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2017 compared to 1917
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Socialism a century ago seemed to be the wave of the future. There were various schools of socialism, but the common ideal was to guarantee support for basic needs, and for state ownership to free society from landlords, predatory banking and monopolies. In the West these hopes are now much further away than they seemed in 1917. Land and natural resources, basic infrastructure monopolies, health care and pensions have been increasingly privatized and financialized.

Instead of Germany and other advanced industrial nations leading the way as expected, Russia’s October 1917 Revolution made the greatest leap. But the failures of Stalinism became an argument against Marxism – guilt-by-association with Soviet bureaucracy. European parties calling themselves socialist or “labour” since the 1980s have supported neoliberal policies that are the opposite of socialist policy. Russia itself has chosen neoliberalism.

Few socialist parties or theorists have dealt with the rise of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector that now accounts for most increase in wealth. Instead of evolving into socialism, Western capitalism is being overcome by predatory finance and rent extraction imposing debt deflation and austerity on industry as well as on labor.

Failure of Western economies to recover from the 2008 crisis is leading to a revival of Marxist advocacy. The alternative to socialist reform is stagnation and a relapse into neofeudal financial and monopoly privileges.

Socialism flowered in the 19th century as a program to reform capitalism by raising labor’s status and living standards, with a widening range of public services and subsidies to make economies more efficient. Reformers hoped to promote this evolution by extending voting rights to the working population at large.

Ricardo’s discussion of land rent led early industrial capitalists to oppose Europe’s hereditary landlord class. But despite democratic political reform, the world has un-taxed land rent and is still grappling with the problem of how to keep housing affordable instead of siphoning off rent to a landlord class – more recently transmuted into mortgage interest paid to banks by owners who pledge the rental value for loans. Most bank lending today is for real estate mortgages. The effect is to bid up land prices toward the point where the entire rental value is paid as interest. This threatens to be a problem for socialist China as well as for capitalist economies.

Landlords, banks and the cost of living

The classical economists sought to make their nations more competitive by keeping down the price of labor so as to undersell competitors. The main cost of living was food; today it is housing. Housing and food prices are determined not by the material costs of production, but by land rent – the rising market price for land.

In the era of the French Physiocrats, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, this land rent accrued to Europe’s hereditary landlord class. Today, the land’s rent is paid mainly to bankers – because families need credit to buy a home. Or, if they rent, their landlords use the property rent to pay interest to the banks.

The land issue was central to Russia’s October Revolution, as it was for European politics. But the discussion of land rent and taxation has lost much of the clarity (and passion) that guided the 19th century when it dominated classical political economy, liberal reform, and indeed most early socialist politics.

In 1909/10 Britain experienced a constitutional crisis when the democratically elected House of Commons passed a land tax, only to be overridden by the House of Lords, governed by the old aristocracy. The ensuing political crisis was settled by a rule that the Lords never again could overrule a revenue bill passed by the House of Commons. But that was Britain’s last real opportunity to tax away the economic rents of landlords and natural resource owners. The liberal drive to tax the land faltered, and never again would gain serious chance of passage.

The democratization of home ownership during the 20th century led middle-class voters to oppose property taxes – including taxes on commercial sites and natural resources. Tax policy in general has become pro-rentier and anti-labor – the regressive opposite of 19th-century liberalism as developed by “Ricardian socialists” such as John Stuart Mill and Henry George. Today’s economic individualism has lost the early class consciousness that sought to tax economic rent and socialize banking.

The United States enacted an income tax in 1913, falling mainly on rentier income, not on the working population. Capital gains (the main source of rising wealth today) were taxed at the same rate as other income. But the vested interests campaigned to reverse this spirit, slashing capital gains taxes and making tax policy much more regressive. The result is that today, most wealth is not gained by capital investment for profits. Instead, asset-price gains have been financed by a debt-leveraged inflation of real estate, stock and bond prices.

Many middle-class families owe most of their net worth to rising prices for their homes. But by far the lion’s share of the real estate and stock market gains have accrued to just One Percent of the population. And while bank credit has enabled buyers to bid up housing prices, the price has been to siphon off more and more of labor’s income to pay mortgage loans or rents. As a result, finance today is what is has been throughout history: the main force polarizing economies between debtors and creditors.

Global oil and mining companies created flags of convenience to make themselves tax-exempt, by pretending to make all their production and distribution profits in tax-free trans-shipping havens such as Liberia and Panama (which use U.S. dollars instead of being real countries with their own currency and tax systems).

The fact that absentee-owned real estate and natural resource extraction are practically free of income taxation shows that democratic political reform has not been a sufficient guarantee of socialist success. Tax rules and public regulation have been captured by the rentiers, dashing the hopes of 19th-century classical reformers that progressive tax policy would produce the same effect as direct public ownership of the means of production, while leaving “the market” as an individualistic alternative to government regulation or planning.

In practice, planning and resource allocation has passed to the banking and financial sector. Many observers hoped that this would evolve into state planning, or at least work in conjunction with it as in Germany. But liberal “Ricardian socialist” failed, as did German-style “state socialism” publicly financing transportation and other basic infrastructure, pensions and similar “external” costs of living and doing business that industrial employers otherwise would have to bear. Attempts at “half-way” socialism via tax and regulatory policy against monopolies and banking have faltered repeatedly. As long as major economic or political choke points are left in private hands, they will serve s springboards to subvert real reform policies. That is why Marxist policy went beyond these would-be socialist reforms.

 
It should be called the Leona Helmsley tax plan, only the little people will pay taxes
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S. Peries: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

A general consensus is emerging that Trump’s tax plan, which he presented last Wednesday will benefit mostly the country’s upper classes and corporations. In fact the only people that got a tax increase are the poorest taxpayers. A quick scan of even business press headlines will reinforce what I’m saying. For example, Bloomberg writes, “Tax reform could open a huge loophole for wealthy Americans”, and the conservative magazines National Review has a headline that reads, “Congressional Republicans tax plan isn’t great for Trump suburbanites.” However Trump himself promised on Wednesday that he and the rich generally would not benefit from this plan. Here’s what he said.

D. Trump: Our framework includes our explicit commitment, that tax reform will protect low income and middle income households, not the wealthy and well-connected. They can call me all they want, it’s not gonna help. I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me, believe me.

S. Peries: Joining us to analyze what Trump’s tax plan would mean for us is Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He’s the author of several books, and the most recent among them is J Is For Junk Economics. Good to have you back, Michael.

M. Hudson: Good to be here, Sharmini.

S. Peries: Michael. Let’s cut to the chase here. Everyone seems to agree that this tax plan will benefit only the rich. Give us a sense of your main points of why you want to contest this tax plan is beneficial for all.

M. Hudson: Sure. It should be called the Leona Helmsley tax plan. Only the little people will pay taxes. But about the loopholes, the interesting thing is Trump said he wasn’t going to gain a penny, and he may have been telling the truth. That would be true if he’s already paying zero income tax. So his income tax rate is going to go from zero to zero.

That’s about the same for a lot of the biggest corporations in America. Apple, Google, Alphabet, these companies that have been taking all of their profits abroad, trillions of dollars, supposedly, that they’re holding abroad. They haven’t paid any U.S. taxes on this money, because they’ve held them nominally in a teeny little office in Ireland, or the Cayman Islands, claiming that they have to pay hardly any income tax at all.

