Noam Chomsky: Austerity Is Just Class War

The esteemed scholar offers his views crisis over Greece’s debt problems.

As Greece defaults and faces a referendum this Sunday on a new bailout package, watch Noam Chomsky on Europe’s “savage response” to the pushback against austerity demands. He spoke to Democracy Now! in March.

http://www.democracynow.org/embed/blog/2015/7/1/chomsky_greece_s_syriza_spain_s

Click here to watch Monday’s segment, “As Greece Heads for Default, Voters Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity.”

Below is an interview with Chomsky, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Syriza in Greece, a movement that started as a grassroots movement. Now they have taken power, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. And then you have Spain right now. We recently spoke to Pablo Iglesias, the secretary general of the group called Podemos, that was founded, what—an anti-austerity party that has rapidly gained popularity. A month after establishing itself last year, they won five seats in the European Parliament, and some polls show they could take the next election, which would mean that Pablo Iglesias, the 36-year-old political science professor and longtime activist, could possibly become the prime minister of Europe’s fifth-largest economy. He came here to New York for just about 72 hours, and I asked him to talk about what austerity measures have meant in Spain.

PABLO IGLESIAS: Austerity means that people is expulsed of their homes. Austerity means that the social services don’t work anymore. Austerity means that public schools have not the elements, the means to develop their activity. Austerity means that the countries have not sovereignty anymore, and we became a colony of the financial powers and a colony of Germany. Austerity probably means the end of democracy. I think if we don’t have democratic control of economy, we don’t have democracy. It’s impossible to separate economy and democracy, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pablo Iglesias, the head of this new anti-austerity group in Spain called Podemos, which means in English “We can.” The significance of these movements?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now! and the co-author of The Silenced Majority.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/noam-chomsky-austerity-just-class-war?akid=13264.265072.Sa2xi5&rd=1&src=newsletter1038752&t=9

It was the creditors who pushed Greece over the edge

By Jerome Roos On July 1, 2015

Post image for It was the creditors who pushed Greece over the edgeIf they had truly cared, the creditors could have easily prevented a default. Sadly, they found it more important to punish Greece and set an example.

Image: sticking posters for the NO campaign ahead of Sunday’s referendum.

On Tuesday, Greece became the first developed country to default on the IMF — and the pro-creditor camp is already propagating the convenient self-serving myth that the country’s “radical” and “irresponsible” government is somehow to blame for this. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To begin with, we should note that defaults come in many forms and guises — and not all of them are the debtor’s fault. In my own research on the political economy of sovereign debt, I identify at least four types of default: (1) negotiated reschedulings; (2) voluntary restructurings; (3) unilateral moratoriums; and (4) outright debt repudiations.

What is interesting about sovereign debt in general (and about international lending in particular) is the almost wholesale absence of repudiation. By and large, countries try extremely hard to repay their debts in full and on time — even when they cannot. In the worst case scenarios, they may be able to negotiate a rescheduling or restructuring of the debt with their lenders. In exceptional cases, countries can declare a moratorium on repayments. While this was very common prior to World War II, it is extremely rare today.

In this respect, the first thing to note is that Greece clearly did not repudiate its debts outright: despite the preliminary conclusions of the Greek parliamentary debt audit committee, which found much of the country’s debt to be odious, illegitimate and illegal, the Syriza/ANEL government still formally recognizes the legally binding character of the debt contracts. Its IMF default therefore looks more like an undeclared moratorium: Greece could still settle its arrears with the Fund at a later stage if it somehow managed to secure new credit.

The second thing to note is that Greece clearly cannot repay its debts in full: even the IMF recognizes that it needs serious debt relief to make its debts sustainable. Still, the country’s left-led government committed itself to remaining current on its obligations even under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Over the past five months, Syriza basically did the impossible: it continued to repay foreign creditors even though it didn’t receive a dime in foreign financing.

So how did it find the money for these practically unsustainable debt payments? Well, it generated them domestically from taxes and budget cuts — along with ade facto default on government suppliers. Long before Greece defaulted on the IMF, it defaulted on its own people and on the private sector firms that do business with the government, just so it could keep servicing its external debts.

