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Debt enslavement

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"It's barbarism. I see it coming masqueraded under lawless alliances and predetermined enslavements. It may not be about Hitler's furnaces, but about the methodical and quasi-scientific subjugation of Man. His absolute humiliation. His disgrace"

Odysseas Elytis, Greek poet, in a press conference on the occasion of receiving the Nobel Prize (1979)

One of "innovations" of neoliberalism was extension known since Ancient Greece concept of debt slavery to the whole countries. Here is description based on Debt bondage - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Debt bondage (also known as debt slavery or bonded labor) is a person's pledge of their labor or services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation. The services required to repay the debt may be undefined, and the services' duration may be undefined. Debt bondage can be passed on from generation to generation.

Debt bondage has been described by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery" and the [3]  Most countries are parties to the Convention, but the practice is still prevalent in South Asia. Debt bondage in India was legally abolished in 1976 but remains prevalent.

Debt bondage was very common in Ancient Greece. In ancient Athens, Solon forbade taking out loans using oneself as a security and ended such debts.

Europe

Classical antiquity

Debt bondage was "quite normal" in [4]  The poor or those who had fallen irredeemably in debt might place themselves into bondage "voluntarily"—or more precisely, might be compelled by circumstances to choose debt bondage as a way to anticipate and avoid worse terms that their creditors might impose on them.[5] In the Greco-Roman world, debt bondage was a distinct legal category into which a free person might fall, in theory temporarily, distinguished from the pervasive practice of slavery, which included enslavement as a result of defaulting on debt. Many forms of debt bondage existed in both ancient Greece and [6].

Debt bondage was widespread in ancient Greece. The only city-state known to have abolished it is Athens, as early as the Archaic period under the debt reform legislation of [7] Both enslavement for debt and debt bondage were practiced in [8]  By the Hellenistic period, the limited evidence indicates that debt bondage had replaced outright enslavement for debt.[8]

The most onerous debt bondage was various forms of paramonē, "indentured labor." As a matter of law, a person subjected to paramonē was categorically free, and not a slave, but in practice his freedom was severely constrained by his servitude.  Solon's reforms occurred in the context of democratic politics at Athens that required clearer distinctions between "free" and "slave"; as a perverse consequence.

The selling of one's own child into slavery is likely in most cases to have resulted from extreme poverty or debt, but strictly speaking is a form of chattel slavery, not debt bondage. The exact legal circumstances in Greece, however, are far more poorly documented than in ancient Rome.

Nexum was a debt bondage contract in the early Roman Republic. Within the Roman legal system, it was a form of mancipatio. Though the terms of the contract would vary, essentially a free man pledged himself as a bond slave (nexus) as surety for a loan. He might also hand over his son as collateral. Although the bondsman might be subjected to humiliation and abuse, as a legal citizen he was supposed to be exempt from corporal punishment. Nexum was abolished by the Lex Poetelia Papiria in 326 BC, in part to prevent abuses to the physical integrity of citizens who had fallen into debt bondage.

Roman historians illuminated the abolition of nexum with a traditional story that varied in its particulars; basically, a nexus who was a handsome but upstanding youth suffered sexual harassment by the holder of the debt. In one version, the youth had gone into debt to pay for his father's funeral; in others, he had been handed over by his father. In all versions, he is presented as a model of virtue. Historical or not, the cautionary tale highlighted the incongruities of subjecting one free citizen to another's use, and the legal response was aimed at establishing the citizen's right to liberty (libertas), as distinguished from the slave or [11]

Cicero considered the abolition of nexum primarily a political maneuver to appease the common people (plebs): the law was passed during the Conflict of the Orders, when plebeians were struggling to establish their rights in relation to the hereditary privileges of the patricians. Although nexum was abolished as a way to secure a loan, debt bondage might still result after a debtor defaulted.

While serfdom under feudalism was the predominant political and economic system in Europe in the High Middle Ages, persisting the Austrian Empire till 1848 and the Russian Empire until 1861 ([12]  debt bondage (and slavery) provided other forms of unfree labour.

Americas

For more details on indentured servitude in the American colonies, see Indentured servant.

Asia

The Indian indenture system was an ongoing system of indenture, based on debt bondage, by which perhaps two million Indians were transported to various colonies of European powers to provide labour for the (mainly sugar) plantations. It started from the end of slavery in 1833 and until 1920.

Current status

See also: Human trafficking

According to the Anti-Slavery Society:

Pawnage or pawn slavery is a form of servitude akin to bonded labor under which the debtor provides another human being as security or collateral for the debt. Until the debt (including interest on it) is paid off, the creditor has the use of the labor of the pawn.[15]

Debt bondage has been described by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery"[3] and is prohibited by international law. It is specifically dealt with by article 1(a) of the United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. It persists nonetheless especially in developing countries, which have few mechanisms for credit security or bankruptcy, and where fewer people hold formal title to land or possessions. According to some economists, for example Hernando de Soto, this is a major barrier to development in those countries because, for example, entrepreneurs do not dare take risks and cannot get credit because they hold no citation needed

Researcher Siddharth Kara has calculated the number of slaves in the world by type, and determined that at the end of 2006 there were 18.1 million people subject to debt bondage.[16]

In India, the rise of Dalit activism, government legislation starting as early as 1949,[17] as well as ongoing work by NGOs and government offices to enforce labour laws and rehabilitate those in debt, appears to have contributed to the reduction of bonded labour there. However, according to research papers presented by the International Labour Organization, there are still many obstacles to the eradication of bonded labour in India.[19]

Reprinted from "SUPER CAPITALISM, SUPER IMPERIALISM by Henry C K Liu"

PART 1: A Structural Link

Robert B Reich, former US Secretary of Labor and resident neo-liberal in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997, wrote in the September 14, 2007 edition of The Wall Street Journal an opinion piece, "CEOs Deserve Their Pay", as part of an orchestrated campaign to promote his new book: Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (Afred A Knopf). Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He is currently a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California (Berkley) and a regular liberal gadfly in the unabashed supply-side Larry Kudlow TV show that celebrates the merits of capitalism.

Reich's Supercapitalism brings to mind Michael Hudson's Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1972-2003). While Reich, a liberal turned neo-liberal, sees "supercapitalism" as the natural evolution of insatiable shareholder appetite for gain, a polite euphemism for greed, that cannot or should not be reined in by regulation, Hudson, a Marxist heterodox economist, sees "super imperialism" as the structural outcome of post-World War II superpower geopolitics, with state interests overwhelming free market forces, making regulation irrelevant. While Hudson is critical of "super imperialism" and thinks that it should be resisted by the weaker trading partners of the US, Reich gives the impression of being ambivalent about the inevitability, if not the benignity, of "supercapitalism".

The structural link between capitalism and imperialism was first observed by John Atkinson Hobson (1858-1940), an English economist, who wrote in 1902 an insightful analysis of the economic basis of imperialism. Hobson provided a humanist critique of neoclassical economics, rejecting exclusively materialistic definitions of value. With Albert Frederick Mummery (1855-1895), the great British mountaineer who was killed in 1895 by an avalanche while reconnoitering Nanga Parbat, an 8,000-meter Himalayan peak, Hobson wrote The Physiology of Industry (1889), which argued that an industrial economy requires government intervention to maintain stability, and developed the theory of over-saving that was given a glowing tribute by John Maynard Keynes three decades later.

The need for governmental intervention to stabilize an expanding national industrial economy was the rationale for political imperialism. On the other side of the coin, protectionism was a governmental counter-intervention on the part of weak trading partners for resisting imperialist expansion of the dominant power. Historically, the processes of globalization have always been the result of active state policy and action, as opposed to the mere passive surrender of state sovereignty to market forces. Market forces cannot operate in a vacuum. They are governed by man-made rules. Globalized markets require the acceptance by local authorities of established rules of the dominant economy. Currency monopoly of course is the most fundamental trade restraint by one single dominant government.

Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations in 1776, the year of US independence. By the time the constitution was framed 11 years later, the US founding fathers were deeply influenced by Smith's ideas, which constituted a reasoned abhorrence of trade monopoly and government policy in restricting trade. What Smith abhorred most was a policy known as mercantilism, which was practiced by all the major powers of the time. It is necessary to bear in mind that Smith's notion of the limitation of government action was exclusively related to mercantilist issues of trade restraint. Smith never advocated government tolerance of trade restraint, whether by big business monopolies or by other governments in the name of open markets.

A central aim of mercantilism was to ensure that a nation's exports remained higher in value than its imports, the surplus in that era being paid only in specie money (gold-backed as opposed to fiat money). This trade surplus in gold permitted the surplus country, such as England, to invest in more factories at home to manufacture more for export, thus bringing home more gold. The importing regions, such as the American colonies, not only found the gold reserves backing their currency depleted, causing free-fall devaluation (not unlike that faced today by many emerging-economy currencies), but also wanting in surplus capital for building factories to produce for domestic consumption and export. So despite plentiful iron ore in America, only pig iron was exported to England in return for English finished iron goods. The situation was similar to today's oil producing countries where despite plentiful crude oil, refined petrochemical products such as gasoline and heating oil have to be imported.

In 1795, when the newly independent Americans began finally to wake up to their disadvantaged trade relationship and began to raise European (mostly French and Dutch) capital to start a manufacturing industry, England decreed the Iron Act, forbidding the manufacture of iron goods in its American colonies, which caused great dissatisfaction among the prospering colonials. Smith favored an opposite government policy toward promoting domestic economic production and free foreign trade for the weaker traders, a policy that came to be known as "laissez faire" (because the English, having nothing to do with such heretical ideas, refuse to give it an English name). Laissez faire, notwithstanding its literal meaning of "leave alone", meant nothing of the sort. It meant an activist government policy to counteract mercantilism. Neo-liberal free-market economists are just bad historians, among their other defective characteristics, when they propagandize "laissez faire" as no government interference in trade affairs.

Friedrich List, in his National System of Political Economy (1841), asserts that political economy as espoused in England, far from being a valid science universally, was merely British national opinion, suited only to English historical conditions. List's institutional school of economics asserts that the doctrine of free trade was devised to keep England rich and powerful at the expense of its trading partners and it must be fought with protective tariffs and other protective devices of economic nationalism by the weaker countries.

Henry Clay's "American system" was a national system of political economy. US neo-imperialism in the post WWII period disingenuously promotes neo-liberal free-trade against governmental protectionism to keep the US rich and powerful at the expense of its trading partners. Before the October Revolution of 1917, many national liberation movements in European colonies and semi-colonies around the world were influenced by List's economic nationalism. The 1911 Nationalist Revolution in China, led by Sun Yat-sen, was heavily influenced by Lincoln's political ideas - government of the people, by the people and for the people - and the economic nationalism of List, until after the October Revolution when Sun realized that the Soviet model was the correct path to national revival.

Hobson's magnum opus, Imperialism, (1902), argues that imperialistic expansion is driven not by state hubris, known in US history as "manifest destiny", but by an innate quest for new markets and investment opportunities overseas for excess capital formed by over-saving at home for the benefit of the home state. Over-saving during the industrial age came from Richardo's theory of the iron law of wages, according to which wages were kept perpetually at subsistence levels as a result of uneven market power between capital and labor. Today, job outsourcing that returns as low-price imports contributes to the iron law of wages in the US domestic economy. (See my article Organization of Labor Exporting Countries [OLEC]).

Hobson's analysis of the phenology (study of life cycles) of capitalism was drawn upon by Lenin to formulate a theory of imperialism as an advanced stage of capitalism: "Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capitalism is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed." (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, 1916, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter 7).

Lenin was also influenced by Rosa Luxemberg, who three year earlier had written her major work, The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation of Imperialism (Die Akkumulation des Kapitals: Ein Beitrag zur ökonomischen Erklärung des Imperialismus), 1913). Luxemberg, together with Karl Liebknecht a founding leader of the Spartacist League (Spartakusbund), a radical Marxist revolutionary movement that later renamed itself the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, or KPD), was murdered on January 15, 1919 by members of the Freikorps, rightwing militarists who were the forerunners of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) led by Ernst Rohm.

The congenital association between capitalism and imperialism requires practically all truly anti-imperialist movements the world over to be also anti-capitalist. To this day, most nationalist capitalists in emerging economies are unwitting neo-compradors for super imperialism. Neo-liberalism, in its attempts to break down all national boundaries to facilitate global trade denominated in fiat dollars, is the ideology of super imperialism.

Hudson, the American heterodox economist, historian of ancient economies and post-WW II international balance-of-payments specialist, advanced in his 1972 book the notion of 20th century super imperialism. Hudson updated Hobson's idea of 19th century imperialism of state industrial policy seeking new markets to invest home-grown excess capital. To Hudson, super imperialism is a state financial strategy to export debt denominated in the state's fiat currency as capital to the new financial colonies to finance the global expansion of a superpower empire. No necessity, or even intention, was entertained by the superpower of ever having to pay off these paper debts after the US dollar was taken off gold in 1971.

Monetary Imperialism and Dollar Hegemony

Super imperialism transformed into monetary imperialism after the 1973 Middle East oil crisis with the creation of the petrodollar and two decades later emerged as dollar hegemony through financial globalization after 1993. As described in my 2002 AToL article, Dollar hegemony has to go, a geopolitical phenomenon emerged after the 1973 oil crisis in which the US dollar, a fiat currency since 1971, continues to serve as the primary reserve currency for  international trade because oil continues to be denominated in fiat dollars as a result of superpower geopolitics, leading to dollar hegemony in 1993 with the globalization of deregulated financial markets.

Three causal developments allowed dollar hegemony to emerge over a span of two decades after 1973 and finally take hold in 1993. US fiscal deficits from overseas spending since the 1950s caused a massive drain in US gold holdings, forcing the US in 1971 to abandon the 1945 Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rate based on a gold-backed dollar. Under that international financial architecture, cross-border flow of funds was not considered necessary or desirable for promoting international trade or domestic development. The collapse of the 1945 Bretton Woods regime in 1971 was the initial development toward dollar hegemony.

The second development was the denomination of oil in dollars after the 1973 Middle East oil crisis. The emergence of petrodollars was the price the US, still only one of two contending superpowers in 1973, extracted from defenseless oil-producing nations for allowing them to nationalize the Western-owned oil industry on their soil. As long as oil transactions are denominated in fiat dollars, the US essentially controls all the oil in the world financially regardless of specific ownership, reducing all oil producing nations to the status of commodity agents of dollar hegemony.

The third development was the global deregulation of financial markets after the Cold War, making cross-border flow of funds routine, and a general relaxation of capital and foreign exchange control by most governments involved in international trade. This neo-liberal trade regime brought into existence a foreign exchange market in which free-floating exchange rates made computerized speculative attacks on weak currencies a regular occurrence. These three developments permitted the emergence of dollar hegemony after 1994 and helped the US win the Cold War with financial power derived from fiat money.

Dollar hegemony advanced super imperialism one stage further from the financial to the monetary front. Industrial imperialism sought to achieve a trade surplus by exporting manufactured good to the colonies for gold to fund investment for more productive plants at home. Super imperialism sought to extract real wealth from the colonies by paying for it with fiat dollars to sustain a balance of payments out of an imbalance in the exchange of commodities. Monetary imperialism under dollar hegemony exports debt denominated in fiat dollars through a permissive trade deficit with the new colonies, only to re-import the debt back to the US as capital account surplus to finance the US debt bubble.

The circular recycling of dollar-denominated debt was made operative by the dollar, a fiat currency that only the US can print at will, continuing as the world's prime reserve currency for international trade and finance, backed by US geopolitical superpower. Dollars are accepted universally because oil is denominated in dollars and everyone needs oil and thus needs dollars to buy oil. Any nation that seeks to denominate key commodities, such as oil, in currencies other than the dollar will soon find itself invaded by the sole superpower. Thus the war on Iraq is not about oil, as former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan suggested recently. It is about keeping oil denominated in dollars to protect dollar hegemony. The difference is subtle but of essential importance.

Since 1993, central banks of all trading nations around the world, with the exception of the US Federal Reserve, have been forced to hold more dollar reserves than they otherwise need to ward off the potential of sudden speculative attacks on their currencies in unregulated global financial markets. Thus "dollar hegemony" prevents the exporting nations, such as the Asian Tigers, from spending domestically the dollars they earn from the US trade deficit and forces them to fund the US capital account surplus, shipping real wealth to the US in exchange for the privilege of financing further growth of the US debt economy.

Not only do these exporting nations have to compete by keeping their domestic wages down and by prostituting their environment, the dollars that they earn cannot be spent at home without causing a monetary crisis in their own currencies because the dollars they earn have to be exchanged into local currencies before they can be spent domestically, causing an excessive rise in their domestic money supply which in turn causes domestic inflation-pushed bubbles. While the trade-surplus nations are forced to lend their export earnings back to the US, these same nations are starved for capital, as global capital denominated in dollars will only invest in their export sectors to earn more dollars. The domestic sector with local currency earnings remains of little interest to global capital denominated in dollars. As a result, domestic development stagnates for lack of capital.

Dollar hegemony permits the US to transform itself from a competitor in world markets to earn hard money, to a fiat-money-making monopoly with fiat dollars that only it can print at will. Every other trading nation has to exchange low-wage goods for dollars that the US alone can print freely and that can be spent only in the dollar economy without monetary penalty.

The victimization of Japan and China

Japan is a classic victim of monetary imperialism. In 1990, as a result of Japanese export prowess, the Industrial Bank of Japan was the largest bank in the world, with a market capitalization of $57 billion. The top nine of the 10 largest banks then were all Japanese, trailed by Canadian Alliance in 10th place. No US bank made the top-10 list. By 2001, the effects of dollar hegemony have pushed Citigroup into first place with a market capitalization of $260 billion. Seven of the top 10 largest financial institutions in the world in 2001 were US-based, with descending ranking in market capitalization: Citigroup ($260 billion), AIG ($209 billion), HSBC (British-$110 billion), Berkshire Hathaway ($100 billion), Bank of America ($99 billion), Fanny Mae ($80 billion), Wells Fargo ($74 billion), JP Morgan Chase ($72 billion), RBS (British-$70 billion) and UBS (Swiss-$67 billion). No Japanese bank survived on the list.

China is a neoclassic case of dollar hegemony victimization even though its domestic financial markets are still not open and the yuan is still not freely convertible. With over $1.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves earned at a previously lower fixed exchange rate of 8.2 to a dollar set in 1985, now growing at the rate of $1 billion a day at a narrow-range floating exchange rate of around 7.5 since July 2005, China cannot spend much of it dollar holdings on domestic development without domestic inflation caused by excessive expansion of its yuan money supply. The Chinese economy is overheating because the bulk of its surplus revenue is in dollars from exports that cannot be spent inside China without monetary penalty. Chinese wages are too low to absorb sudden expansion of yuan money supply to develop the domestic economy. And with over $1.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, equal to its annual GDP, China cannot even divest from the dollar without having the market effect of a falling dollar moving against its remaining holdings.

The People's Bank of China announced on July 20, 2005 that effective immediately the yuan exchange rate would go up by 2.1% to 8.11 yuan to the US dollar and that China would drop the dollar peg to its currency. In its place, China would move to a "managed float" of the yuan, pegging the currency's exchange value to an undisclosed basket of currencies linked to its global trade. In an effort to limit the amount of volatility, China would not allow the currency to fluctuate by more than 0.3% in any one trading day. Linking the yuan to a basket of currencies means China's currency is relatively free from market forces acting on the dollar, shifting to market forces acting on a basket of currencies of China's key trading partners. The basket is composed of the euro, yen and other Asian currencies as well as the dollar. Though the precise composition of the basket was not disclosed, it can nevertheless be deduced by China's trade volume with key trading partners and by mathematical calculation from the set-daily exchange rate.

Thus China is trapped in a trade regime operating on an international monetary architecture in which it must continue to export real wealth in the form of underpaid labor and polluted environment in exchange for dollars that it must reinvest in the US. Ironically, the recent rise of anti-trade sentiment in US domestic politics offers China a convenient, opportune escape from dollar hegemony to reduce its dependence on export to concentrate on domestic development. Chinese domestic special interest groups in the export sector would otherwise oppose any policy to slow the growth in export if not for the rise of US protectionism which causes shot-term pain for China but long-term benefit in China's need to restructure its economy toward domestic development. Further trade surplus denominated in dollar is of no advantage to China.

Emerging markets are new colonies of monetary imperialism

Even as the domestic US economy declined after the onset of globalization in the early 1990s, US dominance in global finance has continued to this day on account of dollar hegemony. It should not be surprising that the nation that can print at will the world's reserve currency for international trade should come up on top in deregulated global financial markets. The so-called emerging markets around the world are the new colonies of monetary imperialism in a global neo-liberal trading regime operating under dollar hegemony geopolitically dominated by the US as the world's sole remaining superpower.

Denial of corporate social responsibility
In Supercapitalism, Reich identifies corporate social responsibility as a diversion from economic efficiency and an un-capitalistic illusion. Of course the late Milton Friedman had asserted that the only social responsibility of corporations is to maximize profit, rather than to generate economic well-being and balanced growth through fair profits. There is ample evidence to suggest that a single-minded quest for maximizing global corporate profit can lead to domestic economic decline in even the world's sole remaining superpower. The US public is encouraged to blame such decline on the misbehaving trading partners of the US rather than US trade policy that permits US transnational corporation to exploit workers in all trading nations, including those in the US. It is a policy that devalues work by over-rewarding financial manipulation.

Yet to Reich, the US corporate income tax is regressive and inequitable and should be abolished so that after-tax corporate profit can be even further enhanced. This pro-profit position is at odds with even rising US Republican sentiment against transnational corporations and their global trade strategies. Reich also thinks the concept of corporate criminal liability is based on an "anthropomorphic fallacy" that ends up hurting innocent people. Reich sees as inevitable an evolutionary path towards an allegedly perfect new world of a super-energetic capitalism responding to the dictate of all-powerful consumer preference through market democracy.

Reich argues that corporations cannot be expected to be more "socially responsible" than their shareholders or even their consumers, and he implies that consumer preference and behavior are the proper and effective police forces that supersede the need for market regulation. He sees corporations, while viewed by law as "legal persons", as merely value-neutral institutional respondents of consumer preferences in global markets. Reich claims that corporate policies, strategies and behavior in market capitalism are effectively governed by consumer preferences and need no regulation by government. This is essentially the ideology of neo-liberalism.

Yet US transnational corporations derive profit from global operations serving global consumers to maximize return on global capital. These transnational corporations will seek to shift production to where labor is cheapest and environmental standards are lowest and to market their products where prices are highest and consumer purchasing power the strongest. Often, these corporations find it more profitable to sell products they themselves do not make, controlling only design and marketing, leaving the dirty side of manufacturing to others with underdeveloped market power. This means if the US wants a trade surplus under the current terms of trade, it must lower it wages. The decoupling of consumers from producers weakens the conventional effects of market pressure on corporate social responsibility. Transnational corporations have no home community loyalty. Consumers generally do not care about sweat shop conditions overseas while overseas workers do not care about product safety on goods they produce but cannot afford to buy. Products may be made in China, but they are not made by China, but by US transnational corporations which are responsible for the quality and safety of their products.

Further, it is well recognized that corporations routinely and effectively manipulate consumer preference and market acceptance often through if not false, at least misleading advertising, not for the benefit of consumers, but to maximize return on faceless capital raised from global capital markets. The subliminal emphasis by the corporate culture on addictive acquisition of material things, coupled with a structural deprivation of adequate income to satisfy the manipulated desires, has made consumers less satisfied than in previous times of less material abundance. Corporations have been allowed to imbed consumption-urging messages into every aspect of modern life. The result is a disposable culture with packaged waste, an obesity crisis for all age groups, skyrocketing consumer debt, the privatization of public utilities that demand the same fee for basic services from rich and poor alike, causing a sharp disparity in affordability. It is a phenomenon described by Karl Marx as "Fetishism of Commodities".

Marx's concept of Fetishism of Commodities
Marx wrote in Das Kapital:[1]

The relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor. This is the reason why the products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses … The existence of the things qua commodities, and the value relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. It is a definite social relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world, the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labor, as soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. This Fetishism of Commodities has its origin … in the peculiar social character of the labor that produces them.
Marx asserts that "the mystical character of commodities does not originate in their use-value" (Section 1, p 71). Market value is derived from social relations, not from use-value which is a material phenomenon. Thus Marx critiques the Marginal Utility Theory by pointing out that market value is affected by social relationships. For example, the marginal utility of door locks is a function of the burglary rate in a neighborhood which in turn is a function of the unemployment rate. Unregulated free markets are a regime of uninhibited price gouging by monopolies and cartels.

Thus the nature of money cannot be adequately explained even in terms of the material-technical properties of gold, but only in terms of the factors behind man's desire and need for gold. Similarly, it is not possible to fully understand the price of capital from the technical nature of the means of production, but only from the social institution of private ownership and the terms of exchange imposed by uneven market power. Market capitalism is a social institution based on the fetishism of commodities.

Democracy threatened by the corporate state
While Reich is on target in warning about the danger to democracy posed by the corporate state, and in claiming that only people can be citizens, and only citizens should participate in democratic decision making, he misses the point that transnational corporations have transcended national boundaries. Yet in each community that these transnational corporations operate, they have the congenital incentive, the financial means and the legal mandate to manipulate the fetishism of commodities even in distant lands.

Moreover, representative democracy as practiced in the US is increasingly manipulated by corporate lobbying funded from high-profit-driven corporate financial resources derived from foreign sources controlled by management. Corporate governance is notoriously abusive of minority shareholder rights on the part of management. Notwithstanding Reich's rationalization of excessive CEO compensation, CEOs as a class are the most vocal proponents of corporate statehood. Modern corporations are securely insulated from any serious threats from consumer revolt. Inter-corporate competition presents only superficial and trivial choices for consumers. Motorists have never been offered any real choice on gasoline by oil companies or alternatives on the gasoline-guzzling internal combustion engine by car-makers.

High pay for CEOs
Reich asserts in his Wall Street Journal piece that modern CEOs in finance capitalism nowadays deserve their high pay because they have to be superstars, unlike their bureaucrat-like predecessors during industrial capitalism. Notwithstanding that one would expect a former labor secretary to argue that workers deserve higher pay, the challenge to corporate leadership in market capitalism has always been and will always remain management's ruthless pursuit of market leadership power, a euphemism for monopoly, by skirting the rule of law and regulations, framing legislative regimes through political lobbying, pushing down wages and worker benefits, increasing productivity by downsizing in an expanding market and manipulating consumer attitude through advertising. At the end of the day, the bottom line for corporate profit is a factor of lowering wage and benefit levels.

Reich seems to have forgotten that the captains of industry of 19th century free-wheeling capitalism were all superstars who evoked public admiration by manipulating the awed public into accepting the Horatio Alger myth of success through hard work, honesty and fairness. The derogatory term "robber barons" was first coined by protest pamphlets circulated by victimized Kansas farmers against ruthless railroad tycoons during the Great Depression.

The manipulation of the public will by moneyed interests is the most problematic vulnerability of US economic and political democracy. In an era when class warfare has taken on new sophistication, the accusation of resorting to class warfare argument is widely used to silence legitimate socio-economic protests. The US media is essentially owned by the moneyed interests. The decline of unionism in the US has been largely the result of anti-labor propaganda campaigns funded by corporations and government policies influenced by corporate lobbyists. The infiltration of organized crime was exploited to fan public anti-union sentiments while widespread corporate white collar crimes were dismissed as mere anomalies. (See Capitalism's bad apples: It's the barrel that's rotten)

Superman capitalism
As promoted by his permissive opinion piece, a more apt title for Reich's new book would be Superman Capitalism, in praise of the super-heroic qualities of successful corporate CEOs who deserve superstar pay. This view goes beyond even fascist superman ideology. The compensation of corporate CEOs in Nazi Germany never reached such obscene levels as those in US corporate land today.

Reich argues that CEOs deserve their super-high compensation, which has increased 600% in two decades, because corporate profits have also risen 600% in the same period. The former secretary of labor did not point out that wages rose only 30% in the same period. The profit/wage disparity is a growing cancer in

the US-dominated global economy, causing over-production resulting from stagnant demand caused by inadequate wages. A true spokesman for labor would point out that enlightened modern management recognizes that the performance of a corporation is the sum total of effective team work between management and labor.

System analysis has long shown that collective effort on the part of the entire work force is indispensable to success in any complex organism. Further, a healthy consumer market depends on a balance between corporate earnings and worker earnings. Reich's point would be valid if US wages had risen by the same multiple as CEO pay and corporate profit, but he apparently thought that it would be poor etiquette to raise embarrassing issues as a guest writer in an innately anti-labor journal of Wall Street. Even then, unless real growth also rose 600% in two decades, the rise in corporate earning may be just an inflation bubble.

An introduction to economic populism

To be fair, Reich did address the income gap issue eight months earlier in another article, "An Introduction to Economic Populism" in the Jan-Feb, 2007 issue of The American Prospect, a magazine that bills itself as devoted to "liberal ideas". In that article, Reich relates a "philosophical" discussion he had with fellow neo-liberal cabinet member Robert Rubin, then treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, on two "simple questions".

The first question was: Suppose a proposed policy will increase the incomes of some people without decreasing the incomes of any others. Of course Reich must know that it is a question of welfare economics long ago answered by the "pareto optimum", which asserts that resources are optimally distributed when an individual cannot move into a better position without putting someone else into a worse position. In an unjust society, the pareto optimum will perpetuate injustice in the name of optimum resource allocation. "Should it be implemented? Bob and I agreed it should," writes Reich. Not exactly an earth-shaking liberal position. Rather, it is a classic neo-liberal posture.

And the second question: But suppose the people whose incomes will rise are already wealthier than everyone else. Although no one will lose ground, inequality will widen. Should it still be implemented? "I won't tell you where he and I came out on that second question," writes Reich without explaining why. He allows that "we agreed that people who don't share in such gains feel relatively poorer. Widening inequality also further tips the balance of political power in favor of the wealthy."

Of course, clear thinking would have left the second question mute because it would have invalidated the first question, as the real income of those whose nominal income has not fallen has indeed fallen relative to those whose nominal income has risen. In a macro monetary sense, it is not possible to raise the nominal income of some without lowering the real income of others. All incomes must rise together proportionally or inequality in after-inflation real income will increase.

Inequality only a new worry?

But for the sake of argument, let's go along with Reich's parable on welfare economics and financial equality. That conversation occurred a decade ago. Reich says in his January 2007 article that "inequality is far more worrisome now", as if it had not been or that the policies he and his colleagues in the Clinton administration, as evidenced by their answer to their own first question, did not cause the now "more worrisome" inequality. "The incomes of the bottom 90% of Americans have increased about 2% in real terms since then, while that of the top 1% has increased over 50%," Reich wrote in the matter of fact tone of an innocent bystander.

It is surprising that a former labor secretary would err even on the record on worker income. The US Internal Revenue Service reports that while incomes have been rising since 2002, the average income in 2005 was $55,238, nearly 1% less than in 2000 after adjusting for inflation. Hourly wage costs (including mandatory welfare contributions and benefits) grew more slowly than hourly productivity from 1993 to late 1997, the years of Reich's tenure as labor secretary. Corporate profit rose until 1997 before declining, meaning what should have gone to workers from productivity improvements went instead to corporate profits. And corporate profit declined after 1997 because of the Asian financial crisis, which reduced offshore income for all transnational companies, while domestic purchasing power remained weak because of sub-par worker income growth.

The break in trends in wages occurred when the unemployment rate sank to 5%, below the 6% threshold of NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) as job creation was robust from 1993 onwards. The "reserve army of labor" in the war against inflation disappeared after the 1997 Asian crisis when the Federal Reserve injected liquidity into the US banking system to launch the debt bubble. According to NAIRU, when more than 94% of the labor force is employed, the war on wage-pushed inflation will be on the defensive. Yet while US inflation was held down by low-price imports from low-wage economies, US domestic wages fell behind productivity growth from 1993 onward. US wages could have risen without inflationary effects but did not because of the threat of further outsourcing of US jobs overseas. This caused corporate profit to rise at the expense of labor income during the low-inflation debt bubble years.

Income inequality in the US today has reached extremes not seen since the 1920s, but the trend started three decades earlier. More than $1 trillion a year in relative income is now being shifted annually from roughly 90,000,000 middle and working class families to the wealthiest households and corporations via corporate profits earned from low-wage workers overseas. This is why nearly 60% of Republicans polled support more taxes on the rich.

Carter the granddaddy of deregulation

The policies and practices responsible for today's widening income gap date back to the 1977-1981 period of the Carter administration which is justly known as the administration of deregulation. Carter's deregulation was done in the name of populism but the results were largely anti-populist. Starting with Carter, policies and practices by both corporations and government underwent a fundamental shift to restructure the US economy with an overhaul of job markets. This was achieved through widespread de-unionization, breakup of industry-wide collective bargaining which enabled management to exploit a new international division of labor at the expense of domestic workers.

The frontal assault on worker collective bargaining power was accompanied by a realigning of the progressive federal tax structure to cut taxes on the rich, a brutal neo-liberal global free-trade offensive by transnational corporations and anti-labor government trade policies. The cost shifting of health care and pension plans from corporations to workers was condoned by government policy. A wave of government-assisted compression of wages and overtime pay narrowed the wage gap between the lowest and highest paid workers (which will occur when lower-paid workers receive a relatively larger wage increase than the higher-paid workers with all workers receiving lower pay increases than managers). There was a recurring diversion of inflation-driven social security fund surpluses to the US fiscal budget to offset recurring inflation-adjusted federal deficits. This was accompanied by wholesale anti-trust deregulation and privatization of public sectors; and most egregious of all, financial market deregulation.

Carter deregulated the US oil industry four years after the 1973 oil crisis in the name of national security. His Democratic challenger, Senator Ted Kennedy, advocated outright nationalization. The Carter administration also deregulated the airlines, favoring profitable hub traffic at the expense of traffic to smaller cities. Air fares fell but service fell further. Delays became routine, frequently tripling door-to-door travel time. What consumers save in airfare, they pay dearly in time lost in delay and in in-flight discomfort. The Carter administration also deregulated trucking, which caused the Teamsters Union to support Ronald Reagan in exchange for a promise to delay trucking deregulation.

Railroads were also deregulated by Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 which eased regulations on rates, line abandonment, and mergers to allow the industry to compete with truck and barge transportation that had caused a financial and physical deterioration of the national rail network railroads. Four years later, Congress followed up with the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 which provided the railroads with greater pricing freedom, streamlined merger timetables, expedited the line abandonment process, and allowed confidential contracts with shippers. Although railroads, like other modes of transportation, must purchase and maintain their own rolling stock and locomotives, they must also, unlike competing modes, construct and maintain their own roadbed, tracks, terminals, and related facilities. Highway construction and maintenance are paid for by gasoline taxes. In the regulated environment, recovering these fixed costs hindered profitability for the rail industry.

After deregulation, the railroads sought to enhance their financial situation and improve their operational efficiency with a mix of strategies to reduce cost and maximize profit, rather than providing needed service to passengers around the nation. These strategies included network rationalization by shedding unprofitable capacity, raising equipment and operational efficiencies by new work rules that reduced safety margins and union power, using differential pricing to favor big shippers, and pursuing consolidation, reducing the number of rail companies from 65 to 5 today. The consequence was a significant increase of market power for the merged rail companies, decreasing transportation options for consumers and increasing rates for remote, less dense areas.

In the agricultural sector, rail network rationalization has forced shippers to truck their bulk commodity products greater distances to mainline elevators, resulting in greater pressure on and damage to rural road systems. For inter-modal shippers, profit-based network rationalization has meant reduced access - physically and economically - to Container on Flat Car (COFC) and Trailer on Flat Car (TOFC) facilities and services. Rail deregulation, as is true with most transportation and communication deregulation, produces sector sub-optimization with dubious benefits for the national economy by distorting distributional balance, causing congestion and inefficient use of land, network and lines.

Carter's Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) approach to radio and television regulation began in the mid-1970s as a search for relatively minor "regulatory underbrush" that could be
cleared away for more efficient and cost-effective administration of the important rules that would remain. Congress largely went along with this updating trend, and initiated a few deregulatory moves of its own to make regulation more effective and responsive to contemporary conditions.

Reagan's anti-government fixation

The Reagan administration under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Mark Fowler in 1981 shifted deregulation to a fundamental and ideologically-driven reappraisal of regulations away from long-held principles central to national broadcasting policy appropriate for a democratic society. The result was removal of many longstanding rules to permit an overall reduction in FCC oversight of station ownership concentration and network operations. Congress grew increasingly wary of the pace of deregulation, however, and began to slow the pace of FCC deregulation by the late 1980s.

Specific deregulatory moves included (a) extending television licenses to five years from three in 1981; (b) expanding the number of television stations any single entity could own from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985, with further changes in 1995; (c) abolishing guidelines for minimal amounts of non-entertainment programming in 1985; (d) elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987; (e) dropping, in 1985, FCC license guidelines for how much advertising could be carried; (f) leaving technical standards increasingly in the hands of licensees rather than FCC mandates; and (g) deregulation of television's competition, especially cable which went through several regulatory changes in the decade after 1983.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated the 40-station ownership cap on radio stations. Since then, the radio industry has experienced unprecedented consolidation. In June 2003, the FCC voted to overhaul limits on media ownership. Despite having held only one hearing on the complex issue of media consolidation over a 20-month review period, the FCC, in a party-line vote, voted 3-2 to overhaul limits on media concentration. The rule would (1) increase the aggregate television ownership cap to enable one company to own stations reaching 45% of our nation's homes (from 35%), (2) lift the ban on newspaper-television cross-ownership, and (3) allow a single company to own three television stations in large media markets and two in medium ones. In the largest markets, the rule would allow a single company to own up to three television stations, eight radio stations, the cable television system, cable television stations, and a daily newspaper. A wide range of public-interest groups filed an appeal with the Third Circuit, which stayed the effective date of the new rules.

According to a BIA Financial Network report released in July 2006, a total of 88 television stations had been sold in the first six months of 2006, generating a transaction value of $15.7 billion. In 2005, the same period saw the sale of just 21 stations at a value of $244 million, with total year transactions of $2.86 billion.

Congress passed a law in 2004 that forbids any network to own a group of stations that reaches more than 39% of the national television audience. That is lower than the 45% limit set in 2003, but more than the original cap of 35% set in 1996 under the Clinton administration - leading public interest groups to argue that the proposed limits lead to a stifling of local voices.

Newspaper-television cross-ownership remains a contentious issue. Currently prohibited, it refers to the "common ownership of a full-service broadcast station and a daily newspaper when the broadcast station's area of coverage (or "contour") encompasses the newspaper's city of publication".

Capping of local radio and television ownership is another issue. While the original rule prohibited it, currently a company can own at least one television and one radio station in a market. In larger markets, "a single entity may own additional radio stations depending on the number of other independently owned media outlets in the market".

Most broadcasters and newspaper publishers are lobbying to ease or end restrictions on cross-ownership; they say it has to be the future of the news business. It allows newsgathering costs to be spread across platforms, and delivers multiple revenue streams in turn. Their argument is also tied to a rapidly changing media consumption market, and to the diversity of opinions available to the consumer with the rise of the Internet and other digital platforms.

The arguments against relaxing media ownership regulations are put forth by consumer unions and other interest groups on the ground that consolidation in any form inevitably leads to a lack of diversity of opinion. Cross-ownership limits the choices for consumers, inhibits localism and gives excessive media power to one entity.

Professional and workers' guilds of the communication industry (the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of TV and Radio Artists among others) would like the FCC to keep in mind the independent voice, and want a quarter of all prime-time programming to come from independent producers. The Children's Media Policy Coalition suggested that the FCC limit local broadcasters to a single license per market, so that there is enough original programming for children. Other interest groups like the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters are worried about what impact the rules might have on station ownership by minorities.

Deregulatory proponents see station licensees not as "public trustees" of the public airwaves requiring the provision of a wide variety of services to many different listening groups. Instead, broadcasting has been increasingly seen as just another business operating in a commercial marketplace which did not need its management decisions questioned by government overseers, even though they are granted permission to use public airways. Opponents argue that deregulation violates a key mandate of the Communications Act of 1934 which requires licensees to operate in the public interest. Deregulation allows broadcasters to seek profits with little public service programming.

Clinton and telecommunications deregulation

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of US telecommunications law in nearly 62 years, amending the Communications Act of 1934, and leading to media consolidation. It was approved by Congress on January 3, 1996 and signed into law on February 8, 1996 by President Clinton, a Democrat whom some have labeled as the best president the Republicans ever had.

The act claimed to foster competition, but instead it continued the historic industry consolidation begun by Reagan, whose actions reduced the number of major media companies from around 50 in 1983 to 10 in 1996 and 6 in 2005.

Regulation Q

The Carter administration increased the power of the Federal Reserve through the Depository Institutions and Monetary Control Act (DIDMCA) of 1980 which was a necessary first step in ending the New Deal restrictions placed upon financial institutions, such as Regulation Q put in place by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and other restrictions on banks and financial institutions.

The populist Regulation Q imposed limits and ceilings on bank and savings-and-loan (S&L) interest rates to provide funds for low-risk home mortgages.

But with financial market deregulation, Regulation Q created incentives for US banks to do business outside the reach of US law, launching finance globalization. London came to dominate this offshore dollar business.

The populist Regulation Q, which regulated for several decades limits and ceilings on bank and S&L interest to serve the home mortgage sector, was phased out completely in March 1986. Banks were allowed to pay interest on checking account - the NOW accounts - to lure depositors back from the money markets. The traditional interest-rate advantage of the S&Ls was removed, to provide a "level playing field", forcing them to take the same risks as commercial banks to survive. Congress also lifted restrictions on S&Ls' commercial lending, which promptly got the whole industry into trouble that would soon required an unprecedented government bailout of depositors, with tax money. But the developers who made billions from easy credit were allowed to keep their profits. State usury laws were unilaterally suspended by an act of Congress in a flagrant intrusion on state rights. Carter, the well-intentioned populist, left a legacy of anti-populist policies. To this day, Greenspan continues to argue disingenuously that subprime mortgages helped the poor toward home ownership, instead of generating obscene profit for the debt securitization industry.

The party of Lincoln taken over by corporate interests

During the Reagan administration, corporate lobbying and electoral strategies allowed the corporate elite to wrest control of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, from conservative populists.

In the late 1980s, supply-side economics was promoted to allow corporate interests to dominate US politics at the expense of labor by arguing that the only way labor can prosper is to let capital achieve high returns, notwithstanding the contradiction that high returns on capital must come from low wages.

New legislation and laws, executive orders, federal government rule-making, federal agency decisions, and think-tank propaganda, etc, subsequently followed the new political landscape, assisting the implementation of new corporate policies and practices emerging from corporate headquarters rather than from the shop floor. Economists and analysts who challenged this voodoo theory were largely shut out of the media.

Workers by the million were persuaded to abandon their institutional collective defender to fend for themselves individually in the name of freedom. It was a freedom to see their job security eroded and wages and benefits fall with no recourse.

Note
1. Das Kapital, Volume One, Part I: Commodities and Money, Chapter One: Commodities, Section I.

Next: PART 2: Global war on labor

Henry C K Liu is chairman of a New York-based private investment group. His website is at http://www.henryckliu.com.

Copyright 2007, Henry C K Liu


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[Sep 16, 2018] Ending the Secrecy of the Student Debt Crisis

Pervasive racketeering rules because we allow it to, especially in education and medicine. Both are self-destructing under the weight of their own money-grubbing schemes.
Notable quotes:
"... Because of the loans' disgracefully high interest rates, my family and I have paid more or less the equivalent of my debt itself in the years since I graduated, making monthly payments in good faith -- even in times of unemployment and extreme duress -- to lenders like Citigroup, a bank that was among the largest recipients of federal bailout money in 2008 and that eventually sold off my debt to other lenders. This ruinous struggle has been essentially meaningless: I now owe more than what I started out owing, not unlike my parents with their mortgage . ..."
"... By Daniela Senderowicz. Originally published in Yes! Magazine ..."
"... Activists are building meaningful connections among borrowers to counter the taboo of admitting they can't pay their bills. ..."
"... Gamblers and reality TV stars can claim bankruptcy protections when in financial trouble, but 44 million student loan borrowers can't. Unemployed, underpaid, destitute, sick, or struggling borrowers simply aren't able to start anew. ..."
"... With a default rate approaching 40 percent , one would expect armies of distressed borrowers marching in the streets demanding relief from a system that has singled out their financial anguish. Distressed student debtors, however, seem to be terror-struck about coming forward to a society that, they say, ostracizes them for their inability to keep up with their finances. ..."
"... When we spoke to several student borrowers, almost none were willing to share their names. "I can't tell anyone how much I'm struggling," says a 39-year-old Oregon physician who went into student loan default after his wife's illness drained their finances. He is terrified of losing his patients and reputation if he speaks out about his financial problems. ..."
"... Debtors are isolated, anxious, and in the worst cases have taken their own lives . Simone confirms that she has "worked with debtors who were suicidal or had psychological breakdowns requiring psychiatric hospitalization." ..."
"... "Alienation impacts mental health issues," says New York mental health counselor Harriet Fraad. "As long as they blame themselves within the system, they're lost." ..."
"... A recent manifesto by activist and recent graduate Eli Campbell calls for radical unity among borrowers. "Young people live in constant fear that they'll never be able to pay off their debt. We're not buying houses or able to afford the hallmarks of the American dream," he explains. ..."
"... Do a little research on car selling and you will see the pressures on the dealer sales force to suck the vast majority of buyers into long term debt. Car loans are now five or six years, routinely. ..."
Sep 16, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Yves here. This article describes how the stigma of struggling to pay student debt is a burden in and of itself. I wish this article had explained how little it take to trigger an escalation into default interest rates and how punitive they are. The piece also stresses the value of activism as a form of psychological relief, by connecting stressed student debt borrowers with people similarly afflicted.

But the bigger issue is the way indebtedness is demonized in a society that makes it pretty much impossible to avoid borrowing. One reader recounted how many (as in how few) weeks of after tax wages it took to buy a car in the 1960s versus now. Dealers don't want to talk to buyers who want to pay in full at the time of purchase. And if you don't have installment credit or a mortgage, the consumer credit agencies ding you!

It goes without saying that the sense of shame is harder to endure due to how shallow most people's social networks are, which is another product of neoliberalism.

In keeping, the New York Times today ran an op-ed by one of its editors on how student debtors are also victims of the crisis, reprinted from a longer piece in The Baffler (hat tip Dan K). Key sections :

Because of the loans' disgracefully high interest rates, my family and I have paid more or less the equivalent of my debt itself in the years since I graduated, making monthly payments in good faith -- even in times of unemployment and extreme duress -- to lenders like Citigroup, a bank that was among the largest recipients of federal bailout money in 2008 and that eventually sold off my debt to other lenders. This ruinous struggle has been essentially meaningless: I now owe more than what I started out owing, not unlike my parents with their mortgage .

Many people have and will continue to condemn me personally for my tremendous but unexceptional student debt, and the ways in which it has made the recession's effects linger for my family. I've spent quite a lot of time in the past decade accepting this blame. The recession may have compounded my family's economic insecurity, but I also made the conscious decision to take out loans for a college I couldn't afford in order to become a journalist, a profession with minimal financial returns. The amount of debt I owe in student loans -- about $100,000 -- is more than I make in a given year. I am ashamed and embarrassed by this, but as I grow older, I think it is time that those profiting from this country's broken economic system share some of my guilt

[At my commencement in 2009] Mrs. Clinton then echoed a fantasy of boundless opportunity that had helped guide the country into economic collapse, deceiving many of the parents in attendance, including my own, into borrowing toward a future that they couldn't work hard enough to afford. "There is no problem we face here in America or around the world that will not yield to human effort," she said. "Our challenges are ones that summon the best of us, and we will make the world better tomorrow than it is today." At the time, I wondered if this was accurate. I now know how wrong she was.

By Daniela Senderowicz. Originally published in Yes! Magazine

Activists are building meaningful connections among borrowers to counter the taboo of admitting they can't pay their bills.

Gamblers and reality TV stars can claim bankruptcy protections when in financial trouble, but 44 million student loan borrowers can't. Unemployed, underpaid, destitute, sick, or struggling borrowers simply aren't able to start anew.

With a default rate approaching 40 percent , one would expect armies of distressed borrowers marching in the streets demanding relief from a system that has singled out their financial anguish. Distressed student debtors, however, seem to be terror-struck about coming forward to a society that, they say, ostracizes them for their inability to keep up with their finances.

When we spoke to several student borrowers, almost none were willing to share their names. "I can't tell anyone how much I'm struggling," says a 39-year-old Oregon physician who went into student loan default after his wife's illness drained their finances. He is terrified of losing his patients and reputation if he speaks out about his financial problems.

"If I shared this with anyone they will look down upon me as some kind of fool," explains a North Carolina psychologist who is now beyond retirement age. He explains that his student debt balance soared after losing a well-paying position during the financial crisis, and that he is struggling to pay it back.

Financial shame alienates struggling borrowers. Debtors blame themselves and self-loathe when they can't make their payments, explains Colette Simone, a Michigan psychologist. "There is so much fear of sharing the reality of their financial situation and the devastation it is causing in every facet of their lives," she says. "The consequences of coming forward can result in social pushback and possible job -- related complications, which only deepen their suffering."

Debtors are isolated, anxious, and in the worst cases have taken their own lives . Simone confirms that she has "worked with debtors who were suicidal or had psychological breakdowns requiring psychiatric hospitalization."

With an average debt of just over $37,000 per borrower for the class of 2016 , and given that incomes have been flat since the 1970s , it's not surprising that borrowers are struggling to pay. Student loans have a squeaky-clean reputation, and society tends to view them as a noble symbol of the taxpayers' generosity to the working poor. Fear of facing society's ostracism for failure to pay them back has left borrowers alienated and trapped in a lending system that is engulfing them in debt bondage.

"Alienation impacts mental health issues," says New York mental health counselor Harriet Fraad. "As long as they blame themselves within the system, they're lost."

Student debtors can counter despair by fighting back through activism and political engagement, she says. "Connection is the antidote to alienation, and engaging in activism, along with therapy, is a way to recovery."

Despite the fear of coming forward, some activists are building a social movement in which meaningful connections among borrowers can counter the taboo of openly admitting financial ruin.

Student Loan Justice, a national grassroots lobby group, is attempting to build this movement by pushing for robust legislation to return bankruptcy protections to borrowers. The group has active chapters in almost every state, with members directly lobbying their local representatives to sign on as co-sponsors to HR 2366. Activists are building a supportive community for struggling borrowers through political agitation, local engagement, storytelling, and by spreading a courageous message of hope that may embolden traumatized borrowers to come forward and unite.

Julie Margetaa Morgan , a fellow at The Roosevelt Institute, recently noted that student debt servicers like Navient have a powerful influence on lawmakers. "Student loan borrowers may not have millions to spend on lobbying, but they have something equally, if not more, powerful: millions of voices," she says.

A recent manifesto by activist and recent graduate Eli Campbell calls for radical unity among borrowers. "Young people live in constant fear that they'll never be able to pay off their debt. We're not buying houses or able to afford the hallmarks of the American dream," he explains.

In his call for a unified national boycott of student loan payments, inevitably leading to a mass default on this debt, Campbell hopes to expose this crisis and instigate radical change. In a recent interview he explained that the conditions for borrowers are so bad already that debtors may not join the boycott willingly. Instead, participation may simply happen by default given the lack of proper work opportunities that lead to borrowers' inability to pay.

While a large-scale default may not happen through willful and supportive collective action, ending the secrecy of the crisis through massive national attention may destigmatize the shame of financial defeat and finally bring debtors out of the isolation that causes them so much despair.

Activists are calling for a significant conversation about the commodification of educating our youth, shifting our focus toward investing into the promise of the young and able, rather than the guarantee of their perpetual debt bondage. In calling for collective action they soothe the hurt of so many alienated debtors, breaking the taboos that allow them to say, "Me, too" and admit openly that in this financial climate we all need each other to move forward.


Jane , September 16, 2018 at 4:15 am

How much are the interest rates on student loans there in the USA? Here in India its 11.5% if you want to finance studies abroad. 8.5 for some select institutions.

JVR , September 16, 2018 at 5:36 am

I wonder if the media's obsession with "millenials" isn't primarily a way to try to divide people with shared interests, above all around the topics of student debt and the job market and to make the problems seem like they have shallower roots than they really do. The individuals mentioned here are older than that 24-37 age cohort, one of them much older.

Epistrophy , September 16, 2018 at 6:42 am

Dealers don't want to talk to buyers who want to pay in full at the time of purchase.

Yes Yes. Car manufacturers are actually finance houses selling products manufactured by subcontractors – such is the state of American industry – but their dream is to move to a SaaS model where ownership, of anything, becomes a relic of the past (except for the overlords and oligarchs).

This could not be possible without government corruption and revolving-door regulation. Maybe these PAYG vehicles will contain built-in body scanners too; for our own security, of course.

In his call for a unified national boycott of student loan payments, inevitably leading to a mass default on this debt, Campbell hopes to expose this crisis and instigate radical change.

Default, or radical change, would bring the economy to it's knees. But when there is another economic downturn, this is going to happen anyway. Terrible situation; negative real interest rates destroying the pensions of the elderly, student loan servitude destroying the youth and the middle class being squeezed to oblivion. What can be done to fix it, I ask?

Yet they are doing God's work, are they? Well, this is not a God I choose to worship.

JTMcPhee , September 16, 2018 at 8:33 am

Well good for you. How many cars, of what age, have you bought, for your anecdote to rate as anything vaguely resembling the wide reality, and how does your personal financial situation let you just write checks for $30 or $70,000?

Do a little research on car selling and you will see the pressures on the dealer sales force to suck the vast majority of buyers into long term debt. Car loans are now five or six years, routinely.

And one wonders what the investment is in trying to impeach the points of this report, wth such an unlikely and atypical claim.

UserFriendly , September 16, 2018 at 6:57 am

NYT ran the same story , interesting they edited out his total debt and major though.

JTMcPhee , September 16, 2018 at 8:39 am

Maybe a little traction, then, for the notion, and increasingly the inescapable reality, of #juststoppaying on those "remember Joe Biden" virtually non-dischargeable, often fraudulently induced, "student loan" debt shackles?

[Sep 03, 2018] Michael Hudson: Argentina's New $50 Billion IMF Loan Is Designed to Replay its 2001 Crisis

Notable quotes:
"... Alberto Nisman and Argentina's History of Assassinations and Suspicious Suicides ..."
"... Whether the crusading prosecutor's death is found to be a suicide or homicide, many Argentines probably won't believe it. The past has taught them to always look for the sinister explanation. ..."
"... Decades after the military murdered thousands, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo warn that the current era of alternative facts poses a new threat ..."
"... They'll gain the world but lose their souls They'll gain the world but lose their souls ..."
"... Don't believe politicians and thieves They want our people on their bended knees Pirates and robbers, liars and thieves You come like the wolf but dressed like the sheep ..."
"... If you go to Lagos what you find, vampires If you go to Kinshasa what you find, vampires If you go to Darfur what you find, vampires If you go to Malabo what you find, vampires ..."
"... Lies and theft Guns and debt Life and death IMF ..."
"... When the bank man comes to your door Better know you'll always be poor Bank loans and policies They can't make our people free ..."
"... You live on the blood of my people Everyone knows you've come to steal You come like the thieves in the night The whole world is ready to fight ..."
Jul 25, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Posted on July 25, 2018 by Yves Smith

Yves here. In this Real News Network interview, Micheal Hudson explains why IMF "programs" inevitably hurt workers.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/N5ZHD9-zdkQ?rel=0&showinfo=0

SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

For several months now. Argentines have been taking to the streets to protest against neoliberal austerity measures of President Mauricio Macri. The most recent such protest took place on July 9 on Argentine's Independence Day. There has also been three general strikes thus far. In the two years since he took office, President Macri has laid off as many as 76,000 public sector workers, and slashed gas and water and electricity subsidies, leading to a tenfold increase in prices, in some cases.

Now, the government argues that all of this is necessary in order to stem inflation, and the decline of the currency's value. Last month, Macri received the backing of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF agreed to provide Argentina with a $50 billion loan, one of the largest in IMF history. In exchange, the Macri government will deepen the austerity measures already in place.

Joining me now to analyze Argentina's economic situation and its new IMF loan is Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri Kansas City. Welcome back, Michael.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Good to be back, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, why is it that Argentina needs such a huge credit line from the IMF?

MICHAEL HUDSON: For precisely the reason that you explained. The neoliberal policy has its aim rolling back any of the wage increases in employment that Mrs. Kirschner, the former president, implied, as part of the class war. So in order to shrink the economy, you have to basically cut back business, cut back employment. And so the purpose of the IMF loan was to enable the wealthy Argentinians, the oligarchy that's run the country for a century, to get all its money out and run. So like almost all IMF loans, the purpose is to subsidize capital flight out of Argentina so that the wealthy Argentinians can take their money and run before the currency collapses.

The aim of the loan is to indebt Argentina so much that its currency will continue to go down and down and down, essentially wrecking the economy. That's what the IMF does. That's its business plan. It makes a loan to subsidize capital flight, emptying out the economy of cash, leading the currency to collapse, as it is recently collapsed. As soon as the $50 billion was expended, or wasted, in letting wealthy Argentinians take their pesos, convert them into dollars, move them offshore to the United States, to England, to the Dutch West Indies, and offshore banking centers. Then they let the currency collapse so that the IMF model, which it's announced for the last 50 years, the model is if you can depreciate a currency what you're really lowering is the price of labor. Because raw materials and capital have an international price. But when a currency goes down it makes imports much more expensive, and that causes a price umbrella over the cost of living; that labor has to pay the equivalent international price for grain, for food, for oil and gas, for everything else.

And so what Macri has done is they agree with the IMF to wage class war with a vengeance, devaluation, leaving Argentina so hopelessly indebted that it can't possibly repay the IMF loan. So what we're seeing is a replay of what happened in 2001.

SHARMINI PERIES: Exactly. I was going to ask you, now, that was only 17 years ago, Michael. Argentinians do have memory here. They know what happened. They experienced it as well. Now, that was back in 2001 during the economic crisis when unemployment had increased so dramatically. That country went through a series of presidents and went through a series of crises. And we saw images of, you know, very similar to what we had seen in, in Greece not too long ago. Now, tell us more about that history. What exactly happened during that crisis, and then eventually how did Nestor Kirschner relieve the economy and come out of that crisis?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the IMF staff said, don't make the loan. There's no possible way Argentina can pay the loan. It's all going to be made to the oligarchy for capital flight. You're giving the IMF money for crooks, and you're expecting the Argentine people to have to pay. So Argentina very quickly was left totally broke, as the IMF intended it to be. And so although it was 17 years ago, for the last 17 years the IMF has had a slogan: No more Argentinas. In other words, they said, we're never going to make the loan that is only given to oligarchs for capital flight to steal. It's as if you make a loan to the Ukraine, or to the Russian kleptocrats, or to the Greek banks to move offshore.

And yet here, here again, we're having a replay of what happened was, after Mrs. Kirschner came in, it was obvious to the [inaudible] to everybody, as it had been to the IMF staff, many of whom had resigned, that Argentina couldn't pay. So about 80 percent of Argentines' bondholders agreed to write down the debt to something that could be paid. They said, OK, you know, either it's a total default because they can't pay anything, or we'll write it down very substantially to what could be paid. Because the IMF really made a completely incompetent- not incompetent, directly corrupt insider deal. Well, unfortunately, the oligarchy had a fatal clause put in the original bond issue, saying they would agree to U.S. arbitration and to U.S. law if there was any dispute.

Well, after the old Argentine bonds depreciated in price, the bonds that were not renegotiated as part of the 80 percent, you had vulture funds buy them out. Especially Paul Singer, the Republican campaign donor who tends to buy politicians, along with foreign government bonds. And sued, and said, we want 100 percent on the dollar, not, you know, the 40 cents on the dollar or whatever they'd settled. And the case went to a senile, dying judge, Griesa in New York City, who said, well, there was something that's about a clause that said investors have to be treated separately. And Argentina said, well, that's fine, we'll pay the other 20 percent [inaudible] the 80 percent of all agreed to. The majority rules. And Griesa said, no, no, you have to pay the 80 percent all the money that the 20 percent demands. That's symmetry, because only if you let the hedge funds win can you go bankrupt again, wreck the government, and bring in oligarchy.

And so that ruling caused absolute turmoil. The United States State Department set out to support the oligarchy by doing everything it could to destabilize Argentina. And the Argentine people said, well, we'd better vote in a government that's supported by the United States. Maybe it will be nice to us. I don't know why foreign countries think that way, but they thought maybe if they voted the neoliberal that the United States would agree to forgive some of its debt. Well, that's not what neoliberals do. The neoliberal did just what you said at the beginning of the program; announced that he was going to cut employment, lower, stop inflation by making the working class bail, bear all of the costs, and would borrow- actually, it was the largest loan in IMF history, the $50 billion to enable the Argentine wealthy class to move its money offshore, leaving the economy a bankrupt shell. That's what the IMF does.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. So let's imagine you are given the opportunity to resolve this issue. How would you be advising the Argentine government in terms of what can they do to stabilize the economy, given the circumstances they're facing right now?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Very simple. I'd say this debt is an odious debt. There is no way that Argentina can pay. The clause that bankrupted us was put in as a result of tens of thousands of professors, labor leaders, [land] people being assassinated. The United States financed an assassination team throughout Latin America after Pinochet in Chile to have basically a proxy government, and the Argentine loan that said we will, we will follow U.S. rules, not Argentine rules, basically should disqualify that debt from having to be paid. And it should say the IMF debt is an odious debt. It was given under fraudulent purposes solely for purposes of capital flight. We will not pay.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Michael, just one last question. Did you want to add something to what you were saying?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, once it doesn't pay the foreign debt, its balance of payments will be, will be there. The problem is that the creditors have always used violence in order to get their way. I don't see how the Argentina situation can be solved without violence, because the creditors are using police force, covert assassination. They're just as bad as the dirty war that had that mass assassination period in the late, into the early '90s. There's obviously going to be not only the demonstrations that you showed, but an outright war, because it's broken out in Argentina more drastically than anywhere else right now in Latin America, except in Venezuela.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, at the moment, the Fed is gradually increasing interest rates and the dollar is gaining in value. This is sucking the financial capital not only in Argentina but in many places around the world. Also, you know, they're going to be soon in crisis as well. What is, what can the developing economies do?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Here's the problem. When the United States raises interest rates, that causes foreign money to flow, flow into the dollar, because the rest of the world, Europe and other areas, are keeping low interest rates. So as money goes into the dollar, to take advantage of the rising interest rates, the dollar rises. Now, that makes it necessary for Argentina or any other country, third world country, to pay more and more pesos in order to buy the dollars to pay that foreign debt. Because Argentina and third world countries have violated the prime rule of credit. And that is never to denominate a debt in another currency that you can't pay. And all of a sudden, the dollar debts become much more expensive in peso terms, and as a result, all throughout the world right now you're having a collapse of bond prices of third world debt. Argentine bonds, Chilean bonds, African bonds, near Eastern bonds. Third world debt bonds are plunging, because the investors realize that the countries can't pay. The game looks like it may be over.

The good side of this is that Argentina now can join with other third world countries and say we are going to redenominate the debts in our own currency, or we just won't pay, or we will do what the world did in 1931 and announce a moratorium on intergovernmental debts. Now, that was done on German reparations and the World War I inter-ally debts. Something like that. Some international conference to declare a moratorium and say, what is the amount that actually can be paid? And to write down third world debts to the amount that should be paid.

Because the principle that countries have to say is that no country should be obliged to sacrifice its own economy, its own employment, and its own independence to pay foreign creditors. Every country has a right to put its own citizens first and its own economy first before foreign creditors, especially when the loans are made under false pretenses, as the IMF has made pretending to stabilize the currency instead of subsidizing capital flight to destabilize the currency.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Michael. I thank you so much. And we'll continue this conversation. There's so much more to discuss, and so many countries here in this situation for that discussion as well. I thank you so much for joining us today.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Thanks. I think it's going to get worse, so we'll have a lot to discuss.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


tawal , July 25, 2018 at 3:12 am

Why does the IMF have a US dollar credit line at the US FED, and Argentina does not; countries like Canada do, as do companies like Harley Davidson. Why the discrimination?

vlade , July 25, 2018 at 3:26 am

I'd really like your source on HD having a line with Fed .

tawal , July 25, 2018 at 10:05 am

Here's one: http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/2010/12/article/harley-davidson-loaned-2-3-billion-from-fed/

I recall Bloomberg doing quite an expose, when the FED databases were forced to be released.

Disturbed Voter , July 25, 2018 at 7:00 am

"The IMF was originally laid out as a part of the Bretton Woods system exchange agreement in 1944. During the Great Depression, countries sharply raised barriers to trade in an attempt to improve their failing economies. This led to the devaluation of national currencies and a decline in world trade."

IMF is an anachronism, a perpetual organization seeking new reasons for its continued existence.

And like all Western post WW II institutions, is part of the Cold War. Of course any actions by US connected entities in Latin America/Caribbean are part of the Monroe Doctrine ;-(

Thuto , July 25, 2018 at 7:55 am

Gas prices in Egypt have just been raised by 75% as part of the austerity measures attached to the $12bn loan granted by the IMF. Regular folk barely have two pennies to rub together and have been battered by this and other measures ostensibly designed to "lift the economy and lure back investors (as per the IMF rationale behind these crushing loan conditions). I wonder if the same sleight of hand outlined by Prof Hudson applies here (I.e. whether this is an IMF subsidised capital flight scheme designed to aid the Egyptian oligarchy in repatriating its loot) and whether we should cast a suspicious eye towards the oligarchs in any country the IMF extends a loan to.

michael hudson , July 25, 2018 at 8:33 am

That's my point, of course.

The Rev Kev , July 25, 2018 at 9:02 am

This puts me in mind of a blog that I came across sometime ago at http://ferfal.blogspot.com/ which has relevance here. Yeah, he tries to flog a lot of survival gear and the like but this site came out of his experiences in the first crash in Argentina in 2001. If you are prepared to dig deep into his files you will find all sorts of stories about what life was like in Argentina and it was awful and desperate. Probably the best place to start is at http://ferfal.blogspot.com/search/label/Argentine%20Collapse

Alejandro , July 25, 2018 at 10:52 am

From your link, this jumped out, as agnotological apologetics:

" Right now with President Mauricio Macri there's hope, but the change the country needs will take decades "

He didn't make much of an effort to clarify, who holds this "hope" nor what "change the country needs". OTOH Michael Hudson, in his last two interviews on NC, did. He (Feral) also seems oblivious to the neoliberal projects role in Latin America, and in Argentina's 2001 crises.

And this:

"Anyway, that's what happened in Argentina and this is why in spite of the good president we now have we need another 10 or 20 years for an entire generation of people to know something other than populism and corruption as a way of life."

Again, oblivious to the neoliberal projects role in Latin America, and in Argentina's 2001 crises. Who benefits from austerity, and how?

