When Wall Street flies with Icarus’ wings

When Wall Street flies with Icarus’ wings

October 08, 2020

by Jean-Luc Baslé for The Saker Blog

Wall Street is forever rising. The S&P500 index rose to 3,581 on September 2nd, 2020 – the highest level it has ever reached since its creation. This makes no sense. Wall Street is a reflection of the state of the economy which is in recession since February[1], the worst recession since 1929. How can share prices rise when the economy is falling? To answer this question, let’s analyse the economic policy of the United States these past few years, taking Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s speech of August 27th, 2020 as our starting point. Going back in time, we see that American leaders ignored the fundamental laws of economics. We note that foreign leaders, such as the European Central Bank governors, followed the same path. We conclude that stock prices do not reach the sky, and that the United States is caught in a bind from which the only way it can extricate itself is through a dollar depreciation. This bodes ill for the American Empire. The dollar is one of its main pillars.

Jerome Powell questions the validity of quantitative easing

Depending on their editorial stand, the media understood Powell’s speech as a return to inflation, giving greater attention to unemployment. But this summary ignores the essence of the message which questions the validity of quantitative easing – a policy followed by the Federal Reserve since November 2008. This is what Powell said: “With interest rates generally running closer to their effective lower bound even in good times, the Fed has less scope to support the economy during an economic downturn by simply cutting the federal funds rate.” In short: pushed to its limit, quantitative easing loses its capacity to alter employment and inflation. Quite logically, Jerome Powell and the Federal Open Market Policy (FOMC) call for a softening of the rules governing inflation and employment: “appropriate monetary policy will likely aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time”, and “a strong labor market, particularly for many in low-and moderate-income communities”.[2] This was understood as a return to inflation which it is not. It is an attempt to rescue quantitative easing while waiting for a return to more traditional economic policies.

By dropping surreptitiously quantitative easing, Jerome Powell is sending a message to Congress: economic policy cannot rest solely on monetary policy. Congress has at its disposal another tool: the budget. Over the past thirty years, priority has been given to monetary policy for several reasons. For conveniency reasons: monetary policy is essentially defined by one man, the Federal Reserve Chairman with the FOMC congruence. Budgetary policy, on the other hand, is defined by Congress and the President. It takes time for the two to agree, especially if Congress is split between a Democrat and a Republican majority. For efficiency reasons: changes in monetary policy are felt quite rapidly in the economy: six months to a year. It takes a lot longer (one to two years) for changes in the budget to be felt. For practicality reasons: budgetary measures imply taxation or indebtedness. Taxation is not very unpopular with the electorate, and indebtedness, if overused, leads to higher interest rates and slower economic growth. For all these reasons and the more theoretical ones set out by Milton Friedman and the monetarists, monetary policy became the policy of choice for the last thirty years, with quantitative easing being its most advanced form.

Priority being given to monetary policy with the budget playing second fiddle, the budget deficit should have come down and, with time, turned into a surplus. It did not happen. Worse, it has grown over the last twenty years to reach -4.6% in 2019. The initial figure expected for 2020 (-4.6%) will be substantially larger due to the Covid-19 virus. The $2,200 billion CARES Act approved by Congress in March to provide much needed relief to individuals, families and businesses, will translate into a much higher deficit, and a much higher level of debt.

Quantitative easing and the economy

Excessive money creation by central banks is anathema to financial markets since it is synonymous to inflation, higher interest rates, slower growth and the collapse of the stock market. It must be prohibited at all cost. Yet, that’s what quantitative easing is all about, and quantitative easing saved Wall Street and the economy after the 2008 subprime crisis. How can this be? In the fall of 2008, banks’ balance sheets were loaded with corporate bonds whose market value were well below their face value. To avoid a collapse of the market, the Federal Reserve bought the bonds, in effect replacing junk bonds with cash on banks’ balance sheets. The Fed’s bailout commitment totaled $29 trillion.[3] In view of this amount, it is no wonder that the program worked… to Wall Street’s satisfaction. Trust returned, the economy took off, and shares regained and exceeded their previous values. All is well and good, except the Federal Reserve exceeded its mandate. Its job is to provide the liquidity the economy needs to grow and achieve full employment without generating inflation. Under normal circumstances, the banks whose equity was washed out by bad investments, due to senior management’s poor decisions, should have been allowed to fail. To avoid a collapse of the economy, the government would have bought the banks’ shares at their market value, fired the management, and re-introduced the banks on the stock market once their business was back to normal. But these were no “normal circumstances”. Neither Congress which oversees the Federal Reserve policy, nor Barack Obama who was anxious to move past the crisis, blamed the Federal Reserve for outstepping its legal framework. As for Wall Street, it had every reason to rejoice. Not only was it saved from total collapse, but within five years the market value of its stocks, as measured by the S&P500, exceeded its pre-crisis value. It has more than doubled (graph 1).

The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing did not result in a depreciation of the dollar, as could have been expected. In fact, the subprime crisis strengthened its value somewhat, as it was perceived by foreign investors as a safe haven to protect their wealth in a tumultuous environment. This strength of the dollar and the relative stability of foreign exchange market is also due to the interconnexion of world’s economies. The subprime crisis first emerged in the United States but spread rapidly around the world. Faced with a potentially damaging economic crisis, world leaders of the largest twenty economies – the G20 – met in Washington DC on November 14-15, 2008, i.e. only two months after Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy. Asian and European central banks agreed to espouse the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy. Money creation around the world being essentially the same in relative terms, currencies retain their value in relation to each other, as shown by graph 2 (note: exchange rates are expressed as an index, and the value of the pound sterling and the euro have been inversed to make them comparable to the yen and yuan).

Money creation saved Wall Street without depreciating the dollar, but what about employment? The United States’ performance is excellent. The December 2019 unemployment rate is 3.5% – a rate lower than all other advanced economies with the exception of Germany and Japan. The picture is less rosy if one looks at it from a different angle: the length of time it takes to return to full employment. It took 15 months after the 1973 recession, 30 months after 1990, 46 after 2001 and 75 months after 2008, i.e. over six years (graph 3). Quantitative easing which served Wall Street so well, did little for Main Street. Of course, as noted by Jerome Powell, there are other factors to be considered besides monetary policy when studying labor issues. Nonetheless, the conclusion is inescapable: quantitative easing worked better for Wall Street than it did for Main Street.

What about inflation? Ever since Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker put a brutal end to stagflation[4] in letting the overnight rate go over 21% in June 1981, inflation has been subdued. Quantitative easing which is an inordinate increase of money in the economy should have, according to the quantity of money theory, led to inflation. It did not. The large quantity of money injected in the economy by the Federal Reserve had no impact on the price level. Graph 4 compares the velocity of money[5] with the Consumer Price Index – the velocity (blue line) is inversed to underline its exceptional rise in the last few years. Full employment did not lead to higher prices either. Jerome Powell observes that “the historically strong labor market did not trigger a significant rise in inflation”, as the Phillips Curve[6] would predict. He then notes that “inflation that is persistently too low can pose serious risks to the economy”. Clearly, the United States is in a peculiar situation where neither money creation nor full employment translates into higher prices, as economic theories tell us. Several hypotheses may explain this abnormality.

The fairly rapid opening up of the American market[7] in the early 1990s, followed by the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1994, shaped a new environment in which the procurement of a given product was no longer restricted to the home country. Bilateral trade relations among advanced nations became global to include developing nations, such as China which joined the WTO in 2001. Competition among manufacturers became global, pushing prices down. Corporations offshored their production to take advantage of lower wages in developing nations. This weakened the negotiating power of trade unions who were faced with an unpalatable deal: accept lower wages or lose jobs to the Chinese. The digital revolution also played a role in bringing costs down with many firms “rightsizing” their labor force thanks to the adoption of the personal computer. Finally, Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire 11,000 air controllers in 1981 had a tremendous impact on middle income employees who realized status did not protect them anymore: they could lose their jobs as easily as manual workers could. These events put an end to what was known as cost-push inflation – an overall increase in prices due to higher labor and raw material costs.

Increased energy efficiency, as measured by the ratio of oil consumption to GDP[8], also helped contain inflation. The ratio doubled over the last twenty years. While a barrel of oil produced $450,000 of economic wealth in 2000, it produced $920,000 in 2019. This is why the rapid rise in oil prices over the last fifteen years had little if any impact on the state of the world economy, as opposed to shocks inflicted by the 1973 and 1979 price hikes.

In summary, inflation remained subdued due to globalization, the Reagan and digital revolutions, and energy saving. These watershed events spare the United States a rise in price levels that quantitative easing would normally have brought up. Quantitative easing is not inflation-free, it benefited from exceptional conditions. With respect to employment, the Federal Reserve’s performance is dismal when compared to previous periods. But Wall Street has every reason to be satisfied with it.

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy in the recent past.

The decoupling of quantitative easing and inflation partially explains why Jerome Powell is distancing himself from this much vaunted but, in truth, inefficient policy. Besides the dual, yet incompatible inflation-employment objective Congress assigned to Federal Reserve, he must also watch over the largest banks’ financial health to make sure it remains strong. In fact, this was the main role the Federal Reserve Act assigned to the Federal Reserve in 1913. This duty is crucial. Economic crises often arise from a bank failure, as was the case with Lehman Bros.’ bankruptcy in September 2008. From this standpoint, Jerome Powell deserves our praise for he averted two crises in the recent past even though one may argue about the reasons they were conducted.

The first rescue took place in September 2019. Without warning, interest rates on the “repo” market shot up to 10% in mid-day on September 17th., 2019.[9] This market is a corner stone in Wall Street’s architecture. If it fails, the whole structure crumbles. The Federal Reserve had to act promptly to calm the market down. This is what it did in injecting $41 billion into the market that very day. Interest rates plummeted. On September 18th, they had returned to their September 16th level. The cause of this ephemeral panic remains a mystery. But the fact that the Federal Reserve had to keep intervening for several months, leads one to conclude that structural causes might have been at work.

This incident was the prelude of a much worse crisis which was averted thanks to the combined effort of the Federal Reserve and Congress. On February 19, the S&P500 reached a new high: 3,386, then dropped abruptly reaching its lowest level in the year: 2,237 on March 23, i.e. a 30% fall in 36 days. This time, the Federal Reserve was slower in reacting. It’s only on March 11th, nearly a month after the stock market began to tumble, that it began injecting liquidity into the economy, propping up the stock market (graph 5). On March 13th, two Congressmen from the Democratic Party offered to help people who lost their job due to the pandemic. It took the form of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act for short, which was unanimously approved by the Senate on March 25th and signed by Donald Trump on the 27th. It took only 15 days to ratify a law granting $2,200 billion, or about 10% of the gross domestic product – the largest amount ever approved in the history of the United States – to dodge an economic crisis in the making. Considering that by March 11, only 37 people had died from the virus while the S&P500 had already lost 19% of its value, one may question the politicians’ motivation. Was it the Covid-19 or was it Wall Street which led them to act decisively? Generous as it is to the unemployed, the CARES Act is equally generous to corporations which already benefited from the Federal Reserve’s action. Wall Street resumed its rise.

May the stock market rise to the sky? One is tempted to believe it when considering its performance. Could investors be the victim of an “irrational exuberance”? Not so, say some analysts who attribute the market rise to the “big tech” corporations (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft), also known under the acronym GAFAM. They account for about 20% of the market value and they are pooling up the market. But, excluding them from the S&P500 would mean excluding them – as well as other outperformers such as Tesla, Netflix, Nvidia, or Salesforce – from the American gross domestic product. One cannot dissect the market according to one’s view. The market is a reflection of the economy at large: the more profitable the corporations, the higher the value of their shares. Right? Wrong. Over the last few years, the stock market is disconnected from the economy. Net income has been flat since 2017 while share values gained 43% (graph 6). This makes no sense. The market is acting irrationally. It’s a matter of time before it corrects itself.

Returning to orthodoxy

In the 50’s and 60’s, the American government was a paragon of virtue. The budget was in quasi-equilibrium. There was little debt, no inflation, and the workforce was fully employed. Things have changed since then. The deficit is rising, the debt is growing ever-larger, and employment is not what it is purported to be. In the trio it makes up with the Federal Reserve and Wall Street, the federal government is the most important element for it defines the economic policy.

This brings us back to Jerome Powell’s speech. A lesser importance granted to monetary policy, as he posits, means a great one given to budgetary policy, assuming of course that the government has the latitude necessary to do so. This is not the case. The deficit is on a downward slope ever since the late 1960s, with the exception of a four-year gap from 1999 till 2002[10]. The federal debt rose from 40% of GDP in the early 1980s to 107% in December 2019. The combined Federal Reserve/CARES Act rescue package pushed it up to 137% as of June 30th – a level higher than at the end of World War II (119%). Giving a greater role to budgetary policy means either higher taxes or more debt, or both. Taxes have never been very popular with the electorate, and the federal debt reached a level beyond which the United States’ credit rating may fall and the value of the dollar may drop. Authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place: monetary policy lost its effectiveness at a time the budget deficit should be reined in.

With 29.7 million unemployed (including the 13.6 million “gig” workers with no insurance coverage), the situation could quickly become worrisome, politically and socially. Aware of the danger, members of Congress had hoped to prolong the CARES Act for the unemployed, but electoral rivalry with the upcoming presidential election quickly set in and any attempt to maintain some of the benefits of the CARES Act were doomed to failure. On August 8th, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order granting $300 a week to unemployed people – humanitarian and electoral reasons no doubt explain his decision. The Center for Control Disease and Prevention declared a moratorium forbidding tenant evictions until the end of the year, bringing some relief to the most vulnerable families. Praiseworthy as the decision might be, it carries a risk: bankruptcy for real estate owners who, deprived from rental revenues, may not be able to reimburse their bank loans. In turn, this may weaken the banks’ financial health and be the cause of a crisis.

The situation is becoming inextricable. The on-going deterioration of the economy increases the budget deficit and the public debt beyond reasonable levels while monetary policy has lost its effectiveness. The government’s two main levers to direct the country’s economic policy have become ineffectual. Due to the presidential election, no new measures are likely to be implemented between now and February or March – a time lapse during which the economy is likely to deteriorate further.

