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 TeasersMichael Hudson Blogview

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Today I am pleased to present a double feature on economic policy. Michael Hudson leads off with an explanation of economic policy as a social cost to the working class, and I follow up with an explanation that US economic policy is an act of national suicide.

A couple of definitions: A rentier economy is one in which monopolization or concentration of ownership permits profit without contributing to the welfare of society. Economic rent consists of payments or a rise in value of an asset in excess of its contribution to output or the cost of bringing it into production. An example of economic rent is a taxpayer financed road or transportation system. The rise in land values constitute economic rents, unearned income or wealth unrelated to any activity of the property owner.

The Fed’s Austerity Program to Reduce Wages
Michael Hudson

For Wall Street and neoliberal economic policymakers, the solution to price inflation is to push the economy into recession. Rising unemployment reduces aggregate demand. Thus, inflation is brought under control by forcing workers out of their jobs.

This class-war doctrine is the prime directive of neoliberal economics. The Federal Reserve and IMF are are the operating arms for impoverishing the masses. Whether it is Janet Yellen at the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, or the financial press, discussion of today’s U.S. inflation is framed in a way that avoids blaming the 8.2 percent rise in consumer prices on the Biden Administration’s New Cold War sanctions on Russian oil, gas and agriculture, or on oil companies and other sectors using these sanctions as an excuse to charge monopoly prices as if America has not continued to buy Russian diesel oil, as if fracking has not picked up and as if corn is not being turned into biofuel. There has been no disruption in supply. We are simply dealing with monopoly rent by the oil companies using the anti-Russian sanctions as an excuse that an oil shortage will soon develop for the United States and indeed for the entire world economy.

Covid’s shutdown of the U.S. and foreign economies and foreign trade also is not acknowledged for disrupting supply lines and raising shipping costs and hence import prices. The entire blame for inflation is placed on wage earners, and the response is to make them the victims of the coming austerity, as if their wages are responsible for bidding up oil prices, food prices and other prices resulting from the crisis. The reality is that they are too debt-strapped to be spendthrifts and haven’t enough disposable income after debt service to drive up prices.

The Fed’s Junk Economics of What Bank Credit Is Spent On
The pretense behind the Fed’s recent increase in its discount rate by 0.75 percent on June 15 (to a paltry range of 1.50% to 1.75%) is that raising interest rates will cure inflation by deterring borrowing to spend on the basic needs that make up the Consumer Price Index and its related GDP deflator. But banks do not finance much consumption, except for credit card debt, which in the United States is now less than student loans and automobile loans.

Banks lend almost entirely to buy real estate, stocks and bonds, not for consumer purchases of goods and services. Some 80 percent of bank loans are real estate mortgages, and most of the remainder are loans collateralized by stocks and bonds. The main price effect of less bank credit and higher interest rates is on asset prices – deterring borrowing to buy homes and arbitragers and corporate raiders from buying stocks and bonds. So the main price effect of less bank credit and higher interest rates is to reduce stock and bond prices and demand for home mortgages. Home ownership takes a large hit.

Rolling Back Middle-Class Home Ownership
The most immediate effect of the Federal Reserve’s credit tightening will be to reduce America’s home-ownership rate. This rate has been falling since 2008, from nearly 68 percent to just 61 percent today. The decline got underway with President Obama’s eviction of nearly ten million victims of junk mortgages, mainly black and Hispanic debtors. That was the Democratic Party’s alternative to writing down fraudulent mortgage loans to realistic market prices, and reducing their carrying charges to bring them in line with market rental values. The indebted victims of this massive bank fraud were made to suffer, so that Obama’s Wall Street sponsors could keep their predatory gains and receive massive bailouts. The costs of the fraud fell on the banks’ customers, not on the banks and their stockholders and bondholders.

The effect of discouraging new home buyers by raising interest rates is to lower home ownership – the badge of being middle-class. The Fed’s policy of raising interest rates will increase the interest charges that prospective new home buyers will have to pay, pricing the carrying charge of mortgages out of reach for some families. This follows the preceding run up in housing prices that is characteristic of a financialized economy. In short, the United States is turning into a landlord economy.

Real estate is being transferred from the middle class to private capital companies that turn homes into rental properties. Higher interest rates will not affect housing purchases by private capital companies, because they buy for all cash to receive returns as landlords just as the landed aristocracy did in England. Within another decade the nation’s home ownership rate may fall from 61 to 50 percent (and homeowners’ equity even lower), thus turning the the United States into a rentier economy.

How Much Economic Austerity Can a Debt-burdened Society Stand?
While home ownership rates have fallen, a decade of the Fed’s Quantitative Easing has increased its subsidy to those who hold troubled financial securities from \$800 billion to \$9 trillion – the rise in the Fed’s balance sheet during the QE period–of which the largest amount of rescued bad investments has been packaged home mortgages. This has kept housing prices from falling and becoming more affordable for home buyers. The Fed’s support of asset prices saved large insolvent banks from going under, but allowed smaller banks and the dispossessed homeowner to bear the cost. Sheila Bair of the FDIC singled out Citigroup, along with Countrywide, Bank of America and the other usual suspects as the beneficiaries of their own fraud.. The working population is not considered to be too big to fail. Its political weight is small by comparison to that of Wall Street banks and other FIRE-sector beneficiaries.

Lowering the discount rate to only about 0.1 percent enabled the banking system to make a large gains by making mortgage loans at around 3.50 percent. The banks kept credit-card rates high – 19% — and made money on penalty fees for late payment. America’s wealthiest One Percent, and indeed the top 10 Percent, vastly increased their wealth in stocks, while the bond market had the largest boom in history. But most Americans have not benefitted from this run up in asset prices, because most stocks and bonds are owned by only the wealthiest layer of the population. The Fed is all in favor of asset-price inflation. But For most American families, corporations and government at all levels, the financial boom since 2008 has entailed a growing debt burden. Many families face insolvency as Federal Reserve policy now aims to create unemployment. Now that the Covid moratorium on the evictions of renters behind in their payments is expiring, the ranks of the homeless are rising.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Federal Reserve 
Interview by Jonathan Brown

Part One:

Part Two:

Jonathan Brown
Michael, welcome to the podcast.

Michael Hudson
It’s good to be here. I’m looking forward to it.

Jonathan Brown
Michael, I think you have one the most extraordinary upbringings and journeys into economics. And I just wanted to give our listeners just some sense of how you got from being the godson of Leon Trotsky all the way to what I consider to be probably the most important economist in the world today.

Michael Hudson 00:23
There’s no direct causality there that could have been anticipated. I never studied economics in college, because I went to school at the University of Chicago. We know that there were some students at the university who were at that business school. They were such strange people that we never even thought of going near them, because there was something otherworldly about them, something abstract.

