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To listen to my discussion of the key economic events of the past week as Trump takes office, listen to my January 20, 2017 Alternative Visions radio show,

go to:

http://alternativevisions.podbean.com

or to:

http://prn.fm/alternative-visions-key-economic-events-past-week-trump-inauguration-01-20-17/

SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT:

Jack Rasmus reviews the key economic events, US and global, in the run-up to the Trump inauguration: China President Xi warning of trade war with US, the European Central Bank’s continuation of its QE policy, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, May, signals a ‘hard Brexit’, Trump cabinet nominees tell Congress what they want to hear (and not what they intend to do), Indonesia slaps down Chase Bank and UUS bond rating agencies, US Banks announce accelerating profits and stock prices with much more to come, Janet Yellen, chair of the US Federal Reserve, warns Trump not to spend on infrastructure because US economy is ‘too hot’, the real heat globally rises with hottest climate on record in 2016, and various US elites ‘warn’ Trump about foreign policy shifts without their consent. Jack explains that Trump enters office with elites willing to tolerate him so long as he delivers quickly on massive tax cuts, business deregulation, and eliminating the costs to them in Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, but don’t dismantle NAFTA and China trade or mess with NATO. Rasmus predicts Trump will eventually be ‘brought to heel’ by the US economic elites, and a new Neoliberalism 2.0 will be launched. (next week: Trump’s inaugural address and what it means for US policy)

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Obama’s Farewell Address

By
Jack Rasmus
Copyright 2017

Last night, January 10, 2017, Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation. The scene was a strange and disappointing attempt that failed, to replicate the hope, the energy, and optimism of his first 2008 address to the nation. Instead of celebrating the unity of all those who joined to put him in office, the mood was downbeat, with Obama warning listeners that the country had become more divided than ever during his intervening years in office, that Democracy was threatened on many fronts—cultural, legal, and economic—and that the people to whom he was speaking, and throughout America, now had the task to take up the fight to protect what’s left and restore it–for clearly he had not been able to do so.

At times the fire of hope, dominant in his 2008 victory speech, briefly returned. Obama declared, referring to 2008 and 2012, that “maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off”. But what exactly was ‘pulled off’? What was accomplished that was so great is hard to know. But he apparently thinks something was.

During the speech he listed a series of accomplishments that represent, in his view, the high marks of his presidency: As he put it, he ‘reversed the Great Recession, rebooted the auto industry, generated the longest job creation period in Us economic history, got 20 million people health insurance coverage, halved US dependency on foreign oil, negotiated the Iran nuclear proliferation deal, killed Osama Bin Laden, prevented foreign terrorist attacks on the US homeland, ended torture, passed laws to protect citizens from surveillance, and worked to close GITMO.’ Sounds good, unless one considers the facts behind the ‘hurrah for me’ claims.

The auto industry was rescued, true, but auto workers wages and benefits are less today than 2008 and jobs in the industry are still below 2008 levels. So too are higher paid construction jobs. Half of the jobs created since 2008 include those lost in 2008-2010, and the rest net gains in new jobs since 2010 have been low paid, no benefits, part time, temp, ‘gig’ service jobs that leave no fewer than 40% of young workers under thirty today forced to live at home with parents. More people are working two and three part time jobs than ever before. Five million have left the workforce altogether which doesn’t get counted in the official employment and unemployment rate figures. If one counts the part time, temp and those who’ve left the labor force or not entered altogether, the jobless rate is not today’s official 4.9% but 10% of the workforce. That’s 15 million or more still, after eight years. Meanwhile, those who do have jobs are victims of the great ‘job churn’, from high to lower wage, from a few, if any, benefits to none at all.

As for ending the Great Recession, that depends ending ‘for whom’ and what constitutes an ‘end’. The US economy grew after 2009, but at the slowest rate of growth historically post-recession since the 1930s.

But he did end the great recession for the wealthy and their corporations. Corporations have distributed more than $5 trillion in stock buybacks and dividends to their shareholders since 2010, as corporate profits more than doubled, as stock and bond markets tripled in value, and as more than $6 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and investors (beyond the $3.5 trillion G.W. Bush provided) were passed on Obama’s watch. (Not to be outdone by Obama and the Democrats, Trump and the Republican Congress are now about to pass another $6.2 trillion for investors and businesses, to be paid for in large part by tax hikes for the rest of us and the slashing of education spending, Medicare, Medicaid, healthcare, housing, and what’s left of the US social safety net).

In his farewell address Obama also cited how the country ‘halved its dependency on foreign oil’. True enough, at the cost of environmental disasters from Texas to the Dakotas to Pennsylvania, as oil fracking replaced Saudi sources, and in the process generating irreversible water and air contamination in the US. In foreign policy, he noted he signed the Iran deal, but left out mentioning that during his administration the US set the entire middle east aflame with failed policy responses to the ‘Arab Spring’, with Hillary’s coup in Libya, to support of various terrorist groups (including Al Queda) in Syria, and to the arming of Saudis to attack Yemen.

Looking farther east, Obama foreign policy outcomes are no better. The US is still fighting in Afghanistan 16 years later, the longest war in US history, as the Afghan government now collapses again in a cesspool of corruption and graft. And the US is still engaged in Iraq. A related consequence of the failed US middle east policy has been the destabilization of Europe with mass refugee migrations, that have been only temporarily suspended by equally massive payoffs to Turkey’s proto-fascist Erdogan government (which also blames the US for the recent failed coup there by the way).

Other failures on the Obama foreign policy front must include the US militarization of the Baltics and East Europe, following Obama’s inability to rein in Hillary’s US State Department neocons in 2013-14, who made a mess out of their US financed coup in the Ukraine in 2014. That debacle has driven the US and Russia further toward confrontation, which perhaps Hillary and the neocons may have wanted in the first place (along with a US land invasion of Syria at the time which, in this case, Obama to his credit resisted).

