Obama yokes seniors to a phoney CPI

Recommended: Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II

Wage Slavery plus debt peonage — these are the fates awaiting the ‘better off’ members of the 99%, Alan Simpson’s “lesser people.” The ‘worst off’ shall continue to find themselves existing on city streets, squatting in vacant land and buildings, suffering one of the many prisons which pockmark the body politic or dying from untreated illnesses. These fates — wage slavery, debt peonage and social outcaste — should not be considered accidents of history. They have obvious systemic causes. The economist Michael Hudson explains in the second of a four-part series:

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

What is truly astonishing about this situation is the nature of contemporary finance capital. In essence, it is functionless. It does not exist to generate capital for investment in the real economy. It does not provide safe storage for pension funds, insurance monies, personal savings, etc. It does not even provide the common investor with rational investment programs. Rather, finance capital today is just a system specific mechanism (or, better, set of mechanisms) which extracts massive quantities of wealth from the world. Profit taking — that is its sole purpose. Moreover, it is omnivorous and perpetually famished. It cannot be satiated. Its appetites thus put everyone at risk. It lacks a home, a national identity. It cares not for people, their cultures, societies and well-being. It is everywhere and nowhere.

It is, in a word, the vampire about which so many Americans fantasize.

Good question

Michael Hudson asks:

This pro-austerity mythology [which animates orthodox economics and economic policy in the United States and elsewhere] aims to distract the public from asking why peacetime governments can’t simply print the money they need. Given the option of printing money instead of levying taxes, why do politicians only create new spending power for the purpose of waging war and destroying property, not to build or repair bridges, roads and other public infrastructure? Why should the government tax employees for future retirement payouts, but not Wall Street for similar user fees and financial insurance to build up a fund to pay for future bank over-lending crises? For that matter, why doesn’t the U.S. Government print the money to pay for Social Security and medical care, just as it created new debt for the $13 trillion post-2008 bank bailout?

The answer to these questions: Banks and other financial institutions want to keep as much of their income as they can. Transaction fees, regulations, oversight, taxes, etc. — these consume profits. America’s banks want to transfer these costs to others, namely, to those individuals who lack the political power to defend their standard of living. This cost transfer project amounts to a hidden and sometimes obvious tax the government levies on the 99%. When coupled to a system of risky and fraudulent financial transactions, elite looting and private debt creation, this cost transfer project amounts to little more than a predatory political economy.

The ridiculous fiscal cliff debate which now dominates America’s public life is but a crude expression of this predatory political economy.

Michael Hudson discusses QE3

Michael Hudson discusses the Euroausterity movement

Quote of the day

Michael Hudson wrote:

The easiest way to understand Europe’s financial crisis is to look at the solutions being proposed to resolve it. They are a banker’s dream, a grab bag of giveaways that few voters would be likely to approve in a democratic referendum. Bank strategists learned not to risk submitting their plans to democratic vote after Icelanders twice refused in 2010-11 to approve their government’s capitulation to pay Britain and the Netherlands for losses run up by badly regulated Icelandic banks operating abroad. Lacking such a referendum, mass demonstrations were the only way for Greek voters to register their opposition to the €50 billion in privatization sell-offs demanded by the European Central Bank (ECB) in autumn 2011.

Hudson follows this passage by making a case for the euthanasia of the rentier class (Keynes) and for fiat money. To be sure, his solutions are as politically improbable as they are humanly necessary.

Reactionary economics is a kind of war-making

Michael Hudson provides a brief case study of this kind of war craft while describing the Greek crisis:

The fight for Europe’s future is being waged in Athens and other Greek cities to resist financial demands that are the 21st century’s version of an outright military attack. The threat of bank overlordship is not the kind of economy-killing policy that affords opportunities for heroism in armed battle, to be sure. Destructive financial policies are more like an exercise in the banality of evil — in this case, the pro-creditor assumptions of the European Central Bank (ECB), EU and IMF (egged on by the U.S. Treasury).

As Vladimir Putin pointed out some years ago, the neoliberal reforms put in Boris Yeltsin’s hands by the Harvard Boys in the 1990s caused Russia to suffer lower birth rates, shortening life spans and emigration — the greatest loss in population growth since World War II. Capital flight is another consequence of financial austerity. The ECB’s proposed “solution” to Greece’s debt problem is thus self-defeating. It only buys time for the ECB to take on yet more Greek government debt, leaving all EU taxpayers to get the bill. It is to avoid this shift of bank losses onto taxpayers that Angela Merkel in Germany has insisted that private bondholders must absorb some of the loss resulting from their bad investments.

Popular protest in Greece

The bankers are trying to get a windfall by using the debt hammer to achieve what warfare did in times past. They are demanding privatization of public assets (on credit, with tax deductibility for interest so as to leave more cash flow to pay the bankers). This transfer of land, public utilities and interest as financial booty and tribute to creditor economies is what makes financial austerity like war in its effect.

I am sure it is difficult to produce a Hollywood epic of Greek farmers struggling to survive a blow that begins and ends with a stroke of a pen.

I also do not believe it wrong to identify this kind of elite economic activity as a kind of primitive or original accumulation. I believe it is uncontroversial to assert that the European Bankers and their allies in the United States want to restructure the Greek economy in order to exclude some in Greece from the material benefits they have had in the past and to accumulate capital by exploiting the political, legal and economic conditions in Greece, Europe and the world at large. This manner of capital accumulation may rightly be characterized as a kind of looting, that is, as an expropriation meant, in part, to change the character of economic exploitation in Greece. It is an instance of primitive or original accumulation because it will likely end with a new economic regime in Greece, a regime that will reflect the political capacities and economic requirements of some finance capitalists.

Hudson gives this advice to the Greek people who have been excluded from the elite bargaining over Greece’s future:

The most effective tactic is to demand a national referendum on whether to accept the ECB’s terms for austerity, tax increases, public spending cutbacks and selloffs. This is how Iceland’s president stopped his country’s Social Democratic leadership from committing the economy to ruinous (and legally unnecessary) payments to Gordon Brown’s Labour Party demands and those of the Dutch for the Icesave and even the Kaupthing bailouts.

Use of the direct democratic mechanism is the best feasible and effective path to block this attack on Greece and its people. Revolution is the only rational alternative to the victims of this looting effort if the institutions of a modern democracy were to fail to secure the rights and well-being of the Greek people. Resignation and suffering combine to provide the irrational alternative.