To prevent such an unwelcome development, Ms. Loretta Master, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland suggested on September 23rd to credit every American’s bank account with “digital dollar” directly from the Federal Reserve. Her proposal was well received. Market analyst Wolf Richter calculates that a $3 trillion transfer would translate into a $28000 sum for a household of two adults. This would prop up consumer spending and pull the American economy out of recession. But it would also create inflation and depreciate the dollar. A digital dollar is a dollar. Ms. Master’s proposal is another form of money creation. The total of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet which amounted to 40% of the gross domestic product in the 1960s, rose to 100% in December 2012. It now stands at 125%. Is the United States on its way to repeating the Wehrmacht Republic’s mistakes of the 1920s? What will happen to the dollar, if the Federal Reserve pursues its money creation policy? And what will happen to the United States’ credit rating?

Icarus’s wax is melting

Whatever measures are eventually agreed upon the public debt will rise. Who will finance it? About 70% of it is presently financed by the American public, federal agencies and the Federal Reserve. The remaining 30% is financed by foreigners. The percentage is dropping. In the summer of 2012, foreign investors held 34% of the public debt. The trend is likely to continue if we use gold prices. Gold is a yardstick of investors’ confidence. For several years, worried investors have been exchanging their dollar-denominated U.S. Treasury holdings for gold, pushing up its price. Graph 7 is most interesting in that it shows the investors’ change of mood. Following the 2008 subprime crisis, they put their financial assets into dollar and gold. Today, they are moving out of the dollar into gold. This is not a good sign for the dollar.

Meanwhile, the stock market is fumbling. After reaching its highest value ever on September 2nd (3,581), it is falling. Share values, like Icarus, do not rise to the sky. If the stock market fall continues which is most likely due to the state of the economy, the American recession will translate into a world recession, since the U.S. economy accounts for 15% of the world economy. In turn, the world recession will aggravate the American recession in a vicious circle analogous of the Great Depression. This could mean the demise of the American Empire.

Jean-Luc Baslé is a former Citigroup (New York) Vice President, Columbia University graduate, Princeton University graduate, 20 years in the United States, author of “The International Monetary System: Challenges and Perspectives” (1982), “L’euro survivra-t-il ?” (2016).

  1. National Bureau of Economic Research. 
  2. “New Economic Challenges and the Fed’s Monetary Policy Review”, Jerome H. Powell – August 27, 2020. 
  3. $29,000,000,000,000: a detailed look at the Fed’s bailout by funding facility and recipient. James Felkerson, Dec. 2001. 
  4. Stagflation is an unusual combination of inflation and recession (unemployment). 
  5. The velocity of money is the ratio of money to the gross domestic product. 
  6. Higher level of employment leads to higher wages and higher inflation. 
  7. In the 1960s, U.S. imports amounted to 5% of gross domestic product. They averaged 16.5% in the last decade. 
  8. Gross domestic product 
  9. A repurchase agreement “repo” is a short-term secured loan: one party (usually a financial institution) sells securities to another and agrees to repurchase them within a short period of time. 
  10. This was due to the “peace dividend”. 

Economic Cycles and Coronavirus

Economic Cycles and Coronavirus

June 13, 2020

by Francis Lee for the Saker Blog

‘’The years since the 1970s are unprecedented in terms of their volatility in the price of commodities, currencies, real estate, and stocks. There have been 4 waves of financial crises: a large number of banks in three, four or more countries collapsed at about the same time. Each wave was followed by a recession, and the economic slowdown which began in 2008 was the most severe and most global since the great depression of the 1930s … Bubbles always implode, since by definition they always involve non-sustainable increases in the indebtedness of a group of borrowers and/or non-sustainable increases in the price of stocks/shares … Debt can increase much more rapidly than income for an extended period …’’ But ‘’… when eventually the rate of their indebtedness slows the ‘day of reckoning’ occurs, when there isn’t enough cash to pay the interest on outstanding loans the bust is inevitable.’’ (1)

Interestingly enough 1971 was the year when Nixon took the world off the gold standard, which had been in effect since 1944. At a stroke this was probably the most destabilizing event since the Wall Street Crash of 1929. But the full effects didn’t filter through the system until the decades beginning in the 1960s. The problem was the fact that the US economy had undergone a metamorphosis from being a surplus trading nation to being a deficit nation. Earlier, in 1944 to be exact, it was agreed at the Bretton Woods conference that a new trading system needed to be constructed, this in order to overcome the problems of the inter-war trade wars which had led to mutual impoverishment. The new global trade architecture was to be based upon a hierarchy of hard currencies, the British pound, the French Franc, the Italian Lira et cetera all aligned at a fixed rate of exchange with the US dollar which was to be convertible with gold at $35 per ounce.

The system worked for a while but excess US expenditures – namely the imperial expeditions in Korea and Indo-China, as well as a bloated system of some 800 military bases stationed in areas all over the world, and add in the social expenditures of the LBJ administration in the US, all of which meant that abundant US$s were turning up all over the place, particularly in Europe and Japan. Holders of these surplus greenbacks sought conversion into either their own currencies or the universal equivalent – gold. This gave rise to a run on gold since the US was required to honour the arrangement of convertibility. In its turn this led to a serious depletion of US gold reserves which necessitated the US (and by implication involve the rest of the world) to unilaterally suspend the gold standard. Henceforth US trading partners would, whether they liked it or not, take dollars which they were assured were as good as gold (a ridiculous proposition). This was described by the French politician Valery Giscard D’Estaing as an ‘Exorbitant Privilege’ and of course he was perfectly correct. At this point the Triffin Dilemma/Paradox kicked in. But I have covered this elsewhere (See The Rise and Fall of Empires).

It should be understood that booms and busts have always been normal in a capitalist economy. Two eminent political economists have put forward their explanation of this phenomenon as follows.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) explained that capitalists would try to boost their profits in new and more productive technology to save labour costs. In a letter to his close compatriot and friend – Friedrich Engels – he wrote: ‘’All of you note that from reasons I no longer have to explain, that capitalist production moves through certain periodical cycles.’’ He particularly identified the rate of profit to be the independent variable in capitalist production; this variable gave rise to a number of other dependent variables such as employment and unemployment, investment decisions, stock market booms and slumps, and capitalist companies borrowing monies by issuing shares/stocks or borrowing directly from banks. They also began to issue bonds as did governments. Thus the role of finance capital was enormously enhanced.

Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) reckoned that when capitalism went into a crisis or slump, it made much of the old equipment or plant obsolete. Other capitalists then began to turn to the new technology to gain advantage, so capitalist slumps led to innovations. Schumpeter called this process ‘creative destruction’. So a cycle of new technology would start after a major slump. But this new technology would not be developed until the profits cycle moved into upswing. Then there would be a take-off of the new technology. The next downward wave would mean a setback to the new technology cycle and an even worse situation for capitalists depending on the old technology. Finally, in another new upswing for profits, the new technology would take over as the dominant force. In the next downswing the new technology would become mature and capitalists would look for new systems and the whole process would restart.

These cycles, however, would very much vary in duration from fairly short-term business restocking, to longer term business cycles, property cycles, profit cycles and into longer and more profound upheavals which may have matured over decades. The Kondratiev cycle being a prototype which has lasted for at least 60 years. Nikolai Kondratiev himself was a Soviet economist who was able to identify such cycles. Four such waves were identified from the late 1700s and four complete waves were identified by Kondratiev. Such waves were occasioned by the usual boom-bust cycle but essentially these cycles were pushed forward by the production and diffusion of new technologies and the operationalization of new modes of production. From water powered, steam powered, electrification, Fordist organized production, and digital communications and computerization of the entire economy. These were the ongoing means of production, although the class nature of the capitalist system did not change.

Unfortunately Kondratiev found himself on the wrong side of the Stalinist nomenklatura and was arrested for suggesting that the US would not necessarily collapse in the great recession of ’29. Heresy! He was arrested and did 8 years in one of those grim Soviet prisons, and finally taken out and was shot by firing squad in 1938. These were grim times.

In recent years, however there has been a new development feature which has been exacerbated during crisis situations involving that part of the economy indicated by the acronym FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) and its growing importance in the economy in both qualitative and quantitative terms.

Finance as it is referred to has always been part of the general economy. But it was always in a sense the junior partner to industry and subordinate as such. Its role was to support the productive sector in terms of credit and liquidity, but the relationship has now become almost inverted. Value producing Industry is now relegated to the second tier of the economy and finance now runs the show.

‘’To maintain the semblance of vitality Western capitalism has become increasingly dependent on expanding debt levels and on the expansion of fictitious capital … fictitious capital is made up of financial assets that are only symbols of value, not real values. For example company shares that are traded like goods and services do not in the same way embody value. They are tokens which represent part ownership of a company and the potential of a distribution of future profits in the form of dividends. The paper or electronic certificate itself is not a genuine value that can create more value. Rising share/stock prices are often presented as the evidence of a healthy economy, but the amount of money that a share/stock changes hands says nothing definitive about the value of the company’s assets or about its productive capacity. On the contrary, it is when real capital stagnates that the amount of fictitious capital tends to expand.’’(2)

Turning to financialisation proper and its genesis. This phenomenon was enabled through the holy trinity of privatisation-liberalisation-deregulation. This was a political/economic project which began to take root in the 1970s but came into full fruition in the 1980s led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. At both the political and economic level radical theorists such as those ensconced at the Chicago University department of Economics became the crucial protagonists in a movement led by Milton Friedman and which was to become known as the Chicago School. Its impact was profound. This insofar as it signalled the end of one epoch and the beginning of another.

‘’The expansion of the financial sector is the most recognisable aspect of financialisation. However a more telling part for how the workings of the economy change is the adoption of financial activities by the non-financial corporate sector, by the wider industrial economy. The core feature of financialisation is the fusion of industry with financial activity. (My emphasis -FL) Troubled financial firms turn to financial activity in order to raise cash and/or shore up profitability.

These activities start with raising debt to fund business operations working at sub-par profitability. They extend into financial engineering where buying and selling shares or acquiring companies take precedence over productive investment and organic growth in the underlying businesses. Financial services companies are often helpful in conducting these activities. The drive-through comes from the non-financial businesses that are obliged to pursue financial activities when their original productive ones are less profitable and remunerative.’’ (3)

The hegemon of deregulated finance had thus assumed a seemingly unstoppable momentum from the late 20th century, through to the 80s and 90s until the early 21st century. It has been a process whereby financial markets, financial institutions, and financial elites gain greater influence over economic policy and economic outcomes. It has impacted on the economy producing deep-going changes, not necessarily for the better. But its principal raison d’etre has been to elevate the significance and practice of rent-seeking activities relative to the real value-producing sector. Economic rent is essentially parasitic involving the tapping into those income streams which are producing real value. These consist inter alia of – banks, credit agencies, investment companies, brokers and dealers of commodities and securities, security and commodity exchanges, insurance agents, buyers, sellers, lessors, lessees and so forth – has now reached such a level that it has become larger, more ubiquitous, and profitable than productive industry.

In contemporary terms financial institutions had been involved in the acquisition of economic rent. This consisted of little more than a parasitic claim on real value as was produced in the production process. To cite a simple example. Parking meters don’t produce any new value, they merely transfer existing value from the motorist to whoever is collecting the meter charges. Other examples are rent from land, patents and copyrights, monopolistic pricing and so forth. This situation was initially outlined by David Ricardo (1772-1823) who argued that ‘’The interest of the landlord is also opposed to the interest of every other class in society – namely, capitalists and workers. Ricardo’s animus toward the land-owning classes was in part based upon this theory of economic rent as outlined in his definitive work, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation first published in 1817. It was a theme that Keynes took up 2 centuries later with his recommendation of the early ‘euthanasia’ of the ‘rentier’ and the rentier class. The views of Ricardo and Keynes were unfortunately disregarded, and to this day, in the UK at least, the Monarchy, landed aristocracy and rentier class are still very much a power in the land. (The UK never had its bourgeois revolution, or rather it did in the civil war between Parliament and the King – 1642-49. Cromwell and Parliament won, and Charles 1 had his head chopped off in 1649, but there was a restoration whereby his son Charles 2 was brought back from France to claim the throne of England.)

But I digress.

The whole process of financialisation was to divert income from the real value-producing sector of the economy and transferring it through various rental manipulations to the financial sector. Needless to say this would purposely result in inequality and stagnant and/or falling wage levels.

Thus from 1970 onwards this part of the economy has grown from almost nothing to 8% of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This means that one dollar in every ten is associated with finance. In terms of corporate profits finance’s contribution now represents around 40% of all corporate profits in the US. This is a significant figure and, moreover, it does not include those overseas earnings of companies whose profits are repatriated to their countries of origin.

Finance operates at different levels in the economy: through changes in the structure and operation of financial markets, changes in the behaviour of nonfinancial corporations, and changes in economic policy

The increasing pervasiveness of finance in the contemporary world economy and its ever-expanding role in overall economic activities, and in addition to its ongoing growth in profitability, are the indicators of growth and spread of financialisation. Given the historical record, however, it seems highly probable that this financial ascendency will not be permanent and the whole house of cards will eventuate into a collapse into debt-deflation and a long period of economic depression.

The template for contemporary financial operations can be described from activities of Investment banks like Goldman Sachs as well as run-of-the-mill commercial banks. Of course, as stated, these venerated institutions do not create value as such; they are purely rent-extractive. Commercial banks can and do make loans out of thin air, debit this loan to the would-be mortgagee who then becomes a source of permanent income flow to the bank for the next 25 years. At a more rarefied level Goldman Sachs is reputed to make year-on-year ‘profits’ by doing – what exactly? Nothing particularly useful. But then Goldman Sachs is part of the cabal of central banks and Treasury departments around the world. It is not unusual to see the interchange of the movers and shakers of the financial world who oscillate between these institutions. Hank Paulson, Mario Draghi, Steve Mnuchin, Robert Rubin, and most recently from the IMF to the ECB, Madame Lagarde … on and on it goes.