And what about Obama’s much heralded ‘pivot to China’? On his watch China’s currency achieved global reserve status, that country launched a major trade expansion, and a government Asia-wide investment bank. The collapse of the US sponsored TPP will also mean a China-Southeast Asia ‘TPP’, which was already well underway.

On the domestic front, Obama’s legacies must include the most massive deportation of Latinos in US history on his watch, nothing but words spoken from the comfort of the White House about police and gun violence and black lives murders on the streets of the US, and the rollback of voting rights across the country. And let’s not forget about Barack the great promoter of free trade, signing bilateral deals from the very beginning of his administration, and then the TPP, all of which gave Trump one of his biggest weapons during the recent election.

The media and press incessantly refer to the 2010 Obamacare Act and the 2010 bank regulating Dodd-Frank Act as two of his prime achievements. But Obamacare is about to implode because it failed to control health care costs, now more than $3 trillion of the US total GDP of $19 trillion—the highest in the advanced economy world at nearly 18% of GDP (compared to Europe and elsewhere that spend on average 10% of their GDP on healthcare). The 8% difference, more than $1 trillion a year, going to the pockets of middle men and paper pushers, like insurance companies, that provide not one iota of health care services.

In his address Obama touted the fact that on his watch 20 of the 50 million uninsured got health insurance coverage, half of them covered by Medicaid which provides well less than even ‘bare bones’(provided one can even find a doctor willing to provide medical services). The rest covered by Obamacare mostly got high deductible insurance, often at an out of pocket cost of $2-$4 thousand a year. 10 million thus got minimal coverage, and the health insurance industry got $900 billion a year, what the program costs. No wonder the health insurance companies did not oppose such a windfall. Obamacare is best described therefore as a ‘health insurance industry subsidy act’, not a health care reform act.

Obama will be remembered for scuttling his own program in 2010 by unilaterally caving in to the insurance companies and withdrawing the ‘public option’ and for his party refusing to even allow discussion of expanding Medicare for all—the only solution to the continuing US health care crisis. In the wake of Obamacare’s passage, big Pharmaceutical companies have also been allowed to price gouge at will, driving up not only private health insurance premiums but Medicare costs as well, and softening up that latter program for coming Republican-Trump attacks.

As for Dodd-Frank, that’s been known as a joke for some time, providing no real controls on greedy bankers and investors who were given five years after its passage in 2010 to lobby and pick it apart, which they’ve done. The one provision in Dodd-Frank worth anything, the Consumer Protection Agency, is about to disappear under Trump. And for the first time in US economic history, no banker or investor responsible for the 2008 crash went to jail on Obama’s watch.

So much for Obamacare and banking reform as his most notable ‘legacies’.

The true legacies that will be remembered long term will be the accelerating rate of income inequality, the real basis for the growing divisions in America, and the near collapse of the Democratic Party itself.

Under Obama, the wealthiest 1% accrued no less than 97% of all the net national income gains since 2008—as stock markets tripled, bond markets and corporate profits doubled, and $5 trillion was passed through to investors as $6 more trillion in their taxes were cut. Under George Bush the wealthiest 1% households was 65%. Under Clinton 48%. So the rate accelerated rapidly during Obama’s term. Apart from talking about it, Obama did nothing the last 8 years to abate, let alone reverse, the trend.

The other true legacy will be the virtual implosion of the Democratic Party itself during his administration. As the leader of a party, one would think ensuring its success in the future would be a priority. But it wasn’t. On his watch, nearly two thirds of all state legislatures and governorships, and countless court positions, have been captured by the Republicans. To be fair, the Democratic Party has been in decline for decades. It has won at the presidential level only when the Republicans split their vote, as in 1992 when Ross Perot challenged daddy Bush, and when baby Bush, George W., aka ‘the shrub’, crashed the entire US, and much of the global, economy in 2008.

Obama and the Democrats had an historic opportunity to turn the country in a progressive direction for a decade or more, as Roosevelt did in 1932 and then 1934—by bailing out Main St. with another ‘New Deal’. But Obama chose to double down in 2010 on bailing out Wall St. and the big corporations with another $800 billion tax cut, leaving Main St. America behind. Unlike FDR in 1934, who swept the midterm elections that year, giving him a Congress to pass the New Deal in 1935, Obama doubled down on more for investors and corporations and the 1%. He paid dearly for that in 2010 losing control of Congress. American voters gave him one more chance in 2012, but he again failed to deliver. The result is a Democratic Party ‘debacle 2.0’ in 2016 and he leaves a Democratic Party in shambles. That too will be remembered as his longer term legacy.

Returning to his farewell address, the affair was a poorly rehearsed caricature of his 2008 inaugural, during which so many had so much hope of change, but ended up with so little in the end. Like a touring theater troupe putting on its last performance blandly, eager to change into street clothes and get out of town. True, the Republicans played hard ball and blocked much of his initiatives, but Obama did little to fight back in kind. If he was a community organizer, he was of the most timid of his genre. He kept extending a hand to the Republican dog that kept biting it at every overture. He wanted everyone to unite and pull together. But in politics winning is not achieved by reasoning with the better nature of one’s opponents. That’s considered weakness, and the biting thereafter is ever more vicious.

But perhaps Obama’s greater political error was he never went to the American people to mobilize support, instead sitting comfortably within the oval office in the White House and enjoying the elite circus that is ‘inside the beltway’ Washington. He never put anything personal or physical on the line. And that does not an organizer make. He repeatedly talked the talk, and never walked. The results were predictable as the Republican hardballers—McConnell, Ryan and crew—threw him beanballs every time he came up to bat. He struck out, time and again, calmly walking back to his White House dugout every time.