In fact, for all the talk of Greek “profligacy” and Syriza’s free-spending ways, the left-led government would have run the largest primary surpluses in the EU by far. In fact, Syriza’s budget would have been the most austere on the continent:

Source: Economist (2015)

Now, the reason Greece has hit a wall and defaulted on the IMF is very simple: despite running primary surpluses, it basically ran out of cash reserves — and the fact that it ran out was clearly not its own fault.

For one, Greece’s repayment schedule for 2015 was simply unrealistic; the summer especially is full of huge payments. Moreover, the creditors showed absolutely no willingness to reschedule or restructure Greece’s debt profile. The creditors’ stubborn refusal to make any concessions in the negotiations also contributed to continued uncertainty, affecting growth and tax collection. This combination of factors made an involuntary moratorium on the IMF inevitable.

But it gets worse. If the creditors had truly cared about preventing a Greek default, they could have done so at the flick of a switch. The Eurogroup and IMF still owed Greece the last 7.2 billion euro tranche of its previously agreed bailout package, while the ECB owed it nearly 2 billion euros in withheld profits on Greek bonds, which it was supposed to return to the government. If the lenders really didn’t want Greece to default, they could have simply transferred this money from one part of the Troika to another — problem solved!

But it should be clear by now that the standoff between Greece and its creditors is no longer about the money: it’s about power and control. The creditors were adamant not to encourage Syriza’s resistance, for this might embolden anti-austerity forces elsewhere — most notably in Spain, where Podemos might well win the next elections. They wanted to set an example.

The only possible way Greece could have obtained further financing to repay the IMF this week would have been to sign up to the self-defeating “take-it-or-leave-it” offer made by the creditors last Friday. This would have been suicidal both for Syriza and for Greece. It was obvious from the start that Tsipras would be unwilling and unable to submit to the same austerity measures that had produced such disastrous economic consequences under previous governments, and against which he had been campaigning so aggressively for all those years.

And so the bottomline is that Greece was pushed over the edge by its own creditors. Its left-led government is clearly still willing to pay — just not at all costs, like previous governments. In fact, Syriza rightly demands a fairer distribution in the burden sharing, a sustainable long-term payment trajectory, and a sovereign say in the way it chooses to meet its obligations — by taxing shipowners, bankers and media magnates, for example, rather than cutting the wages and benefits of workers, pensioners and the unemployed.

If this is considered “radical” and “irresponsible” in Europe today, it’s only because the center has shifted light-years to the right. Unfortunately, that is precisely what has happened. If anyone bears responsibility for the Greek default on the IMF, it is the extremists in the creditor camp who would rather suffocate their borrowers than ensure continued repayment.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @JeromeRoos.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/greece-debt-default-imf/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

US income inequality continued to soar in 2014

102626504-income-inequality

By Andre Damon
2 July 2015

Income inequality in the United States continued to grow in 2014, according to updated figures released last week by University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.

According to Saez’s report, the top one percent of income earners increased their share of total income from 20.1 percent in 2013 to 21.2 in 2014 percent.

The income shares of the highest-earning 10 percent, 1 percent, and 0.1 percent of income earners all grew in 2014. The top ten percent of earners received 49.9 percent of income in 2014, more than any other year besides 2012.

Saez noted that the top 1 percent of earners received 58 percent of income gains during the so-called economic “recovery” between 2009 and 2014. The incomes of the bottom 99 percent grew by just 4.3 percent during that period.

The figures for 2014 mark the first year that real incomes for the bottom 99 percent of earners increased by any significant amount since the 2008 financial crisis. Incomes for the bottom 99 percent grew at a rate of 3.8 percent last year.

Saez wrote that “the incomes of most American families are still far from having recovered from the losses of the Great Recession.” He added that by 2014, the bottom 99 percent of income earners had recovered less than 40 percent of the annual income they had lost during the 2007-2009 recession.

The modest growth in incomes for the bottom 99 percent was dwarfed by the increase in the incomes of the super-rich. The incomes for the top 1 percent of earners grew at a rate of 10.8 percent last year, more than three times faster than the average for the bottom 99 percent.

While the growth of social inequality has dramatically accelerated following the 2008 crash, this is a continuation of a decades-long process. The report notes, “Top 1 percent incomes grew by 80.0% from 1993 to 2014. This implies that top 1 percent incomes captured almost 60% of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2014.”