This system now moves into ever more vertiginous levels of instability. But this was the logical consequence of deregulation. Regulation involves additional costs, but the last thing financial markets want is an increase in costs: ergo, deregulation. But this was to be wholly expected. As a result the history of regulation is that new types of institutions are developed that exist outside the scope of regulations, e.g., money-market funds were developed as a way to pay interest on demand deposits. The offshore market developed to avoid the costs that domestic banks incur in the form of reserve requirements and deposit insurance premiums; the offshore branches of US banks – i.e., the Eurodollar market – could pay higher interest rates than their domestic branches. The whole institutional structure – its rules, regulations and practises were deregulated, and finance was let off the leash. Thatcher, Reagan, the ‘Big Bang’ had set the scene and there was no going back: neoliberalism and globalization had become the norm. From this point on, however, there followed a litany of crises mostly in the developing world, but these disturbances were in due course to move into the developed world. Serial bubbles began to appear.

Ever mobile speculative capital was to move from one financial debacle to the next leaving a trail of wreckage and destruction in its wake. But, hey, that was someone else’s problem. The Savings and Loans crisis 1980’s and 90’s, Long Term Capital Management, 1998, dot.com bubble 2000/2001 and the property market bust in 2008 where the precursors of the current and even deeper blow-out.

But contrary to popular mythology – ‘this time it’s different’ – any boom and bust has an inflexion point where boom turns to bust. This is when buyers incomes, and borrowers inability to extend their loans could no longer support the rise in the price level. Euphoria turned to panic as borrowers who once clamoured to buy were now desperate to sell. 2008 had arrived. The same financial drama of boom and bust was to repeat itself. In the initial euphoria property prices went up but the market became oversold. At this point house prices and the prices of attendant derivatives – e.g. Mortgaged Backed Securities (MBS) – began to stall. The incomes and borrowing of would-be purchasers could no longer support the ever-rising property asset prices. The cycle had reached its inflexion point, now the whole thing went into reverse. Everyone was frantic to sell, prices collapsed. Some – a few – made money, quite a few lost monies. Investors were wondering what had happened to their gains which they had made during the up phase. Where had all that money gone? In fact the ‘gains’ were purely fictional as were the losses. Such gains/losses which had appeared then simply disappeared like a will ‘o’ the wisp. The gains and losses were never there in the first place given as an accounting identity they were balanced.

One would have thought that past experience would have chastened investors into a more conservative frame of mind. But no. Whenever there was a sniff of something for nothing the mob starts to move like Wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti, an unstoppable stampede. Even such luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton perhaps one of the greatest scientific minds of his day who lost a cool £20000.00 on the South Sea Bubble lamented in 1720 that ‘’I could calculate the movement of heavenly bodies but not the madness of the people.’’ I suppose you could see this as being yet of another instance of human irrationalism – a recurring theme and instances in human nature, of which sadly there have been many.

And what has all of this to do with Coronavirus? Well everything actually. I take it that we all knew that the grotesquely overleveraged and dangerously poised world economy was heading for a ‘correction’ but that is rather an understated description. Massive downturn would be more accurate. This was already baked into the cake prior to the COVID-19s emergence and warnings were duly given and then routinely ignored. We are now left with a combination of a dangerous pandemic crisis combined with a huge financial and economic correction. The world was a combination of a unprecedently bloated paper money bubble and a rampant and virulent pandemic virus. Anticipated consequences can only be imagined.

NOTES

(1) Manias, Crashes and Panics – Kindelberger and Aliber – P.1/2 – 6th Edition 2011.

(2) Phillip Mullan – Creative Destruction – p.22

(3) Mullan – Ibid, – p.22/23

*A note on fictitious capital:

Fictitious capital is a by-product of capitalist accumulation. It is a concept used by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. It is introduced in chapter 25 of the third volume of Capital. Fictitious capital contrasts with what Marx calls “real capital”, which is capital actually invested in physical means of production and workers, and “money capital”, which is actual funds being held. The market value of fictitious capital assets (such as stocks and securities) varies according to the expected return or yield of those assets in the future, which Marx felt was only indirectly related to the growth of real production. Effectively, fictitious capital represents “accumulated claims, legal titles, to future production’’ and more specifically claims to the income generated by that production.

The moral of the story is that it is not possible to print wealth or value. Money in its paper representation of the real thing, e.g., gold, is not wealth it is a claim on wealth.

Weimar 2020

 BY GILAD ATZMON

weimar 2020.jpg

By Gilad Atzmon

Have you noticed the peculiar fact that despite the lockdown, the economic crisis, tens of millions unemployed and multiple corporations filing for bankruptcy, Wall Street is having a ball? CNBC‘s Jim Cramer examined this anomaly earlier a few days ago, his verdict:  “we’re looking at a V-shaped recovery in the stock market, and that has almost nothing to do with a V-shaped recovery in the economy. What is going on is one of the greatest wealth transfers in history.”

Jim Cramer: The pandemic led to ‘one of the greatest wealth transfers in history’ https://youtu.be/15pFQxG9wko

 How can the market rebound when the economy has not?  Cramer’s answer is so simple. “Because the market doesn’t represent the economy; it represents the future of big business.”

 Cramer points out that while small businesses are dropping like flies, big business—along, of course, with bigger wealth, is coming through the crisis virtually unscathed.

 Cramer projects that the transfer will have a “horrible effect” on the USA. We are already seeing a tsunami of bankruptcies. The economic fallout is inevitable. Federal data shows that the nation faces a 13.3 percent unemployment rate. The fortunes of U.S. billionaires increased by $565 billion between March 18 and June 4 while the same 11-week period also saw 42.6 million Americans filing jobless claims. The results are devastating, if hardly a news item: while the American people are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer.

 One would have thought that the American Left and progressive political institutions would be the first to be alarmed by these developments. We tend to believe that tempering the rich and their greed, caring for working people and fighting for equal opportunities and justice in general are the Left’s prime concerns.

The American reality,  however, suggests the opposite. Instead of uniting us in a fierce battle against Wall Street and its broad daylight robbery of what is left of American wealth, the American Left is investing its last drops of  political energy in a ‘race war.’ Instead of committing to the Left’s key ideological values, namely: class struggle that unites us into one angry fist of resistance against this theft and discrimination, and without regard to our race, gender, or sexual orientation, the American Left makes us fight each other.

 The  silence of the Left on the current Wall Street “wealth transfers” is hardly an accident.  American Left and Progressive institutions are supported financially and by Wall Street and global financiers. This funding means that, in practice, the American Left  operates as a controlled opposition. It maintains its relevance by sustaining social and racial tensions that draw attention away from Wall Street and its crimes. The so called ‘Left’ is also reluctant to point at  Wall Street and its current theft,  as such criticism, however legitimate,  would immediately be censured as ‘antisemitic’ by the Jewish institutions that have appointed themselves to police Western public discourse.

 There is plenty of  history of such divisive politics from the Left and the way it often ends up betraying the Working Class. The collapse of the German Left in the early 1930s is probably the most interesting case-study of this. 

 Prior to the 1929 economic collapse, Germany’s fascist movement was a relatively marginal phenomenon consisting of various competing factions. In the 1928 elections the Nazi Party received 2.8 percent (810,000 votes) of the general vote. But then the 1929 crash led to a rapid and sharp rise in unemployment;  from 1.2 million in June 1929 to 6 million in January 1932. Amidst the crisis, production dropped 41.4 percent from 1929 to the end of 1931, resulting in skyrocketing poverty.  Like millions of Americans at the moment, in the early 1930s millions of Germans spent many days and nights in food queues.

 One would assume that the collapse of capitalism would have been politically celebrated by the German Communists and Marxists as the Germans lost hope in ‘bourgeois democracy’ and capitalism alike.  The German Communist Party (KPD), like the Nazi party,  increased its power exponentially following the economic meltdown. Yet the German Left missed its golden opportunity. Despite the poverty and the austerity measures, it was Hitler who eventually won the hearts and the souls of the German working class. By the September 1930 election Hitler had won 18.3 percent  and then in July 1932 37.4 percent. In just four years the Nazis increased their support by 13 million votes.

 A lot has been written about the failure of the German Left, both Marxists and Communists, to tackle Hitler and Fascism. Some Marxists are honest enough to admit that it was actually the KPD, its authoritarian and divisive politics that paved the way for Hitler and Nazism.

 Like Stalin, the German KPD was quick to employ the term  ‘fascist’ to describe any and all political opponents. In an act of gradual self-marginalisation, the German Left reduced itself into irrational political noise that finally lost touch with reality. The KPD were so removed from understating the political transition in Germany that on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, the KPD foolishly declared: “After Hitler, we will take over!”

 Like the American radical  Left today, the KPD fought in street battles against the Nazis from 1929 to 1933.  These battles cost the lives of  hundreds of Nazis and KPD members. But in 1933 no political group paid as high a price in blood as the KPD. Nearly  a third of KPD members ended up in prison.  

 It is notable that one of the most concerning aspects of Left politics is the peculiar fact that agitators who claim to be inspired by ‘dialectics’ appear blind to their own ideological past. Consequently, they are detached from the present and totally removed from a concept of ‘future.’

 I have been saying for some time that Trump often makes the right decisions if always for the wrong reasons. For instance, he declared ‘a war’ on social media authoritarianism in the name of the 1st Amendment. Though this is clearly the right result, Trump is not motivated by any genuine concern for ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘human rights’ he is simply upset that his tweets are subject to ‘fact checks.’ The Left, peculiarly enough, tends to make the wrong decisions if usually for good reasons. Fighting racism is, no doubt, an important goal; Combating America’s police brutality or racial discrimination is a major crucial battle, however, fuelling a race conflict is the worst possible path toward eliminating both racism and discrimination. Such a tactic will only deepen the divide that already splits the American working class. I wonder whether this divide is exactly what the American Left is trying to achieve: is this possibly what it is paid to do?

 Today as American progressives and leftists  gear up for a long relentless battle, I have a little advice to offer. History teaches us that Fascism always wins when the conditions for a Marxist revolution are perfect. When you push for a race conflict and further fragmentation of the American society, bear in mind that you may end up facing a real Trump character (as opposed to Donald) that may be able to unite America and make it great for real, but you won’t find your place in it.   


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Picturing the media campaign needed to get the US back to work

May 11, 2020

Picturing the media campaign needed to get the US back to work

Ramin Mazaheri and Jeff J Brown – for The Saker Blog

We can’t always find it but there is always a tipping point. Last week I crunched the data and suggested it’s May 17: The date the Great Lockdown must end or Everything Bubble 2 pops.

Maybe I’m a few days off, but not many more: This bubble-popping is precisely why Trump is not wearing a mask, planned to end the corona task force and keeps talking about reopening; this is why 300 US CEOs and the Department of Defense sent Mexico’s president a letter threatening that they better reopen now and not screw up corporate supply chains.

But what is absolutely certain is that getting the West back to work requires some sort of propaganda campaign to do so – what will that media effort look like?

When I recently asked What would it take for proponents to say: ‘The Great Lockdown was wrong’? readers pointed that many politicians are dug in way too deep to climb out. Yet, whether they claim to be “wrong” or “right” – climb out they must:

There has never been a vaccine for a coronavirus; neoliberalism is predicated on constant growth and wage-earning; The New York Times’ irresponsible rebroadcasting of 1.1 million US deaths in “a best-case scenario wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on – the West has to end the Great Lockdown.

But Americans aren’t going to go back to work until their media stops scaremongering, as their scaremongering line is slavishly followed by European and Western media: polls show more Americans fear getting sick from the virus than economic hardship, and despite all the data showing only the elderly and medically-vulnerable are at risk (thus they are the healthy ones who should be quarantined).

The New York Times now despises Sweden for their corona-sovereignty, but even they can’t help but admit Sweden shows the only way out of the Great Lockdown: “But what about the economy? The choice is not between indefinite shutdown and Russian roulette. A transition needs to occur that balances the risks at play. From that perspective, Sweden is the future.”

The first step is talking about it – how will the West do that?

I have said from the beginning that the West’s arrogance is that whatever China can do, they can surely do: The West is employing quarantining, control methods and collective-over-individualist concepts used by Asian nations, but without having similar cultures of government economic intervention nor widespread trust in their governments, and amid their economic Great Recession on top of it all.

But can the West use the same media persuasion techniques as China?

To find out what worked for China I posed the question to Jeff J. Brown, author of the most important book on China in decades, China is Communist, Dammit! Brown lived in China for many years and realised he had to refute with data and analysis the Western absurdity that China’s rise has come via capitalist methods.

“There is always lots of debate in China, especially facilitated today with all the electronic social media platforms. There was a lot of discussion in China about citizens having more say in the mainstream media, to increase the flow of useful information during the lockdown. There were forums of every stripe, airing grievances about rules being too strict to measures being too lax, to forums on using TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and old fashioned remedies to prevent/treat Covid.”

This is quite a contrast from what I dubbed The West’s middling, middle-class corona response, which inherently assumed that everyone has a comfortable home, job and savings, even though since 1980 the West’s middle-class has been blown apart. This response was designed by well-paid doctors, professors and epidemiologists, and trumpeted by well-paid Mainstream Media mouthpieces.

In Brown’s book he relates how the Chinese Communist Party is essentially the world’s largest polling agency, constantly querying public opinion on matters big and small. Frankly, if I was forced to select a single trait which separates China’s government from the West’s it would be this one, as it explains their government’s success & efficiency, the obvious & justified basis for the CCP’s popular support, and the bottom-up nature of socialist democracy as opposed to the top-down, technocratic & aristocratic model of Western liberalism.

“There were lots of differing opinions aired in neighborhood, village and town meetings. The red line to not cross is suggesting the overthrow of China’s communist-socialist system of governance, which is no different than the West, where it is verboten to demand an end to capitalism.

(FYI, when I asked Why does the UK have an ‘army’ of volunteers but the US has a shortage? I related how right up there with Iran’s “Down with England, America and Israel” chants is, “Down with those who oppose (the political principle of) the guardianship of the Islamic jurist.” Socialist-inspired revolutionary nations make it crystal clear that a return to capitalism-imperialism or a tolerance of Western-style fascist speech will never be permitted.)