So farewell Barack. Your speech was a nostalgic call to your hometown fans in Chicago, to go out and organize for American democracy because it’s now in deep ‘doo-doo’. Take up where I left off, your message? Fair enough. Do what I failed to accomplish, you say? OK. See you at the country club, buddy, after your lunch with Penny Pritzger, the Chicago Hilton Hotels billionairess, who put you in office back when in 2008.
And now America changes one real estate wheeler-dealer for another, this time one who takes the direct reins of government. And he’s Obama’s legacy as well….

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THE FOLLOWING ARE SELECTIONS FROM MY RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOK, “LOOTING GREECE: A NEW FINANCIAL IMPERIALISM EMERGES”. WHAT IS “FINANCIAL IMPERIALISM? HOW IS IT FUNCTIONING IN GREECE TODAY? AND IS IT A GROWING CHARACTERISTIC OF 21st CENTURY GLOBAL CAPITALIST ECONOMY? ARE TOPICS ADDRESSED. (See the Concluding Chapter in the book for the complete analysis)

The recurring Greek debt crises represent a new emerging form of Financial Imperialism. What, then, is imperialism, and especially what, when described is financial imperialism? How does what has been emerging in Greece under the Eurozone constitute a new form of Imperialism? How is the new Financial Imperialism emerging in Greece both similar and different from other forms of Imperialism? And how does this represent a broader development, beyond Greece, of a new 21st century form of Imperialism in development?

The Many Meanings of Imperialism

Imperialism is a term that carries both political-military as well as economic meaning. It generally refers to one State, or pre-State set of political institutions and society, conquering and subjugating another. The conquest/subjugation may occur for largely geopolitical reasons—to obtain territories that are strategically located and/or to deny one’s competitors from acquiring the same. It may result as the consequence of the nationalist fervor or domestic instability in one State then being diverted by its elites who are under domestic threat, toward the conquest of an external State as a means to avoid challenges to their rule at home. Conquest and acquisition may be undertaken as well as a means to enable population overflow, from the old to the new territory. These political reasons for Imperialism have been driving it from time immemorial. Rome attacked Carthage in the third century BCE in part to drive it from its threatening strategic positions in Sicily and Sardinia, and also to prevent it from expanding northward in the Iberian Peninsula. Domestic nationalist fervor explains much of why in post-1789 revolutionary France the French bourgeois elites turned to Napoleon who then diverted domestic discontent and redirected it toward military conquest. Imperialism as an outlet for German eastward population settlement has been argued as the rationale behind Hitler’s ‘Lebensraum’ doctrine. And US ‘Manifest Destiny’ doctrine, to populate the western continent of North America, was used in the 19th century as a justification, in part, for US imperialist wars with Mexico and native American populations at the time.

But what may appear as purely political or social motives behind Imperialist expansion—even in pre-Capitalist or early Capitalist periods—has almost always had a more fundamental economic origin. It could be argued, for example, that Rome provoked and attacked Carthage to drive it from its colonies on the western coast of Sicily and thus deny it access to grain production there; to deny it strategic ports on the eastern Iberian coast from which to trade; and eventually to acquire the lucrative silver mines in the southernmost region of the peninsula at the time. Nazi Germany’s Lebensraum doctrine, it may be argued, was but a cover for acquiring agricultural lands of southern Russia and Ukraine and as a stepping stone to the oil fields of Azerbaijan, Persia and Iraq. And US western expansion was less to achieve a population outlet than to remove foreign (Mexico, Britain) and native American impediments to securing natural resources exclusively for US use. US acquisitions still further ‘west’—i.e. of Hawaii, the Philippines and other pacific islands were even less about population overflow and more about ensuring access to western pacific trade and markets in the face of European imperialists scrambling to wrap up the remaining Asian markets and resources.

Imperialism is often associated with military action, as one State subdues and then rules the other and its peoples. But imperialist expansion is not always associated with military conquest. The dominating State may so threaten a competitor state with war or de facto acquisition that the latter simply cedes control by treaty over the new territory it itself had conquered by force—as did Spain in the case of Florida or Britain with the US Pacific Northwest territories. Or the new territory may be inherited from the rulers of that territory. Historically, much of the Roman Empire’s territory in the eastern Mediterranean was acquired this way. Or the new territory may be purchased, one state from the other—as with France and the Louisiana Purchase, Spanish Florida accession, and Russia’s sale of Alaska to the US.

In other words, imperialism does not always require open warfare as the means to acquisition but it is virtually always associated with economic objectives, even when it appears to be geo-political maneuvering or due to social (i.e. nationalist ideology, domestic crises, population diversion, etc.) causes.

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Wealth Extraction as Basic Imperialist Objective

Whether via a bona-fide colony, near-colony, economic protectorate, or dependency the basic economic purpose of imperialism is to extract wealth from the dominated state and society, to enrich the Imperialist state and its economic elites. But some forms of Imperialism and colonial arrangements are more ‘profitable’ than others. Imperialism extracts wealth via many forms—natural resources ‘harvesting’ and relocation back to the Imperial economy, favorable and exploitive terms of trade for exports/imports to and from the dominated state, low cost-low wage production of commodities and semi-finished goods, exclusive control of markets in the dominion country, and other ways of obtaining goods at lower than market price for resale at a higher market price.

Wealth extraction by such measures is exploitive—meaning the Imperial economy removes a greater share of the value of the wealth than it allows the dominated state and economy to retain. There are least five historical ways that classic forms of imperialism thus extract wealth. They include:

Natural Resource Exploitation

This is where the imperial economy simply takes the natural resources from the land and sends them back to its economy. The resource can be minerals, precious metals, scarce or highly demanded agricultural products, or even human beings—such as occurred with the slave trade.

Production Exploitation

Instead of relocating the resources and production in the home market at a higher cost, the production of the goods is arranged in the colony, and then shipped back to the host imperial country for resale domestically or abroad. The semi-finished or finished goods are more profitable due to the lower cost of production throughout the supply chain.