The misrepresentation here is that Trump says that he can now bring all this money back from these offshore enclaves and tax avoidance zones. The reality is the money’s never been in these zones. It’s been in America all the time. Apple, Google and rich real estate companies simply hold all this “foreign” money in an American bank, but in the name of the foreign affiliate, an office registered in Panama or some other offshore enclave.

So there’ll be zero effect on the balance of payments, but it will lock in their zero rate, enabling them to have avoided taxes for over a decade. I think 2004 was the last such tax holiday. They’ll bring them all back now, without having to pay much tax at all.

S. Peries: Michael, another method that wealthy individuals and companies can use to avoid paying taxes is deducting investment expenses. Tell us how this works.

M. Hudson: If you look at the real estate sector’s loopholes, since World War II the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) report that real estate is hardly paying any income tax at all. If you own a building and you’re an absentee owner – not living there, not a homeowner, but absentee owners – they avoid paying any income tax because they don’t earn any reportable income. They pay interest, which is a tax-deductible expense, or they pretend – under the accounting rules that their lobbyists have bought from Washington – that the buildings actually are depreciating in value, even while the price is soaring. It’s going way up, they don’t have to pay an income tax. Then finally, when they die neither their estate nor their heirs have to pay any capital gains. The heirs get it without having to pay any tax.

The richest people have to pay an estate tax, but that’s being knocked out also. I think that everybody, as you pointed out, who’ve looked at the tax plan, says, “All the benefits are at the top. Where’s the benefit for the low-income people?”

Well, the wage earners are going to have to pay more tax. The minimum tax rate is actually raised from 10% to 12%. Also, people who live in Democratic states, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and so forth, will not be able to subtract the state and local taxes that they’ve been deducting from their taxable income all these years. So the tax rate for wage earners, for people who actually have to file tax forms and declare an income, is actually going to go up. The economy is going to be made poorer.

S. Peries: Now, Trump and his supporters argue that tax reductions will make the U.S. more competitive, and it will lead to more investment. In an earlier interview that we had with Dean Baker, he points out that historically this has not happened when taxes on corporations and on the wealthy were reduced. So if it does not lead to more investment, what do the corporations do with this additional untaxed income?

M. Hudson: They’re going to do the same thing they’ve done with 92% of corporate earnings in the last decade. They’re going to pay it out as higher dividends, pushing up the stock price, and most of all they’re going to use the money for stock buybacks. They’re going to buy back their stocks to raise the price. They are not going to invest.

The reason you would invest would be to sell more goods to the market and expand the economy. But most corporations, and certainly Wall Street, know that the game is over. The economy has not grown since 2008, except for the financial sector and the real estate sector. That is, except for the richest 5%. For 95% of Americans the economy has shrunk, just like it’s shrinking in Europe.

Corporations know this and say, “There’s only one thing we can do, now that the game is over and the economies are shrinking. We’re going to take the money and run. We’re going to pay all the tax cuts we get and give it to our stockholders.”

S. Peries: What are the consequences of this for us?

M. Hudson: It means the class war is back in business with a vengeance. But I don’t think it’s going to go through. There is no way that a group of Republican senators are really going to commit political suicide by actually voting for this plan, any more than they voted for Trump’s medical health plan revoking Obamacare.

What this is really doing politically though, is driving a stake through the heart of the Democratic party. The Democrats are so sure that the kerfuffle over this tax plan is going to backfire against the Republicans that the knives are out. They’re fighting like they’ve never fought before against the supporters of Bernie Sanders, against Elizabeth Warren. The Wall Street-Hillary, wing of the Democratic party says, “Now we’re going to win the election. We don’t need Bernie supporters. We don’t need the working class. We can form an even more right-wing party than Hillary had and what her program was.”

(Republished from The Real News Network by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics, Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Neoliberalism, Tax Cuts 
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Interview with Vlado Plaga in the German magazine FAIRCONOMY, September 2017.

Originally, you didn’t want to become an economist. How did it come that you changed your plans and digged so deep into economics?

I found economics aesthetic, as beautiful as astronomy. I came to New York expecting to become an orchestra conductor, but I met one of the leading Wall Street economists, who convinced me that economics and finance was beautiful.

I was intrigued by the concept of compound interest. and by the autumnal drain of money from the banking system to move the crops at harvest time. That is when most crashes occurred. The flow of funds was the key.

I saw that there economic cycles were mainly financial: the build-up of debt and its cancellation or wipe-out and bankruptcy occurring again and again throughout history. I wanted to study the rise and fall of financial economies.

But when you studied at the New York University you were not taught the things that really interested you, were you?

I got a PhD as a union card. In order to work on Wall Street, I needed a PhD. But what I found in the textbooks was the opposite of everything that I experienced on Wall Street in the real world. Academic textbooks describe a parallel universe. When I tried to be helpful and pointed out to my professors that the texbooks had little to do with how the economy and Wall Street actually work, that did not help me get good grades. I think I got a C+ in money and banking.

So I scraped by, got a PhD and lived happily ever after in the real world.

So you had to find out on your own… Your first job was at the Savings Banks Trust Company, a trust established by the 127 savings banks that still existed in New York in the 1960s. And you somehow hit the bull’s eye and were set on the right track, right from the start: you’ve been exploring the relationship between money and land. You had an interesting job there. What was it?

Savings banks were much like Germany’s Landesbanks. They take local deposits and lend them out to home buyers. Savings and Loan Associations (S&Ls) did the same thing. They were restricted to lending to real estate, not personal loans or for corporate business loans. (Today, they have all been turned into commercial banks.)

I noticed two dynamics. One is that savings grew exponentially, almost entirely by depositors getting dividends every 3 months. So every three months I found a sudden jump in savings. This savings growth consisted mainly of the interest that accrued. So there was an exponential growth of savings simply by inertia.

The second dynamic was that all this exponential growth in savings was recycled into the real estate market. What has pushed up housing prices in the US is the availability of mortgage credit. In charting the growth of mortgage lending and savings in New York State, I found a recycling of savings into mortgages. That meant an exponential growth in savings to lend to buyers of real estate. So the cause of rising real estate prices wasn’t population or infrastructure. It was simply that properties are worth whatever banks are able and willing to lend against them.

As the banks have more and more money, they have lowered their lending standards.

It’s kind of automatic, it’s just a mathematical law…

Yes, a mathematical law that is independend of the economy. In other words, savings grow whether or not the economy is growing. The interest paid to bondholders, savers and other creditors continues to accrue. That turns out to be the key to understanding why today’s economy is polarizing between creditors and debtors.

You wrote in “Killing the Host” that your graphs looked like Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Konagawa” or even more like a cardiogram. Why?

Any rate of interest has a doubling time. One way or another any interest-bearing debt grows and grows. It usually grows whenever interest is paid. That’s why it looks like a cardiogram: Every three months there’s a jump. So it’s like the Hokusai wave with a zigzag to reflect the timing of interest payments every three months.