My degree was in German language and history of culture, because the head of the History of Culture Department was Matthijs Jolles, a German professor and translator of von Clausewitz, On War. And in at the time, my intention was to become a musician. And I had to learn German in order to read the works of Heinrich Schenker. In music theory, my teachers were German. And for the History of Culture, most of the books that I was reading were, were all in German. And the German professors were also heads of the Comparative Literature Department and other departments. That meant that I could take all the courses cafeteria style at the university that I wanted.

I had to go to work when I graduated. I went to work for a while for direct mail advertising for the American Technical Society, a publisher a block away from the university, and then went to work for Free Press that was headed by Jerry Kaplan, a Trotskyist follower of Max Shachtman. And he wanted to send me to New York to help set up Free Press there.

Soon after I came to New York, Trotsky’s widow died. And Max Shachtman was the executor of her estate. He thought I should go into publishing by myself. And I had already had the copyrights for George Lukacs, the Hungarian Marxist and I thought tried to get funding for a publishing company with Trotsky’s works and other works. I’ve been writing a history of music and art theory. And needless to say, I didn’t get any funding because nobody was at all interested in publishing the works of Trotsky. I even tried to get Dwight Eisenhower the write the introduction to his military papers, wouldn’t work.

I was urged to meet Terence McCarthy, the father of a girlfriend of one of my schoolmates, Gavin MacFadyen. He was the first English-language translator of the first history of economic thought that was written: Karl Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value (Mehrwert), reviewing the value theory of classical economics. Terence said that he would help guide me in economic thinking if I’d get a PhD in economics and go to work on Wall Street to see how the world works. But I had to read all of the bibliography in Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value. So I had to begin buying the books, and ended up working as a sideline with one of the reprinters, Augustus Kelly, who was reprinting many of the classical economists. He was a socialist. There were other dealers in New York: Samuel Ambaras, Sydney Millman. I began buying all of the 19th-century classical economic books that I could, sinse that was the only way that I could get copies.

I took graduate classes in the evening while working at a bank for three years, the Savings Banks Trust Company. It was a commercial bank, but was acting as a central bank for the savings banks that in America finance mortgages. All their savings are reinvested in mortgages. So for three years my job was to track the real estate market, the mortgage market, interest rates, the funding of mortgages, the growth of assets by the savings banks, all growing at compound interest. All the growth in savings in the New York savings banks in the early 1960s was simply the accrual of dividends. So you’d have a step function at dividend time every quarter, going up exponentially. There was hardly any new savings inflow. It’s as if you’ve just left a given amount of savings in 1945, and let the amount rise exponentially. All this increase in savings was recycled into the real estate market.

The New York banks wanted to extend their market so they couldn’t just keep bidding up New York housing prices. They won the right to lend out of state, especially the Florida. So my job was basically seeing that real estate prices were whatever a bank would lend. At that time, banks would not lend you a mortgage if the debt service exceeded 25% of your income. And you had to put up usually 30% of the purchase price as a down payment, but possibly 10%. So housing was affordable. You could buy a really nice house for you know, \$20 or \$30,000. Now, it costs \$400,000 to buy just a one room apartment in a condominium.

I bought a house for \$1 down – it was \$45,000 total. I took out a mortgage from Chase for half the price, and the other half was a purchase-money mortgage. So it was easy. Anybody coul get a house in New York at that time. Housing was readily affordable.

After I finished my PhD courses, I changed jobs. My real interest at the time was international finance and the balance of payments. So I went to work at Chase Manhattan as their balance of payments economist. This was at a time when the balance of payments and even balance-sheet analysis was not taught in schools. It was very specialised. I realised that what I was taught, especially in monetary theory, had nothing at all to do with what I was learning in practice.

In monetary theory, for instance, that was the era of Milton Friedman in the 60s and 70s. He thought that when you create more money, it increases consumer prices. Well, I thought that obviously was not how things worked. When banks create money, they don’t lend for people for spending. About 80% of bank loans in America, as in England, are mortgage loans. They lend against property already in place. They also lend for corporate mergers and acquisitions, and by the 1980s for corporate takeovers.

The effect of this lending is to increase asset prices, not consumer prices. You could say that money creation actually lowers consumer prices, because 80% is to increase housing prices. Banks seek to increase their loan market by lending more and more against every kind of real estate, whether it’s residential or commercial property. They keep increasing the proportion of debt to overall real estate price. So by 2008 you could buy property with no money down at all, and take 100% mortgage, sometimes even 102 or 103% so that you would have enough money to pay the closing fees. The government did not limit the amount of money that a bank could lend against income. The proportion of income devoted to mortgage service that was federally guaranteed increased to 43%. Well, that’s a lot more than 25%. That’s 18% of personal income more in 2008 than in the 1960s – simply to pay mortgage interest in order to get a house. So I realised that this was deflationary. The more money you have to spend on mortgage interest to buy a house as land and real estate is financialized, the less you have left to spend on goods and services. This was one of the big problems that was slowing the economy down.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Inequality, Rentier 

Is the proxy war in Ukraine turning out to be only a lead-up to something larger, involving world famine and a foreign-exchange crisis for food- and oil-deficit countries?

Many more people are likely to die of famine and economic disruption than on the Ukrainian battlefield. It thus is appropriate to ask whether what appeared to be the Ukraine proxy war is part of a larger strategy to lock in U.S. control over international trade and payments. We are seeing a financially weaponized power grab by the U.S. Dollar Area over the Global South as well as over Western Europe. Without dollar credit from the United States and its IMF subsidiary, how can countries stay afloat? How hard will the U.S. act to block them from de-dollarizing, opting out of the U.S. economic orbit?

U.S. Cold War strategy is not alone in thinking how to benefit from provoking a famine, oil and balance-of-payments crisis. Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum worries that the world is overpopulated – at least with the “wrong kind” of people. As Microsoft philanthropist (the customary euphemism for rentier monopolist) Bill Gates has explained: “Population growth in Africa is a challenge.” His lobbying foundation’s 2018 “Goalkeepers” report warned: “According to U.N. data, Africa is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. Its population is projected to double by 2050,” with “more than 40 percent of world’s extremely poor people … in just two countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.”

Gates advocates cutting this projected population increase by 30 percent by improving access to birth control and expanding education to “enable more girls and women to stay in school longer, have children later.” But how can that be afforded with this summer’s looming food and oil squeeze on government budgets?