Landed Property Exploitation

The imperialist elites claim ownership of the land, then rent it out to the local population that once owned it to produce on it. In exchange, the imperialist elites extract a ‘rent’ for the use of the land.

Commercial Exploitation

Here the imperialist elites of the home country, in the form of merchants, ship owners, and bankers, arrange to trade and transport goods both to and from the dominated economy on terms favorable to their costs. By controlling the source of money, either as currency, credit, or precious metals, they are able to dictate the arrangements and terms of trade finance.

Direct Taxation Exploitation

More typical in former times, this is simple theft of a share of production and trade by the administration of the imperialist elite. The classic case, once again, was Imperial Rome and its economic relations with its provinces. It left the production and initial extraction of wealth up to the local population, while its imperial bureaucracy, imposed locally, was simply concerned with ensuring it received a majority percentage of goods produced or traded—either in money form or ‘in kind’ that it then shipped back to its home economy Italy for resale. A vestige of this in modern colonial times was the imposition of taxation on the local populace, to pay for the costs of the Imperial bureaucracy and especially the cost of the imperial military apparatus stationed in the dominated state to protect the bureaucracy and the wealth extraction.

The preceding five basic forms of exploitation and wealth extraction have been the subject of critical analyses of imperialism and colonialism for more than a century. What all the above share is a focus on the production and trade of real goods and on land as the source of the wealth transfer. However, the five classical types of exploitation and extraction disregard independent financial forms of wealth extraction. Both capitalist critics and anti-capitalist critics of imperialism, including Marxists, have based their analysis of imperialism on the production of real goods. This theoretical bias has resulted in a disregard of the forms of financial exploitation and imperialism, which have been growing as finance capital itself has been assuming a growing role relative to 21st century global capitalism.
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Classical 19th century British Imperialism extracted wealth by means of production exploitation, commercial-trade, and all the five basic means noted above. It imposed political structures to ensure the continuation of the wealth extraction, including crown colonies, lesser colonies, protectorates, other dependency relationships, and even annexation in the case of Ireland and before that Scotland. The British organized low wage cost production of goods exported back to Britain and resold at higher prices there or re-exported. It manipulated its currency and terms of trade to ensure profit from goods imported to the colony as well. Its banks and currency became the institutions of the colony. Access to other currencies and banks was not allowed. Monopoly of credit sources allowed British banks to extract rentier profits from in-country investment lending and trade credits. They obtained direct ownership of the prime agricultural and mining lands of the colony. They preferred and promoted highly intensive and low cost labor production. Production and trade was structured to allow only those goods that allowed Britain investors the greatest profits, and prohibited production and trade that might compete with Britain’s home production. But the colonial system was inefficient, in the sense that was costly to administer. The cost of administration was imposed on the local country in part, but also on the British taxpayer.

Twentieth century US Imperialism proved a more efficient system. It avoided direct, and even indirect, political control. State legislatures, governments, and bureaucracies were locally elected or selected by local elites. There were few direct costs of administration. The local elites were given a bigger share of the exploitation pie, as joint production and investment partnerships in production and trade were established with local capitalists as ‘passive’ minority partners who enjoyed the economic returns without the management role. Only when their populace rebelled did the US provide military assistance, covertly or overtly, either from afar or from within as the US set up hundreds of military bases globally throughout its sphere of economic interests. The US and local militaries were tightly integrated, as the US trained local officer ranks, and even local police. Security intelligence was provided by the US at no cost. The offspring of the local elites were allowed to enter private US higher education establishments and thereby favorably socialized toward US interests and cooperation. Foreign aid from the US ended up in the hands of local elites as a form of windfall payment for cooperation. US sales and provision of military hardware to the local elites provided built-in ‘kickback’ payment schemes to the leading politicians and senior military ranks of the local elites. Local military forces became mere appendages of the US military, willing to engage in coups d’etat when necessary to tame local elites that might stray from the economic arrangements favoring more local economic independence beyond that permitted by US interests.

US multinational corporations were the primary institution of economic dominance. They provided critical tax revenues to the local government, employment to a share of the local workforce, and financial credits from US globally banking interests. The US also controlled the dominated states’ economies through a series of new international institutions established in the post-1945 period. These included the International Monetary Fund, established to address local management of currency and export-import flows when they became unbalanced; the World Bank, which provided funding for infrastructure project development; and the World Trade Organization and free trade agreements—bilateral or regional—which enabled selective access to US markets in exchange for unrestricted US corporate foreign direct investment into dominated state economies, financed by US financial interests. These investment and trade arrangements were tied together by the primacy of the US currency, the dollar, as the only acceptable trade currency in financial and goods exchanges between the US and the local economy.

This new ‘form’ of economic imperialism—a system of political dominance sometimes referred to as ‘neo-colonialism—was a far more efficient and profitable (for US capitalists and local capitalist elites as well) system of exploitation and wealth extraction than the 19th century British system of more direct imperial and colonial rule. And within it were the seeds of yet a new form of imperialism based on financial exploitation. As the US economy evolved toward a more financialized system after 1980, the system of imperial dominance associated with it began to evolve as well. Imperialism began to rely increasingly on forms of financial exploitation, while not completely abandoning the more traditional production and commerce forms of wealth extraction.

The question is: What are the new forms of imperialist financial exploitation developed in recent decades? Are new ways of extracting wealth on a national scale emerging in the 21st century? Are the new forms sufficiently widespread, and have they become sufficiently dominant as the primary method of exploitation and wealth extraction, to enable the argument that a new form of financial imperialism has been emerging? If so, what are the methods of finance-based wealth extraction, and the associated political structures enabling it? If what is occurring is not colonialization in the sense of a ‘crown colony’ or even dependent ‘neo-colony’, and if not a political protectorate or outright annexation, what is it, then?