Bud-in PA , July 25, 2018 at 9:48 am

"As soon as the $50 billion was expended, or wasted, in letting wealthy Argentinians take their pesos, convert them into dollars, move them offshore to the United States, to England, to the Dutch West Indies, and offshore banking centers"

Not sure I understand this. Who is converting the Oligarch pesos to dollars? Crooks in the Argentine government?

Synoia , July 25, 2018 at 10:35 am

The Argentinian Banks, and their US correspondent Banks. The US is one of the largest safe havens for foreign "hot money" in the world.

"Free flow" of Capital is a key feature of "Free Trade."

Mel , July 25, 2018 at 10:39 am

As I understand it, it's the Oligarchs' butlers and footmen in the Argentine government that do it. If the Argentine government has a policy of pegging the peso at some set number of pesos per dollar, then the government is obliged to hand over this many dollars in exchange for that many pesos. That's what a peg is. One way to get the dollars would be through a loan which the IMF would "reluctantly" give them, conditional on a few crushing social policies.
Like I said before, this so much resembles a leveraged buy-out.

Ba Wang Long , July 25, 2018 at 11:51 am

Could someone please explain the mechanisms by which the $50B loan leaves the country. Exactly how do the elites get their hands on this money and then get it out of the country?

Mel , July 25, 2018 at 1:10 pm

If you haven't already read it, check Prof. Hudson's previous article . It describes more about the methods.
Of course, if you have, then I'm not helping.

HotFlash , July 25, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Ah yes! As they taught us back in accounting classes, it is easy to cook the books, the hard part is getting the cash out.

I heard this excellent podcast from Democracy at Work earlier this week wherein Michael Hudson explains it very clearly.

Synoia , July 25, 2018 at 5:59 pm

They convert their liquid cash into Dollars. Then wire it to Banks outside the Argentine, and invest, (typically buy property). In addition, they take out loans against their Argentinian assets or property, and convert those pesos into dollars, and export those dollars as well.

All legal and above board.

When the peso collapses, they repatriate some of their dollars, and pay of the now deflated loans.

Jim Haygood , July 25, 2018 at 12:42 pm

'The Argentine loan that said we will, we will follow U.S. rules, not Argentine rules, basically should disqualify that debt from having to be paid.'

Most foreign currency bonds floated by developing economies specify New York or London legal jurisdiction because of (1) well-developed case law; (2) creditors don't trust the objectivity of courts in borrower countries.

If all developing country debt were considered "odious" merely because of New York or English legal jurisdiction, lending to developing countries would stop cold.

'I don't see how the Argentina situation can be solved without violence, because the creditors are using police force, covert assassination.'

Cite one -- just one -- link showing "covert assassination" occurring in Argentina. The Dirty War of the 1970s and early 1980s doesn't count. You can't keep waving the bloody shirt of military dictatorship in South America more than thirty years after it ended.

JTMcPhee , July 25, 2018 at 1:33 pm

I'm sure there is a nice polite clear unassailable explanation for what happened in this instance:

" Alberto Nisman and Argentina's History of Assassinations and Suspicious Suicides

Whether the crusading prosecutor's death is found to be a suicide or homicide, many Argentines probably won't believe it. The past has taught them to always look for the sinister explanation. "

https://www.propublica.org/article/alberto-nisman-argentinas-history-of-assassinations-and-suspicious-suicides

And maybe creditors like to have their loan docs choose US/NY courts and law as the basis for dispute resolution because both are stacked in favor of creditors? Home court "white shoe lawyer" advantage? No history of support for the great creditor scams of the past? the word "jackal" has no meaning? There was no reason for that guy to write a sequel to "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man"?

Really, there's no need for the "bloody shirt," now is there, given current right-wing dictators supported by "us," what the Empire and Banksters and the rest are doing in and to central and South America, now is there? But it's a great distraction, I'll grant, and might even work as impeachment for some folks

Plenue , July 25, 2018 at 7:09 pm

I'm shocked that Haygood would confidently talk about something he doesn't understand. Shocked!

Roberto , July 25, 2018 at 6:18 pm

Further, from a previous MH article here

"No country should be obliged to pay its bondholders if the price of paying means austerity, unemployment, shrinking population, emigration, rising suicide rates, abolition of public health standards, and selloffs of the public domain to monopolists."

These sorts of rules would put a dead stop to foreign loans.

JTMcPhee , July 25, 2018 at 7:59 pm

Something always bothers me about the "bondholder" sanctity meme. Bonds are "investments," right? And there are RISKS associated with investments, right? And there's supposed to be a "risk premium" built into the "price" of the bond, right?

At least Investopedia and other sources say so, basically that these are NOT God-sanctioned absolute-right deals where the bondholder takes priority over everyone else in the world, right? https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/05/bondrisks.asp

And bonds are sort of contracts, subject to the rules and defenses that apply in contract disputes, albeit specialized rules, right? Impossibility and stuff? Fraud?

So why are the rest of us, like where "the government" is dumb or corrupt (CalPERS?)enough to "obligate" the wealth and future of a country by "selling bonds" to "investors," as security for "loans" that get siphoned off by corruption and stupidity, dumb enough to usually just roll over and accept that we have to live like serfs to "pay off the bonds?" Especially when the same scam has been pulled by the same set of Banksters over and over?

And yes, in the financialized westernized world, we mopes are tied to the "paying for progress [some definition of same] by borrowing," aren't we?

Interesting that the hated Sharia Law, the banking and investment part of it, kind of makes those allegedly risk-free kinds of fee- and profit- and reacketeer-generating "deals" not only unlawful, but against the will of G_D? https://shariabanking.com/

We could do better, couldn't we?

knowbuddhau , July 25, 2018 at 7:03 pm

Who are you to say when?

How telling. Was only 7 years ago that the torture-murderer of mothers and nuns, the Blonde Angel of Death himself, Alfredo Ignacio Astiz, was sentenced to life in prison. Per Wikipedia:

Astiz, a specialist in the infiltration of human rights organizations, was implicated in the December 1977 kidnapping of twelve human rights activists, including Azucena Villaflor and two other founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and two French nationals, Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon, who were Catholic nuns. None of the twelve was seen alive again outside detention and all were believed killed, rumored to be among the bodies washed up on beaches south of Buenos Aires in late 1977.

To this day, torturers and murderers hold public offices. But I'm sure that's all in the past. Anyone who still talks about the US-sponsored 16 years of Dirty War, from 1967-1983, is a bloody shirt-waving fool, amirite Jim?

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) [2 March 1998] -- Argentina's "dirty war" ended 15 years ago, but it is an ugly episode that cannot be buried and refuses to be silenced.

Aging mothers and grandmothers march each week as the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, carrying banners and chanting, "We will not be stopped. We will not be broken. We have held on for 20 years."

They demand to know the whereabouts of sons and daughters and husbands and wives who were detained by the ruling military junta between 1976 and 1983, and then disappeared.

The junta seized power in Argentina in March 1976 and began a systematic campaign to wipe out left-wing terrorism. But the terror it spread exceeded anything the leftists ever dreamed of, claiming the lives of dissidents as well as innocent civilians.

More than 9,000 people disappeared during the dirty war, and some human rights groups say as many as 30,000 may have been tortured and killed.

"We only want to know where our sons and daughters are -- alive or dead," says one woman. "We are anguished because we don't know whether they are sick or hungry or cold. We don't know anything. We are desperate, desperate because we don't know who to turn to.

"Consulates, embassies, government ministries, churches. Every place is closed to us. Everywhere they shut us out. We beg you to help us. We beg you."

40 years later, the mothers of Argentina's 'disappeared' refuse to be silent [Guardian 28 April 2017]

Decades after the military murdered thousands, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo warn that the current era of alternative facts poses a new threat

Torturers and murderers hold public office, thanks to an amnesty. But I'm sure no one today, in the whole of Argentina, would ever consider what well, actually has long been standard operating procedure in Argentina.

ChrisAtRU , July 25, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Nation State Debtor's Prison the beatings will continue

Chauncey Gardiner , July 25, 2018 at 4:55 pm

While not precisely on point, reminds me of a monologue to music titled "FMI", the Portuguese abbreviation for IMF, by Portuguese poet Mario Branco. Salient lyrics (English translation) of IMF:

"It's 'Monetary Internationalism' The IMF doesn't exist The IMF is a mask."

"There can't exist a reason for so much suffering."

ChrisAtRU , July 25, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Thievery Corporation were far more brutal in their Fela-Kuti-inspired "Vampires"

Lyrics (abridged):

They'll gain the world but lose their souls
They'll gain the world but lose their souls

Don't believe politicians and thieves
They want our people on their bended knees
Pirates and robbers, liars and thieves
You come like the wolf but dressed like the sheep

If you go to Lagos what you find, vampires
If you go to Kinshasa what you find, vampires
If you go to Darfur what you find, vampires
If you go to Malabo what you find, vampires

Lies and theft
Guns and debt
Life and death
IMF

When the bank man comes to your door
Better know you'll always be poor
Bank loans and policies
They can't make our people free

You live on the blood of my people
Everyone knows you've come to steal
You come like the thieves in the night
The whole world is ready to fight

knowbuddhau , July 25, 2018 at 5:44 pm

This:

The clause that bankrupted us was put in as a result of tens of thousands of professors, labor leaders, [land] people being assassinated. The United States financed an assassination team throughout Latin America after Pinochet in Chile to have basically a proxy government, and the Argentine loan that said we will, we will follow U.S. rules, not Argentine rules, basically should disqualify that debt from having to be paid. And it should say the IMF debt is an odious debt. It was given under fraudulent purposes solely for purposes of capital flight. We will not pay.

And this:

The problem is that the creditors have always used violence in order to get their way.

Are why I so love Michael Hudson. There's the blood so studiously avoided in the desanguinated language of "economics." Its absence is the tell-tale of the kind of disembodiment described by Nancy Krieger (h/t Lambert ).

Embodiment, in other words, is literal. The
ecosocial premise is that clues to current and
changing population patterns of health, includ-
ing social disparities in health, are to be found
chiefly in the dynamic social, material, and
ecological contexts into which we are born,
develop, interact, and endeavour to live mean-
ingful lives. The contrast is to pervasive aetiolo-
gical hypotheses concerned mainly with
decontextualised and disembodied ''behaviours''
and ''exposures'' interacting with equally decon-
textualised and disembodied ''genes.'' The dis-
tinction is more than simply between
''determinants'' and ''mechanisms.'' Consider,
for example, contending -- and longstanding --
claims about racism compared with ''race'' as
causes of racial/ethnic disparities in health.

An embodied approach promotes testing hypoth-
eses to ascertain if the observed disparities are a
biological expression of racial discrimination,
past and present; by contrast, a disembodied
and decontextualised approach promulgates
research focused on detrimental genes and/or
''lifestyles.'' The vastly different implications
of these approaches for generating epidemiolo-
gical knowledge and informing policy underscore
the utility of clarifying the significance of
''embodiment'' for epidemiological inquiry.
[Footnotes omitted, emphasis added.]

Ah yes, but talking about our ideas about the problem, or talking about the talking about the problem, is so much better for catapulting the propaganda.

Also, if it looks, walks, and bankrupts Argentina over and over exactly like an Economic Hit Job aka mass murder and looting under the color of law by the Suits in broad g.d. daylight, then yes. Yes it is.

Scott1 , July 25, 2018 at 9:30 pm

In the '70s at the best universities Ecology Classes were instituted and the young well off students were told first, that the climate was being altered as a result of human activities.
Nixon was told by the CIA that overpopulation was the main treat to future US Security.

The Vatican quashed that way of looking at it. Gopsay policies are all the same as Vatican policies.
Loyalty to the nation of their birth for a rich person & their wealthy families was thrown out the window.
The jetsetter class now buys the best deal far as taxes and protections.

Their goal is to eliminate any harm to them or their families from "Forces beyond their control." If the leaders of the world are going to co-operate with them, those leaders will be paid. For the majority who are born to labor and become labor those things done by bankers and their leaders become for them "Forces beyond their control."

The rich know that overpopulation is already the fact at 7.5 billion. They will bond together on the tarmacs hanging around their jets for little talks as took place between Bill Clinton and Lauretta Lynch.
"All those people that don't like how we get rich, who are taking up space we want, well, let them starve. The science says there are too many of them anyway."
(Wasn't a discussion of how to engineer revolts wonderful to crush, but is used as illustrative of how jet setters get around to meetings that lead to this or that policy of the day.)

This is the essence of "Scientific Socialism". Current Trump Administration policies will cause the withdrawal of US lands devoted to agriculture. What was for Stalin destruction of the Kulaks and collectivization starvation of Armenians, or Peasants, or the Intellogemtsia, or all those ambivalent about who is in power and are therefore Counter-Revolutionaries, starving them all leaves only the ignorant, cowed, or lucky alive.

Creating the conditions for civil wars is a great thing for the banks and their loyal patrons, the war materiel`s industries. The people rebel and oligarchs at the top have them killed.

Trotsky made the point that the weapons in the arsenals are the peoples. Somehow soldiers and police in nation after nation don't see it that way. In the US the police are made soldiers in the drug war. Keeping the peace is not their primary job. No pot smoking peaceniks are to be hired so the ranks are securely filled by thugs and incompetents made special by law. They shoot Black people at the drop of a hat. They shoot the poor driven crazy pretty often as well.

Somebody wondered why in the US Blues & Reds or Democrats, the Leftists silo and don't talk civilly to each other. Trump supporters show and shoot guns or as in Charlottesville Virginia run as many people as possible over and are obviously willing to kill other Americans. In Weimar Germany the "Scientific Socialists" had their uniformed enforcers.

Dictators have their own organizations exultant at the opportunity to be rewarded for beating and killing the people who object to the destruction of civilization. Spectaculars in stadiums, like Trump's to come Military Parade become more common as if such is civilization when it is more indicative of a break down of civilization itself.

I have no means to remove myself and my wife from the roiling clouds of more murder in the streets. I'll be "collapsing in place" as described by Lambert Strether. These things and the ideologies behind them happening are not accidental of "Forces Beyond My Control".

Thanks

Chauncey Gardiner , July 25, 2018 at 10:18 pm

The true purposes of the IMF loan are questionable to me.

1.) Over the past few years, we have seen market rigging by large transnational banks in both the LIBOR and foreign exchange markets. This raises the question of whether there was covert market manipulation to rapidly drop the Argentine peso and coerce the Argentine government to borrow funds from the IMF to defend the peso in order to assure that nation was able to pay for necessary imports?

2.) Was this debt undertaken to facilitate capital flight for a small, wealthy segment of the Argentine population without the consent of or benefit to the people of Argentina, or for some other unstated reason?

If either of these is true, this debt can legitimately be considered as "odious debt" by the people of Argentina and potentially repudiated.

It also appears to me that there is a high probability that the austerity measures likely to be imposed under this $50 billion loan to Argentina by the IMF could violate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Not an attorney, nor knowledgeable about international law. Just my opinion as an ordinary citizen based on my reading of the post and Wikipedia.

[Aug 26, 2018] "Creating Wealth" through debt- the West's Finance-Capitalist road by Michael Hudson

Notable quotes:
"... This financial dynamic has hijacked industrial capitalism. It is leading economies to polarize and ultimately collapse under the weight of their debt burden. That is the inherent dynamic of finance capitalism. The debt overhead leads to a financial crisis that becomes an opportunity to impose emergency rule to replace democratic lawmaking. So contrary to Hayek's anti-government "free enterprise" warnings, "slippery slope" to totalitarianism is not by socialist reforms limiting the rentier class's extraction of economic rent and interest, but just the opposite: the failure of society to check the rentier extraction of income vesting a hereditary autocracy whose financial and rent-seeking business plan impoverishes the economy at large. ..."
May 05, 2018 | www.newcoldwar.org

Originally appeared in Counterpunch

Text of Michael Hudson's speech on debt and the world economy, presented at Peking University's School of Marxist Studies, May 5-6, 2018.


Volumes II and III of Marx's Capital describe how debt grows exponentially, burdening the economy with carrying charges. This overhead is subjecting today's Western finance-capitalist economies to austerity, shrinking living standards and capital investment while increasing their cost of living and doing business. That is the main reason why they are losing their export markets and becoming de-industrialized.

What policies are best suited for China to avoid this neo-rentier disease while raising living standards in a fair and efficient low-cost economy? The most pressing policy challenge is to keep down the cost of housing. Rising housing prices mean larger and larger debts extracting interest out of the economy. The strongest way to prevent this is to tax away the rise in land prices, collecting the rental value for the government instead of letting it be pledged to the banks as mortgage interest.

The same logic applies to public collection of natural resource and monopoly rents. Failure to tax them away will enable banks to create debt against these rents, building financial and other rentier charges into the pricing of basic needs.

U.S. and European business schools are part of the problem, not part of the solution. They teach the tactics of asset stripping and how to replace industrial engineering with financial engineering, as if financialization creates wealth faster than the debt burden. Having rapidly pulled ahead over the past three decades, China must remain free of rentier ideology that imagines wealth to be created by debt-leveraged inflation of real-estate and financial asset prices.

Western capitalism has not turned out the way that Marx expected. He was optimistic in forecasting that industrial capitalists would gain control of government to free economies from unnecessary costs of production in the form of rent and interest that increase the cost of living (and hence, the break-even wage level). Along with most other economists of his day, he expected rentier income and the ownership of land, natural resources and banking to be taken out of the hands of the hereditary aristocracies that had held them since Europe's feudal epoch. Socialism was seen as the logical extension of classical political economy, whose main policy was to abolish rent paid to landlords and interest paid to banks and bondholders.

A century ago there was an almost universal belief in mixed economies. Governments were expected to tax away land rent and natural resource rent, regulate monopolies to bring prices in line with actual cost value, and create basic infrastructure with money created by their own treasury or central bank. Socializing land rent was the core of Physiocracy and the economics of Adam Smith, whose logic was refined by Alfred Marshall, Simon Patten and other bourgeois economists of the late 19th century. That was the path that European and American capitalism seemed to be following in the decades leading up to World War I. That logic sought to use the government to support industry instead of the landlord and financial classes.

China is progressing along this "mixed economy" road to socialism, but Western economies are suffering from a resurgence of the pre-capitalist rentier classes. Their slogan of "small government" means a shift in planning to finance, real estate and monopolies. This economic philosophy is reversing the logic of industrial capitalism, replacing public investment and subsidy with privatization and rent extraction. The Western economies' tax shift favoring finance and real estate is a case in point. It reverses John Stuart Mill's "Ricardian socialism" based on public collection of the land's rental value and the "unearned increment" of rising land prices.

Defining economic rent as the unnecessary margin of prices over intrinsic cost value, classical economists through Marx described rentiers as being economically parasitic, not productive. Rentiers do not "earn" their land rent, interest or monopoly rent, because it has no basis in real cost-value (ultimately reducible to labor costs). The political, fiscal and regulatory reforms that followed from this value and rent theory were an important factor leading to Marx's value theory and historical materialism. The political thrust of this theory explains why it is no longer being taught.

By the late 19th century the rentiers fought back, sponsoring reaction against the socialist implications of classical value and rent theory. In America, John Bates Clark denied that economic rent was unearned. He redefined it as payment for the landlords' labor and enterprise, not as accruing "in their sleep," as J. S. Mill had characterized it. Interest was depicted as payment for the "service" of lending productively, not as exploitation. Everyone's income and wealth was held to represent payment for their contribution to production. The thrust of this approach was epitomized by Milton Friedman's Chicago School claim that "there is no such thing as a free lunch" – in contrast to classical economics saying that feudalism's legacy of privatized land ownership, bank credit and monopolies was all about how to get a free lunch, by exploitation.

The other major reaction against classical and Marxist theory was English and Austrian "utility" theory. Focusing on consumer psychology instead of production costs, it claimed that there is no difference between value and price. A price is whatever consumers "choose" to pay for commodities, based on the "utility" that these provide – defined by circular reasoning as being equal to the price they pay. Producers are assumed to invest and produce goods to "satisfy consumer demand," as if consumers are the driving force of economies, not capitalists, property owners or financial managers.

Using junk-psychology, interest was portrayed as what bankers or bondholders "abstain" from consuming, lending their self-denial of spending to "impatient" consumers and "credit-worthy" entrepreneurs. This view opposed the idea of interest as a predatory charge levied by hereditary wealth and the privatized monopoly right to create bank credit. Marx quipped that in this view, the Rothschilds must be Europe's most self-depriving and abstaining family, not as suffering from wealth-addiction.

These theories that all income is earned and that consumers (the bourgeois term for wage-earners) instead of capitalists determine economic policy were a reaction against the classical value and rent theory that paved the way for Marx's analysis. After analyzing industrial business cycles in terms of under-consumption or over-production in Volume I of Capital, Volume III dealt with the precapitalist financial problem inherited from feudalism and the earlier "ancient" mode of production: the tendency of an economy's debts to grow by the "purely mathematical law" of compound interest.

Any rate of interest may be thought of as a doubling time. What doubles is not real growth, but the parasitic financial burden on this growth. The more the debt burden grows, the less income is left for spending on goods and services. More than any of his contemporaries, Marx emphasized the tendency for debt to grow exponentially, at compound interest, extracting more and more income from the economy at large as debts double and redouble, beyond the ability of debtors to pay. This slows investment in new means of production, because it shrinks domestic markets for output.

Marx explained that the credit system is external to the means of production. It existed in ancient times, feudal Europe, and has survived industrial capitalism to exist even in socialist economies. At issue in all these economic systems is how to prevent the growth of debt and its interest charge from shrinking economies. Marx believed that the natural thrust of industrial capitalism was to replace private banking and money creation with public money and credit. He distinguished interest-bearing debt under industrial capitalism as, for the first time, a means of financing capital investment. It thus was potentially productive by funding capital to produce a profit that was sufficient to pay off the debt.

Industrial banking was expected to finance industrial capital formation, as was occurring in Germany in Marx's day. Marx's examples of industrial balance sheets accordingly assumed debt. In contrast to Ricardo's analysis of capitalism's Armageddon resulting from rising land-rent, Marx expected capitalism to free itself from political dominance by the landlord class, as well as from the precapitalist legacy of usury.

This kind of classical free market viewed capitalism's historical role as being to free the economy from the overhead of unproductive "usury" debt, along with the problem of absentee landownership and private ownership of monopolies – what Lenin called the economy's "commanding heights" in the form of basic infrastructure. Governments would make industries competitive by providing basic needs freely or at least at much lower public prices than privatized economies could match.

This reform program of industrial capitalism was beginning to occur in Germany and the United States, but Marx recognized that such evolution would not be smooth and automatic. Managing economies in the interest of the wage earners who formed the majority of the population would require revolution where reactionary interests fought to prevent society from going beyond the "bourgeois socialism" that stopped short of nationalizing the land, monopolies and banking.

World War I untracked even this path of "bourgeois socialism." Rentier forces fought to prevent reform, and banks focused on lending against collateral already in place, not on financing new means of production. The result of this return to pre-industrial bank credit is that some 80 percent of bank lending in the United States and Britain now takes the form of real estate mortgages. The effect is to turn the land's rental yield into interest.

That rent-into-interest transformation gives bankers a strong motive to oppose taxing land rent, knowing that they will end up with whatever the tax collector relinquishes. Most of the remaining bank lending is concentrated in loans for corporate takeovers, mergers and acquisitions, and consumer loans. Corporate capital investment in today's West is not financed by bank credit, but almost entirely out of retained corporate earnings, and secondarily out of stock issues.

The stock market itself has become extractive. Corporate earnings are used for stock buybacks and higher dividend payouts, not for new tangible investment. This financial strategy was made explicit by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Jensen, who advocated that salaries and bonuses for corporate managers should be based on how much they can increase the price of their companies' stock, not on how much they increased or production and/or business size. Some 92 percent of corporate profits in recent years have been spent on stock buyback programs and dividend payouts. That leaves only about 8 percent available to be re-invested in new means of production and hiring. Corporate America's financial managers are turning financialized companies into debt-ridden corporate shells.

A major advantage of a government as chief banker and credit creator is that when debts come to outstrip the means to pay, the government can write down the debt. That is how China's banks have operated. It is a prerequisite for saving companies from bankruptcy and preventing their ownership from being transferred to foreigners, raiders or vultures.

Classical tax and banking policies were expected to streamline industrial economies, lowering their cost structures as governments replaced landlords as owner of the land and natural resources (as in China today) and creating their own money and credit. But despite Marx's understanding that this would have been the most logical way for industrial capitalism to evolve, finance capitalism has failed to fund capital formation. Finance capitalism has hijacked industrial capitalism, and neoliberalism is its anti-classical ideology.

The result of today's alliance of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector with natural resource and infrastructure monopolies has been to reverse that the 20th century's reforms promoting progressive taxation of wealth and income. Industrial capitalism in the West has been detoured along the road to rent-extracting privatization, austerity and debt serfdom.

The result is a double-crisis: austerity stemming from debt deflation, while public health, communications, information technology, transportation and other basic infrastructure are privatized by corporate monopolies that raise prices charged to labor and industry. The debt crisis spans government debt (state and local as well as national), corporate debt, real estate mortgage debt and personal debt, causing austerity that shrinks the "real" economy as its assets and income are stripped away to service the exponentially growing debt overhead. The economy polarizes as income and wealth ownership are shifted to the neo-rentier alliance headed by the financial sector.

This veritable counter-revolution has inverted the classical concept of free markets. Instead of advocating a public role to lower the cost structure of business and labor, the neoliberal ideal excludes public infrastructure and government ownership of natural monopolies, not to speak of industrial production. Led by bank lobbyists, neoliberalism even opposes public regulation of finance and monopolies to keep their prices in line with socially necessary cost of production.

To defend this economic counter-revolution, the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures now used throughout the world were inspired by opposition to progressive taxation and public ownership of land and banks. These statistical measures depicting finance, insurance and real estate as the leaders of wealth creation, not the creators merely of debt and rentier overhead.

What is China's "Real" GDP and "real wealth creation"?

Rejection of classical value theory's focus on economic rent – the excess of market price over intrinsic labor cost – underlies the post-classical concept of GDP. Classical rent theory warned against the FIRE sector siphoning off nominal growth in wealth and income. The economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, J.S. Mill and Marx share in common the view that this rentier revenue should be treated as an overhead charge and, as such, subtracted from national income and product because it is not production-related. Being extraneous to the production process, this rentier overhead is responsible for today's debt deflation and economically extractive privatization that is imposing austerity and shrinking markets from North America to Europe.

The West's debt crisis is aggravated by privatizing monopolies (on credit) that historically have belonged to the public sector. Instead of recognizing the virtues of a mixed economy, Frederick Hayek and his followers from Ayn Rand to Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, the Chicago School and libertarian Republicans have claimed that any public ownership or regulation is, ipso facto, a step toward totalitarian politics.

Following this ideology, Alan Greenspan aborted economic regulation and decriminalized financial fraud. He believed that in principle, the massive bank fraud, junk-mortgage lending and corporate raiding that led up to the 2008 crisis was more efficient than regulating such activities or prosecuting fraudsters.

This is the neoliberal ideology taught in U.S. and European business schools. It assumes that whatever increases financial wealth most quickly is the most efficient for society as a whole. It also assumes that bankers will find honest dealing to be more in their economic self-interest than fraud, because customers would shun fraudulent bankers. But along with the mathematics of compound interest, the inherent dynamic of finance capitalism is to establish a monopoly and capture government regulatory agencies, the justice system, central bank and Treasury to prevent any alternative policy and the prosecution of fraud.

The aim is to get rich by purely financial means – by increasing stock-market prices, not by tangible capital formation. That is the opposite of the industrial logic of expanding the economy and its markets. Instead of creating a more productive economy and raising living standards, finance capitalism is imposing austerity by diverting wage income and also corporate income to pay rising debt service, health insurance and payments to privatized monopolies. Progressive income and wealth taxation has been reversed, siphoning off wages to subsidize privatization by the rentier class.

This combination of debt overgrowth and regressive fiscal policy has produced two results. First, combining debt deflation with fiscal deflation leaves only about a third of wage income available to be spent on the products of labor. Paying interest, rents and taxes – and monopoly prices – shrinks the domestic market for goods and services.

Second, adding debt service, monopoly prices and a tax shift to the cost of living and doing business renders neo-rentier economies high-cost. That is why the U.S. economy has been deindustrialized and its Midwest turned into a Rust Belt.

How Marx's economic schema explains the West's neo-rentier problem

In Volume I of Capital, Marx described the dynamics and "law of motion" of industrial capitalism and its periodic crises. The basic internal contradiction that capitalism has to solve is the inability of wage earners to be paid enough to buy the commodities they produce. This has been called overproduction or underconsumption, but Marx believed that the problem was in principle only temporary, not permanent.

Volumes II and III of Marx's Capital described a pre-capitalist form of crisis, independent of the industrial economy: Debt grows exponentially, burdening the economy and finally bringing its expansion to an end with a financial crash. That descent into bankruptcy, foreclosure and the transfer of property from debtors to creditors is the dynamic of Western finance capitalism. Subjecting economies to austerity, economic shrinkage, emigration, shorter life spans and hence depopulation, it is at the root of the 2008 debt legacy and the fate of the Baltic states, Ireland, Greece and the rest of southern Europe, as it was earlier the financial dynamic of Third World countries in the 1960s through 1990s under IMF austerity programs. When public policy is turned over to creditors, they use their power for is asset stripping, insisting that all debts must be paid without regard for how this destroys the economy at large.

China has managed to avoid this dynamic. But to the extent that it sends its students to study in U.S. and European business schools, they are taught the tactics of asset stripping instead of capital formation – how to be extractive, not productive. They are taught that privatization is more desirable than public ownership, and that financialization creates wealth faster than it creates a debt burden. The product of such education therefore is not knowledge but ignorance and a distortion of good policy analysis. Baltic austerity is applauded as the "Baltic Miracle," not as demographic collapse and economic shrinkage.

The experience of post-Soviet economies when neoliberals were given a free hand after 1991 provides an object lesson. Much the same fate has befallen Greece, along with the rising indebtedness of other economies to foreign bondholders and to their own rentier class operating out of capital-flight centers. Economies are obliged to suspend democratic government policy in favor of emergency creditor control.

The slow economic crash and debt deflation of these economies is depicted as a result of "market choice." It turns out to be a "choice" for economic stagnation. All this is rationalized by the economic theory taught in Western economics departments and business schools. Such education is an indoctrination in stupidity – the kind of tunnel vision that Thorstein Veblen called the "trained incapacity" to understand how economies really work.

Most private fortunes in the West have stemmed from housing and other real estate financed by debt. Until the 2008 crisis the magnitude of this property wealth was expanded largely by asset-price inflation, aggravated by the reluctance of governments to do what Adams Smith, John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall and nearly all 19th-century classical economists recommended: to keep land rent out of private hands, and to make the rise in land's rental value serve as the tax base.

Failure to tax the land leaves its rental value "free" to be pledged as interest to banks – which make larger and larger loans by lending against rising debt ratios. This "easy credit" raises the price of obtaining home ownership. Sellers celebrate the result as "wealth creation," and the mainstream media depict the middle class as growing richer by higher prices for the homes its members have bought. But the debt-financed rise in housing prices ultimately creates wealth mainly for banks and their bondholders.

Americans now have to pay up to 43 percent of their income for mortgage debt service, federally guaranteed. This imposes such high costs for home ownership that it is pricing the products of U.S. labor out of world markets. The pretense is that using bank credit (that is, homebuyers' mortgage debt) to inflate the price of housing makes U.S. workers and the middle class prosperous by enabling them to sell their homes to a new generation of buyers at higher and higher prices each generation. This certainly does not make the buyers more prosperous. It diverts their income away from buying the products of labor to pay interest to banks for housing prices inflated on bank credit.

Consumer spending throughout most of the world aims above all at achieving status. In the West this status rests largely on one's home and neighborhood, its schools, transportation and other public investment. Land-price gains resulting from public investment in transportation, parks and schools, other urban amenities and infrastructure, and from re-zoning land use. In the West this rising rental value is turned into a cost, falling on homebuyers, who must borrow more from the banks. The result is that public spending ultimately enriches the banks – at the tax collector's expense.

Debt is the great threat to modern China's development. Burdening economies with a rentier overhead imposes the quasi-feudal charges from which classical 19th-century economists hoped to free industrial capitalism. The best protection against this rentier burden is simple: first, tax away the land's rising rental valuation to prevent it from being paid out for bank loans; and second, keep control of banks in public hands. Credit is necessary, but should be directed productively and debts written down when paying them threatens to create financial Armageddon.

Marx's views on the broad dynamics of economic history

Plato and Aristotle described a grand pattern of history. In their minds, this pattern was eternally recurrent. Looking over three centuries of Greek experience, Aristotle found a perpetual triangular sequence of democracy turning into oligarchy, whose members made themselves into a hereditary aristocracy – and then some families sought to take the demos into their own camp by sponsoring democracy, which in turn led to wealthy families replacing it with an oligarchy, and so on.

The medieval Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun saw history as a rise and fall. Societies rose to prosperity and power when leaders mobilized the ethic of mutual aid to gain broad support as a communal spirit raised all members. But prosperity tended to breed selfishness, especially in ruling dynasties, which Ibn Khaldun thought had a life cycle of only about 120 years. By the 19th century, Scottish Enlightenment philosophers elaborated this rise-and-fall theory, applying it to regimes whose success bred arrogance and oligarchy.

Marx saw the long sweep of history as following a steady upward secular trend, from the ancient slavery-and-usury mode of production through feudalism to industrial capitalism. And not only Marx but nearly all 19th-century classical economists assumed that socialism in one form or another would be the stage following industrial capitalism in this upward technological and economic trajectory.

Instead, Western industrial capitalism turned into finance capitalism. In Aristotelian terms the shift was from proto-democracy to oligarchy. Instead of freeing industrial capitalism from landlords, natural resource owners and monopolists, Western banks and bondholders joined forces with them, seeing them as major customers for as much interest-bearing credit as would absorb the economic rent that governments would refrain from taxing. Their success has enabled banks and bondholders to replace landlords as the major rentier class. Antithetical to socialism, this retrogression towards feudal rentier privilege let real estate, financial interests and monopolists exploit the economy by creating an expanding debt wedge.

Marx's Theories of Surplus Value (German Mehrwert), his history of classical political economy, poked fun at David Ricardo's warning of economic Armageddon if economies let landlords siphon off of all industrial profits to pay land rent. Profits and hence capital investment would grind to a halt. But as matters have turned out, Ricardo's rentier Armageddon is being created by his own banking class. Corporate profits are being devoured by interest payments for corporate takeover debts and related financial charges to reward bondholders and raiders, and by financial engineering using stock buybacks and higher dividend payouts to create "capital" gains at the expense of tangible capital formation. Profits also are reduced by firms having to pay higher wages to cover the cost of debt-financed housing, education and other basic expenses for workers.

This financial dynamic has hijacked industrial capitalism. It is leading economies to polarize and ultimately collapse under the weight of their debt burden. That is the inherent dynamic of finance capitalism. The debt overhead leads to a financial crisis that becomes an opportunity to impose emergency rule to replace democratic lawmaking. So contrary to Hayek's anti-government "free enterprise" warnings, "slippery slope" to totalitarianism is not by socialist reforms limiting the rentier class's extraction of economic rent and interest, but just the opposite: the failure of society to check the rentier extraction of income vesting a hereditary autocracy whose financial and rent-seeking business plan impoverishes the economy at large.

Greece's debt crisis has all but abolished its democracy as foreign creditors have taken control, superseding the authority of elected officials. From New York City's bankruptcy to Puerto Rico's insolvency and Third World debtors subjected to IMF "austerity programs," national bankruptcies shift control to centralized financial planners in what Naomi Klein has called Crisis Capitalism. Planning ends up centralized not in the hands of elected government but in financial centers, which become the de facto government.

England and America set their economic path on this road under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan by 1980. They were followed by even more pro-financial privatization leaders in Tony Blair's New Labour Party and Bill Clinton's New Democrats seeking to roll back a century of classical reforms and policies that gradually were moving capitalism toward socialism. Instead, these countries are suffering a rollback to neofeudalism, whose neo-rentiereconomic and political ideology has become mainstream throughout the West. Despite seeing that this policy has led to North America and Europe losing their former economic lead, the financial power elite is simply taking its money and running.

So we are brought back to the question of what this means for China's educational policy and also how it depicts economic statistics to distinguish between wealth and overhead. The great advantage of such a distinction is to help steer economic growth along productive lines favoring tangible capital formation instead of policies to get rich by taking on more and more debt and by prying property away from the public domain.

If China's main social objective is to increase real output to raise living standards for its population – while minimizing unproductive overhead and economic inequality – then it is time to consider developing its own accounting format to trace its progress (or shortcomings) along these lines. Measuring how its income and wealth are being obtained would track how the economy is moving closer toward what Marx called socialism.

Of special importance, such an accounting format would revive Marx's classical distinction between earned and unearned income. Its statistics would show how much of the rise in wealth (and expenditure) in China – or any other nation – is a result of new tangible capital formation as compared to higher rents, lending and interest, or the stock market.

These statistics would isolate income and fortunes obtained by zero-sum transfer payments such as the rising rental value of land sites, natural resources and basic infrastructure monopolies. National accounts also would trace overhead charges for interest and related financial charges, as well as the economy's evolving credit and debt structure. That would enable China to measure the economic effects of the banking privileges and other property rights given to some people.

That is not the aim of Western national income statistics. In fact, applying the accounting structure described above would track how Western economies are polarizing as a result of their higher economic rent and interest payments crowding out spending on actual goods and services. This kind of contrast would help explain global trends in pricing and competitiveness. Distinguishing the FIRE sector from the rest of the economy would enable China to compare its economic cost trends and overhead relative to those of other nations. I believe that these statistics would show that its progress toward socialism also will explain the remarkable economic advantage it has obtained. If China does indeed make this change, it will help people both in and out of China see even more clearly what your government is doing on behalf of the majority of its people. This may help other governments – including my own – learn from your example and praise it instead of fearing it.

[Aug 19, 2018] New Interests Join The Clash About North-East Syria

Notable quotes:
"... Turkey fell into the same deep state bankers financial trap, that Spain Greece Italy fell for. Bail out a vunrable country then pull the rug out ! You own them ! So I would slightly disagree with it being entirely of there own making. I blame the Rothchild family. ..."
Aug 19, 2018 | www.moonofalabama.org

... ... ...

At the beginning of the year one U.S. dollar cost 3.5 lira. At the beginning of August it cost 4.80 lira. It then went up to 7.00 lira/$ and at Friday's closing it was down again at 6.00 TL/$. But Monday morning lira will again lose more of its value:

Turkey's credit rating was cut further into junk Friday by S&P Global Ratings and Moody's Investors Service, which said the volatile lira and wide current-account deficit may undermine the Middle East's largest economy.

S&P reduced Turkey's foreign-currency rating to four notches below investment grade at B+ from BB-, on par with Argentina, Greece and Fiji. Moody's lowered its grade to Ba3 from Ba2, three notches below investment grade. The ratings companies said the weak currency, runaway inflation and current-account deficit are Turkey's key vulnerabilities .

Turkey's crisis is homemade . The current spat with the United States only exaggerates it. For years Turkey borrowed large amounts of money from abroad and invested it into local infrastructure instead of producing exportable products. Its current account deficit this year will again be some $50 to $60 billion. International banks and other foreign lenders now demand interests rates above 20% from Turkish lenders because the chance of losing the lent money is high.

After the 17% crash on August 13 down to 7 TL/$ the Turkish Central Bank used some one-time measures to support the currency without raising its interest rate. The Turkish president Erdogan is ideologically adverse to interests and keeps the bank from doing what it must do to cool the Turkish economy and to stabilize the currency.

Erdogan asked Russia for help but received nothing but good advice. He also called in favors. When in June 2017 Saudi Arabia's clown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) tried to take over Qatar and to steal its juicy $350 billion sovereign wealth fund, the emir of Qatar called on Turkey for help. Erdogan sent the Turkish army and air force. His troops protected Qatar from a Saudi invasion.

With the lira in trouble the emir flew to Ankara and promised a new $15 billion investment into Turkey. Additionally some mysterious cargo was unloaded from his plane. That saved the lira for a few days. But Turkey's structural problems are unsolved. Erdogan is no longer trusted and his son in law, who he made finance minister, lacks the necessary qualification for the job. Thus :

"We forecast a recession next year," S&P said. "Inflation will peak at 22 percent over the next four months, before subsiding to below 20 percent by mid-2019."

The Qatari move came a few days before its arch enemy Saudi Arabia also moved into the area. On Friday the U.S. announced that Saudi Arabia would support the U.S. occupied north-east Syria with 100 million dollar . The Wahhabi Saudis are now financing the secular Kurdish terror organization PKK/YPG, the local U.S. proxy in north-east Syria.

If the Saudi clown prince MbS wants to take revenge on Turkey's Erdogan for messing up his plans for Qatar, he now has his chance.

Posted by b on August 18, 2018 at 03:56 PM | Permalink


Mark2 , Aug 18, 2018 5:12:42 PM | 4

One refinement to add to 'b's outstanding post (how the hell does he do it, miraculous !) as far as I can see Turkey fell into the same deep state bankers financial trap, that Spain Greece Italy fell for. Bail out a vunrable country then pull the rug out ! You own them ! So I would slightly disagree with it being entirely of there own making. I blame the Rothchild family.
Fastfreddy , Aug 18, 2018 5:32:52 PM | 5
Moody's and S&P ratings agencies are fraudulent institutions. For having AAA rated billions worth of junk mortgages, they should have been indicted and prosecuted.
Lochearn , Aug 18, 2018 5:44:06 PM | 6
Excellent analysis again, b. You surpass yourself. There is something you talk about that has always intrigued me

"For years Turkey borrowed large amounts of money from abroad and invested it into local infrastructure instead of producing exportable products."

There is a parallel here with Spain. From entry into the Euro in 1999 the floodgates of credit opened. Bankers, politicians and builders were involved in creating vast swathes of speculative urbanization; two airports were built which now stand empty, a formula 1 track hosted five races before closing, a phantom theme park; huge, almost empty accommodation complexes, and the list goes on. The ghost airport in Ciudad Real, which cost £1.2 million euros, was sold off to Chinese buyers for a mere 10,000 euros. The "Cajas", the regional banks, were all bailed out by the government.

Apart from local corruption, which is nothing new, I think there must have been a deliberate strategy on the part of EU elites not to finance industrial projects that would generate export currency, and hence compete with EU industrial powers such as Germany (I once read Spanish academic paper arguing this but have not managed to track it down). When the same happens in Turkey, obviously not an EU country, you have to wonder whether is it part of a transatlantic banker strategy: corrupt national elites finance corrupt local elites to build ghost infrastructures as cheap and shoddy as you can get, the banks that financed it get bailed out if it all crashes. What's not to like?

telescope , Aug 18, 2018 5:50:52 PM | 7
Turks can't avoid Greek-style crisis now. The solution calls for a violent swing in trade balance from huge deficit to sizable surplus, somewhere in a range of $100B. That can't happen unless people of Turkey are warehoused in slave-labor-condition factories that can be competitive enough to displace Asian players. That entails bone-crushing fall in living standards.
All in all, 20 percent decline in GDP is now all but certainty. The longer Erdogan tries to avoid the harsh medicine, the deeper this cancer goes. He should either bow to IMF, or to exit NATO, join BRICS and ask for loans from that grouping.
Of course, Turkish military can say bye-bye to its present size. It's unsustainable. Financial crunch will reduce Turkish armed forces to less than half of their present size.
And if Erdogan wants to keep his soldiers well-equipped for half the price - which he should - he'll have to switch to much more reasonably priced Russian weaponry. Once he does that, even Russia may contribute $10B to his bailout kitty.
Otherwise, Erdogan is a dead man. The economic hurricane barreling his way is only gathering strength with every passing day. And all he is doing is unfurling umbrellas and increasing the volume of music.
Mark2 , Aug 18, 2018 6:29:19 PM | 12
That list of infrastructure @ Lochern mentions looks geared toward the holiday industry which in the past has been a major income for Turkey ! Worth at the time perhaps investing in. Very popular with Eurapians but very popular with Russians. My wild guess would be---- some dodgey ploy by the west to drive a wedge between Russia and Turky, devideding and ruling both! By meens of conflict and bank debt .The gains would be numerous long term and short term. But as already mentioned may back fire and bring Russia and Turkey closer. I hope so.
Pft , Aug 18, 2018 6:30:54 PM | 13
Much of Turkeys external debt is private and not government . Their BIS controlled central bank kept interest rates high. This forced Turkish banks to take out loans in USD or Euro which had lower interest rates to meet loan demands in the private corporate sector , which they made at higher interest rates after exchanging for Lira. More profitable. The assumption was there would be a relatively stable exchange rate. So there was risk.

That risk made them vulnerable fx attack by the globalist banking cartel. When Erdogan took over more control from the TCB last month to reduce interest rates and reduce demand for foreign loans this was seen as an act of war. The independence of the central bank must be defended. Trumps additional tarrif increases, mild as they were were simply a symbolic barking of orders to take Turkey down

Looking at the broader picture. Since the 2008 financial blowout there has been "carry trade" fueled by zero-cost liquidity pumped into the global system by quantitative easing, which was then shipped to high-interest emerging markets such as Brazil, Turkey and other countries.

With the beginning of the Fed's "tapering" of QE and rising interest rates since 2015, the whole financial system has triggered a "reverse carry trade" where dollars flow out of emerging markets back to safer havens. This is what you are seeing in Turkey, Argentina, Russia, Brazil, etc.

The last 10 years are a replay of the decade running up to the 1997/1998 crisis. While the 1985 'Plaza Accord' dollar devaluation was not exactly QE, it had the same intent and results – a flood of cheap money and dollar debt, and therefore growing global dependence on the dollar and vulnerability to US monetary and economic policy

Some say countries like Turkey should know better, but countries have little control over their monetary policy under the global and independent central banking system forced on them. Go against this system and you will be hit with sanctions , subject to regime change or will be invaded

So call it a homegrown crisis if thats the reality you choose to live in. Who am I to say otherwise?

CDWaller , Aug 18, 2018 6:52:06 PM | 15
These rating agencies are the same ones that rated junk mortgage bonds AA. They are for sale to highest bidder or since they haven't been prosecuted for their criminal behavior, vulnerable to threats from the same political machine that turned a blind eye in 2008.
Turkey may have homegrown economic problems as you have pointed out but they certainly have even more problems with a vindictive and extremely corrupt Uncle Sam who ruthlessly punish any and all independent actions.
dh-mtl , Aug 18, 2018 7:26:48 PM | 17
Another excellent blog B. I agree with many of the above commenters that the breadth and depth of the analysis on MOA is truly amazing.

Pft@13. Good analysis as well.

However, I would expect that Turkey will not be another Greece. Rather I expect Turkey to get help from its friends to stabilize its economic position, resist U.S. sanctions and avoid an IMF bail-out.

With the support of Qatar, and I would expect China as well, I would expect Turkey to protect its banks. However, it is also possible that they will let some private Turkish companies, with dollar denominated debts, default. Such defaults, combined with the pressure that declining dollar liquidity is already putting on other emerging markets and Italy, would be destabilizing for the Western financial system. Sooner or later, and I suspect sooner, the FED will be required to start printing money again, which will reverse the dollar's recent strength and relieve the pressure on Turkey.

At the end of the day, however, I expect that this episode will be another step in the direction of de-dollarization and will further reduce the ability of the U.S. to use economic sanctions to bully its adversaries.

Mark2 , Aug 18, 2018 8:03:33 PM | 18
A strange paradox of life !
Owe your bank 1000 the bank manager will make you bankrupt, owe the bank a million and he'll invite you home for dinner ! More to lose !
By this token I'd like to think, the more country's that refuse there debt, the less power the west will have ! The less credibility and the less fear and influence they can inflict .
If the west wants to weaponise banking so be it ! Bring it on. Let's pull the rug out from under the banks/Rothchilds.
Feet ! Natural justice !
ben , Aug 18, 2018 8:19:12 PM | 19
Pft @ 13 said:"Some say countries like Turkey should know better, but countries have little control over their monetary policy under the global and independent central banking system forced on them. Go against this system and you will be hit with sanctions , subject to regime change or will be invaded."

CDWaller @ 15 said:"These rating agencies are the same ones that rated junk mortgage bonds AA. They are for sale to highest bidder or since they haven't been prosecuted for their criminal behavior, vulnerable to threats from the same political machine that turned a blind eye in 2008."


The usual suspects described perfectly.

[Aug 15, 2018] Talking Turkey: In essence this is an emerging market financial crisis, much like the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis

Notable quotes:
"... So why should you care? Why does that matter to you or me? Well, like most emerging market financial crisis there is the danger of contagion . ..."
"... Turkey's economy is four times the size of Greece, and roughly equal in size to Lehman Brothers circa 2008. ..."
"... Turkey's other borders face six nations: Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, and Nakhchivan, a territory affiliated with Azerbaijan. Five of those are involved in ongoing armed conflicts or outright war. ..."
"... NATO has long outlived its' usefulness. Cancel its' stipend and bring our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen and women home! Put them to work here. Fighting fires. ..."
"... NATO only seems to be useful to the hegemony that supports it. Peace is not it's mission. ..."
Aug 15, 2018 | caucus99percent.com

gjohnsit on Tue, 08/14/2018 - 3:46pm

By now you've probably heard that Turkey is having a financial crisis, and Trump appears to be pouring gasoline on it.
But you may not understand what is happening, or you may not know why it's important.
So let's do a quick recap .

Turkey's currency fell to a new record low today. Year to date it's lost almost half its value, leading some investors and lenders inside and outside of Turkey to lose confidence in the Turkish economy.
...
"Ninety percent of external public and private sector debt is denominated in foreign currencies," he said.

Here's the problem. Because of the country's falling currency, that debt just got a lot more expensive.
A Turkish business now effectively owes twice as much as it did at the beginning of the year. "You are indebted in the U.S. dollar or euro, but your revenue is in your local currency," explained Lale Akoner, a market strategist with Bank of New York Mellon's Asset Management business. She said Turkey's private sector currently owes around $240 billion in foreign debt.

In essence this is an emerging market financial crisis, much like the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis.

This is all about hot money that has been washing around in a world of artificially low interest rates, and now, finally, an external shock happened. As it always happens .

The bid-ask spread, or the difference between the price dealers are willing to buy and sell the lira at, has widened beyond the gap seen at the depth of the global financial crisis in 2008, following Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s collapse.

So why should you care? Why does that matter to you or me? Well, like most emerging market financial crisis there is the danger of contagion .

The turmoil follows a similar currency crash in Argentina that led to a rescue by the International Monetary Fund. In recent days, the Russian ruble, Indian rupee and South African rand have also tumbled dramatically.

Investors are waiting for the next domino to fall. They're on the lookout for signs of a repeat of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis that began when the Thai baht imploded.

A minor currency devaluation of the Thai baht in 1997 eventually led to 20% of the world's population being thrust into poverty. It led to Russia defaulting in 1998, LTCM requiring a Federal Reserve bailout, and eventually Argentina defaulting in 2001.

Turkey's economy is four times the size of Greece, and roughly equal in size to Lehman Brothers circa 2008.

The markets want Turkey to run to the IMF for a loan, but that would require a huge interest rate hike and austerity measures that would thrust Turkey into a long depression. However, that isn't the biggest obstacle .

The second is that Erdogan would have to bury his hatchet with the United States, which remains the IMF's largest shareholder. Without U.S. support, Turkey has no chance of securing an IMF bailout program.

There is another danger, a political one and not so much an economic one, that could have dramatic implications.
If Erdogan isn't overthrown, or humbled, then there is an ironclad certainty that Turkey will leave NATO and the West.

Turkey, unlike Argentina, does not seem poised to turn to the International Monetary Fund in order to stave off financial collapse, nor to mend relations with Washington.

If anything, the Turkish President looks to be doubling down in challenging the US and the global financial markets -- two formidable opponents.
...
Turkey would probably no longer view the US as a reliable partner and strategic ally. Whoever ends up leading the country, a wounded Turkey would most likely seek to shift the center of gravity away from the West and toward Russia, Iran and Eurasia.

It would make Turkey less in tune with US and European objectives in the Middle East, meaning Turkey would seek to assert a more independent security and defense policy.

Erdogan has warned Trump that Turkey would "seek new friends" , although Russia and China haven't yet stepped up to the plate to bat for him.
Russia, Iran and China do have a common interest when in comes to undermining the petrodollar . Pulling Turkey into their sphere of influence would be a coup.

Turkey lies at a historic, strategic crossroad. The bridge between the peaceful West and the war-ridden dictatorships of the East that the West likes to bomb.

On its Western flank, Turkey borders Greece and Bulgaria, Western-facing members of the European Union. A few years ago, Turkey -- a member of NATO -- was preparing the join Europe as a full member.

Turkey's other borders face six nations: Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, and Nakhchivan, a territory affiliated with Azerbaijan. Five of those are involved in ongoing armed conflicts or outright war.

Losing Turkey would be a huge setback for NATO, the MIC, and the permanent war machine.

QMS on Tue, 08/14/2018 - 4:59pm

IMF = Poison

more struggling economies are starting to get it. Trade wealth for the rulers (IMF supporters) to be paid by the rest of us. Fight back. Squeeze the bankers balls. Can't have our resources, now way, no how, without a fight.

enhydra lutris on Tue, 08/14/2018 - 6:26pm
Can the BRICS get by without Brazil, perhaps by pulling

in a flailing Turkey? Weren't there some outside potential takers encouraging China when it floated its currency proposal?

Nastarana on Tue, 08/14/2018 - 8:41pm
NATO has long outlived its' usefulness. Cancel its' stipend and bring our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen and women home! Put them to work here. Fighting fires.

Patrolling our shores for drug running and toxic dumping. Teaching school, 10 kids per class maximum. Refurbishing buildings and housing stock. Post Cold War, an military alliance with Turkey makes no sense.

QMS on Tue, 08/14/2018 - 9:22pm
NATO only seems to be useful to the hegemony that supports it. Peace is not it's mission.

[Jul 23, 2018] Christianity was formed after Jesus was executed to protect the money lenders as a protest against debt slavery

Jul 23, 2018 | www.moonofalabama.org

Pft , Jul 23, 2018 1:27:18 AM | 43

So most folks never heard of a guy named Hillel. He was a Baghdad Jew who moved to Judea about 60 years before Christ was born.

His great influence on Judaism was a novel invention to get around the Jubilee which many civilizations employed snd was part of Judaism Mosaic Law. Basically every 7 years debts were cancelled to prevent the elites from accumulating all the land and wealth and enslaving the bottom 99% and causing rebellion. Much of the debt forgiven was owed to the state in the form of taxes but individuals and business also were indebted to money lenders . Debt of individuals acquired to pay taxes, farm, etc was forgiven by the Jubilee. Business /Merchant debts had to be repaid

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/19/could-should-jubilee-debt-cancellations-be-reintroduced-today/

The rabbiis of the Pharisees under the suggestion of Hillel the Elder, created a loophole in Jewish law, in which a legal document would accompany the interest-free loans (charging interest to fellow Jews was forbidden in the Torah) issued by individuals that stated that the loans were to be transferred to the courts as the law of remission does not apply In this case.
It was called a Prosbul.

This led to great unrest among Jews and non Jews alike. This unrest led to a Jewish activist named Jesus leading a protest against the Pharisees and the money lenders. Michael Hudson has a theory backed up by historical documents in the original Aramaic,Hebrew and Greek that Mosaic Law is mostly about the prohibitions of the sins related to debt and the sinful practices of creditors to secure repayment. Translations into English and other languages have obscured this.

Christianity was formed after Jesus was executed to protect the money lenders . Unfortunately the Romans were pro creditor and then Constantine hijacked the religion a couple of centuries later , and aside from a prohibition on usury by the Roman Church the Jubilee was no more. When the Roman Empire fell the Byzantine Emperor reinstated the Jubilee from 7th-10th Century and abandoned this . I imagine this wad due to the Islamic Wars that required external loans to finance at interest.

Judaism still use the prosbul today , at least in Orthodox , to escape the Jubilee called for in Mosaic Law . That applied only for loans to Jews in any event. Prohibitions of usury in the Christian world ended pretty much with the Reformation and Calvinism. Even so in the US their were limits on usury in many US states until early 1980's when neoliberalism crushed that. Now the poor get charged as much as 30% on credit card debt while earning 2% on savings and they cant even declare bankruptcy like Trump did 6 times

Islamic banking is interest free though under Sharia Law. "Loans are equity-based, asset-backed. In lieu of interest the banks rely on cost-plus financing (murabaha), profit-sharing (mudaraba), leasing (ijara), partnership (musharaka) and forward sale (bay'salam).

"This prohibition is based on arguments of social justice, equality, and property rights. Islam encourages the earning of profits but forbids the charging of interest because profits, determined ex post, symbolize successful entrepreneurship and creation of additional wealth whereas interest, determined ex ante, is a cost that is accrued irrespective of the outcome of business operations and may not create wealth if there are business losses. Social justice demands that borrowers and lenders share rewards as well as losses in an equitable fashion and that the process of wealth accumulation and distribution in the economy be fair and representative of true productivity.


"Risk sharing. Because interest is prohibited, suppliers of funds become investors instead of creditors. The provider of financial capital and the entrepreneur share business risks in return for shares of the profits."

"Money as "potential" capital. Money is treated as "potential" capital -- that is, it becomes actual capital only when it joins hands with other resources to undertake a productive activity. Islam recognizes the time value of money, but only when it acts as capital, not when it is "potential" capital."

"Prohibition of speculative behavior. An Islamic financial system discourages hoarding and prohibits transactions featuring extreme uncertainties, gambling, and risks."

So maybe the war against Islam has another component?

Getting back to Jesus. Hudson says the Pharisees decided that Jesus' growing popularity was a threat to their authority and wealth.

http://michael-hudson.com/2017/12/he-died-for-our-debt-not-our-sins/

"They said 'we've got to get rid of this guy and rewrite Judaism and make it about sex instead of a class war', which is really what the whole Old Testament is about,"


"That was that was where Christianity got perverted. Christianity turned so anti-Jesus, it was the equivalent of the American Tea Party, applauding wealth and even greed, Ayn-Rand style."


"Over the last 1000 years the Catholic Church has been saying it's noble to be poor. But Jesus never said it was good to be poor. What he said was that rich people are greedy and corrupt. That's what Socrates was saying, as well as Aristotle and the Stoic Roman philosophers, the biblical prophets in Isaiah."


"Neither did Jesus say that it was good to be poor because it made you noble.

"What Jesus did say is that say if you have money, you should share it with other people."


"American Fundamentalist Christians say don't share a penny. King Jesus is going to make you rich. Don't tax millionaires. Jesus may help me win the lottery. Tax poor people whom the Lord has left behind – no doubt for their sins. There's nothing about the Jubilee Year here."

Hudson has a book coming out next week on the subject

.

Guerrero , Jul 23, 2018 2:32:12 AM | 44
Pft, I am interested in your discourse; are their grounds for a scientific gifting economy?

What I mean is: does a model exist for a human society that has followed Christ's teaching

I know that after he was gone, his mother Mary said "my son never touched a single penny"

Is this credible? Is there an archeological reading of any society not based on greed?

I think there may be. They didn't have to do bookkeeping, a source of constant happiness,

but it's is the loss of posterity since we can wonder and speculate about gift economics.

This isn't a joke, nor is it irony. Dear Pft, ¿Can you say more about biblical etc. utopia?

[Jul 06, 2018] The IMF is back in Argentina an economic and social crisis, even more serious than the present one, looms large on the horizon by Eric Toussaint , Sergio Ferrari

Jun 27, 2018 | www.defenddemocracy.press

The second neoliberalization of Argentina turned into second financial crash. Brazil is probably next. And Argentina and Brazil were two contires in which neoliberal staged a counterrevolution after financial crisi of 2008.

The IMF is back in Argentina: "an economic and social crisis, even more serious than the present one, looms large on the horizon"

1. The vicious circle of illegitimate debt grapples the Argentine people once again
2. IMF's $ 50 billion loan surpasses Greece's previous record

Sergio Ferrari from Berne, Switzerland interviewed Eric Toussaint, international debt specialist

After more than a decade of Argentina's official "distance" from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Mauricio Macri's government has just knocked on the doors of the world's financial police. The $ 50 billion credit granted by the organization during the first week of June sets an international record and will directly impact the economic and social situation of this South American country. Eric Toussaint, Belgian historian and economist, an eminent specialist in this field and spokesperson for the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM), based in Brussels, pointed this out. Interview follows. Q: Why did the Argentine government turn to the IMF , in full view of Argentina's relations with this international organization in the late 1990s and their dire political consequences? Is the financial top brass of the Macri team despairing?

Eric Toussaint (ET): Since the Mauricio Macri government assumed office in December 2015, its policies have led to a critical situation. Sharp reduction in export taxes have brought down tax revenues, the debt servicing expenditure has been significantly increased (100% higher in 2018 than in 2017). The country is running out of dollars. Currency reserves fell by $ 8 billion earlier this year. Macri needs this IMF loan to continue debt servicing. Private international lenders require such a loan as a prerequisite for continued credit to Argentina. A very large chunk of the IMF loan will be used directly to repay foreign creditors in dollars.


Q: If we look at the Argentine history of the 1990s, this seems to be a scheme of playing with fire

Read also: What Kissinger did in Chile, Cyprus, Turkey, the Middle East and ... his own country

ET: Yes, of course. But I would like to further explore the background of this appeal to the IMF

Q- Please go ahead!

ET: This shows that the government's policy is an abject failure: with a peso that devalued fast; with the interest rate set at a high 40% by the Argentine Republic's Central Bank ; with the $ 8 billion reduction in international reserves that keep declining. And with a debt service that has increased by 100% compared to 2017. Faced with a balance sheet of such a nature, undoubtedly it is a total failure. Macri claimed that a high growth level and a viable debt would be ensured by paying the debt – between end-2015 and early-2016 – and by compensating the vulture funds , in keeping with Judge Thomas Griesa's verdict. He knelt before the vulture funds (see: http://www.cadtm.org/Reject-the-Imminent-Agreement-with ). But the facts confirm that this plan did not work. Debt rose at a whirling pace and it's startling to see how fast it snowballed. As a result, it became impossible to convince the creditors that Argentina could repay its debt in the future. That's why Macri is asking for this $ 50 billion credit. We must remember that when Greece received $ 30 billion from the IMF in 2010 in the backdrop of a dramatic situation, it was a record amount!

Q: Some analysts say that President Macri is trying to breathe in some fresh air with the help of this loan, before commanding a comfortable position in the October 2019 elections.

ET: I would not like to engage in farfetched political speculations. I prefer facts. I have read the contents of the agreement signed with the IMF and it has imposed a severe reduction in general social benefits and wages of the public servants. Public investment will be almost wiped out and it will lead to an economic depression. Debt repayment will increase and the IMF charges high interest rates . The government will impose taxes with elevated rates on the public to repay the debt, while continuing to hand out fiscal perks to the capitalists. The government will encourage the export of the maximum number of agricultural products and raw materials to the global market by reinforcing the extractivist-exporting model. IMF's policy will lead the country to an economic and social crisis even more serious than what it suffered before this loan was sanctioned. Let's go back to your question. It is very likely that, politically, Macri will claim that what he is doing is not his project, but what the IMF demands from him.

Read also: USA - In praise of Riotous Assembly

Q: This brings us back to a not-so-distant past and I would like to highlight that: the decade of indebtedness and the IMF's role in the 1990s that eventually led to the social outburst of 2001. Can history repeat itself without tragedy?

ET: History is repeating itself in a country that is a serial debt payer. It started with the illegitimate and odious debt inherited from the military dictatorship of the 1970s. IMF's support was crucial for this dictatorship to continue until the early 1980s. The vicious circle of illegitimate debts persisted during the 1990s with President Carlos Menem followed by Fernando De la Rúa. Their allegiance to the IMF's recommendations led to the great social crisis of late 2001. President Rodríguez Saá, in his few days or Presidency at end-2001, announced the suspension of debt repayment to allay popular anger. The debt was restructured in 2005, then re-negotiated with creditors who had not participated before. It caused a crisis in the government and evoked sharp criticism from the people (see the section on Argentina here http://www.cadtm.org/Restructuration-Audit-Suspension,11723 ). Former minister Roberto Lavagna, who had negotiated the 2005 restructuring, objected to negotiations with outsider creditors. The Argentine authorities never wanted to do what Ecuador did in 2007-2008: to carry out a debt audit with citizens' participation, which could have defined the odious and illegitimate part of the debt (see: http://www.cadtm.org/Video-The-Ecuador-debt-audit-a and http://www.cadtm.org/Vulture-funds-are-the-vanguard ). This, along with the inconsistency of the Cristina Fernandez government's national sovereignty discourse, frustrated people. This partly explains Macri's electoral victory in 2015.

Q: A course over several decades where illegitimate debts condition government policies without ever finding structural solutions

Read also: Two-Thirds of Human Rights Defenders Killed in 2017 Were From Latin America

ET: Yes. And that led today to this new mega-loan from the IMF. From now on, it can be included in the category of odious and illegitimate debts. An odious debt is a debt contracted against the people's interests, and the creditors know that it is illegitimate. Evidently a new illegitimate and odious debt is taking shape.

Q: What about future prospects?

ET: I have already spoken about the deteriorating economic and social crisis. I hope for a strong popular reaction in the coming months. I also hope that the popular forces will not take too long to consolidate their strength to oppose even more vigorously the Macri government and the pressures of the IMF and other international creditors.

Translated by Suchandra De Sarkar

[Jul 04, 2018] Pathology of Debt

Jul 04, 2018 | www.henryckliu.com

Pathology of Debt

By
Henry C.K. Liu

Part I: Commercial Paper Market Seizure turns Banks into their own Vulture Investors

This article appeared in AToL on November 27, 2007

Vulture restructuring is a purging cure for a malignant debt cancer. The reckoning of systemic debt presents regulators with a choice of facing the cancer frontally and honestly by excising the invasive malignancy immediately or let it metastasize over the entire financial system over the painful course of several quarters or even years and decades by feeding it with more dilapidating debt.

But the strategy of being your own vulture started with Goldman Sachs, the star Wall Street firm known for its prowess in alternative asset management, producing spectacular profits by manipulating debt coming and going amid unfathomable market anomalies and contradictions during years of liquidity boom. The alternative asset management industry deals with active, dynamic investments in derivative asset classes other than standard equity or fixed income products. Alternative investments can include hedge funds, private equity, special purpose vehicles, managed futures, currency arbitrage and other structured finance products. Counterbalancing opposite risks in mutually canceling paired speculative positions to achieve gains from neutralized risk exposure is the basic logic for hedged fund investments.

Hedge Funds

The wide spread in return on investment between hedge funds and mutual funds is primarily due to differences in trading strategies. One fundamental difference is that hedge funds deploy dynamic trading strategies to profit from arbitraging price anomalies caused by market inefficiencies independent of market movements whereas mutual funds employ a static buy-and-hold strategy to profit from economic growth. An important operational difference is the use of leverage. Hedge funds typically leverage their informed stakes by margining their positions and hedging their risk exposure through the use of short sales, or counter-positions in convergence or divergent pairs. In contrast, the use of leverage is often limited if not entirely restricted for mutual funds.