South Americans and some Asian countries are subject to the same jump in import prices resulting from NATO’s demands to isolate Russia. JPMorgan Chase head Jamie Dimon recently warned attendees at a Wall Street investor conference that the sanctions will cause a global “economic hurricane.” He echoed the warning by IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in April that, “To put it simply: we are facing a crisis on top of a crisis.” Pointing out that the Covid pandemic has been capped by inflation as the war in Ukraine has made matters “much worse, and threatens to further increase inequality” she concluded that: “The economic consequences from the war spread fast and far, to neighbors and beyond, hitting hardest the world’s most vulnerable people. Hundreds of millions of families were already struggling with lower incomes and higher energy and food prices.”

The Biden administration blames Russia for “unprovoked aggression.” But it is his administration’s pressure on NATO and other Dollar Area satellites that has blocked Russian exports of grain, oil and gas. But many oil- and food-deficit countries see themselves as the primary victims of “collateral damage” caused by US/NATO pressure.

Is world famine and balance-of-payments crisis a deliberate US/NATO policy?

On June 3, African Union Chairperson Macky Sall, President of Senegal, went to Moscow to plan how to avoid a disruption in Africa’s food and oil trade by refusing to become pawns in the US/NATO sanctions. So far in 2022, President Putin noted: “Our trade is growing. In the first months of this year it grew by 34 percent.” But Senegal’s President Sall worried that: “Anti-Russia sanctions have made this situation worse and now we do not have access to grain from Russia, primarily to wheat. And, most importantly, we do not have access to fertilizer.”

U.S. diplomats are forcing countries to choose whether, in George W. Bush’s words, “you are either for us or against us.” The litmus test is whether they are willing to force their populations to starve and shut down their economies for lack of food and oil by stopping trade with the world’s Eurasian core of China, Russia, India, Iran and their neighbors.

Mainstream Western media describe the logic behind these sanctions as promoting a regime change in Russia. The hope was that blocking it from selling its oil and gas, food or other exports would drive down the ruble’s exchange rate and “make Russia scream” (as the U.S. tried to do to Allende’s Chile to set the stage for its backing of the Pinochet military coup). Exclusion from the SWIFT bank-clearing system was supposed to disrupt Russia’s payment system and sales, while seizing Russia’s \$300 billion of foreign-currency reserves held in the West was expected to collapse the ruble, preventing Russian consumers from buying the Western goods to which they had become accustomed. The idea (and it seems so silly in retrospect) was that Russia’s population would rise in rebellion to protest against how much more Western luxury imports cost. But the ruble soared rather than sunk, and Russia quickly replaced SWIFT with its own system linked to that of China. And Russia’s population began to turn away from the West’s aggressive enmity.

Evidently some major dimensions are missing from the U.S. national-security think-tank models. But when it comes to global famine, was a more covert and even larger strategy at work? It is now looking like the major aim of the U.S. war in Ukraine all along was merely to serve as a catalyst, an excuse to impose sanctions that would disrupt the world’s food and energy trade. Additionally to manage this crisis in a way that would afford U.S. diplomats an opportunity to confront Global South countries with the choice “Your loyalty and neoliberal dependency or your life?” In the process, this would “thin out” the world’s non-white populations that so worried Mr. Dimon and the WEF.

There must have been the following calculation: Russia accounts for 40% of the world’s grain trade and 25 percent of the world fertilizer market (45 percent if Belarus is included). Any scenario would have included a calculation that if so large a volume of grain and fertilizer was withdrawn from the market, prices would soar, just as they have done for oil and gas.

Adding to the disruption in the balance-of-payments of countries having to import these commodities, the price is rising for buying dollars to pay their foreign bondholders and banks for debts falling due. The Federal Reserve’s tightening of interest rates has caused a rising premium for U.S. dollars over euros, sterling and Global South currencies.

It is inconceivable that the consequences of this on countries outside of Europe and the United States were not taken into account, because the global economy is an interconnected system. Most disruptions are in the 2 to 5 percent range, but today’s US/NATO sanctions are so far off the historical track that price increases will soar substantially above the historic range. Nothing like this has happened in recent times.

This suggests that what appeared in February to be a war between Ukrainians and Russia is really a trigger intended to restructure the world economy – and to do so in a way to lock U.S. control over the Global South. Geopolitically, the proxy war in Ukraine has been a handy excuse for America’s to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Food, Russia, Ukraine, World Economic Forum 

“Taken from an interview with the newly founded German magazine “ViER” which will be published in August 2022.” ViER (FOUR), stands for the media as fourth power in checks and balances).

(1.) Prof. Hudson, your new book “The Destiny of Civilization” is out now. This lecture series on finance capitalism and the New Cold War presents an overview of your unique geo-political perspective.

You talk about an ongoing ideological and material conflict between financialized and de-industrialized countries like United States against the mixed-economies of China and Russia. What is this conflict about and why is the world right now at a unique “point of fracture” as your book states?

Today’s global fracture is dividing the world between two different economic philosophies: In the US/NATO West, finance capitalism is de-industrializing economies and has shifted manufacturing to Eurasian leadership, above all China, India and other Asian countries in conjunction with Russia providing basic raw materials and arms.

These countries are a basic extension of industrial capitalism evolving into socialism, that is, into a mixed economy with strong government infrastructure investment to provide education, health care, transportation and other basic needs by treating them as public utilities with subsidized or free services for these needs.

In the neoliberal US/NATO West, by contrast, this basic infrastructure is privatized as a rent-extracting natural monopoly.

The result is that the US/NATO West is left as a high-cost economy, with its housing, education and medical expenses increasingly debt financed, leaving less and less personal and business income to be invested in new means of production (capital formation). This poses an existential problem for Western finance capitalism: How can it maintain living standards in the face of de-industrialization, debt deflation and financialized rent-seeking impoverishing the 99% to enrich the One Percent?

The first U.S. aim is to deter Europe and Japan from seeking a more prosperous future to lie in closer trade and investment ties with Eurasia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, a more helpful way of thinking about the global fracture from the BRICS). To keep Europe and Japan as satellite economies, U.S. diplomats are insisting on a new economic Berlin Wall of sanctions to block trade between East and West.

For many decades U.S. diplomacy has meddled in European and Japanese internal politics, sponsoring pro-neoliberal officials into government leadership. These officials feel that their destiny (and also their personal political fortunes) is closely allied with U.S. leadership. Meanwhile, European politics has now become basically NATO politics run from the United States.

The problem is how to hold the Global South – Latin America, Africa and many Asian countries – in the US/NATO orbit. Sanctions against Russia have the effect of hurting the trade balance of these countries by sharply raising oil, gas and food prices (as well as prices for many metals) that they must import. Meanwhile, rising U.S. interest rates are drawing financial savings and bank credit into U.S.-dollar-denominated securities. This has raised the dollar’s exchange rate, making it much harder for SCO and Global South countries to pay their dollarized debt service falling due this year.