Mao’s mass line continues to this day in the form of millions of surveys conducted among the people, to air concerns and catch the popular zeitgeist. It is all about learning from the bottom up. Then and now, you grab a banner and protest publicly, when all these other avenues of communication have failed. There are an estimated 300-500 public protests a day in this country of 1.4 billion citizens. China haters take this as a sign of weakness. Baba (Father) Beijing sees it as a source of strength.”

The 21st century Western reality is that taking to the streets usually makes one a far-right neo-fascist or an irresponsible anarchist: we see that in the treatment of the Yellow Vests or the recent anti-Lockdown protests in Michigan, which I immediately supported – of course, as I support democracy – in, We’re giving up our civil liberties. Fine, but to which type of state? Brown relates how China’s state is far superior in perhaps the most important thing in politics: incorporating public opinion into public policy.

If anything will be an argument for centralisation over federalism – and central planning over neoliberalism’s “invisible hand… guiding us all towards corporate fascism & neo-imperialism” – it will be the corona-return: it’s clear that the US is wasting a tremendous amount of time, energy and efficiency by having a central government whose suggestions can be and are being totally ignored at the state level.

“Public campaigns like this are done at the neighborhood and private/public employer level. These entities would get their instructions from city/town/village government units, which in turn, working up the hierarchy, got theirs from county, provincial and national level bodies. As is true in socialist countries, the national government may set the tone, but democracy devolves down to the local level, allowing for reasonable adaptation, according to needs on the ground.”

Imagine the amount of discussion – which could have gone to relating the needs of the lower classes and the Mom and Pop shopkeeper/proletariat – which the US wastes daily in political sniping and Trump Derangement Syndrome? The Eurozone common currency will be similarly hindered by disunity, which is the last thing needed in a crisis.

China was stunningly running at 75% economic capacity around February 10 because they are coordinated and united. Some US governors may even, unthinkably, play politics and delay their reopening with November election goals in mind. Americans haven’t had a war on their soil for 150 years – they just don’t know what a crisis is, and that helps explain their lack of unity in this crisis. They think that their preferred politician not taking office in November constitutes a crisis – the building historic economic catastrophe should recalibrate their realities.

Socialist-inspired nations already made the necessary changes, but the Western liberal & economic model cannot

So Brown has surprisingly shown how – as a result of their model of socialist democracy, and not liberal democracy – China really didn’t need a multi-week media campaign like I envision the West needing because there is so much communication between the people and their pubic officials, as well as such an awareness of what is going on, what is needed and what is to be done.

That makes perfect sense when we realise that socialist democracy is based around discussion-based consensus and not the unilateral decree of Western “liberal strongmen” like Emmanuel Macron nor the individualist “great man-ism” personified by Ayn Rand’s blowhard protagonists. In places like Iran and China everything is done by committee (and the CCP and Basij are essentially two huge committees, after all) because these are not only two new systems, but also systems which have inspired massive Western sabotage campaigns: these bureaucrats know that they cannot be high-handed and aloof, but instead must be receptive, responsive and always trying to keep as large a proportion of the population on the side of their socialist-inspired revolution as possible. In short: they cannot risk wasteful mistakes, but why would they even want the system the West has, especially in a few more months?

Of course, there will still be huge health concerns on May 17, especially in the US, but Condensing the data leaves no doubt: Fear corona-economy more than the virus. Of course, the “Western economy” is not at all synonymous with “global economy”, a rather vital point to Iranians, Chinese, Cubans, etc.

Western politicians, none more than state of emergency-loving France, keep reminding us that this is a war: a war necessarily needs heroes, and the West now needs ones other than nurses and rich doctors. A media campaign of, “Go back to work to save grandma’s social security (and our consumer, unplanned economy)”, is thus logical but would obviously be a complete 180 from the editorial policies and public stances of countless Western media and politicians. Such a campaign is probably only feasible for socialist-inspired nations, where collective and not individual action is lauded.

Trump says he views Americans as ‘warriors’ amid coronavirus and he got roundly mocked for it… but I don’t know what the top US public servant can do otherwise, really? America’s bureaucrats thus know the obvious truth of this article – Westerners will need some sort of inspirational campaign to get them back to work. Westerners are culturally prone to fearing others and wanting to stay at home alone even in good times: Given Western history, is it the ‘Great Segregation’ and not the ‘Great Lockdown’?

Westerners will thus likely stay hunkered down, as for months their private media has been ravenously gobbling up the higher ratings they have gotten via pounding fear into their viewers.

You can say I am underestimating the virulence of corona, but about this I am sure: in the Western Mainstream Media there has been basically zero space given to objectively giving so-called “contrarian” views which could possibly calm people’s fears. It as if I am a bad journalist because I am not scaring people?!

I am a bad journalist for immediately waving the red flag that a Great Lockdown is actually a forced suicide march for the West’s abandoned lower classes? It is not my fault that the neoliberal & neo-imperial system of the West refuses to take care of their elder class, and Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism actually contains an immediate answer to the economic chaos caused by the Great Lockdown.

Only time will tell if the Great Segregation/Lockdown was necessary, but we definitely know much more about how to handle coronavirus than on January 1 or even March 1: protect the vulnerable, isolate the sick, take personal responsibility actions in public, population-dense regions need extra precautions, and… get back to normal before the Western double-bubble economy pops.

**********************************

Corona contrarianism? How about some corona common sense? Here is my list of articles published regarding the corona crisis, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!

Capitalist-imperialist West stays home over corona – they grew a conscience? – March 22, 2020

Corona meds in every pot & a People’s QE: the Trumpian populism they hoped for? – March 23, 2020

A day’s diary from a US CEO during the Corona crisis (satire) March 23, 2020

MSNBC: Chicago price gouging up 9,000% & the sports-journalization of US media – March 25, 2020

Tough times need vanguard parties – are ‘social media users’ the West’s? – March 26, 2020

If Germany rejects Corona bonds they must quit the Eurozone – March 30, 2020

Landlord class: Waive or donate rent-profits now or fear the Cultural Revolution – March 31, 2020

Corona repeating 9/11 & Y2K hysterias? Both saw huge economic overreactions – April 1, 2020

(A Soviet?) Superman: Red Son – the new socialist film to watch on lockdown – April 2, 2020

Corona rewrites capitalist bust-chronology & proves: It’s the nation-state, stupid – April 3, 2020

Condensing the data leaves no doubt: Fear corona-economy more than the virus – April 5, 2020

‘We’re Going Wrong’: The West’s middling, middle-class corona response – April 10, 2020

Why does the UK have an ‘army’ of volunteers but the US has a shortage? – April 12, 2020

No buybacks allowed or dared? Then wave goodbye to Western stock market gains – April 13, 2020

Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism – April 14, 2020

No, the dollar will only strengthen post-corona, as usual: it’s a crisis, after all – April 16, 2020

Same 2008 QE playbook, but the Eurozone will kick off Western chaos not the US – April 18, 2020

We’re giving up our civil liberties. Fine, but to which type of state? – April 20, 2020

Coronavirus – Macron’s savior. A ‘united Europe’ – France’s murderer – April 22, 2020

Iran’s ‘resistance economy’: the post-corona wish of the West’s silent majority (1/2) – April 23, 2020

The same 12-year itch: Will banks loan down QE money this time? – April 26,

2020

The end of globalisation won’t be televised, despite the hopes of the Western 99% (2/2) – April 27, 2020

What would it take for proponents to say: ‘The Great Lockdown was wrong’? – April 28, 2020

ZeroHedge, a response to Mr. Littlejohn & the future of dollar dominance – April 30, 2020

Given Western history, is it the ‘Great Segregation’ and not the ‘Great Lockdown’? – May 2, 2020

The Western 1% colluded to start WWI – is the Great Lockdown also a conspiracy? – May 4, 2020

May 17: The date the Great Lockdown must end or Everything Bubble 2 pops – May 6, 2020

Reading Piketty: Does corona delay the Greens’ fake-leftist, sure-to-fail victory? – May 8, 2020


Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.

German Government Bails Out Owners of German Corporations

German Government Bails Out Owners of German Corporations

May 06, 2020

by Eric Zeusse for the Saker Blog

Just as the corrupt U.S. Government is bailing out owners of U.S. corporations while the American public experiences a recession that is heading into a depression, the corrupt German Government likewise is bailing out investors. It’s not illegal for the Government to do that — not even when the corporation that they might bail out next is the nation’s flag-carrying airline, which already receives unfair advantages in competing against other airlines in that country.

The German Government has offered to bail out even the wealthy investors who control the already governmentally favored but privately investor-owned airline Lufthansa, but those super-rich investors demand that it be an unconditional bailout, and negotiations are continuing. On May 5th, the “Flight Global” site bannered “Lufthansa reluctant to accept state aid with conditions attached”, and reported that “Lufthansa Group is holding ‘intensive talks’ with governments in Germany, Austria and Belgium about the provision of state aid.”

The very idea that the general public, the nation’s taxpayers, should ever absorb any losses of any private stock-investors, constitutes the very essence of “socialism for the rich, and capitalism for everybody else.” That is the essential core of fascism, or as Benito Mussolini sometimes called his economic and political system, “corporationism” (control of the government by the owners of corporations), but it is antithetical to any democracy, which is ruled only by its public, not by only the richest of them, who, in any country, own almost all of the corporate stock.

Any corporation that (like Lufthansa is now doing) threatens the government with going out of business or otherwise laying off employees en-masse during what has become a general financial collapse, should instead be promptly and automatically nationalized — taken over completely, at its then-prevailing stock-value — and the stock in it subsequently become sold by the government after the crisis is over, but, at first, then, made available only to its employees (and with low-interest loans being made available to them by the government, in order to enable any and all of them to participate in owning the corporation that employs them), and only subsequently made available to the general public, as a mere investment-gamble.

The only justification for anyone’s owning corporate stock, ever, is that the stockholders agree to take on all of the financial risk that the corporation’s bondholders have not taken on. (Bondholders get paid interest before stockholders get paid dividends.) If, instead, the general public, including all of the taxpayers, are taking on this financial risk, then it is only fair that the public (as represented by the government) will also be appointing, during the economic crisis, all of the corporation’s directors: the corporation will be promptly nationalized. After the economic emergency is over, the corporation will then be re-privatized, first to its employees, and then to the public. No corporation ever should be bailed-out by the government, on any other terms than to nationalize it, on this temporary basis. Either a corporation’s stockholders will fulfill the function that stockholders are supposed to fulfill (as being a sump for the corporation’s financial losses), or else their corporation will be promptly but temporarily nationalized, on this basis. Then, the stockholders will get paid fair market value for their stock, which is far more than they will receive if the corporation simply goes bankrupt — declares itself unable to fulfill its contractual obligations to its bondholders.

That is the way things would function in any democracy.

On April 9th, the Zero Hedge financial site explained in detail why even bailing out the airlines would hurt the economy more than help the economy. It quoted an extraordinarily honest investor, Chalmath Palihaptiya,

“This is a lie that’s been propagated by Wall Street. When a company fails, it does not fire its employees…it goes through a packaged bankruptcy…if anything, what happens is the employees end up owning more of the company. The people who get wiped out are the people who own the unsecured debt and the equity…but the employees don’t get wiped out and the pensions don’t get wiped out.”

[…]

“And if a bunch of hedge funds get wiped out — what’s the big deal? Let them fail. So they don’t get the summer in the Hamptons — who cares.”

But do we have a democracy?

Bailing out the public (workers and consumers) so that they can afford to continue living — and buying, and working — is the right thing to do in an economic crash, but not bailing out investors. What do investors get their incomes from? It’s not from their work, it’s only from the investment risks that they take on, the financial risks that they have agreed to accept. If the government transfers any of those risks onto the public, then the government must nationalize the corporation, because the ONLY value that investors provide in the economy is as a sump for financial risks. That’s it, and that’s all.

Any nation which transfers any of those risks onto the public is criminal — it is taking from the poor and middle class in order to keep the rich rich. It is retroactively dictating to the public: Here is now the deal: heads the investors win, tails you the public lose. That wasn’t supposed to have been the deal. If it retroactively becomes the deal when investors overall are losing money instead of making money, then the government is simply crooked; it is just a bunch of con-artists.

Apparently, the German Government (like many others) is corrupt — it’s transferring risks off of investors and onto consumers and workers. That’s Robin Hood in reverse — exactly the type of situation that governments are supposed to outlaw, and to label as being “theft.” Is it not “theft” when the richest do it? It is transferring onto workers and consumers the ONLY value-added, the only real service, that investors are supposed to be supplying, which is their serving as a sump for risks. If any of that risk-burden is removed from investors and transferred onto the public, then all of their property should automatically become property of the state. No decent government bails out investors — ever. Only criminal ones do, such as the U.S. Government.

If a government legalizes what is authentically (one might even say “in natural law”) criminal to do — such as to take from workers and consumers and give that to investors (and this is what is now commonly but deceptively called ‘democracy’) — then the ultimate criminal has become the state itself, and a revolution is needed. That’s practically the definition of what a revolution is for. Things are that bad in the United States, but in how many other countries is it likewise the case?

Perhaps we are about to find out.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

Global Economic Collapse Reveals the Complete Failure of Neo-Liberal Capitalism

Global Economic Collapse Reveals the Complete Failure of Neo-Liberal Capitalism

Written by Dr. Leon Tressell exclusively for SouthFront

  • Fitch Ratings, ‘Unparalleled Global Recession Underway’
  • Economist Sven Heinrich, ‘Central banks are weapons of economic mass destruction.’

As each day passes by data pours in revealing the immense economic damage caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Most politicians and economic pundits will put the blame for up the economic hurricane, blasting tens of millions into unemployment, on Coronavirus lock downs. Fitch Ratings has given a brief snapshot of the unfolding economic catastrophe which it predicts will last well into the 2020s:

“World GDP is now expected to fall by 3.9% in 2020, a recession of unprecedented depth in the post-war period. This is twice as large as the decline anticipated in our early April GEO update and would be twice as severe as the 2009 recession.”

“The decline in GDP equates to a USD2.8 trillion fall in global income levels relative to 2019 and a loss of USD4.5 trillion relative to our pre-virus expectations of 2020 global GDP. Fitch expects Eurozone GDP to decline by 7%, US GDP by 5.6%, and UK GDP by 6.3% in 2020.”javascript:window[“$iceContent”]

Yet at the beginning of this year the financial media and political classes around the world were making rosy forecasts how we were going to experience moderate economic growth this year built upon solid economic foundations. There was no cause for worry or alarm just let global capital work its magic and trickle-down economics would ensure living standards would rise for all.