The exponential growth of finance capital and interest-bearing debt grows much faster then the rest oft he economy, which tends to taper off in an S-curve. That’s what causes the business cycle to turn down. It’s not really a cycle, it’s more like a slow buildup like a wave and then a sudden jjunkecon vertical crash downward.

This has been going on for a century. Repeated financial waves build up until the economy becomes so top-heavy with debt that it crashes. A crash used to occur every 11 years in the 19th century. But in the United States from 1945 to 2008, the exponential upswing was kept artificially long by creating more and more debt financing. So the crash was postponed until 2008.

Most crashes since the 19th century had a silver lining: They wiped out the bad debts. But this time the debts were left in place, leading to a masive wave of foreclosures. We are now suffering from debt deflation. Instead of a recovery, there’s just a flat line for 99% of the economy.

The only layer of the economy that is growing is the wealthiest 5% layer – mainly the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector. That is, creditors living of interest and economic rent: monopoly rent, land rent and financial interest. The rest of the economy is slowly but steadily shrinking.

And the compound interest that was accumulated was issued by the banks as new mortgages. Isn’t this only logical for the banks to do?

Savings banks and S&Ls were only allowed to lend for mortgages. Commercial banks now look for the largest parts of the economy as their customers. Despite the fact that most economic textbooks describe industry and manufacturing as being the main part of economy, real estate actually is the largest sector. So most bank lending is against real estate and, after that, oil, gas and mining.

That explains why the banking and financial interests have become the main lobbyists urging that real estate, mining and oil and gas be untaxed – so that there’ll be more economic rent left to pay the banks. Most land rent and natural resource rent is paid out as interest to the banks instead of as taxes to the government.

So instead of housing becoming cheaper and cheaper it turns out to be much less affordable in our days than in the 1960s?

Credit creation has inflated asset prices. The resulting asset-price inflation is the distinguishing financial feature of our time. In a race tot he bottom, banks have steadily lowered the terms on which they make loans. This has made the eocnomy more risky.

In the 1960s, banks required a 25-30% down payment by the buyer, and limited the burden of mortgage debt service to only 25% of the borrower’s income. But interest is now federally guaranteed up to 43% of the home buyer’s income. And by 2008, banks were making loans no down payment at all. Finally, loans in the 1960s were self-amortizing over 30 years. Today we have interest-only loans that are never paid off.

So banks loan much more of the property’s market price. That is why most of the rental value of land isn’t paid to the homeowner or commercial landlord any more. It’s paid to the banks as interest.

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Counterpunch Archives, Neoliberalism 
Trump is Turning Against the White Working Class that Elected Him
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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The rise of stock prices in the US stock market could be an indication of economic growth and prosperity, but it could also be an indication of the concentration of wealth of the rich and powerful. Which is it? To answer that question, we need to look at other economic indicators. In the press conference that President Trump had just a few days ago announcing his new chief of staff, General John Kelly, Trump took the opportunity to give himself credit for the rising stock prices. Let’s listen.

DONALD TRUMP: We’ve done very well, lots of records created, John. You look at stock market, the highest it’s ever been. Unemployment, lowest in 17 years. Companies are doing tremendously well. Business spirit is the highest it’s ever been, according to polls. You look at the polls, the highest it’s ever been in the history of these polls. We’re doing very well. We have a tremendous base. We have a tremendous group of support. The country is optimistic.

SHARMINI PERIES: Well, on to talk about this with me today is Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is the author of The Bubble and Beyond and The Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. His most recent books are J is for Junk Economics and Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroyed the Global Economy. Good to have you back, Michael.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Good to be back, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: So Michael, if the stock prices are not increasing because of what Trump calls “high business spirit,” explain the rise in the stock prices.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the answer’s quite simple. The question is, who is buying these stocks? It’s not individuals. It’s not even pension funds. It’s not the private sector. Almost all the stock purchases are bought back by corporations in share buybacks. In other words, companies are buying back their own stocks in order to push up the price because that’s how executives are paid. They’re not paid by increasing output or even increasing profits. They’re paid by how much they can push up the stock price, and there are two ways of doing this easily. One is to use earnings simply for share buybacks, buy your own stock and push it up, or you simply pay out the earnings in dividends.

What you don’t do if you want to increase the stock price is you don’t invest more in research, you don’t invest more in capital, you don’t hire more labor, and you don’t expand the markets. In other words, you give up. You say, ‘The economy’s reached an end. It’s not going to grow from here. We’re taking the money and running. We’re just going to use the earnings that we have to help the stockholders,’ so the stock market is actually the reverse of how the economy is doing.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Michael. This might be a little elementary for the big-time economist, but explain how the buying back of stock increases the money that they make.

MICHAEL HUDSON: The price of almost anything is a result of how many people are buying and how many people are selling. What’s happened is basically the individuals and the private sector is selling the stocks. Normally this would push down stocks, and the reason it’s selling is most investors think, ‘Wait a minute. The reason stock prices have gone up is because the Federal Reserve has flooded the economy with low-interest money and people are borrowing at 1% in order to buy stocks that are yielding 5 or 6% and they’re pocketing the difference.’

But now, everybody thinks, ‘Wait a minute. This is going to come to an end. The Federal Reserve says it’s going to raise interest rates. Same thing in the European Central Bank and the Bank of England.’ They expect higher interest rates are going to push down stock prices because it’s not going to pay people to borrow to buy stocks anymore. Most investors today are looking for the stock markets to make a big decline. They don’t want to hold them.

Who is going to want to buy stocks that are going to go down in price? The answer is the corporations are going to buy it because the stock managers aren’t penalized if they make a bad investment. If the stock price goes way down, the company loses because they had a huge loss on its shares that it bought back, but the managers of the company clean up. They’re paid the bonus because they’re paid according to how much money they can push in to buying up their own stock to support the price. If you say you’re going to pay a high price for anything, that’s going to raise the price and they’re pouring the corporate earnings into their own stocks, not into investment.

SHARMINI PERIES: Why are companies paying out high dividends rather than reinvesting their profits in order to generate, say, long-term income?

MICHAEL HUDSON: For two reasons: They see the economy isn’t really growing for the 99% of the people. Here in New York, street after street, there are for-rent signs. The small businesses are going out of business. Bookstores are going out of business. Restaurants are going out of business. They realize that the whole boom that’s occurred from World War II to 2008 is over. They’re not going to invest, but most of all, they’re buying back the stocks simply to benefit the people who run the companies, the chief financial officers and the CEOs. The whole way in which the remuneration of CEOs is paid, gigantic remuneration according to the stock price, is actually hurting industrial capitalism.

These companies have been turned into financial entities. You should no longer think of them really as industrial entities. Corporations make money financially, not by producing goods and services.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right, and Michael, could you explain why suddenly we see big mergers going on? For a while there there seemed to be a hiatus in terms of these kinds of big mergers, but recently we’ve seen Amazon merging with Whole Foods, some of the major media companies, if not already, are considering mergers. Why is this going on right now?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Two reasons: One is there is still a lot of low-interest credit available for them. Companies can simply borrow from banks that borrow from bondholders at low-interest rates and buy another company and create a monopoly. In the past they couldn’t do this because they were afraid of anti-monopoly legislation. Today, you have four or five companies controlling almost every major industry. Think of the airlines, think of cable TV, think of the phone companies, think of information technology. They’re all being monopolized and there are no more anti-monopoly rules, and so what they’re trying to get isn’t really profits.