These queries raise the point directly relevant to our current analysis: to what extent does Greece and its continuing debt crises represent a case example of a new financial imperialism emerging?
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Greece as a Case Example of Financial Imperialism

There are five basic ways financial imperialism exploits an economy—i.e. functions to extract wealth from the exploited economy—in this case Greece.

• Private sector interest charges for financing private production or commerce
• State to State debt aggregation and ‘interest on interest’ wealth extraction
• Privatization and sale of public assets at fire sale prices plus subsequent income stream diversion from the private acquisition of the public assets
• Foreign investor speculative manipulation of government bonds
• Foreign investor speculation on stock, derivatives, and other financial securities’ as a result of price volatility precipitated by the debt crisis

The first example represents financial exploitation related to financing of private production and trade. It is associated with traditional enterprise-to-enterprise, private sector economic relations where interest is charged on credit extended for production or trade. This occurs under general economic conditions, however, unrelated to debt crises. The remaining four ways represent financial exploitation enable by State to State economic relations and unrelated to financing private production or trading of goods.

One such form of financial exploitation involves state-to-state institutions, public sector economic relations where interest is charged on government (sovereign) debt and compounded as additional debt is added to make payments on initial debt.

Another involves financial exploitation via the privatization and sale of public assets—i.e. ports, utilities, public transport systems, etc.—of the dominated State, often at firesale’ or below market prices. Privatization is mandated as part of austerity measures dictated by the imperialist state.as a precondition for refinancing government debt. This too involves State to State economic relations.

Yet a third example of financial exploitation also involving States occurs with private sector investor speculation on sovereign (Greek government) bonds that experience price volatility during debt crises. State involvement involvement occurs in the form of government bonds as the vehicle of financial speculation.

Even more indirect case, but nonetheless still involving State-State relations indirectly, is private investor speculation in private financial asset markets like stocks, futures and options on commodities, derivatives based on sovereign bonds, and so on, associated with the dominated State. This still involves State to State relations, in that the investor speculation is a consequence of the economic instability caused by the State-State debt negotiations.

Finance capitalists ‘capitalize’ on the debt crises that create price volatility of financial securities, making speculative bets on the financial securities’ volatility (and in the process contributing to that volatility) in order to reap a financial gain from changes in financial asset prices. And they do this not just with sovereign bonds, but with stocks, futures options, commodities, and other financial securities.

All the examples—i.e. interest on government debt, returns from firesale prices of public assets, investor speculative gains on sovereign bonds, as well as from financial securities’ price volatility caused by the crisis—represent pure financial wealth extraction. That is, financial exploitation separate from wealth extraction from financing private production. All represents ‘money made from money’, in contrast to money made from financing the production or trading of real assets.
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During the pre-2008 boom cycle years, credit flowed to Greece and the periphery to enable the purchase of core exports of goods. When the core stopped the flow of credit after 2008, what was left was debt. But interest on debt was as lucrative to the core banker interests as was purchase of export goods. Repayment of loans and other credit extended by the Troika to Greece’s government and central bank were recycled back to Eurozone core private interests—95% of same, to be exact. Without true economic recovery after 2009 for the periphery, each time more debt had to be extended in order to repay old debt, and interest payments were added to interest payments and compounded. Financial imperialism increasingly assumed the form of state-to-state debt and interest flows, accruing eventually in the northern core banks and financial institutions. New means for financial exploitation were spun off and added in the process—financial gains from privatization and financial gains from government bonds and financial securities speculation. Greece was sucked into the debt machine where the fix itself became the cause of ongoing and ever worsening entanglement, with no release in sight.

For Eurozone bankers, it was just too good a ‘deal’ to terminate: perpetual debt interest money flows back to them, guaranteed by credit extended by the Troika institutions. Overlay on top of that, cycles of opportunity for financial speculation on bonds, stocks, derivatives, and other financial securities. It was even better than Greeks buying German and northern core exports of real goods to Greece. Exports might decline with economic conditions and competition. But debt repayments were guaranteed to continue—for as long as Greece remained in the Euro system at least. Financial imperialism may just prove more profitable than older forms of imperialism based on production and commerce of goods.

This shift to financial exploitation and therefore financial imperialism is a harbinger of things to come for smaller economies and states that allow themselves to be integrated into 21st century capitalism’s drive to concentrate and integrate economies into broader customs (goods trade) unions, currency unions, and banking unions in which the larger, more economically powerful states and economies will naturally dominate and exploit financially their weaker members. A new form of integrated financial imperialism is thus in the making. Greece is likely to be but the forerunner.

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For my year end review of key economic events and trends in 2016, and predictions for 2017, listen to my December 30 Alternative Visions Radio show at:

http://alternativevisions.podbean.com

SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT

Dr. Jack Rasmus reviews the major economic events of 2016 and their likely continuing impact in the year ahead. Topics includes global trade stagnation, Federal Reserve rate hikes, global oil and commodity prices, property financial bubbles in China and capital flight and devaluation, Europe events involving the ECB, Italian and Europe banks, the UK economy post-Brexit, negative rates and non performing bank loans worldwide, the failure of Abenomics and bank of Japan’s QE, Latin American recessions, and the global corporate debt bubble. Also addressed are the US economy’s first quarter collapse and recovery, Fed rates, the shift to fiscal-infrastructure spending, the unwinding bond bubble and emerging stock bubble, health care and drug price inflation, and the rising US dollar and its impact on emerging markets. Jack offers his predictions for 2017 for the US economy, Europe, Japan, China, India, Latin America, emerging markets, and global commodity prices. (Next week show: review of major political events of 2016 and political predictions 2017).