Saez warns that the growth of inequality is not likely to slow down, noting, “Based on the US historical record, falls in income concentration due to economic downturns are temporary unless drastic regulation and tax policy changes are implemented and prevent income concentration from bouncing back. Such policy changes took place after the Great Depression during the New Deal and permanently reduced income concentration until the 1970s.”

He notes, “The policy changes that took place coming out of the Great Recession… are modest relative to the policy changes that took place coming out of the Great Depression. Therefore, it seems unlikely that US income concentration will fall much in the coming years, absent more drastic policy changes.”

In fact, the US government’s response to the 2008 crash has been dedicated to inflating the wealth of the super-rich while driving down incomes for the vast majority of the population. The White House has protected Wall Street executives from legal prosecution, while the Federal Reserve has handed out trillions of dollars in cheap money through “quantitative easing” programs, leading share values to triple on major US exchanges.

Saez notes that a significant contributor to the growth of income inequality has been the growth of the salaries for top earners, particularly top executives. He observes, “The income composition pattern at the very top has changed considerably over the century. The share of wage and salary income has increased sharply from the 1920s to the present, and especially since the 1970s. Therefore, a significant fraction of the surge in top incomes since 1970 is due to an explosion of top wages and salaries.” He adds that, by some estimates, “the share of total wages and salaries earned by the top 1 percent wage income earners has jumped from 5.1 percent in 1970 to 12.4 percent in 2007.”

There are signs that this process is accelerating. The same day that Saez published his report, the Wall Street Journal published a separate survey of executive pay, which found that CEOs at major corporations it surveyed had their pay increase by 13.5 percent in 2014, hitting $13.6 million.

The soaring wealth of the financial elite, driven by surging stock prices and executive pay, is driving demand for luxury goods and housing in major financial centers. Manhattan real estate prices have reached an all time high, with the average home price hitting $1.87 million, according to reports cited by the New York Times Wednesday. The Times noted that real estate developers are scrambling to create enormous multi-million-dollar high-rise apartments, which are being snapped up by members of the financial elite.

Meanwhile, the housing situation for the great majority of the population has only worsened since 2008. Last week a study by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies found that the share of the US population that owned a home hit the lowest level in two decades, with the homeownership rate for those aged 35-44 plunging to the lowest level since the 1960s. The report attributed the fall in home ownership to falling incomes for typical US households, noting that median household income in the US remained 8 percent below its level in 2007.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama plans to unveil what he has called a major new policy initiative in a speech in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The proposal entails new federal rules that would make an additional 3 percent of the US population eligible for overtime pay. If adopted, the change would add a mere $1.3 billion to worker’s wages annually. This is a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars that have been transferred to the financial elite since the 2008 financial crisis.

To put things in perspective; Obama’s program would transfer less income to working people each year than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in a single day last year.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/02/saez-j02.html

“Steve Jobs,” portrait of the artist as tech guru: What we lose when we worship at the altar of commerce

When we abandon the arts, this is what’s left 

"Steve Jobs," portrait of the artist as tech guru: What we lose when we worship at the altar of commerce
Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs” (Credit: Universal Pictures)

The trailer for the new Steve Jobs biopic has just been released, and it looks like the movie could be formidable, maybe one of the films of the year. Despite changes in cast and director, the matching of director Danny Boyle with actor Michael Fassbender (along with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) could summon serious dramatic firepower.

The movie seems to make explicit something that’s been swirling for a while now: That engineers, software jockeys, and product designers are the capital-A Artists of our age. They are what painters and sculptors were to the Renaissance, what composers and poets were to the 19th century, what novelists and, later, auteur film directors, were to the 20th.

The likening of tech savants to artists goes back at least as far as Richard Florida’s books about the creative class, but it picked up energy with the 2011 death of Jobs, who was hailed as a job creator by Republican politicians and mystic genius by many others. You see this same impulse in the opening of Jonah Lehrer’s now-discredited book “Imagine,” which compared the inventor of the Swiffer (which “continues to dominate the post-mop market”) with William James and Bob Dylan.

