Michael Hudson’s landmark 2015 book “Killing the Host” exposed how the empires of finance, insurance and real estate captured the global economy through neo-liberalism and sold us down the road to neo-feudalism. Michael returns to the show to describe why the current global economic demise is the fruit of consummate greed, crony politics and rapacious finance – and what we must do if we are to ever get off this road. On a very positive note that shows that The People aren’t taking all this lying down, Ellen talks with one of the team members behind California’s new infrastructure bank bill, AB 310, which may set a national example for accelerating implementation of new state public banks.
EHB-Michael Hudson intervw – IOM show #132.mp3, July 20, 2020.
Ellen Brown: [00:00:00] My guest today is Dr. Michael Hudson, who we’re delighted to have on our Public Banking Institute Advisory Board, and who really should be advising the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, but BlackRock seems to have gotten the job. Paul Craig Roberts, who is former Assistant Treasury Secretary under Reagan, called Michael Hudson the greatest economist on the planet. He’s a Wall Street financial analyst, Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and author of over two dozen books, including Killing the Host and one called … and Forgive Them Their Debts, which are both particularly relevant today. So it’s great to be speaking with you, Michael.
Michael Hudson: [00:00:43] It’s good to be back, Ellen.
Ellen Brown: [00:00:45] Thanks. So, you recently wrote in The Washington Post the Corona virus outbreak is serving as a mind expansion exercise, making hitherto unthinkable solutions thinkable. Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. A debt jubilee may be the best way out. So, for anyone who hasn’t heard you explain this before, could you explain what you mean by a debt jubilee, and why it may be the best way out, and what the real crisis is that it’s the best way out of?
Michael Hudson: [00:01:21] Well, there was the debt problem that’s been mounting up ever since World War II. Every economic recovery, every business cycle since 1945 has started from a higher level of debt. Most people thought they were getting rich off debt because most bank credit – 80 percent of bank loans – are mortgage loans. They’re made against real estate. Banks have sought to expand the market, and have lent more and more against real estate. In the 1960s when I first bought a house, you had to have debt service absorb not more than 25 percent of your income. You had to put down 30 percent of the price of the house. So basically, a house was worth whatever a bank would lend.
But by the time that the economy collapsed in 2008 – or rather, by the time the financial system collapsed – banks were making loans with zero down payment. You didn’t need 30 percent. The requirement that mortgage payment be affordable – 25 percent of your income – went out the window. Banks would lend any amount of money, regardless of what you were making. And even the interest didn’t have to be paid. Instead of having a self-amortizing mortgage where you’d own the house after 30 years of paying the bank, you’d pay the bank after 30 years and you wouldn’t own any more at all, because you wouldn’t be paying any amortization.
So basically, banks lent so much money against housing, inflating it up to such a high price, that after paying the mortgage costs – or, if you can’t afford a house, if you’re a renter – after paying the debt service and the credit card debt, the other debt, and after paying the insurance costs and taxes, you really don’t have much left for basic goods and services that you produce, except for the bare minimum of food, clothing and transportation.
So a point was reached already by the time the virus broke out of how the economy can continue to grow. For 95 percent of the population, the economy stopped growing in 2008, when Obama bailed out the banks and left all the bad debts in place. Since 2008, all the growth of GDP – all the increase in national income – has accrued just to the wealthiest five percent of the population. That means that for 95 percent of the population the economy hasn’t been growing at all. It’s been shrinking.
The question is, how are you going to grow if you leave all of the debt service in place, if you leave all of the debt pyramided housing in place? Bonds and stocks are so high-priced that they don’t yield an income for retirement anymore. The economy reached a point already by the beginning of this year that it had to choose either to pay all the debts, continue paying the growth in income to the five percent that basically are the creditor and financial class, or write down the debts and let the economy grow again.
The basic issue is, who is the economy going to be run for? Is it going to be run for the banks and Wall Street, or for Main Street? Well, you said I should be a adviser to the Federal Reserve and Treasury. They wouldn’t pay any attention to anything I say, because they run the economy for Wall Street. As you’ve just seen, the Federal Reserve has created a virus of quantitative easing since 2008. First, four and a half trillion dollars for the Obama bailout, and then another two trillion that is set to go up to 10 trillion, essentially just to buy stocks and bonds and push up the prices of assets that the five percent own.
So the Federal Reserve basically is working against Main Street. It’s working only for its constituency, which are the commercial banks, instead of trying to think how can the economy free itself from this debt overhead? It certainly can’t work its way out of debt because nobody’s earning enough money to amortize, that is to pay off the principal. All they can do is try to pay the current interest charges. So the economy has painted itself into a corner. And that’s the problem that I address in Killing the Host and all the books that I write and all the interviews that I do.
Ellen Brown: [00:06:51] I totally agree with all that. You mentioned this four and a half trillion, which is levered up. I just wondered, how do they get away with that? I mean, it’s not a bank. Why did they figure ten to one? Tthey could do 100 to one. The Federal Reserve can issue whenever it wants. I guess one of my basic questions about the Federal Reserve is that people say they could actually go bankrupt, their balance sheet doesn’t balance, and all that. Do they actually have a balance sheet that counts?
Michael Hudson: [00:07:25] Sure they have a balance sheet. The question is, what is a balance sheet? You have assets on the left-hand side and liabilities and net worth on the right-hand side. The Federal Reserve can create a credit / deposit, just like a bank does. If you go to a bank and want to borrow money, the bank will create an account for you just on the computer. “Here’s $100,000 we’re putting in your checking account. Go buy a house or do anything.” In exchange, the bank has an asset, a claim on you for repayment with interest. Well, the Federal Reserve also can do anything on its balance sheet. It can tell corporations and the banks, “We’re the Statue of Liberty: Give us your poor junk loans, give us your bad debts, give us all of the junk, and we will create a deposit – 100 cents on the dollar for it – and we will pick up all of your bad loans. And we know that the loans can’t be paid, because the economy can’t pay.”