The national income statistics call them profits, but they’re really monopoly rent. They’re rent way in excess of normal profits because they’re whatever the market can bear, and if you have cable TV by what used to be Time Warner, and now you’ve seen all your cable prices going up, or your IT prices going up, or your airline prices going up, that’s because monopolies are now the way to squeeze out money. You don’t have to invest more. You don’t have to make capital investment. You don’t have to employ labor, even. All you have to do is use your monopoly privileges that you’ve bought with borrowed money.

SHARMINI PERIES: Finally, in terms of Trump’s economic plans, how do these trends, these mergers and stock prices going up, affect the very people that voted for Trump, the white working class in particular?

(Republished from TRNN by permission of author or representative)
 
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Introduction

These proverbs were collected by my father, Carlos Hudson, during the time he was jailed under the Smith Act in 1941, ostensibly for “Advocating the overthrow of the government by force and violence,” It was called the “gag act” because it put a gag on what one could read or say. Guilt was determined by whether one had the works of Lenin and Trotsky on one’s bookshelf.

The Stalinists urged the death penalty for the Smith Act, not realizing that it would be used against them after World War II.

The Minneapolis 17 who were convicted had taken the lead in organizing the Teamsters Union and the great Minneapolis General Strike of the mid-1930s. (The story is told in Charles Rumford Walker’s American City.) Minnesota’s governor, Floyd B. Olson, said “I hope the capitalist system goes straight to hell.” Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Biddle, wrote in his biography that the one thing that he was ashamed about was having framed up the Minneapolis 17, because by no threat were they really a danger. The deal was a political favor to AFL head Daniel Tobin who opposed my father’s pressure to organize the teamsters within the CIO, and to the mafia that was eager to take over the Teamsters Union and had always had great sway within the Democratic Party.

My father’s crime was calling in the National Guard to protect the strikers from the police and thugs who had been hired as strike breakers to beat up the Teamsters and their supporters. His party name was Jack Ranger, and so I was nicknamed “The son of the Lone Ranger” as a kid. His major writing was the pamphlet “Next: A Labor Party.” He also wrote articles on the Minneapolis strikes for the Nation.

Minneapolis was the only city in the world that was under Trotskyist leadership — where, as one reporter put it a few years ago, being a Trotskyist was a career advancement opportunity.

My father had graduated from the University of Minnesota business school with an MBA in 1929 and hoped to become a millionaire in Latin American mining. But then the stock market crash and depression occurred, and he discovered that capitalism wasn’t fair. He read widely, and joined Jim Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party, the Trotskyist party.

I knew most of his fellow felons growing up as a little boy. I remember visiting him in jail, and everyone singing the Internationale and other songs to fan the flames of discontent.

After 1945 he followed Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League, and Max became a mentor of mine. Other members of the Minneapolis 17 who moved to Chicago was the group’s lawyer, Al Goldman, who spent much of his life trying to track down who killed his two German colleagues Emma Goldman and Karl Liebknecht. Al Russell also often visited from New York. Dad’s former cellmates helped me acclimatize when I moved to New York in 1960. So here, as in statist Russia, prisons were indeed the University of the Revolution.

My father said that his year in jail was the happiest year of his life. (He wasn’t much of a “people person.”) He was assigned to the library, where he collected the proverbs in this collection. After we moved to Chicago, he stenciled many proverbs on each wall of our house, from the living room down to the bathrooms.

He also compiled a dictionary of everything that Lenin and Trotsky had said about virtually every political subject. As a teenager, my friend Gavin MacFadyen and I used to sit down in the basement (where the banned books and pamphlets were kept in the 1950s) and pore over the index cards with these maxims. This was a great help in our Social Science classes at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory School. (Gavin was expelled for being a bit too attentive to what we learned.) Unfortunately, this collection somehow got lost in Dad’s move down to Florida when he retired from his position as editor of Dental Abstracts. He had edited Traffic World, but the FBI came around to his boss and asked why they had hired a Marxist. His boss was about to accuse others of Communism, so Dad was fired. But the American Dental Association, which hired him as an editor, said that they didn’t care about his politics, and he worked happily there for perhaps 20 years. (He died at the age of 95 in 2003.)

Informally, Dad also edited the pacifist Liberation magazine, whose mailing address was our house on Dorchester in Hyde-Park Kenwood (about a block or so from where Obama’s house now is.) Along with Sidney Lens, he became an advocate of Rev. A. J. Muste.

FBI men would often appear at the house and ask him questions like where his loyalty would lie in case of an atopic war with China. Also, they liked to set up cameras across the street and take pictures of us when we left the house. When neighbors would ask them what the fuss was all about, they would say, “Don’t you know who lives there …?” They didn’t mention the proverbs book. I got used to coming home and sometimes finding two crew-cut FBI men in the living room with my father, up-dating their files on him. (Later, Gavin got copies of the FBI files, and they were filled with wrong information from obviously bad informers. It was comical in retrospect.)

When I joined the Hudson Institute (no relation, except that we were both named after the river, which an ancestor of mine discovered) in 1972, Herman Kahn asked me whether there was any reason I couldn’t get a security clearance for when he took me to the White House and military think tanks. I told him about Dad’s conviction, and he said not to worry — the government knew that I wasn’t soft on Stalinism. (Herman collected many Schachtmanites around him.)

Many years after compiling these proverbs, Dad added a preface to say that over time, he had come to the conclusion that Trotsky’s economic program would have turned out along much the same lines as Stalin’s. When talking to socialists he became a libertarian, although when talking to most people he remained a socialist.

About 15 years ago Gavin produced an hour-long documentary and interview with Dad, discussing his work with Trotsky in Mexico. (Dad’s sister, my aunt Jeri Hudson de Leon, was married to a Mercedes dealer in Mexico City at the time, so my parents stayed with her while working with Trotsky, along with other Minneapolis activists.) But Gavin’s colleagues have not been able to find just where he put the CD, and I don’t remember his giving me a copy after we screened it in London.

When I went to Russia in 1994, I was brought to the house of some researchers who were reading the then-recently released files on Trotsky. They said that one thing puzzled them: Did he really have an affair with Frieda Kahlo?

I phoned Dad from their Moscow house. Dad got worried that the phones were being tapped and that I’d get in trouble, but I said that all the Russians really cared about those days was money, not old politics. So he laughed and laughed and said that, yes, he used to drive Trotsky back and forth to see Frieda.

Huck (“Michael”) Hudson

A

Behind the able man there are able men. Chinese

Pierce the abscess.
(i.e. come to the point.) Bantu

An abscess heals when opened.
(i.e. peace comes by sharing your troubles with another.) Bantu

Abundance causes poverty. German

Abundance creates daintiness. Italian

Abundance is a friendly fellow, he is loved by big and small. Semitic

The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use. Latin

It is honorable to be accused by those who deserve to be accused. Latin

The pig which is once seen in the crevice of the fence is accused of all faults. Finnish

He who accused too many accuses himself.