The metaphor becomes quite clear in “Steve Jobs,” which is based on Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography. In the trailer, Fassbender’s Jobs announces that he is not a musician – he is the conductor. “Musicians play their instruments,” he says. “I play the orchestra.” Stirring orchestral music – with stabbing violins – plays through the trailer. “Artists lead,” the Jobs character rants to a meeting at a particularly fraught time, and “hacks ask for a show of hands.”

But how many Americans – including those who can tell you the difference between every generation of iPhone – can name a single living conductor? What about a real visual artist? (That is, someone besides Lady Gaga.) As a recent CNN article asks, what about a famous living poet? (“No, not Maya Angelou. She died last year.”)

So how did we get here, where technology designers claiming the mantle of the Artist have replaced – in both the media and in the public’s esteem — the actual working, living, breathing artist?

The reason is not just the weird technological fetishism that has gripped American culture since the ‘80s. It also comes from how we as a society have spent our resources, and it goes way back.

While Americans, on the whole, didn’t worship culture with the same dedication as Europeans, the whole West saw the arts as something central, even a replacement for religion: After Nietzsche told us God was dead, theaters and concerts halls that looked like churches sprouted up not just in Britain and the continent, but in the wealthier and more settled cities in the States as well. Conductors like Toscanini became cultural heroes. Nations and plutocrats alike spent money to spread the gospel.

Cold War funding supported culture even more directly – Eisenhower sent Louis Armstrong overseas – and television stations and magazines considered the dissemination of the arts part of what they did. Maria Callas, Thelonious Monk, and Leonard Bernstein showed up not just in small-circulation specialty publications but on the cover of Time magazine.

For all the difference between their politics, generations, and backgrounds, the president who followed Eisenhower did not abandon the religion of culture: Kennedy had Robert Frost read at his inauguration. JFK spoke often, publicly and privately, about the importance of culture, writing that “There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.” Lyndon Johnson followed him by founding the National Endowment for the Arts. Nixon made war on a lot of the previous administration’s achievements, but not this.

Even more important, public schools offered music and arts education that gave at least some students a sense that this stuff mattered and was a basic part of being an educated, informed citizen.

How did all of this edifice collapse, so that music, poetry, theater, painting and everything else would be just another part of mix of commerce and “content”? That’s hard to make sense of, but let’s just say that the culture wars of the Bush I years, the demonization of artists and other subversives as a “cultural elite,” and the attacks on the canon by the academic left didn’t help. Nor did the conquest of neoliberalism, waged by Reagan and Thatcher and their respective brain trusts, which told us that markets are supreme and more important than musty old ideas like society or culture. And the globalization that came after gave narrow-minded utilitarians reason to slice and dice arts education. It’s still happening.

In the simplest sense: When you use state funding to help develop computer technology and what would become the Internet, and cut support for arts and culture, what do you think is gonna happen?

So what’s wrong with making Steve Jobs and others who came up with cool gadgets and efficient apps for getting pizza to people in San Francisco into the artists of our age? Doesn’t culture change over the decades and centuries?

Well, sort of, but here’s the key difference. The whole idea of poetry or a symphony or a novel is to get past daily life. It’s not just about cool or efficiency or even entertainment but an aspect of – to mangle the title of Geoff Dyer’s excellent essay collection – what was previously known as the human condition. We used to see culture as something that could be deeper than a really fast computer or a cordless mouse.

The literary essayist Richard Rodriguez has said that we live in “the age of the engineer.” If so, something really has died inside us. The Jobs movie looks great, but if this guys is our John Lennon or Nina Simone or Bernstein or Beethoven, we really are cooked.

Scott Timberg is a staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash.He’s the author of the new book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class.”

The IMF defaulted on Greece a long time ago

By Jerome Roos On June 30, 2015

Post image for The IMF defaulted on Greece a long time agoEven its own officials recognize that the IMF played a leading role in Greece’s economic collapse. It is time for the Fund to own up and pay its dues.

Image: Protesters in Athens rally against austerity and for a ‘NO’ vote in next Sunday’s referendum (Monday, June 29).

Tuesday marked the deadline for Greece to transfer a 1.6 billion euro debt repayment to the IMF. The country’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had already announced that his government could not — and would not — pay. And so, at 6pm Washington-time, 1am locally, Greece officially defaulted on the IMF.