Fast forward 4 months and a global health pandemic has revealed how shallow, brittle and unstable were the economic foundations of the neo-liberal economic order that has been heralded as such a success since the Reagan-Thatcher era of the 1980s. These foundations were built upon infinitely low interest rates, an exponential rise in debt both public and private (sending global debt over the $250 trillion mark) and a massive increase in social and economic inequality. Alongside this, has been the intense exploitation of nations in the developing world and the use of regime change wars as naked resource grabs which cement the neo-liberal economic model in position.The world economy was slowing down during 2019 and heading towards a global recession. Japan’s economy had already entered recession territory in the last quarter of 2019, meanwhile PMI data from China and Germany indicated that they were hovering just outside recession territory.The global economy at the end of 2019 was teetering on the brink and just needed a catalyst or pin to pop the everything bubble which has seen massive inflation in the prices of paper assets across the globe ranging from stocks and bonds to derivatives such as collateralized loan obligations.

The anaemic economic growth experienced by global capitalism since the last financial crisis, which was a mere 12 years ago, has been based upon a gigantic expansion of the global money supply as central banks and governments mistakenly believe that the only way to sustain our debt fuelled economic system was to create ever more debt.

The last 12 years since the 2008 global financial crisis have witnessed an unparalleled wealth transfer from the working classes to the billionaire class which wields immense political influence over governments across the world. Central bank stimulus programs i.e. quantitative easing together with historically low interest rates fuelled a speculative bonanza which has pushed financial markets to all-time highs across the globe.

Meanwhile, governments across the world have sought to give the hard pressed billionaire class a helping hand by cutting capital gains, income and corporation taxes across the board. President Trump’s $1 trillion tax give away to the economic elites in 2017 is the most egregious example of this phenomena.

At the same time, wages for billions of ordinary people have stagnated or fallen whilst welfare benefits and health care have declined. We now have the utterly surreal situation whereby 26 billionaires control as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity amounting to over 3.8 billion people.

The working and middle classes together with the underemployed poor of the developing world were made to pay for the costs of the 2008 global economic crisis. Once the Coronavirus pandemic has finally burned itself out the working people of this world will be confronted with an economic depression which will rival and indeed may exceed in severity that of the 1930s. Governments across the board will once again seek to make ordinary people pay for the cost of the gigantic debts incurred by government and central bank bailouts.

In a desperate effort to prop up their system and protect the interests of their own class central bankers and corporate politicians across the globe are presiding over yet another wealth transfer that benefits the richest 1% in society. Bloomberg has noted how over $8 trillion has been printed out of thin air by global central banks and governments to prop up their debt fuelled system. The bulk of this horde of fiat money has gone to service the needs of Wall Street and its counterparts in London, Paris Frankfurt, Shanghai et cetera.The Wall Street Journal has openly acknowledged this truth in an editorial:

“The Fed may feel all of this is essential to protect the financial system’s plumbing and reduce systemic risk until the virus crisis passes, but make no mistake the Fed is protecting Wall Street first. The goal seems to be to lift asset prices, as the Fed did after the financial panic, and hope that the wealth effect trickles down to the rest of the economy.”

As the 2020s progress massive wealth and health inequalities, hunger and poverty will lead large numbers of people to question the hyper financialised economic system whose sole motive is to protect the interests of the 1%.

The American dominated monetary system which gives preferential treatment to the empire and its allies is in decline. Its decline will be exacerbated by the twin hammer blows of the Coronavirus pandemic and the global economic depression now unfolding.

During the coming decade the make the world will become an even more unstable place as the hegemonic power of our era seeks to maintain its dominant position in the global economy at the expense of other nations. The contradictions and tensions between the United States and its rival China will be greatly exacerbated during the next period. As we saw in the 1930s once these economic contradictions and tensions reach breaking point then the superpowers of the day have few course of action open to them beyond war or appeasement of their rival.Yet during the 1930s there were instances where the onward march to war could have been averted. If Republican Spain had defeated Franco’s fascist insurgency then the momentum towards war would have been slowed. It would have greatly strengthened the Popular Front government in France and halted the appeasement policies that allowed Nazi Germany to grow in strength like a cancerous tumour.
During the next decade there will no doubt be other such instances where the onward march to war can be averted.

Same 2008 QE playbook, but the Eurozone will kick off Western chaos not the US

April 18, 2020

Same 2008 QE playbook, but the Eurozone will kick off Western chaos not the US

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog

US bankers caused the Great Recession, and thus the US was the first to suffer economic turmoil. The coronavirus is a novel malady: we now know that it only severely attacks infirm and unstable bodies – it’s not overly facile to graft this idea onto the global economy.

Therefore, among Western nations and their client states it is the Eurozone (the weakest link in the global macro-economy, despite being also the biggest link) which will see the worst economic effects of the “Great Lockdown” stupidity.

(It is “stupid” because the West is employing quarantining and control methods used by Asian nations, but without having similar cultures of governmental economic intervention nor widespread trust in their governments.)

Because reality is multilayered we must not become immune – even though many want to focus only on the medical/tabloid/political sniping/fear aspects of corona – to the enormity of the Great Lockdown’s economic consequences. So it’s wake-up call time:

Hey! It is now really bad, economically!

Double hey!! Europe was already bad, economically!!

Triple hey!!! Europe was already intellectually paralysed when it came to fixing their bad political-economics!!!

We all get the first point, but regarding the second: Sadly, I am a rare Europe-based journalist who has publicly discussed how the Eurozone has already had a Lost Decade worse than either of Japan’s two – here is the data, which was quite easy to crunch but nobody in the Mainstream Media wanted to crunch it (or publish it).

So I tear you away from your corona-fear porn to point out: the Eurozone already had severe underlying morbidity. (Japan’s ailments – such as an obese debt-to-GDP ratio – are of an entirely different order for so many obvious political-structural reasons.)

I keep asking myself: “Maybe it’s not so bad, economically?” After all, the Eurozone has one competitive advantage over their US partners: their governments often chose to protect employment by assuming wage payments. This will prove vital psychologically (which influences consumer activity) and logistically (keeping supply chains normal) upon reopening.

But it is not the “Socialist Republic of the Eurozone” but rather the “Neoliberal Empire of the Eurozone”: some nations have suspended rents and debt repayments, but these are temporary suspensions and not total forgiveness of 1%er rentier parasitical activities. The state orders you to cease economic activity but will not fully cover the costs of doing so – cui bono? The Eurozone, after all, does not want socialist equality but capitalist inequality and wealth/market concentration – it’s the “birthplace of human rights (for aristocrats)”.

But the Eurozone’s wage assumptions and its larger social safety net – funded by the stolen wages of over two centuries of imperialism – cannot mask its fundamental weakness relative to other currencies.

Not much EU QE yet, but what else could they do – go socialist? Or perhaps fix the pan-European project?

Round after round until today’s “well past the point of ‘QE Infinity’” has proven that modern neoliberalism has only one play in its playbook. So we should not be surprised that 2008 is repeating itself.

The US has once again been the first to announce the biggest bailout. Currency swaps to debt-entrap client states were immediately opened in a series of hugely successful moves to buttress the dollar, yet again. In order to diffuse and stagger the effects of money-printing from threatening the dollar’s global dominance – just like a decade ago – we should expect the European Central Bank to hold off their major bailout once again.

The multinational 1% works in tandem, not competition, much to the consternation of analysts who can’t analyse in terms of class warfare. This Western “bankocracy” is something which I described in a 10-part series from last winter: Western central bankers: they’re God, they trust – a 10-part series on the QE economy.

Accordingly, the ECB has only announced a €750 billion rescue package, which is dwarfed by the $6 trillion of the US and even – in a rather significant development – the €1.1 trillion of Germany. France’s bailout is just 10% that of Germany’s, despite being 70% its economic size, because Emmanuel Macron is – of course – 100% supportive of the international 1%’s long-running goal of crushing the French model.

(“Fiscally responsible”, “debt fearing”, “Weimar-scarred” Germany has also additionally announced a “limitless” aid program for small- and medium-sized businesses: this was made possible due to the collateral appropriated from a decade of heartless strangulation of small- and medium-sized businesses in weaker areas of the Eurozone. Disgusting, how the rich get richer and how hypocritically Germany turns socialist just when the heat is turned on. As I point out over and over, because it is a fact: for over a century the obstacle to European stability remains Germany.)

So the ECB is obviously laying back, waiting for US QE to wend its way through the Western economy, but it’ll be the same playbook: G20 central banker + corporate banker collusion to keep QE going across the West.

But how long can infinity last?

Which is to say: how long can European nations keep borrowing from middlemen banks instead of using the ECB as it ought to be used – directly and with sovereignty, and not with national debt-increasing loans, as in this rescue package but outright purchases? The ECB directly funding national governments is against EU law.

The ECB wants to end these rules for this rescue package, but they could be challenged legally. However, they seem to have already thrown out this rulebook and are buying Italian bonds disproportionately – we are in the middle of a crisis, after all, and the wheels of justice move slow. But we don’t know that for sure because – in the lack of transparency which repeatedly plagues pan-European institutions – the ECB does not have to publish details of what it is buying under its emergency bond purchases

How long can this nonsense go on, both legally and politically, as well as historically and culturally?

I assume we’ll only find out for sure when the bond crisis fully hits the Eurozone.

It’s the bond market, stupid

As I wrote in Part 5, How QE has radically changed the nature of the West’s financial system:

“(Nomi) Prins (author of Collusion) quotes Bank of England leader Mark Carney in 2015 to illustrate this point: ‘As I wrote to G20 Leaders, the structure of (the) financial system has changed significantly since the crisis. Virtually all of the net credit since the crisis has been from the bond markets and the size of assets under management has increased by 60% to $74 trillion.’

Those numbers are staggering. The 2017 estimate for worldwide total GDP was around $75 trillion. Global QE had reached $12 trillion in 2016.”

Both the US and Eurozone now have huge corporate debt problems due to QE-funded stock buybacks, but while the biggest problem in the US in 2008 was mortgage debt in the Eurozone it was government debt. If a government – the largest economic player in any nation – cannot pay its bills (and in the Eurozone individual nations have no power to print money to pay their bills) said nation necessarily collapses. This is why government debt problems in the US and Japan are not at all comparable to the government debt problems of Greece, Belgium, France, etc.

Government debt is thus a fundamentally more troubling issue than subprime mortgage or corporate debt, and this is why their Sovereign Debt Crisis lasts four years and was not contained until 2012, years after the US “solved” their issue.

So the key question revolves around lending to sustain the Eurozone’s governments (at what interest rates), and the difference (spreads) between bond rates of different members of the Eurozone (because the failure of one major member could imperil the 19-member euro currency).

Wars increase interest rates, as there is demand caused by the activity of reconstruction, but epidemics historically produce lower interest rates, because nothing needs to be rebuilt and everyone is still peering through a crack in their front door and finding even that risky. This is significant given that European banks were greatly weakened by the 2008 and 2012 crises, to the point where only one European investment bank is now among the world’s 10 biggest (long-wobbly Deutsche Bank); and also that banks play a more vital role than in the US – European companies eschew selling bonds and shares to procure two-thirds of their credit from banks, a rate double that of the US.

We also know that the ECB has already been in negative-interest rate territory since 2014, so they cannot go lower than stealing your savings (and thus gutting their banks profits and making them weaker, and also forcing them to search for risker investments); we also know that nations such as Spain and Italy have had panic-inducing borrowing problems relatively recently; and we also know that their collective currency essentially refuses to be a political collective other than agreeing to all use the same bits of coloured paper.

Europe was supposed to be “forged in crisis”, and what has 12 years of fire revealed? The “pan-European project” essentially comes down to sharing the same bits of coloured paper and free (border, capital) movement. The lack of true international solidarity (which only exists in socialism, and never in competition-based capitalism) makes this a national project with no nation. That sounds paradoxical and nonsensical, but hey – I didn’t pen the Eurozone’s corrupt and unaccountable structure: the teachers of the Chicago Boys did.

A project of international solidarity based on the furthest-right capitalist and most rabidly anti-socialist principles has proven to be as stupid a concept as that sounds. In this crisis Eurozone nations are outbidding each other for personal protective pandemic gear (nor sharing it among themselves, in a public relations campaign the average Eurozoner is galled by), but also the favors of international high finance.

It is the latter which which will kill far more than corona via poverty.

But how has the ECB responded thus far? Typical: steal from others and claim they invented it

What we can certainly count on from the stagnant Eurozone is to expect zero creativity – since 1980 that is only found in Japan and the US, and all the Europeans can do is trail in their wake and try to look smugly stylish.

The European Central Bank’s key April 7 announcement reads like a bunch of concessions to common sense born of desperation, because that’s exactly what they are.

Here is the very start and bullet points of their press announcement – the key here is to note how very much they are willingly degrading the quality of their collateral/financial instruments:

  • ECB adopts an unprecedented set of collateral measures to mitigate the tightening of financial conditions across the euro area
  • Temporary increase in the Eurosystem’s risk tolerance in order to support credit to the economy
  • ECB eases the conditions for the use of credit claims as collateral
  • ECB adopts a general reduction of collateral valuation haircuts
  • Waiver to accept Greek sovereign debt instruments as collateral in Eurosystem credit operations
  • ECB will assess further measures to temporarily mitigate the effect on counterparties’ collateral availability from rating downgrade.

“Mitigate”, “increase in… risk tolerance”, “eases”, “reduction of collateral valuation” – everything is about making banking/fiscal standards lower, and thus riskier. In a monetary bloc which stared into the abyss in 2012, and which has had only growth rate stagnation and internally-weakening austerity ever since… does allowing more risk sound like a good solution?

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the Eurozone’s intrinsic dysfunction is that Greek national bonds, which were formerly considered to be too risky to be part of the ECB’s bond-buying program, will now be bought. This measure should have been implemented immediately in 2012 to help collectively mitigate bad Greek collateral, but richer Eurozone members wanted to force their products into Greece and buy up Greek assets. But what they are saying now is that collateral which was bad in 2012 is acceptable in 2020 even though said collateral is fundamentally even weaker, due to the failed solutions of austerity and upcoming post-corona economic prospects.

