The consequences of an asuterity politics

Greece under the yoke

English: Various Euro bills.

Reuters reported that:

Greece must surrender control of its budget policy to outside institutions if it cannot implement reforms attached to euro zone rescue measures, the German economy minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.

The fact that the German Economic Minister made this already credible statement indicates that Greece lacks control over its budget. The issue at hand is whether the European Union would exercise direct or indirect control over the Greek budget, not whether Greece would control its own budget.

From austerity to rebellion?

Robert Skidelsky, a Keynesian political economist, thus addressed the scourge of deficit mania:

This, the official doctrine of most developed countries today, contains at least five major fallacies, which pass largely unnoticed, because the narrative is so plausible.

First, governments, unlike private individuals, do not have to “repay” their debts. A government of a country with its own central bank and its own currency can simply continue to borrow by printing the money which is lent to it. This is not true of countries in the eurozone. But their governments do not have to repay their debts, either. If their (foreign) creditors put too much pressure on them, they simply default. Default is bad. But life after default goes on much as before.

Second, deliberately cutting the deficit is not the best way for a government to balance its books. Deficit reduction in a depressed economy is the road not to recovery, but to contraction, because it means cutting the national income on which the government’s revenues depend. This will make it harder, not easier, for it to cut the deficit. The British government already must borrow £112 billion ($172 billion) more than it had planned when it announced its deficit-reduction plan in June 2010.

Third, the national debt is not a net burden on future generations. Even if it gives rise to future tax liabilities (and some of it will), these will be transfers from taxpayers to bond holders. This may have disagreeable distributional consequences. But trying to reduce it now will be a net burden on future generations: income will be lowered immediately, profits will fall, pension funds will be diminished, investment projects will be canceled or postponed, and houses, hospitals, and schools will not be built. Future generations will be worse off, having been deprived of assets that they might otherwise have had.

Fourth, there is no connection between the size of national debt and the price that a government must pay to finance it. The interest rates that Japan, the United States, the UK, and Germany pay on their national debt are equally low, despite vast differences in their debt levels and fiscal policies.

Finally, low borrowing costs for governments do not automatically reduce the cost of capital for the private sector. After all, corporate borrowers do not borrow at the “risk-free” yield of, say, US Treasury bonds, and evidence shows that monetary expansion can push down the interest rate on government debt, but have hardly any effect on new bank lending to firms or households. In fact, the causality is the reverse: the reason why government interest rates in the UK and elsewhere are so low is that interest rates for private-sector loans are so high.

As with “the specter of Communism” that haunted Europe in Karl Marx’s famous manifesto, so today “[a]ll the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise” the specter of national debt. But statesmen who aim to liquidate the debt should recall another famous specter — the specter of revolution.

Quote of the day

Thomas Naylor claims:

The euro is going down and may take the 17 nation euro zone with it, if not the entire 28 nation European Union. Or maybe it will be the other way around? Does it really matter?

Having never recovered from the 2008 recession, the collapse of the euro will drive the U.S. economy deeper into the quagmire of more unemployment, negative economic growth, schizophrenic fiscal policy, Congressional gridlock, inflationary monetary policy, and the rout of the dollar. Is it possible that whatever the White House, the Congress, or the Fed may do will make not one whit of a difference?

To deflect public opinion away from their incompetence and corruption the White House, the Congress, the Fed, the European Central Bank, and all of the political leaders of Europe need an international scapegoat. What could be better than a war against some unpopular rogue state such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela whose leader is considered by many Americans to be demonic.

Enter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bearing gifts for American and European political leaders. “Have I got a deal for you,” says Netanyahu. “Why don’t NATO and its Arab allies take out the nuclear weapons program of the terrorist state of Iran? It would divert the attention of the American and European people away from their economic woes. Everyone (except the Iranians) would gain.”

Serendipity or conspiracy?

Bond markets push Italy closer to the abyss

The New York Times reports:

Italy’s financial crisis deepened on Wednesday despite a pledge by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resign once Parliament passes austerity measures demanded by the European Union.

The move failed to convince investors, propelling Italy’s borrowing costs through a key financial and psychological barrier of 7 per cent, close to levels that have required other euro zone countries to seek bailouts. Cornered by world markets and humiliated by a parliamentary setback, Mr. Berlusconi appeared to become the most prominent victim of the broader European debt crisis. But his decision did not remove wide uncertainty about Italy’s ability to tackle the crisis, and some analysts said the prospect of a protracted period of political wrangling could exert further pressure for a quicker exit from the impasse.

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi offers to leave office

“There is no alternative….”