This forces a choice on these countries: either go without energy and food in order to pay foreign creditors – thereby putting international financial interests before their domestic economic survival – or defaulting on their debts, as occurred in the 1980s after Mexico announced in 1982 that it could not pay foreign bondholders

(2.) How do you see the ongoing war/special military operation in Ukraine? Which economic consequences do you foresee?

Russia has secured the Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine and its southern Black Sea coastline. NATO will continue to “poke the bear” by sabotage and new ongoing attacks, especially by Polish fighters.

NATO countries have dumped their old and obsolete weapons into Ukraine, and now must spend immense sums modernizing their military hardware. The outflow of payments to the U.S. military-industrial complex will put downward pressure on the euro and British sterling – all coming on topo of their own rising energy and food deficits. So the euro and sterling are headed down toward parity with the U.S. dollar. The euro is almost there now (about \$1.07). This means sharply rising price inflation for Europe.

I read and hear conflicting information on the new sanctions. Some experts in the East and West believe this will harm the national economy of the Russian Federation tremendously. Other experts tend to believe this will backfire or have a huge boomerang-effect on the Western countries indeed.

The overriding U.S. policy is to fight against China, hoping to break of the Western Uighur regions and divide China into smaller states. To do that, it is necessary to break away Russian military and raw-materials support for China – and in due course to break it up into a number of smaller states (the Western large cities, northern Siberia, a southern flank, etc.).

Sanctions were imposed in hopes of making living conditions so unpleasant for Russians that they would press for regime change. The NATO attack in Ukraine was designed to drain Russia militarily – by having the bodies of Ukrainians deplete Russia’s supply of bullets and bombs by giving their lives simply to absorb Russian arms.

The effect has been to increase Russian support for Putin – just the opposite of what was intended. There is a growing disillusion with the West, after seeing what the Harvard Boys did to Russia when the United States backed Yeltsin to create a domestic kleptocrat class that tried to “cash out” its privatizations by selling shares in oil, nickel and public utilities to the West, and then spurring military attacks from Georgia and Chechnya. There is a general agreement that Russia is making a long-term turn Eastward instead of Westward.

So the effect of U.S. sanctions and military opposition to Russia has been to impose a political and economic Iron Curtain locking in Europe to dependency on the United States, while driving Russia together with China instead of prying them apart. Meanwhile, the cost of European sanctions against Russian oil and food – much to the benefit of U.S. LNG gas suppliers and agricultural exporters – threatens to create long-term European opposition to U.S. unipolar global strategy. A new “Ami go home” movement is likely to develop.

But for Europe, the damage already has been done, and neither Russia nor China are likely to trust that European government officials can withstand the bribery and personal pressure brought to bear by U.S. interference.

Here in Germany I’m listening to the new Minister for Economy, Mr Robert Habeck from the Green Party, who talks about activating the federal “emergency gas” and asks the Emirates for resources (this “deal” seems to be failed already, news say). We see the end of North Stream II and huge dependency for Berlin and Brussels on Russian resources. How this will all sum up?

In effect, U.S. officials have asked Germany to commit economic suicide and bring on a depression, higher consumer prices and lower living standards. German chemical companies have already begun to shut down their fertilizer production, given Germany’s acceptance of trade and financial sanctions that prevent it from buying Russian gas (the raw material for most fertilizer). And German car companies are suffering from supply cut-offs.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: China, Dollar, Eurasia, Germany, Russia 

Peter Scott, RT anchor: Joining us now is Michael Hudson, economist and author of “Super-Imperialism” and the recently-published “Destiny of Civilization”. Welcome to the programme, Michael.

Michael Hudson: It’s good to be back.

PS: Let’s say all these European programmes like the REPOWER Programme come into effect, how do you expect the EU standing to be on the stage after that?

MH: Well, the EU standing will be squeezed economically. It was trying to be a powerhouse in the world economy but in the last month the euro has been declining steadily against the dollar and it’s on the way to one dollar per euro. That’s because it’s having to pay much foreign exchange for energy, for food, for weapons. It’s shrinking in terms of other economies.

PS: Where do you think the EU’s standing will be in relation to powerhouses such as China?

MH: Well, it’s obviously out of the game. Instead of putting its own interests first, it’s really putting the US interests first. It’s acting more like a satellite of the United States thank trying to its own destiny. The whole plan of the EU 20 years ago was to get rich by investing in Russia, investing in China and a mutual exchange. And now it’s decided to stop that. The US has absorbed Europe. The war in Ukraine is a war by the US primarily to pull Europe into the US orbit, prevent European transactions with Russia or China. So Western Europe is being left out, while Russia, China and Eurasia are going with the rest of Asia. Europe is simply going to be left behind. It’s losing its export markets, it’s being squeezed and -as you just mentioned- it’s pushed up the retirement age because it’s spending its budget on replenishing American military arms instead of investing in industry as it had been doing since 1945.

PS: You did indeed write that Europe has ceased to be an independent state. You’ve almost mentioned that the United States wanted to sever EU trade ties with Russia and China. How exactly did you get to that conclusion and do you think that this alleged US plan is succeeding?

MH: Well, I simply read the speeches of President Biden and his team. They’ve said that China is America’s number one enemy. If you’re going to call a country your number one existential enemy, you’re not going to be increasing your trade and mutual dependency with it. And it’s already insisted that its allies sanction -meaning boycott- Russian sports not only of oil and agriculture but of titanium, helium and all of the other exports that Russia has been making. Europe is been following US directions not to have contact with Russia and without contact with Russia it’s not going to have contact with China because China sees that Europe is going to do to it exactly what it’s been doing to Russia.

PS: Obviously as a result of this current situation, for many years now, Russia and China have been growing closer diplomatically and economically. How do you see a global shift in power evolving over the next 5, 10 years or so?

MH: The current war is dividing the world into two parts. There’s going to be a US dollar area of the US, Europe and its satellites. And there’ll be a multipolarity; there’ll be a group of Russia, China together and basically they will be making their proposal of a different way of organising the world economic affairs to Africa, Latin America and other Asian countries. And other Asian countries, Latin America and the global south will see that it can get a better deal with Russia and China than it can get with the United States.

PS: On the flip side of that coin, one could argue that the existing situation, world order, has only been cemented by this war. You see NATO more aligned than ever, you see Europe more aligned than ever. You see Finland and Sweden on the brink, perhaps, of joining NATO. What would your response to this be, Michael?

MH: This integration of Europe into the United States sphere is like the new Berlin Wall. It’s isolated the US from the whole rest of the world. So instead of a victory for the United States it’s self-isolated itself because US strategists have realised that they’re losing the economic war with China, Russia and the whole group of emerging nations. All they can try to do is hold on to Europe as their one source of income to exploit from Europe what it can no longer get from any other country.