The classic model of hedge funds developed by Alfred Winslow Jones (1910-1989) takes long and short positions in equities simultaneously to limit exposures to volatility in the stock market. Jones, Australian-born, Harvard and Columbia educated sociologist turned financial journalist, came upon a key insight that one could combine two opposing investment positions: buying stocks and selling short paired stocks, each position by itself being risky and speculative, but when properly combined would result in a conservative portfolio that could yield market-neutral outsized gains with leverage. The realization that one could couple opposing speculative plays to achieve conservative ends was the most important step in the development of hedged funds.

The Credit Guns of August

Yet the credit guns of August 2007 did not spare Goldman's high-flying hedge funds. Goldman, the biggest US investment bank by market value, saw its Global Equity Opportunities Fund suffer a 28% decline with assets dropping by $1.4 billion to $3.6 billion in the first week of August as the fund's computerized quantitative investment strategies fumbled over sudden sharp declines in stock prices worldwide.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index, a measure of large-capitalization stocks, fell 44.4 points or 2.96% on August 9. On August 14, the S&P 500 fell another 26.38 points or 1.83%, followed by another fall of 19.84 points to 1,370.50 or 1.39% on August 15, totaling 9.4% from its record high reached on July 19, but still substantially higher than its low of 801 reached on March 11, 2003 .

Goldman explained the setback in Global Equity Opportunities in a statement: "Across most sectors, there has been an increase in overlapping trades, a surge in volatility and an increase in correlations. These factors have combined to challenge many of the trading algorithms used in quantitative strategies. We believe the current values that the market is assigning to the assets underlying various funds represent a discount that is not supported by the fundamentals." The statement is a conceptual stretch of the meaning of "fundamentals" which Goldman defines as value marked to model based on a liquidity boom rather than marked to market, even as the model has been rendered dysfunctional by the reality of a liquidity bust.

The market value in mid August of two other Goldman funds: Global Alpha and North American Equity Opportunities also suffered big losses. Global Alpha fell 27% in the year-to-date period, with half of the decline occurring in the first week of August. North American Equity Opportunities, which started the year with about $767 million in assets, was down more than 15% through July 27. The losses had been magnified by high leverage employed by the funds' trading strategies. Goldman said both risk-taking and leverage in these two funds had since been reduced by 75% to cut future losses. Similarly, leverage employed by Global Equity Opportunities had been reduced to 3.5 times equity from 6 times. The three funds together normally managed about $10 billion of assets.

Feeding on One's Own Death Flesh

Facing pending losses, Goldman Chairman Lloyd Blankfein was reported to have posed a question to his distraught fund managers: if a similar distress opportunity such as Goldman's own Global Equity Opportunities presented itself in the open market outside of Goldman, would Goldman invest in it as a vulture deal. The answer was a resounding yes. Thus the strategy of feeding on one's own dead flesh to survive, if not to profit, took form.

Goldman would moderate its pending losses by profiting as vulture investor in its own distressed funds. The loss from one pocket would flow into another pocket as gains that, with a bit of luck, could produce spectacular net profit in the long run if the abnormally high valuations could be manipulated to hold, or the staying power from new capital injection could allow the fund to ride out the temporary sharp fall in market value. It was the ultimate hedge: profiting from one's own distress. The success of the strategy depends on whether the losses are in fact caused by temporary anomalies rather than fundamental adjustment. Otherwise, it would be throwing good money after bad.

The Fed Held Firm on Inflation Bias

The Fed, in its Tuesday, August 7 Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, defied market expectation and decided against lowering interest rates with a bias against growth and focused instead on inflation threats. In response, the S&P 500 index, with profit margin at 9% against a historical average of 6%, fell 44.4 points or 2.96% to 1,427 on August 9. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped 387 points to 13,504 on the same day, even as the Federal Reserve pumped $62 billion of new liquidity into the banking system to help relieve seizure in the debt market.

On the following Monday, August 13, Goldman announced it would injected $2 billion of new equity from its own funds into its floundering Global Equity Opportunities fund, along with another $1 billion from big-ticket investors, including CV Starr & Co., controlled by former American International Group (AIG) chairman Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, California real estate developer Eli Broad who helped found SunAmerica and later sold it to AIG, and hedge fund Perry Capital LLC, which is run by Richard Perry, a former Goldman Sachs equity trader.

The new equity injection was intended to help shore up the long/short equity fund, which was down almost 30% in the previous week, to keep the fund from forced sales of assets at drastic discount long enough for markets to stabilize and for the fund to get out of the tricky leveraged bets it took before the credit markets went haywire in mid August. Global Equity "suffered significantly" as global markets sold off on worries about debt defaults credit draught, dragging the perceived value of its assets down to $3.6 billion, from about $5 billion.

Goldman chief financial officer David Viniair on a conference call with analysts was emphatic that the move was not a rescue but to capture "a good opportunity". After more than a week of panic over the disorderly state of global capital markets, Goldman Sachs pulled a kicking live rabbit magically out of its distressed asset hat.

On a conference call to discuss the additional equity investment in the $3.6 billion Global Equity Opportunities fund, Goldman executives insisted the move would not add to moral hazard (encouraging expectations that lead investors to take more risk than they otherwise might because they expect to be bailed out), but would merely reflect the firm's belief that the value of the fund's underlying assets was out of whack with "fundamentals" and that sooner or later the losses would be recouped when an orderly market returns.

"We believe the current values that the market is assigning to the assets underlying various funds represent a discount that is not supported by the fundamentals," Goldman explained in a statement. A day later, on August 14, the S&P 500 fell another 26.38 points or 1.83%, followed by another fall of 19.84 points or 1.39% on August 15, notwithstanding that a chorus of respected voices were assuring the public that the sub-prime mortgage crisis had been contained and would not spread to the entire financial system.

But Goldman did not inject more equity into two of its other funds: Global Alpha and North American Equity Opportunities that had also suffered sharp losses. Goldman said it was reducing leverage in the funds, a process that was mostly complete, but added that it was not unwinding Global Alpha, down 27% this year through August 13, about half of that in the previous week alone. Unlike Global Equity Opportunities, Goldman did not bolster its Global Alpha quantitative fund. Investors had reportedly asked to withdraw $1.6 billion, leaving Global Alpha with about $6.8 billion in assets after forced liquidation to pay the withdrawals.

Ireland registered Global Alpha, originally seeded in 1995 with just $10 million and returned 140% in its first full year of operation, was started by Mark Carhart and Raymond Iwanowski, young students of finance professor Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago . Fama's concept of efficient markets is based on his portfolio theory which states that rational investors will use diversification to optimize their portfolios based on precise pricing of risky assets.

Global Alpha soon became the Rolls Royce of a fleet of alternative investment vehicles that returned over 48% before fees annually. Hedge funds usually charge management fees of up to 2% of assets under management and 20% of investment gains as incentive fees. Global Alpha fees soared to $739 million in first quarter of 2006, from $131 million just a year earlier and boosted earnings rise at the blue-chip Goldman Sachs by 64% to $2.48 billion, the biggest 2006 first-quarter gain of any major Wall Street firm. Goldman is one of the world's largest hedge fund managers, with $29.5 billion in assets under management in an industry that oversees $2.7 trillion globally. Goldman reported in October 2006 that its asset management and securities services division produced $485 million, or 21% of its $2.36 billion in pretax profit for the fiscal third quarter.

For 2006, Global Alpha dropped 11.6% through the end of November and end up dropping 9% for the year yet still generating over $700 million in fees from earlier quarters. That was the first annual decline in seven years and followed an almost 40% gain for all of 2005. The fund took a hit misjudging the direction of global stock and currency markets, specifically that the Norwegian krone and Japanese yen would decline against the dollar. Global Alpha lost money partly on wrong-way bets that equities in Japan would rise, stocks in the rest of Asia and the US would fall and the dollar would strengthen. Before August 2007, the fund had lost almost 10% on wrong bet in global bond markets.

Goldman's smaller $600 million North American Equity Opportunities fund had also hit rough waters, losing 15% this year. There was real danger of a rush of redemptions from nervous investors that would force the funds to sell securities in a market that had all but seized up, forcing down asset prices to fire sale levels. Global Equity Opportunities investors were entitled to pull their money monthly with a 15-day warning, meaning notices for Aug. 31 were due on August 16. Global Alpha investors could redeem quarterly, and certain share classes also must notify the fund by the week of August 13.

Hedge funds are private, largely unregulated pools of capital whose managers command largely unrestricted authority to buy or sell any assets within the bounds of their disclosed strategies and participate in gains but not losses from investment. The industry has been growing over 20% annually due to its above-market performance. Still, Carhart and Iwanowski, both in their early forties, had not been able to take any of their 20% incentive fees since Global Alpha fell from its 2006 peak. They would have to make good about 60% of their previous incentive fees from profit, if any, in future quarters before they could resume taking a cut of the fund's future gains.

The Fed Wavered

By August 16, the DJIA fell way below 13,000 to an intraday low of 12,445, losing 1,212 points from its 13,657 close on August 8. The next day, August 17, the Fed while keeping the Fed Funds rate target unchanged at 5.25%, lowered the Discount Rate by 50 basis points to 5.75%, reducing the gap from the conventional 100 basis points by half to 50 basis points and changed the rules for access by banks to the Fed discount window.

In an accompanying statement, the Fed said: "To promote the restoration of orderly conditions in financial markets, the Federal Reserve Board approved temporary changes to its primary credit discount window facility. The Board approved a 50 basis point reduction in the primary credit rate to 5-3/4 percent, to narrow the spread between the primary credit rate and the Federal Open Market Committee's target federal funds rate to 50 basis points. The Board is also announcing a change to the Reserve Banks' usual practices to allow the provision of term financing for as long as 30 days, renewable by the borrower. These changes will remain in place until the Federal Reserve determines that market liquidity has improved materially. These changes are designed to provide depositories with greater assurance about the cost and availability of funding. The Federal Reserve will continue to accept a broad range of collateral for discount window loans, including home mortgages and related assets. Existing collateral margins will be maintained. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and San Francisco ."

The Fed Panicked

A month later, on September 18, brushing aside a DJIA closing at a respectable 13,403 the day before even in the face of poor employment data for August, the Fed panicked over the unemployment data and lowered both the Fed Funds rate target and the Discount Rate each by 50 basis points to 4.75% and 5.25% respectively. The rate cuts gave the DJIA a continuous rally for 9 consecutive days that ended on October 1 at 14,087. Obviously, the Fed knew something ominous about the credit market that was not reflected in the DJIA index.

The Global Equity Opportunities fund, now with about $6.6 billion in asset value, was using six times leverage before the capital infusion. Like many other managers, Goldman was experiencing the same problems with its so-called quantitative funds. Quant funds use computerized models to make opportunistic investment decisions on minute statistic disparities in asset prices caused by market inefficiency. When the short-term credit market seized up, the quant models turned dysfunctional.

Funds caught with significant losses in credit and bond investments had to sell stock holdings to lower the risks profile of their overall portfolios, and the herd selling in the stock market magnified the price shift in a downward spiral. Stocks that were held long fell in price, and stocks that were held short rose, exacerbating losses.

Opacity Fueled Market Rumors

As required, quant fund managers have been disclosing losses to investors but they are not required to disclose to the market. The opacity fueled the rumor mill. Renaissance Technology's $26 billion institutional equities fund was reportedly down 7% for the year. Some of the funds Applied Quantitative Research (AQR) managed were down as well, as were quant funds at Tykhe Capital, Highbridge Capital and D.E. Shaw (of which Lehman now owns 20%).

Vulture Opportunities in Distressed Funds

At Goldman, quant funds made up half of the $151 billion of alternative investments under management, and half of which was the sort of long-short equity quant funds that had been having trouble. But Goldman executives began to see opportunities in distressed funds. The highly respected AQR was raking in new funds to invest in distressed situations, as were other astute fund managers. AQR is an investment management firm employing a disciplined multi-asset, global research process, with investment products provided through a limited set of collective investment vehicles and separate accounts that deploy all or a subset of AQR's investment strategies. These investment products span from aggressive high volatility market-neutral hedge funds, to low volatility benchmark-driven traditional products. AQR's founder is Clifford S. Asness, a Goldman alumni where he was Director of Quantitative Research for the Asset Management Division responsible for building quantitative models to add value in global equity, fixed income and currency markets. H e was another of Fama's students at the University of Chicago .

Goldman was putting its own money down alongside that of select outside investors, an expression of its faith in the fund's ability to recoup. The situation differed from that of Bear Stearns which had to loan $1.6 billion to bail out one of two internal hedge funds that had big problems with exposure to mortgage-related securities.

The First Wave of Warnings

Goldman, one of the world's premiere financial companies, had joined Bear Stearns and France 's BNP Paribas in revealing that its hedge funds had been hit by the credit market crisis. Bear Stearns earlier in the summer disclosed that two of its multibillion dollar hedge funds were wiped out because of wrong bets on mortgage-backed securities. BNP Paribas announced a few weeks later it would freeze three funds invested in US asset-backed securities.

The assets of the two troubled Bear Stearns hedge funds had been battered by turmoil in the credit market linked to sub-prime mortgage securities. On Jun 20, 2007 , $850 million of the funds' assets held as collateral was sold at greatly discounted prices by their creditor, Merrill Lynch & Co. The assets sold included mortgage-backed securities (MBS), collateralized debt obligations (CDO) and credit default swaps (CDS). JP Morgan, another Bear Stearns creditor, had also planned an auction for some of the collateralized assets of the Bear Stearns funds, but cancelled the auction to negotiate directly with the Bear Stearns funds to unwind positions via private transactions to avoid setting a market price occasioned by market seizure.

The two Bear Stearns funds: High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Fund and High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Fund, run by mortgage veteran Ralph Cioffi, were facing shut-down as the rescue plans fell apart. The funds had slumped in the first four months of 2007 as the subprime mortgage market went against their positions and investors began asking for their money back. The High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Fund sold roughly $4 billion of subprime mortgage-backed securities in mid June, selling its highest-rated and most heavily traded securities first to raise cash to meet redemption requests from investors and margin calls from creditors, leaving the riskier, lower-rated assets in its portfolio that had difficulty finding buyers.

Collateral Debt Obligation Crisis

CDOs are illiquid assets that normally trade only infrequently as institutional investor had not intended to trade such securities. Demand for them is not strong even in normal times. In a credit crunch, demand became extremely weak. Sellers typically give investors one or two days to price the assets and bid in order to get the best price. Bid lists were now sent out for execution within roughly an hour, which was unusual and suggested that sellers were keen to sell the assets quickly at any price.

Bear Stearns' High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Fund sold close to $4 billion worth of AAA and AA rated securities. The fund was started less than a year ago with $600 million in assets, but used leverage to expand its holdings to more than $6 billion. But subprime mortgage trades that went wrong left the fund down 23% in the first four months of 2007. The fund was selling its highest-rated and most tradable securities first to raise cash to meet expected redemption requests and margin calls. Buyers were found for the bonds but the fund still had to retain lower-rated subprime mortgage-based securities which had triggered its losses earlier in the year.

Bear Stearns was highly leveraged in an illiquid market and was faced with the prospect that its funds were going to start getting margin calls so it tried to sell ahead of being in the worst spot possible. Subprime mortgages were offered at low initial rates to home buyers with blemished credit ratings who could not carry the adjusted payments if and when rates rise. This was not a problem as long as prices for houses continued to rise, allowing the lenders to shift loan repayment assurance from the borrower's income to the rising value of the collateral. Thus subprime mortgages lenders were not particularly concerned about borrower income for they were merely using home buyers as needed intermediaries to profit from the debt–driven housing boom. This strategy worked until the debt balloon burst. Rising delinquencies and defaults in this once-booming part of the mortgage market had triggered a credit crunch earlier in the year that left several lenders bankrupt. Many hedge funds had generated big gains for several years on this unstainable liquidity boom. The premature bears who shorted the market repeated lost money as the Fed continued to feed the debt balloon to sustain the unsustainable.

As delinquencies and foreclosures rose finally, losses first hit the riskiest tranches of subprime mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The losses were subsequently transmitted to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) which invested in the higher-rated tranches of subprime MBS that did not have an active market since they were bought by institutions with the intention to hold until maturity. Such securities were super safe as long as their ratings remain high.

Hedge funds have become big credit-market players in recent years, and many firms trade the riskiest tranches of subprime MBS and higher-rated CDOs tranches to profit from the return spread. While some funds, such those managed by Cheyne Capital and Cambridge Place Investment Management, had suffered sudden losses, some hedge funds made handsome gains in February 2007 betting that a subprime mortgage crisis would hit.

As the number of market participants increased and the packaging of the CDO became more exoteric over the liquidity boom years, it became impossible to know who were holding the "toxic" tranches and how precisely the losses would spread, since the risk profile of each tranche would be affected by the default rates of other tranches. The difficulty in identifying the precise locations of risk exposure caused a sharp rise in perceived risk exposure system wide. This sudden risk aversion led to rating downgrades of the high-rated tranches, forcing their holders to sell into a market with few buyers.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which monitors risk in the banking system, tracks bank holdings of MBS, but not specific tranches of CDOs. It has no information on which bank holds CDOs and how much, since such instruments are held by the finance subsidiaries of bank holding companies, off the balance sheets of banks. Asian investors, particularly those in Japan , had been eager to seek off-shore assets yielding more than the near zero or even negative interest rates offered at home. Many Japanese as well as foreign investors participated in currency "carry trade" to arbitrage interest rate spreads between the Japanese yen and other higher interest rate currencies and assets denominated in dollars, fueling a liquidity boom in US markets. The US trade deficit fed the US capital account surplus as the surplus trade partners found that they could not convert the dollars they earned from export to the US into local currencies without suffering undesirable rise in money supply. The trade surplus dollars went into the US credit market.

The growth of CDOs has been explosive during the past decade. In 1995, there were hardly any. By 2006, more than $500 billion worth was issued. About 40% of CDO collateral was residential MBS, with three quarters in subprime and home-equity loans, and the rest in high-rated prime home loans. CDOs became an important part of the mortgage market because their issuers also bought the riskier tranches of MBS that others investors shunned. The high-rated tranches of MBS were sold easily to pension funds and insurers. But the ultra-high rated tranches paid such low returns because of their perceived safety that few buyers were interested, forcing the banks which structured them to hold them themselves. The issuers often hold the more riskier tranches to sell at later dates for profit when the value of the collateral rose with rising home prices. But when the riskier tranches could not be sold as home prices fell and mortgage default rose, the higher rating tranches suffered rating drops and institutional buyers were prevented by regulation to hold the ones they had bought and from buying new ones. When the ultra safe tranches held by banks are downgraded, banks are forced to writedown their value. With CDOs withdrawing from the residential MBS market, mortgage lenders were unable to sell the loans they had originated for new funds to finance new mortgages.

The chain of derivative structures that turns home loans into CDOs begins when a mortgage is packaged together with other mortgages into an MBS. The MBS is then sliced up into different CDO tranches that pay on a range of interest rates tied to risk levels. Mortgage payments go first to the highest-rated tranches with the lowest interest rates. The remaining funds then flows down to the next risky tranches until all are paid. The riskiest CDO tranches get paid last, but they offer the highest interest rates to attract investor with strong risk appetite.

In theory, all trenches have the same risk/return ratio. As the liquidity boom has gone on for years with the help of the Fed, historical data would suggest that risks of default should be minimal. Yet when losses actually occurred from unanticipated mortgage defaults and foreclosures, the riskiest tranches were hit first, while the top-rated tranches were hit last. But until losses occurred, the riskier tranches got the higher returns. Over the years, the riskier tranches generated big profit for hedge funds when the risks did not materialize to overwhelm the high returns. The problem was that the profitability drove new issues of MBS at a faster pace than maturing MBS, with the number and amount of outstanding securities getting bigger with each passing year, exposing investors to aggregate risk higher than the accumulated gains. Because of the complexity and opacity of the CDO market, institutional investors were not alerted by rating agencies of the fact that their individual safety actually caused a sharp rise in systemic risk. They felt comfortable as long as assets they acquired were rated AAA and deemed bankruptcy-remote, not realizing the system might seize up some Wednesday morning. That Wednesday came on August 15, 2007 .

CDOs, a cross between an investment fund and an asset-backed security (ABS), perform this slicing process of risk/reward unbundling repeatedly to keep money recycling and money supply growing in the mortgage market. While CDOs lubricate the credit market to make more home financing affordable to more home buyers, it raises the price of home and its financing cost beyond the carrying capability of almost all home buyers when the bursting of the debt bubble resets interest rates to normal levels, making a rising default rate inevitable.

Hedge funds are attracted by the high returns offered by the lowest-rated tranches of subprime MBS undbubled by CDOs, the so-called equity tranches which sink underwater as home prices fall. Many hedge funds arbitrage the wide return spread with low-cost funds borrowed in the commercial paper market and magnify the return with high leverage through bank loans. They often hedge against risk by holding derivatives that are expected to rise in value when housing prices fall, such as interest rate swaps. They also hedge against defaults with credit default swaps. These hedges failed when risk was re-priced by the market at rollover time for short-term securities which could be every 30 days.

CDOs and Commercial Paper

Much of the money used to buy CDOs come form the commercial paper market. Commercial paper consists of short-term, unsecured promissary notes issued primarily by financial and non-financial corporations. Maturities range up to 270 days but average about 30 days. Many companies use commercial paper to raise cash needed for current transactions, and many find it to be a lower-cost alternative to bank loans. Financial companies use high-rated CDO tranches as collateral to back their commercial paper issues.

Because commercial paper maturities do not exceed nine months and proceeds typically are used only for current transactions, the notes are exempt from registration as securities with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

Large institutions have long managed their short-term cash needs by buying and selling securities in the money market since the early 1970's. Today, a broad array of domestic and foreign investors uses these versatile, short-term securities to help to make the money market the largest, most efficient credit market in the world driving assets from $4 billion in 1975 to more than $1.8 trillion today. This money market is a fixed income market, similar to the bond market. The major difference being that the money market specializes in very short term debt securities.

The money market is a securities market dealing in short-term debt and monetary instruments. Money market instruments are forms of debt that mature in less than one year and are very liquid but traded only high denominations. The easiest way for individual investor to gain access is through money market mutual funds, or sometimes through a money market bank account. These accounts and funds pool together the assets of thousands of investors and buy the money market securities on their behalf.

Borrowing short-term money from banks is often a labored and uneasy situation for many corporations. Their desire to avoid banks as much as they can has led to the popularity of commercial paper. For the most part, commercial paper is a very safe investment because the financial situation of a large company can easily be predicted over a few months. Furthermore, typically only companies with high credit ratings and credit worthiness issue commercial paper and over the past 35 years there have only been a handful of cases where corporations defaulted on their commercial paper repayment.

ABCP Conduits

Asset backed commercial paper (ABCP) is a device used by banks to get operating assets, such as trade receivables, funded by the issuance of securities. Traditionally, banks devised ABCP conduits as a device to put their current asset credits off their balance sheets and yet provide liquidity support to their clients. Conduits raise money by selling short-term debt and using the proceeds to invest in assets with longer maturities, like mortgage-backed bonds. Conduits typically have guarantees from banks, which promise to lend them money up to the amount of the SIVs the banks structure.

A bank with a client whose working capital needs are funded by the bank can release the regulatory capital that is locked in this credit asset by setting up a conduit, essentially a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that issues commercial paper, such as the ones used by Enron that led to its downfall. The conduit will buy the receivables of the client and get the same funded by issuance of commercial paper. The bank will be required to provide some liquidity support to the conduit, as it is practically impossible to match the maturities of the commercial paper to the realization of trade receivables. Thus, the credit asset is moved off the balance sheet giving the bank a regulatory relief. Depending upon whether the bank provides full or partial liquidity support to the conduit, ABCP can be either fully supported or partly supported.

ABCP conduits are virtual subsets of the parent bank. If the bank provides full liquidity support to the conduit, for regulatory purposes, the liquidity support given by the bank may be treated as a direct credit substitute in which case the assets held by the conduit are aggregated with those of the bank. ABCP conduits are also set up large issuers that are not banks.

The key weakness in the entire credit superstructure lies in the practice by intermediaries of credit to borrow short term to finance long term. This term carry is magical in an expanding economy when the gap between short term and long term credit is narrower than gains from long term asset appreciation. But in a contracting economy, it can be a fatal scenario, particularly if falls in short term rates raise the credit rating requirement of the short term borrower, putting previously qualified loans in technical default. Securities that face difficulty in rolling over at maturity are known as "toxic" in the trade.

Lethal Derivatives

The credit default swap market is a microcosm of investor confidence. Credit default swaps are insurance for bad debt. Insured creditors are compensated by the seller of the insurance if a debtor defaults on a loan. When the threat of default rises in the market, the insurance premium rises, just as Katrina boosted hurricane insurance premium. This is known in the business as re-pricing of risk. The cost of credit default swaps written on investment banks such as Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs and on commercial banks such as Citibank have soared in the past few months amid worries that troubles in the subprime-mortgage market and the leveraged-buyout market could leave them with massive loan defaults. The financial industry tracks mortgage-linked securities via the ABX index, which calculates the prices of a basket of assets backed by subprime loans.

The ongoing crisis in the US housing market has pushed the ABX, a key mortgage-linked derivatives index, to new lows, threatening to unleash a further bout of credit market upheaval. Price swing in the ABX can reduce the value of ultra-safe credit instruments that carried high credit ratings, forcing banks and other regulated investors to make further large write-downs on their credit market holdings, on top of the huge losses several major US and foreign banks suffered from credit turmoil that began in August.

As the US mortgages market deteriorates, financial sector losses will accumulate. Secondary market price movements indicate that losses on mortgage inventory are likely to be larger in coming quarters. Before July, the part of the ABX index that tracks AAA debt was trading almost at face value. However, in the last three weeks in October, it has fallen sharply due to downgrades by credit rating agencies and continuing bad data from the housing sector.

As a result, the so-called ABX 07-1 index – which tracks AAA mortgage bonds originated in the first half of this year – fell to a record low close of 79 on October 30, meaning that traders reckon these bonds are worth only 79 cents on the dollar. The ABX "BBB" 07-1 index measures the performance of loans made during the second half of 2006, when many home purchase loans were made to buyers with shaky credit standings. The index traded around 44, or 44 cents on a dollar, nearly its weakest level ever.

The swing is creating real pain for investors, since in recent years numerous firms have created trading strategies which have loaded large debt levels onto these "safe" securities, precisely because these instruments were not expected to fluctuate in price. Investors normally hold such "safe" securities to maturity thus there is no demand for a ready market for them. But as the credit rating of these securities falls, investor cannot find buyer for them at any reasonable price. The last week in October saw the worst falls in the ABX market this year, especially higher up the capital structure with highly rated debt.

Pension funds and insurance companies hold the less risky, senior CDO tranches because regulatory rules restrict them from investing in lower-rated securities. When the low-rated tranches default in large numbers, the high-rated tranches lose rating and these regulated institutions are forced to sell their non-conforming holdings into a market with few buyers.

Pension funds, insurance companies and university endowment funds have also invested in hedge funds that hold the riskier CDO tranches to get higher returns. In recent years, CDO issuance has exploded and many hedge funds have been buying the riskiest tranches of MBS that are backed by subprime loans. Mortgages closed by 4 pm New York time were sent electronically to back-office locations in India to be packaged into CDO tranches and resent electronically to New York at 9:30 am the next day to be sold in the credit market, generating huge fees and profits for Wall Street firms every day.

Rating Agencies Under Pressure

Moody's Investors Services, an influential rating agency, warned in late July that defaults and downgrades of subprime MBS could have "severe" consequences for CDOs that invested heavily in the sector. CDOs that Moody's rated from 2003 to 2006 had 45% exposure to subprime MBS on average. But that varied widely from almost zero to 90% with recent CDOs having the high concentrations of such collateral, the potential downgrade for which could be 10 or more notches in rating. The secondary market for CDOs responded to these heightened risks, pushing prices down and widening spreads - the difference between interest rates on riskier debt and measures of short-term borrowing costs such as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) or commercial paper rates. Spreads on BBB-rated asset-backed securities (ABS) CDOs over LIBOR have widened by roughly 125 basis points to 657 basis points since the end of 2006.

Structured investment vehicles (SIVs)

Although the first structured investment vehicles (SIVs) appeared in the structured finance world some 15 years ago, and the growth of SIVs had been somewhat limited, (there are fewer than 20 vehicles globally), there is no doubt that these sophisticated bankruptcy-remote structures have strongly influenced other funding vehicles and asset management businesses. Since 2002, there has been renewed interest by different types of financial institutions in starting up SIVs or SIV-like structures with evolved capital structures embracing new classes of financial instruments.

The first SIVs were founded in the mid-1980s as bankruptcy-remote entities and were sponsored by large banks or investment managers for the purpose of generating leveraged returns by exploiting the differences in yields between the longer-dated assets managed and the short-term liabilities issued. The balance sheet of a structured investment vehicle typically contains assets such as asset-backed securities (ABS) and other high-grade securities that are funded through issued liabilities in the form of commercial paper (CP) and medium-term note (MTN) and subordinate capital notes. SIVs typically hedge out all interest and currency risks using swaps and other derivative instruments.

Overall, CP and MTN issuance shot up dramatically in 2004, up US$25.7 billion to US$133.1 billion at year-end, with capital investments at an all-time high. In general, advances in capital structures and asset portfolio management have invigorated interest from investors and prospective sponsors.

SIVs, Conduits and Asset-Backed Commercial Paper (ABCP)

SIVs are typically funded in the low interest short-term asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) market to invest in high-return long-term securities for profit. The viability of the stratagem depends on the ability to roll over the short-term commercial paper when they mature in typically less than 120 days. To keep the liquidity risk at a minimum, issuers stagger the maturity so that only a small portion of the loan needs to be refunded in any one week. The credit market crisis in mid 2007 created a break in short-term debt rollovers to cause a funding mismatch in long-term assets positions because investors have stopped buying new ABCP issued by some SIVs and conduits.

What separates a SIV from other investment vehicles is the nature of its ongoing relationship with rating agencies – from the originating qualification process to the continuous monitoring of its asset diversification, risk management and funding practices. These guidelines include frequent reporting of operating parameters such as portfolio credit quality, portfolio diversification, asset and liability maturity, market risk limitations, leverage and capital adequacy requirements, and liquidity requirements.

The rigorous monitoring allows SIVs to be highly capital efficient, enabling them to be leveraged on an average of 12 times the capital base, with exceptions. Unlike related traditional asset backed commercial paper (ABCP) conduits, SIVs do not require 100% liquidity support and credit enhancement.

Many SIVs faced trouble in the summer of 2007 as they were hit by both sharp falls in the value of their investments, mainly financial debt and asset-backed bonds, and a lack of access to new refinancing as investors shunned short-term commercial paper debt linked to asset-backed securities (ABCP).

Most CDOs are cash flow transactions not directly sensitive to the market value of their underlying assets as long as the cash flow is undisturbed. But if a CDO manager needs to sell an asset quickly even at a loss because of ratings agency downgrade, the CDO manager will be forced to carry the remaining assets at a lower value, upsetting both collateral for the agreed cash flow and the balance sheet of the participants.

While some hedge funds have profited from the sublime mortgage meltdown, other funds have been hit hard, resulting in a deteriorating financial sector as asset values plummeted faster than potential gains by vultures.

Other big lenders that raised warning flags earlier about bad-performing debt portfolios included Washington Mutual, New Century Financial and Marshall & IIsley Corporation. Foreclosures jumped 35% in December 2006 versus a year earlier. For the fifth straight month, more than 100,000 properties entered foreclosure because the owner couldn't keep up with their loan payments. In January 2007, Washington Mutual disclosed that its mortgage business lost $122 million in the fourth quarter, highlighting the weak sub-prime market.

New York Attorney General Sues Appraisal Company

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a potential Democrat gubernatorial candidate for New York, has filed suit against eAppraiseIT (EA), a real estate appraisal management subsidiary of First American Corporation, for having "caved to pressure from Washington Mutual" to inflate property values of homes. Washington Mutual allegedly complained to EA that "its appraisals weren't high enough." Cuomo said in a statement that "consumers are harmed because they are misled as to the value of their homes, increasing the risk of foreclosure and hindering their ability to make sound economic decisions. Investors are hurt by such fraud because it skews the value and risk of loans that are sold in financial markets." The bank is also facing a number of class action suits from irate borrowers.

Shares of government sponsored mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tumbled after receiving subpoenas seeking information on loans they bought from Washington Mutual and other banks. Cuomo said he uncovered a "pattern of collusion" between lenders and appraisers, and is seeking documents that may prove the lenders inflated appraisal values. The subpoenas also seek information on Fannie and Freddie's due diligence practices. If decided that they own or guarantee mortgages with inflated appraisals, company policy dictates that the lenders buy back the loans. "In order to fulfill their duty to consumers and investors, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must ensure that Washington Mutual's mortgages have not been corrupted by inflated appraisals," Cuomo said. In 2007, WaMu is Fannie Mae's third-largest loan provider, selling it $24.7 billion and Freddie Mac's fourteenth largest at $7.8 billion. Washingtom Mutual share fell 17% after it announced it would set aside $1.3 billion fourth quarter 2007 for credit losses, up from $967 million in the third quarter.

Mortgage Lenders Fell Like Flies

The handwriting had been clearly on the wall. Back on February 6, New Century Financial shares plunged 29% after the mortgage services provider slashed its forecast for loan production for 2007 because early-payment defaults and loan repurchases had led to tighter underwriting guidelines. A week later, Pasadena, Calif.-based IndyMac Bancorp Inc. which sold Alt-A mortgages for borrowers who were not required to submit conforming income and financial documents necessary to quality for conventional conforming mortgages, warned that its quarterly earnings would come in well short of analyst expectations because of increased loan losses and delinquencies. Other lenders were also squeezed by deteriorating credit. Marshall & IIsley reported a jump in non-performing assets in the quarter, while Bank of the Ozarks reported a 69% increase in problem loans. US Bancorp predicted an increase in retail loan charge-offs and commercial loan losses in coming quarters. Wells Fargo warned it expected net credit losses from wholesale banking to increase in 2007.

Britain 's Barclays PLC, in the midst of an unsuccessful takeover battle for ABN Amro, was reported as among the banks that were having trouble with bad loans and its hedge funds. Barclays Global Investors was one of the world's biggest fund managers, with some $2 trillion in assets under management.

The Case of Countrywide Financial

Non-conforming mortgages securities packaged by Countrywide Financial needed to be sold in the private, secondary market to alternative investors, instead of the agency market. On August 3, 2007 , this secondary market collapsed and essentially stopped the sales of most non-conforming securities. Alt-A mortgages (loans given to self-declared creditworthy borrowers without supporting documentation) completely stopped trading and the seizure extended to even AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities. Only securities with conforming mortgages were trading. Unfazed, Countrywide Financial issued a reassuring statement that its mortgage business had access to a nearly $50 billion funding cushion.

In reality, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown put Countrywide Financial, along with many other mortgage lenders, in a crisis situation of holding drastically devalued loan portfolios that could not be sold at any price. Amid rising defaults, investors have fled from mortgage-related investments, drying up market demand. The ongoing credit crunch threatened Countrywide's normal access to cash.

After the collapse of American Home Mortgage on August 6, the market's attention returned to Countrywide Financial which at the time had issued about 17% of all mortgages in the United States . Days later, Countrywide Financial disclosed to the SEC that disruptions in the secondary mortgage markets could adversely affect it financially. The news raised speculation that Countrywide was a potential bankruptcy risk. On August 10, a run on the Countrywide Bank began as the secondary mortgage market shutdown, curtailing new mortgage funding.

The perceived risk of Countrywide bonds rose sharply. Credit ratings agencies downgraded Countrywide to near junk status. The cost of insuring its bonds rose 22% overnight. This development limited Countrywide access to the short-term commercial paper debt market which normally provides cheaper money than bank loans. Institutional investors were trying desperately to unload outstanding Countrywide paper held in their portfolios. Some 50 other mortgage lenders had already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Countrywide Financial was cited as a possible bankruptcy risk by Merrill Lynch and others on August 15. This combined with news that its ability to issue new commercial paper might be severely hampered put severe pressure on the stock. Countrywide shares fell $3.17 to $21.29, which was its biggest fall in a single day since the crash of 1987 when the shares fell 50% for the year. The 52-week low to date was $12.07 per share.

On Thursday, August 16, having expressed concerns over liquidity because of the decline of the secondary market for securitized mortgage obligations, Countrywide also announced its intention to draw on the entire $11.5 billion credit line from a group of 40 banks. On Friday August 17, many depositors sought to withdraw their bank accounts from Countrywide. It also planned to make 90% of its loans conforming. By this point stock shares had lost about 75% of their peak value and speculation of bankruptcy broadened.

The Fed Discount Window Accepts Toxic Collateral from Banks

At the same time the Federal Reserve lowered the discount rate 50 basis points in a last-minute, early morning conference call. The Fed also accepted $17.2 billion in repurchase agreements for mortgage backed securities to provide liquidity in the credit market. This helped calm the stock market and investors promptly responded positively with the Dow posting temporary gains.

Additionally, Countrywide was forced to restate income it had claimed from accrued but unpaid interest on "exotic" mortgages in which the initial pay rate was less than the amortization rate. By mid 2007, it became apparent much of this accrued interest had become uncollectible. In a letter dated August 20, Federal Reserve agreed to waive banking regulations at the request of Citigroup and Bank of America to exempt both banks from rules that limited the amount that federally-insured banks can lend to related brokerage companies to 10% of bank capital, by increasing the limit to 30%. Until then, banking regulations restricted banks with federally insured deposits from putting themselves at risk by brokerage subsidiaries' activities. On August 23, Citibank and Bank of America said that they and two other banks accessed $500 million in 30-day financing at the Fed's discount window at the new low rate of 5.25%.

On the next day, Countrywide Financial obtained $2 billion of new capital from Bank of America Corp, the banking holding parent. In exchange, the Bank of America brokerage arm would get convertible preferred stock yielding 7.3%, a profitable spread over its Fed discount rate of 5.25% and the Fed funds rate of 4.75%. The preferred stocks can be converted into common stock at $18 per share (trading around $12 on October 25). This gave the distressed mortgage lender a much-needed cash infusion amid a crippling credit crunch. Countrywide shares soared 20.01%, or $4.37, to $26.19 after hours on the news. Bank of America shares rose 1.9%, or 98 cents, to $52.63 (trading around $46.75 on October 25 after announcing third quarter earning dropping 32%).

SEC to Scrutinize Security Valuation

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is reportedly looking into the accounting and securities valuation practices at Wall Street investment banks to ensure consistency and clarity for investors. Meanwhile, major financial institutions were lining up to announce write-downs on their sub-prime mortgage exposures. Merrill Lynch wrote down $5.5 billion which was later revised to $8 billion; Citigroup $3.3 billion which was later revised to $11 billion; Goldman Sachs $1.7 billion, Lehman Brothers $1 billion, Morgan Stanley $0.9 billion and Bear Sterns $0.7 billion. Many in the market expect further write downs in coming quarters. Already Merrill Lynch write down is widely put at more than $14 billion and few believe that Citigroup's loss could be kept to $11 billion in coming quarters. The heads of Merrill, UBS and Citigroup all resigned.

Wachovia, the fourth-largest US bank by assets, estimated on Friday, November 9 that the value of its subprime mortgage-related securities had fallen $1.1 billion in October. It said loan-loss provisions would be increased by as much as $600 million in the fourth quarter due to "dramatic declines" in home values. The announcement came three weeks after Wachovia reported writedowns of $1.3 billion in the third quarter and posted its first earnings drop in six years.

Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest U.S. securities firm, said on November 7 its subprime mortgages and related securities lost $3.7 billion in the past two months, after prices sank further than the firm's traders anticipated. The decline may cut fourth-quarter earnings by $2.5 billion. Colm Kelleher, Morgan Stanley chief financial officer to the Financial Times in an interview: "You need to see some of these long positions reduced, you need to see buyers coming in, you need to see an easing of liquidity in the market." Kelleher said credit markets would take three or four quarters to recover, instead of the one or two he estimated when the firm reported third-quarter results on September 19.

Concerns about potential writedowns at Morgan Stanley have pushed the stock lower this week, bringing the year-to-date decline to 24 percent. The stock fell $3.32, or 6.9%, to $51.19 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading on November 8. Analysts estimate the firm would lose about $4 billion on asset- backed securities and collateralized debt obligations and expected the remaining losses to be booked on residual mortgage interest and on credit lines to structured investment vehicles.

Being Right Can lead to Losses through Aggressive Hedging

Part of the losses Morgan Stanley incurred stemmed from derivative contracts the firm's proprietary trading unit wrote earlier in the year. The traders anticipated correctly a decline in the value of subprime securities and took up short positions and the contracts made money for the firm in the second quarter. But the contracts started losing money when prices fell below the level the traders had anticipated. As markets continued to decline, the firm's risk exposure swung from short, to flat to long because the structure of the book had big negative convexity. For any given bond, a graph of the relationship between price and yield is a convex curve rather than a linear straight-line. As a bond's price goes up, its yield goes down, and vice versa. The degree to which the graph is curved shows how much a bond's yield changes in response to a change in price. Negative convexity gives the investor a greater loss in the event of a 50 basis points drop in yields than his gain in the event of a 50 basis points rise in yields. For any given move in interest rates, the downside is bigger than the upside to give a built-in loss for a short position with negative convexity. Sophisticated traders can create instruments which have so much negative convexity that the price might start off moving in one direction as yields start moving, and then eventually start moving in the opposite direction beyond a given range. The hedge then begins to cannibalize profitability.For any given move in interest rates, the downside is bigger than the upside to give a built-in loss for a short position with negative convexity, thus producing losses. For positive convexity, the upside is bigger than the down side, thus giving short positions an advantage. Morgan Stanley's short positions allegedly turned against them by negative convexity; at least that was how they explained the loss. Some analysts think there must be more than meets the eye, assuming Morgan management itself even know. The people who put on the bad trades were fired and not there to answer questions.

It is one thing to lose money, but it is quite another to lose money without knowing why and how. Morgan Stanley, Citibank, and the rest still have difficulty figuring out how they lost money last quarter and how much loss is waiting in future quarters. They only know the numbers came in very bad.

SEC Concern over Accuracy of Writedowns

US market regulators have been working with investment banks and accounting firms over the past few months to keep tabs on how they are dealing with changes to the accounting treatment of securities that were introduced this year by the US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). The SEC has been particularly concerned during the third quarter earnings season, which resulted in billions of dollars in write-downs at investment banks after problems in the sub-prime mortgage markets that triggered a wider credit crisis. At issue is whether these write-downs accurately reflect the total financial impact of the credit crisis on the banks and their investors.

The SMELEC Super Fund Proposal

Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan/Chase announced on Monday, October 15, plans for a super fund to buy mortgage-linked securities in an attempt to allay fears of a downward price-spiral that would hit the balance sheets of big banks. US banks collectively would put up credit guarantees up to $100 billion for the fund, named the Single-Master Liquidity Enhancement Conduit (SMLEC).

The concept of an SMLEC first emerged three weeks earlier when the US Treasury summoned leading bankers to discuss ways to revive the mortgage-linked securities market and to deal with the threat to the credit market posed by structured investment vehicles (SIVs) and conduits. The Treasury said it acted as a "neutral third party" in the discussions, but Henry Paulson, Treasury secretary, was reportedly strongly in support of the initiative.

Robert Steel, under-secretary for domestic finance, led the US Treasury side of the discussions, with the day-to-day work handled by Anthony Ryan, assistant secretary. The plan is an attempt to address concerns about SIVs and conduits, vehicles that are off-balance sheet but closely affiliated to banks.

Fears emerged that some SIVs might be pushed into forced sales of assets, prompting further declines in the market price of mortgage-linked securities as a class that could hurt the balance sheets of all lending institutions. SMLEC, designed as a superfund to preserve the theoretical value of the high-rated tranches by creating a ready buyer for them, is likely to be unpopular with some banks and non-bank institutions which have already started trading in distressed low-rated subprime securities at knockdown prices.

SMLEC as proposed is intended as a restructuring vehicle, repackaging credit securities to make them more transparent than existing SIV commercial paper and less risky to investors. It would only deal in "highly-rated" assets. Although it is envisaged that the scheme will initially focus on vehicles in the dollar market held by US banks, it is expected to extend to non-US banks as well, and may even be extended to the euro market. The US Treasury declined to provide official comment on the reported proposal.

In October, Citigroup Inc. posted a 57% slump in third-quarter net income at $2.38 billion, or 47 cents a share, from $5.51 billion, or $1.10 a share, a year earlier. The latest quarterly results included $1.35 billion of pretax write-down in the value of loans that helped finance the leveraged-buyout boom and $1.56 billion of pretax losses tied to loans and sub-prime mortgages. A couple of weeks after the SMLEC proposal, Citigroup announced a write down of $3.3 billion which was later revised to $11 billion and that its Chairman resigned after an emergency board meeting on the first Saturday of November.

SMLEC is in essence a big bet that a consortium of banking giants, at the prodding of the US Treasury, can persuade investors to pour new money into the troubled credit market to buy the assets of troubled SIVs to prevent the pending loss faced by the sponsoring institutions.

Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman, immediately raised serious doubts over SMLEC, warning that it could prevent the market from establishing true clearing prices for asset-backed securities. "It is not clear to me that the benefits exceed the risks," Greenspan told Emerging Markets , adding, "The experience I have had with that sort of intervention is very mixed." As the person most responsible for a macro liquidity boom that had prevented "the market from establishing true clearing prices for assets of all types", Greenspan is critical of the effort of the Treasury to do the same thing on a micro level to save the banking system.

Greenspan explained: "What creates strong markets is a belief in the investment community that everybody has been scared out of the market, pressed prices too low and there are wildly attractive bargaining prices out there." He added: "if you intervene in the system, the vultures stay away. The vultures are sometimes very useful." Goldman Sachs must have heard the message loud and clear and decided to act as its own home-grown vulture.

Greenspan's remarks came amid growing speculation on Wall Street that the current Federal Reserve sees potential benefits in the SMLEC proposal in terms of preventing a possible fire sale of assets, and does not think it has been designed to allow financial institutions to avoid recognizing losses. But the Fed is concern that the superfund plan could exacerbate growing investor anxiety, and thinks markets might normalize faster if at least some troubled SIV assets were sold in the market to allow prices to find a floor. Fed officials have been officially silent on the superfund plan, leading to the impression that the Fed wants to keep its distance. The Treasury regards the Fed's silence as simply reflecting the separation of powers and responsibilities between the institutions. In reality, the Treasury leads the Fed on issues of national economic security, notwithstanding the Fed's claim of independence.

Greenspan defended the 1998 Fed-sponsored rescue of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) by a group of creditor banks, saying it worked because it took a set of assets that would otherwise have been dumped at fire-sale prices off the market, allowing prices of the remaining assets to find a true equilibrium. But he said today "we are dealing with a much larger market." To those who still have reliable memory, the justification for the Fed managed rescue of LTCM was to prevent the total collapse of the financial market because of the dominant size and high leverage of LTCM. Other distressed hedge funds would also have survived with a Fed managed bailout, but they did not qualify as being "too big to fail".

Frederic Mishkin, a Federal Reserve governor, admitted to the Financial Times that although the central bank could use monetary policy to offset the macroeconomic risk arising from the credit squeeze, it was "powerless" to deal with "valuation risk" – the difficulty assessing the value of complex or opaque securities.

Robert J Shiller, Yale economist of " Irrational Exuberance " fame (2000), writing in the October 14 edition of the New York Times: Sniffles That Precede a Recession : "While it may seem as though these private banks could have met by themselves and agreed to create a fund without pressure from Treasury to do so, apparently there are times when the private sector cannot take care of itself and it needs the government to intervene and prod it in the right direction, at least that appears to be the attitude at Treasury (and I wonder if there will be government guarantees of any sort as part of the bargain, a situation that rules out the private sector doing it on its own, but also a situation that more explicitly recognizes the existence of market failure and the need for government intervention to overcome it). It would be refreshing to see this same attitude extended by the administration to other markets that cannot coordinate properly or that suffer from significant market failures of other types, markets that produce outcomes where, say, children are left without health coverage. But don't get your hopes up."

Warren Buffett, the Pied Piper of other awed investors, told Fox Business Network that "pooling a bunch of mortgages, changing the ownership" would not change the viability of the mortgage instrument itself. "It would be better to have them on the balance sheets so everyone would know what's going on." Bill Gross, chief investment officer of Pimco, the giant bond fund manager, called the superfund idea "pretty lame". Investors need to know what their portfolio is really worth at any moment in time, not merely constructed value if conditions should hold.

Next: The Commercial Paper Market and SIVs

[Jul 03, 2018] When you see some really successful financial speculator like Soros or (or much smaller scale) Browder , search for links with intelligence services to explain the success or at least a part of it related to xUSSR space , LA and similar regions

Highly recommended!
Jul 03, 2018 | www.moonofalabama.org

Recently came across the following article written by F. William Engdahl in 1996 which might be of interest to some here:

The secret financial network behind "wizard" George Soros

The last page of the above article can be found here:

Soros's looting of Ibero-America

Posted by: integer | Jul 2, 2018 4:49:45 AM | 35

[Jun 13, 2018] The Roots of Argentina's Surprise Crisis

The root is neoliberal government that came to power in 2015
Notable quotes:
"... Why is any of this still "surprising" ..."
"... Economist Ha Joon Chang popularized the term "ladder kicking" to describe the way in which most developed countries used tariffs and trade restrictions to ascent to the top but are all for "free trade" now. ..."
"... Once again, so long as "Original Sin" is a reality, there is little hope. Keynes' BANCOR was the idea to begin to fix this, but short of some other global currency initiative, we're left to the International Finance Vultures as the primary arbiters of what's possible. ..."
Jun 13, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Synoia , June 13, 2018 at 10:25 am

Early measures included the removal of exchange-rate and capital controls

How does a county manage what it does not control?

ChrisAtRU , June 13, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Exactly see Trilemma .

Scott1 , June 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm

Thanks for the link. I will be spending some time thinking of what Argentina would best employ as best practices from where it is.
Would they be best off if they stopped issuing such high paying bonds? Should they pay them all off and stop with it. It does appear to me that issuing bond after bond is one of the single most dangerous things you can do.
It would appear to me to be a superior practice to sell what you produce for the best price you can get on the open markets and dictate the value of your currency.
I'll have to do some more study here.
Again, thanks for the link.

Lorenzo , June 13, 2018 at 6:31 pm

You're uttering the discourse of the most recalcitrant neo-liberal cum austerity-fundamentalists around.

The US doesn't tax soybean exports. Argentina needs to maximize its exports to earn foreign exchange.'

it's misleading to say the least to draw a comparison between how the US handles soybean exports and Argentina does it. They're around a quarter of the latter's exports, barely a hundredth of the latter's.

The US will never have forex issues, Argentina does have them, and they are very serious. You make it as if simply exporting commodities will fill the country's economy with USD, while in truth those dollars will be neatly parked in tax heavens. Eliminating tax and controls over Argentina's biggest exports -agricultural commodities- is in practice as if these commodities were produced not in this country but in some foreign territory over which only the very few who hold most of the land are sovereign. Which is what the current administration has been doing for the past two years.

You also make it as if the current situation where the value of the peso is given over completely to whatever short-term speculators feel like doing with it whenever LEBACs are due is more desirable than the capital controls imposed by the previous government. These prevented the hurtful rapid rise we're seeing in the exchange rate and reduced the negative consequences of the fiscal deficit thus allowing significant investment in and expansion of the real economy.

Addressing the fiscal deficit through increased value added and income tax is something that clearly benefits the owner over the working class and depresses private consumption. I can only sarcastically wonder who would want such a thing.

I don't feel the need or the duty to defend the previous government, but victimization of the Sociedad Rural is something I just lack the words to condemn strongly enough

ChrisAtRU , June 13, 2018 at 9:15 pm

NP. You're welcome. See my comment below. Unfortunately, the only way to win this game is not to play (by the vulture established rules).

Mickey Hickey , June 13, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Argentina is probably the most self sufficient country on earth. It has everything, fertile land that produces an abundance of wheat, barley, oats, rye, wine grapes. As well as oil, gas. uranium, silver, gold, lead, copper, zinc. Foreigners are well aware of the wealth in Argentina and are more than willing to lend to Argentinian governments and companies. This is why Cristina Kirchner refused to give in to the US vulture funds as it dissuaded foreigners from believing that reckless lending would always be rewarded. Macri ponied up, restarting the old familiar economic doom cycle. As always its the old dog for the long road and the pup for the puddle. Macri is now in a place that he chose, the puddle. As long as foreig lenders remain reckless Argentina will remain mired in the mud, well short of its potential. I was last there in 2008 when the country was booming. When I heard of Macri's plan to pay the vulture funds I knew they were headed for disaster. This is just the beginning.

JTMcPhee , June 13, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Those "foreign lenders" can't be called "reckless." Some, maybe most among them always seem to profit from the looting, whether by "bailouts" or "backstops" from governments like the US that for "geopolitical reasons" facilitate that lending, or by extortion after the first-round lenders (who know the risks, of course -- they are big boys and girls after all) have been forestalled.

Call them "wreckers," maybe. Like early denizens of the Florida Keys, and other places, who set fires or put up lamps that resembled lighthouses to lure passing ships onto the sands and rocks where their cargoes and the valuables of their drowned passengers and crews could be stripped.

Wayne Harris , June 13, 2018 at 4:54 pm

"so-called vulture funds"?

ChrisAtRU , June 13, 2018 at 8:33 pm

"so-called" Laughable

ChrisAtRU , June 13, 2018 at 6:37 pm

Why is any of this still "surprising" to anyone?! Most countries in the world (non G7/G8) are forced to go into foreign debt in order to pursue their "development" initiatives. They are told they can export themselves out of trouble but the "free trade" (more like unfair trade!) mantra puts them at a distinct disadvantage – "unequal exchange" was the term Marx used for it.

Economist Ha Joon Chang popularized the term "ladder kicking" to describe the way in which most developed countries used tariffs and trade restrictions to ascent to the top but are all for "free trade" now.

Once again, so long as "Original Sin" is a reality, there is little hope. Keynes' BANCOR was the idea to begin to fix this, but short of some other global currency initiative, we're left to the International Finance Vultures as the primary arbiters of what's possible.

[Feb 25, 2018] The neoliberal "methodology" for "showing economic success" is propaganda masquerading as "science". So they sell Latvia as a poster child of austerity, true neoliberal market miracle. In reality it is a hot bed of curruption and deindustrialization

Latvia now is a typical neoliberal debt slave and flourishing sex trafficking market. Not that different from other Baltic states, Ukraine, Moldavia and generally all xUSSR space.
Feb 25, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

YankeeFrank , February 25, 2018 at 7:38 am

Bill mentions the brain drain from Latvia, but I seem to recall a quite massive general emigration from the country during austerity, which also helped to "reduce unemployment" as well. The neoliberal "methodology" for "showing economic success" is moral and economic bankruptcy masquerading as "science". And wow. So we have Latvia to thank for the coming nuclear holocaust as well. A true neoliberal market miracle.

Lambert's two principles of neoliberalism are once again brought to mind:

#1 Because markets.

#2 Go die.

Skip Intro , February 25, 2018 at 11:03 am

All those 'excess' workers who left were helping keep wages low in the EU
In the sense that Latvia's future productivity is sacrificed for short-term benefits on the books, it starts to look like another asset-stripping scheme, and the costs are borne by workers in the EU.

The Rev Kev , February 25, 2018 at 8:40 am

This is not the first time that Latvia has appeared on NC ( https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/latvias-economic-disaster-as-a-neoliberal-success-story-a-model-for-europe-and-the-us.html ) and probably won't be the last. What is it about neoliberalism that that seems to have corruption as part of its DNA?

Latvia already has one of the highest levels of poverty and income inequality in the EU and its population has dropped by about a fifth in the past 18 years which is a bit of a record considering that there was no war, that is, unless you count the neoliberal war on people. Some moved to the capital Riga but most bailed out of the country altogether and are not coming back. You can find whole blocks of empty buildings in some towns.
But don't worry. The Latvians are on the case. The head of the Latvian Central Bank detained for extortion and the Latvian Ministry of Defense both blame, you guessed it, Russia!

Lambert's two principles of neoliberalism may have to be updated. He already has
#1 Because markets.
#2 Go die.

He may have to modify the second one to say
#2 Go die or get the hell outta Dodge.

DJG , February 25, 2018 at 9:11 am

Now I may be prejudiced because the Gs came from deepest darkest Lithuania–and we're talking out in the endless woods in a village along a lake.

When people talk about population decline in Latvia, you are talking about part of the corruption. The native Latvians wanted a way of getting rid of the Russian population, many of whom are considered immigrants. So dropping 20 percent of the population means throwing out the Russians. When your "population policy " is based on something like that, you can image what the country's economic policies are like.

In contrast–although Lithuania, too, has lost some 10 – 15 percent of its population since restored independence–the Lithuanians came to terms, imperfect terms, with their smaller Polish and Russian minorities. Nevertheless, the Lithuanians didn't go whole-hog free-market fundamentalism. And when a recent president was found to be corrupt, they impeached him and threw him out.

So you have different models for how to survive as a Baltic State. Latvia has made a mess of its "model."

edmondo , February 25, 2018 at 10:53 am

"Now of course that's still in a land where they had really severely repressed wages for the working class and for middle class, and continued to tolerate a fair degree of unemployment and underemployment for folks, as well. So, yeah it works really well for the oligarchs. And they do employ people. The unemployment rate drops, but the country invariably becomes extremely corrupt."

Was he still talking about Latvia or did he switch over to the USA?

Altandmain , February 25, 2018 at 12:15 pm

There is a strong correlation between inequality and corruption.

Furthermore, in the medium term there is a causal relationship:
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1331677X.2016.1169701

This would suggest that inflicting austerity on a population, which worsens inequality, will set the precedent for corruption in the future.

Massinissa , February 25, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Half a decade ago when Latvia was considered a success story for neoliberal austerity, one animator made this great satire video making fun of how farcical it was to consider it such.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IRUBJ8qraY

Eustache De Saint Pierre , February 25, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Latvia also being part of that running sore which involves according to the US state department's last global estimate, about 800,000 to a million victims per annum of people trafficking. Of which around 80% are female, with a not stated amount being children, used for both labour & sexual purposes.

I suppose that it comes as little surprise that the 2 main flows of these commodities is from East to West & South to North.

[Feb 17, 2018] Imperialism with a human face International Socialist Review

Notable quotes:
"... Wall Street Journal ..."
"... The 700 Club ..."
"... Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean ..."
"... The Bottom Billion ..."
"... The Shock Doctrine ..."
"... Huffington Post, ..."
"... Wall Street Journal ..."
"... New York Daily News ..."
"... International Socialist Review (ISR) ..."
"... Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politicsw of Containment ..."
"... The Forging of the American Empire ..."
"... The Uses of Haiti ..."
"... Haiti in the New World Order ..."
"... The Prophet and the Power ..."
"... Socialist Worker ..."
"... Haiti in the New World Order ..."
"... The Rainy Season ..."
"... Haiti's Predatory Republic ..."
"... Damming the Flood ..."
"... Dollars and Sense ..."
"... Damming the Flood ..."
"... Socialist Worker ..."
"... Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean ..."
"... Haiti Analysis ..."
"... Socialist Worker ..."
"... The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It ..."
"... Huffington Post ..."
"... New York Times ..."
"... Democracy Now! ..."
"... Socialist Worker ..."
"... Socialist Worker, ..."
"... New York Times ..."
"... Los Angeles Times ..."
"... Washington Times ..."
"... Washington Examiner ..."
"... Washington Times ..."
"... To See the Dawn ..."
Feb 17, 2018 | isreview.org

Haiti after the quake

By Ashley Smith Issue #70 : Features

THE EARTHQUAKE that shook Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on January 12 is one of the worst disasters in human history. The quake flattened houses, hotels, and government buildings, including the National Palace and UN headquarters. By some estimates, 60 percent of Port-au-Prince's buildings collapsed. Even more damage struck some of the smaller towns near the capital like Leogane and Jacmel. At least 230,000 people were left dead, 300,000 in need of medical attention, 1.5 million homeless, and over 2 million bereft of food and water.

The Obama administration reacted immediately. "I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives," Obama told the nation in a speech he delivered the day after the quake. "The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble, and to deliver the humanitarian relief -- the food, water, and medicine -- that Haitians will need in the coming days. In that effort, our government, especially USAID and the Departments of State and Defense are working closely together and with our partners in Haiti, the region, and around the world." 1

This seemed a far cry from the reaction of the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina, where tens of thousands of the city's poor, mostly Black, residents were left stranded and without help as Bush sent troops and Blackwater paramilitaries to police the city. The lack of a prompt humanitarian response prompted rap artist Kanye West to famously state, "George Bush doesn't care about Black people."

Yet while Obama said all the right things, the gap between his words and deeds has been immense. When all is said and done, the Haitian relief effort looks eerily like a replay of Katrina, only on a larger scale. A month into the disaster, the U.S. and UN were managing to feed only 1 million people, leaving more than a million people without relief aid. 2 Instead of mobilizing to provide water, food, and housing for the victims, the U.S. focused on occupying the country with 20,000 U.S. troops and surrounding it with a flotilla of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships.

This military effort actually impeded the delivery of urgent aid. In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Haiti: Obama's Katrina," three doctors who volunteered to provide emergency services wrote, "Four years ago the initial medical response to Hurricane Katrina was ill equipped, understaffed, poorly coordinated and delayed. Criticism of the paltry federal efforts was immediate and fierce. Unfortunately, the response to the latest international disaster in Haiti has been no better, compounding the catastrophe." After they describe the horrific conditions in Haiti's hospitals, the doctors continue, "The U.S. response to the earthquake should be considered an embarrassment. Our operation received virtually no support from any branch of the U.S. government, including the State Department . Later, as we were leaving Haiti, we were appalled to see warehouse-size quantities of unused medicines, food and other supplies at the airport, surrounded by hundreds of U.S. and international soldiers standing around aimlessly." 3

The U.S. government and media have covered up these realities with puff pieces about the supposed success of U.S. relief efforts. They have also wrongly portrayed this catastrophe as simply a natural disaster, ignoring the historical and social causes of Haiti's poverty -- principally the imperialist stranglehold over the nation -- that exacerbated the impact of the earthquake.

If the military flotilla is not there to deliver aid, why is it there? The Obama administration has used the cover of humanitarian aid to occupy the country in pursuit of several goals. First and foremost, after disastrous wars that have discredited U.S. interventionism, Obama hopes through the operation in Haiti to win back domestic support for military intervention. What better means to do that than to present a military invasion and occupation as a humanitarian relief effort?

With a flotilla of ships surrounding the country, the U.S. also aims to repatriate desperate Haitians and prevent a wave of refugees reaching Florida. Through this assertion of power, the U.S. aims also to reassert its dominance in the Caribbean and Latin America over regional rivals like Venezuela and international ones like China. Finally, the U.S. intends to impose a traditional neoliberal economic program on Haiti itself in the interest of U.S. multinational corporations and the Haitian ruling class.

Not just a natural disaster
Most of the media reported the earthquake as a natural disaster. While this is no doubt true, that is only part of the story. Certainly, there was talk of Haiti being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with over 80 percent of its population making about $2 a day. Media acknowledged that the Haitian state was completely unprepared and unable to respond to the crisis not only in Port-au-Prince, but throughout the country. However, the reason for these conditions -- the historical context -- is left out. The story of Haiti's poverty is merely an excuse to further justify why Haiti needs help from the United States, even though the "help" Haiti has received from the U.S. and other world powers is precisely the reason for Haiti's extreme poverty.

Some conservative commentators blamed Haitians for their situation. Pat Robertson on The 700 Club claimed that the disaster was the result of a pact that Haitians made with the devil during their revolution from 1791 to 1804. The devil was merely taking his revenge on Haitians more than 200 years later. 4 In a more polite, but no less racist manner, David Brooks argued that the root cause of the social problems in Haiti was their "progress-resistant" culture. He claimed,

There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10. We're all supposed to politely respect each other's cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them. 5

These are extreme versions of a dominant media story that essentially blames the victims of the earthquake. None of this answers the real questions. Why are the majority of Haitians so poor? Why according to the mayor of Port-au-Prince, were 60 percent of the buildings unsafe in normal conditions? Why is there no building regulation in a city that sits on a fault line? Why was the Haitian state so weak and disorganized before and after the earthquake? To answer these questions, we must delve into Haiti's history.

European slavery, revolution, and U.S. domination
The answer lies in Haiti's history of European conquest, slavery, resistance, and U.S. imperial domination. At every step, instead of aiding the Haitian majority, the U.S. has manipulated the country's politics and exploited its poverty in pursuit of profit, and used it as a pawn in its competition with regional and international rivals. In doing so the U.S. has reduced Haiti to abject poverty and incapacitated its government to manage the society and the current crisis. This history, a second and unnatural fault line, interacted with the natural one to make the earthquake so devastating.

Columbus set off the first tremors when he landed on the island he called Hispaniola in 1492. He proceeded to enslave the Taino natives, whose population was estimated to be more than half a million. The combination of European disease, massacre, and brutal exploitation led to the genocide of the native population. Spain ceded the western section of the island in 1697 to France, which renamed it San Domingue. Spain remained in control of the eastern section of the island, Santo Domingo, which would become the Dominican Republic. French merchants and planters turned their colony into a vast slave plantation and slaves from Africa replaced Indians and white indentured servants. The colony was a killing field where slaves were literally worked to death -- half the African slaves who arrived died within a few years. But it was an enormously profitable one. San Domingue was the richest colony in the new world; the slave plantations produced half of the world's coffee, 40 percent of its sugar, as well as a host of other commodities. 6

In 1791, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a literate freed slave, led the world's first successful slave revolution. Toussaint defeated the three great empires of the age -- France, Spain, and England -- which all attempted to defeat the great slave army. During the struggle, the French managed to kidnap Toussaint and jail him in France, where he died. His second-in-command, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, led the final victory and established the new nation of Haiti in 1804.

Haiti's very existence was a threat to all the empires and their colonies. They all lived off profits from plantation slavery. So the great powers quarantined the country, attempting to prevent the spread of slave revolution. France finally recognized Haiti in 1824, but on the condition that it pay reparations to France for the loss of its property -- its slaves. In today's terms this sum amounted to $21 billion. Thus France shackled Haiti with debt at its birth that it did not finish repaying until 1947, fundamentally distorting the nation's development. 7

Under the eagle
The U.S. was one of the last powers to recognize Haiti, finally doing so in 1862. It became interested in Haiti not to help it, but instead to plunder it. In the late nineteenth century the U.S. became an imperialist power, extending its talons to snatch control of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific from potential rivals like Spain, Britain, and Germany. The U.S. launched its imperial conquest under the guise of liberating Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain. Puerto Rico and the Philippines became U.S. colonies -- U.S. marines killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to conquer the island -- while Cuba became a colony in all but name. The U.S. then policed the Caribbean as if it were an American lake. The number of occupations and invasions over the following decades is too many to list.