In a neoliberal bankocracy with a normal, united currency the ECB would socialise this bad collateral directly, but they cannot; they cannot bypass the banking middlemen (because they have never created “more Europe”), who can indeed refuse to buy Eurozone national bonds and send borrowing costs to unsustainable 7% levels.

The last one is the kicker, “rating downgrade”: for reasons only “capitalist conspiracy” can probably explain, word on the street is that ratings agencies feel that their credibility is on the line this time and so they will not be lenient like in 2008. Thus, the corona lockdown will produce a ton of corporate and banking downgrades, which will increase their borrowing costs, thus provoke bank bankruptcies in a currency bloc heavily dependent on their banks. The ECB is thus acknowledging to these groups that it knows this is coming and that it will do “whatever it takes”, a la ECB chief Mario Draghi in 2012… but this time for weak corporations that deserve to go bust (in capitalism). This is an immediate echo of the unprecedented, historic, unexpected Fed decision last week to start buying corporate junk debt.

This is the bond pin on which the Eurozone will turn

The Eurozone’s atrocious neoliberal underpinnings fundamentally leaves themselves more wide-open to the machinations of high finance than any other currency. The Eurozone and the pan-European project can be conceived of as a US/German federal system, where the states have a lot of power to gain or fail based on their own policies, but with only a tiny amount of federal support available in case of emergency.

Here is the crux of the biscuit for the Eurozone in a post-corona world: QE is not going to finally create economic growth unless strings are FINALLY attached. Not down-loaning this round(s) of QE means total, prolonged economic chaos combined with rapid governmental insolvency in the awful neoliberal-empire structure which is the Eurozone.

But it’s the same rub, yet on a wound which is even more raw than in 2012: any such formal strings will cause bankers to shy away from loaning to these ever-riskier national Eurozone economies; at the same time, successfully attaching said strings would enrage the populace because why are these banker-middlemen needed at all?

High finance pre-corona has been pacified with no-strings QE in order to keep them from attacking the Eurozone’s national bond markets – but if strings get attached then high finance can’t hoard the QE, get it? This is the ultimate height of neoliberal capitalism’s parasitical rapaciousness, and which is never reported.

So either Europe cuts out the middlemen and lends directly – and investors pounce upon the national bond markets in retaliation, as they did in 2009 or after Mitterrand’s anti-austerity victory in 1981 – or the Eurozone formally admits the middlemen are indeed the government in Western bankocracy, and national populaces revolt. A good place to read about this historical trend and economic inevitability is part 2 from my 7-part series from 2017, back when I foolishly assumed QE Infinity was an impossibility: Why no Petroeuro? or France’s historic effort for an anti-austerity Eurozone.

Insolvency in a Eurozone nation is thus the biggest, most likely threat to the Western-dominated global order. The Eurozone remains a disunited currency, which is an unsustainable paradox.

The long-running historical reality is that Germany preferred to join a neo-imperial project led by the US rather than the one led by Paris and Brussels, and this is why collective aid to nations has never been done in the Eurozone. Macron warns of EU unravelling unless it embraces financial solidarity – France has said this for so many decades that it no longer has any effect. Germany and their true partners – the US – simply don’t believe in European solidarity, only dominance of Europe.

The US can get away with making BlackRock the new private bureaucracy of the Fed & the financial strong-arm of the executive branch – Europe isn’t as dumb. The Yellow Vest and national strike marches hung effigies to BlackRock. Europeans are different, special, more intelligent, the global catalyst for modernity, the intellectual leaders of the West, etc.

Or so they keep telling us.

Time to show off that European finesse they’re so self-satisfied with… or throw it out altogether and join the Yellow Vests.

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Corona contrarianism? How about some corona common sense? Here is my list of articles published regarding the corona crisis, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!

Capitalist-imperialist West stays home over corona – they grew a conscience? – March 22, 2020

Corona meds in every pot & a People’s QE: the Trumpian populism they hoped for? – March 23, 2020

A day’s diary from a US CEO during the Corona crisis (satire) March 23, 2020

MSNBC: Chicago price gouging up 9,000% & the sports-journalization of US media – March 25, 2020

Tough times need vanguard parties – are ‘social media users’ the West’s? – March 26, 2020

If Germany rejects Corona bonds they must quit the Eurozone – March 30, 2020

Landlord class: Waive or donate rent-profits now or fear the Cultural Revolution – March 31, 2020

Corona repeating 9/11 & Y2K hysterias? Both saw huge economic overreactions – April 1, 2020

(A Soviet?) Superman: Red Son – the new socialist film to watch on lockdown – April 2, 2020

Corona rewrites capitalist bust-chronology & proves: It’s the nation-state, stupid – April 3, 2020

Condensing the data leaves no doubt: Fear corona-economy more than the virus – April 5, 2020

‘We’re Going Wrong’: The West’s middling, middle-class corona response – April 10, 2020

Why does the UK have an ‘army’ of volunteers but the US has a shortage? – April 12, 2020

No buybacks allowed or dared? Then wave goodbye to Western stock market gains – April 13, 2020

Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism – April 14, 2020

No, the dollar will only strengthen post-corona, as usual: it’s a crisis, after all – April 16, 2020

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.

Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism

April 14, 2020

Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker blog

I’m only three years from being a Millennial myself but, wow! They sure have had a much rougher go of it:

Most of them were teenagers when the “victory” of the “leader of the free world” came crashing down on 9/11. Jingoistic hysteria against (fictitious, always Pentagon-supported) Islamic radicalism was followed by the Great Recession. The alleged “economic recovery” was always limited to the 1%, and now we have the coronavirus panic. Ever since 2008, when my elders start to decry the alleged character flaws of the Millennial generation I always point out how they were handed so many handicaps.

“The only Millennials with a decent job and no debt were those selected in the first round of the NBA draft,” is my usual attempt at pithiness. It’s surprising that the phrase “Ok, boomer” took so long to develop, frankly?

So what’s going to happen to this beleaguered bunch post-corona? It seems like even more burdens will be heaped on them, and I can think of five important ones:

First, there will be no growth-rebuilding “corona reconstruction” because infrastructure is not destroyed in a pandemic. When the corona craziness dies down the neoliberals in the US and the austerity-evangelicals in the Eurozone are going to be just as resistant to taxing the rich in order to give useful jobs to the poor as they have been for the past four decades.

Second, there are many fearful Mainstream Media articles detailing how after the Black Plague workers in Europe were emboldened to demand more wages and rights. This is merely an interesting historical vignette – there are no mass deaths in 2020. Therefore, once the corona hysteria ends you will have a flood of workers competing with each other for jobs. In a parallel, compounding development, good jobs will also be even more scarce than in 2008 (although maybe the NBA will expand?) because the corona overreaction is creating such enormous economic devastation with mass bankruptcies, closures and reduced government tax revenue sure to result. Due to a lack of socialist controls and planning, the law of supply and demand will rule unfettered – wages are sure to drop.

Third, the very sectors where Millennials can be most often found – restaurants, retail, tourism, hospitality and creative – will be the most decimated by corona lockdowns. What’s more, this age group has – necessarily – the least seniority, experience and skills and thus they will be the first to be fired in every sector. Labor participation rate for Millennials had only just returned to pre-2008 levels, but – as I stressed to my often-dismissive elders – levels “returned” only via terrible part-time jobs, gig economy work and short-term contracts in Europe. How long will it take to return to (these fundamentally inferior) pre-2020 levels?

Fourth, in these lousy, poorly-paid pieces of under-employment “benefits” like health care, pension contributions and unemployment insurance were often non-existent. The US bailouts have thrown them some unemployment insurance for a few months, but will it be enough? Not to pay the overhead for the moderate-to-successful Millennial classes – that is absolutely certain. Dirt-poor Millennials will, at best, not stop being dirt-poor, and certainly will return after these modest “bailouts” quickly finish. Millennials were already worse off in every major economic indicator compared to their Generation X, Baby Boomer and Silent Generation counterparts.

Fifth, if you thought Millennials were too sensitive before, then imagine how they will be after the corona trauma? There is no “victory” to be had here for the survivors – all they did was cower at home, sometimes snitch on their neighbors, and often couldn’t even risk trying to volunteer to help the elderly and vulnerable. This is going to create guilt and shame personally, mistrust and resentment socially, and a desire to save, hoard and not take risks economically.

And, please note, this is the bad situation for the White youth class in the West – imagine being non-White, or Muslim, or (gasp!) both non-White and Muslim?

To summarise briefly, the same logic will hold true for individuals as for businesses: anyone without savings or stable access to credit NOW is about to be dragged under. Millennials have the least amount of savings, social credit or economic credit.

So what is to be done?

There is a lot of fear among the corporate MSM, conservatives and corporate neo-fascists that the economic downturn caused by the corona lockdown will cause the Millennials and younger to embrace socialism.

To this I respond: Well, it would be about time.

A hugely common Western misconception during the 1950s and 60s was that the youth class would carry the day and float the elderly off on icebergs to the North Pole. We now know much more about modern Western capitalism: this was undoubtedly misguided, because in the West it is the elder classes which dominate the economic assets and political power, and are just as weighty arbiters of cultural power.

As I have repeatedly discussed, only in China and Iran did the upheavals of the 1960s translate into actual political and economic power for the youth class, and thanks to (the world’s only two) state-sponsored Cultural Revolutions. Contrarily, in the West their victory was limited to the pop culture sphere – their Cultural Revolution was repressed and halted, yes, because the real failure lay within the populace: they simply weren’t real, class-warfare, anti-imperialist leftists, apparently.

Maybe this will change now?

However, (truly) fake-leftist Bernie Sanders just bowed out (hilarious timing from a reliable Democratic Party toady); Jeremy Corbyn’s (fake-leftist) anti-Brexit stance failed (of course) and his replacement is far more conservative; France’s (fake-)left wants four things: wine, pornography, no religion whatsoever and to smash the superb Yellow Vest movement’s call for a French Cultural Revolution by any means necessary.

So what is to be done?

The political nihilists – who are stupid, wrong, lazy and cowardly – insist that leftism has failed everywhere in 2020, but there are a dozen or so examples which prove them wrong (simply look to the countries the US organises Western sanctions against). The West, being evangelical, chauvinistic and used to leading for two centuries, ignores and/or denigrates all of these examples.

Now one thing I always try to do is to shoot myself in the foot – as far as getting my articles rebroadcast, retweeted and the like – by praising Iran when deserved. I mean, what surer way is there today to terrify fake-leftist, rabidly-secularist Anglophones and Westerners than to stick up for not just Iran but also (and I’m not sure which is worse to them) Islamic Socialism?

But I feel compelled to point out that the corona-situation of Iranian Millennials (i.e. their youth class) is not anywhere as dire as for their Western counterparts, and I need only one reason to prove why: most of them live at home until they are married or around 30.

Iranian young adults who aren’t working now – at least they aren’t racking up rent/mortgage debt, eh?

What’s more: there are no Western credit card companies in Iran due to the Western blockade, and formal interest rates are constrained by the morals of Islamic finance, so what credit card debt? University eduction is widespread and cheap, so what university debt? The medical system is the best in the region and, while absolute poverty has not been totally eradicated anywhere, it is undoubtedly within the reach of Iran’s lower class, so what medical debt? Europeans usually enjoy the latter two realities, at least, so you can’t say I am talking about impossibilities. Corona quarantines are hardest on the lower class everywhere, but Iran is a socialist-inspired society so political policy actually addresses their needs first and has done so since 1979.

Unlike Europeans (especially Anglo-Saxons), Iran’s entire (allegedly) “failed to launch” youth class also have far more emotional support than in atomised Western households. This is not a small thing for some people during the corona crisis, but also post-corona.

However Iran is not the only example of success amid the post-1980 neoliberal era: it’s grounds for calls of “traitor” in the US, but is not Russia’s amazing rebound after the tragedy of the USSR’s implosion not worthy of interest? How did they do that? They are a socialist-inspired culture to some degree, but what about the continent of China and tiny Cuba as well? The point here is: the primary obstacle Millennials have to overcome are lifetimes of Gen X, Boomer and Silent Generation TINA (There Is No Alternative (to neoliberalism)) to realise that socialism is an actual, still-viable, never-going-away source of solutions.

Without openly promoting socialism all the complaints and public disavowals of Western imperialism-capitalism ultimately reach a dead end, after all. Millennials need to learn that class warfare exists, but in the West only the 1% is cognisant of this reality.

Unfortunately, to see how wide the political-intellectual gap is simply consider: US imperialism more dangerous than coronavirus for international community: Iran president. What other national leaders would say such thing in 2020?

How many actually did say it in 1918 amid the Spanish Flu pandemic? In 2020 you would be crucified for saying that – despite its obvious accuracy – and certainly not retweeted.

But Western Millennials are free to ignore existing examples, and also to go on hating God, Mom, Dad, socialism, central planning, strong social safety nets, all governments etc.; they are perfectly free to stay focused on the current corona “War on Dying” and to not immediately demand socialist-inspired policies for a youth class which keeps being forced to bear the domestic brunt of Western neoliberalism and (never even broached domestic) neo-imperialism.

They’re still young – maybe they’ll get drafted by the NBA?

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Corona contrarianism? How about some corona common sense? Here is my list of articles published regarding the corona crisis, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!

Capitalist-imperialist West stays home over corona – they grew a conscience? – March 22, 2020

Corona meds in every pot & a People’s QE: the Trumpian populism they hoped for? – March 23, 2020

A day’s diary from a US CEO during the Corona crisis (satire) March 23, 2020

MSNBC: Chicago price gouging up 9,000% & the sports-journalization of US media – March 25, 2020

Tough times need vanguard parties – are ‘social media users’ the West’s? – March 26, 2020

If Germany rejects Corona bonds they must quit the Eurozone – March 30, 2020

Landlord class: Waive or donate rent-profits now or fear the Cultural Revolution – March 31, 2020

Corona repeating 9/11 & Y2K hysterias? Both saw huge economic overreactions – April 1, 2020

(A Soviet?) Superman: Red Son – the new socialist film to watch on lockdown – April 2, 2020

Corona rewrites capitalist bust-chronology & proves: It’s the nation-state, stupid – April 3, 2020

Condensing the data leaves no doubt: Fear corona-economy more than the virus – April 5, 2020

‘We’re Going Wrong’: The West’s middling, middle-class corona response – April 10, 2020

Why does the UK have an ‘army’ of volunteers but the US has a shortage? – April 12, 2020

No buybacks allowed or dared? Then wave goodbye to Western stock market gains – April 13, 2020 – April 13, 2020

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.