Acorns were good till corn was discovered. Latin

One does not sleep to sleep, but to act. German

(Republished from Michael-Hudson.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History • Tags: Communism, Leon Trotsky 
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As published in Harper’s Magazine.

Two years before the 2008 Wall Street crash that toppled the global economy into deep recession, Harper’s Magazine published a dark prophecy of what was to come. In “The New Road to Serfdom,” economist Michael Hudson laid out how millions of Americans had taken on huge debts to buy houses on the presumption that they could later sell them at a profit. “Most everyone involved in the real estate bubble so far has made at least a few dollars,” he wrote. “But that is about to change. The bubble will burst, and when it does the people who thought they would be living the easy life of a landlord will soon find out that what they really signed up for is the hard servitude of debt serfdom.” As the twenty million people who lost their homes discovered, Hudson got it entirely right.

Today, unemployment is at record lows, and the stock market is at record highs. Allegedly, we have recovered from the disaster. I talked to Hudson, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the author, most recently, of J is For Junk Economics, A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception, about his pre-crash prediction, and what he now sees in our future.

Let’s start with your 2006 Harper’s article. What did you see happening at that point?

It was very clear that more and more of everybody’s income had to go to buying a house. Housing prices were soaring, and the reason wasn’t because of population growth. And it wasn’t because people were getting richer. It’s because a house is worth whatever a bank is going to lend against it, and banks were lending more and more money against houses and pushing people further and further into debt so that basically they had to spend almost their entire working life to pay off the price of getting a home. People thought they were getting richer as house prices were going up, but while the sellers were getting richer, the people who had to buy the house had to pay a larger and larger proportion of their income.

When I first went to work on Wall Street in the 1960s, the rule of thumb in banks was you’d lend people enough money so that they could afford to pay the mortgage fully out of only one quarter of their income. In other words, banks wouldn’t lend if the cost of carrying a mortgage was over 25 percent of what they earned. The balance had to be written off in 30 years, so at the end of their working life 30 years later people would own the home free and clear.

All of that had changed by the mid 2000s. Banks were lending almost 100 percent of the mortgage. You didn’t have to put down 20 percent of the purchase price as you had to in the 1960s. You didn’t have to save up any money to buy a house. Banks would lend you money regardless of whether you could pay it or not. They would lend money up to 40 percent of your income or even 50 percent of your income.

You could just see that mortgage debt was going up so much that, instead of making the economy richer by people living in homes that were building up their net worth in terms of assets, it was making them more and more indebted. More and more money was being paid by wage earners and the middle class to the banks, and the economy was polarizing. You could see that this was not only going to break, but once there was a break it was going to leave a whole residue of debt that was going to shrink the economy. Indeed, that’s what I forecast was going to happen in 2008.

As you predicted and as happened, people just couldn’t pay anymore and the thing collapsed. You could’ve made a lot of money out of this. Did you?

No, I couldn’t. I could only make money if someone would’ve lent me a billion dollars, like they lent to Mr. Paulson [the Wall Street operator who made billions out of the housing crash] to bet against it. I’m a professor and a book writer. They’ll only lend you money if they can grab the assets, and I’m somebody that doesn’t have many assets, except a big collection of economics books.

Have you ever heard of someone sitting on Wall Street who read Harper’s in May 2008 and acted appropriately?

I don’t think they needed me. If they’re on Wall Street, they didn’t need me to tell them that the economy is going to collapse. They all knew it was going to collapse. That was in the language of “liar’s loans” and “NINJAs.” It was pretty obvious what was going on. It’s just the media didn’t talk about it because the media was giving handouts from Alan Greenspan saying that it’s not possible for there to be a real estate collapse, it’s only local. The media are cheerleaders for the stock market. Whenever it goes up they celebrate, even if it goes up because there’s a short squeeze on speculators. The media have not done a good job in educating the American public.

Has that improved in the time since the crash? Did they learn anything?

No. If anything, it’s gone down, because the media have all been in a financial squeeze, and they’re getting pretty inexperienced editors, reporters.

At least you have the satisfaction, if that’s the word, of events proving you correct. But we’ve supposedly now recovered from that disaster. Have we?

No, we haven’t at all recovered. That’s why Hillary lost the election. She said, “Look at how much better you are since 2008. Obama has saved you.” Trump said, “Wait a minute. Look at how bad you are. You’re not saved.” Everybody thought, “Who are you going to believe, your eyes or Hillary?” We haven’t recovered at all. Obama saved the banks and Wall Street, not the economy. From 2008 until today, the economy has grown by 2 percent, but the top 5 percent of the economy have got all of that growth. The economy isn’t recovering.

That’s why when the Department of Labor statistics gave the most recent employment figures, everybody commented, “It’s very interesting. Employment is up, but wages are continuing to fall.” It’s all minimum wage work. The debt ratio for most families is rising, not falling, especially for student debt, for mortgage debt, for automobile debt. The default rate is continuing to rise.

Last time around it was housing debt or housing loans that blew everything up. Have the loans you just mentioned been turned into speculative packages similar to the infamous collateralized debt obligations [securities based on housing loans] of yesteryear?

The difference between today’s packaged student and auto loans compared to those toxic junk mortgage loans is that the buyers recognize the risks involved. No ratings agencies are going to stick AAA labels on consumer debt where arrears and defaults are soaring. They are unlikely even to package student debt from for-profit “universities” or technical schools with bona fide institutions. Every investor knows that students are NINJAs – No income, No jobs, and no assets.

[But] you could say that the whole stock market is a kind of a ponzi scheme, because $4.3 trillion has been provided to the banks by the Federal Reserve in quantitative easing to keep the interest rates down. So if you’re a good bank customer, you can borrow from the bank at 2 percent, you can borrow to take over a company or to buy stocks or to buy risky bonds that are yielding more, and you can make an arbitrage. That is, you can make in dividends or interest more than you have to pay.

So are we heading for another explosion comparable to 2008?

(Republished from Michael-Hudson.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banks, Donald Trump, Housing 
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Students usually don’t think of themselves as a class. They seem “pre-class,” because they have not yet entered the labor force. They can only hope to become part of the middle class after they graduate. And that means becoming a wage earner – what impolitely is called the working class.

But as soon as they take out a student debt, they become part of the economy. They are in this sense a debtor class. But to be a debtor, one needs a means to pay – and the student’s means to pay is out of the wages and salaries they may earn after they graduate. And after all, the reason most students get an education is so that they can qualify for a middle-class job.

The middle class in America consists of the widening sector of the working class that qualifies for bank loans – not merely usurious short-term payday loans, but a lifetime of debt. So the middle class today is a debtor class.

Shedding crocodile tears for the slow growth of U.S. employment in the post-2008 doldrums (the “permanent Obama economy” in which only the banks were bailed out, not the economy), the financial class views the role industry and the economy at large as being to pay its employees enough so that they can take on an exponentially rising volume of debt. Interest and fees (late fees and penalties now yield credit card companies more than they receive in interest charges) are soaring, leaving the economy of goods and services languishing.