A leader of this conquest was Major General Smedley Butler, who became one of the most decorated marines in history. After he turned against U.S. imperialism later in life, he summed up his experience:

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps . And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism . I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909–1912 . I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. 8

The U.S. saw Haiti as one of the key sites to establish client governments to protect U.S. interests in the Caribbean. 9 In 1915 the U.S. used the pretext of political turmoil in Haiti to invade the country and occupy it until 1934. The U.S. plundered the island, forced it to repay its debts to the U.S., and established involuntary corvee gang labor to build roads. United States corporations, hoping to take advantage of Haiti's cheap labor, gained control of 266,000 acres of Haitian land, displacing thousands of Haitian peasants. Haitians rose up against this exploitation in a mass liberation movement, the Cacos Rebellion, led by Charlemagne Peralte. The U.S. slaughtered thousands of resistance fighters, crucifying Peralte in Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. also established one of the most reactionary institutions in Haitian society, the Haitian National Army. The U.S. designed that army not to fight foreign wars but to repress the country's peasant masses.

The neoliberal "plan of death"
While the U.S. ended its occupation of Haiti -- prompted in part by a renewed wave of protests and strikes by workers and students -- it continued to intervene in the country's politics and economics with devastating consequences. From 1957 to 1986, the U.S. supported the father-son dictatorship of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. The Duvaliers' dictatorship maintained power through the army and a vast network of death squads called the Tonton Macoutes. The U.S. backed them as a counterweight to Fidel Castro who had aligned Cuba with Russia in the Cold War struggle for Latin America and the Caribbean. Most observers believe that Papa Doc Duvalier's Macoutes killed tens of thousands. 10 The Duvaliers' economic vision for Haiti -- one that has continued to motivate U.S. plans for Haiti -- was to establish Haiti as low-tax, low-wage, non-union offshore assembly site for U.S. corporations.

Though half of Haitians lived in dire poverty, Haiti until the mid–1980s was self-sufficient in the production of rice, its most important staple. All this changed with the imposition of neoliberal policies, pushed by the United States, that required Haiti to slash tariffs, privatize state-owned industries, and cut the state's agricultural budget. Haitian activists would come to call it a "plan of death."

President Reagan pushed this plan as part of his Caribbean Basin Initiative that aimed to open up the area to U.S. corporations and U.S. agricultural products. Baby Doc opened up the Haitian market to a wave of U.S. agribusiness exports like rice and wheat, which are heavily subsidized. The Haitian peasants were simply unable to compete with these cheap, subsidized imports, and Haiti's rural economy gradually collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of peasants abandoned the countryside for the cities to seek some kind of employment. Deprived of their livelihood, peasants turned to cutting down trees to make charcoal for cooking fuel, leading to the massive deforestation of the country, and the further destruction of Haiti's already depleted soil. 11 As a result, Port-au-Prince, which had been a small town of 50,000 in the 1950s, exploded in size to nearly 800,000 in the 1980s and well over 2 million today. 12

Reagan and Baby Doc claimed that they would absorb these dislocated peasants into an enlarged sweatshop industry. But the various factories in the export processing zones only created about 60,000 jobs. As a result, the masses in Port-au-Prince gathered in slums, left to survive on remittances from relatives who had fled abroad and income scraped together in a highly unstable informal economy.

Finally, the U.S. tried to subject Haiti to the same tourist industry that swept the rest of the Caribbean. Baby Doc cut deals with Club Med and various hotel chains to offer the country's beaches for tourism. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton first came to Haiti on their honeymoon as part of the jet set that Baby Doc welcomed into the swank resorts on the island. It would not be the last time the Clintons played around in Haiti.

Baby Doc took out $1.9 billion in loans from the U.S., other powers, and international financial institutions to bankroll this neoliberal "reform" of the country. 13 Meanwhile, Haitians suffered a calamitous drop in their standard of living; during the 1980s, absolute poverty increased by 60 percent -- from 50 to 80 percent of the population. 14 The dictator and his family joined the American and Haitian ruling class to party and profit at the expense of Haitian peasants, workers, and the urban poor.

Killing social reform
Peasants, workers, and the urban poor rose up against Baby Doc in opposition to this social catastrophe in a tremendous social movement called Lavalas (the Creole word for a cleansing flood). A young Catholic priest and advocate of liberation theology, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the spokesperson of the struggle. In 1986, Lavalas succeeded in driving Baby Doc from power. The U.S. whisked him away into exile in France along with $505 million stolen from the country. 15 Duvalier left behind a shattered country, shackled again with the odious debt accrued by a dictator to finance the neoliberal disaster.

Under pressure from the movement -- but also to stem the tide of impoverished Haitian refugees pouring out of the country -- the U.S. and Haitian governments finally agreed to hold elections in 1990. The U.S. spent $36 million to try to get their candidate, a former World Bank employee, elected. He received only 14 percent of the vote. Aristide defeated fourteen rivals, winning two-thirds of the vote, on a platform of extensive popular social reforms. The U.S. and the Haitian ruling class literally saw red. They thought that, in the words of a U.S. embassy official in Port-au-Prince, a "Marxist maniac" had been elected to the Haitian government. 16 President George Bush Sr. backed a military coup against Aristide in 1991 and tacitly backed the brutal regime that ruled Haiti from 1991 to 1994.

The military massacred thousands of Lavalas activists and drove 38,000 more out of the country. Bush Sr. and his successor President Bill Clinton repatriated most of these refugees and jailed others in Krome Detention Center in Florida and Guantánamo in Cuba. After an international outcry, the U.S. opted for a face-saving intervention to restore Aristide to power in 1994, but on the condition that he agree to the neoliberal plan of death. Aristide signed on to the deal but resisted its full implementation during his remaining two years in office. He did abolish the Haitian military in 1995 -- a great victory for the movement -- and implemented some reforms, but it was far from what he had promised during the struggle against Duvalier. "The author of a text entitled 'Capitalism is a Mortal Sin,'" wrote Paul Farmer at the time,

now meets regularly with representatives of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and AID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. He was once the priest of the poor; now he's president of a beleaguered nation, run into the ground by a vicious military and business elite and by their friends abroad. Aristide finds himself most indebted to the very people and institutions he once denounced from the pulpit. 17

Aristide's Lavalas ally and successor, René Préval, implemented much of the U.S. neoliberal agenda during his term from 1996 to 2000. 18

Aristide would again run for and win the presidency in 2000, to the great irritation of Clinton and then-President George W. Bush. In his second term, Aristide implemented reforms such as raising the minimum wage and building schools. He also began to demand that France refund the $21 billion that it forced Haiti to pay from 1824 to 1947. 19 At the same time, however, Aristide backed new sweatshop developments in Ounaminthe and agreed to other neoliberal measures. 20 But the U.S. was not appeased and France was outraged.

Another coup and U.S. occupation
The U.S., France, and Canada used the pretext of charges that Aristide manipulated the parliamentary elections, something they usually tolerate with their own allies, to justify a destabilization campaign against Aristide and yet another coup. Bush, of course, had no ground to stand on as he himself had stolen the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Nevertheless, the U.S., Canada, and France imposed economic sanctions, mounted a vast propaganda campaign against Aristide, backed the ruling-class political opposition in the Group of 184, and aided the right-wing death squads. Finally, in 2004, as the death squads swept through the country, the U.S. kidnapped Aristide, whisked him out of the country to temporary exile in the Central African Republic and to final exile in South Africa. Thus, on the two hundredth anniversary of its declaration of independence, Haiti was occupied by the U.S., yet again.

Soon the U.S. delegated the occupation to the UN and its 9,000 mostly Brazilian troops, who continue to patrol the country to this day. This UN force, MINUSTAH, protected the U.S.-installed puppet regime headed up Gérard Latortue who they brought out of retirement from Boca Raton, Florida. The coup regime was utterly corrupt and brutal. With its death squad allies, the regime conducted a terror against the remnants of the social movements and Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas. The combination of death squad and UN repression killed an estimated 3,000 people. 21 The UN troops either joined the slaughter or stood aside while repression swept the island. 22

While the U.S. and UN allowed elections in 2006, they banned Aristide's party, the most popular party in the country. Aristide's former ally, René Préval, again won the presidency, but by this time he had become a servant for the U.S. political and economic agenda in Haiti. For example, Préval banned Fanmi Lavalas from running in elections and refused to sign a bill passed in the parliament to raise the minimum wage. 23 In fact, the real power was no longer in the hands of the Haitian government. The U.S.- backed UN occupation rules the country in colonial style, dictating policy to the Haitian government.

The occupation has completely failed to develop the country. It has done nothing to improve living conditions for Haitians, to rebuild the country's ravaged infrastructure, or to reforest the countryside. Before the earthquake, two rounds of natural disasters swept Haiti and exposed the U.S. and UN's callous neglect of the country. Hurricanes hit in 2004 and 2008, killing thousands. 24 The pattern of impoverishment, deforestation, and degradation of the country's infrastructure, which has accelerated in recent years, has rendered natural disasters in Haiti far more devastating than anywhere else. In what is perhaps the worst exposure of the result of U.S. and UN refusal to improve conditions in Haiti, the food crisis in Haiti spiraled out of control on their watch. Even before the food crisis in 2008, the urban poor were reduced to eating mud cakes flavored with salt as a regular meal. When capitalists speculated on the international food market, they drove up the prices of Haiti's imported staples, especially rice. In response Haitians rioted, only to be repressed by the UN troops. 25

Imposing a new plan of death on Haiti
During the UN occupation, the U.S. imposed the same neoliberal economic plan on Haiti in the interests of multinational capital and the Haitian ruling class. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Bill Clinton as special envoy to Haiti in 2009 and tasked him with revitalizing the country's economy. Clinton developed a new version of the plan of death along with Oxford economics professor and former research director for the World Bank, Paul Collier. Collier outlined their program in his paper, "Haiti: From natural catastrophe to economic security." 26 It advocated investment in the tourist industry, redevelopment of the sweatshop industry in cities, export-oriented mango plantations in the countryside, and construction of infrastructure to service that development.

As Polly Pattullo documents in Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean , the tourist industry is largely controlled by U.S. multinational corporations. She quotes one critic of the tourist industry who argues, "When a third world economy uses tourism as a development strategy, it becomes enmeshed in a global system over which it has little control. The international tourism industry is a product of metropolitan capitalist enterprise. The superior entrepreneurial skills, resources and commercial power of metropolitan companies enable them to dominate many third world tourist destinations." 27

Clinton has orchestrated a plan for turning the north of Haiti into a tourist playground, as far away as possible from the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince. He lured Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines into investing $55 million to build a pier along the coastline of Labadee, which it has leased until 2050. From there, Haiti's tourist industry hopes to lead expeditions to the mountaintop fortress Citadelle and the Palace of Sans-Souci, both built by Henri Christophe, one of the leaders of Haiti's slave revolution. 28

For the cities, Collier promotes sweatshop development. Without a hint of shame, he notes, "Due to its poverty and relatively unregulated labor market, Haiti has labor costs that are fully competitive with China, which is the global benchmark. Haitian labor is not only cheap it is of good quality. Indeed, because the garments industry used to be much larger than it is currently, there is a substantial pool of experienced labor." 29 Given the abolition of tariffs on many Haitian exports to the U.S., Haiti is primed, according to Collier, for a new sweatshop boom.

But this is no sustainable development plan in the interests of Haitian workers. At best, Collier promises 150,000 or so jobs. As anthropologist Mark Shuller argues, "subcontracted, low-wage factory work does not contribute much to the economy besides jobs. Being exempt from taxes, it does not contribute to the financing of Haiti's social services." 30 Moreover these jobs themselves do not even pay enough to support life -- they pay for transport and lunch at about $1.60 a day. The U.S. will want to keep these wages low, since that is the profitable basis for the investment.

For the peasant majority in the country, Clinton and Collier advocate the construction of vast new mango plantations. According to them, such new plantations will both create an export crop and aid the reforestation of the country. While it may create jobs for poor peasants, such plantations will not rebuild the agricultural infrastructure of the country so that it can return to the self-sufficient food system it had before the 1980s. As TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson told Democracy Now! , "That isn't the kind of investment that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It needs investment so that it can be self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself." 31 Such self-sufficiency runs against the grain of U.S. policy to control the international food market with its subsidized crops.

Collier finally argues for investment in infrastructure -- airports, seaports, and roads -- not so much to meet people's needs as to service these new investments in tourism, sweatshops, and plantations. As a result, Collier's plan will actually increase infrastructural inequities; businesses will get what they need to export their products, while the Haitian masses' infrastructural needs, like navigable roads, will be left unaddressed. Even worse, Collier advocates increased privatization of Haiti's infrastructure, especially the port and the electrical system.

It is not incidental that Collier is also the author of The Bottom Billion , 32 a book that calls for outside intervention by wealthy nations such as the United States into what he calls "post-conflict" poor nations, combining targeted aid and economic restructuring under long-term military occupation. In a modern recasting of the old colonialist "civilizing mission," this is meant to lift these nations out of a vicious cycle of violence and poverty.

On his whirlwind tour of the country in 2009, Bill Clinton promised investors that Haiti was open for business with Aristide and Lavalas out of the way and the U.S. and UN in effective control of the country. "Your political risk in Haiti" he declared at a press conference "is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime." 33

Failing to deliver relief to victims
In the aftermath of the earthquake, the press has cooperated with the Obama administration in giving the impression that the U.S. military has been busy delivering aid to desperate Haitians. The facts don't bear this out. To begin with, Obama's promise of $100 million in aid to the country is a pittance -- less than the winnings of a Kentucky couple in a recent Powerball lottery. 34 It is a paltry amount compared to the hundreds of billions that the U.S. shelled out to American banks and the $3 trillion the U.S. will have expended on the Iraq War alone.

There were early warning signs that this humanitarian mission was not all it was cracked up to be. Obama's decision to appoint former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to oversee the collection of donations through the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund displays incredible callousness toward the Haitian masses. Clinton imposed the plan of death on Lavalas. Bush let New Orleans get washed out to sea and backed the 2004 coup that overthrew Aristide. Appointing Bush is like putting Nero in charge of the fire department.

Aid was slow to arrive, and what did turn up was inadequate. Amid a crisis where the first forty-eight hours are decisive in saving people's lives, the U.S. and UN failed to come anywhere near addressing the needs of the 3 million people impacted by the earthquake. Every minute that aid was delayed meant more people died from starvation, dehydration, injury, and disease. It also meant that the hospitals and doctors desperately trying to help the victims were left stranded without the basics to heal the injured.

As Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health, speaking from Port-au-Prince's main hospital just as heavily-armed U.S. troops were arriving, told Democracy Now! ,

In terms of supplies, in terms of surgeons, in terms of aid relief, the response has been incredibly slow. There are teams of surgeons that have been sent to places that were, quote, "more secure," that have ten or twenty doctors and ten patients. We have a thousand people on this campus that are triaged and ready for surgery, but we only have four working ORs without anesthesia and without pain medications. And we're still struggling to get ourselves up to twenty-four-hour care. 35

In the week after the quake, Partners in Health estimated as many as 20,000 Haitians were dying daily from lack of surgery. 36

The U.S. and UN used all sorts of technical alibis to justify the delay in meeting people's needs. They complained that the damage done to Haiti's airport, seaport, and roads impeded delivery of doctors, nurses, food, water, and rescue teams. Such claims are unconvincing. Clearly the means exist to deliver aid quickly to a country only 700 miles away from Miami, Florida, and only 156 miles from a fully functional international airport in the Dominican Republic. Other countries had no difficulty sending planes of aid and volunteers. China, from half way around the world, got a plane of aid to Haiti earlier than the United States. Iceland sent a rescue team within forty-eight hours of the quake. Cuba sent dozens of doctors to join the several hundred doctors already working the country.

This failure of the U.S. to respond produced a chorus of denunciations from relief experts. One official from the Italian government, Guido Bertolaso, who was acclaimed for his successful handling of the April 2009 earthquake in Italy, denounced the U.S. effort as a "pathetic failure." He declared, "The Americans are extraordinary but when you are facing a situation in chaos they tend to confuse military intervention with emergency aid, which cannot be entrusted to armed forces. It's truly a powerful show of force but it's completely out of touch with reality." 37

Guns over aid
As with Katrina, Obama prioritized the deployment of the U.S. military over provision of aid. He sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Haiti right away to get President Préval to secure emergency powers. "The decree would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us," she stated. 38 The U.S. has taken effective control of Haiti. It has secured control of the airport and seaport and deployed 20,000 U.S. troops to bolster the enlarged UN force of 12,500 already in the country. Thus, for the fourth time since 1915, Haiti is under a U.S. occupation.

How did the U.S. justify the fact that six days into the relief effort only a trickle of aid had gotten through to those who needed it? The U.S. government claimed that aid could not be delivered properly until security was first established. When asked why the U.S. hadn't used its C-130 transport planes to drop supplies in Port-au-Prince, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, "Air drops will simply lead to riots." 39 However, precisely the opposite is the case; people will riot because they lack food and water.

In lockstep, the corporate media's coverage shifted from its initial sympathy with victims of the disaster to churning out scare stories. "Marauding looters emptied wrecked shops and tens of thousands of survivors waited desperately for food and medical care," Reuters claimed. "Hundreds of scavengers and looters swarmed over wrecked stores in downtown Port-au-Prince, seizing goods and fighting among themselves." 40

These scare stories in turn became an excuse for not delivering aid. Writer Nelson Valdes reported,

The United Nations and the U.S. authorities on the ground are telling those who directly want to deliver help not to do so because they might be attacked by "hungry mobs." Two cargo planes from Doctors Without Borders have been forced to land in the Dominican Republic because the shipments have to be accompanied within Port-au-Prince by U.S. military escorts, according to the U.S. command. 41
The scare stories led relief workers and military personnel to treat Haitians in a dehumanizing fashion. Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman reported an incident where an aid helicopter refused to distribute food on the ground and instead dropped it on people. An angry Haitian compared the incident to "throwing bones to dogs." 42

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), because of their close relation with the U.S., have adopted a paranoid obsession with security to the detriment of providing relief. Ecologist and human rights activist Sasha Kramer reported on Counterpunch,

One friend showed me the map used by all of the larger NGOs where Port-au-Prince is divided into security zones, yellow, orange, red. Red zones are restricted, in the orange zones all of the car windows must be rolled up and they cannot be visited past certain times of the day. Even in the yellow zone aid workers are often not permitted to walk through the streets and spend much of their time riding through the city from one office to another in organizational vehicles. The creation of these security zones has been like the building of a wall, a wall reinforced by language barriers and fear rather than iron rods, a wall that, unlike many of the buildings in Port-au-Prince, did not crumble during the earthquake. Fear, much like violence, is self-perpetuating. When aid workers enter communities radiating fear it is offensive, the perceived disinterest in communicating with the poor majority is offensive, driving through impoverished communities with windows rolled up and armed security guards is offensive . Despite the good intentions of the many aid workers swarming around the UN base, much of the aid coming through the larger organizations is still blocked in storage, waiting for the required UN and U.S. military escorts that are seen as essential for distribution, meanwhile people in the camps are suffering and their tolerance is waning. 43

Yet this disastrous "beware of the Haitian people" line is simply not borne out by reports coming from Haiti. "There are no security issues," argues Dr. Lyon:

I've been with my Haitian colleagues. I'm staying at a friend's house in Port-au-Prince. We're working for the Ministry of Public Health for the direction of this hospital as volunteers. But I'm living and moving with friends. We've been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There's no UN guards. There's no U.S. military presence. There's no Haitian police presence. And there's also no violence. There is no insecurity. 44

As the real nature of the U.S. operation became clear, an array of forces criticized the U.S. for imposing an occupation, not supplying relief. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez rightly declared on his weekly television show, "Marines armed as if they were going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals -- that's what the United States should send. They are occupying Haiti undercover." 45

Impeding relief
The U.S. occupation actually prevented relief efforts. Once the U.S. was in charge of the airport it prioritized military flights over relief flights. Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the World Food Program, complained, "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti. But most of those flights are for the United States military. Their priorities are to secure the country." 46

Hillary Clinton herself brought relief missions to a halt when she flew into Port-au-Prince to seize emergency powers from Préval. The U.S. military shut the airport down for three hours, preventing the desperately needed delivery of aid. Outraged, Alain Joyandet, the French Cooperation Minister, called on the UN to investigate America's dominant role in the relief effort and protested: "This is about helping Haiti, not occupying it." 47

The chorus of complaints further escalated not only from governments but also from aid organizations. Richard Seymour reports that,

Since the arrival of the troops, however, several aid missions have been prevented from arriving at the airport in Port-au-Prince that the U.S. has commandeered. France and the Caribbean Community have both made their complaints public, as has Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF] on five separate occasions. UN World Food Program flights were also turned away on two consecutive days. Benoit Leduc, MSF's operations manager in Port-au-Prince, complained that U.S. military flights were being prioritized over aid flights. 48

The U.S. military has even turned back masses of health care workers who wanted to volunteer to provide needed medical care in Haiti. The National Nurses Union organized an emergency conference call to mobilize thousands of nurses to go to Haiti. More than 1,800 nurses called in and they proceeded to recruit 11,000 others to the project. Initially the U.S. military said that it would accept them, but then, inexplicably, they reversed themselves and told them that the U.S. had plenty of military personnel to address the health care disaster in Haiti. Nothing could be further from the truth. 49

The U.S. military, Florida's state government, and the Obama administration also colluded in one of the worst examples of the callous treatment of Haitian victims. They refused to allow landing of planes loaded with injured people in desperate need of medical treatment. The Obama administration and Florida's governor were locked in a battle over who would pay for the cost of the medical care. So for five days, the U.S. let injured people suffer in Haiti because budget battles mattered more than people's lives. 50

Al Jazeera captured the nature of the U.S. and UN military occupation in a January 17 report:

Most Haitians here have seen little humanitarian aid so far. What they have seen is guns, and lots of them. Armored personnel carriers cruise the streets. UN soldiers aren't here to help pull people out of the rubble. They're here, they say, to enforce the law. This is what much of the UN presence actually looks like on the streets of Port-au-Prince: men in uniform, racing around in vehicles, carrying guns. At the entrance to the city's airport where most of the aid is coming in, there is anger and frustration. Much-needed supplies of water and food are inside, and Haitians are locked out. "These weapons they bring," [an unidentified Haitian says], "they are instruments of death. We don't want them; we don't need them. We are a traumatized people. What we want from the international community is technical help. Action, not words." 51

Problems with the NGOs
Haiti has approximately 10,000 NGOs operating within its borders, one of the highest numbers per capita in the world. The international NGOs are unaccountable to either the Haitian state or Haitian population. So the aid funneled through them further weakens what little hold Haitians have on their own society. These NGOs have taken deep hold in Haiti at the very same time that the conditions in the country have gone from bad to apocalyptic.

Amid this crisis, some of the NGOs and their employees have tried valiantly to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. and UN. But most of them did not have real forces inside the country to respond to the disaster. The Red Cross, for example, only had 15 employees on the ground, but has received the bulk of donated money -- more than $200 million -- from people around the world. Add to this the reluctance of the big NGOs to act without "security," as mentioned above.

Moreover, as the British medical journal The Lancet argues, many of the international NGOs are engaged in a fierce battle for funds and have allowed that competition to distort their provision of food, water, medical aid, and services amidst the crisis. After calling aid an "industry in its own right," the Lancet noted that NGOs are

jostling for position, each claiming that they are doing the most for earthquake survivors. Some agencies even claim that they are "spearheading" the relief effort. In fact, as we only too clearly see, the situation in Haiti is chaotic, devastating, and anything but coordinated. Polluted by the internal power politics and the unsavory characteristics seen in many big corporations, large aid agencies can be obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts. Media coverage as an end in itself is too often an aim of their activities. Marketing and branding have too high a profile. Perhaps worst of all, relief efforts in the field are sometimes competitive with little collaboration between agencies, including smaller, grass-roots charities that may have better networks in affected countries and so are well placed to immediately implement emergency relief. 52

Repatriating and jailing refugees
As Haitians' needs continued unmet, the U.S. occupation devolved into policing the disaster, including preventing the flight of refugees from Haiti. It is true that activists finally compelled Obama to grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Obama's decision delayed the deportation of 30,000 Haitians and will make TPS available to 100,000 to 200,000 more. These provisions, however, have strict limitations.

First of all, the U.S. plans to exclude victims of the earthquake, offering TPS only to those who arrived in the U.S. without legal documents before January 12. Those who quality must prove they are indigent and at the very same time pay $470 in application fees. 53 Those Haitians who are granted TPS will only be allowed to stay in the U.S. for eighteen months before they must return to Haiti. If they do qualify for the program they will become known to the authorities and thus make themselves more vulnerable to repatriation. Moreover, given the scale of destruction in Port-au-Prince, there is no way that the city or country will be in better condition in a year and a half. So if the U.S. enforces this eighteen-month limitation, it will return Haitians to an ongoing disaster area.

To enforce the bar on Haitians coming to the U.S., a flotilla of military vessels has surrounded the country. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano tried to spin this in humanitarian terms. "At this moment of tragedy in Haiti," she lectured, "it is tempting for people suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake to seek refuge elsewhere, but attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation." 54 In a far more blunt statement of the actual policy, Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Chris O'Neil, in charge of Operation Vigilant Sentry declared, "The goal is to interdict them at sea and repatriate them." 55

The U.S. made sure to broadcast this threat to Haitians. A U.S. Air Force transport plane spends hours in the air above Haiti every day, not ferrying food and water, but broadcasting a radio statement in Creole from Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph. "I'll be honest with you," Joseph says, according to a transcript on the State Department's Web site. "If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water, and send you back home where you came from." 56

To prepare for the eventuality that some Haitians may get through the military cordon around Haiti, Obama, like Bush and Clinton before him, has prepared jail space to incarcerate refugees at Krome Detention Center in Florida and at the U.S. military base in Guantánamo, Cuba. 57

Asserting who's boss in Latin America
Days after the quake, the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation posted an article detailing what it considered should be Washington's aims in occupying Haiti. The U.S. military presence, they argued, in addition to preventing "any large scale movements by Haitians to take to the sea to try to enter the U.S. illegally," also "offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region." At the same time, it argues, the U.S. military presence could "interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola." There is no evidence of Venezuelan cocaine flights or efforts to "destabilize" Haiti, but the point is clear: The U.S. sees Haiti as part of an effort to assert more control over the region and contain "unfriendly" regimes. 58

The military response to Haiti's crisis cannot be separated from Washington's regional interests. As Greg Gandin writes in the Nation ,

In recent years, Washington has experienced a fast erosion of its influence in South America, driven by the rise of Brazil, the region's left turn, the growing influence of China and Venezuela's use of oil revenue to promote a multipolar diplomacy. Broad social movements have challenged efforts by US- and Canadian-based companies to expand extractive industries like mining, biofuels, petroleum and logging. 59

Faced with such regional and international competition, the U.S. under Bush and now Obama is angling to launch a counteroffensive. The U.S. tried to topple Chávez in 2002, it succeeded in overthrowing Aristide in 2004, and last year backed the coup against President Zelaya in Honduras. As Grandin reports, the U.S. is actively promoting the right-wing opposition to the various reform socialist governments in the region. It is backing up this political initiative with an expansion of its military bases in the region, particularly in Colombia. "In late October," Grandin writes, "the United States and Colombia signed an agreement granting the Pentagon use of seven military bases, along with an unlimited number of as yet unspecified 'facilities and locations.' They add to Washington's already considerable military presence in Colombia, as well as Central America and the Caribbean." 60 Haiti is thus a stepping-stone for further U.S. interventions in the region.

"Shock doctrine" for Haiti
For Haiti itself, the U.S. is preparing to impose its old neoliberal plan at gunpoint. In The Shock Doctrine , Naomi Klein documents how the U.S. and other imperial powers take advantage of natural and economic disasters to impose free-market plans for the benefit of the American and native capitalists. The U.S., other powers, the IMF, and World Bank had their shock doctrine for Haiti immediately on hand. Hillary Clinton declared, "We have a plan. It was a legitimate plan, it was done in conjunction with other international donors, with the United Nations." 61 This is the Collier Plan, the same old plan of sweatshops, plantations, and tourism.

The U.S., a few other imperial powers, a few lesser countries, and the UN convened a meeting on January 26 in Montreal to profess their concern and promises to aid Haiti. The fourteen so-called "Friends of Haiti" made sure to include the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, to at least give the illusion of respect for the country's sovereignty. But outside a protest organized by Haiti Action Montreal opposed the meeting with signs demanding "medical relief not guns," "grants not loans," and "reconstruction for people not profit."

In the Guardian , Gary Younge criticized the summit for failing to produce any solutions to the crisis in Haiti. "Even as corpses remained under the earthquake's rubble," he wrote, "and the government operated out of a police station, the assembled 'friends' would not commit to canceling Haiti's $1 billion debt. Instead they agreed to a 10-year plan with no details, and a commitment to meet again -- when the bodies have been buried along with coverage of the country -- sometime in the future." 62

By contrast, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and his Latin American and Caribbean allies assembled in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) announced their opposition to America's shock doctrine. They denounced Washington's neoliberal plans, called for relief not troops and for the cancellation of Haiti's debt. Venezuela itself immediately cancelled Haiti's debt and began sending shiploads of relief offering over $100 million in humanitarian aid with no strings attached. 63

No such humanitarian motives animate the U.S., its capitalist corporations, and the international financial institutions. These vultures began circling above Haiti almost immediately. The Street, an investment Web site, published an article misleadingly entitled, "An opportunity to heal Haiti," that lays out how U.S. corporations can cash in on the catastrophe. "Here are some companies," they write, "that could potentially benefit: General Electric (GE), Caterpillar (CAT), Deere (DE), Fluor (FLR), Jacobs Engineering (JEC)." 64 The Rand Corporation's James Dobbins wrote in the New York Times, "This disaster is an opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms." 65

Over the last few years, the U.S. has been trying to give a facelift to the international financial institution that it uses to impose its plans in Haiti. As Jim Lobe reports,

Last June, 1.2 billion dollars in Haiti's external debt, including that owed to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), was cancelled after the Préval government completed a three-year Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program. Over half of that debt had been incurred by Haiti's dictatorships, notably the Duvalier dynasty that ruled the country from 1957 to 1986. But the cancellation covered debt incurred by Haiti only through 2004. In the last five years, the country has received new loans -- some of them to help it recover from the floods and other hurricane damage -- totaling another 1.05 billion dollars. 66

In other words, the U.S. and the financial institutions exchanged the old debts for new so-called "legitimate loans," trapping Haiti yet again in debt. Eric Toussaint and Sophie Perchellet call this "a typical odious debt-laundering maneuver." 67

In the wake of the crisis, the bankers were at Haiti's door yet again, ready, incredibly, to loan Haiti money with the usual conditions. The IMF offered Haiti a new loan of $100 million with the usual strings attached. As the Nation 's Richard Kim writes,

The new loan was made through the IMF's extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage, and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms. 68

Debt cancellation activists like Jubilee pushed back against the IMF and scored a victory over it. "On Jan. 21," Lobe reports,

the World Bank announced a waiver of Haiti's pending debt payment for five years and said it would explore ways that the remaining debt could be cancelled. The IDB [Inter-American Development Bank] has said it is engaged in a similar effort and will present alternatives for reducing or canceling the debt to its board of governors. On Jan. 27, the IMF, which lacks the authority to provide outright grants, announced that it would give Haiti a 102 million-dollar loan at zero-percent interest and that would not be subject to any of the Fund's usual performance conditions. 69

The pressure even forced the U.S. to call for all new monies extended to Haiti to be in the form of grants, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called for debt relief in the run up to the G-7 conference in February. 70

While activists can claim these concessions by the U.S. and the international financial institutions as victories that open up the possibility for even more progress in demanding full cancellation of Haiti's debt and all third world debt, no one should look at this situation through rose-colored glasses. The U.S. is using this promise -- and it is just a promise at this point -- to cover up its determination to implement the Collier Plan for tourism, sweatshops, and mango plantations to exploit Haiti's desperately poor workers and peasants. In fact, the U.S. does not need to use the leverage of debt to force Haiti to agree to the plan; it has secured colonial rule over the country and can impose its plans directly at gunpoint.

Resistance and solidarity
The left has a responsibility to cut through the propaganda of the Obama administration and the mainstream media. The U.S. is not engaged in humanitarian relief, but old-fashioned imperialism in Haiti. Humanitarianism has long been one of the means the U.S. uses to provide a cover story for its military actions abroad. But whether it was saving the Cuban people from Spanish brutality, sending the marines into Mogadishu in 1993 to feed starving Somalis, or overthrowing the Taliban to "liberate women," the real aims and practical results of these interventions diverged radically from their alleged noble intentions.

Humanitarian military intervention was heavily promoted in the 1990s during the latter part of the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration -- in particular during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Its purpose was to reestablish the legitimacy of U.S. military intervention in the wake of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, as part of a policy intended to erase what was known as the "Vietnam syndrome." It is being revived again in the wake of the unpopularity of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and weariness toward the "war on terror," for similar reasons. The U.S. hopes that it can re-legitimize its military as a force for good so that it can lay the groundwork for more U.S. interventions in the region and around the world.

Even if the U.S. gets away with its new plans for Haiti, it will inevitably breed resistance in the population and throughout the region where through bitter experience workers and peasants have learned to oppose U.S. designs on their countries. In Haiti, workers and peasants will find their way to organize in the countryside on the plantations, in the sweatshops, and in the shantytowns.

Already Haitian organizations have come out against the U.S. agenda. A statement issued on January 27 from the Coordinating Committee of Progressive Organizations announced:

We must declare our anger and indignation at the exploitation of the situation in Haiti to justify a new invasion by 20,000 U.S. Marines. We condemn what threatens to become a new military occupation by U.S. troops, the third in our history. It is clearly part of a strategy to remilitarize the Caribbean Basin in the context of the imperialist response to the growing rebellion of the peoples of our continent against neo-liberal globalization. And it exists also within a framework of pre-emptive warfare designed to confront the eventual social explosion of a people crushed by poverty and facing despair. We condemn the model imposed by the U.S. government and the military response to a tragic humanitarian crisis. The occupation of the Toussaint L'Ouverture international airport and other elements of the national infrastructure have deprived the Haitian people of part of the contribution made by Caricom, by Venezuela, and by some European countries. We condemn this conduct, and refuse absolutely to allow our country to become another military base. 71

The Haitian left has thus already started building opposition to the U.S. occupation and the Collier Plan. Every year since the U.S. coup in 2004, activists have marched on February 28 in Port-au-Prince against the UN occupation and to demand the end of Aristide's exile. Workers' organizations just last year protested in the thousands for an increase in the minimum wage that Préval opposed. Lavalas activists had protested before the earthquake against their exclusion from the scheduled parliamentary elections. Now amid crisis and occupation, Préval, who has proved to be a puppet for the U.S. agenda, thus losing what little political support he had, has cancelled those elections. No doubt Préval's behavior will provoke political opposition from below against his government's collaboration with the United States.
Outside Haiti, the left must build solidarity with that struggle and make several demands on the Obama administration. First, Obama must immediately end the military occupation of Haiti, and instead flood the country with doctors, nurses, food, water, and construction machinery. Second, the U.S. must also stop its enforcement of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's exile and the ban on his party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating in elections. Haitians, not the U.S., should have the right to determine their government.

Third, the left must demand that the U.S., other countries, and international financial institutions cancel Haiti's debt, so that the aid money headed to Haiti will go to food and reconstruction, not debt repayment. More than that -- France, the U.S., and Canada, the three countries that have most interfered with Haiti's sovereignty -- should pay reparations for the damage they have done. France can start by repaying the $21 billion dollars that it extracted from Haiti from 1824 to 1947. Fourth, leftists must agitate for Obama to indefinitely extend Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S. -- and open the borders to any Haitians who flee the country. Finally, the left must direct all its funds to Haitian grass-roots organizations to provide relief and help rebuild resistance to the U.S. plan for Haiti.

Only through agitating for these demands can we stop the U.S. from imposing at gunpoint its shock doctrine for Haiti. In this struggle, the left must educate wider and wider layers of people, already suspicious of U.S. motives after Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, that the U.S. state never engages in military actions for humanitarian motives. As the great American revolutionary journalist John Reed declared, "Uncle Sam never gives anybody something for nothing. He comes along with a sack stuffed with hay in one hand and a whip in the other. Anyone who accepts Uncle Sam's promises at their face value will find that they must be paid for in sweat and blood." 72


  1. "President Obama on U.S. rescue efforts in Haiti, www.America.gov .
  2. Bill Quigley, "Haiti: still starving 23 days later," Huffington Post, posted February 4, 2010.
  3. Soumitra Eachempati, Dean Lorich, and David Helfet, "Haiti: Obama's Katrina," Wall Street Journal , January 26, 2010.
  4. Rich Schapiro, "Rev. Pat Robertson says ancient Haitians' 'pact with the devil' caused earthquake," New York Daily News , January 13, 2010.
  5. David Brooks, "The underlying tragedy," New York Times , January 14, 2010.
  6. For an overview of the French colony and the slave revolution see Ashley Smith, "The Black Jacobins," International Socialist Review (ISR) 63, January–February 2009.
  7. Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politicsw of Containment (New York: Verso Books, 2007), 12.
  8. Quoted in Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2003), 270.
  9. For an overview of the history of U.S. imperialism in Haiti see Helen Scott, "Haiti under siege," ISR 35, May-June 2004.
  10. Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994), 108.
  11. Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the New World Order (New York: Westview Press, 1996), 37.
  12. For an analysis of Baby Doc's neoliberal plans see chapter 2 of Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and the Power (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007).
  13. Eric Toussaint and Sophie Perchellet, "Debt is Haiti's real curse," Socialist Worker , January 20, 2010.
  14. Regan Boychuck, "The vultures circle Haiti at every opportunity, natural or man-made," Znet, February 3, 2010.
  15. Dupuy, Haiti in the New World Order , 31.
  16. Quoted in Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 137.
  17. Quoted in Ashley Smith, "The new occupation of Haiti: Aristide's rise and fall," ISR 35, May–June, 2004.
  18. For an analysis of Lavalas after Aristide's restoration see chapter 5 of Robert Fatton, Haiti's Predatory Republic (Boulder: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 2002).
  19. For a perhaps overly generous portrait of Aristide in his second term see chapters 6 and 7 of Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood .
  20. Clara James, "Haiti free trade zone," Dollars and Sense , November/December 2002.
  21. Hallward, Damming the Flood , 155.
  22. See Bill Quigley, "Haiti human rights report," www.ijdh.org/pdf/QuigleyReport.pdf .
  23. Mo Woong, "Haiti's minimum wage battle," Caribbean News Net, August 25, 2009.
  24. See Ashley Smith "Natural and unnatural disasters," Socialist Worker , September 23, 2008.
  25. Mark Shuller, "Haiti's food riots," ISR 59, May–June 2008.
  26. Paul Collier, "Haiti: From natural catastrophe to economic security," FOCALPoint, Volume 8, Issue 2, March 2009.
  27. Quoted in Polly Pattullo, Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005), 20.
  28. Jacqueline Charles, "Royal Caribbean boosts Haiti tourism push," Miami Herald , September 26, 2009.
  29. Collier, "Haiti from natural catastrophe to economic security."
  30. Mark Shuller, "Haiti needs new development approaches, not more of the same," Haiti Analysis , June 18, 2009.
  31. Quoted in Ashley Smith "Catastrophe in Haiti," Socialist Worker , January 14, 2010.
  32. Jacqueline Charles, "Bill Clinton on trade mission on Haiti," Miami Herald , October 1, 2009.
  33. Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  34. Bill Quigley, "Too little too late for Haiti? Six sobering points," Huffington Post , January 15, 2010.
  35. "With foreign aid still at a trickle," Democracy Now! , January 20, 2010.
  36. Marc Lacey "The nightmare in Haiti: untreated illness and injury," New York Times , January 21, 2010.
  37. Quoted in Nick Allen "West urged to write off Haiti's $1 billion debt," Telegraph.co.uk , January 25, 2010.
  38. Mark Lander, "In show of support, Clinton goes to Haiti," New York Times , January 17, 2010.
  39. "U.S. military begins aid drops in Haiti," CBS News, January 18, 2010.
  40. Andrew Cawthorne and Catherine Bremer, "U.S., U.N. boost Haiti aid security as looters swarm," Reuters, January 19, 2010.
  41. Nelson P. Valdés, "Class and race fear: The rescue operation's priorities in Haiti," Counterpunch, January 18, 2010.
  42. Quoted in Lenora Daniels, "We are Haitians. We are like people like anybody else," Common Dreams, January 31, 2010.
  43. Sasha Kramer, "Fear slows aid efforts in Haiti: Letter from Port-au-Prince," Counterpunch, January 27, 2010.
  44. "Doctor: Misinformation and racism have slowed the recovery effort," Democracy Now! , January 19, 2010.
  45. "Chávez says U.S. occupying Haiti in name of aid," Reuters, January 17, 2010.
  46. Rory Carroll, "U.S. accused of annexing airport," Guardian (UK), January 17, 2010.
  47. Quoted in Giles Whittell, Martin Fletcher, and Jacqui Goddard, "Haiti has a leader in charge, but not in control," The Times (UK), January 19, 2010.
  48. Richard Seymour, "The humanitarian myth," Socialist Worker , January 25, 2010.
  49. "Union nurses respond to Haiti," Socialist Worker, January 27, 2010.
  50. Shaila Dewan, "U.S. suspends Haitian airlift in cost dispute," New York Times , January 30, 2010.
  51. The Al Jazeera report is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0F5TwEK24sA .
  52. "The growth of aid and the decline of humanitarianism," Lancet , Volume 375, Issue 9711, January 23, 2010; 253.
  53. James C. McKinley Jr., "Vows to move fast for Haitian immigrants in the U.S.," New York Times , January 21, 2010.
  54. Richard Fausset, "U.S. to change illegal immigrants status," Los Angeles Times , January 16, 2010.
  55. "U.S. to repatriate most Haitian refugees, Washington Times , January 19, 2010.
  56. Curt Anderson, "U.S. prepares for Haitian refugees," Washington Examiner , January 19, 2010.
  57. Tom Eley, "Washington shuts door to Haitian refugees" Global Research, February 8, 2010.
  58. Jim Roberts, " Things to remember while helping Haiti ," The Foundry .
  59. Greg Grandin, "Muscling Latin America," Nation, January 21, 2010.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Nicholas Kralev, "Clinton says plan exists for Haiti," Washington Times , January 26, 2010.
  62. Gary Younge, "The West owes Haiti a big bailout," Guardian (UK), January 31, 2010.
  63. Magbana, "Venezuela cancels Haiti's debt," January 26, 2010.
  64. Quoted in Isabel McDonald, "New Haiti: Same old corporate interests," Nation, January 29, 2010.
  65. James Dobbins, "Skip the graft," New York Times , January 17, 2010.
  66. Jim Lobe, "Haiti: U.S. lawmakers call for debt cancellation," IPS, February 4, 2010.
  67. Eric Toussaint and Sophie Perchellet, "Debt is Haiti's real curse."
  68. Richard Kim, "IMF to Haiti: freeze public wages," Nation , January 15, 2010.
  69. Lobe, "Haiti: U.S. lawmakers call for debt cancellation."
  70. Ibid.
  71. Haiti After the Catastrophe, " What Are the Perspectives? Statement by the Coordinating Committee of the Progressive Organizations ."
  72. Quoted in John Riddell ed., To See the Dawn (New York: Pathfinder, 1993), 136.

[Jan 22, 2018] German Imperialism as a tool of the "Kingdom of Money" by Thomas Fazi

Ukraine after EuroMaydan is a de-facto EU colony.
Notable quotes:
"... By Thomas Fazi 4 December 2017 ..."
"... For Germany, the idea of Europeanism has provided the country's elites with the perfect alibi to conceal their hegemonic project behind the ideological veil of 'European integration' ..."
"... "That may sound absurd given that today's Germany is a successful democracy without a trace of national-socialism – and that no one would actually associate Merkel with Nazism. But further reflection on the word 'Reich', or empire, may not be entirely out of place. The term refers to a dominion, with a central power exerting control over many different peoples. According to this definition, would it be wrong to speak of a German Reich in the economic realm?" ..."
"... More recently, an article in Politico Europe ..."
"... Even though the power exercised by Europe's 'colonial masters' is now openly acknowledged by the mainstream press, it is however commonplace to ascribe Germany's dominant position as an accident of history: according to this narrative, we are in the presence of an 'accidental empire', one that is not the result of a general plan but that emerged almost by chance – even against ..."
"... Germany (and France) have been the main beneficiaries of the sovereign bailouts of periphery countries , which essentially amounted to a covert bailout of German (and French) banks, as most of the funds were channelled back to the creditor countries' banks, which were heavily exposed to the banks (and to a lesser degree the governments) of periphery countries. German policy, Helen Thompson wrote , overwhelmingly 'served the interests of the German banks'. ..."
"... This is a telling example of how Germany's policies (and the EU's policies more in general), while nominally ordoliberal – i.e., based upon minimal government intervention and a strict rules-based regime – are in reality based on extensive state intervention on behalf of German capital, at both the domestic and European level. ..."
"... German authorities have also been more than happy to go along with – or to encourage – the European institutions' 'exercise of unrestrained executive power and the more or less complete abandonment of strict, rules-based frameworks' – Storey is here referring in particular to the ECB's use of its currency-issuing monopoly to force member states to follows its precepts – 'to maintain the profitability of German banks, German hegemony within the Eurozone, or even the survival of the Eurozone itself'. ..."
"... Germany (and France) are also the main beneficiaries of the ongoing process of 'mezzogiornification' of periphery countries – often compounded by troika -forced privatisations –, which in recent years has allowed German and French firms to take over a huge number of businesses (or stakes therewithin) in periphery countries, often at bargain prices. A well-publicised case is that of the 14 Greek regional airports taken over by the German airport operator Fraport. ..."
"... France's corporate offensive in Italy is another good example: in the last five years, French companies have engaged in 177 Italian takeovers, for a total value of $41.8 billion, six times Italy's purchases in France over the same period. This is leading to an increased 'centralisation' of European capital, characterised by a gradual concentration of capital and production in Germany and other core countries – in the logistical and distribution sectors, for example – and more in general to an increasingly imbalanced relationship between the stronger and weaker countries of the union. ..."
"... In short, the European Union should indeed be viewed a transnational capitalist project, but one that is subordinated to a clear state-centred hierarchy of power, with Germany in the dominant position. In this sense, the national elites in periphery countries that have supported Germany's hegemonic project (and continue to do so, first and foremost through their support to European integration) can thus be likened to the comprador bourgeoisie ..."
"... Exportnationalismus' ..."
"... Modell Deutschland ..."
"... Even more worryingly, Germany is not simply aiming at expanding its economic control over the European continent; it is also taking steps for greater European military 'cooperation' – under the German aegis, of course. As a recent article in Foreign Policy ..."
"... In other words, Germany already effectively controls the armies of four countries. And the initiative, Foreign Policy ..."
Jan 21, 2018 | www.defenddemocracy.press
Originally from: Germany's dystopian plans for Europe: from fantasy to reality? By Thomas Fazi 4 December 2017

For Germany, the idea of Europeanism has provided the country's elites with the perfect alibi to conceal their hegemonic project behind the ideological veil of 'European integration'

After Emmanuel Macron's election in France, many (including myself) claimed that this signalled a revival of the Franco-German alliance and a renewed impetus for Europe's process of top-down economic and political integration – a fact that was claimed by most commentators and politicians, beholden as they are to the Europeanist narrative, to be an unambiguously positive development.

Among the allegedly 'overdue' reforms that were said to be on the table was the creation of a pseudo-'fiscal union' backed by a (meagre) 'euro budget', along with the creation of a 'European finance minister', the centre-points of Macron's plans to 're-found the EU' – a proposal that raises a number of very worrying issues from both political and economic standpoints, which I have discussed at length elsewhere .

The integrationists' (unwarranted) optimism, however, was short-lived. The result of the German elections, which saw the surge of two rabidly anti-integrationist parties, the right-wing FDP and extreme right AfD; the recent collapse of coalition talks between Merkel's CDU, the FDP and the Greens, which most likely means an interim government for weeks if not months, possibly leading to new elections (which polls show would bring roughly the same result as the September election); and the growing restlessness in Germany towards the 13-year-long rule of Macron's partner in reform Angela Merkel, means that any plans that Merkel and Macron may have sketched out behind the scenes to further integrate policies at the European level are now, almost certainly, dead in the water. Thus, even the sorry excuse for a fiscal union proposed by Macron is now off the table, according to most commentators.

At this point, the German government's most likely course in terms of European policy – the one that has the best chance of garnering cross-party support, regardless of the outcome of the coalition talks (or of new elections) – is the 'minimalist' approach set in stone by the country's infamous and now-former finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in a 'non-paper' published shortly before his resignation.

The main pillar of Schäuble's proposal – a long-time obsession of his – consists in giving the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which would go on to become a 'European Monetary Fund', the power to monitor (and, ideally, enforce) compliance with the Fiscal Compact. This echoes Schäuble's previous calls for the creation of a European budget commissioner with the power to reject national budgets – a supranational fiscal enforcer.

The aim is all too clear: to further erode what little sovereignty and autonomy member states have left, particularly in the area of fiscal policy, and to facilitate the imposition of neoliberal 'structural reforms' – flexibilisation of labour markets, reduction of collective bargaining rights, etc. – on reluctant countries.

To this end, the German authorities even want to make the receipt of EU cohesion funds conditional on the implementation of such reforms , tightening the existing arrangements even further. Moreover, as noted by Simon Wren-Lewis , the political conflict of interest of having an institution lending within the eurozone would end up imposing severe austerity bias on the recovering country.

Until recently, these proposals failed to materialise due, among other reasons, to France's opposition to any further overt reductions of national sovereignty in the area of budgetary policy; Macron, however, staunchly rejects France's traditional souverainiste stance, embracing instead what he calls 'European sovereignty', and thus represents the perfect ally for Germany's plans.

Another proposal that goes in the same direction is the German Council for Economic Experts' plan to curtail banks' sovereign bond holdings. Ostensibly aimed at 'severing the link between banks and government' and 'ensuring long-term debt sustainability', it calls for: (i) removing the exemption from risk-weighting for sovereign exposures, which essentially means that government bonds would no longer be considered a risk-free asset for banks (as they are now under Basel rules), but would be 'weighted' according to the 'sovereign default risk' of the country in question (as determined by credit rating agencies); (ii) putting a cap on the overall risk-weighted sovereign exposure of banks; and (iii) introducing an automatic 'sovereign insolvency mechanism' that would essentially extend to sovereigns the bail-in rule introduced for banks by the banking union, meaning that if a country requires financial assistance from the ESM, for whichever reason, it will have to lengthen its sovereign bond maturities (reducing the market value of those bonds and causing severe losses for all bondholders) and, if necessary, impose a nominal 'haircut' on private creditors.

As noted by the German economist Peter Bofinger , the only member of the German Council of Economic Experts to vote against the sovereign bail-in plan, this would almost certainly ignite a 2012-style self-fulfilling sovereign debt crisis, as periphery countries' bond yields would quickly rise to unsustainable levels, making it increasingly hard for governments to roll over maturing debt at reasonable prices and eventually forcing them to turn to the ESM for help, which would entail even heavier losses for their banks and an even heavier dose of austerity.

It would essentially amount to a return to the pre-2012 status quo, with governments once again subject to the supposed 'discipline' of the markets, particularly in the context of a likely tapering of the ECB's quantitative easing (QE) program. The aim of this proposal is the same as that of Schäuble's 'European Monetary Fund': to force member states to implement permanent austerity.

Read also: Lack of Credible Leftist Alternatives is fueling national movements. Catalonia wants independence from the small Madrid Empire, but inside Brussels Great Empire

Of course, national sovereignty in a number of areas – most notably fiscal policy – has already been severely eroded by the complex system of new laws, rules and agreements introduced in recent years, including but not limited to the six-pack, two-pack, Fiscal Compact, European Semester and Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure (MIP).

As a result of this new post-Maastricht system of European economic governance, the European Union has effectively become a sovereign power with the authority to impose budgetary rules and structural reforms on member states outside democratic procedures and without democratic control.

The EU's embedded quasi-constitutionalism and inherent (structural) democratic deficit has thus evolved into an even more anti-democratic form of 'authoritarian constitutionalism' that is breaking away with elements of formal democracy as well, leading some observers to suggest that the EU 'may easily become the postdemocratic prototype and even a pre-dictatorial governance structure against national sovereignty and democracies'.

To give an example, with the launch of the European Semester, the EU's key tool for economic policy guidance and surveillance, an area that has historically been a bastion of national sovereignty – old-age pensions – has now fallen under the purview of supranational monitoring as well. Countries are now expected to (and face sanctions if they don't): (i) increase the retirement age and link it with life expectancy; (ii) reduce early retirement schemes, improve the employability of older workers and promote lifelong learning; (iii) support complementary private savings to enhance retirement incomes; and (iv) avoid adopting pension-related measures that undermine the long term sustainability and adequacy of public finances.

This has led to the introduction in various countries of several types of automatic stabilizing mechanisms (ASMs) in pension systems, which change the policy default so that benefits or contributions adjust automatically to adverse demographic and economic conditions without direct intervention by politicians. Similar 'automatic correction mechanisms' in relation to fiscal policy can be found in the Fiscal Compact.

The aim of all these 'automatic mechanisms' is clearly to put the economy on 'autopilot', thus removing any element of democratic discussion and/or decision-making at either the European or national level. These changes have already transformed European states into 'semi-sovereign' entities, at best. In this sense, the proposals currently under discussion would mark the definitive transformation of European states from semi-sovereign to de facto (and increasingly de jure ) non-sovereign entities.

Regardless of the lip service paid by national and European officials to the need for further reductions of national sovereignty to go hand in hand with a greater 'democratisation' of the euro area, the reforms currently on the table can, in fact, be considered the final stage in the thirty-year-long war on democracy and national sovereignty waged by the European elites, aimed at constraining the ability of popular-democratic powers to influence economic policy, thus enabling the imposition of neoliberal policies that would not have otherwise been politically feasible.

In this sense, the European economic and monetary integration process should be viewed, to a large degree, as a class-based and inherently neoliberal project pursued by all national capitals as well as transnational (financial) capital. However, to grasp the processes of restructuring under way in Europe, we need to go beyond the simplistic capital/labour dichotomy that underlies many critical analyses of the EU and eurozone, which view EU/EMU policies as the expression of a unitary and coherent transnational (post-national) European capitalist class.

The process underway can only be understood through the lens of the geopolitical-economic tensions and conflicts between leading capitalist states and regional blocs, and the conflicting interests between the different financial/industrial capital fractions located in those states, which have always characterised the European economy. In particular, it means looking at Germany's historic struggle for economic hegemony over the European continent.

It is no secret that Germany is today the leading economic and political power in Europe, just as it is no secret that nothing gets done in Europe without Germany's seal of approval. In fact, it is commonplace to come across references to Germany's 'new empire'. A controversial Der Spiegel editorial from a few years back event went as far as arguing that it is not out place to talk of the rise of a 'Fourth Reich':

"That may sound absurd given that today's Germany is a successful democracy without a trace of national-socialism – and that no one would actually associate Merkel with Nazism. But further reflection on the word 'Reich', or empire, may not be entirely out of place. The term refers to a dominion, with a central power exerting control over many different peoples. According to this definition, would it be wrong to speak of a German Reich in the economic realm?"

More recently, an article in Politico Europe – co-owned by the German media magnate Axel Springer AG – candidly explained why 'Greece is de facto a German colony'. It noted how, despite Tsipras' pleas for debt relief, the Greek leader 'has little choice but to heed the wishes of his "colonial" masters', i.e., the Germans.

This is because public debt in the eurozone is used as a political tool – a disciplining tool – to get governments to implement socially harmful policies (and to get citizens to accept these policies by portraying them as inevitable), which explains why Germany continues to refuse to seriously consider any form of debt relief for Greece, despite the various commitments and promises to that end made in recent years: debt is the chain that keeps Greece (and other member states) from straying 'off course'.

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Even though the power exercised by Europe's 'colonial masters' is now openly acknowledged by the mainstream press, it is however commonplace to ascribe Germany's dominant position as an accident of history: according to this narrative, we are in the presence of an 'accidental empire', one that is not the result of a general plan but that emerged almost by chance – even against Germany's wishes – as a result of the euro's design faults, which have allowed Germany and its satellites to pursue a neo-mercantilist strategy and thus accumulate huge current account surpluses.

Now, it is certainly true that the euro's design – strongly influenced by Germany – inevitably benefits export-led economies such as Germany over more internal demand-oriented economies, such as those of southern Europe. However, there is ample evidence to support the argument that Germany, far from having accidently stumbled upon European dominance, has been actively and consciously pursuing an expansionary and imperialist strategy in – and through – the European Union for decades.

Even if we limit our analysis to Germany's post-crisis policies (though there is much that could be said about Germany's post-reunification policies and subsequent offshoring of production to Eastern Europe in the 1990s), it would be very naïve to view Germany's inflexibility – on austerity, for example – as a simple case of ideological stubbornness, considering the extent to which the policies in question have benefited Germany (and to a lesser extent France).

Germany (and France) have been the main beneficiaries of the sovereign bailouts of periphery countries , which essentially amounted to a covert bailout of German (and French) banks, as most of the funds were channelled back to the creditor countries' banks, which were heavily exposed to the banks (and to a lesser degree the governments) of periphery countries. German policy, Helen Thompson wrote , overwhelmingly 'served the interests of the German banks'.

This is a telling example of how Germany's policies (and the EU's policies more in general), while nominally ordoliberal – i.e., based upon minimal government intervention and a strict rules-based regime – are in reality based on extensive state intervention on behalf of German capital, at both the domestic and European level.

As Andy Storey notes, not only did the German government, throughout the crisis, show a blatant disregard for ordoliberalism's non-interference of public institutions in the workings of the market, by engaging in a massive Keynesian-style programme in the aftermath of the financial crisis and pushing through bailout programmes that largely absolved German banks from their responsibility for reckless lending to Greece and other countries; German authorities have also been more than happy to go along with – or to encourage – the European institutions' 'exercise of unrestrained executive power and the more or less complete abandonment of strict, rules-based frameworks' – Storey is here referring in particular to the ECB's use of its currency-issuing monopoly to force member states to follows its precepts – 'to maintain the profitability of German banks, German hegemony within the Eurozone, or even the survival of the Eurozone itself'.

Germany (and France) are also the main beneficiaries of the ongoing process of 'mezzogiornification' of periphery countries – often compounded by troika -forced privatisations –, which in recent years has allowed German and French firms to take over a huge number of businesses (or stakes therewithin) in periphery countries, often at bargain prices. A well-publicised case is that of the 14 Greek regional airports taken over by the German airport operator Fraport.

France's corporate offensive in Italy is another good example: in the last five years, French companies have engaged in 177 Italian takeovers, for a total value of $41.8 billion, six times Italy's purchases in France over the same period. This is leading to an increased 'centralisation' of European capital, characterised by a gradual concentration of capital and production in Germany and other core countries – in the logistical and distribution sectors, for example – and more in general to an increasingly imbalanced relationship between the stronger and weaker countries of the union.

These transformations cannot simply be described as processes without a subject: while there are undoubtedly structural reasons involved – countries with better developed economies of scale, such as Germany and France, were bound to benefit more than others from the reduction in tariffs and barriers associated with the introduction of the single currency – we also have to acknowledge that there are loci of economic-politic power that are actively driving and shaping these imperialist processes, which must be viewed through the lens of the unresolved inter-capitalist struggle between core-based and periphery-based capital.

From this perspective, the dichotomy that is often raised in European public discourse between nationalism and Europeanism is deeply flawed. The two, in fact, often go hand in hand. In Germany's case, for example, Europeanism has provided the country's elites with the perfect alibi to conceal their hegemonic project behind the ideological veil of 'European integration'. Ironically, the European Union – allegedly created as an antidote to the vicious nationalisms of the twentieth century – has been the tool through which Germany has been able to achieve the 'new European order' that Nazi ideologues had theorised in the 1930s and early 1940s.

In short, the European Union should indeed be viewed a transnational capitalist project, but one that is subordinated to a clear state-centred hierarchy of power, with Germany in the dominant position. In this sense, the national elites in periphery countries that have supported Germany's hegemonic project (and continue to do so, first and foremost through their support to European integration) can thus be likened to the comprador bourgeoisie of the old colonial system – sections of a country's elite and middle class allied with foreign interests in exchange for a subordinated role within the dominant hierarchy of power.

From this point of view, the likely revival of the Franco-German bloc is a very worrying development, since it heralds a consolidation of the German-led European imperialist bloc – and a further 'Germanification' of the continent. This development cannot be understood independently of the momentous shifts that are taking place in global political economy – namely the organic crisis of neoliberal globalisation, which is leading to increased tensions between the various fractions of international capital, most notably between the US and Germany.

Trump's repeated criticisms of Germany's beggar-thy-neighbour mercantilist policies should be understood in this light. The same goes for Angela Merkel's recent call – much celebrated by the mainstream press – for a stronger Europe to counter Trump's unilateralism. Merkel's aim is not, of course, that of making 'Europe' stronger, but rather of strengthening Germany's dominant position vis-à-vis the other world powers (the US but also China) through the consolidation of Germany's control of the European continental economy, in the context of an intensification of global inter-capitalist competition.

This has now become an imperative for Germany, especially since Trump has dared to openly challenge the self-justifying ideology which sustains Germany's mercantilism – a particular form of economic nationalism that Hans Kundnani has dubbed ' Exportnationalismus' , founded upon the belief that Germany's massive trade surplus is uniquely the result of Germany's manufacturing excellence ( Modell Deutschland ) rather than, in fact, the result of unfair trade practices.

This is why, if Germany wants to maintain its hegemonic position on the continent, it must break with the US and tighten the bolts of the European workhouse. To this end, it needs to seize control of the most coveted institution of them all – the ECB –, which hitherto has never been under direct German control (though the Bundesbank exercises considerable influence over it, as is well known). Indeed, many commentators openly acknowledge that Merkel now has her eyes on the ECB's presidency. This would effectively put Germany directly at the helm of European economic policy.

Even more worryingly, Germany is not simply aiming at expanding its economic control over the European continent; it is also taking steps for greater European military 'cooperation' – under the German aegis, of course. As a recent article in Foreign Policy revealed , 'Germany is quietly building a European army under its command'.

This year Germany and two of its European allies, the Czech Republic and Romania, announced the integration of their armed forces, under the control of the Bundeswehr. In doing so, the will follow in the footsteps of two Dutch brigades, one of which has already joined the Bundeswehr's Rapid Response Forces Division and another that has been integrated into the Bundeswehr's 1st Armored Division.

In other words, Germany already effectively controls the armies of four countries. And the initiative, Foreign Policy notes, 'is likely to grow'. This is not surprising: if Germany ('the EU') wants to become truly autonomous from the US, it needs to acquire military sovereignty, which it currently lacks.

Europe is thus at a crossroads: the choice that left-wing and popular forces, and periphery countries more generally, face is between (a) accepting Europe's transition to a fully post-democratic, hyper-competitive, German-led continental system, in which member states (except for those at the helm of the project) will be deprived of all sovereignty and autonomy, in exchange for a formal democratic façade at the supranational level, and its workers subject to ever-growing levels of exploitation; or (b) regaining national sovereignty and autonomy at the national level, with all the short-term risks that such a strategy entails, as the only way to restore democracy, popular sovereignty and socioeconomic dignity. In short, the choice is between European post-democracy or post-European democracy.

There is no third way. Especially in view of the growing tensions between Germany, the US and China, periphery countries should ask themselves if they want to be simple pawns in this 'New Great Game' or if they want to take their destinies into their own hands.

-- -

Some portions of this article previously appeared in this article published by Green European Journal. Thomas Fazi is the co-author (with William Mitchell) of Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto, 2017).

[Jan 06, 2018] Selling Out Argentina's Future -- Again by lan Cibils

Notable quotes:
"... desendeudamiento ..."
"... desendedudamiento ..."
"... Source: Ministry of Finance, Argentina. ..."
"... World Economic Outlook ..."
"... The grand history of Latin America: borrow billions of $$$ from U.S. banks, hand the money to the wealthy who immediately deposit it right back in American banks, and let the poor pay back the principal and interest. Hmmm . seems more and more the way this country is going. ..."
"... The fixed exchange rate under Kirchner was totally unsustainable. One difference between Macri's neoliberalism and his predecessors is Macri is allowing much more of a floating currency than in the pre 2001 time period (We can debate how much it is actually is floating and clearly a lot of this debt issuance is for currency stabilization that I personally don't approve of). ..."
"... Brazil's recent neoliberal turn was frustrating for a variety of reasons, but being a big, diverse economy, they've got more sovereignty than their neighbors. However, the business and political elites in Brazil decided to hammer through austerity (spending cuts and interest rate hikes) because they WANTED to, not because external forces made them do it. ..."
Jan 05, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

by lan Cibils and Mariano Arana, Political Economy Department, Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Originally published at Triple Crisis

In Argentina's 2015 presidential run-off election, the neoliberal right-wing coalition "Cambiemos" (literally, "lets change"), headed by Mauricio Macri, defeated the populist Kirchnerista candidate by just two percentage points. Macri's triumph heralded a return to the neoliberal policies of the 1990s and ended twelve years of heterodox economic policies that prioritized income redistribution and the internal market. The ruling coalition also performed well in the October 2017 mid-term elections and has since begun implementing a draconian set of fiscal, labor, and social security reforms.

One of the hallmarks of the Cambiemos government so far has been a fast and furious return to international credit markets and a very substantial increase in new public debt. Indeed, since Macri came to power in 2015, Argentina has issued debt worth more than $100 billion. This marks a clear contrast to the Kirchner administrations, during which the emphasis was debt reduction.

The Kirchner Years: Debt Reduction?

Both Néstor and Cristina Kirchner pointed to desendeudamiento -- debt reduction -- as one of the great successes of their administrations. To what extent was debt reduced during the twelve years of Kirchnerismo?

Figure 1 shows the evolution of Argentina's public debt stock and the debt/GDP ratio between 2004-2017. One can see that there was a substantial reduction in the debt to GDP ratio between 2004-2011 -- the first two Kirchner terms -- due primarily to: a) the 2005 and 2010 debt restructuring offers, b) a deliberate policy of desendedudamiento (debt cancellation), and c) high growth rates. Indeed, debt/GDP dropped from 118.1% in 2004 to 38.9% in 2011. One can also see that the actual stock of public debt fell after the 2005 debt restructuring process, and then remained relatively stable until 2010. In 2011, it began a slow upward trend, due to the re-appearance of the foreign exchange constraint once the commodity bubble burst and capital flight increased.

Figure 1: Public Debt Stock (millions of dollars) and Debt/GDP ratio

Source: Ministry of Finance, Argentina.

An additional, fundamental change occurred during the first two Kirchner administrations: the change in currency composition of Argentina's public debt. Indeed, as Figure 2 shows, peso-denominated public debt reached 41% of total debt after the 2005 debt-restructuring process. Between 2005 and 2012 it remained relatively stable, and then, after 2012, dollar-denominated public debt began to grow again although never reaching pre-2005 debt-restructuring levels. The currency composition change is key, since it reduces considerably the pressure on the external accounts.

Figure 2: Currency Composition of Argentina's Public Debt (as a % GDP)

Source: Ministry of Finance, Argentina.