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(Complimentary Chapter 2 from ‘Looting Greece’, October 2016, Clarity Press, by Dr. Jack Rasmus)

by Dr. Jack Rasmus
copyright 2016

To read, go to Dr. Rasmus’s website, at:

http://www.kyklosproductions.com/articles.html

The following entry is chapter 2 from my October 2016 published book, ‘Looting Greece’. It is a somewhat lengthy article, that explains how the creation of the Eurozone in 1999 has led to excessive indebtedness of the Euro periphery economies, to be benefit of the German and northern economies. The chapter is a ‘case study’ of how this imbalance was created in Greece. The logic applies, however, for many of the southern periphery economies in the Eurozone, including Spain, Portugal, Italy and others. German and northern ‘core’ Europe bankers have especially benefited, but so have producers and exporters in the ‘core’ economies. The ‘losers’ in the Eurozone arrangement have been left with a mountain of debt, both sovereign and private. The larger consequence has been a Eurozone banking system in general that is still fragile–eight years after the 2008-09 global banking crash. That fragility is again 2016-17 being revealed in crises emerging in the Italian banks, BBVA bank in Spain, Austrian and French banks, and event the giant Deutsche bank at the core of the system. Along with China, the Euro banks may prove to be the ‘weak links’ in the next global financial crisis. In the Greek case, it appears yet another Greek debt crisis event is on the agenda for 2017, proving the Euro debt crisis in general (and its fragile near-insolvent banking system) will almost certainly erupt once again.

Also to read, click on the icon on the right of this main blog page, to go to Dr. Rasmus’s website

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Lately readers of this blog have reading the review of my 2010 book, ‘Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression’, by Dr. Yiqing Tang, in which I first laid out my views in the wake of the 2008 bank crash how financial crises and general economic contractions (recessions, great recessions, depressions) interact; that is, how financial cycles and real cycles mutually determine each other.

Earlier this year, 2016, I published an updated theoretical book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’, The first part was an empirical overview of the state of the global economy and its growing financial instability. The book concluded with my own explanation, a ‘Theory of Systemic Fragility’, that was neither mainstream economics nor contemporary Marxist, but based on a fundamental expansion of Minskyan concepts of fragility as an indicator of imminent instability and crisis eruption. The book concluded with a set of equations that summarized the theory, a work still in progress. Excellent reviews of the book were provided by professors, Bob Jessop, of the UK and Jan Pieterse, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their reviews are available on this blog posted earlier this year as well.

Between 2010 and 2016 other ‘case descriptions’ of economies I published were my ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’ 2012 and, most recently, ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, Clarity Press, October 2016.

I thought readers might be interested in a transition summary, written in 2013, of my views on financial-real cycle crises’ interactions. This summary set forth in succinct 20 propositions how I viewed the interaction of financial and non-financial forces in 21st century global capitalism, three years after ‘Epic Recession’ and three before publication of ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’ earlier this year.

(The new financial forces consist of a new global finance capital elite, spreading highly liquid financial securities markets worldwide, the proliferation and trading of new financial securities being created, and the growing influence of non-regulated global ‘shadow bank’ system through which the new finance capital elite invest (and destabilize the global capitalist system. The changed real forces include the explosion of debt worldwide, stagnating real investment, productivity, wages, drift toward deflation, collapse of unions and social democratic parties, and increasing reliance by capitalist elites on monetary policy and fiscal austerity.)

I am offering here a re-publication of this interim 2013 Summary statement, “20 Propositions On Fragility and Instability in the Global Economy”, for those readers with such a theoretical interest. It reflects an evolution of my thought, and transition, from ‘Epic Recession’ in 2010 to ‘Systemic Fragility’ in 2016.

“20 Propositions On Instability in the Global Economy: How Financial and Real Cycles Mutually Interact and Drive Fragility”

Proposition 1:
Deep capitalist cycle contractions (depressions and epic recessions) are driven by endogenous forces, both real and financial, that mutually determine each other, with different relative magnitudes and directions of causality that vary with the phase of the long run boom-bust cycle.

Proposition 2:
The key endogenous Independent variable is not profits but Investment—the latter comprised of two fundamental components: real asset investment (Ig) and financial asset investment (If).

Proposition 3:
Over the boom phase of the cycle, the composition and relative weight of total investment shifts from Ig to If. In the early boom phase, financial assets are created as a one-to-one representation of the market value of real assets. A mortgage is equivalent to the original market value of a new structure, for example. But as the boom phase of the cycle progresses, If expansion becomes increasingly independent of Ig—driven by excess money liquidity, proliferating forms of credit decoupled from money, increasingly leveraged debt financing, and the increasing demand driven character of financial asset price inflation over the boom phase of the cycle.

Proposition 4:
Money may serve as credit; but credit is not limited to the money form. Credit is simultaneously money and more than money. Money may function as ‘outside credit’, but credit is also created ‘inside’ and autonomous of money. Money and autonomous credit are key to understanding the relative shift from Ig to If over the boom phase of the cycle.

Proposition 5:
The relative and absolute shift from Ig to If over the boom phase of the cycle creates destabilizing asset price bubbles and financial crashes that in turn produce deeper and more durable contractions of the real economy than typically occurs in the case of ‘normal’ recessions that are not precipitated by, or associated with, financial instability events. Depressions and epic recessions are not normal recessions ‘writ large’, but reflect the outcome of unique qualitative forces associated with financial cycle volatility.

Proposition 6:
An explosion of both money credit and autonomous credit has been occurring since 1945—the process accelerating with the collapse of the Bretton Woods International Monetary System after 1973; with the global ending of international capital flow controls in the 1980s; with the digitization of financial transfers in the 1990s; and with the global expansion of shadow banking institutions, very high net worth professional investors, highly liquid secondary financial markets, and the proliferation of multiple new forms of financial asset instruments.