Margaret Thatcher

According to the New York Times, Italy’s battered and irrelevant Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

…offered a conditional resignation on Tuesday, agreeing to step down but only after Parliament passes an austerity package — before the country will go to early elections, government sources said on Tuesday evening.

The move comes in the face of an escalating debt crisis that has hobbled Greece, threatens Italy and could infect the rest of Europe.

Infect? Italy’s national crisis is also a significant component of the Eurozone’s system crisis. It is not an agent external to the Eurozone. Italy is Europe’s third largest economy. Because of Italy’s size and importance, it should come as no surprise that:

Speaking after a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, Olli Rehn, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said Italy’s economic and financial position was “very worrying.” He added that the European Commission was “concerned about the situation and we following the situation very closely.”

Ironically:

“‘The problem in Italy is not primarily the real data,” Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaüble, said in Brussels on Tuesday. “The debt is high, the deficit is not — economic data are not that bad. The problem is a lack of trust from the financial markets and that of course is a realistic situation. And this trust has to be strengthened.”

It is a matter of “trust,” and thus, in the first instance, “a political crisis as much as an economic crisis,” as David Dayen points out. Finance capitalists across the world just do not trust Italy to resolve its problems, to solve them, in other words, to their satisfaction. This mistrust is contagious. The economic crisis is a political crisis because Italy’s sovereign debt crisis, like those found in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, etc., ineluctably threatens the core institutions of the Eurozone system. Whence the Euro, we might wonder, when so many national economies collapse?

To be sure, Italy’s sovereign debt crisis will not spare Italy’s political institutions and political culture. The imposition of an austerity regime on Italy will necessarily modify its political institutions, and thus kinds of politics Italians can feasibly give themselves in the future. Alterations of this sort are features of the austerity project. They amount to an economic and political constraint placed on Italy’s democratic institutions.

From the part to the whole: The Eurozone’s political crisis — will it exist tomorrow, the day after? — also helps to determine its financial crisis. After all, imposing austerity regimes on Italy and Greece will fail to resolve the Eurozone’s economic problems. It will, at best, transform them into a diminished quality of life for many living in those countries now suffering sovereign debt crises. This ‘best case’ outcome will, in turn, merely create another political problem for the Eurozone and, naturally, for those countries forced to endure an austerity regime. Europe’s transnational institutions and some of its national institutions will appear less than sufficiently rational and thus able to provide in the future an acceptable standard of living for many living in the Eurozone. In fact, this rationality deficit has already appeared as such: The Europeans and the G-20 have no answers, according to Barry Eichengreen. Consequently, “[t]he republic of the centre [in Europe] has institutions and media behind it, but it is tottering,” according to Serge Halimi. Armies await their orders, for civil order — Which civil order? Whose civil order? — must be kept intact even if the new transnational order demolishes the lives of millions.

Chairs moving around the deck

According to a New York Times report:

After crisis talks on Sunday night, Prime Minister George Papandreou and his main rival agreed to create a new unity government in Greece that will not be led by Mr. Papandreou, according to a statement released Sunday night by the Greek president, who mediated the talks.

Mr. Papandreou and the opposition leader Antonis Samaras agreed to meet again on Monday to hammer out the details. The name of the new prime minister is not expected until then.

The new government is intended to govern for several months to put in place a debt agreement with the European Union, a step European leaders consider crucial to shoring up the euro. Then it is to hold a general election and dissolve.

The new government will unify around imposing a new austerity regime on Greece. It will exist only to serve that end. To be sure, this will not be an all-inclusive political settlement. After all, the government will not include representatives of the Greek protesters who have made their will known on this matter. It will merely be a unified Greek elite who will stand alongside of European Union political elite.

Quote of the day

Writing for In These Times, Michelle Chen reports:

Everyone knew it was a losing battle, but everyone showed up anyway. In an uprising virtually unprecedented in its size, scope and diversity, malcontents united across Greece to push back against the government’s assault on working people.

This week’s 48-hour strike drew workers from both public and private sectors, students, the unemployed — just about everyone about to get smacked with the austerity measures that the Parliament has approved under pressure from IMF and Eurozone officials. With tens of thousands of civil service jobs to be downsized, pensions and wages to be gutted, and labor and civil rights under siege, the people’s upheaval has proven as severe and persistent as the fiscal butchery that politicians keep ramming down their throats.

People took to the streets because they had nothing to lose. As one protester, civil engineer Vagelis Filezis, told CNN, “We have no hope. The only hope we have is the strength of the people.”

Greeks defend their society against the EU

A General Strike in Greece

Shit will hit the fan very soon

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