PS: As well as being a war on the ground, this is obviously an economic war. You yourself have noted that Nord Stream 2 (the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany) was one of the first victims of this crisis. To what extent are we now seeing an international conflict for energy resources? We obviously have the EU now weaning itself off Russian energy, the US trying to fill that gap to a certain extent with LNG. Then we have Russia now selling oil to India and China.

MH: The important thing about Russian oil being sold to India is that they’re sold in roubles, they’re no longer in dollars. The entire oil trade is now de-dollarised. It will be in roubles, in Chinese Yuan and in other currencies. But the dollar will be left out. The whole idea of dollar diplomacy, of the dollar’s free ride and monetary imperialism has ended. Everyone thought it would take 10 years for Russia, China and other countries to break away. Yet the United States itself has broken away from the other countries by grabbing the foreign exchange reserves of Afghanistan, Venezuela and now Russia. Nobody is going to trust to transact oil, trade and invest in dollars anymore because the United States can simply grab whatever money they want from countries that don’t agree to turn over their economic surplus to American investors and American traders. The United States has isolated itself. It’s shot itself in the foot.

PS: Talking of currencies, Russia is currently the most sanctioned country in the world but the rouble has recovered to way before pre-war levels. To what extent do you think the sanctions imposed on Russia by western countries have negatively impacted the countries imposing them?

MH: It’s certainly been very positive for russia. The first sanctions were imposed on Russian agriculture like cheese from Lithuania. So now Russia produces its own cheese. When you sanction a country, you force that country to be more self-reliant on its own productions. President Putin has already said that now he’s going to be investing in import substitution. If he can’t buy imports from the United States now he’ll set up factories in Russia to produce themselves. There’s no reason Russia cannot do this and be its own industrial power. It doesn’t need the West. But the West still needs Russia. You mentioned Europe doing without Russian oil, and instead getting US liquefied natural gas. But it doesn’t have the ports to import that natural gas. It will have to spend \$5 billion to build ports. It will take many years for this. What are Germany and Europe going to do for the next few years? Are they going to let their pipes freeze in their houses? So that their pipes break and flood the houses? Will the factories slow down? Already German fertiliser companies have closed down because they can’t get gas and it’s going to be years before they can get gas. Without fertiliser how are the Germans going to make their agricultural yields sustainable? Well, they won’t be. So Europe is going to increase its food deficit. It’s going to increase its energy deficit. It’s basically committing suicide on behalf of the Americans. I don’t know how long the political system of Europe can go along with leaders who represent America instead of their own national interests.

PS: As inflation and consumer prices keep rising in the US – Joe Biden maintains that it’s all Russia’s fault. Does it look like American taxpayers are buying that story, though?

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: China, Dollar, Eurasia, Oil Industry, Russia, Ukraine 

The most important factor affecting the global economy is the increasing strain caused by U.S. hegemony. Its diplomacy has shaped the economic and trading rules enforced by the IMF, World Bank and other international institutions in America’s favor after World War II. U.S. leadership reached its peak with its Cold War victory over the Soviet Union in 1991, consolidated by increasingly aggressive military diplomacy over the next twenty years. But since 2008 this U.S. diplomacy has become so aggressive that it is now self-destructive, driving other nations out of the U.S. orbit, leading America’s international influence to fall increasingly short of its ambition to siphon off the world’s income and wealth for itself despite its own weakening economic power.

The principal conflict in today’s world is between the United States and China. This book by Professor Hudson explains this conflict as a process of international transformation, above all in the sphere of economic systems and policy. He explains why the U.S.-China conflict cannot simply be regarded as market competition between two industrial rivals. It is a broader conflict between different political-economic systems – not only between capitalism and socialism as such, but between the logic of an industrial economy and that of a financialized rentier economy increasingly dependent on foreign subsidy and exploitation as its own domestic economy shrivels.

Professor Hudson endeavours to revive classical political economy in order to reverse the neoclassical counter-revolution. The essence of 19th-century political economy was its conceptual framework of value, price and rent theory. Its idea of a free market was one free from economic rent – defined as the excess of market price over intrinsic cost-value, and hence unearned income. The classical aim was to free markets from landlords, monopolies and creditors. Yet the reverse has occurred in the West, particularly since the globalization of neoliberal policies in the 1980s.

Historically, the way for industrial nations to gain wealth and power was to make their government strong enough to prevent a landlord class from dominating, and indeed to suppress the rentier sector as a whole. To promote industrial prosperity, governments provided public services to reduce the costs of living and doing business. Basic services were provided at subsidized prices that would have been replaced by exploitative monopoly prices if key public infrastructure were turned over to private owners.

Economically, the most important service that all economies need to function smoothly is the provision of money and bank credit. When privatized, it becomes a rent-extracting choke point. That is why 19th-century economists developing the logic of industrial capitalism concluded that money and banking needed to be a public utility, so as to minimize financial overhead unnecessary for industrial production.

Today’s anti-classical economics regards financial charges as income earned productively by providing a “service,” which is categorized as output and hence part of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That statistical methodology treats financial profits, along with other forms of economic rent, as additions to GDP, not as an overhead burden. This produces an illusion that the real economy is growing. But what actually is growing is the rentier sector, which does not create real economic value, but merely transfers income from debtors, renters and consumers to creditors, landlords and monopolists. This rentier takeover is achieved by privatizing the public sector to create rent-extracting means for monopoly capital, organized mainly by the financial sector.

This book by Professor Hudson is based on the lecture series on finance capitalism that he presented for the Global University for Sustainability. The series is directed towards the Chinese audience because he believes that China’s mixed economy with its classical industrial policy has best succeeded in avoiding the neoliberal American disease. These lectures explain why the U.S. and other Western economies have lost their former momentum: A narrow rentier class has gained control and become the new central planner, using its power to drain income from increasingly indebted and high-cost labor and industry. The American disease of de-industrialization has resulted from the costs of industrial production being inflated by the economic rents extracted by this class under the system of financialized monopoly capitalism that now prevails throughout the West.

The policy question for China is how it can best maintain its advantage and indeed, avoid falling prey to American ideological and diplomatic pressure. Professor Hudson summarizes his prescription as follows: First, national statistics should distinguish the productive sectors that create real value from the financial rentier sectors that merely transfer income from the rest of the economy to themselves. A transfer payment is not production. Second, all successful economies have been mixed economies. Money and credit, land, public services and natural resources should be controlled by the government so that they can be provided at cost or on a subsidized basis, thereby lowering the cost of living and doing business in the private sector. Third, the way to prevent unproductive debt overhead is to tax away economic rent so that it will not be financialized and paid out to banks as interest by speculators and buyers of rent-extracting opportunities.