Fast and Furious

Since Macri became president in December 2015, there has been a dramatic change in official public debt strategy, radically reversing the process of debt reduction of the previous decade. As shown in Figure 1, there was a substantial jump in the stock of public debt in 2016, and it has continued to grow in 2017.The result to date has been a substantial increase in the stock of Argentina's dollar-denominated public debt, as well as an increase of the debt service to GDP ratio. New debt has been used to cover the trade deficit, pay off the vulture funds, finance capital flight, and meet debt service payments. All of this has resulted in growing concerns about Argentina's future economic sustainability, not to mention any possibility of promoting economic development objectives.

Upon taking office, the Macri Administration rapidly implemented a series of policies to liberalize financial flows and imports, and a 40% devaluation of the Argentine peso. [1] In this context, it also went on a debt rampage, increasing dollar denominated debt considerably. Between December 2015 and September 2017, Argentina's new debt amounts to the equivalent of $103.59 billion. [2] This includes new debt issued by the Treasury (80%), provincial governments (11%), and the private sector (9%). While Argentina's debt had been increasing slowly since 2011, the jump experienced in 2016 was unlike any other in Argentina's history.

If the increase in debt is alarming, the destination of those funds is also cause of concern. Data from Argentina's Central Bank (Banco Central de la República Argentina or BCRA) show that during the first eight months of 2017, net foreign asset accumulation of the private non-banking sector totaled $13.32 million, 33% more than all of 2016, which itself was 17% more than all of 2015. This means that since December 2015, Argentina has dollarized assets by approximately $25.29 billion.

According to the BCRA, during the same period there was a net outflow of capital due to debt interest payments, profits and dividends of $8.231 billion. Additionally, the net outflow due to tourism and travel is calculated at roughly $13.43 billion between December 2015 and August 2017.

In sum, the dramatic increase in dollar-denominated debt during the two first Macri years served to finance capital flight, tourism, profit remittances, and debt service, all to the tune of roughly $50 billion.

Where is This Headed?

Argentina's experience since the 1976 military coup until the crash of 2001 has shown how damaging is the combination of unfavorable external conditions and the destruction of the local productive structure. The post-crisis policies of the successive Kirchner administrations reversed the debt-dependent and deindustrializing policies of the preceding decades. However, since Macri took office in December 2015, Argentina has once again turned to debt-dependent framework of the 1990s. Not only has public debt grown in absolute terms, but the weight of dollar-denominated debt in total debt has also increased. Despite significant doubts regarding the sustainability of the current situation, the government has expressed intentions of continuing to issue new debt until 2020.

What are the main factors that call debt-sustainability into question? First, capital flight, which, as we have said above, is increasing, is compensated with new dollar-denominated public debt. Second, Argentina's trade balance turned negative in 2015 and has remained so since, with a total accumulated trade deficit between 2015 and the second quarter of 2017 of $6.53 billion. Import dynamics proved impervious to the 2016 recession, therefore it is expected that the deficit will either persist as is or increase if there are no drastic changes. Furthermore, in the 2018 national budget bill sent to Congress, Treasury Secretary Nicolás Dujovne projects that the growth rate of imports will exceed that of exports until at least 2021, increasing the current trade deficit by 68%.

Finally, according to the IMF's World Economic Outlook (October 2017), growth rate projections for industrialized countries increase prospects of a US Federal Reserve interest rate increase. This would make Argentina's new debt issues more expensive, increasing the burden of future debt service and increasing capital flight from Argentina (in what is generally referred to as the "flight to safety").

The factors outlined above generate credible and troublesome doubts about the sustainability of the economic policies implemented by the Macri administration. While there are no signs of a major crisis in the short term (that is, before the 2019 presidential elections), there are good reasons to doubt that the current level of debt accumulation can be sustained to the end of a potential second Macri term (2023). In other words, there are good reasons to believe that Argentines will once again have to exercise their well-developed ability to navigate through yet another profound debt crisis. This is not solely the authors' opinion. In early November 2017 Standard & Poor's placed Argentina in a list of the five most fragile economies. [3] It looks like, once again, storm clouds are on the horizon.

Jim Haygood , January 5, 2018 at 11:02 am

'What are the main factors that call debt sustainability into question? First, capital flight.'

Capital flees Argentina whenever the opportunity arises because successive governments -- whether leftist or conservative -- refuse to control inflation and maintain a stable currency.

Since 2001, the Argentine peso has slid from one-to-one with the US dollar to about 19 to the dollar today. With Argentine inflation running in the low to mid twenties (according to INDEC and Price Stats), the peso can be expected to carry on weakening against the dollar indefinitely.

A hundred years during which the peso has lopped off thirteen (13) zeros owing to chronic inflation shows that Argentina is politically and culturally incapable of responsibly managing its own currency.

Argentines know this. Unfortunately, only the richer ones have assets they can move to safety outside the country. The hand-to-mouth poor will continue being ravaged by inflation, not to mention the large quantities of counterfeit pesos in circulation.

Letting Argentines play with fiat currency is like handing out loaded pistols to rowdy 5-year-olds. In both these sad cases, adult supervision is urgently needed.

Jon S , January 5, 2018 at 11:21 am

The grand history of Latin America: borrow billions of $$$ from U.S. banks, hand the money to the wealthy who immediately deposit it right back in American banks, and let the poor pay back the principal and interest. Hmmm . seems more and more the way this country is going.

Tim Smyth , January 5, 2018 at 11:53 am

The fixed exchange rate under Kirchner was totally unsustainable. One difference between Macri's neoliberalism and his predecessors is Macri is allowing much more of a floating currency than in the pre 2001 time period (We can debate how much it is actually is floating and clearly a lot of this debt issuance is for currency stabilization that I personally don't approve of).

Anonimo2 , January 5, 2018 at 1:05 pm

And who are the adults? Let me guess, bankers and bondholders?

Joel , January 5, 2018 at 2:12 pm

I'm not an expert in this at all, but in Peru, you could hold bank accounts in either national currency or dollars. The national currency accounts spared you currency exchange fees and also had higher interest rates. Most people who could hedged their bets by putting money in both accounts.

It seems like a happy medium between abandoning national currencies and letting savers get ravaged? No?

Wukchumni , January 5, 2018 at 11:14 am

While not as spectacular of a return as Bitcoin, but impressive nonetheless, the escape route for an Argentinean @ the turn of the century was the golden rule, an ounce of all that glitters was 300 pesos then and now around 25,000 pesos, a most excellent 'troy' horse.

MisterMr , January 5, 2018 at 11:31 am

So, is austerity good or is austerity bad? And in what conditions?

I'm for expansionary government expense (and direct government ownership of some industries, such as with an NHS) balanced by taxes on high incomes.

So in my view the problem happens when the government lowers taxes on the rich, as seems likely in this case.
On the other hand taxes on the rich are likely to cause capital flight.

a different chris , January 5, 2018 at 12:41 pm

So why did Macri get elected to do this? Yeah he didn't win by much, but he won.

>The hand-to-mouth poor will continue being ravaged by inflation

Which is freaking weird. Argentina has cropland. They have energy sources (and I won't bore everybody ok, I will with the observation that the Industrial Age is generously a 300/8000 year ratio part of human history).

And doesn't the below need some unpacking?:

>only the richer ones have assets they can move to safety outside the country

What are these assets? Why are said assets mobile? How did they come to "own" them? What percentage of the population is encompassed by "the richer ones" phrasing?

nonsense factory , January 5, 2018 at 5:07 pm

Question: why doesn't MMT thinking work for countries like Argentina?

As wikipedia notes:

"The key insight of MMT is that "monetarily sovereign government is the monopoly supplier of its currency and can issue currency of any denomination in physical or non-physical forms. As such the government has an unlimited capacity to pay for the things it wishes to purchase and to fulfill promised future payments, and has an unlimited ability to provide funds to the other sectors. Thus, insolvency and bankruptcy of this government is not possible. It can always pay."

Is this a general flaw in MMT? Does MMT only apply to dominant nation-states like the U.S., who can use foreign military and financial pressures to protect the currency, aka the petrodollar? Is the petrodollar a true 'fiat currency' or is it somehow based on control of commodities (especially oil)? Is there something peculiar about Argentina and other countries facing currency devaluation that MMT doesn't handle well? Any ideas on this?

JohnnyGL , January 5, 2018 at 6:21 pm

That wikipedia write up isn't wrong, but it could be better. Probably need to hammer home the point that the sovereign can always pay IN THE CURRENCY THAT IT ISSUES.

Most of the MMT related conversations on this site, and the posts that are written up on the subject are mostly about explaining how there are constraints that many people THINK exist in the USA, but don't actually exist, at least in economic terms (political constraints notwithstanding). A country cannot be forced to default on a currency it issues. If the USA had significant debts in EUR or JPY, then it'd be a very different conversation.

External constraints are a big deal for most countries, especially developing countries that depend on exports of primary commodities. Chile, for instance, is constrained by balance of payments problems when the price of copper declines. Also, developed countries that are relatively smaller have much more limited sovereignty. The Swiss Central Bank has to follow what the ECB does, to a large degree.

On the other hand, there's episodes where some countries have found room for maneuver when they give up their sovereign currency. I didn't expect that Ecuador's economy would perform quite as well as it has in recent years. But, they've shown that you can find ways to get creative to compensate for loss of monetary sovereignty. Of course, the fiscal constraints are real since Ecuador can't print USD.

Brazil's recent neoliberal turn was frustrating for a variety of reasons, but being a big, diverse economy, they've got more sovereignty than their neighbors. However, the business and political elites in Brazil decided to hammer through austerity (spending cuts and interest rate hikes) because they WANTED to, not because external forces made them do it.

No doubt an MMT prescription for Argentina would advice them to lay off the $ denominated debt and stick to pesos as much as possible. I'd imagine Stephanie Kelton or any of the UMKC crew would advise curtailing imports or doing some import substitution in order to take pressure off balance of payments issues. They'd also take a look at what was driving inflation domestically and try to find ways to relieve it with a targeted approach, instead of risking recession and unemployment. Neoliberal/Washington Consensus type economists would say hike interest rates, cut government spending in order to curtail demand. They'd argue that the private sector will make the best decisions about where to reign in spending to reduce inflation.

[Dec 23, 2017] He Died for Our Debt, Not Our Sins by Michael Hudson

Notable quotes:
"... Interview with Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics . Cross-posted from Hudson's site . ..."
"... And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption ..."
"... And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption ..."
"... the Dems are now doing the age-old distraction of diverting the discussion to sex rather than economics. I thought just the political right does that ..."
"... I am highly skeptical of the tune Amazing Grace ..."
Dec 23, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

December 23, 2017 Interview with Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics . Cross-posted from Hudson's site .

As many people turn towards their Christian and Jewish faiths this Christmas and Hanukkah in an attempt to make sense of the year that was, at least one economist says we have been reading the bible in an anachronistic way.


In fact he has written an entire book on the topic. In And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption (available this spring on Amazon), Professor Michael Hudson makes the argument that far from being about sex, the bible is actually about economics, and debt in particular.

The Ten Commandments Were About Debt

People tend to think of the Commandment 'do not covet your neighbour's wife' in purely sexual terms but actually, the economist says it refers specifically to creditors who would force the wives and daughters of debtors into sex slavery as collateral for unpaid debt.

"This goes all the way back to Sumer in the third millennium," he said.

Similarly, the Commandment 'thou shalt not steal' refers to usury and exploitation by threat for debts owing.

But the rulers of classical antiquity who cancelled their subjects' debts tended to be overthrown with disturbing frequency – from the Greek 'tyrants' of the 7th century BC who overthrew the aristocracies of Sparta and Corinth, to Sparta's Kings Agis and Cleomenes in the 3rd century BC who sought to cancel Spartan debts, to Roman politicians advocating debt relief and land redistribution, Julius Caesar among them.

Jesus Died for Our Debt

Professor Hudson says Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price for his activism.

What Would Jesus Do?

To understand how to fix today's economy, Hudson says that the Bible's answers were practical for their time.

And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption will be available for purchase just in time for Easter on Amazon.

Patrick Donnelly , December 23, 2017 at 6:32 am

Reckless lending is a valid concept and has been put into law by Judges and almost unbelievably, lawmakers as well, in some jurisdictions.

The debt is void.

Tricking a borrower into overcommittment is worse and that is what happened in Ireland during the 80s onwards. The Prime ministers of different parties over that time had unlimited overdrafts with several banks, most notably the AIB. A conspiracy that meant only a very few were fully aware of the final result: bondholders would be reimbursed, with the scam being paid for by those who made money and also those who lost money in the asset Ponzi that was always the end.

Emigration was also the intended end, which worked quite well.

Steven , December 23, 2017 at 8:35 am

With you right up to that last sentence. Why couldn't the simple banker theft, the 'free lunch', have been "the intended end"? Critics of the status quo IMHO often attribute way too much intelligence and foresight to the powers that be. There is such a thing as intelligent self-interest (greed). Germany's Bismark and Hudson's ancient rulers understood it. The West's ruling class apparently doesn't.

AbateMagicThinking but Not money , December 23, 2017 at 9:21 am

No more IMHOs please! It starts to read like Uriah Heap. No more humility. Just state your case.

Pip Pip

flora , December 23, 2017 at 10:48 am

an aside: It's important to distinguish sentences of opinion from sentences of claimed fact, imo. ;) Opinion is just that, and can't be called out for malice or falsity. Incorrect statements of fact can be so called out. This is an important distinction in written comments. It's important for the reputation of the publication itself, and why LTEs insist on this distinction being made in the letters.

Uriah Heep's "umbleness" was a mask covering his scheming; a very different thing from making a simple written distinction between opinion and fact.

flora , December 23, 2017 at 11:09 am

adding:
There's always 'IMNSHO', but that's more typing. :)

St Jacques , December 23, 2017 at 3:33 pm

I only ever make true statements, OK !!!

Trouble is that the next day I have a headache and everything looks yellow.

Blue Pilgrim , December 23, 2017 at 9:57 am

'Lead us not into temptation' -- odious debt and liar loans, sounds like.

Robert McGregor , December 23, 2017 at 11:56 am

> "Reckless lending is a valid concept and has been put into law by Judges and almost unbelievably, lawmakers as well, in some jurisdictions.

The debt is void.

Tricking a borrower into overcommittment . . ."

Take your average 21 year-old today or 40 years ago! Put him in the US and . . .

1) Expose him through the MSM to relentless advertising and propaganda that he should spend, spend, spend!
2) Don't teach him in school about personal finance and debt.
3) Give him a credit card.

What do you expect will happen? Through trickery the bankers have rigged a very profitable system for themselves. It is not a good system where a young person has to have way-above-knowledge-and-discipline in order to protect themselves from credit racketeers. That's why there is the ancient wisdom of the "Debt Jubilee"

Kurtismayfield , December 23, 2017 at 12:32 pm

I blame credit card debt on the banks themselves.. they should know when to cut someone off, they are tracking your every move these days.

nilavar , December 23, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Right on!

if only, all the LENDERS and the Banks (Banksters!) had followed the the cardinal rules(of Finance) of FIDUCIARY DUTY & DUE DILIGENCE, we wouldn't have 2008 crisis.

Banksters were bailed out and the 'DEBT' became the new money, world wise!

Now we have 2008 x10 (Mother of all Bubbles!) crisis at our door step!

Happy Holidays!

OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL , December 23, 2017 at 3:55 pm

The article doesn't distinguish "whose debts?"

When Citi takes too much debt they get Jubilee, when John Q. Public does, they get bankruptcy.

So let's not say "we should bring back Jubliee", we already have it, to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars. Jubliee for billionaires and bankers, just not for you and me.

It's similar to the debate over "Socialism", Bernie gets trashed for even daring to mention the word. But if "socialism" is loosely defined as direct transfers of assets from the State, we have massive socialism in this country already. For Big Wall St, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Military, Big Incarceration, Big Surveillance. But propose it for Big Citizen and you will get shouted down and shamed as some kind of pinko.

Alopex , December 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

At a major bank in the late 80s, I heard the Controller describe the ideal credit card customer: the one with account just below the credit limit who makes the minimum monthly payment a few days late.

Kathleen Smith , December 23, 2017 at 8:07 am

I agree with all that Michael Hudson has to say -- only problem is that the bankers have been so effective in dividing and conquering the genernal public that they can't see who the real enemy is. We have middle class people hating those that have been set up and abused by a corrupt banking establishment that many in this country actually blame the victims. Question is how is this all going to end? and what can we do to stop the world take over by a corrupt banking elite?

JEHR , December 23, 2017 at 11:57 am

I have come to believe (from my reading) that the bankers have successfully used algorithms to speed up computing in order to make a profit no matter what the markets are doing. The AI of their machines does not have an ethical basis or empathy for those who lose money. The financialization of the economy is part of the role that AI performs in the profiteering of the bankers and other financial institutions. That I suppose is the first step to using AI algorithms to achieve the goal of the banker: to always and forever make a profit. Watch AI move into other areas for the same profitable purpose.

OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL , December 23, 2017 at 3:43 pm

It's much bigger, and much worse, than you describe:
https://thebaffler.com/salvos/oculus-grift-shivani

Arizona Slim , December 23, 2017 at 8:12 am

How is this all going to end? Well, it's going to end because of people like us. We're questioning the current way of the world, and that's the first step in changing it.

nilavar , December 23, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Any DEBT which cannot be paid, will NEVER get paid (Hello Greece!) will be resolved by default and or Bankptcy as shown in history!

2008 was just a walk in the park!

Sam Adams , December 23, 2017 at 8:25 am

I love the irony: "And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption will be available for purchase just in time for Easter on Amazon."
Bravo

Carla , December 23, 2017 at 2:28 pm

If only Michael Hudson would decline to feed the Amazon beast!

Karen , December 23, 2017 at 9:09 am

What a fascinating analysis, thank you!

Henry Moon Pie , December 23, 2017 at 9:13 am

It's best to be cautious when making any kind of assertion about "the Bible says " or "Jesus believed ." The Hebrew bible is an amalgam of many different, often conflicting theological and moral points of view. The Gospels reflect that diversity of thought with some non-Semitic strains added as well.

The Ten Commandments provide a good example of this. The reason given for honoring the Sabbath in Exodus 20:

for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day

but in Deuteronomy (i.e. the "Second Law" in Deuteronomy 5), it's

You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm

.

The Exodus version's rationale is drawn completely from awe for YHWH and his creation, but the Deuteronomist asks the Sabbath observers to think empathetically by remembering their ancestors' (mythical) enslavement.

Another example is the Deuteronomist's amendment of the law of debt slavery. The Exodus version did limit debt slavery to 7 years (Exodus 21:2), but D goes further:

And when you send a male slave[b] out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today.

Prophets like Micah and Amos took the D point of view even further, issuing prophecies of condemnation for the rich and compassion for the poor, but the compiler of Proverbs, while extolling moderation, offers a perspective respectful toward the rich and powerful as long as they behave decently.

These differences persist into the time when the Gospels were written. Luke-Acts clearly reflects the D/Prophetic strain. While Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) contains only blessings, Luke 6 includes curses:

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 "Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

"Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Where did the historical Jesus line up in this millennia-old debate? There's not that much firm evidence either way. Dominic Crossan, relying on gospels outside the canon, tries to make a case for a revolutionary Jesus, but a strong argument can also be made that Jesus didn't care much about earthly politics and socio-economic issues because he believed the end of the world was near.

Jim Haygood , December 23, 2017 at 9:26 am

After the next recession (which I have penciled in for 2019-2020), US fiscal deficits will rise to the $1.5 to 2 trillion level and stay there. Should Trump serve two terms, federal debt will reach $30 trillion, and by then will constitute 130 to 150% of GDP.

At this point Amerisclerosis sets in, growth being impossible as debt service paralyzes any former dynamism in the corrupt and petrified imperial empire.

The Washington DC regime has two ways of defaulting: outright (hard) default, or soft default via inflating away the principal. Naturally politicians will prefer the latter, as it may permit milking a few more years out of their hollowed-out Potemkin economy.

WWJD -- what would Jesus do? Long gold, short bitcoin ought to be a pretty good "set and forget" trade whilst awaiting the Second Coming, though it may be a bit early yet.

nilavar , December 23, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Japan's DEBT to GDP ratio is over 300% but it is still here!

'Japanification' to the rescue!

DEBT and QEs to infinity! There are over 8-9 Trillions of Global Sovereign bonds with NRP!

The Rev Kev , December 23, 2017 at 6:43 pm

What would Jesus do? We know exactly what Jesus would do! Remember him clearing out the money-lenders from the temple? There is your answer right there. Today he would go into the central banks, kick a** and take names after clearing them out. The big banks would then find themselves under the gun without federal backup which mean that they could be shrunk small enough to drown in a bath tub.

ChiGal in Carolina , December 23, 2017 at 9:30 am

I seem to recall in one of the mainstream Protestant churches I went to as a child, when we recited the Lord's prayer we DID say " and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors".

In another, we said, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us". That might've been the Winnetka Congregational Church–oh, that property owning legacy of our founding fathers!

Not really up on my biblical exegesis this morning (it's B.C. here: Before Coffee), but don't we "sin" against God? As opposed to our fellow mortals, I mean.

marieann , December 23, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Yes, I remember it was said that way also, not in the catholic church I went to but Protestant ones.
I just googled it and there are versions that speak about debt.

I find this article very interesting.
Being non religious now I could get behind a Socialist religious figure

Dan Lynch , December 23, 2017 at 9:43 am

I like Hudson and agree with much of his philosophy, but I don't think his book will change many minds because religion has nothing to do with logic.
.
If you want to make a moral or economic case for debt forgiveness, fine, but if you start talking about what Jesus really believed then you're wading into religion and most religious people's minds are already made up on that subject, so I don't think this tactic is a useful approach.
.
As one of my right wing friends said in response to Hudson's article, "liberation theology has already been debunked." Well, in my friend's mind it has been debunked so that's all that matters.
.
In my mind all religion is bunk so I am not going to defend Hudson's theology.
.
Ditto with the recent debate over Steve Keen's "theses." Just leave religion out of economics, OK?

jsn , December 23, 2017 at 10:10 am

We are all born in ignorance, religion is what we call earlier concatenations of human perception and memory that sustained societies across generations. The current religion, the one we call science, has exploded the human population to a mass the ecosphere cannot long support. Science, for all its knowledge has failed to provide anything remotely approaching a sustainable society or the politics that might create one. Science provides no wisdom, only knowledge.

It's a long game: minds that are are made up; minds yet to be will form around the ideas presented them.

An argument can be made we no longer have enough time.

mpalomar , December 23, 2017 at 10:55 am

Interesting points. Yet if science provides knowledge how can it be possible that it does not lead to wisdom. Philosophy, wisdom, religion and science are all bundled or linked, science being the latest iteration. Is it possible that there is such a clear, distinct division between wisdom and knowledge? Wisdom must be a product of knowledge as it is hard to imagine wisdom that does not conform to knowledge.

It is a long game but our individual lives are played out on a different time reference. Keynes of course famously acknowledged this, regarding the useless task of economists if they do not recognize the human time frame in their theories and calculations.

Civilization's tragic but expedient go-to-move is the ever prevalent dismissive shrug of complicity elite consensus employs to excuse the generational destruction visited by poverty and war because the march of history must proceed at a desultory stroll in relation to the span of a human life.

It does appear we no longer have time and probably never have.

jsn , December 23, 2017 at 1:02 pm

For some time I've wondered if life itself isn't just an exhilarating acceleration of entropy with consciousness being a kind of waste heat.

It denies us free will, but when you look at how we treat one another at scale and the curves for population and energy use it's hard to avoid the comparison to bacteria in a petri dish.

But I still cling to free will understanding it might be an illusion!

Jamie , December 23, 2017 at 11:27 am

Who is the "we" you refer to? Religion is simply codified superstition. It is a parasitic excrescence of stable societies, not the cause of their stability. Without the science you deplore you would not be able to criticize science for not achieving the sustainability you claim to value. Sustainability was not a thing until the science of ecology made it so. If you think you can make an argument that we don't have enough time to be rational, go ahead and make it. But "hurry up and abandon science because we only have time for superstition before the world ends" does not sound like a promising argument to me. By the way, if you attempt the argument I suggest you start by distinguishing science from technology and the ability and knowledge to do something from the political decisions to do (or not do) what science tells us is in our power. The same science that gave us the green revolution and the ability to support a huge global population has also given us birth control and the ability to adjust the size of our population to any value we choose. It is not science's fault if we make poor choices.

jsn , December 23, 2017 at 12:45 pm

What did you know when you were born? There are embedded assumptions about me in almost every line you wrote.

I don't deplore science, I'm just humble about what it can achieve. It has no agency, only people do. People made science so science can hardly be better than people, which gets us back to the problem of how to get people to sustain the ecology necessary for the species.

Why are you proposing to abandon science? I didn't. I simply said that it will not cause us to change our collective agency, it can't, it only has agency through us.

Additionally, there is decent science on cognitive bias that suggests, as the reader I was responding to did, that rational arguments don't change minds. I accept that science. Ipso facto, as you finished "It's not science's fault we make poor choices", with which I completely agree. It won't be science's success on the outside chance we make some good ones. That is my point: it is a political issue not a scientific one.

The religions you call superstition, while incorporating a great deal about the material world that science has proven (within a certain tolerance) false, also include a great deal about human psychology integrated into time scales significantly longer than any individual human life.

I chose a poor metaphor in "the current religion, the one we call science" that sidetracked my intent, but science can no more solve our problems for us than god.

jsn , December 23, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Second to last para should have read:

The religions you call superstition, while incorporating a great deal about the material world that science has proven (within a certain tolerance) false, also include a great deal about human psychology integrated into time scales and societies significantly larger than any individual human life that are both true and wise.

mpalomar , December 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Perhaps scientific hypothesis is codified superstition. An indefatigable and self perfecting method for discerning the universe, here on earth employed by a cognitively limited and imperfect biological organism.

As an atheist of sorts, the definition that religion, "is a parasitic excrescence of stable societies" strikes me more a definition of economics, particularly the capitalist incantation and that science operating without parameters of elements of religion and philosophy, would be useless, impossible or possibly fatally employed, without the admittedly meager ethical constraints applied currently.

jsn , December 23, 2017 at 1:05 pm

It has for a long time seemed to me that only "true believers" could have the confidence to throw out the entire body of something as ancient, vast and polyvalent as "religion".

jrs , December 23, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Maybe socialism really truly was the best shot at an belief system for how humans should live in the modern world.

While science is part of our knowledge of the world and it is necessary for this level of biosphere destruction, and certainly it's technologies are part of our life, I don't think it really informs the current VALUE system that much. I think the current value system is informed almost entirely by brutal capitalism, the ideology of mammon and wealth makes right period.

makedoanmend , December 23, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Science and religion are not equivalent, and I have yet to come across a scientist who claimed it to be so.

Religion is a belief system and has been useful system of inquiry to many people in present and past history. There may be some scientists who promote some sort of technophilia future but they are in the company with many non-scientists.

Many people often conflate those who hype Technological fixes for all social ills with strictly scientific enquiry. Technological fantasies and science are not equivalent.

Science is, at its basis, a method of inquiry based upon continual observations, collection of data and the experimental method. Scientific inquiry does not rest upon predicated truths but rather that ultimate truths are not known. Every law or theory, after rigorous testing, becomes the basic dogma for future hypotheses and new experimental endeavours. The scientific method is itself tested by using laws and theories to predict future events; Newtonian physics being a case in point. When theories lose their ability to predict future events with accuracy they are either modified or discarded. Sometimes, we just have to live with seeming contradictory conditions as between differences in Newtonian and quantum physics; yet Newtonian physics theories and practices are still valid at the scales in which we Homo sapiens operate. They are not based upon belief but upon practice.

Nor does science try and engineer social structures – such as controlling populations. That is not the role of science or scientists. Science merely records the data and tries to predict the consequences of changing weather patterns, farming practices or population dynamics. However, these models are very complex. The job of scientist is to try and convey the information but scientists, like all the rest of us, operate in a political world.

And for those who are believers in a religion, I wish you a most happy holiday and success in your spiritual endeavours.

Thuto , December 23, 2017 at 6:36 pm

"And for those who are believers in a religion " Thank you for this statement, it's representative of true humility at work. While you do not state your religious belief system (or if indeed you have any), you're not dismissive of beliefs that others might hold as "codified superstition" (as one commentor does above). Deriding those who may believe that there's some intelligent consciousness that underpins life in the universe as superstitious is to suffer from a type of hubris. Live and let live, and this applies as well to religious fundamentalists of all stripes who've made it their mission in life to "save" others. In matters of faith (or lack thereof), one must always keep their own counsel in my view.

jrs , December 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

I don't know if it's going to convince anyone, but it's not just a religious question but a historical one, only people spend their whole lives studying this stuff (how to interpret the Bible based on the culture and language of the time etc.), so while I like Hudson I think he may be out of his depth here.

Davidh J. , December 23, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Hudson's been studying this for a long time.

Lol. Fat fingers: spelled my name wrong: David J.

nilavar , December 23, 2017 at 2:17 pm

What about DEBT in far Easter religions – Hinduism. Buddhism, Janism, Shinto etc?

Hinduism (1. 3Billions+) is at least 4-5 thousand years old!

Norb , December 23, 2017 at 12:34 pm

What is the nature of Political Power? In order to rule society, public sentiment must be controlled and directed in a certain trajectory. Political and Spiritual power are dependent and cannot be separated. When they are, failure ensues.

The contemporary world is in the midst of a spiritual/religious crisis. The human mind and soul need an anchor in order to deal with the chaos inherent in the universe. What is human history other than one long chain of events illustrating humanities efforts to deal with this predicament.

Belief in a righteous cause, rooted in actual experience of daily life is what all religions are based on. Humanity is characterized by being builders and myth makers. When the myths fail to provide plausible explanations for life's struggles, societal collapse or new possibilities- new myths- must be undertaken. At the very least, a reinterpretation. Building cannot occur without a viable supporting myth.

It seems to me that humanity needs to reexamine spirituality more than ever- not abandon it. The world cannot be left to fools and charlatans.

freedeomny , December 23, 2017 at 9:44 am

Jesus as social activist .I like it!

Karen , December 23, 2017 at 9:55 am

I credit the Catholic church with developing my social conscience–back in the 1970s, when most pastors were old white men. It was a message delivered clearly and repeatedly.

Despite all of the other disappointments and hypocrisies we have seen in the years since, I do think that the church leaders I knew were sincere in this regard. In fact, I have always viewed this as the important contrast vis a vis Protestantism.

Though I am no theologian, so probably don't know what I'm talking about

diptherio , December 23, 2017 at 10:40 am

My mother attends a United Methodist church whose minister is an ex-Catholic nun, who decided she wanted to deliver sermons rather than receive them. While not real big on organized religion myself, I have been impressed by how much work they put into actually helping people. They built a whole facility in their basement for homeless people to come in a couple times a week, take a shower, shave, and get re-upped on toothpaste and whatnot. They definitely seem to take the "whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do to me" line much more seriously than the congregations and leadership of other United Methodist churches Mom's attended, so maybe there is something to your thoughts on Catholic/Protestant differences in this area although, I have a feeling that things might be way different in, for instance, AME churches down South.

cnchal , December 23, 2017 at 9:58 am

. . . the attempt of society to cope with the fact that debts grow faster than the ability to pay ," . . .

Debt is the ultimate self licking ice cream cone. To pay off a debt and the interest implies that society as a whole is required to take on ever greater debt. From the ephor's (thank you knowbuddhau) perspective a perfect system.

knowbuddhau , December 23, 2017 at 12:45 pm

You're welcome. Still a bit mindblown by that.

ISTM a SLICC is a perpetual motion machine. Creditors can turn people into them with debt + interest. It's like some kind of special purpose vessel you can get in, but can't disembark, and it never gets you to the yonder shore like they promised. All you can do is row yourself to death.

I kinda think Jesus was working on more than one level. I think he had an insight that threatened the PTB of his time with disintermediation from between people and the divine.

The way I see it, the Gospel as I've understood it never got out. The most threatening idea was safely encapsulated in the personage and later cult of Jesus the Superfreak. I've always understood it to be the breaking of this taboo that made him such a threat to the PTB.

If we're all related to divinity as offspring to parent, then we all share in divinity. No one is any more divine than anyone else. A lot hinges on the article in a specific phrase.

Did he say, "I am *a* son of god," or did he say "I am THE son of god?" According to Alan Watts, the Greek article is indefinite. The whole idea of a special lineage exceptionally favored by the cosmic PTB (and of course innocently promulgated by its beneficiaries) obviously comes straight outta our primate past. As applied to modern human affairs, it's absurd.

No, I think he said, we're all worthy.

Before this, the only way I thought of Jesus in relation to money was, of course, overturning the tables in the temples. I am in all ya'll's virtual debt. ;-)

Help Me , December 23, 2017 at 10:03 am

End games, potential outcomes, so many possibilities.
Questions many would like to see answered:
What do the accumulators do with all that wealth?
When they acquire more than they can possibly spend, why acquire?
How much acquisition is to seek power over others?
What has happened in the past to acquirors and other power-seekers?
Will this current phantasm end in a Jubilee?

jrs , December 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm

I believe at a certain point wealth acquisition is all about power over others, if only more people clearly saw it that way.

One wants money to meet: basic needs, then a few consumer toys and a tiny bit of security, a little more security (get a 401k), then leisure and autonomy (win the lottery and quit your job!). Normal non-rich people can relate to these impulses, as they are basic human drives from survival to self-actualization. Though normal non-rich people's best collective shot at them would be socialism where there would be more economic security, and more autonomy, and more leisure FOR ALL.

But beyond a certain point money is ultimately about a sadistic drive for power over others. People need to see rich people for the sadistic f's they are and their hoarding of money proves it. They won't give it up because they have a sadistic drive to rule over others.

Carolinian , December 23, 2017 at 10:04 am

Great stuff. We lapsed Baptists remember one Biblical precept–apparently not mistranslated–from our Sunday school lessons: "money is the root of all evil." Per Hudson it might be interesting to speculate how many other of the world's historic sins boil down to money–slavery, racism (competition between underclass groups), antisemitism. In A Distant Mirror Barbara Tuchman wrote that the French medieval kings would declare a personal debt jubilee from war debts by encouraging the masses to launch a pogrom. No more creditors meant no more debt. During the pre WW 2 Nazi period Hitler said that the Jews were free to leave as long as they left their possessions behind.

Of course in current times autocrats no longer have to reconcile their behavior with traditional religion since it is widely in decline. Instead they invent new religious beliefs, based on failed economic theories.

JEHR , December 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

See here .

Carolinian , December 23, 2017 at 12:59 pm

Yes, I know. In fact that's the standard comebacker for defenders of the Prosperity Gospel .they don't love money. Rather they, like Lucy in Peanuts, just want what's coming to them.

I'd say the short form versus the long form is a distinction without a difference. See Michael Hudson above.

lyman alpha blob , December 23, 2017 at 10:22 am

Never much enjoyed going to church as a kid but I did have to go frequently and absorbed a lot whether I liked it or not. Every so often we would go to a service out of town and they would recite the lord's prayer with 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'. It always sounded off to me and didn't exactly roll of the tongue. Our church used 'debt' and 'debtors' which in retrospect I'm quite grateful for.

diptherio , December 23, 2017 at 10:44 am

We always used the "trespass" version, growing up, so I thought for a long time that this was all to do with how to handle people in your front yard, or hunting on your acreage without permission.

EyeRound , December 23, 2017 at 11:35 am

Yes, indeed. This made me think:

If the (older) European cultures confounded "debt" with some notion of "sin" as with the German word "Schuld," then the newer American version is to confound "debt" with "real estate."

Hudson also has plenty of insights regarding the reciprocity between banks and land ownership.

So here's another question, the upshot of these 2 thoughts: could it be that Americans know, subliminally, that owning land is sinful?

jrs , December 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm

perhaps it is, or perhaps merely owning land more than meets one's own needs is sinful (being a landlord – ie a rentier), but certainly humans lived most of their time on earth without land ownership at all.

Darius , December 23, 2017 at 10:59 am

Debts is the King James Version Lord's Prayer. We say "debts" in my church.

Hudson's approach is appealing. It would be more useful if he cited chapter and verse. Perhaps the book does.

Synoia , December 23, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Debts is most certainly NOT in the King James version of the Lord's prayer.

It is "trespass." We recited the Laord's prayer at school once a day from age 5 to 18. It sort of sticks after a few recitations.

I can also go to a Church of England service, and automatically say the refrains after the Vicar start them.

The programming is both interesting and a little frightening.

Steven Bailey , December 23, 2017 at 10:54 am

Puerto Rico really needs a "debt jubilee"! for Christmas.

flora , December 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

Great post. Thank you.

To file in the category of "the more things change ":

Last year's prez primaries were very much about the current neoliberal economic system enriching the .01% and the growing indebtedness and despair of the 99%, imo. And now we see the Dem estab pushing, imo, a sex hysteria as the greatest destructive force that needs to be addressed, while ignoring the destructive force of neoliberal economics and debt and deaths from despair. The notion of sin is again transferred from economics to sex.

Robert McGregor , December 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

> @flora "And now we see the Dem estab pushing, imo, a sex hysteria as the greatest destructive force that needs to be addressed, while ignoring the destructive force of neoliberal economics . . . "

Amazing the Dems are now doing the age-old distraction of diverting the discussion to sex rather than economics. I thought just the political right does that! Ancient creditors changed the discussion from "economic unfairness" to "sexual sins." Modern US Republicans changed it from "economic unfairness" to social issues like abortion, and sexuality. So why are the Dems doing the same? Yves Smith has talked about the #METOO hysteria being a rich women's movement. The news is about movie star women being wronged. Maybe it's just a "Maslow hierarchy" sort of thing. When you are a millionaire movie star–or an affluent pundit–then you can worry about being sexually harassed in your past. If you're a waitress, your economic survival is foremost in your thinking. Economic class determines taste and worry.

Mark P. , December 23, 2017 at 1:18 pm

the Dems are now doing the age-old distraction of diverting the discussion to sex rather than economics. I thought just the political right does that

The Dems are the political right. The Reps are the far right.

Rates , December 23, 2017 at 11:05 am

I don't think the rich has any objection to debt forgiveness. They already own almost everything anyway. Heck, once debt forgiveness happens, they'll take more debt and then ask for another round of forgiveness. A couple of rounds like that and they'll really own everything. Hurrah!!!

Foreclosure though for everyone will I think wipe out the rich as well since they sure have debts up the wazoo.

Ian , December 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

This is the key. Debt forgiveness for the right people, the rich.

jrs , December 23, 2017 at 12:56 pm

well it might not be sufficient, probably also need wealth re-distribution from a tiny minority to the great majority.

lyle , December 23, 2017 at 12:11 pm

BTW what is the reading in the oldest greek gospels, and for comparison if avaiable the Syriac gospels of the Nestorian churches (Syriac was a much closer language to Aramaic than greek)
Likewise the reading in the Hebrew language version versus the Septuigant? I maintain that even if you belive god inspired the original texts sinful humans translated it and in the old days copied it. So the version we have today may or may not be close to the original.

DJG , December 23, 2017 at 12:26 pm

I realize that this is an excerpt from the book, but the idea that sin and debt are equated in the Bible is off. There is no mention here of hamartia, a Greek term that was used for sin.

To quote Wikipedia:
"Hamartia is also used in Christian theology because of its use in the Septuagint and New Testament. The Hebrew (chatá) and its Greek equivalent (àµaρtίa/hamartia) both mean "missing the mark" or "off the mark".[9][10][11]"

So rather than sin as a kind of status, the Bible defines sin as not hitting standards of good behavior. This is a long way from debt, and the word hamartia isn't uncommon in the Bible.

Also, the article brushes up against the idea of poverty in Catholicism, which leads inevitably to il Poverello, Saint Francis, the "Poor Guy" from Assisi. In Catholicism, poverty doesn't ennoble. Poverty clarifies, because it removes possessions as a distraction. There is a famous legend of the "conversion" of Saint Francis, which was a long time coming. He took off his clothes in church and gave them away. That isn't nobility. It's a clarification. In return for being un-distracted, Saint Francis claimed a whole enchanted / sacred cosmos, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the famous birds, Brother Wolf of Gubbio.

The central issue that Hudson mentions here (and likely much more so in his book) is the deterioriation of religion in the U S of A into "American Religion," which brays about being saved, is uncharitable, doesn't know the bible or church history, has no environmental ethic (unlike the Franciscans), and is now being degraded further by U.S. free-market fundamentalism. As a bad Catholic and a bad Buddhist, I am highly skeptical of the tune Amazing Grace and its many claims on the godhead.

Mark P. , December 23, 2017 at 1:08 pm

I am highly skeptical of the tune Amazing Grace

But are you aware that the song's author, John Newton (1725-1807), was originally a slave ship captain, then experienced spiritual conversion and eventually renounced the trade, finally becoming an abolitionist and an Anglican priest? Earlier, he'd been press-ganged in the Royal Navy, during which time he received eight dozen lashes and then later was marooned in Sierra Leone, and was himself made a slave of a slaving tribe there.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton

Make of all that what you will, but there was probably something real there originally.

Rick , December 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm

"banning absentee ownership" – this would be a great idea for intellectual property. The creator gets protection for some set period (like patents), but it is non-transferrable. Creators get compensated, and society benefits after the set period expires.

I'm not holding my breath .

Jfree , December 23, 2017 at 1:01 pm

I've always read the Bible in economic terms too so there's stuff to chew on here. But I've interpreted the Jesus story more narrowly. It is about the Tyrian shekel (the temple tax). Not legal tender at the time for anything but the temple tax – so the Sadducees basically had monopoly ownership. Distributed out to people to pay their temple tax via a raucous appearance of showy but fake competition (the moneychangers) – but the terms (exchange rate basically) are really controlled by the monopolists behind the curtain. And like any Monopoly101, they presumably screw people over time (but need to know more about prices of stuff then – were currencies being debased?). All justified/rationalized intellectually by the Pharisees then.

The problem is – the Tyrian shekel has the image of Baal on it. When Jesus overturns the money tables and then gets shown a coin – the coin he is actually commenting on is the shekel (render unto Baal what is Baals and unto God what is Gods) not the denarius (render unto Caesar what is Caesars and unto God what is Gods)

Read it that way – and he is cleverly accusing the entire establishment of serious blasphemy and exploitation of the Jewish people and directly threatening their business model. Easy to understand why it later gets written down as 'denarius' after the temple is destroyed and the message is no longer in Judaea (or even within Jewish community in diaspora) – but the real message also gets lost with that

Juliania , December 23, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Not true unless you discount the text and archeological facts completely, which I guess you do. The common coinage of the time would be of the empire, which was of Rome.

Juliania , December 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I love Michael Hudson, but he is not quite correct here about Jesus, at least as far as this article presents his argument. We know Jesus best through the writings of his followers, mainly the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke John.

The two who give us an explanation of what we call the Lord's prayer are Matthew and Luke, and the earliest texts are written in koine greek, not hebrew. Indeed, Matthew first uses "debt" but follows his account of the prayer immediately with an explanation that doesn't use that term, thusly:

" for if you forgive men the tresspasses (paraptomata) of them, your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men, neither will your father forgive your trespasses ( paraptomata) "

My big dictionary translates the above greek word as "false step" or "falling from the right way."

Professor Hudson has an economist's point of view, as does this forum, and that's perfectly fine – Matthew was a tax collector after all. But Jesus was not. The term "debt" in this instance can be likened to the use of the word "seed" in the parables. The prayer uses a narrow focus that ought to be understood in a larger sense.

Luke's version of the prayer makes this expanded meaning very clear, and that is why I prefer the word "trespasses". ( Also it sounds better and can be dwelled upon longer when one prays or sings it.)

"

Keynesian , December 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm

I appreciate Dr. Hudson referencing the Christian Old and New Testament about money and debt. Christianity has become so perverted in our modern times that it now represents the opposite of its original principles. And Dr. Hudson is in good company as an economist alluding to the New Testament about economic issues.

In the second chapter, sixth paragraph, of Capital Vol. I , Karl Marx's very first introduction of the concept of money is followed by a quote from the New Testament book of Revelations.

The social action therefore of all other commodities, sets apart the particular commodity in which they all represent their values. Thereby the bodily form of this commodity becomes the form of the socially recognised universal equivalent. To be the universal equivalent, becomes, by this social process, the specific function of the commodity thus excluded by the rest. Thus it becomes –money. ―Illi unum consilium habent et virtutem et potestatem suam bestiae tradunt. Et ne quis possit emere aut vendere, nisi qui habet characterem aut nomen bestiae aut numerum nominis ejus.‖ [―These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.‖ Revelations, 17:13; And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.‖ Revelations, 13:17.](Apocalypse.)

Marx is suggesting that money is analogous to the Christian belief in Revelation's "Mark of the Beast." Of all the criticisms of Marx, one would never believe that he would sometimes point to the New Testament while discussing economics. This is because hardly anyone reads Marx, or the Bible for that matter. Ironically, modern American Right-wing Christianity is corrupted by the "Prosperity Gospel" cult and views money as the ultimate good, or at least its possession a sign of godliness, when everything in its own dogma says something else. Could a Christian today proclaim with conviction, "Money is the Mark of the Beast!"?

Synoia , December 23, 2017 at 6:23 pm

"Right Wing Christianity" is surely an oxymoron?

I refer to the "eye of the needle" and "rich men" quote in the Gospels."

Quoting Revelations to prove any point about Christ's teachings is specious at best. The Revelations of St John the Device appear as the stick of the Church to be used when the Carrot of Christ's teaching is unsuccessful.

"If you don't do what we tell you you will burn in Hell!!!"

I'd also point out that Christianity as practiced appears mostly as a peasant suppression system:

Priest: (beholden to the local Lord) "You will get you reward after you die"

Unruly peasant: "How do I know that?"

Priest "We've never had a complaint!"

financial matters , December 23, 2017 at 6:56 pm

A powerful statement by Marx. He recognizes the importance of a 'money of account' to give 'value' to items but at the same time questions the validity of this value.

We have definitely gotten to the point of too much monetization and lost the social values of collaboration and compassion.

[Dec 14, 2017] Tech Giants Trying to Use WTO to Colonize Emerging Economies

Notable quotes:
"... The initiative described in this article reminds me of how the World Bank pushed hard for emerging economies to develop capital markets, for the greater good of America's investment bankers. ..."
"... By Burcu Kilic, an expert on legal, economic and political issues. Originally published at openDemocracy ..."
"... Today, the big tech race is for data extractivism from those yet to be 'connected' in the world – tech companies will use all their power to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or localisation. ..."
"... One suspects big money will be thrown at this by the leading tech giants. ..."
"... Out of idle curiosity, how could you accurately deduce my country of origin from my name? ..."
Dec 14, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

December 14, 2017 by Yves Smith Yves here. Notice that Costa Rica is served up as an example in this article. Way back in 1997, American Express had designated Costa Rica as one of the countries it identified as sufficiently high income so as to be a target for a local currency card offered via a franchise agreement with a domestic institution (often but not always a bank). 20 years later, the Switzerland of Central America still has limited Internet connectivity, yet is precisely the sort of place that tech titans like Google would like to dominate.

The initiative described in this article reminds me of how the World Bank pushed hard for emerging economies to develop capital markets, for the greater good of America's investment bankers.

By Burcu Kilic, an expert on legal, economic and political issues. Originally published at openDemocracy

Today, the big tech race is for data extractivism from those yet to be 'connected' in the world – tech companies will use all their power to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or localisation.

n a few weeks' time, trade ministers from 164 countries will gather in Buenos Aires for the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC11). US President Donald Trump in November issued fresh accusations of unfair treatment towards the US by WTO members , making it virtually impossible for trade ministers to leave the table with any agreement in substantial areas.

To avoid a 'failure ministerial," some countries see the solution as pushing governments to open a mandate to start conversations that might lead to a negotiation on binding rules for e-commerce and a declaration of the gathering as the "digital ministerial". Argentina's MC11 chair, Susana Malcorra, is actively pushing for member states to embrace e-commerce at the WTO, claiming that it is necessary to " bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots ".

It is not very clear what kind of gaps Malcorra is trying to bridge. It surely isn't the "connectivity gap" or "digital divide" that is growing between developed and developing countries, seriously impeding digital learning and knowledge in developing countries. In fact, half of humanity is not even connected to the internet, let alone positioned to develop competitive markets or bargain at a multilateral level. Negotiating binding e-commerce rules at the WTO would only widen that gap.

Dangerously, the "South Vision" of digital trade in the global trade arena is being shaped by a recent alliance of governments and well-known tech-sector lobbyists, in a group called 'Friends of E-Commerce for Development' (FED), including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and, most recently, China. FED claims that e-commerce is a tool to drive growth, narrow the digital divide, and generate digital solutions for developing and least developed countries.

However, none of the countries in the group (apart from China) is leading or even remotely ready to be in a position to negotiate and push for binding rules on digital trade that will be favorable to them, as their economies are still far away from the technology revolution. For instance, it is perplexing that one of the most fervent defenders of FED's position is Costa Rica. The country's economy is based on the export of bananas, coffee, tropical fruits, and low-tech medical instruments, and almost half of its population is offline . Most of the countries in FED are far from being powerful enough to shift negotiations in favor of small players.

U.S.-based tech giants and Chinese Alibaba – so-called GAFA-A – dominate, by far, the future of the digital playing field, including issues such as identification and digital payments, connectivity, and the next generation of logistics solutions. In fact, there is a no-holds-barred ongoing race among these tech giants to consolidate their market share in developing economies, from the race to grow the advertising market to the race to increase online payments.

An e-commerce agenda that claims unprecedented development for the Global South is a Trojan horse move. Beginning negotiations on such topics at this stage – before governments are prepared to understand what is at stake – could lead to devastating results, accelerating liberalization and the consolidation of the power of tech giants to the detriment of local industries, consumers, and citizens. Aware of the increased disparities between North and South, and the data dominance of a tiny group of GAFA-A companies, a group of African nations issued a statement opposing the digital ambitions of the host for MC11. But the political landscape is more complex, with China, the EU, and Russia now supporting the idea of a "digital" mandate .

Repeating the Same Mistakes?

The relationships of most countries with tech companies are as imbalanced as their relationships with Big Pharma, and there are many parallels to note. Not so long ago, the countries of the Global South faced Big Pharma power in pharmaceutical markets in a similar way. Some developing countries had the same enthusiasm when they negotiated intellectual property rules for the protection of innovation and research and development costs. In reality, those countries were nothing more than users and consumers of that innovation, not the owners or creators. The lessons of negotiating trade issues that lie at the core of public interest issues – in that case, access to medicines – were costly. Human lives and fundamental rights of those who use online services should not be forgotten when addressing the increasingly worrying and unequal relationships with tech power.

The threat before our eyes is similarly complex and equally harmful to the way our societies will be shaped in the coming years. In the past, the Big Pharma race was for patent exclusivity, to eliminate local generic production and keep drug prices high. Today, the Big Tech race is for data extractivism from those who have yet to be connected in the world, and tech companies will use all the power they hold to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or data localization.

Big Tech is one of the most concentrated and resourceful industries of all time. The bargaining power of developing countries is minimal. Developing countries will basically be granting the right to cultivate small parcels of a land controlled by data lords -- under their rules, their mandate, and their will -- with practically no public oversight. The stakes are high. At the core of it is the race to conquer the markets of digital payments and the battle to become the platform where data flows, splitting the territory as old empires did in the past. As the Economist claimed on May 6, 2017: "Conflicts over control of oil have scarred the world for decades. No one yet worries that wars will be fought over data. But the data economy has the same potential for confrontation."

If countries from the Global South want to prepare for data wars, they should start thinking about how to reduce the control of Big Tech over -- how we communicate, shop, and learn the news -- , again, over our societies. The solution lies not in making rules for data liberalization, but in devising ways to use the law to reduce Big Tech's power and protect consumers and citizens. Finding the balance would take some time and we are going to take that time to find the right balance, we are not ready to lock the future yet.

Jef , December 14, 2017 at 11:32 am

I thought thats what the WTO is for?

Thuto , December 14, 2017 at 2:14 pm

One suspects big money will be thrown at this by the leading tech giants. To paraphrase from a comment I made recently regarding a similar topic : "with markets in the developed world pretty much sewn up by the tripartite tech overlords (google, fb and amazon), the next 3 billion users for their products/services are going to come from developing world". With this dynamic in mind, and the "constant growth" mantra humming incessantly in the background, it's easy to see how high stakes a game this is for the tech giants and how no resources will be spared to stymie any efforts at establishing a regulatory oversight framework that will protect the digital rights of citizens in the global south.

Multilateral fora like the WTO are de facto enablers for the marauding frontal attacks of transnational corporations, and it's disheartening to see that some developing nations have already nailed the digital futures of their citizens to the mast of the tech giants by joining this alliance. What's more, this signing away of their liberty will be sold to the citizenry as the best way to usher them into the brightest of all digital futures.

Mark P. , December 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm

One suspects big money will be thrown at this by the leading tech giants.

Vast sums of money are already being thrown at bringing Africa online, for better or worse. Thus, the R&D aimed at providing wireless Internet via giant drones/balloons/satellites by Google, Facebook, etc.

You're African. Possibly South African by your user name, which may explain why you're a little behind the curve, because the action is already happening, but more to the north -- and particularly in East Africa.

The big corporations -- and the tech giants are competing with the banking/credit card giants -- have noted how mobile technology leapt over the dearth of last century's telephony tech, land lines, and in turn enabled the highest adoption rates of cellphone banking in the world. (Particularly in East Africa, as I say.) The payoffs for big corporations are massive -- de facto cashless societies where the corporations control the payment systems –and the politicians are mostly cheap.

In Nigeria, the government has launched a Mastercard-branded national ID card that's also a payment card, in one swoop handing Mastercard more than 170 million potential customers, and their personal and biometric data.

In Kenya, the sums transferred by mobile money operator M-Pesa are more than 25 percent of that country's GDP.

You can see that bringing Africa online is technically a big, decade-long project. But also that the potential payoffs are vast. Though I also suspect China may come out ahead -- they're investing far more in Africa and in some areas their technology -- drones, for instance -- is already superior to what the Europeans and the American companies have.

Thuto , December 14, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Thank you Mark P.

Hoisted from a comment I made here recently: "Here in South Africa and through its Free Basics programme, facebook is jumping into bed with unsuspecting ISPs (I say unsuspecting because fb will soon be muscling in on their territory and becoming an ISP itself by provisioning bandwidth directly from its floating satellites) and circumventing net neutrality "

I'm also keenly aware of the developments in Kenya re: safaricom and Mpesa and how that has led to traditional banking via bank accounts being largely leapfrogged for those moving from being unbanked to active economic citizens requiring money transfer facilities. Given the huge succes of Mpesa, I wouldn't be surprised if a multinational tech behemoth (chinese or american) were to make a play for acquiring safaricom and positioning it as a triple-play ISP, money transfer/banking services and digital content provider (harvesting data about users habits on an unprecedented scale across multiple areas of their lives), first in Kenya then expanded throughout east, central and west africa. I must add that your statement about Nigeria puts Mark Zuckerberg's visit there a few months back into context somewhat, perhaps a reconnaissance mission of sorts.

Out of idle curiosity, how could you accurately deduce my country of origin from my name?

Mark P. , December 14, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Out of idle curiosity, how could you accurately deduce my country of origin from my name?

Though I've lived in California for decades, my mother was South African and I maintain a UK passport, having grown up in London.

Mark P. , December 14, 2017 at 3:34 pm

As you also write: "with markets in the developed world pretty much sewn up by the tripartite tech overlords (google, fb and amazon), the next 3 billion users for their products/services are going to come from developing world."

Absolutely true. This cannot be stressed enough. The tech giants know this and the race is on.

Mattski , December 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Been happening with food for 50 years.

[Dec 12, 2017] The IMF and the WORLD BANK Puppets of the Neoliberal Onslaught

Dec 12, 2017 | www.mit.edu

Today, September 26, thousands of activists are protesting in Prague, in the Czech Republic, against the policies and institutional structures of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These protests are the latest action in a growing movement that is highly critical of the neoliberal economic policies being imposed on people all over the world, including those in western countries. As Robert McChesney concisely describes it, neoliberalism "refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit." The major beneficiaries of neoliberalism are large trans-national corporations and wealthy investors. The implementation of neoliberal policies came into full force during the eighties under Thatcher and Reagan. Today, the principles of neoliberalism are widely held with near-religious fervor by most major political parties in the US and Britain and are gaining acceptance by those holding power elsewhere.

Although the proponents of neoliberalism extol the virtues of free markets, free trade, private enterprise and consumer choice, the effects of neoliberal policies is quite the opposite. In fact, these policies typically result in very protectionist markets dominated by a few trans-national corporations. Many sectors of the economy - ranging from food processing and distribution to the corporate media to aviation - are oligopolies and can be characterized as highly centralized command economies that are only a shade more competitive than the economy of the former Soviet Union. A major theme of neoliberal policies is deregulation and the removal of government interference in the economy. Consistently, such policies are applied in a one sided way, and always in a manner that benefits large trans-national corporations, the most influential entities in policy making. Hence, within neoliberalism as it is actually applied, capital is allowed to roam the world freely with very few restrictions, yet workers are to remain trapped within the borders of their countries. This serves trans-national corporations well, though for some, not well enough. According to Jack Welsh, CEO of GE, he and GE's shareholders would be best served if factories were on barges so that when workers demand higher wages and better working conditions, the barges could easily be moved to a country with more compliant workers. Another component of neoliberalism is the dismantling of the welfare state. Again, in practice, this policy is applied to the majority of the population, who have to accept cut backs in unemployment benefits and health care, while large corporations continue to receive massive subsidies and tax breaks.

The effects of neoliberal policies on people everywhere has been devastating. During the last two to three decades, wealth disparity has increased many fold within countries as well as between countries. In the US, inflation adjusted median wages are lower today than they were in 1973 (when median wages reached their peak) while the wealth of the top 1% of society has soared. One out of every five children in the US lives in a state of poverty characterized by continual hunger, insecurity and lack of adequate health care. This, after almost ten years of a record breaking economic boom. For the poorest people in the world, the situation has become even more desperate. John Gershman and Alec Irwin state in "Dying for growth":

    100 countries have undergone grave economic decline over the past three decades. Per capita income in these 100 countries is now lower than it was 10, 15, 20 or in some cases even 30 years ago. In Africa, the average household consumes 20 percent less today than it did 25 years ago. Worldwide, more than 1 billion people saw their real incomes fall during the period 1980-1993. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations Development Program's 1998 Human Development Report, the 15 richest people in the world enjoy combined assets that exceed the total annual gross domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of the 1990's, the wealth of the three richest individuals on earth surpassed the combined annual GDP of the 48 least developed countries.

The Thistle won't waste ink on how the wealthy have fared since the mainstream corporate press does a very commendable job in this respect.

Neoliberalism has been a disaster for the environment as well. Despite the growing awareness in the late eighties that the rate of fossil fuel consumption at that time would cause global warming and many other forms of unpredictable and dangerous environmental changes, energy consumption has continued to increase at an alarming rate. This has been facilitated by neoliberal deregulation of environmental protections championed by corporate puppets such as Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay. In their continued quest for windfall profits, for example, corporations such as Ford and GM aggressively marketed (and continue to do so) highly polluting sports utility vehicles (SUVs) while ignoring cleaner and more efficient technologies. This was made possible by loop holes in environmental laws allowing SUVs to be sold that do not meet the emission standards imposed on passenger cars. Consumer Reports Magazine (Nov. pg. 54) noted in 1997, that "the growing popularity of SUVs, has helped make the 1997 automotive model year the least fuel-efficient in the last 16 years". Due to the subservience of government to large corporations, these loop holes are still in place. Today, the qualitative predictions of a decade ago are starting to manifesting themselves. The average temperature of the world has risen over the last decade and for the first time, water has been observed on the polar caps.

One industry that has benefited significantly from neoliberal policies is the biotech industry, though not without potentially catastrophic costs for the majority of the population. While large biotech corporations such as Monsanto and Dupont are aiming for massive profits, the environment and our food supply is irreversibly being altered in the process, creating a situation where large portions of the population and all future generations are subjected to potentially severe and unpredictable health risks. As a way to promote the nascent biotech industry, the Bush administration in the early nineties adopted a policy which held that regulations should not be created in such a way as to be a burden on the industry. The Clinton administration has continued this policy, and today approximately 60% of our food is genetically modified. This transformation of our food supply has occurred with scant public knowledge or oversight. And although genes from viruses, bacteria or arctic fish with anti-freeze properties are inserted into crops, the federal regulatory agencies, with heavy industry influence, maintain that genetically modified foods are no different from crops obtained with traditional breeding techniques and therefore do not need to be approved (unless the transported genes are known to induce a human allergen). Studies investigating the long term health and environmental effects of genetically modified crops are not required by any federal agency and are rarely performed. In this atmosphere of deregulation and concentrated corporate control, it is only a matter of time before a serious biological catastrophe occurs.

What does the IMF and World Bank have to do with this?

The IMF and World Bank were both created at the end of world war II in a political climate the is very different from that of today. Nevertheless, their roles and modalities have been suitably updated to serve the interests of those that benefit from neoliberalism. The institutional structures of the IMF and World Bank were framed at an international conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Initially, the primary focus of the IMF was to regulate currency exchange rates to facilitate orderly international trade and to be a lender of last resort when a member country experiences balance of payments difficulties and is unable to borrow money from other sources. The original purpose of the World Bank was to lend money to Western European governments to help them rebuild their countries after the war. In later years, the World Bank shifted its attention towards development loans to third world countries.

Immediately after world war II, most western countries, including the US, had 'New Deal' style social contracts with sufficient welfare provisions to ensure 'stability' between labor and capital. It was understood that restrictions on international capital flow were necessary to protect these social contracts. The postwar 'Bretton Woods' economic system which lasted until the early seventies, was based on the right and obligation of governments to regulate capital flow and was characterized by rapid economic growth. In the early seventies, the Nixon administration unilaterally abandoned the Bretton Woods system by dropping the gold standard and lifting restrictions on capital flows. The ensuing period has been marked by dramatically increased financial speculation and low growth rates.

Although seemingly neutral institutions, in practice, the IMF and World Bank end up serving powerful interests of western countries. At both institutions, the voting power of a given country is not measured by, for example, population, but by how much capital that country contributes to the institutions and by other political factors reflecting the power the country wields in the world. The G7 plays a dominant role in determining policy, with the US, France, Germany, Japan and Great Britain each having their own director on the institution's executive board while 19 other directors are elected by the rest of the approximately 150 member countries. The president of the World Bank is traditionally an American citizen and is chosen with US congressional involvement. The managing director of the IMF is traditionally a European. On the IMF board of governors, comprised of treasury secretaries, the G7 have a combined voting power of 46%.

The power of the IMF becomes clear when a country gets into financial trouble and needs funds to make payments on private loans. Before the IMF grants a loan, it imposes conditions on that country, requiring it to make structural changes in its economy. These conditions are called 'Structural Adjustment Programs' (SAPs) and are designed to increase money flow into the country by promoting exports so that the country can pay off its debts. Not surprisingly, in view of the dominance of the G7 in IMF policy making, the SAPs are highly neoliberal. The effective power of the IMF is often larger than that associated with the size of its loans because private lenders often deem a country credit-worthy based on actions of the IMF.

The World Bank plays a qualitatively different role than the IMF, but works tightly within the stringent SAP framework imposed by the IMF. It focuses on development loans for specific projects, such as the building of dams, roads, harbors etc that are considered necessary for 'economic growth' in a developing country. Since it is a multilateral institution, the World Bank is less likely than unilateral lending institutions such as the Export Import Bank of the US to offer loans for the purpose of promoting and subsidizing particular corporations. Nevertheless, the conceptions of growth and economic well being within the World Bank are very much molded by western corporate values and rarely take account of local cultural concerns. This is clearly exhibited by the modalities of its projects, such as the 'Green Revolution' in agriculture, heavily promoted in the third world by the World Bank in the sixties and seventies. The 'Green Revolution' refers to the massive industrialization of agriculture, involving the replacement of a multitude of indigenous crops with a few high-yielding varieties that require expensive investments of chemicals, fertilizers and machinery. In the third world, the 'Green Revolution' was often imposed on indigenous populations with reasonably sustainable and self sufficient traditions of rural agriculture. The mechanization of food production in third world countries, which have a large surplus labor pool, has led to the marginalization of many people, disconnecting them from the economy and exacerbating wealth disparity in these countries. Furthermore, excessive chemical agriculture has led to soil desertification and erosion, increasing the occurrence of famines. While the 'Green Revolution' was a catastrophe for the poor in third world countries, western chemical corporations such as Monsanto, Dow and Dupont fared very well, cashing in high profits and increasing their control over food production in third world countries.

Today, the World Bank is at it again. This time it is promoting the use of genetically modified seeds in the third world and works with governments to solidify patent laws which would grant biotech corporations like Monsanto unprecedented control over food production. The pattern is clear, whether deliberate or nor, the World Bank serves to set the stage for large trans-national corporations to enter third world countries, extract large profits and then leave with carnage in their wake.

While the World Bank publicly emphasizes that it aims to alleviate poverty in the world, imperialistic attitudes occasionally emerge from its leading figures. In 1991, then chief economist Lawrence Summers (now US Secretary of the Treasury) wrote in an internal memo that was leaked:

    Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [less developed countries]? ... The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that ... Under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City .... The concern over an agent that causes a one-in-a-million chance in the odds of prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under-five mortality is 200 per thousand.

And thistle thought that the World Bank tried to extend lives in developing countries, not take advantage of low life expectancy.

How do countries get into financial troubles, the Debt Crisis.

The most devastating program imposed by the IMF and the World Bank on third world countries are the Structural Adjustment Programs. The widespread use of SAPs started in the early eighties after a major debt crisis. The debt crisis arose from a combination of (i) reckless lending by western commercial banks to third world countries, (ii) mismanagement within third world countries and (iii) changes in the international economy.

During the seventies, rising oil prices generated enormous profits for petrochemical corporations. These profits ended up in large commercial banks which then sought to reinvest the capital. Much of this capital was invested in the form of high risk loans to third world countries, many of which were run by corrupt dictators. Instead of investing the capital in productive projects that would benefit the general population, dictators often diverted the funds to personal Swiss bank accounts or used the them to purchase military equipment for domestic repression. This state of affairs persisted for a while, since commodity prices remained stable and interest rates were relatively low enabling third world countries to adequately service their debts. In 1979, the situation changed, however, when Paul Volker, the new Federal Reserve Chairman, raised interest rates. This dramatically increased the cost of debtor countries' loans. At the same time, the US was heading into a recession and world commodity prices dropped, tightening cash flows necessary for debt payment. The possibility that many third world countries would default on their debt payments threatened a major financial crisis that would result in large commercial bank failures. To prevent this, powerful countries from the G7 stepped in and actively used the IMF and World Bank to bail out third world countries. Yet the bail-out packages were contingent upon the third world countries introducing major neoliberal policies (i.e. SAPs) to promote exports.

