations and across borders, but in the wake of the financial crisis, the role of banks as a repository of value has come into question. World Policy Journal asked our panel of global experts from China, Greece, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, India, and Canada about how this crisis of confidence is playing out in their respective banking systems.
For thousands of years, currency has run our world in the form of coins. Shailendra Bhandare shares the history of coins in society, examines their impact on nationalism and government, and ponders the significance of emerging currencies that know no political boundaries.
Alternative currency is a privately developed and privately regulated form of money that is used as a substitute to national currency in designated regions. A recent example is the e-currency, Bitcoin. However, Bitcoin is neither the only nor the oldest example of alternative money. Our Anatomy examines four examples of Western European alternative currencies that pre-date Bitcoin— the chiemgauer, Brixton pound, sardex, and dam.
From London to Frankfurt, Tokyo to Washington, and on to lesser financial capitals, banks and governments interact with great gusto. Stanley Pignal, the new banking editor of The Economist, warns that regulations and bailouts that were the immediate consequence of the 2008 financial crisis are only bringing government and banking more closely and dangerously together. In the future, governments must distance themselves from banks if they wish to create fairer and more productive economies around the world.
Remittances to developing countries were a resilient source of external financing during the recent global financial crisis. According to the World Bank, remittances from developed countries are expected to reach $436 billion by the end of 2014. In this map room, World Policy Journal examines the percentage of inflow and outflows as a percentage of GDP in Asia.
Meredith Hoffman argues that until Argentina enacts needed economic reforms and makes a genuine effort to improve transparency, the black market will stand as the only viable option for Argentines seeking properly valued currency—offering citizens and tourists alike a welcome alternative to the overvalued legal exchanges for pesos.
The Chinese yuan, also known as the renminbi, is poised to become a global reserve currency—a move that would drastically impact the world’s fastest growing economy. While introducing the renminbi as a reserve currency could yield profitable results, it could also make the currency volatile and unpredictable. Donald Straszheim contends that the Chinese government must make specific and concrete fiscal reforms to ensure the renminbi retains its indomitable status.
London Stock Exchange Group CEO Xavier Rolet believes currency, debt, and stocks can and do serve as desperately needed forces for socio-economic change. Educated in Algeria and France with professional experience in American and European investment banks, Rolet points to the LSE as the most international of stock exchanges, offering equity, debt, and derivatives—further encouraging financial integration and supervision.
Reporter Max Siegelbaum and photojournalist Ahmed Deeb follow 12-year-old Mohammed Alhwani, a Palestinian boy in Gaza, as he helps build the tunnels that smugglers have been transporting illicit materials and cargo through for over three decades. In 2006, after Hamas’s landslide victory in the Palestinian elections, the Israelis instituted a strict blockade on Gaza. These tunnels then became critical entry points for food, water, and contraband, and have since been expanded by a small but desperately determined army of workers, many like Mohammed, not even in their teens.
Navigating the contentious and ambiguous connection between religion and political life in Egypt, Michael Wahid Hanna traces the contours of this relationship from the secularism of the Nasser era to the recent ouster of Mohammed Morsi. In the wake of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s presidential victory in Egypt’s military-orchestrated elections, Hanna examines the deep division in Egyptian society over religion’s role in public life—suggesting a new, be it incremental, path to a liberal future.
Kavumu, Burundi’s fourth and newest refugee camp, is the site of Philippe Starck’s Ideas Box, a portable computer lab providing educational resources to a largely illiterate population. Rosalie Hughes delves into how humanitarian organizations can take a bottom-up approach, increase partnerships with organizations that have technical expertise, and assist in the development of refugee media vehicles.
Nairobi’s infants and toddlers are in dire straits. In the absence of formal child care facilities, informal centers have opened to meet the needs of working mothers. However, these centers lack the adequate resources and space to accommodate all of the children in need of care. Sabrina Natasha Premji argues that governments in sub-Saharan Africa must coordinate with private funders and provide financial resources in order to develop an integrated child care and education system throughout the region.
Every May, a small town in southern India hosts the Koovagam festival, an occasion that celebrates sexuality through music, dance, and talent competitions. The festival plays a critical role in acknowledging the hijra (transgender) community, largely ostracized both in India and beyond. Jeff Roy contends increased political and cultural support of Koovagam will go a long way in furthering the plight of the hijra community, which only recently gained third gender status in India.
The devastating effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, not only claimed may lives, but also resulted in the complete shutdown of Japan’s nuclear plants, leaving the Japanese government to re-imagine its energy policy. Unable to meet energy demands domestically, Japan has resorted to importing most of its fossil fuels—an unsustainable long-term solution. Paul Sullivan argues that the country will need to diversify its energy sources by establishing a more resilient and flexible electricity system, dedicating research to renewable energy, and developing energy savings programs.
The evolution of communication has had a significant impact on the global citizen. However, the proliferation of information through a growing number of “new media” outlets has redefined journalism and the very definition of a journalist. World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman discusses how rapid access to information is both a blessing and curse: it has brought immediate attention to issues from the most remote areas of the world, but at the risk of questionable quality and reliability.