A central point of Professor Hudson’s analysis is that U.S. diplomacy is an extension of the neoliberal ideology sponsored by its rentier oligarchy. “U.S. exceptionalism” means that the United States can ignore international laws, dictate the policies of other countries, and demand that they relinquish control of potential rent-yielding assets (banking, mineral-resource extraction rights, and high-technology monopolies) to U.S. multinational corporations and those of U.S. economic satellites.

For nearly the entire 75 years since World War II, pro-creditor laws have been imposed on all nations within the U.S. diplomatic orbit. This U.S. drive has imposed austerity on Global South countries when they have not been able to pay their dollarized debts, sacrificing their domestic economy and the well-being of their people to pay foreign bondholders.

What is ironic is that the United States itself is by far the world’s largest international debtor. It has turned the dollarized system of international payments into a way to make other countries finance its global military spending by making the foreign reserves of the world’s central banks take the form of loans to the U.S. Treasury – holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, U.S. bank deposits and other dollar-denominated assets. That is the buttress of today’s debt-based Dollar Hegemony. To break out of this dollar trap, China should stand with other independent nations to develop a new system of international payments and formulate new principles of international law for trade and investment relations. These principles require an overall economic and political doctrine along the lines described in this book.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Neoliberalism 

Economist Michael Hudson on decline of dollar, sanctions war, imperialism, financial parasitism

Economist Michael Hudson discusses the decline of the US dollar, the sanctions war on Russia, his concept of “free-trade imperialism,” and financial parasitism.

In this interview with Multipolarista editor Benjamin Norton, economist Michael Hudson discusses the decline of the US dollar, the sanctions war on Russia, his concept of “free-trade imperialism,” and financial parasitism.

We talk about these concepts explored in his new book “The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism.”

In this interview with Multipolarista editor Benjamin Norton, economist Michael Hudson discusses the decline of the US dollar, the sanctions war on Russia, his concept of “free-trade imperialism,” and financial parasitism.

We talk about these concepts explored in his new book “The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism.”

BENJAMIN NORTON: Hey, everyone. I’m Ben Norton, and this is the Multipolarista podcast. And I have the great pleasure of being joined today by one of my favorite guests, one of I think the most important economists in the world today. I’m speaking with Professor Michael Hudson.

If you’ve seen any of the interviews I’ve done with Professor Hudson over the past few years, you probably know that he’s a brilliant analyst. He always has, I think, the best analysis to understand what’s going on economically and also politically, geopolitically, in the world today.

And right now is, I think, a very important moment to have Professor Hudson on today. We’re going to talk about the economic war on Russia and the process of economic decoupling between Russia and China and the West, which is something that Professor Hudson has talked about for many years. And that really has accelerated with the Western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.

We’re also going to talk about the decline in U.S. dollar hegemony. A recent report from the International Monetary Fund, which is dominated by the U.S., acknowledged that the use of the dollar in foreign bank reserves is gradually declining.

Now, it’s not going to disappear overnight. But even the IMF is acknowledging that dollar hegemony is eroding. And, of course, the IMF acknowledged that the Western sanctions on Russia are going to further erode the hegemony of the U.S. dollar.

We now see Russia doing business with China in the Chinese yuan. Russia is also doing business with India with the Indian rupee. And of course Russia has been telling Europe that if it wants to buy Russian energy, it has to do so with Russian rubles.

So there’s so much to talk about today, Professor Hudson, but I want to begin in the first half of this interview today talking about a new book that you’re just about to publish.

Today is Monday, May 9th. You said on Wednesday, May 11th, the book comes out. And it’s called “The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism.”

And everything that I just prefaced this interview with, discussing the economic war in Russia and sanctions and decoupling, this is all deeply related to what you talk about in this book. And I had the pleasure of getting an early copy and reading through it. It’s a really important book, I think.

And you talk about this fundamental divide internationally – and this is a divide that actually goes back historically as well – between these three models for different economic systems you discuss: finance capitalism, industrial capitalism, and socialism.

And your argument is that the U.S. empire has been a force for imposing neoliberalism, which is a particular form of finance capitalism, which is nonproductive, in which finance capital destroys productive industries in pursuit of rent-seeking, and what you call the rentier class.

So instead of producing, as the classical bourgeois economists had said capitalism would be a productive system instead, finance capitalism is fundamentally a system of destruction and debt.

And your argument is that this is deeply rooted in U.S. foreign policy. This is the U.S. foreign policy strategy for expanding its economic power, is imposing this finance capitalist model on the world.

So can you expand further on your argument about the fight between finance capitalism, industrial capitalism, and socialism, and why you decided to publish this book now?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well the book came out of a series of 10 lectures that I did for my Chinese audience. I’ve been a professor at Peking University for a number of years in economics, and have professorships at other universities, Wuhan and Hong Kong.

And I have a fairly large audience of about 65,000 people per lecture there. And I was asked to give my general overview, sort of a history of economic development in the West, for the Chinese.

And in order to understand today’s finance capitalism, you have to understand what industrial capitalism was, as it was described in the 19th century.

And it’s often forgotten, or played down, that industrial capitalism was revolutionary. What it was trying to do – from the physiocrats in France in the late 18th century to Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Marx, and the whole late-19th century flowering of socialism – the ideal of classical value theory and rent theory, was to say what is the actual value, the cost value of producing goods and services?

And what is earned by the capitalist, when he employs labor to make a profit, and what is unearned? And what is unearned was the landlord class. That was the hereditary warrior class that conquered all of the European kingdoms in the Middle Ages.

And the attempt by England’s industrialists was saying, look, we cannot become the workshop of the world; we cannot undersell foreign countries if we have a landlord class ripping off all of the money in land rent.

And if we have predatory banking, or the wealthy people just lend really for buying property, or making distressed loans or predatory loans that have nothing to do with financing actual capital formation.

Well, what made this capitalism revolutionary was the British industrialists and advocates of industry, even the bankers in Ricardo’s time, said, well, in order to overthrow the landlord class, which controls the House of Lords and all of the upper chambers of government in Europe, we have to have democratic reform.

If we have democratic reform and give voting to the people, they’re going to vote against the landlord class, and then we can have an efficient economy where our prices of our exports and our goods and services reflect the actual cost of production, not the rake off for the rentiers class, not the rake off of what landlords take, not the rake off of what predatory bankers take.

And the whole long 19th century leading up to World War One was this revolutionary value theory that depicted land rent and monopoly rent and financial returns as being unearned income and wanting to strip it away.

And all of this seemed to be moving toward socialism. The industrialists were all in favor of government public utilities, of government enterprise, because they said, if the government doesn’t provide health care, then individuals are going to have to pay it, and it’ll cost a lot of money, like it does in the United States.

