Governing the World Economy

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There are several reasons. An immediate one is that poor governance can harm national economic performance and ultimately global financial stability.

Governing the global economy: Protectionism vs Bretton Woods 2.0

The financial crises in Asia, Russia and elsewhere have demonstrated this beyond question. Though circumstances differed, what crisis countries all had in common was distorted governance structures that led to inefficient economic decision-making. When imbalances became too large to be ignored, they prompted a rout in financial markets, setting back the development efforts of entire countries and regions.

Problems specific to each country were important too. In Asian countries, interest groups linked to large financial institutions, even to the state, ran vast conglomerates under conditions that prevented external scrutiny. Because of their high-level connections and the perception of implicit government guarantees, these conglomerates had easy access to external debt and equity finance without having to go through the appropriate controls.

However, minority shareholders — domestic and foreign — as well as creditors, were given neither the information nor the authority to monitor corporate operations. Lack of transparency and accountability led, in turn, to distorted incentive structures, over-investment and dangerously high corporate indebtedness. Poor disclosure and audit procedures only made the situation worse by preventing early warning of the deteriorating financial conditions of corporations.

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In the context of countries making the transition from centrally -planned to market economies, corporate governance must respond to the needs of the different stages of reform. In many transition countries, weak corporate governance has been blamed for the delay in restructuring after privatisation.

Governing the Global Economy: International Finance and the State

In other words, while privatisation succeeded in transferring ownership of enterprises from public to private hands, ambiguous property rights and an inadequate regulatory and institutional framework resulted in unchecked control by corporate insiders and opaque ownership and control structures. In many cases the rights of minority shareholders were very poorly protected indeed.

At the end of the day, this poor governance undermined confidence in the markets and held the whole financial system hostage. It is also worth noting that the challenge to improve governance is not limited to emerging market and transition economies.

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All countries stand to gain from improving the way their enterprises operate. Even the most advanced economies are discussing, questioning and working towards better practices. In the United States the separation of the chairman and chief executive — preferred by many investors — is unusual. European countries face mounting calls for better treatment of minority shareholders and greater transparency in mergers and acquisitions.

In Japan, efforts to rekindle economic dynamism clearly require improvements in areas such as information disclosure and board practices.

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  • In Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Sweden, important long-term efforts have been undertaken in the area of company law and the regulation of take-overs. In their constant search for investment opportunities, investors will not hesitate to take their money around the globe. If companies are to attract and retain long-term capital from a large pool of investors, they need credible and recognisable corporate governance arrangements. Companies and governments have to respond.

    Of course, governance is not simply an issue relevant to foreign investors. Yes, it is true that they often sound the initial warning. However, by far the most investment in almost all countries comes from home-grown sources. It should not be surprising that studies have shown that countries with weaker investor protection tend to have smaller, less liquid, capital markets.

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    • It is in the context of growing awareness of the importance of good corporate governance that the OECD has developed a set of Principles of Corporate Governance. The results represent a collective view of the most important core elements of a good corporate governance framework.

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      They are designed to leave adequate flexibility for implementation according to specific circumstances, cultures and traditions in different countries. The Principles are non-binding. They are intended to serve as a reference point for governments as they review and refine their frameworks for corporate governance. They also provide guidance for stock exchanges, investors, private corporations and national commissions on corporate governance as they elaborate best practices, listing requirements and codes of conduct.

      The OECD Principles cover five main areas: the rights of shareholders and their protection; the equitable treatment of all categories of shareholders; the role of employees and other stakeholders; timely disclosure and transparency of corporate structures and operations; and the responsibilities of the board towards the company, shareholders and other stakeholders.

      To get to the heart of the matter, the Principles can be summarised in terms of four values. These are equitable treatment, responsibility, transparency and accountability. Even more broadly, there may be a case for a global coordination mechanism among the largest regional integration arrangements from both the North and the South.

      Governing the Global Economy: International Finance and the State

      Such a framework could operate separately on the basis of coordination among the respective regional development institutions, or it could be coordinated via global networks and organizations such as the G20 or the WTO. A globalization process that is based on integration and cooperation among regional blocks may harbour the advantage of being more sustainable and inclusive compared to the core—periphery paradigm of the preceding decades. The latter in recent years are increasingly directed toward the formation of megaregional blocks the race to mega-regionalism that in turn harbour ever-greater dividends as well as greater risks.

      World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with our Terms of Use. Published in collaboration with the Valdai Discussion Club.

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