Although money and banking textbooks say that all interest (and fees) are a compensation for risk, any banker who actually takes a risk is quickly fired. Banks don’t take risks. That’s what the governments are for. (Socializing the risk, privatizing the profits.) Anticipating that the U.S. economy may be unable to recover under the weight of the junk mortgages and other bad debts that the Obama administration left on the books in 2008, banks insisted that the government guarantee all student debt. They also insisted that the government guarantees the financial gold-mine buried in such indebtedness: the late fees that accumulate. So whether students actually succeed in becoming wage-earners or not, the banks will receive payments in today’s emerging fictitious “as if” economy. The government will pay the banks “as if” there is actually a recovery.

And if there were to be a recovery, then it would mean that the banks were taking a risk – a big enough risk to justify the high interest rates charge on student loans.

This is simply a replay of what banks have negotiated for real estate mortgage lending. Students who do succeed in getting a job hope to start a family, or at least joining the middle class. The most typical criterion of middle-class life in today’s world (apart from having a college education) is to own a home. But almost nobody can buy a home without getting a mortgage. And the price of such a mortgage is to pay up to 43 percent of one’s income for thirty years, that is, one’s prospective working life (in today’s as-if world that assumes full employment, not just a gig economy).

Banks know how unlikely it is that workers actually will be able to earn enough to carry the costs of their education and real estate debt. The costs of housing are so high, the price of education is so high, the amount of debt that workers must pay off the top of every paycheck is so high that American labor is priced out of world markets (except for military hardware sold to the Saudis and other U.S. protectorates). So the banks insist that the government pretends that housing as well as education loans not involve any risk for bankers.

The Federal Housing Authority guarantees mortgages that absorb up to the afore-mentioned 43 percent of the applicant’s income. Income is not growing these days, but job-loss is. Formerly middle-class labor is being downsized to minimum-wage labor (MacDonald’s and other fast foods) or “gig” labor (Uber). Here too, the fees mount up rapidly when there are defaults – all covered by the government, as if it is this compensates the banks for risks that the government itself bears.

 

From debt peons to wage slaves

In view of the fact that a college education is a precondition for joining the working class (except for billionaire dropouts), the middle class is a debtor class – so deep in debt that once they manage to get a job, they have no leeway to go on strike, much less to protest against bad working conditions. This is what Alan Greenspan described as the “traumatized worker effect” of debt.

Do students think about their future in these terms? How do they think of their place in the world?

Students are the new NINJAs: No Income, No Jobs, No Assets. But their parents have assets, and these are now being grabbed, even from retirees. Most of all, the government has assets – the power to tax (mainly labor these days), and something even better: the power to simply print money (mainly Quantitative Easing to try and re-inflate housing, stock and bond prices these days). Most students hope to become independent of their parents. But burdened by debt and facing a tough job market, they are left even more dependent. That’s why so many have to keep living at home.

The problem is that as they do get a job and become independent, they remain dependent on the banks. And to pay the banks, they must be even more abjectly dependent on their employers.

It may be enlightening to view matters from the vantage point of bankers. After all, they have $1.3 trillion in student loan claims. In fact, despite the fact that college tuitions are soaring throughout the United States even more than health care (financialized health care, not socialized health care), the banks often end up with more education expense than the colleges. That is because any interest rate is a doubling time, and student loan rates of, say, 7 percent mean that the interest payments double the original loan value in just 10 years. (The Rule of 72 provides an easy way to calculate doubling times of interest-bearing debt. Just divide 72 by the interest rate, and you get the doubling time.)

A fatal symbiosis has emerged between banking and higher education in America. Bankers sit on the boards of the leading universities – not simply by buying their way in as donors, but because they finance the transformation of universities into real estate companies. Columbia and New York University are major real estate holders in New York City. Like the churches, they pay no property or income tax, being considered to play a vital social role. But from the bankers’ vantage point, their role is to provide a market for debt whose magnitude now outstrips even that of credit card debt!

Citibank in New York City made what has been accused of being a sweetheart deal with New York University, which steers incoming students to it to finance their studies with loans. In today’s world a school can charge as much for an education as banks are willing to lend students – and banks are willing to lend as much as governments will guarantee to cover, no questions asked. So the bankers on the school boards endorse bloated costs of education, knowing that however much more universities make, the bankers will receive just as much in interest and penalties.

It is the same thing with housing, of course. However much the owner of a home receives when he sells it, the bank will make an even larger sum of money on the interest charges on the mortgage. That is why all the growth in the U.S. economy is going to the FIRE sector, owned mainly by the One Percent.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Student Debt 
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SHARMINI PERIES: Just prior to the economic collapse of 2007-2008 there were several economic indicators which could have given us a clue of the impending disaster. If we look at the economic situation today in the US, we find many of these very same indicators. Housing prices are getting very high. Credit card debt has begun to rise again. Student loans are in default, many of them, and the stock and bond markets reached an all-time high.

Are we actually in another housing bubble just nine years later? On to talk about this with me is Michael Hudson. Michael is Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is the author of The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and Its Discontent, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics.

Michael, about 10,000,000 families lost their homes in the 2007-2008 crash, and many of these homes were bought by hedge funds such as the ones organized by Blackstone let’s say. The hedge funds didn’t really resell the housing that they bought, but rather hung onto them and rented them instead. But let’s really start off with the indicators that you had highlighted for me in an email, saying we might already be there in terms of another crisis. Give us the essence of what those indicators are and why you predict that.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Many of the indicators may be the same, but the character of the crisis is very different now from what it was in 2008. You mentioned, for instance, that real estate prices now age exceed their early 2008 levels. All that’s true, but as you just pointed out, 10,000,000 people have already lost their homes. That’s what economists call housing moving from weak hands into strong, and they applaud that because instead of poor families, minorities, African-Americans and Hispanics buying homes that are way beyond their ability to pay the mortgage on, these houses have already been lost or foreclosed and Blackstone and other hedge funds bought them. They bought them for all cash.

The reason they did that instead of debt leveraging, which is how people had been buying their houses in World War II, is that interest rates are so low. The Fed was plunging at zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) in order to try to re-inflate a bubble. But with these low interest rates, Blackstone and other hedge funds, Wall Street, could make more money renting out these properties than they could by actually selling them or speculating, or that they could make in the bond market.

The effect is very interesting. Leading up to 2008, rents were actually going down. The more real estate prices were going up, the lower rents were falling, because 17% of the market was by flippers, by speculators who borrowed to buy a home or apartment. They thought okay, we’re going to buy a condo, buy a house, we’re going to wait for the price to be inflated. They all were desperate to find somebody to live in these apartments, to at least help cover the interest expense of buying these things.

The result was that rents fell. Right now it’s the opposite. Rents are going way up because there’s much less property available either to buy or to rent. People can’t afford to qualify for the bank loan, so they can’t afford to buy housing, and they can’t find rental apartments because these have been monopolized, maybe 20% in some areas by the hedge funds and Blackstone and other people.

My friend Gary Null, for instance, had Blackstone buy his building, smashed the furnace, wouldn’t turn on the heat, and forced him to move out so it could empty out the property and try to raise the price. That’s on commercial real estate. So these guys are really putting the class war back in business.