Examples of SAP prescriptions include:

    - an increase in 'labor flexibility' which means caps on minimum wages, and policies to weaken trade unions and worker's bargaining power.
    - tax increases combined with cuts in social spending such as education and health care, to free up funds for debt repayment.
    - privatization of public sector enterprises, such as utility companies and public transport
    - financial liberalization designed to remove restrictions on the flow of international capital in and out of the country coupled with the removal of restrictions on what foreign corporations and banks can buy.

    Despite almost two decades of Structural Adjustment Programs, many third world countries have not been able to pull themselves out of massive debt. The SAPs have, however, served corporations superbly, offering them new opportunities to exploit workers and natural resources.

    As Prof. Chomsky often says, the debt crisis is an ideological construct. In a true capitalist society, the third world debt would be wiped out. The Banks who made the risky loans would have to accept the losses, and the dictators and their entourage would have to repay the money they embezzled. The power structure in society however, prevents this from happening. In the west tax payers end up assuming the risk while the large banks run off with the high profits often derived from high risk loans. In the third world, the people end up paying the costs while their elites retire in the French Riviera.

    It is important to realize that the IMF and World Bank are tools for powerful entities in society such as trans-national corporations and wealthy investors. The Thistle believes that massive world poverty and environmental destruction is the result of the appalling concentration of power in the hands of a small minority whose sights are blinded by dollar signs and whose passions are the aggrandizement of ever more power. The Thistle holds that an equitable and democratic world centered around cooperation and solidarity would be more able to deal with environmental and human crises.

[Nov 30, 2017] Money Imperialism by Michael Hudson

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... Since World War II the United States has used the Dollar Standard and its dominant role in the IMF and World Bank to steer trade and investment along lines benefiting its own economy. But now that the growth of China's mixed economy has outstripped all others while Russia finally is beginning to recover, countries have the option of borrowing from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and other non-U.S. consortia. ..."
"... The problem with surrendering is that this Washington Consensus is extractive and lives in the short run, laying the seeds of financial dependency, debt-leveraged bubbles and subsequent debt deflation and austerity. The financial business plan is to carve out opportunities for price gouging and corporate profits. Today's U.S.-sponsored trade and investment treaties would make governments pay fines equal to the amount that environmental and price regulations, laws protecting consumers and other social policies might reduce corporate profits. "Companies would be able to demand compensation from countries whose health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies they thought to be undermining their interests, and take governments before extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals, organised under World Bank and UN rules, would have the power to order taxpayers to pay extensive compensation over legislation seen as undermining a company's 'expected future profits.' ..."
"... At the center of today's global split are the last few centuries of Western social and democratic reform. Seeking to follow the classical Western development path by retaining a mixed public/private economy, China, Russia and other nations find it easier to create new institutions such as the AIIB than to reform the dollar standard IMF and World Bank. Their choice is between short-term gains by dependency leading to austerity, or long-term development with independence and ultimate prosperity. ..."
"... The price of resistance involves risking military or covert overthrow. Long before the Ukraine crisis, the United States has dropped the pretense of backing democracies. The die was cast in 1953 with the coup against Iran's secular government, and the 1954 coup in Guatemala to oppose land reform. Support for client oligarchies and dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960 and '70s was highlighted by the overthrow of Allende in Chile and Operation Condor's assassination program throughout the continent. Under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the United States has claimed that America's status as the world's "indispensible nation" entitled it back the recent coups in Honduras and Ukraine, and to sponsor the NATO attack on Libya and Syria, leaving Europe to absorb the refugees. ..."
"... The trans-Atlantic financial bubble has left a legacy of austerity since 2008. Debt-ridden economies are being told to cope with their downturns by privatizing their public domain. ..."
"... The immediate question facing Germany and the rest of Western Europe is how long they will sacrifice their trade and investment opportunities with Russia, Iran and other economies by adhering to U.S.-sponsored sanctions. American intransigence threatens to force an either/or choice in what looms as a seismic geopolitical shift over the proper role of governments: Should their public sectors provide basic services and protect populations from predatory monopolies, rent extraction and financial polarization? ..."
"... Today's global financial crisis can be traced back to World War I and its aftermath. The principle that needed to be voiced was the right of sovereign nations not to be forced to sacrifice their economic survival on the altar of inter-government and private debt demands. The concept of nationhood embodied in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia based international law on the principle of parity of sovereign states and non-interference. Without a global alternative to letting debt dynamics polarize societies and tear economies apart, monetary imperialism by creditor nations is inevitable. ..."
"... The past century's global fracture between creditor and debtor economies has interrupted what seemed to be Europe's democratic destiny to empower governments to override financial and other rentier interests. Instead, the West is following U.S. diplomatic leadership back into the age when these interests ruled governments. This conflict between creditors and democracy, between oligarchy and economic growth (and indeed, survival) will remain the defining issue of our epoch over the next generation, and probably for the remainder of the 21 st century. ..."
"... wiki/Anglo-Persian Oil Company "In 1901 William Knox D'Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated an oil concession with Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar of Persia. He financed this with capital he had made from his shares in the highly profitable Mount Morgan mine in Queensland, Australia. D'Arcy assumed exclusive rights to prospect for oil for 60 years in a vast tract of territory including most of Iran. In exchange the Shah received £20,000 (£2.0 million today),[1] an equal amount in shares of D'Arcy's company, and a promise of 16% of future profits." Note the 16% = ~1/6, the rest going off-shore. ..."
"... The Greens in Aus researched the resources sector in Aus, to find that it is 83% 'owned' by off-shore entities. Note that 83% = ~5/6, which goes off-shore. Coincidence? ..."
"... Note that in Aus, the democratically elected so-called 'leaders' not only allow exactly this sort of economic rape, they actively assist it by, say, crippling the central bank and pleading for FDI = selling our, we the people's interests, out. Those traitor-leaders are reversing 'Enlightenment' provisions, privatising whatever they can and, as Michael Hudson well points out the principles, running Aus into debt and austerity. ..."
"... US banking oligarchs will expend the last drop of our blood to prevent a such a linking, just as they were willing to sacrifice our blood and treasure in WW1 and 2, as is alluded to here.: ..."
"... The past century's global fracture between creditor and debtor economies has interrupted what seemed to be Europe's democratic destiny to empower governments to override financial and other rentier interests. Instead, the West is following U.S. diplomatic leadership back into the age when these interests ruled governments. This conflict between creditors and democracy, between oligarchy and economic growth (and indeed, survival) will remain the defining issue of our epoch over the next generation, and probably for the remainder of the 21st century. ..."
"... It's important to note that such interests have ruled (owned, actually) imperial Britain for centuries and the US since its inception, and the anti-federalists knew it. ..."
"... "After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts." The Yank banker, the Yankee Wall Street super rich, set off a process of greed that led to Hitler. ..."
"... But they didn't invent anything. They learned from their WASP forebears in the British Empire, whose banking back to Oliver Cromwell had become inextricably entangled with Jewish money and Jewish interests to the point that Jews per capita dominated it even at the height of the British Empire, when simpleton WASPs assume that WASPs truly ran everything, and that WASP power was for the good of even the poorest WASPs. ..."
"... The Berlin Baghdad railway was an important cause for WWI. ..."
"... Bingo. Stopping it was a huge factor. There was no way the banksters of the world were going to let that go forward, nor were they going to let Germany and Russia link up in any other ways. They certainly were not about to allow any threats to the Suez Canal nor any chance to let the oil fields slip from their control either. ..."
"... This is not how the Enlightenment was supposed to evolve ..."
"... In fact, this is exactly how it was supposed to work. The wave of liberal democracies was precisely to overturn the monarchies, which were the last bulwark protecting the people from the full tyranny of the financiers, who were, by nature, one-world internationalists. ..."
"... The real problem with this is that any form of monetary arrangement involves an implied trusteeship, with obligations on, as well as benefits for, the trustee. The US is so abusing its trusteeship through the continual use of an irresponsible sanctions regime that it risks a good portion of the world economy abandoning its system for someone else's, which may be perceived to be run more responsibility. The disaster scenario would be the US having therefore in the future to access that other system to purchase oil or minerals, and having that system do to us what we previously did to them -- sanction us out. ..."
"... " Marx believed that capitalism was inherently built upon practices of usury and thus inevitably leading to the separation of society into two classes: one composed of those who produce value and the other, which feeds upon the first one. In "Theories of Surplus Value" (written 1862-1863), he states " that interest (in contrast to industrial profit) and rent (that is the form of landed property created by capitalist production itself) are superfetations (i.e., excessive accumulations) which are not essential to capitalist production and of which it can rid itself." ..."
Nov 30, 2017 | www.unz.com

Money Imperialism Introduction to the German Edition Michael Hudson November 29, 2017 3,500 Words 1 Comment Reply

In theory, the global financial system is supposed to help every country gain. Mainstream teaching of international finance, trade and "foreign aid" (defined simply as any government credit) depicts an almost utopian system uplifting all countries, not stripping their assets and imposing austerity. The reality since World War I is that the United States has taken the lead in shaping the international financial system to promote gains for its own bankers, farm exporters, its oil and gas sector, and buyers of foreign resources – and most of all, to collect on debts owed to it.

Each time this global system has broken down over the past century, the major destabilizing force has been American over-reach and the drive by its bankers and bondholders for short-term gains. The dollar-centered financial system is leaving more industrial as well as Third World countries debt-strapped. Its three institutional pillars – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization – have imposed monetary, fiscal and financial dependency, most recently by the post-Soviet Baltics, Greece and the rest of southern Europe. The resulting strains are now reaching the point where they are breaking apart the arrangements put in place after World War II.

The most destructive fiction of international finance is that all debts can be paid, and indeed should be paid, even when this tears economies apart by forcing them into austerity – to save bondholders, not labor and industry. Yet European countries, and especially Germany, have shied from pressing for a more balanced global economy that would foster growth for all countries and avoid the current economic slowdown and debt deflation.

Imposing austerity on Germany after World War I

After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts. Headed by John Maynard Keynes, British diplomats sought to clean their hands of responsibility for the consequences by promising that all the money they received from Germany would simply be forwarded to the U.S. Treasury.

The sums were so unpayably high that Germany was driven into austerity and collapse. The nation suffered hyperinflation as the Reichsbank printed marks to throw onto the foreign exchange also were pushed into financial collapse. The debt deflation was much like that of Third World debtors a generation ago, and today's southern European PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

In a pretense that the reparations and Inter-Ally debt tangle could be made solvent, a triangular flow of payments was facilitated by a convoluted U.S. easy-money policy. American investors sought high returns by buying German local bonds; German municipalities turned over the dollars they received to the Reichsbank for domestic currency; and the Reichsbank used this foreign exchange to pay reparations to Britain and other Allies, enabling these countries to pay the United States what it demanded.

But solutions based on attempts to keep debts of such magnitude in place by lending debtors the money to pay can only be temporary. The U.S. Federal Reserve sustained this triangular flow by holding down U.S. interest rates. This made it attractive for American investors to buy German municipal bonds and other high-yielding debts. It also deterred Wall Street from drawing funds away from Britain, which would have driven its economy deeper into austerity after the General Strike of 1926. But domestically, low U.S. interest rates and easy credit spurred a real estate bubble, followed by a stock market bubble that burst in 1929. The triangular flow of payments broke down in 1931, leaving a legacy of debt deflation burdening the U.S. and European economies. The Great Depression lasted until outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Planning for the postwar period took shape as the war neared its end. U.S. diplomats had learned an important lesson. This time there would be no arms debts or reparations. The global financial system would be stabilized – on the basis of gold, and on creditor-oriented rules. By the end of the 1940s the United States held some 75 percent of the world's monetary gold stock. That established the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency, freely convertible into gold at the 1933 parity of $35 an ounce.

It also implied that once again, as in the 1920s, European balance-of-payments deficits would have to be financed mainly by the United States. Recycling of official government credit was to be filtered via the IMF and World Bank, in which U.S. diplomats alone had veto power to reject policies they found not to be in their national interest. International financial "stability" thus became a global control mechanism – to maintain creditor-oriented rules centered in the United States.

To obtain gold or dollars as backing for their own domestic monetary systems, other countries had to follow the trade and investment rules laid down by the United States. These rules called for relinquishing control over capital movements or restrictions on foreign takeovers of natural resources and the public domain as well as local industry and banking systems.

By 1950 the dollar-based global economic system had become increasingly untenable. Gold continued flowing to the United States, strengthening the dollar – until the Korean War reversed matters. From 1951 through 1971 the United States ran a deepening balance-of-payments deficit, which stemmed entirely from overseas military spending. (Private-sector trade and investment was steadily in balance.)

U.S. Treasury debt replaces the gold exchange standard

The foreign military spending that helped return American gold to Europe became a flood as the Vietnam War spread across Asia after 1962. The Treasury kept the dollar's exchange rate stable by selling gold via the London Gold Pool at $35 an ounce. Finally, in August 1971, President Nixon stopped the drain by closing the Gold Pool and halting gold convertibility of the dollar.

There was no plan for what would happen next. Most observers viewed cutting the dollar's link to gold as a defeat for the United States. It certainly ended the postwar financial order as designed in 1944. But what happened next was just the reverse of a defeat. No longer able to buy gold after 1971 (without inciting strong U.S. disapproval), central banks found only one asset in which to hold their balance-of-payments surpluses: U.S. Treasury debt. These securities no longer were "as good as gold." The United States issued them at will to finance soaring domestic budget deficits.

By shifting from gold to the dollars thrown off by the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit, the foundation of global monetary reserves came to be dominated by the U.S. military spending that continued to flood foreign central banks with surplus dollars. America's balance-of-payments deficit thus supplied the dollars that financed its domestic budget deficits and bank credit creation – via foreign central banks recycling U.S. foreign spending back to the U.S. Treasury.

In effect, foreign countries have been taxed without representation over how their loans to the U.S. Government are employed. European central banks were not yet prepared to create their own sovereign wealth funds to invest their dollar inflows in foreign stocks or direct ownership of businesses. They simply used their trade and payments surpluses to finance the U.S. budget deficit. This enabled the Treasury to cut domestic tax rates, above all on the highest income brackets.

U.S. monetary imperialism confronted European and Asian central banks with a dilemma that remains today: If they do not turn around and buy dollar assets, their currencies will rise against the dollar. Buying U.S. Treasury securities is the only practical way to stabilize their exchange rates – and in so doing, to prevent their exports from rising in dollar terms and being priced out of dollar-area markets.

The system may have developed without foresight, but quickly became deliberate. My book Super Imperialism sold best in the Washington DC area, and I was given a large contract through the Hudson Institute to explain to the Defense Department exactly how this extractive financial system worked. I was brought to the White House to explain it, and U.S. geostrategists used my book as a how-to-do-it manual (not my original intention).

Attention soon focused on the oil-exporting countries. After the U.S. quadrupled its grain export prices shortly after the 1971 gold suspension, the oil-exporting countries quadrupled their oil prices. I was informed at a White House meeting that U.S. diplomats had let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries know that they could charge as much as they wanted for their oil, but that the United States would treat it as an act of war not to keep their oil proceeds in U.S. dollar assets.

This was the point at which the international financial system became explicitly extractive. But it took until 2009, for the first attempt to withdraw from this system to occur. A conference was convened at Yekaterinburg, Russia, by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The alliance comprised Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan and Uzbekistan, with observer status for Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia. U.S. officials asked to attend as observers, but their request was rejected.

The U.S. response has been to extend the new Cold War into the financial sector, rewriting the rules of international finance to benefit the United States and its satellites – and to deter countries from seeking to break free from America's financial free ride.

The IMF changes its rules to isolate Russia and China

Aiming to isolate Russia and China, the Obama Administration's confrontational diplomacy has drawn the Bretton Woods institutions more tightly under US/NATO control. In so doing, it is disrupting the linkages put in place after World War II.

The U.S. plan was to hurt Russia's economy so much that it would be ripe for regime change ("color revolution"). But the effect was to drive it eastward, away from Western Europe to consolidate its long-term relations with China and Central Asia. Pressing Europe to shift its oil and gas purchases to U.S. allies, U.S. sanctions have disrupted German and other European trade and investment with Russia and China. It also has meant lost opportunities for European farmers, other exporters and investors – and a flood of refugees from failed post-Soviet states drawn into the NATO orbit, most recently Ukraine.

To U.S. strategists, what made changing IMF rules urgent was Ukraine's $3 billion debt falling due to Russia's National Wealth Fund in December 2015. The IMF had long withheld credit to countries refusing to pay other governments. This policy aimed primarily at protecting the financial claims of the U.S. Government, which usually played a lead role in consortia with other governments and U.S. banks. But under American pressure the IMF changed its rules in January 2015. Henceforth, it announced, it would indeed be willing to provide credit to countries in arrears other governments – implicitly headed by China (which U.S. geostrategists consider to be their main long-term adversary), Russia and others that U.S. financial warriors might want to isolate in order to force neoliberal privatization policies. [1] I provide the full background in "The IMF Changes its Rules to Isolate China and Russia," December 9, 2015, available on michael-hudson.com, Naked Capitalism , Counterpunch and Johnson's Russia List .

Article I of the IMF's 1944-45 founding charter prohibits it from lending to a member engaged in civil war or at war with another member state, or for military purposes generally. An obvious reason for this rule is that such a country is unlikely to earn the foreign exchange to pay its debt. Bombing Ukraine's own Donbass region in the East after its February 2014 coup d'état destroyed its export industry, mainly to Russia.

Withholding IMF credit could have been a lever to force adherence to the Minsk peace agreements, but U.S. diplomacy rejected that opportunity. When IMF head Christine Lagarde made a new loan to Ukraine in spring 2015, she merely expressed a verbal hope for peace. Ukrainian President Porochenko announced the next day that he would step up his civil war against the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine. One and a half-billion dollars of the IMF loan were given to banker Ihor Kolomoiski and disappeared offshore, while the oligarch used his domestic money to finance an anti-Donbass army. A million refugees were driven east into Russia; others fled west via Poland as the economy and Ukraine's currency plunged.

The IMF broke four of its rules by lending to Ukraine: (1) Not to lend to a country that has no visible means to pay back the loan (the "No More Argentinas" rule, adopted after the IMF's disastrous 2001 loan to that country). (2) Not to lend to a country that repudiates its debt to official creditors (the rule originally intended to enforce payment to U.S.-based institutions). (3) Not to lend to a country at war – and indeed, destroying its export capacity and hence its balance-of-payments ability to pay back the loan. Finally (4), not to lend to a country unlikely to impose the IMF's austerity "conditionalities." Ukraine did agree to override democratic opposition and cut back pensions, but its junta proved too unstable to impose the austerity terms on which the IMF insisted.

U.S. neoliberalism promotes privatization carve-ups of debtor countries

Since World War II the United States has used the Dollar Standard and its dominant role in the IMF and World Bank to steer trade and investment along lines benefiting its own economy. But now that the growth of China's mixed economy has outstripped all others while Russia finally is beginning to recover, countries have the option of borrowing from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and other non-U.S. consortia.

At stake is much more than just which nations will get the contracting and banking business. At issue is whether the philosophy of development will follow the classical path based on public infrastructure investment, or whether public sectors will be privatized and planning turned over to rent-seeking corporations.

What made the United States and Germany the leading industrial nations of the 20 th century – and more recently, China – has been public investment in economic infrastructure. The aim was to lower the price of living and doing business by providing basic services on a subsidized basis or freely. By contrast, U.S. privatizers have brought debt leverage to bear on Third World countries, post-Soviet economies and most recently on southern Europe to force selloffs. Current plans to cap neoliberal policy with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) go so far as to disable government planning power to the financial and corporate sector.

American strategists evidently hoped that the threat of isolating Russia, China and other countries would bring them to heel if they tried to denominate trade and investment in their own national currencies. Their choice would be either to suffer sanctions like those imposed on Cuba and Iran, or to avoid exclusion by acquiescing in the dollarized financial and trade system and its drives to financialize their economies under U.S. control.

The problem with surrendering is that this Washington Consensus is extractive and lives in the short run, laying the seeds of financial dependency, debt-leveraged bubbles and subsequent debt deflation and austerity. The financial business plan is to carve out opportunities for price gouging and corporate profits. Today's U.S.-sponsored trade and investment treaties would make governments pay fines equal to the amount that environmental and price regulations, laws protecting consumers and other social policies might reduce corporate profits. "Companies would be able to demand compensation from countries whose health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies they thought to be undermining their interests, and take governments before extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals, organised under World Bank and UN rules, would have the power to order taxpayers to pay extensive compensation over legislation seen as undermining a company's 'expected future profits.' "

[2] Lori M. Wallach, "The corporation invasion," La Monde Diplomatique , December 2, 2013, http://mondediplo.com/2013/12/02tafta . She adds: "Some investors have a very broad conception of their rights. European companies have recently launched legal actions against the raising of the minimum wage in Egypt; Renco has fought anti-toxic emissions policy in Peru, using a free trade agreement between that country and the US to defend its right to pollute (6). US tobacco giant Philip Morris has launched cases against Uruguay and Australia over their anti-smoking legislation." See also Yves Smith, "Germany Bucking Toxic, Nation-State Eroding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership," Naked Capitalism , July 17, 2014, and "Germany Turning Sour on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership," Naked Capitalism, October 30, 2014.

This policy threat is splitting the world into pro-U.S. satellites and economies maintaining public infrastructure investment and what used to be viewed as progressive capitalism. U.S.-sponsored neoliberalism supporting its own financial and corporate interests has driven Russia, China and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into an alliance to protect their economic self-sufficiency rather than becoming dependent on dollarized credit enmeshing them in foreign-currency debt.

At the center of today's global split are the last few centuries of Western social and democratic reform. Seeking to follow the classical Western development path by retaining a mixed public/private economy, China, Russia and other nations find it easier to create new institutions such as the AIIB than to reform the dollar standard IMF and World Bank. Their choice is between short-term gains by dependency leading to austerity, or long-term development with independence and ultimate prosperity.

The price of resistance involves risking military or covert overthrow. Long before the Ukraine crisis, the United States has dropped the pretense of backing democracies. The die was cast in 1953 with the coup against Iran's secular government, and the 1954 coup in Guatemala to oppose land reform. Support for client oligarchies and dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960 and '70s was highlighted by the overthrow of Allende in Chile and Operation Condor's assassination program throughout the continent. Under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the United States has claimed that America's status as the world's "indispensible nation" entitled it back the recent coups in Honduras and Ukraine, and to sponsor the NATO attack on Libya and Syria, leaving Europe to absorb the refugees.

Germany's choice

This is not how the Enlightenment was supposed to evolve. The industrial takeoff of Germany and other European nations involved a long fight to free markets from the land rents and financial charges siphoned off by their landed aristocracies and bankers. That was the essence of classical 19 th -century political economy and 20 th -century social democracy. Most economists a century ago expected industrial capitalism to produce an economy of abundance, and democratic reforms to endorse public infrastructure investment and regulation to hold down the cost of living and doing business. But U.S. economic diplomacy now threatens to radically reverse this economic ideology by aiming to dismantle public regulatory power and impose a radical privatization agenda under the TTIP and TAFTA.

Textbook trade theory depicts trade and investment as helping poorer countries catch up, compelling them to survive by becoming more democratic to overcome their vested interests and oligarchies along the lines pioneered by European and North American industrial economies. Instead, the world is polarizing, not converging. The trans-Atlantic financial bubble has left a legacy of austerity since 2008. Debt-ridden economies are being told to cope with their downturns by privatizing their public domain.

The immediate question facing Germany and the rest of Western Europe is how long they will sacrifice their trade and investment opportunities with Russia, Iran and other economies by adhering to U.S.-sponsored sanctions. American intransigence threatens to force an either/or choice in what looms as a seismic geopolitical shift over the proper role of governments: Should their public sectors provide basic services and protect populations from predatory monopolies, rent extraction and financial polarization?

Today's global financial crisis can be traced back to World War I and its aftermath. The principle that needed to be voiced was the right of sovereign nations not to be forced to sacrifice their economic survival on the altar of inter-government and private debt demands. The concept of nationhood embodied in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia based international law on the principle of parity of sovereign states and non-interference. Without a global alternative to letting debt dynamics polarize societies and tear economies apart, monetary imperialism by creditor nations is inevitable.

The past century's global fracture between creditor and debtor economies has interrupted what seemed to be Europe's democratic destiny to empower governments to override financial and other rentier interests. Instead, the West is following U.S. diplomatic leadership back into the age when these interests ruled governments. This conflict between creditors and democracy, between oligarchy and economic growth (and indeed, survival) will remain the defining issue of our epoch over the next generation, and probably for the remainder of the 21 st century.

Endnotes

[1] I provide the full background in "The IMF Changes its Rules to Isolate China and Russia," December 9, 2015, available on michael-hudson.com, Naked Capitalism , Counterpunch and Johnson's Russia List .

[2] Lori M. Wallach, "The corporation invasion," La Monde Diplomatique , December 2, 2013, http://mondediplo.com/2013/12/02tafta . She adds: "Some investors have a very broad conception of their rights. European companies have recently launched legal actions against the raising of the minimum wage in Egypt; Renco has fought anti-toxic emissions policy in Peru, using a free trade agreement between that country and the US to defend its right to pollute ( 6 ). US tobacco giant Philip Morris has launched cases against Uruguay and Australia over their anti-smoking legislation." See also Yves Smith , " Germany Bucking Toxic, Nation-State Eroding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ," Naked Capitalism , July 17, 2014 , and " Germany Turning Sour on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ," Naked Capitalism, October 30, 2014 .

Priss Factor , Website November 30, 2017 at 5:28 am GMT

More like Dollar Supremacism

The Alarmist , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 8:02 am GMT

"Austerity" is such a misused word these days. What the Allies did to Germany after Versailles was austerity, and everyone paid dearly for it.

What the IMF and the Western Banking Cartel do to third world countries is akin to a pusher hopping up addicts on debt and then taking it away while stripping them of their assets, pretty much hurting only the people of the third world country; certainly not the WBC, and almost certainly not the criminal elite who took the deal.

The Austerity everyone complains about in the developed world these days is a joke, hardly austerity, for it has never meant more than doing a little less deficit-spending than in prior periods, e.g. UK Labour whining about "Austerity" is a joke, as the UK debt has done nothing but grow, which in terms understandable to simple folk like me means they are spending more than they can afford to carry.

jilles dykstra , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 8:15 am GMT
" The immediate question facing Germany and the rest of Western Europe is how long they will sacrifice their trade and investment opportunities with Russia, Iran and other economies by adhering to U.S.-sponsored sanctions "

In the whole article not a word about the euro, also an instrument of imperialism, that mainly benefits Germany, the country that has to maintain a high level of exports, in order to feed the Germans, and import raw materials for Germany's industries.

Isolating China and Russia, with the other BRICS countries, S Africa, Brazil, India, dangerous game.
This effort forced China and Russia to close cooperation, the economic expression of this is the Peking Petersburg railway, with a hub in Khazakstan, where the containers are lifted from the Chinese to the Russian system, the width differs.
Four days for the trip.
The Berlin Baghdad railway was an important cause for WWI.
Let us hope that history does not repeat itself in the nuclear era.

Edward Mead Earle, Ph.D., 'Turkey, The Great Powers and The Bagdad Railway, A study in Imperialism', 1923, 1924, New York

jacques sheete , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 11:29 am GMT
Another excellent article.

The U.S. response has been to extend the new Cold War into the financial sector, rewriting the rules of international finance to benefit the United States and its satellites – and to deter countries from seeking t o break free from America's financial free ride .

Nah, the NY banksters wouldn't dream of doing such a thing; would they?

skrik , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 11:29 am GMT

This is not how the Enlightenment was supposed to evolve

What I said, and beautifully put, the whole article.

World War I may well have been an important way-point, but the miserable mercantile modus operandi was well established long before.

An interesting A/B case:

a) wiki/Anglo-Persian Oil Company "In 1901 William Knox D'Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated an oil concession with Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar of Persia. He financed this with capital he had made from his shares in the highly profitable Mount Morgan mine in Queensland, Australia. D'Arcy assumed exclusive rights to prospect for oil for 60 years in a vast tract of territory including most of Iran. In exchange the Shah received £20,000 (£2.0 million today),[1] an equal amount in shares of D'Arcy's company, and a promise of 16% of future profits." Note the 16% = ~1/6, the rest going off-shore.

b) The Greens in Aus researched the resources sector in Aus, to find that it is 83% 'owned' by off-shore entities. Note that 83% = ~5/6, which goes off-shore. Coincidence?

Then see what happened when the erstwhile APOC was nationalized; the US/UK perpetrated a coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh, eventual blow-back resulting in the 1979 revolution, basically taking Iran out of 'the West.'

Note that in Aus, the democratically elected so-called 'leaders' not only allow exactly this sort of economic rape, they actively assist it by, say, crippling the central bank and pleading for FDI = selling our, we the people's interests, out. Those traitor-leaders are reversing 'Enlightenment' provisions, privatising whatever they can and, as Michael Hudson well points out the principles, running Aus into debt and austerity.

We the people are powerless passengers, and to add insult to injury, the taxpayer-funded AusBC lies to us continually. Ho, hum; just like the mainly US/Z MSM and the BBC do – all corrupt and venal. Bah!

Now, cue the trolls: "But Russia/China are worse!"

jacques sheete , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm GMT

The immediate question facing Germany and the rest of Western Europe is how long they will sacrifice their trade and investment opportunities with Russia, Iran and other economies by adhering to U.S.-sponsored sanctions.

US banking oligarchs will expend the last drop of our blood to prevent a such a linking, just as they were willing to sacrifice our blood and treasure in WW1 and 2, as is alluded to here.:

Today's global financial crisis can be traced back to World War I and its aftermath.

Excellent.:

The principle that needed to be voiced was the right of sovereign nations not to be forced to sacrifice their economic survival on the altar of inter-government and private debt demands Without a global alternative to letting debt dynamics polarize societies and tear economies apart, monetary imperialism by creditor nations is inevitable.

This is a gem of a summary.:

The past century's global fracture between creditor and debtor economies has interrupted what seemed to be Europe's democratic destiny to empower governments to override financial and other rentier interests. Instead, the West is following U.S. diplomatic leadership back into the age when these interests ruled governments. This conflict between creditors and democracy, between oligarchy and economic growth (and indeed, survival) will remain the defining issue of our epoch over the next generation, and probably for the remainder of the 21st century.

Instead, the West is following U.S. diplomatic leadership back into the age when these interests ruled governments. It's important to note that such interests have ruled (owned, actually) imperial Britain for centuries and the US since its inception, and the anti-federalists knew it.

Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain.

You will find all the strength of this country in the hands of your enemies [ ed comment: the money grubbers ]

Patrick Henry June 5 and 7, 1788―1788-1789 Petersburg, Virginia edition of the Debates and other Proceedings . . . Of the Virginia Convention of 1788

The Constitution had been laid down under unacceptable auspices; its history had been that of a coup d'état.

It had been drafted, in the first place, by men representing special economic interests. Four-fifths of them were public creditors, one-third were land speculators, and one-fifth represented interests in shipping, manufacturing, and merchandising. Most of them were lawyers. Not one of them represented the interest of production -- Vilescit origine tali.

- Albert Jay Nock [Excerpted from chapter 5 of Albert Jay Nock's Jefferson, published in 1926]

Biff , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 12:39 pm GMT
The golden rule is one thing. The paper rule is something else. May you live in interesting times.
Jake , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:09 pm GMT
"After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts." The Yank banker, the Yankee Wall Street super rich, set off a process of greed that led to Hitler.

But they didn't invent anything. They learned from their WASP forebears in the British Empire, whose banking back to Oliver Cromwell had become inextricably entangled with Jewish money and Jewish interests to the point that Jews per capita dominated it even at the height of the British Empire, when simpleton WASPs assume that WASPs truly ran everything, and that WASP power was for the good of even the poorest WASPs.

Joe Hide , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:12 pm GMT
To Michael Hudson,
Great article. Evidence based, factually argued, enjoyably readable.
Replacements for the dollar dominated financial system are well into development. Digital dollars, credit cards, paypal, stock and currency exchange online platforms, and perhaps most intriguing The exponential rise of Bitcoin and similar crypto-currencies.

The internet is also exponentially exposing the screwing we peasants have been getting by the psychopath, narcissistic, hedonistic, predatory lenders and controllers. Next comes the widespread, easily usable, and inexpensive cell phone apps, social media exposures, alternative websites (like Unz.com), and other technologies that will quickly identify every lying, evil, jerk so they can be neutrilized / avoided

The Alarmist , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:13 pm GMT

"Textbook trade theory depicts trade and investment as helping poorer countries catch up, compelling them to survive by becoming more democratic to overcome their vested interests and oligarchies along the lines pioneered by European and North American industrial economies."

I must be old; the economic textbooks I had did explain the benefits of freer trade among nations using Ricardo and Trade Indifference Curves, but didn't prescribe any one political system being fostered by or even necessary for the benefits of international trade to be reaped.

Astuteobservor II , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:26 pm GMT
to be honest, this way of running things only need to last for 10-20 more years before automation will replace 800 million jobs. then we will have a few trillionaire overlords unless true AI comes online. by that point nothing matters as we will become zoo animals.
jacques sheete , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:36 pm GMT
@The Alarmist

What the IMF and the Western Banking Cartel do to third world countries is akin to a pusher hopping up addicts on debt and then taking it away while stripping them of their assets, pretty much hurting only the people of the third world country; certainly not the WBC, and almost certainly not the criminal elite who took the deal.

That's true and the criminals do similar asset stripping to their own as well, through various means.

It's always the big criminals against the rest of us.

jacques sheete , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:48 pm GMT
@jilles dykstra

The Berlin Baghdad railway was an important cause for WWI.

Bingo. Stopping it was a huge factor. There was no way the banksters of the world were going to let that go forward, nor were they going to let Germany and Russia link up in any other ways. They certainly were not about to allow any threats to the Suez Canal nor any chance to let the oil fields slip from their control either.

The wars were also instigated to prevent either Germany or Russia having control of, and free access to warm water ports and the wars also were an excuse to steal vast amounts of wealth from both Germany and Russia through various means.

All pious and pompous pretexts aside, economics was the motive for (the) war (s), and the issues are not settled to this day. I.e., it's the same class of monstrously insatiable criminals who want everything for themselves who're causing the major troubles of the day.

Unfortunately, as long as we have SoB's who're eager to sacrifice our blood and treasure for their benfit, things will never change.

jacques sheete , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 2:51 pm GMT

The golden rule is one thing. The paper rule is something else.

May you live in interesting times.

The golden rule is for dreamers, unfortunately. Those who control paper money rule, and your wish has been granted; we live in times that are both interesting and fascinating, but are nevertheless the same old thing. Only the particular particulars have changed.

Michael Kenny , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 3:01 pm GMT
Essentially, the anti-EU and anti-euro line that Professor Hudson has being pushing for years, which has now morphed into a pro-Putin line as the anti-EU faction in the US have sought to use Putin as a "useful idiot" to destroy the EU. Since nobody in Europe reads these articles, Ii doesn't really matter and I certainly don't see any EU leader following the advice of someone who has never concealed his hostility to the EU's very existence: note the use of the racist slur "PIIGS" to refer to certain EU Member States. Thus, Professor Hudson is simply pushing the "let Putin win in Ukraine" line dressed up in fine-sounding economic jargon.
jacques sheete , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 3:54 pm GMT

Since nobody in Europe reads these articles, Ii doesn't really matter

None of it rally matters anyway, no matter how valid. To paraphrase Thucydides, the money grubbers do what they want and the rest of us are forced to suck it up and limp along.

and I certainly don't see any EU leader following the advice

I doubt that that's Hudson's intent in writing the article. I see it as his attempt to explain the situation to those of us who care about them even though our concern is pretty much useless.

I do thank him for taking the time to pen this stuff which I consider worthwhile and high quality.

Anonymous , Disclaimer Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm GMT
That sounds good but social media is the weapon of choice in the EU too. Lot's of kids know and love Hudson. Any half capable writer who empathetically explains why you're getting fucked is going to have some followers. Watering, nutrition, weeding. Before too long you'll be on the Eurail to your destination.
Wally , Website Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 4:23 pm GMT
@Jake

said: "The Yank banker, the Yankee Wall Street super rich, set off a process of greed that led to Hitler." If true, so what? That's a classic example of 'garbage in, garbage out'. http://www.codoh.com

nickels , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 4:48 pm GMT

This is not how the Enlightenment was supposed to evolve

In fact, this is exactly how it was supposed to work. The wave of liberal democracies was precisely to overturn the monarchies, which were the last bulwark protecting the people from the full tyranny of the financiers, who were, by nature, one-world internationalists.

William McAdoo , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 5:08 pm GMT
The real problem with this is that any form of monetary arrangement involves an implied trusteeship, with obligations on, as well as benefits for, the trustee. The US is so abusing its trusteeship through the continual use of an irresponsible sanctions regime that it risks a good portion of the world economy abandoning its system for someone else's, which may be perceived to be run more responsibility. The disaster scenario would be the US having therefore in the future to access that other system to purchase oil or minerals, and having that system do to us what we previously did to them -- sanction us out.

The proper use by the US of its controlled system thus should be a defensive one -- mainly to act so fairly to all players that it, not someone else, remains in control of the dominant worldwide exchange system. This sensible course of conduct, unfortunately, is not being pursued by the US.

joe webb , Next New Comment November 30, 2017 at 10:11 pm GMT
there is fuzzy, and then there is very fuzzy, and then there is the fuzziness compounded many-fold. The latter is this article.

Here from wiki: "

" Marx believed that capitalism was inherently built upon practices of usury and thus inevitably leading to the separation of society into two classes: one composed of those who produce value and the other, which feeds upon the first one. In "Theories of Surplus Value" (written 1862-1863), he states " that interest (in contrast to industrial profit) and rent (that is the form of landed property created by capitalist production itself) are superfetations (i.e., excessive accumulations) which are not essential to capitalist production and of which it can rid itself."

Wiki goes on to identify "rentier" as used by Marx, to be the same thing as "capitalists." What the above quotation says is that capitalism CAN rid itself of genuine rent capital. First, the feudal rents that were extracted by landowners were NOT part of a free market system. Serfdom was only one part of unfree conditions. A general condition of anarchy in rules and laws by petty principalities characteristic of feudalism, both contained commerce and human beings. There was no freedom, political or economic.

The conflation (collapsing) of rents and interest is a Marxist error which expands into complete nonsense when a competitive economy has replaced feudal conditions. ON top of that, profits from a business, firm, or industrial enterprise are NOT rents.

Any marxist is a fool to pretend otherwise, and is just another ideological (False consciousness ) fanatic.

... ... ...

Wally, Next New Comment December 1, 2017 at 1:49 am GMT
@Michael Kenny

Indeed, Putin should be praised & supported. But where is the proof that 'Russia & Trump colluded to get Trump elected'? You also ignore the overwhelming Crimean support for returning to Russia. And you won't like this at all: Trump Declares "National Day for the Victims of Communism." https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/11/07/national-day-victims-communism Hence, the Liars of the scamming "Holocau$t Industry" go crazy: https://www.salon.com/2017/11/07/trumps-national-day-for-the-victims-of-communism-is-opposite-of-holocaust-statement/

ThreeCranes , December 1, 2017 at 3:34 am GMT
@jilles dykstra

Germany loans money back to the poorer nations who buy her exports just as China loans money to the United States (they purchase roughly a third of our Treasury bonds) so that Americans can continue to buy Chinese manufactured goods.

The role to be played by the USA in the "new world order" is that of being the farmer to the world. The meticulous Asians will make stuff.

The problem with this is that it is based on 19th century notions of manufacturing. Technique today is vastly more complicated than it was in the 1820′s and a nation must do everything in its power to protect and nurture its manufacturing and scientific excellence. In the United States we have been giving this away to our competitors. We educate their children at our taxpayer's expense and they take the knowledge gained back to their native countries where, with state subsidies, they build factories that put Americans out of work. We fall further and further behind.

[Nov 24, 2017] Vanishing act: how global auditor failed to spot theft of 15% of Moldova's wealth

"..."We have organized crime specialized in finance. As a consequence of the discovery of the theft, the banks stopped issuing loans for a while. There was a domino effect which hit the leu.""
July 2, 2015

Local franchise of accountancy giant Grant Thornton was working for three of the country's largest banks when $1bn was embezzled

One of the world's leading auditors has been accused of negligence and incompetence after $1bn was siphoned out of Moldova from under its nose – a sum equivalent to 15% of the former Soviet republic's GDP.

Grant Thornton, the UK based accountancy giant with local franchises in dozens of countries, was the auditor for three of Moldova's largest banks through which the money was embezzled and spirited out of the country in complex financial transactions, some through UK companies.

As a result, the authorities had to rescue the three banks with a bailout equivalent to half the annual budget. The knock-on effect was a currency collapse and a plunge towards recession, ruining the economy almost overnight. Moldova is already Europe's poorest country.

The theft was discovered in November 2014 at Unibank, Banca de Economii and Banca Sociala , which the Moldovan member of Grant Thornton, a global network of independent firms, has been auditing since 2010, 2011 and 2013 respectively.

Iurie Chirinciuc, a Moldovan MP who was part of a commission set up to investigate the affair, believes Grant Thornton was negligent and obstructive.

"All the [audit] reports give positive opinions," he said. "How can you give a positive opinion when the situation at these banks was so grave?"

Grant Thornton said it drew the attention of the banks and relevant authorities to its concerns about the banks and that its audit reports contained alerts about loans. But Chirinciuc said it should not have given the banks a generally clean bill of health.

He claims repeated requests for the auditors to give testimony to the inquiry were "vehemently opposed".

"I have made a formal request for analysis of Grant Thornton to the central bank," Chirinciuc said. "In the commission, I was shocked to see that all state institutions were informed and updated as to the situation at the banks, but did not intervene. These circumstances make me think that very high-ranking dignitaries are involved in the theft of the billion."

Chirinciuc was also aghast that after the fraud was discovered, Grant Thornton's Moldova director, Stéphane Bridé, was appointed economy minister. Bridé told the Guardian his nomination "was made in conformity with the legislation of the Republic of Moldova, according to which my professional qualities and experience were exclusively considered".

Multiple spurious loans were granted by Banca de Economii and Unibank on the basis of false guarantees to companies that then transferred the money offshore. Some went to British companies controlled by entities registered in places where directors' identities are kept secret.Two preliminary reports – one by the parliamentary commission and the other by corporate investigation firm Kroll – suggest that fraud eventually became the main occupation of the banks.

The parliamentary report says: "The management of the banks have manifested evident lapses in professionalism and integrity … by giving credits that were compromised from the beginning" and made transactions of "fictional and fraudulent character". The MPs concluded the banks had knowingly endangered their "capacity to make basic operations" such as paying out pensions and public sector salaries.

The banks consistently misrepresented cash balances by using unorthodox "overnight deposits" – zero-interest deposits from Russian banks Interprombank, Gazprombank, Alef Bank and Metrobank – to disguise the lack of capital while continuing to give out nonperforming loans. "In essence these operations were operations of manipulation," the parliamentary report says.

So contaminated have the banks become that the IMF and World Bank have suspended programmes with Moldova, and the EU is considering following suit. World Bank country manager Alex Kremer said last week: "We are advising the authorities that the three banks ... should be liquidated." He said trying to nationalise or recapitalise the banks would risk wasting more taxpayers' money.

Moldovan prosecutors have since launched an investigation that has so far put about 30 people under criminal indictment, including bank executives. Among these is Ilan Shor, chairman of the board at Banca de Economii since April 2014, allegedly the mastermind. Shor was released from house arrest on 23 May, having agreed to cooperate with investigators. The chief prosecutor has not returned a request for comment. Shor denies wrongdoing. Earlier this month, he was elected mayor of the small town of Orhei.

Kroll's confidential report was published online in April by the speaker of the Moldovan parliament, Andrian Candu. It says a group of companies under Shor's control gradually took over the banks and in 2010 started giving never-to-be-repaid loans to themselves. When watchdogs closed in, "orders were given by management of the banks to archive loan documentation relating to the suspicious transactions". A vehicle belonging to another Shor company that collected the paperwork was subsequently stolen and burned.

Between 2011, when Shor's companies were allegedly beginning to sink their teeth into the banks, and October 2014 when the scam went bust, Kroll found the number of Shor-related companies involved grew from 10 to 39. By December 2014, 90% of Unibank's loans were to Shor group companies. Deposits recorded as being from Russian banks, which enabled Banca de Economii to make huge loans, were not received.

"Ilan Shor and individuals associated with him played an integral role in coordinating this activity," Kroll says in its report, claiming there was "a deliberate intention to extract as much benefit as possible for entities connected to Mr Shor and to the detriment of the bank". A Kroll representative said the report was leaked without consent and declined to comment further.

The "missing billion" contributed to a run on the Moldovan leu in which it lost a quarter of its value against the dollar in February.

Grant Thornton had no presence in Moldova before 2010, but its ascent has been startling. Seven of the country's 14 biggest banks became its clients in the space of four years, making it by far the biggest player in the market. International competitors such as KPMG and Deloitte steadily lost Moldova to Grant Thornton, with neither having more than two major banks on their roster in the country by 2013.

Representatives of the Moldovan Grant Thornton franchise deny impropriety and say that that auditors cannot be held responsible if clients do not disclose full financial information.

"While we would like to detect all fraud, according to International Standards of Auditing, the auditors' role is not to discover fraud, or to prosecute clients for fraud," they said in a statement. "We stand by the quality of our work – which is public record - and believe the audit opinions were correct under the circumstances."

A spokesman for the global office said Grant Thornton member firms acted autonomously and their work was only scrutinised by head office every three years. It did not respond to a question asking what it planned to do about its relationship with GT Moldova.

A Moldovan financial system insider who wishes to remain anonymous said: "It's clear Grant Thornton was at least negligent if not worse. How could it not have known what was going on, especially at Unibank where the scam was almost total?"

In its response, GT Moldova said: "Various observations were mentioned annually in the letters we addressed to management and shareholders of these banks and to the National Banks of Moldova.

"We wish to remind you that in 2013, the inquiry commission for the assets of Banca de Economii was based not only on the audit of the court and reports of the International Monetary Fund but also mentions of Grant Thornton audit."

The effect of the financial loss has been felt by ordinary Moldovans. Ion Preașcă, a finance journalist in ther capital Chișinău, said: "We have organised crime specialised in finance. As a consequence of the discovery of the theft, the banks stopped issuing loans for a while. There was a domino effect which hit the leu."

Alexei, who owns a small construction business, said: "They will invent some new taxes to make up for the damage. I had an account at Banca Sociala and have stopped using it since. I opened two new accounts in banks with foreign ownership."

Natasha, a bookkeeper, said: "The resulting price rises had bad effects. The electricity price nearly doubled from one month to the next. The bill was 300 lei [£10] and it's now 500. Pensions and salaries haven't increased."

The criminal investigation is ongoing. Neither the Moldovan National Bank or government returned requests for information. An estimated 50,000 Moldovans protested on 3 May in Chișinău, demanding justice and the recovery of the stolen money.

Thanks to Iurie Sanduta, editor of www.rise.md, for help researching this article.

[Oct 25, 2017] The Situation in Puerto Rico The Roads

Notable quotes:
"... although I haven't heard of private equity pushing Puerto Rican toll roads they would own ..."
"... My dear Lambert, were I a vulture capitalist (which I am not!), I would not put one plugged nickel into infrastructure in PR. Not toll roads, not resorts, not power grid, not rebuilding the pharma factories, nada. Because another Maria will just happen again and trash it all before sufficient ROI, and who's gonna insure it now? Insurance companies believe in climate change, whether they will admit it or not. ..."
"... But I would put a few $$$ into PR debt, and gamble that the US govt will bail *me*and my fellow vultures (not PR) out. Am I cynical enough? ..."
"... This is just incompetence. Load up cargo ships (which are the most enormous transportation devices on the planet) and bring an aircraft carrier or two with cargo helicopters to bring the goods inland: ..."
"... "The political class seems to have lost the ability to mobilize on behalf of its citizens.". It wasn't always this way. Read http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/thirty-eight-new-england-lumber-storm . ..."
"... When I read what the FDR Administration was able to accomplish amidst the devastation of New England's forests wrought by the hurricane of 1938, it brought tears to my eyes. ..."
"... "The political class seems to have lost the ability to mobilize on behalf of its citizens." ..."
"... most convenient/fast/cost effective ..."
"... If the U.S. is not an empire, Puerto Rico would not be a protectorate or whatever. If the U.S. is an empire in decline, Puerto Rico being abandoned would be a signal to the world that the U.S. dollar is in serious trouble. ..."
"... What with PR's situation and the apparent U.S. tendency to retreat from simple truths, could a collapse in preference falsification* be in progress? ..."
Oct 25, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Synoia , October 23, 2017 at 2:21 pm

[4] Too bad we don't have a Jobs Guarantee .

The most important things are guaranteed:

Funding the military, enforcing payment of debts, Profit, promises made to campaign contributors, and of course death and taxes.

Glen , October 23, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Somehow, I think our government's response to PR/Maria will be the new norm unless there are a bunch of billionaire's calling the gov reps they bought to complain. And even they may be frustrated by the current boob in the WH.

HotFlash , October 23, 2017 at 3:06 pm

although I haven't heard of private equity pushing Puerto Rican toll roads they would own

My dear Lambert, were I a vulture capitalist (which I am not!), I would not put one plugged nickel into infrastructure in PR. Not toll roads, not resorts, not power grid, not rebuilding the pharma factories, nada. Because another Maria will just happen again and trash it all before sufficient ROI, and who's gonna insure it now? Insurance companies believe in climate change, whether they will admit it or not.

But I would put a few $$$ into PR debt, and gamble that the US govt will bail *me*and my fellow vultures (not PR) out. Am I cynical enough?

PKMKII , October 23, 2017 at 3:27 pm

The Intercept has a good article on a Puerto Rican recovery for Puerto Ricans and not outside interests.

Code Name D , October 23, 2017 at 3:32 pm

What about the cars? I would imagine that many cars were destroyed, heavely damaged, or simply lost. Getting cars repaired and replaced will also be a major challenge. And this I bet would fall on the backs of the individual owners who will already be strapped for cash to begin with.

HotFlash , October 23, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Pretty well, yup. Insurance companies gonna pay pennies on the dollar, assuming you actually have insurance for stuff like this. Poor people tend to get the very minimum needed to get their vehicle on the road, which is usually liability. If you do have bountiful; coverage for Acts O'God, where are you going to get your car repaired or replaced anyway? This may sound super-cynical, even for me, but looking at those washed out and blown-away roads, getting cargo into remote places in PR is a job for sure-footed critters like mules and horses. Dirt bikes can move people over difficult terrain. So can bicycles , and they have been preparing for such a thing.

cocomaan , October 23, 2017 at 3:41 pm

The crisis in PR compared to the crises in FL and TX really opened my eyes to how dangerous and precarious it must be to live on an island, even one ostensibly connected to a powerful country. The logistical nightmare of getting things there is compounded so much by that sea barrier. At least in TX, you can call in the cajun navy who can drive their boats to the location, then launch.

So now one thing is even clearer to me: the first losers of rising sea levels and climate change disasters will be islanders. Places like the Maldives and the Leewards will have a really hard time in the next few decades.

a different chris , October 23, 2017 at 5:21 pm

>is compounded so much by that sea barrier.

??? The sea is how people got things everywhere long, long before the first steam engine (and I'm talking those Roman toy ones) was even conceived?

This is just incompetence. Load up cargo ships (which are the most enormous transportation devices on the planet) and bring an aircraft carrier or two with cargo helicopters to bring the goods inland:

"The CH-53E heavylift transport helicopter can carry cargo with a maximum weight of 13.6 t internally or 14.5 t externally."

But yes, agree on the precarity of island life.

cocomaan , October 23, 2017 at 6:39 pm

I get what both of you are saying vis a vis sea travel, Jones Act and all, but even in the best of all possible human organizations, it's still a major factor in any relief effort. It's just not nearly as easy to get people from point A to point B by boat. If your car breaks down, you're stranded, if your boat breaks down, you could easily die.

rd , October 23, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Much of the sea barrier is man-made, namely the Jones Act. As a result, it is more expensive for Puerto Rico to get supplies form the US than from non-American sources because of shipping costs.

Joel , October 23, 2017 at 11:50 pm

Could NC do a post on the Jones Act?

Do we allow foreign-flagged vessels to transport goods between, say, California and Hawaii? What about Guam and the US Virgin Islands?

Thor's Hammer , October 24, 2017 at 5:27 pm

We do live on a global island. Soot from Chinese coal burning lands on the few remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park and hastens their demise. Methane from melting permafrost in the Northwest Territories acts as a blanket to increase solar heating of the ocean surface. Increased ocean temperatures help hurricanes to explode from Category 1 to 5 almost overnight and stall over Houston as a Biblical deluge.

Three well-placed air-burst EMP nuclear bombs can disable communication and transport over most of the country. And a week without water and food being transported into New York would turn it into San Juan with no rescue boats on the horizon and frozen corpses piling up in the alleys in mid-winter.

We all live on an island -- one held together by a thin spider web of technology and resting upon an biosphere that we are waging war against with our insatiable imperative of growth.

Mark K , October 23, 2017 at 3:46 pm

"The political class seems to have lost the ability to mobilize on behalf of its citizens.". It wasn't always this way. Read http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/thirty-eight-new-england-lumber-storm .

When I read what the FDR Administration was able to accomplish amidst the devastation of New England's forests wrought by the hurricane of 1938, it brought tears to my eyes.

HotFlash , October 23, 2017 at 4:30 pm

"The political class seems to have lost the ability to mobilize on behalf of its citizens."

My momma used to say, "Where there's a will, there's a way." I have observed that if there's 'no way', it's because there is no will. I think this is the case in PR, as it was in NOLA, and as it seems to be in Houston (except for the *nice* neighbourhoods, of course). Cali fire victims, prepare to be On Your Own(tm).

JohnS , October 23, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Great job, Lambert .insight and solid research into a topic overlooked by the MSM and the politicals .

If your interest and time permits, I would love a report on what FEMA will/has provided for LONG TERM HOUSING for PR, Northern CA, and the areas hit hard by hurricanes on the USA mainland ..

I have not been able to locate much on this topic

Last I heard was that FEMA had Zero trailers on hand and had let out a contract to some company(s) to build new trailers.

In the interim, there was a report that FEMA would be distributing TENTS to some people in need of shelter. I believe this article was a report from Florida after the fist Hurricane hit there.

A look at Puerto Rico shows that there at lots of homes without roofs ..and they are probably not accessible for a trailer delivery up in the hills. In Santa Rosa, CA, there is very little affordable and available housing close to Santa Rosa. The rains will arrive and then the Mud will Turn the Sand into YUCK and MUCK.

I remember, after Katrina and her friends beat up New Orleans, a lot of folks were flown away from New Orleans (Barbara Bush opined it was probably a good deal for a lot of 'em) and many did not return. Others were put in FEMA trailers. (TREME on HBO covered the KATRINA aftermath as only David Simon can!)

Anyone else, who can provide me with links or information, is most welcome to respond.

Happy Trails,

JohnS

Bruce , October 24, 2017 at 1:16 pm

FEMA's mission is emergency/first response mobilization. It is not their job or within its functionality or budget to provide long-term rebuilding solutions. That falls on the island's government, with congressional financial assistance if congress allocates money for it.

Mel , October 23, 2017 at 4:08 pm

The Army Corps of Engineers are one thing, the other things are the Combat Engineers, organized perhaps as regiments and assigned to combat brigades. These are the people who do roads, airfields, etc., and the ones you would have wanted on the spot in Puerto Rico from maybe day two.

a different chris , October 23, 2017 at 5:29 pm

I strongly believe the problem is the deployment to the Middle East. Bullies strongly believe they must never, ever show weakness. So they believe that they can't pull Combat Engineers out of Whateveristan without looking weak.

So they don't – and they bless their lucky stars that Puerto Rico isn't a state and Puerto Ricans aren't considered Americans by most Americans. However – how many of those deployed to the ME are from Puerto Rico, and how are they reacting? I gotta wonder.

rd , October 23, 2017 at 6:06 pm

USGS has started mapping the landslide impacts:

https://landslides.usgs.gov/research/featured/2017-maria-pr/

http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2017/10/05/hurricane-maria-1/

To get a road open, you need to clear the trees and debris, repair bridges, and repair landslides. In rugged terrain, this is a serious effort as just one break makes the road unusable for deliveries beyond the break.

SerenityNow , October 23, 2017 at 7:43 pm

The Bloomberg piece explains:

Puerto Rico has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world, thanks to urban sprawl and the government's failure to build public transportation that commuters might actually use . Puerto Ricans are isolated without cars About 931,000 Puerto Ricans drive or carpool to work out of 3.4 million total residents, according to U.S. Census data. [T]he island has the fifth-highest number of vehicles per capita in the world.

The only thing I would like to mention is that people don't drive because there soley because there is no public transportation, they drive because it is the most convenient/fast/cost effective mode of travel available. You could build all the lightrail in the world, but if it wasn't more convenient/cheaper/cost effective than driving, people wouldn't take it. Disincentives for driving are much more powerful than incentives for transit.

How much road do they have per inhabitant there? Maybe disasters like these could be a wakeup call for how we lay out our development and where we spend our infrastructure dollars? Unfortunately probably not.

Vatch , October 23, 2017 at 9:28 pm

I haven't read the book or seen the movie, so maybe my comment is off base, but I'll proceed anyway. This article makes me think of the post-apocalyptic drama "The Road", by Cormac McCarthy.

AbateMagicThinking but Not money , October 23, 2017 at 11:40 pm

If the U.S. is not an empire, Puerto Rico would not be a protectorate or whatever. If the U.S. is an empire in decline, Puerto Rico being abandoned would be a signal to the world that the U.S. dollar is in serious trouble.

What with PR's situation and the apparent U.S. tendency to retreat from simple truths, could a collapse in preference falsification* be in progress?

From my side of the world, the U.S. is becoming more than ever a busted flush of apparent and unsustainable inconsistencies which might take us all down with it.

Here's hoping that there is a bounty of brilliant minds and and excellent administrators in the U.S. military leadership who are ready to step up.

Pip Pip!

*see Timur Kuran's 1995 work.

George Phillies , October 24, 2017 at 12:23 am

By report Puerto Rico is making a deal with a Washington (state) power company on power line repair, the issues involved in running power lines through PR and through inland Washington being rather similar. the last Saffir 3, 4, or 5 hurricanes ot hit the island did so in 1928 and 1932, or so I have read, so on one hand there is plenty of time to get a return on investment, and on the other hand, there was no rationale for building power lines that could survive a force 4 or 5 hurricane.

Felix_47 , October 24, 2017 at 1:18 am

Puerto Rico is third world lite. They could rebuild and become a model for the third world. There are only 3 million people on the island. They dont have to pay Fed income tax. It could be a great retirement location for elderly whites. It just requires investment. Currently the single largest employer is the US govt. They need leadership from within.

Vatch , October 24, 2017 at 10:28 am

Here's what the IRS says about Puerto Rico and income taxes (quoted from Wikipedia ):

In general, United States citizens and resident aliens who are bona fide residents of Puerto Rico during the entire tax year, which for most individuals is January 1 to December 31, are only required to file a U.S. federal income tax return if they have income sources outside of Puerto Rico or if they are employees of the U.S. government. Bona fide residents of Puerto Rico generally do not report income received from sources within Puerto Rico on their U.S. income tax return.

So they pay income tax, but only on income from outside Puerto Rico. Also from Wikipedia:

In 2009, Puerto Rico paid $3.742 billion into the US Treasury.[10] Residents of Puerto Rico pay into Social Security, and are thus eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement. However, they are excluded from the Supplemental Security Income.

The federal taxes paid by Puerto Rico residents include import/export taxes,[11] federal commodity taxes,[12] and others. Residents also pay federal payroll taxes, such as Social Security[13] and Medicare taxes.[14]

[Oct 25, 2017] Shocking the Shock Doctrine What Recovery in Puerto Rico Could Look Like

Oct 25, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

If neoliberalism is the belief that the proper role of government is to enrich the rich -- in Democratic circles they call it "wealth creation" to hide the recipients; Republicans are much more blatant -- then the " shock doctrine " is its action plan.

Click the link above for more information (or read the book ), but in essence the idea is to use any form of disaster, whether earthquake or economic/political crisis, to remake a society in the neoliberal image. To reconstruct the destroyed world, in other words, to the liking of holders of great wealth -- by privatizing everything of value held by the public (think water rights, public roads); by forcing austerity on cash-strapped governments as the price for "aid" (think loans, not grants, repaid by unwritten social insurance checks); by putting "managers," or simply loan officers, in charge of democratic decision-making.

In simple, a "shock doctrine" solution always takes this form: "Yes, we'll help you, but we now own your farm and what it produces. Also, your family must work on it for the next 50 years."

This is what happened in Chile after Pinochet and his coup murdered the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende and took over the government. It's what's happening to Greece, victim of collusion between greedy international bankers and the corrupt Greek politicians they cultivated. And it's what happened in the U.S. during the 2008 bailout of bankers, by which government money was sent in buckets to companies like AIG so they could pay their debts in full to companies like Goldman Sachs. While millions of mortgaged homeowners crashed and burned to the ground.

The populist reaction to neoliberal "reform" is usually social revolt, often or usually ineffective, since creditors are, almost by definition, people with money, and people with money, almost by definition, control most governments. In Greece, the revolt sparked the election of an (ineffective) "socialist" government -- plus the rise of the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. In the U.S. the revolt still still sparks universal (and ineffective) hatred of the 2008 bank bailout -- plus the rise of the failed Sanders candidacy and the successful Trump presidency.

The form this same revolt will take in 2018 and 2020 is still to be determined.

The Shock Doctrine and Puerto Rico

The "shock doctrine" -- the stripping of wealth from the devastated by the already-way-too-wealthy -- is now being applied to Puerto Rico. Even before the hurricanes hit it, Puerto Rico was a second-class citizen relative to states of the U.S., even among its non-state territories. In contrast to Puerto Rico, for example, the American Virgin Islands were instantly much better treated when it came to relief from the Jones Act , a sign of already-established prejudice.

The reason should be obvious. In Puerto Rico , English is the primary language of less than 10% of the people, while Spanish is the dominant language of the school system and daily life. In the American Virgin Islands , English is the dominant language, and Spanish is spoken by less than 20% of the population. The fact that two-thirds of the population of the U.S. Virgin Islands is black seems to be lost on most Americans, a fact that likely benefits those inhabitants greatly in times like these.

Thus, to most Americans the citizens of Puerto Rico are conveniently (for neoliberals) easy to paint as "them," the undeserving, which changes what atrocities can be committed in the name of "aid" -- much like it did after Hurricane Katrina devastated "them"-inhabited New Orleans.

Synoia , October 24, 2017 at 6:41 am

Puerto Rico is not Sovereign. Are its debts valid? Could they be repudiated?

Huey Long , October 24, 2017 at 8:09 am

Congress passed a law back in the 80's prohibiting PR from defaulting. Repudiation of PR debt would entail getting our current congress and prez to pass legislation to repudiate it, so in other words divine intervention ;-).

rd , October 24, 2017 at 10:56 am

The one place in the US that did get hammered by NAFTA was Puerto Rico. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/03/us/trade-pact-threatens-puerto-rico-s-economic-rise.html?pagewanted=all

When NAFTA was passed, Congress also stripped companies of tax benefits for having operations in Puerto Rico. In addition, the Jones Act makes shipping to and from Puerto Rico more expensive than shipping to and from Mexico. Oddly enough, many companies moved operations from Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico has been in recession/depression ever since.

Norb , October 24, 2017 at 9:28 am

I think Puerto Rico will be interesting to watch to see if anti neoliberal sentiment can take hold and survive. In one sense, every individual abandoned or ensnared in debt is in the same boat. Once put in a situation of debt servitude, the only recourse to extricate oneself is to become self reliant and attempt to build supporting networks. The trouble is, once those networks start to form, the traditional game plan is to bring in force and break them up.

If strong, self-supporting communities can form in PR, it will provide inspiration for communities on the mainland.

It will be also interesting to see if self-funded initiatives can make headway against the banking and financial interests.

This situation in PR is important in that it can change the focus of community building away form personal self-interest as now exists in America, and towards the common good, as it should be. The same is happening all across the mainland in economically devastated communities, but successfully blacked out in the media.

This truly is a long term endeavor, but tragically, climate change will increase the opportunities for proper action. The proper long term investment is in people and life skills. Lets roll up our sleeves.

flora , October 24, 2017 at 10:43 am

an aside:
" Once put in a situation of debt servitude, the only recourse to extricate oneself is to become self reliant and attempt to build supporting networks. "

US people born 1880 – 1900 were adults/young adults with families when the Great Depression hit. Their children, sometimes referred to as The Greatest Generation, were children or teens during the depression and saw how debt destroyed families. When those children grew up they were debt averse. The Depression/Greatest Gen's children, the Baby Boomers, would often joke their parents, who were Depression kids, could squeeze a nickel until it screamed. Boomers, having no memory of systemic economic bad times, took on large debts for school and housing on the theory their income would always increase as it had for their parents. Now the Boomers children are facing a wholly different economy, more like the Great Depression than the Booming 50's and 60's.

I expect today's younger generation will become debt averse. That would hurt the FIRE sector's reliance on ever increasing debt payment rents. Reducing the FIRE sectors influence would be good for both the Main Street economy and individuals, imo.

diptherio , October 24, 2017 at 11:52 am

It will be also interesting to see if self-funded initiatives can make headway against the banking and financial interests.

See my comment below. Puerto Rico already has a thriving, self-funded co-op movement, so I think they've got a better chance than most.

Jim Haygood , October 24, 2017 at 9:57 am

"What's killing the modern world is the world-wide overhang of personal debt -- not government deficits, which are entirely different."

This is an odd claim to make in an article about Puerto Rico, whose troubled debt is entirely governmental. Pie chart:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rican_government-debt_crisis#/media/File:Distribution-puerto-rico-outstanding-debt.png

In turn, Puerto Rico's govt debt crisis led to the imposition of a crushing 11.5% sales tax, making retail prices already jacked up by the Jones Act even more unaffordable.

Puerto Rico's recovery will depend almost entirely on how much of a haircut is imposed on bondholders versus restructuring and extending in the Greek fashion, which would doom PR forevahhhh.

Thor's Hammer , October 24, 2017 at 10:22 am

It would be interesting to compare the pace of recovery in Cuba with that of Puerto Rico. Both were hit by category 5 hurricanes within days of each other. In the case of Cuba, Havana was every much at the center of the bulls eye as San Juan Puerto Rico if I am correct. But I've not been able to uncover a single scrap of reporting that draws the comparison. Perhaps it would be embarrassing to the defenders of "free market" capitalism and social organization?

But hurricanes are last month's news. We've moved on to the startling revelations that fat pig movie directors are pussy grabbers just like our President.

Rakesh , October 24, 2017 at 12:18 pm

http://www.frontline.in/world-affairs/a-tale-of-two-islands/article9892265.ece

GlobalMisanthrope , October 24, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Thank you posting this!

I have always believed that one of the primary aims of the Cuba travel ban was to keep us Puerto Ricans from traveling there to see what isolation and poverty -- the constant threats leveled at those who support PR independence -- could look like.