Proposition 7:
Decades of excessive liquidity and autonomous credit creation has resulted in a shift to greater debt and growing debt-leveraged financing, which accelerates If forms of investment more than Ig, and short term speculative financial forms of If in particular. Rising debt leveraged financing results in more frequent, larger, and more globalized asset price bubbles and corresponding financial instability.

Proposition 8:
There is no such thing as ‘the’ capitalist price system. There are several price systems. They do not behave alike. The system of financial asset prices is more volatile, in terms of both inflation and deflation, than product or factor (e.g. wage) input prices. Unlike the latter, financial asset prices are driven increasingly by speculative demand over the course of the boom phase of the cycle, and late boom phase in particular. Financial asset prices are subject to little or no supply force constraints during the boom phase, unlike product or factor prices. As financial asset inflation occurs, demand drives prices higher, invoking still more demand, until further price increases are unsustainable and the asset price bubble collapses. Asset price deflation following the financial bust in turn drives product and factor (wage) deflation. All three price systems mutually determine each other in a negatively reinforcing way during the initial stage of the bust phase of the cycle. Asset and product price deflation together dampen Ig, leading to employment declines, wage deflation, and falling household income and consumption. Business and household defaults follow, in turning provoking more asset, product, and factor price deflation that result in rising real debt levels. A generalized downward spiral of debt-deflation-default sets in, resulting in a deeper and more durable contraction of the real economy. The capitalist price mechanism thus plays a central role in destabilizing the system—both in the boom and bust phase—contrary to prevailing mainstream economic ideology that the price system works to restore equilibrium and stability.

Proposition 9:
The forces driving financial asset investment, If, slow real asset investment, Ig, during the late boom phase by diverting financing from Ig to If, and thereafter subsequently accelerating the already declining Ig during the initial bust phase. The growing frequency, magnitude, scope, and duration of financial investment, bubbles, and crashes over the long run thus have a combined negative impact on Ig—i. e. more slowly during the boom phase (a structural effect) and more rapidly during the bust phase (a cyclical effect). This long run decline of Ig relative to If due to both structural and cyclical causes convinces successful real asset investment companies to shift more toward If forms of investment. Thus, a company like General Electric, for example, perhaps the largest manufacturer in the world, increasingly shifts to and relies upon portfolio (e.g. financial asset) investing over the longer term.

Proposition 10:
This overall ‘Financial Shift Effect’ further results in non-financial capitalist enterprises seeking to reduce labor and other factor input costs over the longer term by various measures—i.e. reducing labor costs by moving to offshore markets, demanding further tax concessions and subsidies from the state, reducing inter-capitalist competition costs (free trade), shifting operating cost burden to workers and consumers (industry deregulation), and restructuring labor costs in the home market (de-unionization, more part time-temp labor, cutting social security-medicare and private pension ‘deferred’ wages, shifting medical costs to its workforce, reducing paid time off, delaying minimum wage adjustments, etc.), to name but the most obvious.

Proposition 11:
Income for the ‘bottom 80%’ primarily wage earning households progressively stagnates and declines over the boom phase of the cycle, as operating income for both financial and non-financial corporations in contrast rises. To offset declining real income for the 80%, consumer household credit and debt grow—especially mortgage, student loan, credit card, and installment loan forms. Terms and conditions of debt repayment are typically ‘lenient’ during the boom phase, thus serving to accelerate credit and debt accumulation. Financial institutions are more than willing to extend credit and debt to such households, charging interest that in effect represents a claim on future, not yet paid wages.

Proposition 12
Systemic Fragility grows over the boom phase, accelerating in its later stages, composed initially of both business Financial Fragility and household Consumption Fragility. Fragility is a ratio and a function of three elements: rising indebtedness, declining liquid income, and the terms and conditions for which payment on incurred debt is made. Mainstream economics bifurcates this ratio: the Hybrid Keynesian wing considers income but largely disregards finance, credit and debt as equivalently important variables; the Retro Classicalist wing considers credit and debt but de-emphasizes the role of income. Both minimize the importance of ‘terms and conditions’ of repayment by focusing only on a subset—the interest rate—of this third element determining fragility.

Proposition 13:
Over the boom phase, rising household indebtedness amidst stagnating and declining household income represents rising ‘Consumption Fragility’ (CF) within the system. Similarly over the boom phase, rising financial institution (banks, shadow banks, and portfolio operations of large corporations) indebtedness that occurs with the increasing shift to debt-leveraging financing of If, represents ‘Financial Fragility’ (FF). Financial fragility during the boom phase is obscured by rising financial asset inflation. Consumption fragility is obscured by the continuing growth of consumption driven by debt. Both obscured effects disappear with the onset of the boom phase, revealing the true condition of fragility deterioration during the boom.

Proposition 14:
During the boom phase, a third form of fragility—Government Balance Sheet Fragility (GBSF)—also grows, as successive financial instability events of growing intensity require repeated government bailouts of financial institutions and as fiscal stimulus policies are introduced in successive (normal) recessions to assist recovery of non-financial corporations. In addition to these cyclical contributions to GBSF, structural causes also contribute to GBSF, as legislated tax cuts and subsidies for corporations adds further to government debt and thus GBSF. Thirdly, in the particular case of the United States, the policy choice since the 1980s to run annual and growing trade deficits adds still further to total deficits and debt levels. Dollars accumulate abroad due to the trade deficits and US trading partners agree to recycle the dollars back to the US by purchasing US Treasury bonds. Knowing the bond purchases will continue, the US federal government cuts taxes and increases spending further still, thus raising the deficit and total government debt. Federal debt consequently grows from less than $1 trillion to more than $15 trillion in the process. GBSF rises due to rising debt and falling (tax revenue) income.