Western central bankers: they’re God, they trust – a 10-part series on the QE economy

October 21, 2019

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog

Western central bankers: they’re God, they trust – a 10-part series on the QE economy

It’s not that the West’s central bankers are infallible – the similarity is that they cannot be held accountable. After all – who can call God to account for His decisions?

Like God, when things succeed it is They (central bankers) who deserve all the credit – when things fail it’s because we failed to properly follow Their policies.

And like God, they don’t need regulation – it is They who give the regulations, which must be accepted on faith alone and no matter how poor the results.

Central bankers are held partially accountable by only one sector – the markets of money. If markets go down based on any of their statements the bankers immediately reverse themselves, regardless of the situation. Countless times Bernake, Yellen, Trichet, Draghi and others have made statements purposely as clear as mud and then backtracked at the first lower lip quaver from the rich. Despite this exception, neoliberalism has proven to be the worship of bankers, as they rule and not markets – central bankers, of course, subvert and control the markets in many ways.

This idolatry is not new: for two centuries “capitalism with Western characteristics” has truly been “banker rule”. The most impressive victory of neoliberalism – their ability to extend their unholy domain despite provoking the Great Recession – proves this: Central bankers in the G7 nations and the Eurozone have all been given the power to set fiscal policy, to decide social policy priorities and to render domestic elections irrelevant. Western nations are no longer democracies (and they were all, every one, merely the types of democracies which pointedly refused to evolve after 1917) but bankocracies.

The Great Recession has exposed modern capitalism to be not just banker worship but also banker governance.

This is not some wild-eyed lefty nonsense – they are deciding public policy. If we called them a “Politburo” instead of a “central bank” the West would rally up a posse of Nazis and send them to invade.

This multipart series will – as many of my previous such series have also done – use an exceptionally important political book as a jumping off point, which also allows me to humbly impart my point of view gleaned from my work as a daily hack journalist in the heart of the Eurozone. This point of view is rarely heard, yet has virtues which academics, think-tankers, specialists and authors cannot possibly contain – even we hack journalists must have some virtues, after all?

The book is 2018’s Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World by Nomi Prins, a former Wall Street executive who saw the light and is now informing on the crimes of Western imperialism-capitalism.

Quite simply, the book’s primary virtue is chronological: Prins gives a historical account of central banker doings in key areas – Mexico, China, Brazil, Japan and Europe – ever since US banker crimes set off the Great Recession in 2007. Prins gives us all the key happenings in these regions (only China is the one which is undoubtedly not capitalist-imperialist), and that is not something you can find all in one place elsewhere.

And because central bankers run the West, it is like reading the daily itinerary of a dictator – “this is how things were decided”.

What Prins does a good job in reminding us is that this has all been done to keep US banks solvent. Every policy of the US Fed is about defending this goal, and not at all about the health of the global economy; the idea that the US would be militarily aggressive and culturally overbearing yet financially benevolent is preposterous and unsupported by evidence.

But the book is essentially conventional journalism – it is a recounting of historical decisions, facts and consequences. The only radical, non-Western change Prins really suggests is to move away from the dollar. The world “class” is used less than a handful of times. Her mentions of the negative effect of central bankers’ decisions on the average person are clearly sincere but both sparing and brief. Few people get into Wall Street out of their love for poetry, after all. The book is a former Wall Streeter watching other Wall Streeters who have taken a brief detour into public service (except in China) – it is banker-centric. And this is quite useful in the 21st century.

Prins clearly and correctly views bankers as the problem, but her solution is essentially limited to hoping that China’s central bankers will re-balance the status quo, and that their stewardship will allow developing countries to coordinate cooperatively instead of exploitatively. She does not believe that the entire system needs re-ordering upon new moral and political foundations (or even upon the very different moral foundations upon which Red China rests, and which account for their different policies).

But merely changing Western-centrism to Sino-centrism, with its obvious shift away from the US greenback (and even combined with her correct approval of cryptocurrency) cannot be enough. China is not insisting that Western capitalist-imperialist nations follow Beijing, but that they reform themselves – Iran does this too, but where Beijing uses a whisper Iran uses a megaphone amplified by a megaphone. Prins needed far more moral condemnation and to propose far more actual changes to the prevailing Western system, but – as I wrote – this is essentially a book of typical Western capitalist “objective” journalism, where moralising is supposed to be left entirely to the reader.

This series is advocacy journalism. What I have done is to take Prins’ useful chronological, globally-oriented journalism on modern economic history and analyse it from a perspective very different from her own: a pro-socialist and anti-imperialist one.

It’s a great book, but lacks a modern political viewpoint

Prins gets the main point across, though, and it’s there in her title: G7/G20 central bankers have colluded since 2008 to (greenback) paper over the causes of the Great Recession.

Her book makes it undoubtedly clear how monetary policy has been coordinated to inflate and appease the 1%-dominated “markets” at different points around the world at different times. She doesn’t use these correct political terms, but she shows that 21st century Western financial policies are fundamentally neo-imperialist: the world has slaved for the benefit of the former unipolar imperium since 2008 – even though said imperium provoked the financial crisis in 2008 – because of collusion orchestrated by the imperium to inflict policies on the global economy which were mainly to save their biggest, busted banks.

There you have it: three major points upon which the past 11 years of Western economic history have been resting. This also explains why the West’s financial foundation is even shakier than it was in 2008.

You don’t need a PhD in economics to immediately grasp the correctness of these allegations: Nobody in their right mind would buy the securities of the top US banks… except for unaccountable central bankers. Central banks West-wide routinely bought $200 billion of such assets per month. Taxpayers were not enriched by buying bad investments, of course, but the busted banks in the US, Germany and France were.

The collusion Prins refers to in her title is the way the Fed used their influence to force other G20 banks to adopt the same policies. These policies are: massive money printing via QE, ZIRP (Zero interest rate policies) to persuade banks to take the money, and relaxing collateral standards in order to make sure banks got that money no matter how unsound everybody knew they were.

The problem comes down to a simple difference between capitalist and socialist views of finance: governments with policies dominated by the former give taxpayer money to private banks with no rules or accountability, whereas governments with policies dominated by the latter give this money with massive oversight, regulations and directives in order to ensure that it is used as efficiently as humanly possible. The irony for socialist-inspired nations is that they are the ones who are painted as corrupt!

Governments influenced by the former can rely on compliant, privately-owned Mainstream Media to repeatedly insist that these loans are for the benefit of all even though there is no such evidence for such a claim, nor any logical reason to expect such an outcome. Governments influenced by the latter really don’t care what the Western MSM says – their own people don’t need to be propagandized in favor of capitalist lies, and thus they mainly try to keep a low profile as regards international media.

(Cuba spends almost nothing on their media; Iran only recently started PressTV (and this service is more notable for its “different” viewpoint – “Voice of the voiceless” is the official slogan – rather than its scope and size); Xinhua seems to spend most of its time on soft news and certainly doesn’t trumpet its own beliefs. Indeed, much can be said about that difference between Iran and China: the former is nearly screaming up to Heaven what it is thinking and doing, whereas inscrutability in China is not just a cliché but their government policy, which aims to avoid friction. But I digress….)

The ultimate problem with Prins is that – like all “I’m a capitalist but not THIS capitalism” – she is ultimately a historical/economic nihilist:

Prins is like so many fine commentators on the Anglophone fringe: accumulating, exposing and railing against the crimes of capitalism, and garnering many clicks and views, but remaining fundamentally supportive of the capitalist system. They don’t believe in the only philosophical and economic alternative humans have designed to capitalism – socialism – nor do such analysts ever thread the camel through needle and become the one capitalist who finally proposes a capitalist system which is not based on exploitation, competition, aggression, etc.

There are ostensibly two main types of central bankers: the ones with more legacy power, and the ones with less but rising power, as is the case in China.”

Totally false: very real alternatives exist, and denying that – which Prins essentially does – only keeps people stuck in the political nihilism of TINA (There Is No Alternative).

The very real, very working alternative: the ‘terrorist’ central bankers of Iran & China

As I alluded to, China’s central bank is predicated on totally different foundations. And then you have Iran’s central bank: Iran’s central bank chief, Valiollah Saif, was declared a terrorist last month by Washington. Neither of these countries with socialist-inspired revolutions have banking leaders who are quotidian, interchangeable “central bankers minus legacy power”, as Prins describes.

Why was Iran’s Central Bank declared a “global terrorist”?

More flagrantly oppositional than Iran’s foreign policy are the tenets which guide Iran’s National Bank: it is totally state-owned, whereas the Fed is a consortium of private banks and set up like private corporations (something rarely understood). Iran’s National Bank is not “independent” from the government in the slightest. Iran’s central bank cannot meddle in – much less dictate – domestic policy, because that is why Iran has elections. Iran’s Central Bank, due to its fundamental independence, anti-capitalist and revolutionary nature proves that not all central bankers are the same.

Importantly, the independence of many Western central banks came after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979: The Bank of Japan was made independent in 1998, the same year the ECB opened its doors to let greed rush in. Of course, their independence ensures that they follow policies which are for private concerns and not public ones.

Contrarily, China and Iran have central banks owned, literally, by the People. Former ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet often talked about how the ECB was a “bank of the people”, but it was classic continental hypocrisy – the Maastricht treaty, in the neoliberal & anti-socialist model in which the EU and Eurozone were created, explicitly made the ECB independent of any government. Does anyone possibly persist in believing, 10 years into (not after) the crisis, that the ECB has chosen policies which benefit the 99% and not the 1%?

There is widespread agreement in Iran that Islam tolerates capitalism – there are plenty of private banks – but Iran has agreed with socialism that the only solution is to have the biggest banks owned by the state. That is the only way “strings” can ever be applied to taxpayer money-created-loans in order to create a virtuous – and not exploitative – monetary cycle between government and business.

Such a solution is not proposed by a capitalist like Prins. She even tries to intimate that China’s Central Bank is almost equally duplicitous (though she could never get away with implying that China’s central bank was as exploitative), which is pure political nihilism and easily disproved.

The reality is that governments must issue paper money and private bankers act as the middleman to get this money to citizens… but only in capitalist countries. In socialist-inspired countries government workers serve as the middleman, and that is why they are succeeding in the 21st century. China and Vietnam are the two biggest boomers since 1980, while Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and a handful of others would be booming if they were not so terribly sanctioned.

Conclusion: There is no god but God

(That is perhaps the theological heart of Islam there, and repeated in every Salah daily prayer. Various stone idols with multiple limbs, the Christian trinity and Western central bankers all are not God because there is only one, single God and His name is God.)

Allow me to conclude with a few more indisputable truths, many of which have been painfully learned over the past decade:

  • Neoliberal central bankers are not as competent as even those much-maligned Iranian Revolutionary Shi’a mullahs. Per Prins:

With rates already near zero, or negative in some countries, there is little-to-no room to maneuver in the event of a looming crisis. After the decade-long money-conjuring policy, one with no real end in sight, one thing has become clear: central bank craftsmanship has been ineffective, at best, and has demonstrated gross negligence for the lasting consequences at worst. The assumption that these central banking policies will anytime soon evoke real growth is as preposterous as it is wrong.”

  • Once these paper props are stopped, chaos is certain to result in the Western economy. This chaos was always merely postponed via QE’s “helicopter money” (money thrown from helicopters (to the rooftops of fancy banker soirees?) in the hope that it will do good); this chaos will be even worse because 10 years of failed policies logically means that the West’s economies are far weaker than they were 10 years ago.
  • Capitalism is guaranteed to go from boom to bust, but the 2008 bust was both exceptionally bad and exceptionally driven by the US. The policy response was also exceptionally bad and also exceptionally driven by the US, and is also culturally designed to make Western society’s labor and financial laws even more exceptionally like those of the US.
  • If Western central bankers wanted to do everything they could to empower their enemy – socialist China – only then can they consider themselves as having been a success. The past decade has seen China soar so high they have broken the glass ceiling of a unipolar world. In slower historical processes, China has floated its yuan since January 2016, no longer pegging it to the dollar, and they have gotten the yuan added to the IMF Special Drawing Rights basket. QE could have changed the nature of Western societies in a good way, as it did in China, per Prins: “In China, conjured money went to building real things, whether they were needed or not, whereas for the rest of the G7, it tended to go into less tangible and more speculative uses.” The idea that China is building “unneeded” things and ghost towns is pro-capitalist propaganda, and is debunked here, but the result is clear: QE has only made China stronger but the West weaker.
  • The West has been told that the problem is developing countries not pulling their weight – China (alleged currency manipulation, their “slowdown” from incredible growth to merely fantastic growth, their trade war, etc.), Greece and other weak economies – when both the primary cause of the Great Recession and the primary cause of the continued global slowdown has been due to following the leading ideologies of the capitalist-imperialist West.
  • What the MSM has refused to shout from the rooftops is that all these trillions of QE could have gone directly into the pocket of the average person and produced comparatively spectacular economic growth on the macro level and on the micro/individual level. Half could have gone to citizens and the other half to infrastructure growth, and the money-conjuring nations would have assured their people 50 years of success and modernity. Sadly, capitalism does not believe in controlling their banks or their 1%. Instead, as everyone reading this fringe series on a fringe website written by a fringe hack journalist likely already knows, it went into the FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) and created massive bubbles worse than the ones a decade ago.

It comes down to a palpable feeling of social responsibility in government policy – there is none in hyper-competitive, “you have no right to a social safety net” Western neoliberal capitalism: contrarily, there is some of this rather holy spirit in Iranian Islamic Socialism, Socialism With Chinese Characteristics, Cuban-style socialism, etc.