Thor's Hammer , October 24, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Thanks for posting this journalism from an Indian source. While it may be accurate, the writing style reads like it was copied straight from the Ideologe's Bible. So I'll file it along most commentary from outlets like the Washington Post– assume it is fraudulent propaganda until proven otherwise.

Jeremy Grimm , October 24, 2017 at 11:48 am

It's very nice to talk about how to rebuild Puerto Rico but how long will it be before Puerto Rico is hit by another major hurricane? And while we're thinking of Puerto Rico what about Houston, and Florida? What about the North Carolina sea coast -- or New Jersey -- NYC? I don't expect anything reasonable will be done in rebuilding any of these places or beginning an orderly retreat to higher ground.

Some parts of these areas may remain habitable -- at least long enough to make it worthwhile to build infrastructure but I believe it will be a mistake to simply "rebuild". Replacement infrastructure should be built to better withstand the future storms and rising seas. I am aware that not "rebuilding" is neither socially nor politically viable. It just seems a shame to waste what time and resources remain.

diptherio , October 24, 2017 at 11:50 am

I was fortunate enough to get to meet a number of Puerto Rican cooperators at this year's Assoc. of Cooperative Educators Institute in Denver. Puerto Rico has a very strong cooperative sector/movement. Co-ops in Puerto Rico don't pay tax to the gov't. Instead, each co-op provides (iirc) 2% of net revenues to Liga de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico , the apex co-op organization for the island. This provides an internally funded support mechanism for co-ops and has helped create a thriving co-op ecosystem.

So I've got some optimism that my Puerto Rican friends will be able to replace at least some of the failed systems that have been afflicting them with cooperative, sustainable, alternative solutions.

Watt4Bob , October 24, 2017 at 11:58 am

Things are moving fast, from MSN ;

Puerto Rico has agreed to pay a reported $300 million for the restoration of its power grid to a tiny utility company which is primarily financed by a private equity firm founded and run by a man who contributed large sums of money to President Trump, an investigation conducted by The Daily Beast has found.

Whitefish Energy Holdings, which had a reported staff of only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria touched down, appears ill-equipped to handle the daunting task of restoring electricity to Puerto Rico's over 3 million residents.

As usual, donate a few thousand, reap millions.

FEC data compiled by The Daily Beast shows that Colonnetta contributed $20,000 to the "Trump Victory" PAC during the general election, $27,000 to Trump's primary election campaign (then the maximum amount permitted), $27,000 to Trump's general election campaign (also the maximum), and a total of $30,700 to the Republican National Committee in 2016 alone.

Colonnetta's wife, Kimberly, is no stranger to Republican politics either; shortly after Trump's victory she gave $33,400 to the Republican National Committee, the maximum contribution permitted for party committees in 2016.

Bears repeating, we're not only 'ruled' by whores, we're ruled by cheap whores.

Of course I make apologies to all ladies of negotiable affection.

[Oct 01, 2017] The key role of IMF and World bank in enforcement of neoliberalism globally. Neoliberals throwing out all the Keynesians in those institutions and replaced them with neoclassical supply-side theorists who subscribed to the theory of "structural adjustment" which is the essence of disaster capitalism

Notable quotes:
"... They were replaced by neoclassical supply-side theorists and the first thing they did was decide that from then on the IMF should follow a policy of structural adjustment whenever there's a crisis anywhere. ..."
"... In 1982, sure enough, there was a debt crisis in Mexico. The IMF said, "We'll save you." Actually, what they were doing was saving the New York investment banks and implementing a politics of austerity. ..."
"... The population of Mexico suffered something like a 25 percent loss of its standard of living in the four years after 1982 as a result of the structural adjustment politics of the IMF. ..."
"... What are they doing to Greece now ? It's almost a copy of what they did to Mexico back in 1982, only more savvy. This is also what happened in the United States in 2007–8. They bailed out the banks and made the people pay through a politics of austerity. ..."
Oct 01, 2017 | www.jacobinmag.com

BSR There have been numerous crises since 2007. How does the history and concept of neoliberalism help us understand them? DH There were very few crises between 1945 and 1973; there were some serious moments but no major crises. The turn to neoliberal politics occurred in the midst of a crisis in the 1970s , and the whole system has been a series of crises ever since. And of course crises produce the conditions of future crises.

In 1982–85 there was a debt crisis in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, and basically all the developing countries including Poland. In 1987–88 there was a big crisis in US savings and loan institutions. There was a wide crisis in Sweden in 1990, and all the banks had to be nationalized .

Then of course we have Indonesia and Southeast Asia in 1997–98, then the crisis moves to Russia, then to Brazil, and it hits Argentina in 2001–2.

And there were problems in the United States in 2001 which they got through by taking money out of the stock market and pouring it into the housing market. In 2007–8 the US housing market imploded, so you got a crisis here.

You can look at a map of the world and watch the crisis tendencies move around. Thinking about neoliberalism is helpful to understanding these tendencies.

One of big moves of neoliberalization was throwing out all the Keynesians from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1982 -- a total clean-out of all the economic advisers who held Keynesian views .

They were replaced by neoclassical supply-side theorists and the first thing they did was decide that from then on the IMF should follow a policy of structural adjustment whenever there's a crisis anywhere.

In 1982, sure enough, there was a debt crisis in Mexico. The IMF said, "We'll save you." Actually, what they were doing was saving the New York investment banks and implementing a politics of austerity.

The population of Mexico suffered something like a 25 percent loss of its standard of living in the four years after 1982 as a result of the structural adjustment politics of the IMF.

Since then Mexico has had about four structural adjustments. Many other countries have had more than one. This became standard practice.

What are they doing to Greece now ? It's almost a copy of what they did to Mexico back in 1982, only more savvy. This is also what happened in the United States in 2007–8. They bailed out the banks and made the people pay through a politics of austerity. BSR Is there anything about the recent crises and the ways in which they have been managed by the ruling classes that have made you rethink your theory of neoliberalism? DH Well, I don't think capitalist class solidarity today is what it was. Geopolitically, the United States is not in a position to call the shots globally as it was in the 1970s.

I think we're seeing a regionalization of global power structures within the state system -- regional hegemons like Germany in Europe, Brazil in Latin America, China in East Asia.

Obviously, the United States still has a global position, but times have changed. Obama can go to the G20 and say, "We should do this," and Angela Merkel can say, "We're not doing that." That would not have happened in the 1970s.

So the geopolitical situation has become more regionalized, there's more autonomy. I think that's partly a result of the end of the Cold War. Countries like Germany no longer rely on the United States for protection.

Furthermore, what has been called the "new capitalist class" of Bill Gates , Amazon , and Silicon Valley has a different politics than traditional oil and energy.

As a result they tend to go their own particular ways, so there's a lot of sectional rivalry between, say, energy and finance, and energy and the Silicon Valley crowd, and so on. There are serious divisions that are evident on something like climate change, for example.

The other thing I think is crucial is that the neoliberal push of the 1970s didn't pass without strong resistance. There was massive resistance from labor, from communist parties in Europe, and so on.

But I would say that by the end of the 1980s the battle was lost. So to the degree that resistance has disappeared, labor doesn't have the power it once had, solidarity among the ruling class is no longer necessary for it to work.

It doesn't have to get together and do something about struggle from below because there is no threat anymore. The ruling class is doing extremely well so it doesn't really have to change anything.

Yet while the capitalist class is doing very well, capitalism is doing rather badly. Profit rates have recovered but reinvestment rates are appallingly low, so a lot of money is not circulating back into production and is flowing into land-grabs and asset-procurement instead.

[Aug 24, 2017] Putting an End to the Rent Economy by Michael Hudson

Notable quotes:
"... Interview with Vlado Plaga in the German magazine FAIRCONOMY, September 2017. ..."
"... Absentee Ownership and its Discontents ..."
"... Theories of Surplus Value ..."
"... Clue to the Economic Labyrinth ..."
"... is the author of Killing the Host (published in e-format by CounterPunch Books and in print by Islet ). His new book is J is For Junk Economics . He can be reached at mh@michael-hudson.com ..."
Aug 16, 2017 | www.unz.com

Interview with Vlado Plaga in the German magazine FAIRCONOMY, September 2017.

Originally, you didn't want to become an economist. How did it come that you changed your plans and digged so deep into economics?

I found economics aesthetic, as beautiful as astronomy. I came to New York expecting to become an orchestra conductor, but I met one of the leading Wall Street economists, who convinced me that economics and finance was beautiful.

I was intrigued by the concept of compound interest. and by the autumnal drain of money from the banking system to move the crops at harvest time. That is when most crashes occurred. The flow of funds was the key.

I saw that there economic cycles were mainly financial: the build-up of debt and its cancellation or wipe-out and bankruptcy occurring again and again throughout history. I wanted to study the rise and fall of financial economies.

But when you studied at the New York University you were not taught the things that really interested you, were you?

I got a PhD as a union card. In order to work on Wall Street, I needed a PhD. But what I found in the textbooks was the opposite of everything that I experienced on Wall Street in the real world. Academic textbooks describe a parallel universe. When I tried to be helpful and pointed out to my professors that the texbooks had little to do with how the economy and Wall Street actually work, that did not help me get good grades. I think I got a C+ in money and banking.

So I scraped by, got a PhD and lived happily ever after in the real world.

So you had to find out on your own Your first job was at the Savings Banks Trust Company, a trust established by the 127 savings banks that still existed in New York in the 1960s. And you somehow hit the bull's eye and were set on the right track, right from the start: you've been exploring the relationship between money and land. You had an interesting job there. What was it?

Savings banks were much like Germany's Landesbanks. They take local deposits and lend them out to home buyers. Savings and Loan Associations (S&Ls) did the same thing. They were restricted to lending to real estate, not personal loans or for corporate business loans. (Today, they have all been turned into commercial banks.)

I noticed two dynamics. One is that savings grew exponentially, almost entirely by depositors getting dividends every 3 months. So every three months I found a sudden jump in savings. This savings growth consisted mainly of the interest that accrued. So there was an exponential growth of savings simply by inertia.

The second dynamic was that all this exponential growth in savings was recycled into the real estate market. What has pushed up housing prices in the US is the availability of mortgage credit. In charting the growth of mortgage lending and savings in New York State, I found a recycling of savings into mortgages. That meant an exponential growth in savings to lend to buyers of real estate. So the cause of rising real estate prices wasn't population or infrastructure. It was simply that properties are worth whatever banks are able and willing to lend against them.

As the banks have more and more money, they have lowered their lending standards.

It's kind of automatic, it's just a mathematical law

Yes, a mathematical law that is independend of the economy. In other words, savings grow whether or not the economy is growing. The interest paid to bondholders, savers and other creditors continues to accrue. That turns out to be the key to understanding why today's economy is polarizing between creditors and debtors.

You wrote in " Killing the Host " that your graphs looked like Hokusai's "Great Wave off Konagawa" or even more like a cardiogram. Why?

Any rate of interest has a doubling time. One way or another any interest-bearing debt grows and grows. It usually grows whenever interest is paid. That's why it looks like a cardiogram: Every three months there's a jump. So it's like the Hokusai wave with a zigzag to reflect the timing of interest payments every three months.

The exponential growth of finance capital and interest-bearing debt grows much faster then the rest oft he economy, which tends to taper off in an S-curve. That's what causes the business cycle to turn down. It's not really a cycle, it's more like a slow buildup like a wave and then a sudden

This has been going on for a century. Repeated financial waves build up until the economy becomes so top-heavy with debt that it crashes. A crash used to occur every 11 years in the 19th century. But in the United States from 1945 to 2008, the exponential upswing was kept artificially long by creating more and more debt financing. So the crash was postponed until 2008.

Most crashes since the 19th century had a silver lining: They wiped out the bad debts. But this time the debts were left in place, leading to a masive wave of foreclosures. We are now suffering from debt deflation. Instead of a recovery, there's just a flat line for 99% of the economy.

The only layer of the economy that is growing is the wealthiest 5% layer – mainly the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector. That is, creditors living of interest and economic rent: monopoly rent, land rent and financial interest. The rest of the economy is slowly but steadily shrinking.

And the compound interest that was accumulated was issued by the banks as new mortgages. Isn't this only logical for the banks to do?

Savings banks and S&Ls were only allowed to lend for mortgages. Commercial banks now look for the largest parts of the economy as their customers. Despite the fact that most economic textbooks describe industry and manufacturing as being the main part of economy, real estate actually is the largest sector. So most bank lending is against real estate and, after that, oil, gas and mining.

That explains why the banking and financial interests have become the main lobbyists urging that real estate, mining and oil and gas be untaxed – so that there'll be more economic rent left to pay the banks. Most land rent and natural resource rent is paid out as interest to the banks instead of as taxes to the government.

So instead of housing becoming cheaper and cheaper it turns out to be much less affordable in our days than in the 1960s?

Credit creation has inflated asset prices. The resulting asset-price inflation is the distinguishing financial feature of our time. In a race tot he bottom, banks have steadily lowered the terms on which they make loans. This has made the eocnomy more risky.

In the 1960s, banks required a 25-30% down payment by the buyer, and limited the burden of mortgage debt service to only 25% of the borrower's income. But interest is now federally guaranteed up to 43% of the home buyer's income. And by 2008, banks were making loans no down payment at all. Finally, loans in the 1960s were self-amortizing over 30 years. Today we have interest-only loans that are never paid off.

So banks loan much more of the property's market price. That is why most of the rental value of land isn't paid to the homeowner or commercial landlord any more. It's paid to the banks as interest.

Was this the reason for the savings and loan crisis that hit the US in 1986 and that was responsible for the failure of 1,043 out of the 3,234 savings and loan associations in the United States from 1986 to 1995?

The problem with the savings and loan crisis was mainly fraud! The large California S&L's were run by crooks, topped by Charles Keating. Many were prosecuted for fraud and sent to jail. By the 1980s the financial sector as a whole had become basically a criminalized sector. My colleague Bill Black has documented most of that. He was a prosecutor of the S&L frauds in the 1980s, and wrote a book "The best way to rob a bank is to own one".

That's a famous quotation, I also heard that.

Fraud was the main financial problem, and remains so.

Since 2007 Americans were strangled by their mortgages in the sub-prime crisis

These were essentially junk mortgages, and once again it was fraud. Already in 2004 the FBI said that the American economy was suffering the worst wave of bank fraud in history. Yet there was no prosecution. Essentially in the United States today, financial fraud is de-criminalized. No banker has been sent to jail, despite banks paying hundreds of billions of dollars of fines for financial fraud. These fines are a small portion of what they took illegally. Such paymets are merely a cost of doing business. The English language was expanded to recognize junk loans. Before the financial crash the popular press was using the word "junk mortgages" and "Ninjas": "No Income, No Jobs, no Assets". So everybody knew that there was fraud, and the bankers knew they would not go to jail, because Wall Street had become the main campaign contributer to the leading politicians, especially in the Democratic party. The Obama Administration came in basically as representatives of the bank fraudsters. And the fraud continues today. The crooks have taken over the banking system. It is hard for Europeans to realize that that this really has happened in America. The banks have turned into gangsters, which is why already in the 1930s President Roosevelt coined the word "banksters".

I also heard the nice English sayings "Too big to fail" or "Too big to jail"
But what has become of those 10 million households that ended up losing their homes to foreclosure? How are their economic and living conditions today? What has become of their houses? The economy has recovered

Most of the houses that were foreclosed on have been bought out by hedge funds for all cash. In the wake of 2008, by 2009 and 2010 hedge funds were saying "If you have $5,000,000 to invest, we're going to buy these houses that are being sold at distress prices. We're going to buy foreclosed properties for all cash, because we can make a larger rate of return simply by renting them out." So there has been a transfer of property from homeowners to the financial sector. The rate of home-ownership in America is dropping.

The economy itself has not recovered. All economic growth since 2008 has accrued only to the top 5% of the economy. 95% of the economy has been shrinking by about 3% per year and continues to shrink, because the debts were kept in place. President Obama saved the banks and Wall Street instead of saving the economy.

That's why we live in an "age of deception" as the sub-title of your latest book suggests, I guess?

"People have the idea that when house prices go up, somehow everybody's getting richer. And it's true that the entry to the middle class for the last hundred years has been to be able to own your own home "

What is deceptive is the fact that attention is distracted away from how the real world works, and how unfair it is. Economics textbooks teach that the economy is in equilibrium and is balanced. But every economy in the world is polarizing between creditors and debtors. Wealth is being sucked up to the top of the economic pyramid mainly by bondholders and bankers. The textbooks act as if the economy operates on barter. Nobel prices for Paul Samuelson and his followers treat the economy as what they call the "real economy," which is a fictitious economy that in theory would work without money or debt. But that isn't the real economy at all. It is a parallel universe. So the textbooks talk about a parallel universe that might exist logically, but has very little to do with how the real economy works in today's world.

If you had a picture you'd see me nodding all the time, because that's what I also found out: if you look at the mathematics, it is polarizing all the time, it is de-stabilizing. Without government interference we'd have crash after crash It is not under control anymore.

But you also suggest that there's another factor that makes housing prices go up – and that's property tax cuts. Why?

"Taxes were shifted off the Donald Trumps of the world and onto homeowners ."

Whatever the tax collector relinquishes leaves more rental income available to be paid to the banks. Commercial real estate investors have a motto: "Rent is for paying interest." When buyers bid for an office building or a house, the buyer who wins is the one who is able to get the largest bank loan. And that person is the one who pays all the rent to the bank. The reason why commercial investors were willing to do this for so many decades is that they wanted to get the capital gain – which really was the inflation of real estate prices as a result of easier credit. But now that the economy is "loand up," prospects for further capital gains are gone. So the prices are not rising much anymore. There is no reason to be borrowing. So the system is imploding.

So, how could we change the situation and make land a public utility?

There are two ways to do this. One way is to fully tax the land's rental value. Public investment in infrastructure – roads, schools, parks, water and sewer systems – make a location more desirable. A subway line, like the Jubilee tube line in London, increases real estate prices all along the line. The resulting rise in rents increases prices for housing. This rental value could be taxed back by the community to pay for this infrastructure. Roads and subways, water and sewer systems could be financed by re-capturing the rental value of the land that this public investment creates. But that is not done. A free lunch is left in private hands.

The alternative is direct public ownership of the land, which would be leased out to whatever is deemed to be most socially desirable, keeping down the rental cost. In New York City, for instance, restaurants and small businesses are being forced out. They're closing down because of the rising rents. The character of the economy is changing. It is getting rid of the bookstores, restaurants and low-profit enterprises. Either there should be a land tax, or public ownership of the land. Those are the alternatives. If you tax away the land's rent, it would not be available to be paid to the banks. You could afford to cut taxes on labor. You could cut the income tax, and you could cut taxes on consumption. That would reduce the cost of living.

To me that's pretty close to the position of Georgists on how to handle land, isn't it?

I don't like to mention Henry George, because he didn't have a theory of land rent or of the role of the financial sector and debt creation. The idea of land tax came originally from the Physiocrats in France, François Quesnay, and then from Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and in America from Thorstein Veblen and Simon Patten . All of these economists clarified the analysis of land rent, who ended up with it, and how it should be taxed. In order to have a theory of how much land rent there is to tax, you need a value and price theory. Henry George's value theory was quite confused. Worst of all, he spent the last two decades of his life fighting against socialists and labor reformers. He was an irascible journalist, not an economist.

The classical economists wrote everything you need to know about land rent and tax policy. That was the emphasis of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill all the classical economists. The purpose of their value and price theory was to isolate that part of the economy's income that was unearned: economic rent, land rent, monopoly rent, and financial interest. I think it is necessary to put the discussion of tax policy and rent policy back in this classical economic context. Henry George was not part of that. He was simply a right-wing journalist whom libertarians use to promote neoliberal Thatcherite deregulation and anti-government ideology. In Germany, his followers were among the first to support the Nazi Party already in the early 1920s, for instance, Adolf Damaschke. Anti-Semitism also marked George's leading American followers in the 1930s and ‚40s.

So I guess I have to go back a bit further in history, to read the original Physiocrats as well

John Stuart Mill is good, Simon Patten is good, Thorstein Veblen is wonderful. Veblen was writing about the financialization of real estate in the 1920s in his Absentee Ownership . I recently edited a volume on him: Absentee Ownership and its Discontents (ISLET, Dresden, 2016).

Germany's land tax reform seems to go in the wrong direction. Germany has to establish new rules for it's "Grundsteuer" that in fact is a mingled tax on land and the buildings standing on it, based on outdated rateable values of 1964 (in the West) and 1935 (in the East). The current reform proposals of the federal states will maintain this improper mingling and intend a revenue neutral reform of this already very low tax. It brings about 11 billion Euro to the municipal authorities, but this is only 2% of the total German tax revenue, whereas wage tax and sales tax make up for 25% each. We need a complete tax shift, don't we?

Germany is indeed suffering from rising housing prices. I think there are a number of reasons for this. One is that Germans have not had a real estate bubble like what occurred in the US or England. They did lose money in the stock market, and many decided simply to put their money in their own property. There is also a lot of foreign money coming into Germany to buy property, especially in Berlin.

The only way to keep housing prices down is to tax awat the rise in the land value. If this is done, speculators are not going to buy. Only homeowners or commercial users will buy for themselves. You don't want speculators or bank credit to push up prices. If Germany lets its housing prices rise, it is going to price its labor out of the market. It would lose its competitive advantage, because the largest expense in every wage-earner's budget is the cost of housing. In Ricardo's era it was food; today it is housing. So Germany should focus on how to keep its housing prices low.

I'd like to come back to the issue of interest once more. The English title of "Der Sektor" is " Killing the host – How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy". It's much more coming to the point. It struck me that you mention John Brown. He wrote a book called "Parasitic wealth or Money Reform" in 1898. I came across his book some years ago and thought that he was somehow America's Helmut Creutz of the 19th century. He was a supporter of Henry George, but in addition John Brown analyzed and criticized the interest money system and its redistribution of wealth. He said that labour is robbed of 33% of its earnings by the parasitic wealth with subtle and insideous methods, so that it's not even suspected. Why does almost nobody know this John Brown?

John Brown's book is interesting. It is somewhat like that of his contemporary Michael Flürscheim . Brown's book was published by Charles Kerr, a Chicago cooperative that also published Marx's Capital . So Brown was a part of the group of American reformers who became increasingly became Marxist in the 19 th and early 20 th century. Most of the books published by Kerr discussed finance and the exponential growth of debt.

The economist who wrote most clearly about how debt grew by its own mathematics was Marx in Vol. III of Capital and his Theories of Surplus Value . Most of these monetary writers were associated with Marxists and focused on the tendency of debt and finance to grow exponentially by purely mathematical laws, independently of the economy, not simply as a by-product of the economy as mainstream economics pretends.

So you recommend reading his book?

Sure, it is a good book, although only on one topic. Also good is Michael Flürscheim's Clue to the Economic Labyrinth (1902). So is Vol. III of Capital .

Brown's plan of reforms included the nationalization of banks and the establishment of a bank service charge in lieu of interest. The latter sounds remarkably up-to-date. In Germany the banks are raising charges because of the decrease in their interest margins. How is your view on the matter of declining interest rates?

Well, today declining interest rates are the aim of central bank Quantitative Easing. It hasn't helped. The most important questio nto ask is: what are you going to make your loans for? Most lending at these declining interest rates has been parasitic and predatory. There's a lot of corporate take-over lending to companies that borrow to buy other companies. There is an enormous amount of stock market credit that has helped bid up stock prices with low-interest credit and arbitrage. This has inflated asset prices for stocks, bonds and real estate. If the result of low interest rates is simply to inflate asset prices, the only way this can work is to have a heavy tax on capital gains, that is asset price gains. But in the US, England, and other countries there are very low taxes on capital gains, and so low interest rates simply make housing more expensive, and make stocks and buying a flow retirement income (in the form of stocks or bonds that yield dividends and interest) much more expensive.

I guess Brown is getting to the positive aspects of low interest also.

What Brown was talking about were the problems of finance. In the final analysis there is only one ultimate solution: to write down the debts. Nobody really wants to talk about debt cancellation, because they try to find a way to save the system. But it can't be fixed so that debts can keep growing at compound rates ad infinitum . Any financial system tends to end in a crash. So the key question is how a society is NOT going not to pay debts that go bad. Will it let creditors foreclose, as has occurred in the US? Or are you going to write down the debts and wipe out this overgrowth of creditor claims? That's the ultimate policy that every society has to face.

Very topical, the German Bundesbank sees the combination of low interest rates and a booming housing market as a dangerous cocktail for the banking sector. "The traffic lights have jumped to yellow or even to dark yellow", Andreas Dombret said, after the Bundesbank had denied the problem in the last years by dismissing it as Germany's legitimate catch-up effects. The residential property prices have gone up by 30% since 2010, in the major cities even by more than 60%. The share of real estate loans in the total credit portfolio is significantly rising. The mortgage loans of the households have increased in absolute terms as well as relative to their income. It's only due to the low interest rates that the debt service has not increased yet. But the banks and savings companies are taking on the risk: the mortgages with terms of more than ten years have risen to more than 40% of the residential real estate loans. The interest-change risks lie with the banks. Don't we have to face up to the truth that interest rates shouldn't go up again?

What should be raised are taxes on the land, natural resource rent and monopoly rent. The aim should be to keep housing prices low instead of speculation. Land rent should serve as the tax base, as the classical economists said it should. Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill all urged that the basis of the tax system should be real-estate and natural resource rent, not income taxes (which add to the cost of labor), the cost of labor and not value-added taxes (which increase consumer prices). So tax policy and debt write-downs today are basically the key to economic survival.

Banking should be a public utility. If you leave banking in the present hands, you're leaving it in the hands of the kind of crooks that brought about the financial crisis of 2008.

Couldn't the subprime-crisis have been prevented if the Fed had introduced negative interest rates in the 1990s?

No. The reason there was the crash was fraud and speculation. It was junk mortgages and the financialization of the economy. Pension funds and people's savings were turned over to the financial sector, whose policy is short-term. It seeks gains mainly by speculation and asset price inflation. So the problem is the financial system. I think the Boeckler foundation has annual meetings in Berlin that focus on financialization and explain what the problem is.

Yes, that's a big topic. The financial sector is interested, as you said, in short-term gains, but people who want to save for their retirement are interested in long-term stability – that is contradictory. Do you know the " Natural Economic Order by Free Land and Free Money" by Silvio Gesell

It is not practical for today's world, it is very abstract. The solution to the financial problem really has to be ultimately a debt write-down, and a shift to the tax system, as the classical economists talked about.

Gesell was also advocating the taxing of land. I think he had something in mind with bidding for the land, letting the market fix the prices.

He did not go beneath the surface to ask what kind of market do you want. Today, the market for real estate is a financialized market. As I said, the basic principle is that most rent is paid out as interest. The value of real estate is whatever a bank will lend against it. Unless you have a theory of finance and the overall economy, you really don't have a theory of the market.

You are advocating a revival of classical economics. What did the classical economists understand by a free economy?

They all defined a free economy as one that is free from land rent, free from unearned income. Many also said that a free economy had to be free from private banking. They advocated full taxation of economic rent. Today's idea of free market economics is the diametric opposite. In an Orwellian doublethink language, a free market now means an economy free for rent extractors, free for predators to make money, and essentially free for financial and corporate crime. The Obama Administration de-criminalized fraud. This has attracted the biggest criminals – and the wealthiest families – to the banking sector, because that's where the money is. Crooks want to rob banks, and the best way to rob a bank is to own one. So criminals become bankers. You can look at Iceland, at HSBC, or at Citibank and Wells-Fargo in the news today. Their repeated lawbreaking and criminal activities have been shown tob e endemic in the US. But nobody goes to jail. You can steal as much money as you want, and you'll never go to jail if you're a banker and pay off the political parties with campaign contribution. It's much like drug dealers paying off crooked police forces. So crime is pouring into the financial system.

I think this is what's going to cause a return to classical economics – the realization that you need government banks. Of course, government banks also can be corrupted, so you need some kind of checks and balances. What you need is an honest legal system. If you don't have a legal system that throws crooks in jail, your economy is going to be transformed into something unpleasant. That's what is happening today. I think that most Europeans don't want to acknowledge that that's what happened in America (USA). There is such an admiration of America that there is a hesitancy to see that it has been taken over by financial predators (a.k.a. "the market").

We always hear that oligarchies are in the east, in Russia, but hardly anyone is calling America an oligarchy although alternative media says that it's just a few families that rule the country.

Yes.

Michael Hudson is the author of Killing the Host (published in e-format by CounterPunch Books and in print by Islet ). His new book is J is For Junk Economics . He can be reached at mh@michael-hudson.com

War for Blair Mountain > , August 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm GMT

It is absolutely urgent that Richard Spencer and the Alt Right adopt the ideas and framework of Michael Hudson and and Ha Joon Chang(Kicking away the ladder.)

Support Socialism!!!=violation of free market principles

Pinochet=Neoliberal free market terrorism!!!

Albertde > , August 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm GMT

It is always a joy to read Michael Hudson but he is always discreetly incomplete as he never discusses the role of the privately owned US Federal Reserve, the other privately owned central banks and the BIS (Bank for International Settlements), which collectively force governments to borrow money from their central bank in order to create new money instead of these governments unilaterally creating the money themselves as they theoretically could.

Linda Green > , August 16, 2017 at 11:04 pm GMT

@Albertde It is always a joy to read Michael Hudson but he is always discreetly incomplete as he never discusses the role of the privately owned US Federal Reserve, the other privately owned central banks and the BIS (Bank for International Settlements), which collectively force governments to borrow money from their central bank in order to create new money instead of these governments unilaterally creating the money themselves as they theoretically could. This is a good point.

I believe Hitler made the same point, but due to our education consisting of largely being told what to think, rather than being taught how to think, we have had it pounded into our heads that such ideas as monetary sovereignty only come out of the minds of truly evil men. We are repeatedly told the only way to prevent Weimar style inflation is to run our economy as we presently do, no improvements are possible and to even consider such is a sign of sociopathology. Our betters for some reason want the children of the white stock that founded the country to hate themselves and become submissive to the advancing immigrant hordes while our politicians figure out ways to sell off large chunks of our infrastructure, like our roads for instance, so they can they can charge us and all the new immigrants they are letting in to drive on them.

Hell, just last week they taught a group of white men a good lesson when they tried to peaceably assemble to protest about their grievances. The media & leftist politicians (both Dem & Republican) teamed up on an alternative story of the event and allowed a group of paid communist thugs to come in and beat them while the media reported the white group to be the aggressor.

If I didn't know better, I would swear the United States has been taken over by a hostile globalist elite, that cares not one bit for the natives of our country.

Exciting times are ahead in our nation, this is for sure.

As to Michael Hudson's article, it is more gibberish from a lefty economist, he dances around facts but always in the end puts a disingenuous spin on it. The article is garbage and awfully loose with the facts.

Si1ver1ock > , August 16, 2017 at 11:43 pm GMT

Mr. Hudson is interesting as usual. I almost always learn something new from one of his interviews. I'm not sure how "taxing the land" squares with MMT, unless he is suggesting that we should shift taxes off the middle class to free up money for circulation.

In other words, fiscal policy (taxing and spending) is part economic policy and part social policy. It's a political economy.

Here is a primer on MMT for people who haven't looked into it yet.

Linda Green > , August 17, 2017 at 12:11 am GMT

I am familiar with MMT.

All that needs to be done at present is to change the FED's charter to allow infrastructure to be funded with some degree of monetary financing to prevent the selling off of the commons to global finance. I suggest this form of financing should only be used for maintenance of the commons, i.e. infrastructure.

All the rest will remain theoretical.

While not perfect the FED has all the tools and statistics to facilitate some level of monetary financing of infrastructure. I will take an independent federal reserve with a revised charter over selling off the commons to investors who will then charge us to use them. Funding our infrastructure the way it is presently done through congress is a joke, we need a better system, the economists at the FED are presently in a good position to speak to how best this might be accomplished. We need a plan, not a patchwork of resolutions and stop gap measures as to how the nations infrastructure will be funded.
It could be dollar matching to other funding sources, percentages, econometric models, etc. but unemployment levels and inflationary concerns would need to be considered.

another fred > , August 17, 2017 at 11:35 am GMT

One does not have to project too far into the future to see that the future needs for "money" to "pay" the unfunded obligations of the Federal government are going to require some serious changes in the monetary system.

The US cannot politically survive, and therefore will not allow, a repeat of the Great Depression where economic activity collapses to the same extent it did in 1929-30 (roughly 40%).

It seems to me likely that something on the order of MMT will be followed where the government issues "money" directly rather than funding its creation through debt instruments.

I think it is naive, however, to believe that this will be some kind of panacea, a cure for all our ills. In order to institute MMT, or anything like it, the government will have to have far more power as it will have far more responsibility .

More power in the hands of fewer people – what could possibly go wrong?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy

jacques sheete > , August 17, 2017 at 9:06 pm GMT

While the topic is dry one for me, Hudson makes it somewhat interesting and I like that he calls a fraud a fraud.

In fact pretty much the whole system, financial and political and all their appendages such as schools and the media, is a huge fraud. A pox on all the SOBs.

How could anyone argue against this, for instance?

Today's idea of free market economics is the diametric opposite. In an Orwellian doublethink language, a free market now means an economy free for rent extractors, free for predators to make money, and essentially free for financial and corporate crime.

I've long been impressed that what we have is not a free market, but a free-for-all market that excludes all but the richest from obtaining much by way of benefits.

Jim Bob Lassiter > , August 17, 2017 at 10:14 pm GMT

I, along with many others wish we were renting an apartment instead of "owning" our house free and clear and unsellable for 50% of what I paid for it in 1993 due to my neighborhood being targeted by AFFH on steroids.

And set aside my abject racism to see how easy it is to understand why younger people (highly skilled and otherwise) with absolutely nothing resembling job security would not want to own a home when they are forced on a wholesale basis to move frequently hundreds or thousands of miles away to find another unstable replacement job.

Brian Reilly > , August 17, 2017 at 11:50 pm GMT

An interesting but (alas ) incomplete and lop-sided view of the world. A couple comments:

The sheer size of the government apparatus (over 40% gdp in the US, more in most of the rest of the West) ensures rampant and intentional mis-allocation of capital, backed by the full police and judicial power of those various levels of government. This is an unavoidable aspect of human nature.

The fiscal and monetary fraud is no more than one aspect of many alluded to in the paragraph above. We have allowed charlatans masquerading as Utopian saviors and Paradigm Changers to capture police power to enforce laws and regulations obviously designed to shear the sheep, and reward the wolves. Too Big To Fail? More like Too Big To be Held to Account lest me and my friends and their children have to get real jobs instead of stealing from the rubes.

Last, it will be interesting to see how the debt is dealt with. It is a truly global issue, with too many people having to pledged to pay more money than can possibly be paid. It is so bad that the very accounting of the fiction has become near-impossible. Sooner or later, the accounting will become impossible, and some sort of reset (which will include a default and repudiation of most public and private debt instruments and their associated derivatives) will be agreed on? Implemented? Forced upon? By whom? Using what legal structure and in what currency denomination? Not any currency now in circulation, I think. Unclear to me, It will be fascinating to watch.

Linda Green > , August 17, 2017 at 11:53 pm GMT

If the options for infrastructure finance (maintenance and expansion of roads in particular) are basically:

- Soak the rich (taxes go up on the haves to pay)
- Some degree of monetary finance (money will be earned into existence rather than loaned into existence)
- Selling off the commons (the rich buy the infrastructure and charge the masses to use it)
- Continued patchwork of debt finance and can kicking

I would say monetary finance would make everyone short of the greedy asshole that wants to buy the highways happy.

I am fully aware that we have the appearance of a shortage of responsible enough parties to handle this sort of proposition. If it were widely known and the left got wind of it they would likely have brawndo water fountains on every corner. But Gary Cohn has not left the White House yet, and he is just the sort of guy that can pull something like this off through some acronym backed with hard facts and a near guarantee of success. We need to back away from socialism writ large and focus on long term sustained full employment with a gradual return to free market principles in all area of commerce.

In my economic utopia full employment and maintenance of infrastructure would be at the top of central bank or FED area of concern.

Medical care is expensive because it is subsidized and corrupted. Let the medical care bubble burst and let doctors compete for patients like other area of commerce. Until we figure out how to do that there will be no affordable medicine for the masses.

Linda Green > , August 18, 2017 at 12:03 am GMT

Furthermore there is discussion in some circles of guaranteed minimum income. What a horrible idea. Let me guess, the people will drive to pick up their money on some pothole filled road, right? What a misguided notion. Can we please put off all that talk until all the roads are fixed, every tree is trimmed, every sidewalk fixed, every park glisteningly beautiful, etc until we even remotely consider it a possibility. The ghettos already give everyone free money and they line up in their own filth stepping over garbage to pick up their checks. Give me a break!

Bayan > , August 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm GMT

Not every land owner is happy when roads or sewer systems are built close by. They may lose in terms of historical, cultural, and environmental values they attach to their surroundings. How are you going to compensate them? Nationalizing land does not solve this problem. One way of making people lose their attachment to a particular surrounding is to force them move every few years. But why do you want do that? To celebrate Bolshevist craziness? Why?

in the middle > , August 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm GMT

@Linda Green Linda Green:

What is needed is to use a different approach when protesting. Why not call it, 'American pride parade?" Or, "love the USA parade?", others use different naming conventions when in reality its other objectives that they sought after. For example, the federal reserve act=taking over the economy of the USA. Patriot act=taking your rights away, etc. So whomever is trying to even the field in 'pride' such as the T-shirts that read: 'brown pride', 'black pride', etc. Whities should have 'American pride', and who will fight that? So then American pride=White pride, period. That will put an end to the rabid attacks from the fake news media, and all its dumb followers.

myb6 > , August 18, 2017 at 5:45 pm GMT

Nationalizing all, or even most, land-rent only makes sense if the national government will take on the financial responsibility of funding local infrastructure, which seems like a disaster in the making.

Socializing all, or even most, land-rent even at the local level would completely destroy the balance sheets of millions of productive citizens. Cruel and arbitrary. As far as the response, "torches and pitchforks" would be understatement.

The only fair solution is to grandfather current land-rents and then tax the increment. Still discourages speculation. You could even phase-out the grandfather without destroying innocent families so long as it's gradual over a very long term, say 50 years.

TG > , August 18, 2017 at 9:50 pm GMT

A very interesting and intelligent commentary, as always from this source.

I would like to suggest that there is, in addition to what has been described here, another factor influencing rent, and that's demographics.

In the middle ages, Europe was essentially fully populated relative to its technology and infrastructure. All land was owned by a handful for wealthy families, and they could charge peasants rents so high that wages were hardly more than subsistence.

Then the Black Death came, and, unlike most plagues that quickly burned themselves out, it held the population low for generations. Suddenly the rich could not just coast on unearned interest from inherited land, because land was no longer a limiting factor. The rich tried reigning in wages via statute, but it's hard to beat supply and demand, and the rich failed. This caused the renaissance. It is little appreciated, but the physical standard of living of late medieval England was higher than many s0-called modern third-world countries

I suggest that, not in replacement of what has been mentioned here, but in addition, that demographics and population pressure also play a signficant role. When there is more land than people, it gets hard to collect rent (in the ante-bellum American South, the plantation owners had to resort to slavery. In the North, you had a lot of owner-operator farmers).

I would also think that, with a stable or slowly growing population, eventually every family pays off their mortgage, all the roads that need to get built are built, and then the children inherit, and debt goes away. A rapidly growing population means that big sums must constantly be borrowed to fund new construction and infrastructure, both public and private

And finally, I would posit that anything which reduces wages – such as too-rapid population growth – will also cause financialization, but for a different reason. I propose that in a low-wage society, where losing a job likely means a lifetime sentence of poverty, that people become wage-slaves, and beholden to their employers – and this includes economists and journalists etc. In this case only the occasional saint will take a stand on principle, and most of us are not saints. On the other hand, in a tight labor market, if an employee defies their boss (CNN, the University of Chicago, etc.), and is fired, it's not a big issue – they can easily find comparable well-paid work elsewhere.

another fred > , August 18, 2017 at 11:08 pm GMT

@Si1ver1ock I would like to offer an observation about "taxing the land". In my home state property taxes are among the lowest in the nation and this is a significant political issue. I cannot offer a "correct balance," but since it is an issue that has been front and center in local politics I think I can offer some relevant observations.

Because property taxes are low in my state "persons" (including corporate) have been able to tie up large tracts for agricultural (including silvicultural) and mineral (including speculative) purposes. Most of it is in pine forest which offers very low returns and then there is the occasional mineral "jackpot" when somebody strikes oil or opens a mine (usually coal). The low tax cost means that it is not expensive to hold land for these purposes. Other beneficiaries are family farms where the land is actively worked, but does not yield a high rate of return.

While family farms are pretty bulletproof politically, there is strong opposition to the large corporate interests. The main argument against these interests has been that they inhibit "growth." Arguments "for" (besides the campaign contributions) are that we are better off with a more stable, steadily growing agricultural (silvicultural) economy as rapid "growth" creates instability, i.e. that "creative destruction" is not an unalloyed good, of which the rate should be maximized.

There IS a tendency towards old rich families, some of whom are degenerate, but some of whom are "pillars of the community" who support charitable organizations that benefit "everybody" if one thinks slower moving societies are a good thing.

My general impression is that Mr. Hudson thinks that lots of "growth" is a good thing, but he thinks he knows a better way to achieve it (better than Trump, e.g.). Obviously, since I put "growth" in scare quotes I am not sold on the idea no matter how it is achieved.

Outside the issue of "growth" there is the issue of how much a community benefits from having "pillars."

You makes your choice and you takes your chance. Personally, I don't think the universe gives a damn one way or the other – if it works, it works, if it doesn't, "batter up!"

Nature bats last.

[May 14, 2017] IMF to Greece Sorry Well Destroy You by Michael Hudson

Notable quotes:
"... It doesn't matter what the people vote for. Either you do what we say or we will smash your banking system." Tsipras's job is to say, "Yes I will do whatever you want. I want to stay in power rather than falling in election." ..."
"... Somebody's going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF's constituency. It says: "We feel your pain, but we'd rather you suffer than our constituency." ..."
"... The basic principle at work is that finance is the new form of warfare. You can now destroy a country's economy not merely by invading it. You don't even have to bomb it, as you've done in the Near East. All you have to do is withdraw all credit to the banking system, isolate it economically from making payments to foreign countries so that you essentially put sanctions on it. You'll treat Greece like they've treated Iran or other countries. ..."
"... The class war is back in business – the class war of finance against labor, imposing austerity and shrinking living standards, lowering wages and cutting back social spending. It's demonstrating who's the winner in this economic warfare that's taking place. ..."
"... Then why is the Greek population still supportive of Syriza in spite of all of this? I mean, literally not only have they, as a population, been cut to no social safety net, no social security, yet the Syriza government keeps getting supported, elected in referendums, and they seem to be able to maintain power in spite of these austerity measures. Why is that happening? ..."
"... You also need a contingency plan for when the European Union wrecks the Greek banks, which basically have been the tool of the oligarchy in Greece. The government is going to have to take over these banks and socialize them, and use them for public purposes. Unfortunately, Tsipras never gave Varoufakis and his staff the go ahead. In effect, he ended up double crossing them after the referendum two years ago that said not to surrender. That lead to Varoufakis resigning from the government. ..."
"... Tsipras decided that he wanted to be reelected, and turned out to be just a politician, realizing that in order to he had to represent the invader and act as a client politician. His clientele is now the European Union, the IMF and the bondholders, not the Greeks. What that means is that if there is an election in Greece, people are not going to vote for him again. He knows that. He is trying to prevent an election. But later this month the Greek parliament is going to have to vote on whether or not to shrink the economy further and cut pensions even more. ..."
"... The Greek government has not said that no country should be obliged to disregard its democratic voting, dismantle its public sector and give up its sovereignty to bondholders. No country should be obliged to pay foreign creditors if the price of that is shrinking and self destruction of that economy. ..."
"... They haven't translated this political program of not paying into what this means in practice to cede sovereignty to the Brussels bureaucracy, meaning the European Central Bank on behalf of its bondholders. ..."
May 14, 2017 | www.unz.com
Sharmini Peries: The European Commission announced on May 2, that an agreement on Greek pension and income tax reforms would pave the way for further discussions on debt release for Greece. The European Commission described this as good news for Greece. The Greek government described the situation in similar terms. However, little attention has been given as to how the wider Greek population are experiencing the consequences of the policies of the Troika. On May Day thousands of Greeks marked International Workers Day with anti-austerity protests. One of the protester's a 32-year-old lawyer perhaps summed the mood, the best when he said
"The current Greek government, like all the ones before it, have implemented measures that has only one goal, the crushing of the workers, the working class and everyone who works themselves to the bone. We are fighting for the survival of the poorest who need help the most."

To discuss the most recent negotiations underway between Greece and the TROIKA, which is a European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF, here's Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is the author of many books including, "Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage the Global Economy" and most recently "J is for Junk Economics: A Survivor's Guide to Economic Vocabulary in the Age of Deception" .Michael, let's start with what's being negotiated at the moment.

Michael Hudson: I wouldn't call it a negotiation. Greece is simply being dictated to. There is no negotiation at all. It's been told that its economy has shrunk so far by 20%, but has to shrink another 5% making it even worse than the depression. Its wages have fallen and must be cut by another 10%. Its pensions have to be cut back. Probably 5 to 10% of its population of working age will have to immigrate.

The intention is to cut the domestic tax revenues (not raise them), because labor won't be paying taxes and businesses are going out of business. So we have to assume that the deliberate intention is to lower the government's revenues by so much that Greece will have to sell off even more of its public domain to foreign creditors. Basically it's a smash and grab exercise, and the role of Tsipras is not to represent the Greeks because the Troika have said, "The election doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter what the people vote for. Either you do what we say or we will smash your banking system." Tsipras's job is to say, "Yes I will do whatever you want. I want to stay in power rather than falling in election."

Sharmini Peries: Right. Michael you dedicated almost three chapters in your book "Killing the Host" to how the IMF economists actually knew that Greece will not be able to pay back its foreign debt, but yet it went ahead and made these huge loans to Greece. It's starting to sound like the mortgage fraud scandal where banks were lending people money to buy houses when they knew they couldn't pay it back. Is it similar?

Michael Hudson: The basic principle is indeed the same. If a creditor makes a loan to a country or a home buyer knowing that there's no way in which the person can pay, who should bear the responsibility for this? Should the bad lender or irresponsible bondholder have to pay, or should the Greek people have to pay?

IMF economists said that Greece can't pay, and under the IMF rules it is not allowed to make loans to countries that have no chance of repaying in the foreseeable future. The then-head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, introduced a new rule – the "systemic problem" rule. It said that if Greece doesn't repay, this will cause problems for the economic system – defined as the international bankers, bondholder's and European Union budget – then the IMF can make the loan.

This poses a question on international law. If the problem is systemic, not Greek, and if it's the system that's being rescued, why should Greek workers have to dismantle their economy? Why should Greece, a sovereign nation, have to dismantle its economy in order to rescue a banking system that is guaranteed to continue to cause more and more austerity, guaranteed to turn the Eurozone into a dead zone? Why should Greece be blamed for the bad malstructured European rules? That's the moral principle that's at stake in all this.

Sharmini Peries: Michael, The New York Times has recently published an article titled, "IMF torn over whether to bail out Greece again." It essentially describes the IMF as being sympathetic towards Greece in spite of the fact, as you say, they knew that Greece could not pay back this money when it first lent it the money with the Troika. Right now, the IMF sounds rational and thoughtful about the Greek people. Is this the case?

Michael Hudson: Well, Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister under Syriza, said that every time he talked to the IMF's Christine Lagarde and others two years ago, they were sympathetic. They said, "I am terribly sorry we have to destroy your economy. I feel your pain, but we are indeed going to destroy your economy. There is nothing we can do about it. We are only following orders." The orders were coming from Wall Street, from the Eurozone and from investors who bought or guaranteed Greek bonds.

Being sympathetic, feeling their pain doesn't really mean anything if the IMF says, "Oh, we know it is a disaster. We are going to screw you anyway, because that's our job. We are the IMF, after all. Our job is to impose austerity. Our job is to shrink economies, not help them grow. Our constituency is the bondholders and banks."

Somebody's going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF's constituency. It says: "We feel your pain, but we'd rather you suffer than our constituency."

So what you read is simply the usual New York Times hypocrisy, pretending that the IMF really is feeling bad about what it's doing. If its economists felt bad, they would have done what the IMF European staff did a few years ago after the first loan: They resigned in protest. They would write about it and go public and say, "This system is corrupt. The IMF is working for the bankers against the interest of its member countries." If they don't do that, they are not really sympathetic at all. They are just hypocritical.

Sharmini Peries: Right. I know that the European Commission is holding up Greece as an example in order to discourage other member nations in the periphery of Europe so that they won't default on their loans. Explain to me why Greece is being held up as an example.

Michael Hudson: It's being made an example for the same reason the United States went into Libya and bombed Syria: It's to show that we can destroy you if you don't do what we say. If Spain or Italy or Portugal seeks not to pay its debts, it will meet the same fate. Its banking system will be destroyed, and its currency system will be destroyed.

The basic principle at work is that finance is the new form of warfare. You can now destroy a country's economy not merely by invading it. You don't even have to bomb it, as you've done in the Near East. All you have to do is withdraw all credit to the banking system, isolate it economically from making payments to foreign countries so that you essentially put sanctions on it. You'll treat Greece like they've treated Iran or other countries.

"We have life and death power over you." The demonstration effect is not only to stop Greece, but to stop countries from doing what Marine Le Pen is trying to do in France: withdraw from the Eurozone.

The class war is back in business – the class war of finance against labor, imposing austerity and shrinking living standards, lowering wages and cutting back social spending. It's demonstrating who's the winner in this economic warfare that's taking place.

Sharmini Peries: Then why is the Greek population still supportive of Syriza in spite of all of this? I mean, literally not only have they, as a population, been cut to no social safety net, no social security, yet the Syriza government keeps getting supported, elected in referendums, and they seem to be able to maintain power in spite of these austerity measures. Why is that happening?

Michael Hudson: Well, that's the great tragedy. They initially supported Syriza because it promised not to surrender in this economic war. They said they would fight back. The plan was not pay the debts even if this led Europe to force Greece out of the European Union.

In order to do this, however, what Yanis Varoufakis and his advisors such as James Galbraith wanted to do was say, "If we are going not to pay the debt, we are going to be expelled from the Euro Zone. We have to have our own currency. We have to have our own banking system." But it takes almost a year to put in place your own physical currency, your own means of reprogramming the ATM machines so that people can use it, and reprogramming the banking system.

You also need a contingency plan for when the European Union wrecks the Greek banks, which basically have been the tool of the oligarchy in Greece. The government is going to have to take over these banks and socialize them, and use them for public purposes. Unfortunately, Tsipras never gave Varoufakis and his staff the go ahead. In effect, he ended up double crossing them after the referendum two years ago that said not to surrender. That lead to Varoufakis resigning from the government.

Tsipras decided that he wanted to be reelected, and turned out to be just a politician, realizing that in order to he had to represent the invader and act as a client politician. His clientele is now the European Union, the IMF and the bondholders, not the Greeks. What that means is that if there is an election in Greece, people are not going to vote for him again. He knows that. He is trying to prevent an election. But later this month the Greek parliament is going to have to vote on whether or not to shrink the economy further and cut pensions even more.

If there are defections from Tsipras's Syriza party, there will be an election and he will be voted out of office. I won't say out of power, because he has no power except to surrender to the Troika. But he'd be out of office. There will probably have to be a new party created if there's going to be hope of withstanding the threats that the European Union is making to destroy Greece's economy if it doesn't succumb to the austerity program and step up its privatization and sell off even more assets to the bondholders.

Sharmini Peries: Finally, Michael, why did the Greek government remove the option of Grexit from the table in order to move forward?

Michael Hudson: In order to accept the Eurozone. You're using its currency, but Greece needs to have its own currency. The reason it agreed to stay in was that it had made no preparation for withdrawing. Imagine if you are a state in the United States and you want to withdraw: you have to have your own currency. You have to have your own banking system. You have to have your own constitution. There was no attempt to put real thought behind what their political program was.

They were not prepared and still have not taken steps to prepare for what they are doing. They haven't made any attempt to justify non-payment of the debt under International Law: the law of odious debt, or give a reason why they are not paying.

The Greek government has not said that no country should be obliged to disregard its democratic voting, dismantle its public sector and give up its sovereignty to bondholders. No country should be obliged to pay foreign creditors if the price of that is shrinking and self destruction of that economy.

They haven't translated this political program of not paying into what this means in practice to cede sovereignty to the Brussels bureaucracy, meaning the European Central Bank on behalf of its bondholders.

Note: Wikipedia defines Odious Debt: "In international law, odious debt, also known as illegitimate debt, is a legal doctrine that holds that the national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation, should not be enforceable."

Michael Hudson is the author of Killing the Host (published in e-format by CounterPunch Books and in print by Islet ). His new book is J is For Junk Economics . He can be reached at mh@michael-hudson.com

[Apr 25, 2017] The Fall of the Latin American Left, Part I: Brazil's Boom and Bust

Notable quotes:
"... By Ignacio Portes, formerly the economy editor of the English-speaking daily Buenos Aires Herald. He has also published at Pando Daily and NSFWcorp ..."
"... Folha de São Paulo ..."
"... "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.'" ..."
"... Her response of a Greek-style, slow austerity plan during the next two years only helped her lose a large part of her harder-core electoral base. ..."
"... mierda de toro ..."
"... O Globo ..."
"... Globo ..."
"... While these economic own-goals are definitely the key, ..."
Apr 25, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Posted on April 25, 2017 by Yves Smith Yves here. I wanted to emphhsize a factor to consider in the difficulties Latin American (and developing) countries have had in trying to manage their affairs, namely, the impact of advanced central bank monetary operations on them. Our guest writer Ignacio Portes mentions it in his post below, but it is worth discussing at greater length.

Remember how for at least 18 months before the 2014 Bernanke "taper tantrum" that markets around the world were following a "risk on/risk off" trade, with reactions based largely on the latest central bank oracle reading? And that emerging economies were the ones most whipsawed by these trades?

None other than that card-carrying Communist, former IMF chief economist Raghuram Rajan complained about it when he was the head of the Central Bank of India. From a 2014 post in which we first quote a Rajan interview with Bloomberg and then add further comments:

Rajan is blunt by the standards of official discourse Some of his key points:

Emerging markets were hurt both by the easy money which flowed into their economies and made it easier to forget about the necessary reforms, the necessary fiscal actions that had to be taken, on top of the fact that emerging markets tried to support global growth by huge fiscal and monetary stimulus across the emerging markets. This easy money, which overlaid already strong fiscal stimulus from these countries. The reason emerging markets were unhappy with this easy money is "This is going to make it difficult for us to do the necessary adjustment." And the industrial countries at this point said, "What do you want us to do, we have weak economies, we'll do whatever we need to do. Let the money flow."

Now when they are withdrawing that money, they are saying, "You complained when it went in. Why should you complain when it went out?" And we complain for the same reason when it goes out as when it goes in: it distorts our economies, and the money coming in made it more difficult for us to do the adjustment we need for the sustainable growth and to prepare for the money going out

International monetary cooperation has broken down. Industrial countries have to play a part in restoring that, and they can't at this point wash their hands off and say we'll do what we need to and you do the adjustment. .Fortunately the IMF has stopped giving this as its mantra, but you hear from the industrial countries: We'll do what we have to do, the markets will adjust and you can decide what you want to do . We need better cooperation and unfortunately that's not been forthcoming so far.

Narrowly, Rajan is correct, but the underlying problem is much bigger and most orthodox economists are unwilling to confront it because it conflicts with their free markets religion. Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, in an analysis that got much less attention that their work on debt levels and growth, looked at 800 years of history of crises and found a strong correlation between the level of international capital flows and the frequency and severity of financial crises. That's implicit in his discussion of the impact of hot money flowing in and out. The Reinhart/Rogoff finding was confirmed by a 2010 paper by Claudio Borio and Piti Disyatat of the BIS that argued that what drives financial crises is not net capital flows ("global imbalances") but gross capital flows (too much financial "elasticity" as they called it, or what most of us would describe as too much speculation). But Rajan may in fact be referring to remedies like capital controls when he says, basically, that the industrial economies may not like the remedies that emerging economies implement.

Back to the present post. Voters in countries in Latin America hold their officials accountable for economic performance. Yet the destabilizing impact of hot money in and outflows, brought to them by the tender ministrations of neoliberal orthodoxy, means that the degree of control is limited.

By Ignacio Portes, formerly the economy editor of the English-speaking daily Buenos Aires Herald. He has also published at Pando Daily and NSFWcorp

The world's attention over the last few months has been focused on the rise of right-wing movements across the first world, and the struggle of the previously-ruling liberal establishment to understand the nature of what hit them. Somewhat buried below those news, however, one can also read about what seem to be the last pangs of another regional alliance going haywire, though with somewhat different protagonists.

It wasn't long ago that South American governments were seen as the biggest political alternative in a world moving mostly to the right, as parties backed by unemployed and landless movements, trade unions, indigenous groups and socialist organizations took power and pushed for certain re-distributive policies.

Now, the continent's two biggest economies, Argentina and Brazil, are ruled by coalitions packed with center-right businessmen. And in Venezuela - the country which arguably started to turn the continental political tide to the left back in 1998 - Hugo Chávez's heir Nicolás Maduro is barely holding to the presidency, losing by a landslide in the last mid-term elections amid frightening levels of social disarray.

Unpacking what went wrong for them will be key for whoever ends up being the next leftist movement to have a shot at power. And much of what went wrong was about the economy.

The fact that those three collapses took place almost simultaneously had a lot to do with the end of the commodity price supercycle that made life so much easier for governments across Latin America throughout the 2000s. But it wasn't simply a stroke of bad luck with the region's primary exports.

Wherever you looked, voters also had the growing perception that the malaise was also explained by local policy. And that was much harder to accept both for officials and for their most ardent supporters, who preferred to focus on outside factors, be them the global economy or some kind of internal or external political conspiracy.

Not that some degree of conspiracy couldn't be a factor. Dilma Rousseff's ousting in Brazil was largely an exercise in hypocrisy from a political opposition mired in corruption scandals and with several past episodes of embellishing the budget's figures. Yet it accused the government of exactly those two things, first to switch sides from congressional allies to staunch enemies and then to impeach Rousseff.

But none of that would have worked hadn't Rousseff's government also been under growing popular pressure since the country fell into a recession in 2014. Rousseff had already lost most of the middle class before that. Her response of a Greek-style, slow austerity plan during the next two years only helped her lose a large part of her harder-core electoral base. With the recession deepening and unemployment soaring, Rousseff's approval ratings plunged below 20%. Her former allies turned on her and there was no way back from there.

Brazil's Workers' Party fell into the classic emerging market boom and bust. The capital that had flown into the country with the commodities at high prices made it easy for the government and the private sector to take on debt and finance a larger expansion. The hype made Brazil an easy sale. In 2009, The Economist famously printed Jesus' statue at the top of Rio de Janeiro's Corcovado mountain taking off from the ground as if it were a rocket, illustrating a story about the country's supposed transformation. The government seemed to believe it too, embarking into grandiose, costly projects to host the 2014 football World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympic Games announcing Brazil's arrival into the global center stage, while also playing up the significance of the massive (but hard to reach) oil deposits discovered off the Brazilian coast.

But the foundations of the boom weren't really solid. The country's currency, the real, appreciated beyond what many local industries could resist in the long run due to the sudden influx of foreign capital. Protectionism and subsidies to some of Brazil's top business owners tried to compensate for that, but the costs of doing so started to mount.

When commodity prices stopped helping, the underlying problems surfaced. By 2013, The Economist ran exactly the opposite cover than in 2009, with Jesus' statue crashing down after a failed launch. Short-term investors panicked and moved their cash elsewhere. Suddenly, re-financing public and private debt became much harder. Millions of Brazilians started struggling with defaulted loans for the consumer goods they had recently purchased, and repayments only got harder when the Central Bank also raised interest rates to try cut inflation. Subsidies to companies became hard to sustain too, while basic services and infrastructure, which never improved much, started suffering even more, with the tightening budgets focused on completing the billionaire Olympic and World Cup stadiums and luxury hotels. Even oil failed to deliver, both due to the plunge in international prices and the massive corruption schemes uncovered in the state-run Petrobras, which threw the company into disarray.

The question, then, is why did the Workers' Party go for policies that would end up destroying its popularity and its grip on power?

A tentative answer, unglamorous as it might be, is that they didn't know what else to do. Their problem could be seen as another manifestation of a general failing of the post Cold War left: the lack of a trusted economic programme of its own, which forced them to borrow from here and there as circumstances presented themselves.

They used a bit of orthodoxy to avoid "scaring" the markets when they first took office in 2003, tried to take advantage of those first moves by leveraging the credit they were given as a result, and added some re-distributive policies when there seemed to be room for them, all of that almost inevitably mixed with the endemic corruption schemes and inefficiency troubles that seem to mar all of the region's politics (but that hardly came to the surface during the boom times).

When the crises came, the government tried some countercyclical moves at first, but Brazilian laws made them less effective than normally expected, as private and public debt could not be diluted due to indexation clauses written into contracts, keeping the burden high despite some stimulus. So they resumed the international bond market appeasing as a (failed) last-ditch effort, with political scandals erupting in the background as capital flight and coalition disbanding made the end increasingly inevitable.

Brazil's elites decided for a transition behind the backs of the electorate, backing Rousseff's former VP Michel Temer, a man from the ideologically flexible PMDB party, to take her place after a largely ridiculous impeachment process where the charges against the President were barely even mentioned. Unconcerned about his lower-than-Dilma popularity, the possibility of re-election or the need to be loyal to his voting base, Temer is now enacting a much more thorough austerity program that has slightly turned markets around, but which has seen unemployment continue to skyrocket, now reaching 13% percent, up from 7% just a couple of years ago.

Could it have gone differently? In the most short-termist of views, it's hard to see how the Workers Party could have held on. Falling governments are the norm amid huge economic crises with no seemingly end in sight, and this was Brazil's largest recession on record. In a European-like parliamentary system, the situation would surely have led to a vote of no confidence, used in similar circumstances to oust Prime Ministers in more democratically-friendly fashion.

But as we'll see in parts II and III, the multiple roads taken by other left-of-centre coalitions in Latin America showed that the Workers Party's long-term approach was just one of many possibilities.

0 0 37 0 0 This entry was posted in Banana republic , Commodities , Currencies , Economic fundamentals , Free markets and their discontents , Guest Post , Income disparity , Macroeconomic policy , Politics on April 25, 2017 by Yves Smith . Ed , April 25, 2017 at 9:12 am

Actually I think the critical strategic mistake here was made by the Brazilian right, which had the option of just waiting until 2018 and then taking power in a normal election. They may have been spooked by the prospect of running against Lula again (though they have beaten Lula in the past several times). Or there may have been behind the scenes US pressure for a color revolution, due to Brazil's previous closeness to Russia.

But not just waiting until the election and then taking power on the normal pendulum swing will blow up in their faces.

The overall Workers' Party strategy was appropriate for the situation they were in. My only real criticism is political, they should have made winning statehouses more of a priority and less so the presidency, but you have to run a presidential candidate, and when you have a candidate like Lula you are going to try to capitalize.

RabidGandhi , April 25, 2017 at 10:44 am

I hope you're right that it was a mistake. Every poll I have seen shows Lula easily winning any election, and the Brazilian capitalist class was well aware of this. In fact there was the pathetic incident where Folha de São Paulo intentionally obfuscated poll data showing that 62 percent of Brazilians want new elections and they would have voted for Lula. The stunning speed and extent of the destruction wrought by Temer (and Macri) shows that the right wing is convinced that this may be their only shot at power, so they need to get in and obliterate as much of the welfare state as quickly as possible, like vandals who know the security guards will arrive any second.

That said, I agree that the impeachment debacle shows that PT needs a far bigger presence in congress and in the governorships, otherwise it is vulnerable to another constitutional coup. However, I disagree that "the overall Workers' Party strategy was appropriate": they were gravely wrong to implement austerity in an economic downturn.

PKMKII , April 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm

My only real criticism is political, they should have made winning statehouses more of a priority and less so the presidency

Now that sounds like a familiar criticism.

Harry , April 25, 2017 at 1:11 pm

The Brazilian right had no choice. If Dilma had been left in charge she might have chosen to sacrifice a whole bunch of corrupt businessman and politicians to placate the middle class. Someone was going down. The only question was who.

Left in Wisconsin , April 25, 2017 at 9:40 am

Well, I guess I will wait for parts 2 and 3. Thus far in the story, it is hard to see how Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela represent three cases of the same phenomenon.

Ignacio Portes , April 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Nah, their approaches were different for sure, I think it will become clear in far more detail starting in the second post. Part of the point of the series is to show that the governments fell into different failure modes, despite some common themes such as international economics (commodity prices first helping a lot, then not so much) or the fact they were all part of a regional political alliance.

johnnygl , April 25, 2017 at 10:02 am

I think this represents a clear example of the failure of 3rd way politics again. The jackals on the right in Latin America do not and will not respect parties of the left, no matter if they stick with orthodoxy. They must be confronted and beaten with deeper reforms and a well-organized base. Ecuador's recent election shows what can be done. Correa's party has achieved its best result ever and still won even though the opposition was united this election.

RabidGandhi , April 25, 2017 at 10:49 am

But Rousseff did use the stick of orthodoxy, and she was overthrown nonetheless!

"'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.'"

JohnnyGL , April 25, 2017 at 10:53 am

"But Rousseff did use the stick of orthodoxy, and she was overthrown nonetheless!" – Exactly! The lesson for parties of the left is not to trust the right. They are not your friends. They will stick the knife in your back at the first chance!

Martin Finnucane , April 25, 2017 at 11:59 am

Hence the term laodicean .

Perhaps the left needs a red hot response instead.

Alejandro , April 25, 2017 at 10:25 am

As far as the question of "how", Yves intro and 2014 post was more insightful. Parsing relevant facts from irrelevant facts seems always a grind, and discerning facts from opinion seems even more so. Context always matters, and proportionality often seems distorted or missing, imO. I've gravitated towards the opinion that "capital" seems a euphemism for power, "capitalism" seems a euphemism for a network of unaccountable, unelected "Davos" insiders(aka tPtb) , and "capitalists" seem to be the gatekeepers that keep the outsiders outside the power to shape, re-shape, form, re-form, structure, re-structure, structurally adjust and re-adjust etc., a social order that willingly or unwittingly serves these insiders as the highest priority and loftiest of purposes, at the expense of anything and everything else. Which is why I've also gravitated towards the opinion that "capitalism" and "democracy" are not only antithetical to each other, but irreconcilable a neoliberal project that facilitates a virtual-parliament, where "governance" is done through "capital" flows, by and at the behest of unseen, unaccountable, unelected insiders.

RabidGandhi , April 25, 2017 at 10:25 am

Anecdote: When I was in Brazil last December I asked everyone I could why Dilma was impeached. The near unanimous answer was "por corrupção" (the outliers were two responders who, interestingly, said it was because she was unpopular). While Ignacio's excellent post does hint at this, I think it's important to stress the battle for "hearts and minds" currently underway in LatAm that, in the case of Brazil, has led to Rousseff losing her base and the far right returning to power.