And so you had the conservative prime minister of England, Benjamin Disraeli, saying, health, all is health, we’ve got to provide public health for the people.

 
• Category: Economics, Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Dollar, Russia, Ukraine 

KATIE HALPER: Professor Michael Hudson, thank you so much for joining us. We’re really excited to have you.

We wanted to start off by asking you if you could provide an overview of what the economics driving this conflict are—and by conflict, I mean the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and, of course, with the rest of the world, or really the conflict between Russia and US, and the economic fallout.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, it depends on what side you’re looking at. From the Russian side, I don’t think the economic factors were primary. They were threatened by NATO’s expansion and really a plan to attack the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine. So, I think Russia’s calculations were simply military. The West’s calculations were quite different.

And if you looked at what the results of the conflict are, you have to assume that everybody was talking about the results [as] were known. They’re very clear. The results are a very large increase in fuel prices, oil, and energy prices, a very large increase in agricultural prices with declining supplies. This will leave most of Africa and Latin America—third-world countries, the Global South—unable to pay their foreign debts, which is going to result either in a massive debt default or it will result in a debt repudiation.

Countries are going to have to choose. Are they going to have to operate their homes without energy, their factories without energy—and energy consumption per capita is directly connected to GDP for the last 150 years. Every chart shows energy use, GDP, and personal income go up together.

So, what are countries going to do when they can’t afford to pay the higher prices for energy? Well, Janet Yellen, who was the Federal Reserve head and [now] the Secretary of the Treasury says, ‘Well, what we’re going to do is use the International Monetary Fund to preserve America’s unipolar hegemony.’ I think she used almost those words. We have to keep American control of the world and we’re going to do it through the IMF. And that means in practice using the IMF to create special drawing rights, which will be sort of like free money, the bulk of which will go to the United States to support its military spending abroad for all of this huge military escalation. And it will enable the IMF to go to countries and say, ‘We will help you pay your debts and not be foreclosed on and get energy, but it’s conditional.’ On usual conditions: you have to lower your wages; you have to pass anti-labor legislation; you have to agree to begin selling off your public domain and privatize.

The energy and food crisis caused by the NATO war against Russia is going to be used as a lever not only to push privatization, largely under control of US investors and banks and financiers, but it’s also going to lock countries into the US orbit all the more, both the Global South and especially Europe.

One casualty is obviously going to be Europe and the euro. The euro has been plunging in value day after day after day, as people realize that it’s lost its export markets in Russia and much of Asia, and now at home, too, because exports require energy to be made. Its costs of imports are going up, especially energy. It’s agreed to use, I think, now \$3 billion to build new port facilities to buy US natural gas—liquified natural gas at three to seven times the price that it’s paying now, which will make it almost impossible for German firms to produce fertilizer to grow crops in Germany. The euro’s plunging.

The largest plunge of all has been the Japanese yen, because Japan imports all of its energy and most of its food and is keeping its interest rates very low in order to support the financial sector. And so, the Japanese economy is being sacrificed and squeezed. And I think this is…you can’t say, ‘Gee, this is an accident.’ This is part of the plan, because now the United States can say, ‘Of course we don’t want your yen to go down so much that your consumers have to pay more. We will, of course, give you SDRs—special drawing rights—and we will give you American aid. But we do want you to rewrite your constitution so that you can have atomic weapons on your soil so that we can fight against China to the last Japanese. Just like we’re doing in Ukraine, let us do it for you.’

And, of course, the Japanese love that. The government loves that idea. They love sacrificing the population, which is what they’ve been doing ever since the Plaza Accord and the Louvre Accord of the 1980s that basically wrecked the Japanese industrial economy from this huge upswing to just a mass shrinkage.

So, those are the economic effects of the war. And in the newspaper, you think the war is all about Ukrainians and NATO fighting Russians, and it’s really a war by the United States to use the NATO-Russia conflict as a means of locking in control over its allies and the whole Western world, and in Janet Yellen’s words, re-establishing American unipolar power.

AARON MATÉ: And do you think that, assuming that this is the US strategy, taking your argument at face value, do you think that this strategy will succeed?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Ultimately, it’ll be self-defeating. And almost every US politician and military speech has the phrase, ‘Gee, we don’t want America to shoot itself.’ And obviously they’re all worried about it. It’s a huge gamble.

Apparently, the military was not even consulted in the sanctions that were put against Russian energy. And the military wasn’t consulted even on the plans by the State Department and the National Security…the neo-cons that are running the NATO war. And so, obviously, there’s a lot of doubts within the military, but they don’t speak up—that’s not what they do.

It’s amazing that in Europe the only opposition to this is coming from the right wing, people like Marine Le Pen. Not from the left wing. So, the left wing in Europe…I shouldn’t say the left, I should say what is now the right wing, the Social Democratic parties, the Labour Party, those are the parties that are thoroughly behind NATO. And there doesn’t seem to be a political imperative in these countries, except going along with the policy that’s going to squeeze their balance of payments and lock them into dependency on the United States.

So, what seems to be happening if there’s no fight back on the part of Europe? Obviously, if you look at the United Nations vote on whether to come out with a policy against Russia, many countries either abstained or voted against it. So, the big economic result is structural. It means there’s like an iron curtain between the white Western world (Europe and North America) and Eurasia (China, India, and Russia, and their surrounding territories). And if you have China, India and Russia—or what [Halford John] Mackinder called Eurasia, the world core—then, are you going to have the rest of Asia coming along? The question’s going to be, what happens with Taiwan, Japan, and North Korea? They’re pretty much up for grabs. And yet two days ago, the NATO leader, [Jens] Stoltenberg, said NATO has to have a presence in the South China sea, that NATO has to defend Europe in the Pacific, in China. So, you can see the conflict that’s coming there. And I think you also had one of the NATO people—a European politician, negotiator—saying this war cannot be settled economically. It cannot be settled by treaty. It can only be settled militarily.

 

It is now clear that today’s escalation of the New Cold War was planned over a year ago, with serious strategy associated with America’s plan to block Nord Stream 2 as part of its aim of blocking Western Europe (“NATO”) from seeking prosperity by mutual trade and investment with China and Russia.

As President Biden and U.S. national-security reports announced, China was seen as the major enemy. Despite China’s helpful role in enabling corporate America to drive down labor’s wage rates by de-industrializing the U.S. economy in favor of Chinese industrialization, China’s growth was recognized as posing the Ultimate Terror: prosperity through socialism. Socialist industrialization always has been perceived to be the great enemy of the rentier economy that has taken over most nations in the century since World War I ended, and especially since the 1980s. The result today is a clash of economic systems – socialist industrialization vs. neoliberal finance capitalism.