The default is an unprecedented event in the history of finance: never before has a developed country fallen into arrears on a loan from the Fund. Unsurprisingly, the international press is already conjuring up unflattering comparisons with notorious failed states like Zimbabwe and Somalia, which are among the few countries to have gone down the same path of utter financial ignominy. With all due respect for Zimbabwe and Somalia, the implication of this media narrative is clear: Greece is about to become a hopeless basket case.

In truth, superficial parallels like these are dangerously misleading. Not only do they compare apples and oranges; they also end up obscuring the IMF’s own role in the decimation of the Greek economy, which basically made an eventual Greek default inevitable. By uncritically reproducing narratives of Greece’s “failure” to repay the Fund, many in the international media are directly overlooking the fierce internal criticism that top IMF officials have expressed about their ownresponsibility for the utter disaster of the Troika’s bailout programs.

Yes, it’s true: never before has a developed country failed to repay the IMF on time. But, then again, never before has a developed country experienced such a catastrophic economic collapse in peacetime — and never before have official creditors been so criminally complicit in producing the collapse (although the brutal structural adjustment programs in Latin America, Africa and East-Asia were in many ways even more inhumane).

Greece has by now lost a quarter of its total economic output since the start of the crisis. Unemployment is still higher than it was in the United States during the Great Depression. Public health and other public services have completely imploded. Almost 1 million Greeks are without health insurance; 11.000 people are estimated to have committed suicide as a result of economic hardship. The depth of this crisis is absolutely unprecedented, and the creditors themselves (including the IMF) owe a great deal of the responsibility.

Interestingly, the IMF itself has long since recognized this. Just consider what the Fund wrote in its ex-post evaluation of the first Greek bailout of 2010. The program, the IMF blatantly states, “only served to delay debt restructuring and allowed many private creditors to escape … leaving taxpayers and the official sector on the hook” (p. 28). Moreover, the Fund admits that “earlier debt restructuring could have eased the burden of adjustment on Greece and contributed to a less dramatic contraction in output” (p. 33).

In the same report, the IMF also conceded that “the burden of adjustment was not shared evenly across society” (p. 24); that “ownership of the program was limited” (p. 24); that “the program was based on a number of ambitious assumptions” (p. 26); that “the risks were explicitly flagged” (p.27); and that “ex-ante debt restructuring was not attempted” (p. 27).

“An upfront debt restructuring would have been better for Greece,” the Fund concludes, “although this was not acceptable to the euro partners. A delayed debt restructuring … provided a window for private creditors to reduce exposures and shift debt into official hands.” Or to put that in ordinary language: the IMF basically admits that it should have canceled a large chunk of Greece’s debt at the very start, but decided not to do so because the Europeans needed them to help save their private banks. There you have it, from the horse’s mouth.

Miranda Xafa, a former member on the IMF executive board, has reached the same conclusion. Noting that the reason for delaying a much-needed debt restructuring was simply to allow private banks to reduce their exposure to Greece, she penned a highly critical paper in which she confirms that “The exposure of core euro area banks, especially French and German banks, was a key reason why a debt restructuring was not attempted sooner.”

By early 2011 it was already clear that the first bailout would not be enough to keep Greece afloat. Unsurprisingly, given the ferocity of the austerity measures demanded by the IMF and the European creditors, the Greek economy was contracting much faster than the wildly optimistic IMF prognoses had foreseen (see the graph below). In a widely disseminated mea culpa, IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard later acknowledged that the Fund’s unrealistic (and ultimately false) prognoses hinged on a set of assumptions that massively underestimated the contractionary effects of the Troika’s austerity measures.

This was no mere methodological error. According to Susan Schadler, former deputy director of the IMF’s European Department, the Fund’s notoriously inadequate multipliers were the direct outcome of a set of “fundamental political pressures” that compelled IMF staff to paint a much rosier picture of the Greek bailout program than reality merited.

The Fund’s scheme was obvious for everyone to see. As Martin Wolf of theFinancial Timesnoted: “instead of making the debt sustainable, the programme merely let many private creditors escape unscathed. All this tells us depressing things about the politicisation of the IMF and the inability of the eurozone to act in the best interests of its weaker members.”