Housing prices are going up in Canada and Australia, but again it’s not so much a bubble like it was before. The financial structure has shifted, largely because it’s being bought by very wealthy absentee owners instead of by the population as a whole. So the rate of home ownership in America has fallen by about six percentage points. That’s about 10% of the housing population, so you’re having housing way beyond the ability of most Americans to afford and beyond what banks are going to lend to buy a house.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. How does this benefit those holding the property, like hedge fund owners?

MICHAEL HUDSON: They can make a large return renting it out. They can make five, 10, 15%. That’s much more money than they can make in the bond market and it’s much more secure money than they can make in the stock market, because stock prices may go down and corporate sales may go down as the economy shrinks, but people are desperate to have housing. It’s the one thing they absolutely need, so rents now are rising as a percent of the American budget. They’re 40% to 50% of income in places like New York City, San Francisco, the high rent areas of the country.

SHARMINI PERIES: What are NINJA loans?

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s the other thing that’s changed. What was powering and pushing up prices in 2007 and ’08 were loans to borrowers with No Income, No Jobs, and No Assets. As Bill Black has explained, these are largely fraudulent loans. The frauds were the banks. The frauds were the mortgage companies that just faked the incomes of the buyers and would lend for almost the entire mortgage.

Now we only have one kind of NINJA left, and those are students. Student loans have been the most rapidly growing loans in the country. They’re no about $1.3 trillion, more than credit card loans, more than most other kinds of loans. Everybody knows that students are not able to earn enough to repay them, because default rates on student loans are going way up. They’re not going up on mortgages. They’re falling on mortgages – home mortgages – but they’re rising on student loans.

But the banks knew that they couldn’t pay and the government knew that they couldn’t pay, so the government made a sweetheart deal with the banks: “You can make all the loans to students you want. You can lend them as much money for any education, even for junk education, for junk colleges, or for-profit colleges like Trump’s college, and we know that the students are going to default, but we’re going to guarantee your loans and we’ll guarantee a higher rate of interest than you can make on any other loan, because we know these loans are risky. We know they won’t pay, but the government will take all the risk and we’ll pay you as if you were taking the risk and as if you were making a real loan, thinking you’d get repaid.”

The whole student loan scandal is a corrupt. It shows the degree to which the universities and the government loan system have been taken over by banks writing the loans to give themselves a free ride at public expense.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, the federal government already guarantees student loans, so when they default on these loans, does paying it back come out of the public purse?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes. Not only paying back the loan, but paying the loan with enormous interest, higher than the banks can get on any other kind of loan, and very heavy penalty fees, so the banks are basically cleaning up on these. The ultimate beneficiaries, if you can call them beneficiaries, are the universities, because the basic principle in real estate that we learned in 2008 was that a house is worth whatever a bank is going to lend. Well, the same thing is true for education.

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
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Sharmini Peries: The European Commission announced on May 2, that an agreement on Greek pension and income tax reforms would pave the way for further discussions on debt release for Greece. The European Commission described this as good news for Greece. The Greek government described the situation in similar terms. However, little attention has been given as to how the wider Greek population are experiencing the consequences of the policies of the Troika. On May Day thousands of Greeks marked International Workers Day with anti-austerity protests. One of the protester’s a 32-year-old lawyer perhaps summed the mood, the best when he said …

“The current Greek government, like all the ones before it, have implemented measures that has only one goal, the crushing of the workers, the working class and everyone who works themselves to the bone. We are fighting for the survival of the poorest who need help the most.”

To discuss the most recent negotiations underway between Greece and the TROIKA, which is a European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF, here’s Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is the author of many books including, “Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage the Global Economy” and most recently “J is for Junk Economics: A Survivor’s Guide to Economic Vocabulary in the Age of Deception”….Michael, let’s start with what’s being negotiated at the moment.

Michael Hudson: I wouldn’t call it a negotiation. Greece is simply being dictated to. There is no negotiation at all. It’s been told that its economy has shrunk so far by 20%, but has to shrink another 5% making it even worse than the depression. Its wages have fallen and must be cut by another 10%. Its pensions have to be cut back. Probably 5 to 10% of its population of working age will have to immigrate.

The intention is to cut the domestic tax revenues (not raise them), because labor won’t be paying taxes and businesses are going out of business. So we have to assume that the deliberate intention is to lower the government’s revenues by so much that Greece will have to sell off even more of its public domain to foreign creditors. Basically it’s a smash and grab exercise, and the role of Tsipras is not to represent the Greeks because the Troika have said, “The election doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the people vote for. Either you do what we say or we will smash your banking system.” Tsipras’s job is to say, “Yes I will do whatever you want. I want to stay in power rather than falling in election.”

Sharmini Peries: Right. Michael you dedicated almost three chapters in your book “Killing the Host” to how the IMF economists actually knew that Greece will not be able to pay back its foreign debt, but yet it went ahead and made these huge loans to Greece. It’s starting to sound like the mortgage fraud scandal where banks were lending people money to buy houses when they knew they couldn’t pay it back. Is it similar?

Michael Hudson: The basic principle is indeed the same. If a creditor makes a loan to a country or a home buyer knowing that there’s no way in which the person can pay, who should bear the responsibility for this? Should the bad lender or irresponsible bondholder have to pay, or should the Greek people have to pay?

IMF economists said that Greece can’t pay, and under the IMF rules it is not allowed to make loans to countries that have no chance of repaying in the foreseeable future. The then-head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, introduced a new rule – the “systemic problem” rule. It said that if Greece doesn’t repay, this will cause problems for the economic system – defined as the international bankers, bondholder’s and European Union budget – then the IMF can make the loan.

This poses a question on international law. If the problem is systemic, not Greek, and if it’s the system that’s being rescued, why should Greek workers have to dismantle their economy? Why should Greece, a sovereign nation, have to dismantle its economy in order to rescue a banking system that is guaranteed to continue to cause more and more austerity, guaranteed to turn the Eurozone into a dead zone? Why should Greece be blamed for the bad malstructured European rules? That’s the moral principle that’s at stake in all this.

Sharmini Peries: Michael, The New York Times has recently published an article titled, “IMF torn over whether to bail out Greece again.” It essentially describes the IMF as being sympathetic towards Greece in spite of the fact, as you say, they knew that Greece could not pay back this money when it first lent it the money with the Troika. Right now, the IMF sounds rational and thoughtful about the Greek people. Is this the case?

Michael Hudson: Well, Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister under Syriza, said that every time he talked to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and others two years ago, they were sympathetic. They said, “I am terribly sorry we have to destroy your economy. I feel your pain, but we are indeed going to destroy your economy. There is nothing we can do about it. We are only following orders.” The orders were coming from Wall Street, from the Eurozone and from investors who bought or guaranteed Greek bonds.

Being sympathetic, feeling their pain doesn’t really mean anything if the IMF says, “Oh, we know it is a disaster. We are going to screw you anyway, because that’s our job. We are the IMF, after all. Our job is to impose austerity. Our job is to shrink economies, not help them grow. Our constituency is the bondholders and banks.”

Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency. It says: “We feel your pain, but we’d rather you suffer than our constituency.”

So what you read is simply the usual New York Times hypocrisy, pretending that the IMF really is feeling bad about what it’s doing. If its economists felt bad, they would have done what the IMF European staff did a few years ago after the first loan: They resigned in protest. They would write about it and go public and say, “This system is corrupt. The IMF is working for the bankers against the interest of its member countries.” If they don’t do that, they are not really sympathetic at all. They are just hypocritical.