Yves and Ignacio look at two important aspects, with Yves focusing on deleterious capital flows and Ignacio on the resulting fiscal policy. Ignacio's point is particularly salient, and one that often gets lost among leftist pundits prone to ideological Manichaeism:

Her response of a Greek-style, slow austerity plan during the next two years only helped her lose a large part of her harder-core electoral base.

This, IMO, is the number one reason that led to Rousseff's overthrow: Dilma inflicted austerity on the working class and it abandoned her, leaving her vulnerable to a rightwing attack. But how can I say that when it goes against the findings of my (highly unscientific, anecdotal) survey? Let me answer that with yet more anecdotal evidence.

Here in Latin America there is an almost universal narrative as to why we have so much poverty, that goes as follows: "we live in a resource rich region, but we are plagued by 'corruption', which means politicians with their hands in the till. We wish we could have safe roads, sewers, transportation, hospitals but the state always ends up bankrupt because the politicians steal all the money". (At this point the narrative gets taken over by political allegiances and media memes: "what we need to do is throw these corrupt bums out of office and bring in [enter name of political party supported by the media]".

This narrative is, of course, total mierda de toro . First the state cannot go bankrupt, so that should be BS tell n° 1. When Rousseff's base saw their infrastructure, pensions and jobs cut, it was not because Rousseff is a corrupt politician with her hand in the till, bankrupting the state. Even in Brazil, which has a particularly corrupt political elite, they rob millions when the economy is a matter of hundreds of billions. Yet like so many revolutionaries of her generation, Rousseff is solid on socialist ideology when it comes to politics, but when it comes to economic understanding, not so much. So when the international economic crisis came to Brazil, she appointed the Finance Minister who seemed to know something about that economics stuff: Washington Consensus Superstar Joachim Levy. Levy sold her the usual neoliberal BS line that "the state is broke, TINA, we need to cut social programmes", yadda yadda. And austerity was suddenly on the menu.

Meanwhile, the monopolist media conglomerate O Globo broadcasted everywhere 24/7 that Dilma was corrupt with the usual narrative. If you're in a favela and you see your life getting worse because of budget cuts and you hear the non-stop "Corrupção!" narrative from the media, in the absence of a media and education system that tell the truth about economics, there is no way you stick your neck out to support Rousseff. Here the media and its oligarchical overlords ensure that people have a hard time differing between millions and trillions, between microeconomy and macroeconomy. The TV is full non-stop with caterwauling that this or that politician might have stolen $10m and they incorrectly associate that with the macroeconomic situation caused by the government's bad fiscal policy.

In sum, yes the QE/ZIRP capital flows play a role. Yes this was used to push the PT to make bad fiscal decisions. But there is also an ideological battle on in Latin America, where the oligarchic-dominated media are pushing a false 'corruption' narrative to take advantage of the fiscal missteps of ostensibly left-wing governments. While these economic own-goals are definitely the key, if it were not for this false narrative, the PT, Kirchnerism, Chavism even Lugo in Paraguay would still be in the drivers seat.

JohnnyGL , April 25, 2017 at 10:50 am

RabidGandhi, always enjoy your comments.

Personally, yes, the media is rotten and that's a tremendous problem. The plunging economy (caused by int'l capital tidal flows + austerity) + media narrative of scapegoating is, of course, how the script goes to throw left-leaning govts out of power. However, I don't think that gets you ALL the way there.

Otherwise, how to explain Venezuela and Ecuador? The oligarchs ran the same playbook in all countries in LatAm. But it doesn't always work.

1) Venezuela is arguably MORE vulnerable to capital flows and commodity prices than in Brazil. The government has been handicapped by its own incompetence (especially with regard to the currency, as Comrade Haygood will tell you any chance he gets!). The Chavista government has also had plenty of corruption problems, at least somewhat linked to those bad currency policies. Yet, somehow, the government is still hanging in there. In fact, its popularity seems to be on the rebound as the population gets tired of the violent, extremist idiots that seem to be leading the opposition. In my view, they've kept a core of supporters, who have stayed loyal and haven't been sold out by their government. Those core supporters are organized and actively pushing back against the hard-right in the country. This seems to be enough to endure the turbulence.

2) Ecuador's example is also telling. Correa's party, Allianza Pais, just hauled in its largest ever vote total. They seem less corrupt and incompetent than the Chavista party in Venezuela, but face the same problems of tumultuous capital flows and rabidly hostile media with the constant accusations of corruption that are present in Venezuela and Brazil. Yet, in spite of this, they continue to increase their support and expand their base.

From where I stand the lessons seem clear for lefty parties of Lat Am:

No compromise with the right or with orthodoxy. They hate you and will slit your throat if you let them. Do not abandon your base (and they won't abandon you). Organize your base and be prepared for crisis. These things let you survive as a political force. If you show competence and reduce corruption (in reality, not according to the media narrative), then you'll get even stronger and do even better at the ballot box.

RabidGandhi , April 25, 2017 at 11:42 am

Thanks Johnny, likewise. With regard to "ALL the way there", I tried to be clear that the main reason for Rousseff's fall was her austerity policies, with the media playing a crucial role thereafter. With regard to Ecuador vs. Venezuela, BOTH made currency missteps, as Correa's biggest failure was that he was never able to wean Ecuador off the USD. The main difference I see between the two countries' leftist governments is that Correa was somewhat more successful at diversifying the economy whereas Venezuela is still far too dependent on oil rents. In all the South American economies, the key is developing an internal market by bringing the excluded masses into the economy and ditching the commodity exporter model. Nevertheless I agree with your point about the Venezuelan right: they are overplaying their hand and Maduro is gaining strength (eg, yesterday's poor turnout opposition march).

I'd also point out that the last elections in the countries in question (Ecu 2017, Bol 2016, Arg 2015, Bra 2014, Ven 2013) were all photo finishes (with ≈2% margins), where the slightest tweeks could have reversed the outcome completely, so it is hard to talk about mandates or "what the people want".

Lastly you discuss corruption as being a factor for the Maduro and Correa administrations. Does that mean you disagree with my point that "corruption!" is just a rightwing meme that has little to do with most people's household economies?

JohnnyGL , April 25, 2017 at 2:08 pm

RabidGandhi,

Sorry, squishing too many thoughts into my comments with limited time to write (at work).

To clarify my addition to your point about austerity being the real Rousseff killer, I'd say, "Yes, that's absolutely the proximate cause. However, there are underlying reasons that are just as important that shouldn't be left out of the story".

Perry Anderson's article in LRB is a real must read on what has happened in Brazil. He covers a wide range of issues, including why the PT has failed in a broader political context.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n08/perry-anderson/crisis-in-brazil

If you're interested, read the part that starts: "Half-hidden, the roots of this debacle lay in the soil of the PT's model of growth itself. From the outset, its success relied on two kinds of nutrient: a super-cycle of commodity prices, and a domestic consumption boom."

Anderson goes on to discuss how the PT failed to improve public services, only relying on the private sector. Finance Minister Mantega tried to stimulate private investment and also attempted to split off industrial interests away from big finance. That attempt failed spectacularly. Again, here's Anderson's money quote: "In the belief that this must rally manufacturers to its side, the government confronted the banks by forcing interest rates down to an unprecedented real level of 2 per cent by the end of 2012. In São Paulo the Employers Federation briefly expressed its appreciation of the change, before hanging out flags in support of the anti-statist marchers of June 2013."

JohnnyGL , April 25, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Re: Ecuador election, yes it was close. However, I think the margin of victory doesn't tell the full story. Allianza Pais keeps building its vote totals every election since 2006. Check wikipedia on this. Correa had a big breakthrough from 2009 to 2013, but Moreno didn't lose votes, he got more. I could be wrong, but that makes me thing they're building something more lasting than what PT did.

Just looking, Rousseff couldn't match Lula's vote totals, neither could Maduro match Chavez's. Somehow, Moreno beat Correa's numbers from previous elections. That might be a real sign, or might not.

Lastly, regarding this, "Does that mean you disagree with my point that "corruption!" is just a rightwing meme that has little to do with most people's household economies?" - No, I think you're right. But I do think corruption is more of a problem in Venezuela. Unless you've got some other explanation for why they won't fix the screwy currency policy that seems to magnify problems, rather than dampen them (as a well managed currency should do)?

I can only guess that someone fairly important is making a lot of money in cross-border smuggling to Colombia.

I think Ecuador seems to have done better on corruption, the best the media could do was drum up a scandal that sounded ridiculous on its face. I don't recall the details, but it seemed like they were really desperate to latch onto something.

Ignacio Portes , April 25, 2017 at 3:48 pm

Corruption is important, just not in the way of the simplistic media spin that you mentioned – obviously what a President might take home is irrelevant when compared to a national budget or a GDP. (and Dilma, by the way, doesn't seen to have been personally corrupt at all; even if there was obviously corruption at her party, I have never seen any hint that it might have help line up her pockets)

A topic that I have never read anyone write about in depth is how left political alternatives can finance their campaigns. Obviously, if you are a business candidate you'll find it easier to get donors, but if you want to build a working class or socialist party then it gets tougher. And in Latin America, this has often led to all kinds of shady deals with the underworld, with public works contracts and so on. And the problem is the economic distortions that this brings: to keep those dirty schemes that finance your party going, you have to create infrastructure programmes not where they are most needed but where it's easier to take a cut off without anyone noticing it (this happened a lot in Argentina), you have to take part in corruption schemes with the country's oligarchs (see Brazil), you have to make deals with murderous criminal cartels and so on. This can be incredibly damaging: it weakens the economy for starters, but it ultimately even derails the point of the political project completely, turning a political party into a bureaucracy whose main goal is just self-perpetuation. Venezuela's military trying to hang on to power and to its failed economic policies no matter how in order to keep its power over black market deals is part of the explanation for that country's crisis, for sure, and another example of this.

RabidGandhi , April 25, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Example 1: Upon assuming the presidency, the Macri administration immediately embarks on a plan to devalue the peso. Four of Macri's ministers, including éminence grise Marcos Peña buy dollar futures before the devaluation and make out like bandits when the peso plummets.

Example 2: Upon Macri taking office as Buenos Aires Mayor, his cousin's construction firm, IECSA, suddenly jumps from virtual anonymity to being the third largest recipient of public works contracts.

Are these examples of corruption the same? I would argue no. In example 2– which is the type you mention and which is the type most screamed about in the press– the damage is that favouritism may have led to not the best postulant winning the bid, thus providing the public with inferior infrastructure. But there is a general good that occurs: insofar as Calcaterra hires local workers and uses domestic materials, the economy will grow from the multiplier effect. (Of course insofar as the money is not used for construction and instead gets parked in Miami, there is a net loss.) While I agree infrastructure does not get well distributed– I burn with rage when I see stupid multi-million peso overpasses in Buenos Aires while my neighbourhood doesn't even have proper sewers– there is no reason why both can't be built; Argentina has plenty of people and materials just waiting to be employed.

Example 1 on the other hand is the type of corruption we should worry about. It involves politicians making decisions not based on the public good, but rather to benefit themselves and/or a small group of powerful people. The devaluation of the peso immediately went to the supply chain and inflation skyrocketed, resulting in a 12% loss in real wages. This less-publicised corruption affected the pocketbook of everyone in the country, whereas the eternally repeated infrastructure issue– be it Calcaterra or Baéz or whoever– is not even noticeable in the average citizen's economy. Nevertheless, when Globo shows the latest accused in Lava Joto, the public inevitably gets angry because they think that the suspect's alleged crime cost them money personally; that he is the reason why there is no money for housing or pensions. No, the reason why there are housing and pension cuts is because it was a political decision by the Dilma/Temer governments; Lava Joto has nothing to do with it.

______

Secondly, with regard to campaign financing here's my two cents: I think it is less of an issue here then it is up north. First because mandatory voting makes GOTV largely unnecessary, thus greatly reducing the amount of money needed. Secondly, because (for better or worse) all the Mercosur countries have very strong party apparatuses that perform much of the campaigning work. And thirdly because of (partially) public funded elections. In this regard, politics here is not as much about fundraising as it is about lining up all the unions and social movements. But this system giveth and taketh. On one hand it often involves mass mobilisations that are largely based on individuals' political motivation and organising efforts; but on the other hand it entails party patronage systems that often fund goons who carry out ratf*cking operations and small-scale political violence (the mafias you mentioned? eg, the AAA in the 70s; or more recently the thugs who stormed the Santa Cruz Governer's House, etc.). This is not to say that there is not a growing trend toward expensive marketing campaigns and black money, but for now at least it is more subdued. And lastly, in the case the left needs campaign money, I think the Sanders 2016 campaign provided an excellent, viable model.

Left in Wisconsin , April 25, 2017 at 11:15 am

While these economic own-goals are definitely the key,

Rabid G: could you expound on which own-goals were problematic, what could or should have been done differently? There seems to be an argument that:
1. Rousseff mis-steps led to lack of support among people who were, and apparently still are, Lula supporters. Presumably the argument is that she could have run large fiscal deficits and targeted spending to poor? Or canceled the Olympics?
2. This lack of support made possible soft coup.

From what I know of what happened, I am skeptical of both claims. And seems to completely absolve hot money of any responsibility, which I took as the main point of the post. But I claim no expertise.

RabidGandhi , April 25, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Yes that is the argument: Rousseff implemented two rounds of austerity, cutting pensions and capping spending when Brazil's economy was already retracting. As readers here well know, these pro-cyclical measures always have the same result: throwing the country into deeper recession. Each round of austerity coincided with steep drops in Rousseff's top approval rating (Optimal/Good). Meanwhile, Lula– who never cut pensions and spending– remains the most popular politician in the country.

And as I made clear in my post (as Ignacio did in the OP), these factors are just part of what led to Rousseff's impeachment; no one is "completely absolving hot money" which is certainly another part of the equation. That said, given mainstream economists' monetarist bent, there is a tendency to see everything that happens in Latin America through a capital flow/commodity lens (cough *Haygood* cough). But this only holds true to the degree that these countries are dependent on finance and commodities. And the whole mantra of these leftist governments has been to supplant finance/commodity dependency with an internal market. So with all respect to Yves (and I think she might agree), to the degree to which they have been successful at creating this internal market, the hot money argument does not come into play.

Susan the other , April 25, 2017 at 12:41 pm

We never get ahead of the problem. In the early 70s Nixon was advised by Sec. Treas John Conally, of Dallas fame, that we could go off the gold standard bec we could basically do anything we wanted to generate growth in our own economy and that the imbalances that would follow for other countries "were their problem." This attitude preceded the free-market mania that followed, thinking that the market would balance it all out. So, starting with Breton Woods and an incomplete monetary system which did not address the real world, we have come to 2017 wherein candidates are running for office without a party and sovereign states don't understand the power of their own sovereignty. We need a "peg" – a new rational one. Gold has always been irrational, but the environment is as rational as you can get. And every sovereign country has an environment. The environment is everywhere! Whereas the nutty obsession with gold made it valuable and it was arbitrarily priced at some "standard" to which all else was valued (insane, right?) we could do it the rational way and price the environment at some value and thereby eliminate inflation altogether (because you can't inflate a currency that is both ubiquitous and invaluable already) and at the same time have a resourceful, healthy world. Everywhere. This would get rid of all the neoliberal money hoarding and all sorts of ills. But, I'm dreaming again.

Kalen , April 25, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Another great discussion set up by Yves but the article, probably because of limited length, could only scratch the surface of what is and was brewing in Latin America in last decade or so and Obama's policies of global color revolutions having a lot to do with it.

Moreover, it is hard in English speaking media to figure out what is going on in Latin America especially recently in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia even Brazil or Argentina but one thing in my opinion, is sure there is no socialism there, nor ever was.

Instead there were more or less social-democratic governments trying to elevate horrible poverty of the peoples due to extreme exploitation by local oligarchs, while in all cases leaving intact capitalist/neo-feudal system and social structures including reactionary religious organizations as it was there before. Now all those governments are under a direct attack from Global oligarchy.

It may sound harsh but the main problem is that Maduro and other "people's" leaders in Latin America were being heavily influenced or down right corrupted by western money. Yes, leftist leaders directly or due to their global policies withd USD dominated financial system are in Wall Street pockets already. Too many friends of Lula, Chavez and now Maduro revolution have bank accounts in New York to appropriately respond to this blatant aggression we are witnessing in a revolutionary manner, as they should if they did not betray their people.

Those South American springs we are witnessing in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and soon Cuba etc., are not due to lack of cooperation between popular South American leaders and US.gov and Wall Street but that they cooperate to little to win approval of Washington hegemons, namely they do not exploit and betray their people hard enough.

It is a world oligarch's quarrel and those who do not heed the warnings are expelled from the cushy country club of globalists, and that's why they are so polite, yes polite, facing Washington economic aggression. But there is deeper reason for it.

Former radicals, communists, worker trade unionists or native populists and other leftist such as Lula-Rousseff, Chavez,(Maduro), Corea, Morales etc., after being brought to power, via peoples popular movements spawned by catastrophe of raging neoliberalism in previous decades , not on their own merits as a true leftists since they later betrayed the true left, but on the wave of global capital instigated booms of commodity demand from China itself stimulated to the brink of orgasm via Wall Street money changers and now is awaiting eruption anytime and following by a long secular economic flaccidity which will turn this mockery of workers' led Chinese government into openly fascistic/regional imperial regime as it already is.

One must realize that those recent South American leftist revolutions, including Chavez revolution, were underwritten by Wall Street bubbles, one might have asserted wrongly, that they were being skillfully exploited by leftist leaders while in truth they fell into a trap that ultimately doomed and condemned truly leftist Marxian or even Maoist/Leninist revolutionary political movements in South America into political oblivion for decades to come.

And hence sweeping counterrevolutionary wind of Washington doing, blowing across the South American continent.

And that seems to be the plan to discredit any political left as a vital and even viable or effective political force in South America, Europe and elsewhere.

It took him eight years but Obama Mission was Accomplished. And that's his legacy few wants to talk about.

marku52 , April 25, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Here's a similar take from Ian Welsh:

"Obey the Laws of Purges

"Let's not dance around. Your first steps will be breaking the power of current economic and political elites who are not willing to convincingly join you or at least let you rule without trying to sabotage you.

You must do this all at once. When it happens, it happens to everyone it is going to happen to. This is Machiavelli's dictum, and he was right. After it has happened, those who weren't broken know they're safe as long as they don't get in your way."

Break up the banks and the media, have competent administrators ready to step in, and insulate yourself from foreign cash flows as much as you can. Otherwise you will be sabotaged.

7 Rules for Running a Left wing Government.

http://www.ianwelsh.net/7-rules-for-running-a-real-left-wing-government/

Paulo A Franke , April 25, 2017 at 8:20 pm

I am transmitting from Brazil, having witnessed in situ the last 15 years of surreal economics.

The current 'crisis' has nothing to do with politics, ideology, government policy, corruption, etc.

In fact, there's no crisis at all happening in Brazil.

From 2003-2014, Brazil went through a surreal bubble of credit (and corresponding debt), equally divided amongst families and corporations.

The total debt stock went from 25% to 56% of GDP, in eleven years. That's roughly 3% of cocaine-like GDP injected into the veins of the economy, over quasi-eternal 11 years.

The debt bubble is now gloriously bursting. Two years of bubble deflation already checked, my guess is that the Brazilian economy should return to its natural size around 4Q 2017 / 1Q 2018.

From there on, there's slow growth in the works. We Brazilians do not know how to grow via investment and innovation. And everyone is vaxxed against diving into debt again.

johnnygl , April 25, 2017 at 8:41 pm

Without digging into details of your numbers, I don't think what you wrote is factually incorrect. However, the tone of what you wrote gives no agency to any person or institution. Big debt bubbles don't just 'happpen' like bad weather. They happen because of policy decisions made by people, individually and as groups.

Why those decisions were made and how they succeeded or failed is the part worth discussing.

[Apr 20, 2017] Mexicos Economy Is Being Plundered Dry naked capitalism

Notable quotes:
"... By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at Wolf Street. Originally published at Wolf Street ..."
"... By Don Quijones . ..."
"... When it comes to debt, everything is relative, especially if you don't have a reserve-currency-denominated printing press. Read Is Mexico Facing "Liquidity Problems?" ..."
"... Greenspan's Fraud ..."
"... It would also stop phony war on drugs in Mexico ..."
"... To make matters worse, much of Mexico's new debt is in foreign-denominated currencies. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, the total amount of euro and dollar-denominated debt it issued rose by 46%. ..."
"... [u]nlike debt issued in pesos, Mexico's central bank cannot just print dollars and euros to bail out bond holders or inflate away the debt. ..."
"... Therefore shouldn't the question be the absolute external debt in dollars instead of the relative amount in pesos? ..."
"... To make matters worse, much of Mexico's new debt is in foreign-denominated currencies. ..."
Apr 20, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Mexico's Economy Is Being Plundered Dry Posted on April 20, 2017 by Yves Smith Yves here. Most Americans know on some level that Mexico has become an economic and political disaster, save for those at the very top of the food chain. This post gives vignettes that bring home how much of a failed state it has become. And needless to say, the US had no small role in that outcome.

By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at Wolf Street. Originally published at Wolf Street

The government of Mexico has a new problem on its hands: what to do with the burgeoning ranks of state governors, current or former, that are facing prosecution for fraud or corruption. It's a particularly sensitive problem given that most of the suspects belong to the governing political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico uninterruptedly from 1929 to 2000. It returned to power in December 2012 with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto. And it clearly hasn't changed its ways.

Some of the accused governors were so compromised they went on the run. In the last few weeks, two of them, Tomás Yarrington, former state governor of Tamaulipas, and Javier Duarte, former governor of Veracruz, were tracked down. Yarrington, accused of laundering proceeds from drug trafficking as well as helping Mexico's Gulf Cartel export "large quantities" of cocaine to the United States, was ensnared by Italian Police in the Tuscan city of Florence. He faces possible extradition to the United States.

Yarrington's successor as governor of Tamaulipas, Eugenio Hernández, a fellow PRI member who is also accused of close ties with narcotraficantes and money laundering, has not been seen in public since last June .

As for Duarte, he was caught this week by police in Guatemala. Like Yarrington, he wasn't exactly laying low. Among the accusations he faces is that of buying fake chemotherapy drugs , which were then unknowingly administered by state-run hospitals to children suffering from cancer. He and his cohorts purportedly pocketed the difference. He is also alleged to have set up 34 shell companies with the intention of diverting 35 billion pesos (roughly $2 billion) of public funds into his and his friends' deep pockets.

In just about any jurisdiction on earth, $2 billion is a substantial amount of money, even by today's inflated standards. But in Mexico, where neither the super rich (accounting for a very large chunk of the country's wealth) nor the super poor (accounting for roughly half of the population) pay direct taxes of any kind, it's a veritable fortune.

And when the country's public debt is already growing at an unprecedented pace, rampant corruption becomes a serious problem.

In the year 2000, Mexico had a perfectly manageable debt load of roughly 20% of GDP. Today, it is almost two and a half times that size. Last year alone the Mexican state issued a grand total of $20.31 billion in new debt, the largest amount since 1995, the year immediately after the Tequila Crisis when the country received an international bailout to rescue its entire banking system from collapse and to make whole the Wall Street investment banks that had gone all in on Mexican assets.

To make matters worse, much of Mexico's new debt is in foreign-denominated currencies. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, the total amount of euro and dollar-denominated debt it issued rose by 46%. Unlike debt issued in pesos, Mexico's central bank cannot just print dollars and euros to bail out bond holders or inflate away the debt. This debt must be serviced the hard way.

In recent years, Mexico's public debt has mushroomed in order to make up for lackluster growth, a weakening peso, much lower global oil prices, and the dwindling contribution to government coffers of the country's erstwhile sugar daddy, Pemex. The state-owned oil giant has itself been systematically plundered dry by its burgeoning ranks of senior managers and administrators, the untouchable, unsackable leaders of the oil workers' union, all closely aligned to PRI, and legions of Pemex contractors.

Between 2008 and 2016 Pemex's contribution to the government's tax revenues shrank from 40% to 13%. During roughly the same period (2009-2016) its debt grew 187% , to nearly $100 billion. Its pension liabilities amount to $1.2 billion. The losses and debt keep growing in tandem, while its production and reserves are shrinking. The company was already bailed out once last year.

The more Pemex's financial health declines, the larger the shortfall in public finances and the faster Mexico's public debt will grow.

The really twisted part? The more the debt grows, the more opportunities the country's corrupt politicians will get to feather their nests. It's not like there's much deterrent. In recent years only 17 of 42 serving or former governors suspected of corruption have been investigated, according to a study by María Amparo Casar, executive president of the advocacy group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity. Before the latest rash of detentions, only three of them ended up in prison.

"The decades of impunity have generated a level of shamelessness we've never seen before in Mexico," Max Kaiser, anti-corruption director for the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO), told the New York Times . The excesses are more public than ever and have brought Mexicans to the verge of bankruptcy.

Mexico's debt continues to grow at a much faster pace than its economy, whose growth is forecast to slow this year to 1.5%, compared to last year's 2.4%. In February Mexico's top auditor, the Federal Audit Office (ASF), warned that Mexico's debt situation was just a step away from becoming unsustainable. A number of states are already facing bankruptcy , including Duarte's Veracruz.

Last August, Standard & Poor's lowered the outlook for Mexico's sovereign bonds from stable to negative and saw "an at least one-in-three possibility of a downgrade over the next 24 months." Mexico's foreign currency sovereign credit rating, which is what matters with bonds denominated in a foreign currency, at BBB+, is just three notches above junk. A downgrade would raise the cost of borrowing, pushing Mexico's finances even closer to the brink. In the meantime, the plunder must go on. By Don Quijones .

When it comes to debt, everything is relative, especially if you don't have a reserve-currency-denominated printing press. Read Is Mexico Facing "Liquidity Problems?"

0 0 9 0 0 This entry was posted in Banana republic , Free markets and their discontents , Globalization , Guest Post , Income disparity , Politics , The destruction of the middle class on April 20, 2017 by Yves Smith .
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Subscribe to Post Comments 37 comments Loblolly , April 20, 2017 at 10:15 am

And needless to say, the US had no small role in that outcome.

Can you elaborate on this? What responsibility do average US citizens bear for Mexico's crisis? Given the massive wealth transfer upwards in the last decade do we not have the same corruption issues in the US, regardless of it being under cover of law?

JTMcPhee , April 20, 2017 at 10:42 am

Maybe the stuff in this article has something to do with explaining the role "our" government and corruptorations have had and continue to have in catalyzing an dexporting and importing immiseration in Mexico and here "at home" too? "The Political Economy of Mexico's Drug War," http://isreview.org/issue/90/political-economy-mexicos-drug-war

jpj , April 20, 2017 at 10:44 am

I don't know if this is what was meant by that comment or not but, at the very least, it is the US' appetite for drugs that has allowed the cartels to flourish into practically nation states unto themselves.

Arizona Slim , April 20, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Exactly.

And, guess what, legalizing drugs that are currently illegal, will put quite the crimp in the cartels' business model.

If legalization is too big a leap, the US could try decriminalization. I believe that this was done in Portugal.

palamedes , April 20, 2017 at 1:59 pm

The problem with either is that a) The Mexican drug cartels are moving toward producing more lethal, cheaper drugs in massive quantities as the profits from selling marijuana dry up, and b) there needs to be, in the USA, a much more rigorous process regulating (as opposed to banning) controlled substances and of assisting addicts towards recovery. We've made periodic moves in this direction, but none have had staying power and that needs to change.

Massinissa , April 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

Us having no small role in crisis =/= US citizens having role in crisis.

If you havn't noticed yet, the government in the US doesn't answer to the citizenry at all.

Harry , April 20, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Quite so --

Adam Eran , April 20, 2017 at 12:25 pm

@Loblolly: The U.S.'s role south of its borders has been predation and looting for centuries now. I've read that between 1798 and 1994 the U.S. was responsible for 41 changes of government south of its borders.

When the Haitians, one of the two poorest nations in the hemisphere, had the temerity to elect Jean Bertrand Aristide, the candidate of the poor, the Clintons sent troops, and Bush 43 kidnapped him and took him to Central Africa.

The Reagan administration famously sold arms to Iran right after it had kidnapped U.S. embassy staff to fund a proxy war against the other poorest nation in the hemisphere, Nicaragua. Reagan asked the Mexican president to endorse his line that Nicaragua was a threat to the U.S. The Mexican president replied he would be happy to do that if there was any way he could say such a thing without being laughed out of office.

More recently, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton blessed the Honduran coup, installing a military junta to replace the democratically-elected government–a government which had the temerity to try to raise Honduras' minimum wage from 60¢ an hour. (The nerve of those people!). Meanwhile, 30,000 unaccompanied minors made their way to Gringolandia to avoid Honduran chaos. (I heard from WaPo's Ruben Navarette, deploring the treatment of these kids, but he uttered not a peep about what made them choose exile over their homes.)

For Mexico's current corruption and sad-and-sorry economy, we can at least take credit for NAFTA. Actually their president, Carlos Salinas Gotari, drank enough of the neoliberal koolaid with his Harvard education to propose "free trade" to Bush 41 whose administration authored the actual legislation. Clinton signed the treaty with environmental and labor provisions that just aren't enforced.

To demonstrate what a great idea was NAFTA, almost immediately the U.S. had to come up with a $20 billion loan to deal with the capital flight it permitted–and not incidentally to bail out U.S. banks that bet wrong on Mexico, and to rehearse the U.S. bank bailouts for any later financial scandal.

One might guess that shipping a bunch of subsidized Iowa corn south of the border would put some subsistence corn farmers in Mexico out of business and it did. Sure, corn is only arguably the most important food crop in the world, and those little farmers were keeping the diversity of the corn genome alive, but hey! They weren't making any money for Monsanto!

In the wake of NAFTA, Mexican real incomes declined 34% (says Ravi Batra in his Greenspan's Fraud )–really saying something in a country where half the population gets by on less than $4 a day. One has to return to the halcyon days of the Great Depression to find a decline like that in the U.S. economy.

Of course that U.S. decline provoked no great migration oh wait! The Okies! The only more recent comparable economic decline (besides the Greeks) that I can think of is when Cuba lost its oil and subsidies from the Soviets in the early '90s. In the U.S., Michael Pollan reports we get one calorie of food by burning 10 calories of petroleum. Without that Russian oil, I've read that the average Cuban lost 20 lbs.

So the constant attacks, political, economic and military, from the U.S. have had an effect. All those "illegal aliens" (no, not Martians with unpaid traffic tickets actually: "undocumented workers") came north for a reason. Ask one if he'd rather be back home, and you'll seldom hear them say "no."

We read daily in nakedcapitalism how we're sowing the wind, but we're surely going to reap the whirlwind for the way the U.S. has treated its southern neighbors.

lyman alpha blob , April 20, 2017 at 2:11 pm

It's widely known that NAFTA allowed US agriculture companies that are heavily subsidized by the government to dump their cheap corn in Mexico putting farmers there off their land and out of business. And yet people still wonder why so many are immigrating to the US.

Also, I'd keep an eye on that governor who is facing extradition to the US for facilitating the export of "large quantities" of cocaine. Speculation to be sure, but something tells me you don't do that without the knowledge and possible assistance of Uncle Sugar.

I'd say ask Gary Webb, but he's dead of course after exposing a similar scandal back in the 90s.

Ping , April 20, 2017 at 2:44 pm

NAFTA is directly responsible for increased cartel power. Besides corn dumping disrupting Mexico's rural economy and legitimate income, it generated the "maquiladora's" or Mexican factories along the US border for assembling tariff free imported materials for export.

The large population increase the factories attracted had no increase in public infrastructure like schools, housing etc and youth gangs proliferated. The cartels then began using the gangs as enforcers for smuggling routes and distribution into the US and many associated criminal tasks. A cascade of events ..

Jim Haygood , April 20, 2017 at 10:43 am

Between 2008 and 2016 Pemex's contribution to the government's tax revenues shrank from 40% to 13%.

A radio journalist friend in Guadalajara has been expecting and writing about this scenario for at least a dozen years. Mexico is a petro-state, but production is declining in its big oilfields and isn't being replaced. He visited South America to check out alternate bolt holes, on the theory that when the oil runs out, it's gonna turn ugly in Mexico.

So far his worries proved to be early. We don't have enough data points, but it's worth noting that Mexico's 1982 debt crisis occurred after a spike in US interest rates, a US recession and an oil patch meltdown in 1981.

Similarly, the US Fed started hiking interest rates in early 1994, while the price of oil had been sliding toward $15/bbl ever since the late 1990 spike to $40/bbl in anticipation of the Gulf war. Here's a long term chart of crude oil:

http://www.mrci.com/pdf/cl.pdf

Now J-Yel and her sidekick Stanley Mellon Fischer are once again "normalizing" interest rates, in a process they imagine to be smooth sailing. One should doubt this proposition. Among other things, recent extreme peso devaluation makes Mexico's dollar-denominated debt more onerous to service.

By next year, the question on everyone's lips in Vichy DC may be " Who lost Mexico? "

carl , April 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

IIRC, Cantarell, the supergiant Mexican offshore field, peaked quite awhile ago. Maybe some new discoveries have made up for some of the decline, but I hadn't heard much about that.

Kalen , April 20, 2017 at 10:53 am

If US establishment would go after murderous Mexican oligarchy's Wall Street interests and support democratic movements in Mexico based of egalitarian principles, return of land to the people and establish social justice, we would have to build a wall to keep Mexicans in the US not the other way around.

It would also stop phony war on drugs in Mexico, a war that is nothing but a modern form, a sad reincarnation of popular insurrection against Mexican aristocracy happens to be at this time funded by drug trade, as a proud Mexican tradition of noble outlaws, a country founded on "Bandits" myth as national heroes bringers of independence from Spain.

If the US removed big Imperial foot of the throats of billions of peoples all over the world, and that includes Mexico nobody would want to go to America enjoying living in their own countries as everybody wants.

World immigration is an artifact of exploitative globalism and wars. Nothing natural or normal or desired is in emigration of people. Tourism yes but emigration is a sociopolitical tools of global oligarchy combined with chaos and violence.

If US let, as it were before in history (revolution of 1910-1930-ties, before PRI was corrupted to the bone) for political left to takeover the Mexican government then fate of Mexican people would have changed significantly for better.

djrichard , April 20, 2017 at 12:30 pm

It would also stop phony war on drugs in Mexico

This is an extension of the phone war on drugs in the US. See A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the "Mexican Drug War" .

My belief is that the US war on drugs is just another example of what I'm calling CJ Hopkin's law of propaganda ,

The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an "official narrative" that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between "the truth" as defined by the ruling classes and any other "truth" that contradicts their narrative.

Or to use your language, it's to keep in place the foot of US authority on its own people. The damage to Mexico in the war on drugs is collateral damage – a necessary cost of keeping people in the US disciplined. Nothing personal just bidness.

Ranger Rick , April 20, 2017 at 11:18 am

This article focuses on the oil, but where does Carlos Slim figure into this? I find it endlessly fascinating that one of the world's richest people hails from one of its poorest countries.

Don Quijones , April 20, 2017 at 11:24 am

Here's an article on that very subject from a few years ago:

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/09/slimlandia-the-land-of-mexican-oligarchs.html

RabidGandhi , April 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

Point taken, but it should be noted that in terms of per capita GDP (PPP), Mexico is 68th out of 186 in the world, meaning it is not really one of the world's poorest countries. That said, there is rampant poverty in Mexico that makes Slim's hoarding all the more despicable.

Seamus Padraig , April 20, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Per capita GDP is just an average. Median income is what you should be considering here. There are a handful of Carlos Slims down there that bust the curve for everyone else. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Señor Slim now owns the New York Times?

RabidGandhi , April 20, 2017 at 1:25 pm

Agreed, median income is a much more telling stat. Mexican median annual household income is $11,680 vs. $9,733 worldwide.

RabidGandhi , April 20, 2017 at 11:31 am

Far be it from me to defend the Peña Nieto administration, but I'm not sure from where Quijones gets this:

To make matters worse, much of Mexico's new debt is in foreign-denominated currencies. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, the total amount of euro and dollar-denominated debt it issued rose by 46%.

The figures I have from the Bank of México show the country ended 2015 with a gross external debt of USD $417bn, while it ended 2016 at USD $412 bn: ie not a 46% increase but rather the first decrease in Mexico's external debt since 2009.

What I do see is that the total external debt (in dollars) decreased but the peso lost 18% to the USD in 2016. Since GDP only grew 7% last year, Mexico's external debt as a percentage of GDP (denominated in pesos) would have grown by around 40%. But this goes against Quijones' correct point that " [u]nlike debt issued in pesos, Mexico's central bank cannot just print dollars and euros to bail out bond holders or inflate away the debt. ". Therefore shouldn't the question be the absolute external debt in dollars instead of the relative amount in pesos?

Mel , April 20, 2017 at 11:58 am

I would guess that we want to answer the question "How much Mexican production would have to be diverted to pay off that debt?" So we either work out the value of Mexican GDP in dollars, or convert the value of the debt to pesos.

djrichard , April 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Therefore shouldn't the question be the absolute external debt in dollars instead of the relative amount in pesos?

Simpler to keep the currency conversions out, and just track changes on a per currency basis.

A perennial question I always ask when it comes to trade imbalances by the US is that we send our dollars to foreign countries for goods, and it only a subset of the US dollars come back to the US for goods what's happening to the rest of our US dollars? In the case of Mexico, an answer in theory could be that at least some of those US dollars are being used to pay US debt. But that would mean the Fed Gov of Mexico would have to implement a tax that is denominated in US dollars. Which would then fall on their exporters, as they're the ones hoovering up the US dollars. And they don't want that.

So instead they tax the losers. And they only have pesos. So the conversion rate is an issue.

What's interesting in all this is that while Mexico's Fed Gov is taking on debt in US dollars, their central bank owns US treasuries (that's how they manipulate their currency). But it begs the question, is there a way that Mexico's central bank and Mexico's Fed Gov could come to a deal to use the US treasuries that the central bank is holding to cancel out the US debt obligation by Mexico's Fed Gov? I'm guessing no – it's the principle of the matter, lol.

To make matters worse, much of Mexico's new debt is in foreign-denominated currencies.

Why do countries do this to themselves? Seems to be the very definition of insanity.

RabidGandhi , April 20, 2017 at 1:58 pm

"Why do countries do this to themselves?" They don't. They have an elite that does this to the country because it benefits them as a class, with most people in the country excluded from the decision-making process.

Susan the other , April 20, 2017 at 11:54 am

I don't get what good it can possibly do to build a wall to keep those bad hombres out when the bad hombres are all the politicians in Mexico. This is not a cautionary tale, it's too late for that. We need entirely new thinking here. Look how complex Brexit is – which lets us know how detailed the union tried to be in order to protect its interests. Which is looking pretty futile. Victor Orban was the only leader in the EU to put up a wall to keep refugees/immigrants out and instead of sanctioning Hungary, Mutti has confessed her immigration policy was a mistake. Why on earth didn't she say the ME war was a mistake? It's practically genocide. Three years ago when Syrians started leaving in a panic they knew it was going to be annihilation. How did they know they were sitting on such unlucky ground? If free trade treaties had a way of maintaining decent wages and living standards as the prerequisite to that trade we could begin to set things right. And that is what we should be doing instead of going to war to kickstart the free market economy. Trump is acting like that wall is actually infrastructure. And I wonder if people are amused by the double meaning of "the war on poverty." Everything is such a mess we can't keep pretending that the basics we follow are right. It seems like one long and insane emergency. I'm so burned out with political failure.

Seamus Padraig , April 20, 2017 at 1:12 pm

If free trade maintained "decent wages and living standards," the neo-liberal establishment would be against them.

pretzelattack , April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

heard that.

curlydan , April 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

"[Pemex's] pension liabilities amount to $1.2 billion" this figure seemed a bit low in today's world of inflated pension return expectations–wondering about the source here. I saw the following study said Pemex's liabilities were closer to $90 billion although it is Wharton.

"Pemex's $90 billion in unfunded pension liabilities has been a major headache"
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/pemexs-pension-problem-oil-giant-slippery-ground/

Don Quijones , April 20, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Curly Dan,

That is a terrible typo on my part and I hang my head in shame - it should read 1.8 trillion pesos (roughly $90 billion at today's exchange rate), though there's some controversy around the number since some of the liabilities were supposed to have been transferred to the government's books last year. I don't how how the $1.2 billion crept in but I apologize with complete sincerity to all readers (and Yves) for the cock up.

DQ

Don Quijones , April 20, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Hi Rabid Gandhi,

That data point you mention was taken from an article (second paragraph down) published in EL Financiero, the third most read newspaper in Mexico and an affiliate of Bloomberg. Will look into the disparity.

As for Mexico's GDP, it grew by 2.3% last year, not 7%. The country hasn't experienced such buoyant growth for decades - and certainly not since joining NAFTA.

Thanks.

RabidGandhi , April 20, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Thanks DQ: sorry I wasn't clear about the 7% figure; the Bank of Mexico data I cited refer to nominal GDP growth in pesos. Since the peso devalued 18% to the dollar in 2016, real GDP in dollars shrank from USD 1.3 trillion to 1.15 trillion. Might this account for why EF calculated a 46% increase in external debt– because they are stating how many dollars Mexico borrowed but calculated in pesos? If so, this figure is misleading and detracts from your argument: those obligations are in foreign currencies, so their value in pesos is beside the point.

As I see it, the external debt is not (yet) a major issue in Mexico; more of a concern are the bonds issued by the states and semi-public companies that cannot print their own currencies and will leave the public on the hook. (Not to mention PRI whacking the public with spending cuts and utility/gas hikes, which are another story )

Don Quijones , April 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Thanks for clarifying, RG. And you're probably right: external debt is not the biggest issue here. More important are the out of control public spending at the regional level, the systemic corruption at both the state and federal level, which Peña Nieto's government has done nothing to address, and Pemex's worsening woes, and the risk they pose to Mexico's fiscal health.

If the peso once again begins to fall in value, the exposure of Mexico's corporate sector to foreign denominated debt is likely to be a much more immediate threat than the government's.

River , April 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Mexico has always been like this. Even prior to American meddling. Transferring all their mineral wealth i.e. silver to China for cheap, yet profitable, ceramics, and turning the Yucatan from growing food into the plants that were used to weave bags for storage containers in the 18th C., peonage and companies stores, on and on it goes.

What's happening now is just a continuation of the plundering that's been happening since the 16th C.

Seamus Padraig , April 20, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Quite correct. It all began with the Spaniards centuries ago.

Jeff N , April 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm

this sounds like the standard bezzle:
run up debts
buy things
pocket the things
burn down the store
collect insurance $ on everything that was "inside" the store (even though it had actually been looted long ago)

Sutter Cane , April 20, 2017 at 1:44 pm

As for Duarte, he was caught this week by police in Guatemala. Like Yarrington, he wasn't exactly laying low. Among the accusations he faces is that of buying fake chemotherapy drugs, which were then unknowingly administered by state-run hospitals to children suffering from cancer. He and his cohorts purportedly pocketed the difference.

Shades of Harry Lime, no? The drug war has done to Mexico what it took WWII to do to Vienna.

pretzelattack , April 20, 2017 at 2:05 pm

seems like the world is being plundered dry, at various rates of impoverishment.

Phemfrog , April 20, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Anecdote here, but an uncle on my husband's side who lives in Mexico City had mentioned big problems with his pension. (he works in media, and the family refers to it as a government pension). he said that pensions are being looted and they are paying out pennies on the dollar. so he withdrew what he could in lump sum and bought a small apartment near a beach somewhere. the only way to keep any of the value. they say what used to be hundreds of dollars a month to retire on is now less than $50 per month, and that no one can live off that little.

[Dec 25, 2016] Debt is about power as it affect social relationships, alter social norms, and affect relationships among individuals

Notable quotes:
"... That 'political pressure' turned out to be the bait and switch for a system that shifted power via debt creation. ..."
"... What we have not yet come to terms with are the implications of David Graeber's anthropological insights: how does debt affect social relationships, alter social norms, and affect relationships among individuals? ..."
"... Debt is a form of power, but by failing to factor this into their equations, the Central Bankers are missing the social, political, and cultural consequences of the profound shifts in 'credit market architecture'. In many respects, this is not about 'money'; it's about power. ..."
"... The Central Bankers' models can include all the parameters they can dream up, but until someone starts thinking more clearly about the role and function of money, and the way that 'different kinds of money' create 'different kinds of social relationships', we are all in a world of hurt. ..."
"... At this point, Central Bankers should also ask themselves what happens - socially, personally - when 'debt' (i.e., financialization) shifts from productivity to predation. That shift accelerated from the 1970s, through the 1990s, into the 2000s. ..."
"... Now, maybe it is just a coincidence, but it is hard for me not to notice that the explosion in consumer credit matches up nicely with the rise in inequality. ..."
www.nakedcapitalism.com

readerOfTeaLeaves , December 24, 2016 at 11:14 am

Of the structural changes, the evolution and revolution of credit market architecture was the single most important . In the US, credit card ownership and instalment credit spread between the 1960s and the 2000s; the government-sponsored enterprises – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – were recast in the 1970s to underwrite mortgages; interest rate ceilings were lifted in the early 1980s; and falling IT costs transformed payment and credit screening systems in the 1980s and 1990s. More revolutionary was the expansion of sub-prime mortgages in the 2000s, driven by rise of private label securitisation backed by credit default obligations (CDOs) and swaps. The 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) made derivatives enforceable throughout the US with priority ahead of claims by others (e.g. workers) in bankruptcy. This permitted derivative enhancements for private label mortgage-backed securities (PMBS) so that they could be sold on as highly rated investment grade securities. A second regulatory change was the deregulation of banks and investment banks . Similar measures to lower required capital on investment grade PMBS increased leverage at commercial banks. These changes occurred in the political context of pressure to extend credit to poor.

That 'political pressure' turned out to be the bait and switch for a system that shifted power via debt creation.

What we have not yet come to terms with are the implications of David Graeber's anthropological insights: how does debt affect social relationships, alter social norms, and affect relationships among individuals?

Debt is a form of power, but by failing to factor this into their equations, the Central Bankers are missing the social, political, and cultural consequences of the profound shifts in 'credit market architecture'. In many respects, this is not about 'money'; it's about power.

After Brexit, Trump, and the emerging upheaval in the EU, it's no longer enough to just 'build better economic models'.

The Central Bankers' models can include all the parameters they can dream up, but until someone starts thinking more clearly about the role and function of money, and the way that 'different kinds of money' create 'different kinds of social relationships', we are all in a world of hurt.

At this point, Central Bankers should also ask themselves what happens - socially, personally - when 'debt' (i.e., financialization) shifts from productivity to predation. That shift accelerated from the 1970s, through the 1990s, into the 2000s.

Allowing anyone to charge interest that is usurious is the modern equivalent of turning a blind eye to slavery.

By enabling outrageous interest, any government hands their hard working taxpayers over to what is essentially unending servitude.

This destroys the political power of any government that engages in such blind stupidity.

Frankly, I'm astonished that it has taken so long for taxpayers to show signs of outrage and revolt.

fresno dan , December 24, 2016 at 12:51 pm

readerOfTeaLeaves

December 24, 2016 at 11:14 am

I think you have come up with a good insight – I very much agree its about power and not money.

Now, maybe it is just a coincidence, but it is hard for me not to notice that the explosion in consumer credit matches up nicely with the rise in inequality.

And one other thing I would point out – it doesn't take usurious interest rates. If squillionaires have access to unlimited, essentially cost free money in which the distributors of money are guaranteed a profit, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY HAVE LOST, while the debts on non-squillionaires are collected with fees, penalties, and to the last dime, than it doesn't matter if interest rates are essentially zero.

Who gets bailed out is not due to logic or accounting that says that the banks' losses have to be made whole, but not home owners – that is an ideology called economics .

[Dec 06, 2016] What price the new democracy Goldman Sachs conquers Europe

Dec 06, 2016 | independent.co.uk
&Stephen Foley

November 17, 2011 | The Independent

While ordinary people fret about austerity and jobs, the eurozone's corridors of power have been undergoing a remarkable transformation

The ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian prime ministership is remarkable for more reasons than it is possible to count. By replacing the scandal-surfing Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has dislodged the undislodgeable. By imposing rule by unelected technocrats, it has suspended the normal rules of democracy, and maybe democracy itself. And by putting a senior adviser at Goldman Sachs in charge of a Western nation, it has taken to new heights the political power of an investment bank that you might have thought was prohibitively politically toxic.

This is the most remarkable thing of all: a giant leap forward for, or perhaps even the successful culmination of, the Goldman Sachs Project.

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank's alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund's European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons.

Even before the upheaval in Italy, there was no sign of Goldman Sachs living down its nickname as "the Vampire Squid", and now that its tentacles reach to the top of the eurozone, sceptical voices are raising questions over its influence. The political decisions taken in the coming weeks will determine if the eurozone can and will pay its debts – and Goldman's interests are intricately tied up with the answer to that question.

Simon Johnson, the former International Monetary Fund economist, in his book 13 Bankers, argued that Goldman Sachs and the other large banks had become so close to government in the run-up to the financial crisis that the US was effectively an oligarchy. At least European politicians aren't "bought and paid for" by corporations, as in the US, he says. "Instead what you have in Europe is a shared world-view among the policy elite and the bankers, a shared set of goals and mutual reinforcement of illusions."

This is The Goldman Sachs Project. Put simply, it is to hug governments close. Every business wants to advance its interests with the regulators that can stymie them and the politicians who can give them a tax break, but this is no mere lobbying effort. Goldman is there to provide advice for governments and to provide financing, to send its people into public service and to dangle lucrative jobs in front of people coming out of government. The Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

Mr Monti is one of Italy's most eminent economists, and he spent most of his career in academia and thinktankery, but it was when Mr Berlusconi appointed him to the European Commission in 1995 that Goldman Sachs started to get interested in him. First as commissioner for the internal market, and then especially as commissioner for competition, he has made decisions that could make or break the takeover and merger deals that Goldman's bankers were working on or providing the funding for. Mr Monti also later chaired the Italian Treasury's committee on the banking and financial system, which set the country's financial policies.

With these connections, it was natural for Goldman to invite him to join its board of international advisers. The bank's two dozen-strong international advisers act as informal lobbyists for its interests with the politicians that regulate its work. Other advisers include Otmar Issing who, as a board member of the German Bundesbank and then the European Central Bank, was one of the architects of the euro.

Perhaps the most prominent ex-politician inside the bank is Peter Sutherland, Attorney General of Ireland in the 1980s and another former EU Competition Commissioner. He is now non-executive chairman of Goldman's UK-based broker-dealer arm, Goldman Sachs International, and until its collapse and nationalisation he was also a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland. He has been a prominent voice within Ireland on its bailout by the EU, arguing that the terms of emergency loans should be eased, so as not to exacerbate the country's financial woes. The EU agreed to cut Ireland's interest rate this summer.

Picking up well-connected policymakers on their way out of government is only one half of the Project, sending Goldman alumni into government is the other half. Like Mr Monti, Mario Draghi, who took over as President of the ECB on 1 November, has been in and out of government and in and out of Goldman. He was a member of the World Bank and managing director of the Italian Treasury before spending three years as managing director of Goldman Sachs International between 2002 and 2005 – only to return to government as president of the Italian central bank.

Mr Draghi has been dogged by controversy over the accounting tricks conducted by Italy and other nations on the eurozone periphery as they tried to squeeze into the single currency a decade ago. By using complex derivatives, Italy and Greece were able to slim down the apparent size of their government debt, which euro rules mandated shouldn't be above 60 per cent of the size of the economy. And the brains behind several of those derivatives were the men and women of Goldman Sachs.

The bank's traders created a number of financial deals that allowed Greece to raise money to cut its budget deficit immediately, in return for repayments over time. In one deal, Goldman channelled $1bn of funding to the Greek government in 2002 in a transaction called a cross-currency swap. On the other side of the deal, working in the National Bank of Greece, was Petros Christodoulou, who had begun his career at Goldman, and who has been promoted now to head the office managing government Greek debt. Lucas Papademos, now installed as Prime Minister in Greece's unity government, was a technocrat running the Central Bank of Greece at the time.

Goldman says that the debt reduction achieved by the swaps was negligible in relation to euro rules, but it expressed some regrets over the deals. Gerald Corrigan, a Goldman partner who came to the bank after running the New York branch of the US Federal Reserve, told a UK parliamentary hearing last year: "It is clear with hindsight that the standards of transparency could have been and probably should have been higher."

When the issue was raised at confirmation hearings in the European Parliament for his job at the ECB, Mr Draghi says he wasn't involved in the swaps deals either at the Treasury or at Goldman.

It has proved impossible to hold the line on Greece, which under the latest EU proposals is effectively going to default on its debt by asking creditors to take a "voluntary" haircut of 50 per cent on its bonds, but the current consensus in the eurozone is that the creditors of bigger nations like Italy and Spain must be paid in full. These creditors, of course, are the continent's big banks, and it is their health that is the primary concern of policymakers. The combination of austerity measures imposed by the new technocratic governments in Athens and Rome and the leaders of other eurozone countries, such as Ireland, and rescue funds from the IMF and the largely German-backed European Financial Stability Facility, can all be traced to this consensus.

"My former colleagues at the IMF are running around trying to justify bailouts of €1.5trn-€4trn, but what does that mean?" says Simon Johnson. "It means bailing out the creditors 100 per cent. It is another bank bailout, like in 2008: The mechanism is different, in that this is happening at the sovereign level not the bank level, but the rationale is the same."

So certain is the financial elite that the banks will be bailed out, that some are placing bet-the-company wagers on just such an outcome. Jon Corzine, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, returned to Wall Street last year after almost a decade in politics and took control of a historic firm called MF Global. He placed a $6bn bet with the firm's money that Italian government bonds will not default.

When the bet was revealed last month, clients and trading partners decided it was too risky to do business with MF Global and the firm collapsed within days. It was one of the ten biggest bankruptcies in US history.

The grave danger is that, if Italy stops paying its debts, creditor banks could be made insolvent. Goldman Sachs, which has written over $2trn of insurance, including an undisclosed amount on eurozone countries' debt, would not escape unharmed, especially if some of the $2trn of insurance it has purchased on that insurance turns out to be with a bank that has gone under. No bank – and especially not the Vampire Squid – can easily untangle its tentacles from the tentacles of its peers. This is the rationale for the bailouts and the austerity, the reason we are getting more Goldman, not less. The alternative is a second financial crisis, a second economic collapse.

Shared illusions, perhaps? Who would dare test it?

[Nov 15, 2016] Over half of Ukraines population lives below poverty level

Nov 15, 2016 | eadaily.com
Nearly 60% (58.3%) of the population in Ukraine lives below the poverty line, according to data of the M.V. Ptukha Institute of Demography and Social Surveys, the National Academy of Science of Ukraine.

In 2015, this indicator was half as much – 28.6%. "The poverty index has increased twofold along with the actual cost of living," says Svetlana Polyakova , the leading research fellow at the Living Standard Department at the Demography Institute. "In addition, within the past year, we saw a growth of the poverty level defined by the UN criteria for estimation of internationally comparable poverty line in Central and Eastern Europe."

The highest poverty line was registered among the families having at least one child – 38.6% and pensioners – 23%. The situation may deteriorate this year. According to the State Service of Statistics, savings of Ukrainians in April-June fell by 5.297billion hryvnias (more than $200 million at the current exchange rate).

The cost of living in Ukraine in 2016 makes up 1,544 hryvnias (about $60).

Earlier, Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman said the previous policy of populism and "money printing and distribution to people" made the country weaker and the people poorer.

[Sep 15, 2016] Whats Behind The Revolt Against Global Integration?

Notable quotes:
"... Elites can continue on the current path of pursuing integration projects and defending existing integration, hoping to win enough popular support that their efforts are not thwarted. On the evidence of the U.S. presidential campaign and the Brexit debate, this strategy may have run its course. ... ..."
"... I think some fellows already had this idea: "Much more promising is this idea: The promotion of global integration can become a bottom-up rather than a top-down project" -- "Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!" ~Marx/Engels, 1848 ..."
"... Krugman sort of said this when he saw that apparel multinationals were shifting jobs out of China to Bangladesh. Like $3 an hour is just way too high for workers. ..."
"... The "populists" are raging against global trade which benefits the world poor. The Very Serious economists know what is really going on and have to interests of the poor at heart. Plus they are smarter than the "populists" who are just dumb hippies. ..."
"... And what about neocolonialism and debt slavery ? http://historum.com/blogs/solidaire/245-debt-slavery-neo-colonialism-neoliberalism.html ..."
"... International debtors are the modern colonialists, sucking the marrow of countries; no armies are needed anymore to keep those countries subjugated. Debt is the modern instrument of enslavement, the international banks, corporations and hedge funds the modern colonial powers, and its enforcers are instruments like the Global Bank, the IMF, and the corrupt, collaborationist governments (and totalitarian regimes) of those countries, supported and propped up by these neo-colonials. ..."
"... Cover your a$$ much Larry? No mention of mass immigration? No mention of the elites' conscious, planned attack on homogeneous societies in Western Europe, the US, and now Japan? ..."
"... The US was 88% European as of 1960. As of 1800 it was like 90% English. So yes, it was basically a homogeneous society prior to the immigration act of 1965. Today it is extremely hard for Europeans to get into the US -- but easier for non-Europeans. Now why would that be? Hmm .... ..."
"... The only trade that is actually free is trade not covered by laws and/or treaties. All other trade is regulated trade. ..."
"... Here's a good rule to follow. When someone calls something the exact opposite of what it is, in all probability they are trying to hustle your wallet. ..."
"... ISIS was invented by Wall Street who financed them. ISIS is a scam, just like Bin Laden's group, just like "COMMUNISM!!!!" to control people. To manipulate them. ..."
"... Guys, the bourgeois state is a protection racket and always has been. It makes you feel safe, secure and "feel like man". So we can enjoy every indulgent individual lust the world has to offer. Then comes in dialectics of what that protection racket should do. ..."
"... To me, the bourgeois state is nothing more than a protection racket for the rich, something you should not forget. ..."
"... I find it rather precious that Summers pretends not to understand why people hate TPP. I do not think there is any real widespread antipathy toward global integration, though it does pose some rather substantial systemic dangers, as we saw in the global financial collapse. What people, including me, oppose is how that integration is structured. These agreements are about is not "free trade", but removing all restrictions on global capital and that is a big problem. ..."
"... TPP is not free trade. It is protectionism for the rich. ..."
"... All or most modern "free trade" agreements are like that. What people oppose is agreements which impoverish them and enrich capital. ..."
"... More free trade arrangement are not always better trade arrangements. People have seen the results of the labor race to the bottom caused by earlier free trade agreements; and now they are guessing we're going to get the same kind of race to the bottom with TPP when we have to put all of our environmental laws and other domestic regulations into capitalist competition with backward countries. ..."
"... progressive states (WA, OR, CA, NV, IL, NY, MD) could simply treat union busting the same way any OTHER major muscling or manipulation of the free market is treated: make it a felony. ..."
"... Summers: "Pie in the Sky" So trade negotiations would have to be lead by labor advocates and environmental groups -- sounds great to me, but I can't for the life of me figure out why the goods and service producers (i.e. capital owners) would have any incentive to promote trade under such a negotiated trade agreement... or that trade would actually occur. You'd have to eliminate private enterprise incentives to profit I think.. not something the U.S.'s "individualism" god can't tolerate. ..."
"... Alas, the Kaiser, the Tsar, and the Emperor did not act in accord with its tenets. Either increased global trade is irrelevant to war and peace, or World War I didn't happen. Your pick which to believe. ..."
Apr 11, 2016 | economistsview.typepad.com
Larry Summers:
What's behind the revolt against global integration? : Since the end of World War II, a broad consensus in support of global economic integration as a force for peace and prosperity has been a pillar of the international order. ...

This broad program of global integration has been more successful than could reasonably have been hoped. ... Yet a revolt against global integration is underway in the West. ...

One substantial part of what is behind the resistance is a lack of knowledge. ...The core of the revolt against global integration, though, is not ignorance. It is a sense - unfortunately not wholly unwarranted - that it is a project being carried out by elites for elites, with little consideration for the interests of ordinary people. ...

Elites can continue on the current path of pursuing integration projects and defending existing integration, hoping to win enough popular support that their efforts are not thwarted. On the evidence of the U.S. presidential campaign and the Brexit debate, this strategy may have run its course. ...

Much more promising is this idea: The promotion of global integration can become a bottom-up rather than a top-down project. The emphasis can shift from promoting integration to managing its consequences. This would mean a shift from international trade agreements to international harmonization agreements, whereby issues such as labor rights and environmental protection would be central, while issues related to empowering foreign producers would be secondary. It would also mean devoting as much political capital to the trillions of dollars that escape taxation or evade regulation through cross-border capital flows as we now devote to trade agreements. And it would mean an emphasis on the challenges of middle-class parents everywhere who doubt, but still hope desperately, that their kids can have better lives than they did.

Tom aka Rusty : , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:15 AM
Is Summers really this naive?
Jedgar Mihelic : , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:21 AM
I think some fellows already had this idea: "Much more promising is this idea: The promotion of global integration can become a bottom-up rather than a top-down project" -- "Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!" ~Marx/Engels, 1848
pgl -> Jedgar Mihelic ... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:28 AM
Krugman sort of said this when he saw that apparel multinationals were shifting jobs out of China to Bangladesh. Like $3 an hour is just way too high for workers.
pgl : Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:32 AM
A large part of the concern over free trade comes from the weak economic performances around the globe. Summers could have addressed this. Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker - both sensible economists - for example recently called on the US to do its own currency manipulation so as to reverse the US$ appreciation which is lowering our net exports quite a bit.

What they left out is the fact that both China and Japan have seen currency appreciations as well. If we raise our net exports at their expense, that lowers their economic activity. Better would be global fiscal stimulus. I wish Larry had raised this issue here.

Peter -> pgl... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 08:12 AM
The "populists" are raging against global trade which benefits the world poor. The Very Serious economists know what is really going on and have to interests of the poor at heart. Plus they are smarter than the "populists" who are just dumb hippies.
likbez -> pgl... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 04:48 PM
pgl,

And what about neocolonialism and debt slavery ? http://historum.com/blogs/solidaire/245-debt-slavery-neo-colonialism-neoliberalism.html

=== quote ===

One of the most fundamental reasons for the poverty and underdevelopment of Africa (and of almost all "third world" countries) is neo-colonialism, which in modern history takes the shape of external debt.

When countries are forced to pay 40,50,60% of their government budgets just to pay the interests of their enormous debts, there is little room for actual prosperity left.

International debtors are the modern colonialists, sucking the marrow of countries; no armies are needed anymore to keep those countries subjugated. Debt is the modern instrument of enslavement, the international banks, corporations and hedge funds the modern colonial powers, and its enforcers are instruments like the Global Bank, the IMF, and the corrupt, collaborationist governments (and totalitarian regimes) of those countries, supported and propped up by these neo-colonials.

In reality, not much has changed since the fall of the great colonial empires. In paper, countries have gained their sovereignty, but in reality they are enslaved to the international credit system.

The only thing that has changed, is that now the very colonial powers of the past, are threatened to become debt colonies themselves. You see, global capitalism and credit system has no country, nationality, colour; it only recognises the colour of money, earned at all cost by the very few, on the expense of the vast, unsuspected and lulled masses.

Debt had always been a very efficient way of control, either on a personal, or state level. And while most of us are aware of the implementations of personal debt and the risks involved, the corridors of government debt are poorly lit, albeit this kind of debt is affecting all citizens of a country and in ways more profound and far reaching into the future than those of private debt.

Global capitalism was flourishing after WW2, and reached an apex somewhere in the 70's.

The lower classes in the mature capitalist countries had gained a respectable portion of the distributed wealth, rights and privileges inconceivable several decades before. The purchasing power of the average American for example, was very satisfactory, fully justifying the American dream. Similar phenomena were taking place all over the "developed" world.

Kgaard : , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:32 AM
Cover your a$$ much Larry? No mention of mass immigration? No mention of the elites' conscious, planned attack on homogeneous societies in Western Europe, the US, and now Japan?
anne -> Kgaard... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:44 AM
There is of course no reasonable answering to prejudice, since prejudice is always unreasonable, but should there be a question, when was the last time that, say, the United States or the territory that the US now covers was a homogeneous society?

Before the US engulfed Spanish peoples? Before the US engulfed African peoples? Before the US engulfed Indian peoples? When did the Irish, just to think of a random nationality, ruin "our" homogeneity?

I could continue, but how much of a point is there in being reasonable?

Kgaard -> anne... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 11:21 AM
The US was 88% European as of 1960. As of 1800 it was like 90% English. So yes, it was basically a homogeneous society prior to the immigration act of 1965. Today it is extremely hard for Europeans to get into the US -- but easier for non-Europeans. Now why would that be? Hmm ....

Also ... What is your definition of prejudice?

Benedict@Large -> pgl... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 08:56 AM
The only trade that is actually free is trade not covered by laws and/or treaties. All other trade is regulated trade.

Here's a good rule to follow. When someone calls something the exact opposite of what it is, in all probability they are trying to hustle your wallet.

Has anyone been trying to hustle the wallets of the people who became ISIS? Oh please. That's a stupid question to even ask.

So is free trade, as in regulated trade that is called the opposite of what it is, responsible for ISIS? Of course it is.

Ben Groves -> pgl... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 10:10 AM
ISIS was invented by Wall Street who financed them. ISIS is a scam, just like Bin Laden's group, just like "COMMUNISM!!!!" to control people. To manipulate them.

It is like using the internet to think you are "edgy". Some dudes like psuedo-science scam artist Mike Adams are uncovering secrets to this witty viewer............then you wonder why society is degenerating. What should happen with Mike Adams is, he should be beaten up and castrated. My guess he would talk then. Boy would his idiot followers get a surprise and that surprise would have results other than "poor mikey, he was robbed".

This explains why guys like Trump get delegates. Not because he uses illegal immigrants in his old businesses, not because of some flat real wages going over 40 years, not because he is a conman marketer.........he makes them feel safe. That is purely it. I think its pathetic, but that is what happens in a emasculated world. Safety becomes absolute concern. "Trump makes me feel safe".

Guys, the bourgeois state is a protection racket and always has been. It makes you feel safe, secure and "feel like man". So we can enjoy every indulgent individual lust the world has to offer. Then comes in dialectics of what that protection racket should do.

To me, the bourgeois state is nothing more than a protection racket for the rich, something you should not forget.

DrDick : , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:35 AM
I find it rather precious that Summers pretends not to understand why people hate TPP. I do not think there is any real widespread antipathy toward global integration, though it does pose some rather substantial systemic dangers, as we saw in the global financial collapse. What people, including me, oppose is how that integration is structured. These agreements are about is not "free trade", but removing all restrictions on global capital and that is a big problem.
pgl -> DrDick ... , Monday, April 11, 2016 at 07:57 AM
OK - some substance finally. TPP is not free trade. It is protectionism for the rich.
DrDick -> pgl... ,