It was not all about the money, however. After 2012, the European banks had basically divested themselves of Greek debt and a Greek default no longer appeared to be a systemic risk. Still, the debt provided the Europeans with a powerful instrument to exert long-term fiscal control over Greece. Schadler:

Several interviewees suggested that apart from domestic political considerations, one reason the Europeans did not want to commit openly to absorbing the costs of the crisis and establishing an endgame [i.e., granting Greece debt relief] was that they felt it necessary to perpetuate uncertainty as a method of holding the feet of the Greek government to the fire.

Last Saturday, hours after Tsipras announced the Greek referendum, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn decided to weigh in on the matter too. In ashort paper entitled “Learning from one’s mistakes”, Strauss-Kahn (who was in charge of the Fund at the time of the first Greek bailout, until he resigned following a sex scandal involving rape allegations) said he was willing to “take responsibility” for his part in forcing an “asymmetrical” and overly “counter-cyclical” adjustment upon Greece.

The evidence for the IMF’s criminal complicity in the collapse of the Greek economy is simply overwhelming. Yes, the officials at the Fund bear direct responsibility for the years of untold suffering they have inflicted upon millions, including the tens of thousands who died because they could not obtain adequate medical treatment or who, driven to despair by the lack of economic prospects, took their own lives. In any civilized country, those responsible for such vast suffering and loss of life would have been sentenced to prison years ago.

In its review of the 2010 bailout, the IMF itself admitted that “in retrospect, the program served as a holding operation” to allow private creditors and domestic elites to escape the crisis without having to share in the burden of adjustment. This can only lead us to one possible conclusion: Greece may have defaulted on the IMF tonight, but the IMF itself defaulted on the Greeks a long, long time ago. It is high time for the creditors to pay their dues and return the immense moral and material debt they owe to the people of Greece.

It is time to cancel the debt.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JeromeRoos.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/06/greece-imf-default-bailout/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Global parasitism creates conditions for a new financial meltdown

abutres-vultures-argentina-default-imf-wb

1 July 2015

The way in which financial parasitism, fed by the ultra-cheap money policies of the US Federal Reserve and other central banks, is creating conditions for another crisis is revealed in figures on takeovers and mergers in the first half of this year.

According to a report published in the Financial Times on Tuesday, a “heady cocktail of ultra-low financing costs” lifted US merger and acquisition activity to almost $1 trillion in the first six months of the year, an increase of 60 percent over the same period in 2014 and the highest level since records started to be kept in 1980. The price paid to purchase companies has reached new highs, averaging 16 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation. This compares to 14.3 times in 2007. In one major takeover, the ratio was 20.

The feeding frenzy is now greater than that which preceded the financial crisis of 2008, and it is not confined to the US. Global merger and acquisition activity has risen by 38 percent in the first half of 2015 compared to a year ago, reaching $2.18 trillion, its highest level since 2007.

These figures are another expression of the fact that parasitic activity—purchasing a company, often with borrowed money obtained at very low rates, and carving up its assets—is increasingly replacing productive investment as a source of profits.

But there is a sense, even among participants, that this orgy cannot continue indefinitely. One “senior banker” told the Financial Times that this year “feels like the last days of Pompeii: everyone is wondering when will the volcano erupt.”

Warnings of another financial explosion and the incapacity of central banks and financial authorities to deal with it were at the centre of the annual report of the Bank for International Settlements issued on Sunday.

The BIS, which is sometimes called the central bankers’ bank, has been severely critical of the low-interest regime established by the pouring of money into financial markets by central banks. It was one of the few official institutions to warn of the build-up of conditions for a crisis in the years preceding 2008, and has been critical of the policies pursued since then.

According to the BIS, “In some jurisdictions, monetary policy is already testing its outer limits, to the point of stretching the boundaries to the unthinkable.”

Its report points out that the roots of the crisis are to be found in the steady decline in real interest rates starting in the 1980s. The fall in interest rates gave rise to an increase in debt, meaning it was increasingly difficult to increase rates lest this set off a crisis. When a crisis did emerge, the response was to lower interest rates still further.