Sharmini Peries: Right. I know that the European Commission is holding up Greece as an example in order to discourage other member nations in the periphery of Europe so that they won’t default on their loans. Explain to me why Greece is being held up as an example.

Michael Hudson: It’s being made an example for the same reason the United States went into Libya and bombed Syria: It’s to show that we can destroy you if you don’t do what we say. If Spain or Italy or Portugal seeks not to pay its debts, it will meet the same fate. Its banking system will be destroyed, and its currency system will be destroyed.

The basic principle at work is that finance is the new form of warfare. You can now destroy a country’s economy not merely by invading it. You don’t even have to bomb it, as you’ve done in the Near East. All you have to do is withdraw all credit to the banking system, isolate it economically from making payments to foreign countries so that you essentially put sanctions on it. You’ll treat Greece like they’ve treated Iran or other countries.

“We have life and death power over you.” The demonstration effect is not only to stop Greece, but to stop countries from doing what Marine Le Pen is trying to do in France: withdraw from the Eurozone.

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Counterpunch Archives, EU, Greece, IMF 
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mhudson0330government-240 KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.

Donald Trump promised repeatedly to, “Drain the swamp,” during his presidential campaign, his vow to end the cycle of corruption within the Federal government. All while touting his own experience as a businessman, as reason enough for him to be Commander-in-Chief.

Yet, his Cabinet appointments and his hand-picked advisors seem to reflect the contrary to draining the swamp, with former hedge fund manager, Steve Mnuchin, as Secretary of the Treasury; former Exxon Mobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State; and private equity billionaire Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary.

But this week Trump’s own son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, echoed a very popular sentiment about this White House’s approach to governing — run it like a business. And looking at who so far has been tapped to staff this administration — few folks with any public service or government experience — will this be an effective approach to running the country?

Well, joining us to discuss this we have Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University Missouri at Kansas City. He’s the author of many books, including: “The Bubble and Beyond” and, “Finance Capitalism and its Discontents”, also “Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy”, and most recently, “J is for Junk Economics: A Survivor’s Guide to Economic Vocabulary in the Age of Deception”.

Michael is joining us today from New York City. Welcome back to The Real News.

MICHAEL HUDSON: It’s good to be here.

KIM BROWN: So, Michael, in an interview that Jared Kushner gave the Washington Post over the weekend from his West Wing office, where Jared Kushner says that the American government needs to be run like a business — I’m paraphrasing here. This seems to be a feeling, an ethos, if you will, shared by this Trump administration.

So, is it a good idea to try to run government the way that corporations are being run?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Not only is it a bad idea, but yesterday, the Financial Times of London, the premier financial paper, had a wonderful editorial, saying why business cannot make government great. In other words, why it can’t be run like a government.

The main reason is that businesses are run to make a profit. And it’s very surprising that Trump’s supporters say, well, we need a businessman to put the government in order. Business people are their employers.

Imagine somebody working for an employer, and the last thing you want is for the employer to run his business the way he wants, without any safety conditions, without paying you overtime, without paying you a pension, without paying you medical care.

The idea of running it like a business is to screw labor. To pay labor as little as possible, and to get as much money for themselves — the businessmen — as possible. So, when Kushner says, “Let’s run government like a business,” what he really means is, let’s run government for business.

The Financial Times gave a wonderful example. They said, look at what really made Trump’s reputation in New York politically. And I remember it. I was here. It’s when the city had been trying to build the Wollman Skating Rink, they’d spent like $13 million on it. Trump said, I can do it much cheaper as a businessman. And so, the first thing he said was, well, if I’m going to do it like a businessman, you’ve got to… the rule was you’ve got to suspend the rules about fuel efficiency.

The Financial Times said the Parks Department had a double mandate, of building a rink and making it fuel-efficient. The latter requirement was dropped for Mr. Trump.

So, in other words, running the government as a business says, let’s get rid of the environmental concerns, because that’s a cost to business. Let’s not tax business, because that’s a cost. Let’s get rid of any pro-labor legislation. We have our consumer protection. Let’s get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency that blocks banks from cheating their customers, because business is all about gouging as much as you can get.

So, do you really want a government that is going to be run like a business and gouge people? And then the final kicker that really makes the analogy between business — and a private balance sheet — and government different is that businesses can’t run a deficit. Just like a family household is supposed to save and run a deficit.

But governments are supposed to run a deficit, because they’re supposed to lose money in balance sheet terms. They’re supposed to spend money into the economy; that’s how the economy gets enough money to grow.

And so, the Republicans in the chaos have always said you’ve got to be fiscally responsible, don’t run a deficit. Meaning, don’t dump money into the economy; make the economy borrow from the banks. And what we want is austerity for labor.

Well, now all of a sudden since the Obamacare repudiation didn’t work, they’re not able to get the trillion dollars that they wanted to squeeze out of there. So, Trump says, well, we want to spend money into the economy by cutting taxes on the rich, and also by spending more on the Pentagon.

None of this is going to put money into the economy.

And all of a sudden the Democrats are quite correctly saying, well wait a minute, we are all for running a deficit if it’s to increase employment and raise wage levels. But we’re not for running a deficit simply by cutting money for the rich.

Because the businessmen don’t make their money by employing labor, the businessmen really make their money by increasing the price of their stocks; they make it by speculation; the stocks and bond market; real estate speculation. And they get it by avoiding taxes and avoiding environmental laws; avoiding all of the laws that governments are supposed to impose to create checks and balances, to make a government democratic, and the kind of world the people want to live in. The businessman is pro-business.

KIM BROWN: Well, Michael we have a real world example of this when we look at the State of Michigan, under the Governorship of Rick Snyder, their, “One tough nerd,” as he calls himself, on Twitter.

After his election, he vowed to make Michigan more financially solvent, and he did this by taking a number of steps, including appointing emergency managers over a handful of Michigan towns; in effect rendering the will of the people obsolete, because now instead of being governed by elected officials, they are being governed by these hand-picked emergency managers.

And obviously, the Flint water crisis is a perfect example of that; how the emergency manager in the interest of trying to save money, decided to change the water source for the Town of Flint from the Detroit River to the very polluted Flint River, and as a result, the entire town has been dealing with lead contamination of all kinds of nasty stuff in their water, for almost four years now.

So, how can we apply how Michigan has been run by Rick Snyder to what the Trump Administration intends to do?

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s a perfect example. The Trump Administration wants to cover… cutback what they call red tape and bureaucracy.

And what they call red tape is everything that consumers and workers want to protect themselves: to protect themselves environmentally; to protect themselves from fraud, and to protect themselves from being cheated.

(Republished from The Real News Network by permission of author or representative)
 
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Michael Hudson
About Michael Hudson

Michael Hudson is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of The Bubble and Beyond (2012), Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1968 & 2003), Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (1992 & 2009) and of The Myth of Aid (1971).

ISLET engages in research regarding domestic and international finance, national income and balance-sheet accounting with regard to real estate, and the economic history of the ancient Near East.

Michael acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and tax law.