Proposition 15:
During the initial bust phase following a financial crash, financial asset prices collapse and financial fragility accelerates, with its consequent effects on real Ig, employment declines, and the debt-deflation-default processes previously noted. Simultaneously, Consumption Fragility—already rising during the boom phase—deteriorates even more rapidly, driven by income declines due to mass layoffs, wage-benefit reductions, shorter hours of work and weekly earnings, and negative wealth effects as savings levels and rates of growth collapse. The financial crash thus precipitates a further ‘fracturing’ of both financial and consumption fragility. By means of the price system and the debt-deflation-default process, Financial and Consumption Fragility thus exacerbate each other in the course of the downturn. Just as the financial side of the economy causes a deterioration of real side conditions, the latter in turn cause a further deterioration of the financial side. The internal transmission mechanism of this mutual feedback is the debt-deflation-default process, which also contains its own inter-causal feedback effects.

Proposition 16:

Rising real debt, deflation across the three price systems, declining cash flow and disposable income, and the corresponding collapse of available credit transmits to the real economy in the form of a rapid decline in business and consumer spending, which in turn feedback upon each other. A faster, deeper and more protracted recession results, not a ‘normal’ recession precipitated by external demand or supply shocks, but an ‘epic’ recession precipitated by a financial crash and accelerated by an endogenous condition of extreme ‘systemic fragility’.

Proposition 17:
As the bust phase of the cycle continues and recession deepens, Government Balance Sheet Fragility—already growing per forces noted in proposition #14 above—rises further as well, as government fiscal-monetary stimulus policies attempt to halt the downturn. However, GBSF is not without limits. Under particularly severe conditions of Financial and Consumption Fragility, attempts to halt the momentum of decline by means of tax cuts and spending may prove insufficient while nonetheless adding to GBSF. The result is an extended period of ‘stop-go’ recovery, with short and brief real economic growth punctuated by repeated relapses, and even double dip recessions. This ‘stop-go’ recovery trajectory may continue for years, and even decades, should Systemic Fragility rise or remain high.

Proposition 18:
Systemic fragility in its three basic forms, and their mutual amplifying feedback effects, transmit to the real economy by means of reductions in fiscal and monetary multiplier effects. In the attempted recovery phase, the State engages in fiscal stimuli to bail out banks, corporations and investors. However, Systemic Fragility means business tax cut multipliers have sharply declined, to less than 1.0. State fiscal stimulus consequently results in business, and especially Multinational Corporations, cash hoarding. Cash hoarded is then diverted to corporate stock buybacks and dividend payouts, diversion of real asset investment to offshore emerging markets, and into new financial asset speculative investing in an effort to resort collapsed asset values and corporate balance sheets. Real investment and thus job creation subsequently lags and a stagnant stop-go recovery results.

Proposition 19: Systemic fragility and its amplifying effects also serves to reduce money multipliers. Massive money supply injections by central banks are initially hoarded, then redirected to lending offshore, to financial speculation, and to ‘safer’ large corporations. Banks reduce lending to ‘less safe’ smaller businesses and households, further reducing investment, jobs and consumption demand. Money demand and money velocity thus offset money supply injection by central banks. Central bank QE and zero interest policies provoke instead new financial bubbles in stocks, junk bonds, real estate, foreign exchange and derivatives trading. Currency wars erupt as money injection policies depress currency exchange rates. Banks and financial markets become increasingly addicted (dependent upon) central banks money injections. Globally, financial speculation raises the specter of further financial instability on a real economy base further weakened by the preceding cycle of economic contraction. The risk of bona fide global depression rises in time.

Proposition 20:
In the context of conditions noted above—of systemic fragility and growing feedback amplitude effects—traditional fiscal-monetary policy tools attempting to expand the economy are rendered increasingly ‘inelastic’ (i.e. less sensitive or effective) in generating a sustained economic recovery. Conversely, when such tools are employed to contract the economy, via austerity fiscal policies and/or central bank raising of interest rates, the effects are more ‘elastic’ (i.e. more sensitive and effective) in contracting the real economy. Fiscal-monetary policies are therefore not simply increasingly non-productive but, over time, become counter-productive in generating recovery. Solutions to recovery consequently lie in the necessity of a major restructuring of the economy along multiple key sectors including, but not limited to, the tax system, banking system, retirement and healthcare systems, labor markets and public investment—with the purpose of redistributing income while simultaneously reducing debt. That is, reducing systemic fragility in aggregate as well as its mutual amplifying effects.

Jack Rasmus, copyright April 2013

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For my assessment of the effects of the US central bank’s raising US interest rates last week (and plans for more), the impacts on US and global, and coming US tax cuts and infrastructure spending, listen to my Alternative Visions radio show…

Go to:

http://alternativevisions.podbean.com

SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT:

Dec 16th, 2016 by progressiveradionetwork

Dr. Rasmus reviews the US central bank’s decision this past week to raise rates, with three more hikes coming in 2017 (and more after in 2018-19). What’s really behind the Fed’s rate hikes’ decision? Why US economic elites have decided to shift policy to boost corporate and investor incomes more from fiscal policy in 2017 and after than from monetary policy over the past eight years, 2008-2016. What’s the impact on the US real economy from the shift and why it may not be as great as pundits predict. Why rising rates for the rest of the rest of the US economy may destroy more jobs than infrastructure spending may generate, and the former happen faster than the latter. The outlook for US housing, autos, retail sales. Why real wages may fall. How the euphoria of US stock markets conceals areas of real economic weakness that continue and may grow worse. Jack further reviews the effects of US Fed rate hikes on Europe, China and emerging market economies in Latin America and South Asia. How emerging markets are already now experiencing currency declines, capital outflows, financial instability, and will experience deeper recessions in the year ahead; why Europe will continued slow growth and stagnation and why China’s currency, the Yuan, will devalue beyond its trading band in coming months due to US rate hikes and dollar rise, and may intensify a US-China trade war.

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