It does not matter if this social responsibility comes from fear of God, or fear of incurring social shame or fear of el Norte, or whatever – results matter in social policy, because they mean life and death; because social policy always has and always will include very real judges dispensing very real (even if unfair) justice. Western distractions like “psychological motivation” are mainly overly-dwelled upon by existential Western urbanites who need to pay a psychologist to get them to finally accept that they are ragingly self-destructive, just like their economic principles and policies.

I will allow you to skip to the final page (of my series, not Prins’): At some point China will be asked to pick up the baton of QE collusion, because they are the only major economy which hasn’t done it yet… and they will not do it.

Why would they save the West? Not just because of their socialist ideals, nor their “Century of Humiliation”, but also because they have already been propping up the US monetarily (along with Japan) for quite some time.

But perhaps realizing that China won’t devalue its own economy via Western economic policies, the US has begun their fourth round of Quantitative easing. Their private media/propaganda outlets are ordering us “dont call it QE4”, but it’s exactly the same as before: printing new money to give to private banks with no strings attached.

QE, like God, has to be permanent.

Unlike God, there will be a reckoning for QE one day and it will be worse than in 2008.

For now, the West remains righteous neoliberal believers, and heaven rain down furious destruction on any Yellow Vester who smashes the window of a Western bank!

An 10-part series may seem like a lot, but these articles are shorter than my usual output when it comes to analytical series (Part 1 is the longest, or nearly). This series is essentially a continuation, updating and expansion of a 7-part series I wrote in autumn 2017 which also covered the failed Western policy of QE. Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!

***********************************

Part 1 – Western central bankers: they’re God, they trust – a 10-part series on the QE economy

Part 2 – How QE has radically changed the nature of the West’s financial system

Part 3 – QE paid for a foreign buying spree: developing countries hurt the most

Part 4 – Iran vs Mexico: ‘economic inflows’ versus ‘economic independence’

Part 5 – Understanding the West’s obsession with inflation

Part 6 – The new ‘beggar thy neighbor’: wars to devalue labor, not currencies

Part 7 – Blaming China for the Great Recession… to avoid emulating China’s (socialist-inspired) success

Part 8 – 1941, 1981, 2017 or today – Europe’s mess is still Germany’s fault

Part 9 – Don’t forget the real root of Brexit: fear of Eurozone economic contagion

Part 10 – Bankocracies: the real Western governance model

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books Ill Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China and the upcoming Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.

 

Great Recession at 10: $500k wine & jailing Black footballers for insider trading

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker BlogGreat Recession at 10: $500k wine & jailing Black footballers for insider trading

November 02, 2018

Ten years ago my life was all screwed up by the economic crisis I had nothing to do with.

In August 2008 AFP (Agence France Presse) said that if I learned French they’d give me a job. I moved in with my parents and studied five hours a day seven days a week for five months. By the time I arrived in France in February AFP, along with everyone else, was no longer hiring. The crisis had started in September with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

So I had wasted all that time and effort. I was in France but sans job – a big problem on multiple levels. I could translate French copy into English adequately but I immediately realised I could not understand anything the French were saying to me, nor could I say hardly anything to them. I was a jobless, isolated, unneeded immigrant with no income and questionable prospects in an overcrowded field now undergoing a second recession (the internet provided the first recession in journalism jobs).

Ten years later, I consider myself lucky: that is hardly the worst story you’ve heard caused by capitalism’s ever-guaranteed, always-exacerbated failures.

What have we learned?

Why are you asking me? Well, I better have something to say because, very fortunately (and rather undeservedly, given the many better journalists here in Paris), for most of the last decade I seem to have been one of the busiest on-the-ground English-language TV reporters in Paris.

Covering the Great Recession from Europe is, I think, far different than covering it from the United States because Europeans often insist that their democracy, economy and mindset is qualitatively different from those in America.

The Great Recession in America was just a case of bad getting worse – dilapidated infrastructure from the Depression or Eisenhower eras remaining dilapidated, widespread drug and alcohol addiction falling deeper into the rabbit hole, near-zero government assistance remaining near-zero, tons of crime devolving into tons of crime now committed by people with tattoos on their faces – i.e., no real change and no real hope for change.

But Europe – ooh la la, they have too much class for tattoos on their faces. They have long-represented the alleged “Third Way”, which gracefully sidestepped American yahoo-ism and (alleged) Soviet totalitarianism, and were recently united in the (alleged) ever-greater fraternity which was the European Union and the Euro.

So what have we learned in 10 years? Last month a former employer of mine reported on the correct price for the best bottle of wine – $558,000.

What on earth is that, besides grounds for a public near-lynching? That is asset inflation of the worst, most socially-useless type. In 2008, that same price got you 27 bottles of wine, which was then the highest price ever paid for a single lot.

This two reports perfectly describe what has been the West’s fiscal policy since the Great Recession began: using taxpayer money to inflate the assets only owned by the rich and the propertied class in order to increase only their wealth. They have spent 10 years re-creating a bubble for upper-class assets – wine is never worth $93,000 a glass any more than a bottle was worth $19,000.

In the same vein, a Leonardo da Vinci painting is not worth the $450 million Mohammad Bin Salman paid for it last year. These massive, heinous, sinful sums are not being forked over because “that is what the market will bear” – they are being paid because the ultra-rich have become ultra-richer in the last 10 years and…you gotta spend your money somewhere.

No, the rich have not let taxpayer trillions burn holes in their pocket: Our money has only re-pumped new bubbles in the primary asset classes of the 1% – luxury goods, real estate, stocks (overvalued companies) and investment funds.

I will get straight to the point: Because our trillions have gone into these wasteful investments, instead of investments which improve overall societal well-being, we are certainly WORSE OFF than ten years ago.

Not all bubbles or debt is the same, despite what German-minded minds will insist. Instead of creating bubbles or debt to do any of a million positive things – improving business efficiency through better infrastructure, inventing cheaper solutions via increased education and research & development, injecting money to circulate into the “real economy” just by giving Joe Schmoe a job to uselessly move a bag of dirt from point A to point B and back again – the lack of socialist central planning has allowed the real economy to be gutted in favor of the economy of the 1%….again.

Of course, there are other bubbles which affect more than just the 1%: Western inflation over the past 10 years has been much more impactful in sapping (my) wages than the upper class realizes, but the US housing market had no reason to have reached 11% above the July 2006 Housing Bubble peak in August 2018.

For those of us who hold no property in real estate or property in corporations (stocks), we are left out in the cold. We still are yoked to debt and can be bankrupted by bubbles, though.

But the bubbles and debt of the 99% are good and even necessary: we need houses to live in, we need our sub-prime auto loans not to lead to repossession, we need our medical bills paid for, we need our elderly care bills paid for because we simply cannot stand how loud Grandpa has the TV any longer. All of this is “good debt” which sends money into the real economy (even if you can’t hold on to it for more than one payday).

The effects of the FIRE economy – Finance, Investment & Real Estate – in the recent history of capitalism has been studied and popularized by American economist Michael Hudson, but we are about to find out AGAIN just how pernicious its influence has been.

The Lost Score: not the stash of swapped prescription medication you have misplaced

Don’t think the Eurozone is lost? The Eurozone’s GDP is 12% lower than in 2008Chinas is up 266% over the same timeframe.

Your problem must be that you believe what you read in the Western Mainstream media: China’s 6.5% growth in the 3rd quarter was “weak” to Reuters, while France’s 3rd quarter growth of just 0.4% was (per my would-be AFP colleagues) a “boost as economy rebounds”. Sure, Frenchy, sure, you’re a real star. Both those articles are from the past fortnight, but it’s the same absurd spin I’ve reported on for nearly 40 economic quarters.

Europe’s Quantitative Easing was scheduled to end September 2017, so back then I wrote a 7-part series which showed how the world’s biggest macro-economy – the Eurozone (but China is about to surpass it – remains the weak link the global economy despite the “whatever it takes” (alleged) solution of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi in 2012. What I did was combine a decade of on-the-street reporting with some basic (leftist) economic sense (FYI, all economic sense is leftist) to write about what will happen when this bubble – the “bailed out by taxpayers” bubble – finally re-bursts.

That is the biggest bubble, and it is about to pop.

Because they no doubt read and agreed with my analysis, the Eurozone’s leaders postponed the end of QE for 1 year. However, come January 1st, no more 30 billion euros in free money to high finance every month – they have been given 2.5 trillion euros in total. Again, we in the Eurozone have gotten zero from all that because the center- and right-wing forms of capitalism do not allow strings to be attached (such as delivering jobs, community betterment, etc.) in return for these fiscal gifts. CEOs, not workers, rule – the Eurozone has never been a socialist republic.

The problem is us:

This policy was not at all wanted by the Eurozone’s population…but this is a liberal democracy: that means public opinion is aggregated once every four or five years, and then the sheep must shut up and take it. That’s why it made no difference when Francois Hollande was elected on an anti-austerity platform: in classic modern liberal democracy form, he simply introduced a divisive, deflecting plan to approve gay marriage on the very same day – November 7, 2012 – that he announced his backtracking acceptance of austerity.

It is only in socialist countries where pubic opinion is actually reflected in policy making – empowering the average citizen is one of the two pillars of socialism (redistribution of wealth being the other) and what do you think “empowering” means? Hint: it is not synonymous with “ignoring”.

The Chinese Communist Party, it has been accurately written, is the world’s biggest public polling firm. There is no doubt that Cuban socialists are reflecting the People’s will when they are counting up their few unblockaded pesos and prioritising education, housing, medicine and food. North Korea is not funding nuclear research because they want to, but because all North Koreans are in agreement that they were the most-attacked, most-threatened, most-surrounded nation in the 2nd-half of the 20th century. You are totally unaware if you think the Iranian Revolution has endured similar violence and menacing by wasting their oil money on policies which the Iranian People cannot immediately and tangibly see have improved their quality of life since 1979: Iran’s economy, essentially 100% state-controlled, reflects the People’s will to a great degree (it is structurally impossible for it to reflect the will of private Iranian CEOs).

However, the West’s beloved liberal democracies do not at all care or reflect popular opinion – liberal democracies are designed to please the bourgeois/aristocratic/top 10%/technocrat/brahmin/genetically-superior/culturally-superior class. We hold these truths to be more self-evident in 2018 than 2008.

But what will happen when QE ends in the Eurozone? My prediction last year was based on capitalist logic: high finance, no longer bought off by free money (and thus less able to pay for $500k wine), will go back to doing what they did at the height of the crisis in Europe – the 2012 Sovereign Debt Crisis – and start squeezing the poorer countries of the Eurozone in the bond market. This time, Italy and Spain will be in their sights. This will soon spark the same chaos and instability as back then.

But worse: as illustrated, the Eurozone is far, far weaker than in 2012. They have spent trillions but bought $500k wine instead of productive, economy-safeguarding, preparing-for-capitalism’s-next-inevitable-rainy-day investments for the 99%. How could anybody possibly see it differently? I guess it’s the same answer to how AFP can see France’s 0.4% Q3 growth as a “boost as economy rebounds”. Keep the faith – success is right around the trickle-down corner, LOL!

You cannot tell me that the bankers have been totally bought off and will be content to roll around in their filth for the next 50 years, because they never are: there is always some young, Martin Shkreli-like, hedge fund-managing punk who wants to make his billions, and he will gladly hold Spain and Italy hostage to do so. Shkreli was not jailed for changing a pill’s price from $13.50 to $750 – that’s totally legal in capitalism – he was jailed because of his big mouth. But his usury and his rapper-like ego is simply how he was raised (in a non-socialist, non-religious Western culture). Nobody can stop him in the capitalist system – there is no central planning, there is total opposition to the idea of a “collective”, and they have even lost that longtime feeling of “positive racism” which formerly lent a sliver of unity to Western imperialist societies (“I can’t ruin my Color tribe and will do some things in their general interest because I hate your Ethnic tribe and fear that Religious tribe could be right.”).

And you can’t say that we are safer now because the criminals of 2008 have been brought to justice: look at the case of Mychal Kendricks, a 27-year old professional American football player convicted of insider trading.

Kendricks is the Black son of a crack addict, so from a socialist perspective his “class label” could not be more perfect – he succeeded despite tremendous obstacles, and he would be listened to with sympathy, targeted for public assistance and given affirmative action policies. He has admitted to insider trading and should be punished, but was the 2008 crisis orchestrated by football players, perhaps in between their concussion protocols and MRIs?

The case illustrates the priority of liberal democratic/bourgeois justice systems: Mychal Kendricks, from the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, faces prison while the 1%ers who gamed the system did much more than escape justice – they were hailed as our only saviours to financial ruin, as too important (big) to fail, and subsequently entrusted with many no-strings-attached trillions.

Corruption must be punished, but Kendricks is not the problem…..

The problem is the lack of socialist central planning, the lack of democratic input (worker empowerment) on public policy, and the lack of prioritising the bottom 90% – the top 10% is prioritised, lauded and excused, instead.

The lack of all those three things created Europe’s Lost Decade of economic growth; created a situation where little-old-me was one of the few journalists to do some basic economic math and to openly say it was a Lost Decade (but which was noticed only by a small group of powerless intelligentsia on the fringe); this lack created today’s reality where things have only gotten worse since 2008, that more crisis is coming, and that the next crisis will necessarily be even worse.

The age of European austerity can be summed up quite simply: creating such a desperate labor market that the 1% was able to roll back Europe’s better-than-average social safety net, regulations, wages and working conditions.

That’s all it was – a wilful economic depression in order to turn the the EU’s work culture (and financial culture) into that of the US. The same process happened during Japan’s Lost Score – the Eurozone is now entering part two of their Lost Score.

These truths are more self-evident in 2018 than 2008. If you haven’t learned that, you obviously remain resolutely pro-capitalism and pro-liberal democracy/West European bourgeois democracy despite ten years of proof in your face.

Socialism has changed much in 10 years – a new generation of leaders in Cuba, the possible reintegration of North Korea into global affairs, a possible rapprochement between Iran and Europe (but not the US), the increasing acceptance of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” as a reproducible and admirable model – but if capitalism has changed at all it is only for the worse.

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

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