In his comments on the report, the head of the BIS monetary and economic department, Claudio Borio, said that real interest rates in the major economies had never been so low for so long. “Rather than reflecting the current weakness,” Borio said, “they [low interest rates] may in part have contributed to it by fuelling costly financial booms and busts and delaying adjustments. The result is too much debt, too little growth and too low interest rates.”

Puncturing the myth that central bankers and monetary authorities are somehow in control of the global financial system and have a clear idea about what they are doing, the BIS report notes that “there is great uncertainty about how the economy works.” It says “risk-taking in financial markets has gone for too long,” and the “illusion that markets will remain liquid when under stress has been too pervasive.”

Fear about the “illusion” of liquidity refers to a situation where investors and speculators all want to sell and suddenly there are no buyers to be found.

The BIS warned that the flooding of the markets, giving rise to record low interest rates, is creating the conditions for a crisis which central bankers may not be able to control because of their previous policies. “The more one stretches an elastic band, the more violently it snaps back,” the report said.

Therefore, there should be a move to normalise monetary policy to meet the situation when the next recession comes, “which will no doubt materialise at some point.” Central banks would not be able to meet that situation by lowering rates because they are already at or near zero. “Of what use is a gun with no bullets left?” the report asks.

The basic thrust of the BIS report is that while financial bubbles, fuelling inflated share buybacks and merger and acquisition deals, may provide solutions in the short term, in the long run they simply create the conditions for another crisis.

While it is not spelt out directly, the BIS critique of the present policies is an expression of the fact that, in the final analysis, the source of all forms of profit is the surplus value extracted from the working class. Therefore, the only way for capital to overcome its crisis and restore stability is a massive increase in exploitation.

Thus, the central policy recommendation in the report is for a shift away from reliance on monetary policy and the imposition of “initiatives that are more structural in character.”

The bitter experiences of the past decade have already underscored what this means—the destruction of working conditions and cuts to vital social services and other government funding, coupled with “flexibility” of labour markets. An environment conducive to “innovation and entrepreneurship”—that is, a free rein for business—must be established, according to the BIS.

It also calls for measures aimed at “boosting labour force participation.” This means making available new sources of cheap labour by forcing those on disability or other forms of pensions back into the workforce as their entitlements are slashed.

The report does not spell out how such measures—which are already being implemented in all the major economies—are to be intensified, other than saying that it will be “politically difficult.” The difficulties refer to the fact that their imposition is fundamentally incompatible with the maintenance of any kind of democratic regime.

The BIS chose to keep silent on what its prescriptions meant politically. But a report issued by the American banking and investment giant JPMorgan Chase two years ago spoke out very clearly on what it saw as the major problems in the political systems of a number of countries in Europe, including Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The constitutions of those countries, it said, had been drawn up after the defeat of fascism and incorporated features inimical to a resolution of the problems for capital created by the financial crisis. These included “weak executives, weak central states relative to regions, constitutional protection of labour rights; consensus-building systems which favour political clientalism, and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the status quo.”

In other words, the kind of political, economic and social conditions that prevailed in fascist regimes, where capital had unrestricted freedom of operation, should be restored.

Two years on, this agenda is being carried out in Greece through the dictates of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, which insist that any expression of the interests of the mass of the people, even within the limited framework of bourgeois democracy, must be overridden and trampled on in the interests of the profit system. But it is not confined to Greece.

The economic and social devastation in Greece does not arise from conditions peculiar to that country, but from the breakdown of the global capitalist system. Greece is the testing ground for the kind of measures to be carried out in every country, which, as the BIS report makes clear, are assuming ever-greater urgency for the financial and corporate elites.

Nick Beams

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/01/pers-j01.html

No more ‘Yes to all’: time for a proud and dignified ‘NO!’

By Leonidas Oikonomakis On June 29, 2015

Post image for No more ‘Yes to all’: time for a proud and dignified ‘NO!’Finally, the Greek people will be able to say a dignified ‘NO!’ to austerity. We owe it to those who suffered, those who migrated — and those who died.

Image: Anti-austerity protest at Syntagma Square in June 2011.

First Scene: Kastelorizo island, April 2010.

The then-Prime Minister Giorgakis Papandreou (son of Andreas and grandson of Giorgos) appeared on state television to send his televised message to the Greek people from the harbor of Kastelorizo: “Our ship is sinking,” he said, “and we have to turn to our partners, the IMF and the EU, who will provide us with a safe harbor where we can rebuild it.”

As the saying has it: “a ship is safe in harbor — but that’s not what ships are for.” However, this is how Greece’s self-destructive dance with the Troika began. At the time, the country’s public debt was at 120% of GDP, the unemployment rate at 12%, the youth unemployment rate at around 30%, and suicide rates were an unfamiliar concept.

Second Scene: Syntagma Square, June 29, 2011.

All I can remember is my friends’ faces covered in Maalox, teargas grenades and Molotov cocktails all over the place, even inside the Metro, the riot police going on a frenzy and beating up people, and — above all — the repetition of those “Yes to all!” statements on the radio, expressed by the majority of deputies inside the Greek Parliament.

It was the day Parliament would vote on the so-called mid-term agreement, a new round of austerity measures that included the shrinking of the Greek public sector and welfare state and the privatization of key state assets. It was also during the heyday of the  Movement of the Squares, whose activists had called for a 48-hour general strike starting on June 28.

For the day after — the day of the vote — the plan was to “besiege” the Parliament so deputies wouldn’t be able to enter and vote, or if they did so at least they would feel the pressure from outside and vote no. Ambitious plan, you may say, Quixotic even, but that was what the Syntagma Assembly had decided.

It didn’t work.

Yes to all,” the deputies said… gas grenades were falling… Maalox for those affected… chemicals… “Say no, for god’s sake!” … people fainting in the metro… beatings… arrests… the cops in the square destroying the camp… and yet again: “Yes to all…” I think those “Yeses to all” hurt us more than any of the chemicals or the beatings of the cops.

Third Scene: Florence, June 2015.

Like many of my friends, a generation of well-educated young people (owing to the fact that education in Greece is free), I don’t live in the country anymore. Still, I follow the political and economic developments and I try to spread the word of the economic and social destruction Greece is going through as much as I can.

You know, when we were finishing our university studies we were known as the “Generation of 700 euros”: a generation of well-educated young people who were obliged to live on 700 euros per month, the lowest salary in Greece at the time, which was considered far too little for anyone to survive in dignity in Athens, Thessaloniki, or any other of the big cities in the country.

Little did we know back then that, five years later, under the austerity measures dictated by the economists of the Troika and imposed by a series of slavish Greek governments, the lowest salary would have fallen to 500 euros, our parents’ salaries and grandparents’ pensions (which were not that generous either) would have been slashed by 30-40%,  that the unemployment rate would reach 28%, the youth unemployment rate 50%, that suicide rates would quadruple, and that a neo-Nazi party would be in Parliament.

At the same time, the public debt skyrocketed to 180% of GDP,  the rich (who would obviously benefit from the 40% reduction in worker salaries) kept becoming richer, and many of us (200.000, to be more specific, or roughly 2% of the population) would be forced to emigrate as a result of the crisis. The world’s biggest brain drain, as The Guardiancalled it.

None of the above is a coincidence. All of this is the direct result of the social and economic policies imposed by the Troika with the help of Greece’s “Yes to all” governments. Exactly the same policies that they are trying to blackmail Greece into continuing today.

However, this time we are being asked by the government — that of Alexis Tsipras — what we really want it to do. And for once, we will be able to say a proud and dignified ‘NO!’, as we had always wanted the deputies who were supposed to be representing us to say! We owe it to our friends who migrated, our parents and grandparents who saw their salaries and pensions being slashed, our comrades who were beaten up and arrested by the cops, and to our dead: to Pavlos and Shehzad Luqman, who were assassinated by Golden Dawn, and to the thousands who committed suicide over the course of the past five years.

It is a matter of dignity — something that can not be measured and cannot fit into the Troika’s economic statistics, but that can give strength to the humiliated to rise up against those who have humiliated them for so long.

Leonidas Oikonomakis is a PhD researcher in Social Movement Studies at the European University Institute, a rapper with the Greek hip-hop formation Social Waste, and an editor for ROAR Magazine.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/06/greece-referendum-no-vote/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29