That makes the New Cold War against China an implicit opening act of what threatens to be a long-drawn-out World War III. The U.S. strategy is to pry away China’s most likely economic allies, especially Russia, Central Asia, South Asia and East Asia. The question was, where to start the carve-up and isolation.

Russia was seen as presenting the greatest opportunity to begin isolating, both from China and from the NATO Eurozone. A sequence of increasingly severe – and hopefully fatal – sanctions against Russia was drawn up to block NATO from trading with it. All that was needed to ignite the geopolitical earthquake was a casus belli.

That was arranged easily enough. The escalating New Cold War could have been launched in the Near East – over resistance to America’s grabbing of Iraqi oil fields, or against Iran and countries helping it survive economically, or in East Africa. Plans for coups, color revolutions and regime change have been drawn up for all these areas, and America’s African army has been built up especially fast over the past year or two. But Ukraine has been subjected to a U.S.-backed civil war for eight years, since the 2014 Maidan coup, and offered the chance for the greatest first victory in this confrontation against China, Russia and their allies.

So the Russian-speaking Donetsk and Luhansk regions were shelled with increasing intensity, and when Russia still refrained from responding, plans reportedly were drawn up for a great showdown to commence in late February – beginning with a blitzkrieg Western Ukrainian attack organized by U.S. advisors and armed by NATO.

Russia’s preemptive defense of the two Eastern Ukrainian provinces and its subsequent military destruction of the Ukrainian army, navy and air force over the past two months has been used as the excuse to start imposing the U.S.-designed sanctions program that we are seeing unfolding today. Western Europe has dutifully gone along whole-hog with what has become a “war of sanctions.” Instead of buying Russian gas, oil and food grains, it will buy these from the United States, along with sharply increased arms imports.

The prospective fall in the Euro/Dollar exchange rate

It therefore is appropriate to look at how this is likely to affect Western Europe’s balance of payments and hence the euro’s exchange rate against the dollar.

European trade and investment prior to the War to Impose Sanctions had promised a rising mutual prosperity between Germany, France and other NATO countries vis-à-vis Russia and China. Russia was providing abundant energy at a competitive price, and this energy was to make a quantum leap with Nord Stream 2. Europe was to earn the foreign exchange to pay for this rising import trade by a combination of exporting more industrial manufactures to Russia and capital investment in developing the Russian economy, e.g. by German auto companies and financial investment. This bilateral trade and investment is now stopped – and will remain stopped for many, many years, given NATO’s confiscation of Russia’s foreign reserves kept in euros and British sterling, and the European Russophobia being fanned by U.S. propaganda media.

In its place, NATO countries will purchase U.S. LNG – but they will need to spend billions of dollars building sufficient port capacity, which may take until perhaps 2024. (Good luck until then.) The energy shortage will sharply raise the world price of gas and oil. NATO countries also will step up their purchases of arms from the U.S. military-industrial complex. The near-panic buying will also raise the price for arms. And food prices also will rise as a result of the desperate grain shortfalls resulting from a cessation of imports from Russia and Ukraine on the one hand, and the shortage of ammonia fertilizer made from gas.

All three of these trade dynamics will strengthen the dollar vis-à-vis the euro. The question is, how will Europe balance its international payments with the United States? What does it have to export that the U.S. economy will accept as its own protectionist interests gain influence, now that global free trade is dying quickly?

The answer is, not much. So what will Europe do?

I could make a modest proposal. Now that Europe has pretty much ceased to be a politically independent state, it is beginning to look more like Panama and Liberia – “flag of convenience” offshore banking centers that are not real “states” because they don’t issue their own currency, but use the U.S. dollar. Since the eurozone has been created with monetary handcuffs limiting its ability to create money to spend into the economy beyond the limit of 3 percent of GDP, why not simply throw in the financial towel and adopt the U.S. dollar, like Ecuador, Somalia and the Turks and Caicos Islands? That would give foreign investors security against currency depreciation in their rising trade with Europe and its export financing.

For Europe, the alternative is that the dollar-cost of its foreign debt taken on to finance its widening trade deficit with the United States for oil, arms and food will explode. The cost in euros will be even greater as the currency falls against the dollar. Interest rates will rise, slowing investment and making Europe even more dependent on imports. The eurozone will turn into an economic dead zone.

For the United States, this is Dollar Hegemony on steroids – at least vis-à-vis Europe. The continent would become a somewhat larger version of Puerto Rico.

The dollar vis-à-vis Global South currencies

The full-blown version of the New Cold War triggered by the “Ukraine War” risks turning into the opening salvo of World War III, and is likely to last at least a decade, perhaps two, as the U.S. extends the fight between neoliberalism and socialism to encompass a worldwide conflict. Apart from the U.S. economic conquest of Europe, its strategists are seeking to lock in African, South American and Asian countries along similar lines to what has been planned for Europe.

The sharp rise in energy and food prices will hit food-deficit and oil-deficit economies hard – at the same time that their foreign dollar-denominated debts to bondholders and banks are falling due and the dollar’s exchange rate is rising against their own currency. Many African and Latin American countries – especially North Africa – face a choice between going hungry, cutting back their gasoline and electricity use, or borrowing the dollars to cover their dependency on U.S.-shaped trade.

 
Interview with Margaret Flowers, Clearing the Fog

Margaret Flowers: You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed, with Margaret Flowers. And now I turn to my guest, Michael Hudson. Michael is the president of the Institute for the Study of Long-term, Economic Trends, ISLET. He’s a Wall Street financial analyst and a distinguished research professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, in Kansas City. He’s also the author of numerous books and recently updated his book, “Super Imperialism: The economic strategy of American Empire.” Thank you for taking time to speak with me today, Michael.

Michael Hudson: Well, thanks for having me on Margaret.

MF: You’ve talked a lot and written a lot about dollar hegemony and what’s happening now with de-dollarization. Can you start out by explaining to my listeners what dollar hegemony is and how it has benefited the wealthy class in the United States?

MH: Dollar hegemony seems to be the position that has just ended as of this week very abruptly. Dollar hegemony was when America’s war in Vietnam and the military spending of the 1960s and 70s drove the United States off gold. The entire US balance of payments deficit was military spending, and it began to run down the gold supply. So, in 1971, President Nixon took the dollar off gold. Well, everybody thought America has been controlling the world economy since World War I by having most of the gold and by being the creditor to the world. And they thought what is going to happen now that the United States is running a deficit, instead of being a creditor.

Well, what happened was that, as I’ve described in Super Imperialism, when the United States went off gold, foreign central banks didn’t have anything to buy with their dollars that were flowing into their countries – again, mainly from the US military deficit but also from the investment takeovers. And they found that these dollars came in, the only thing they could do would be to recycle them to the United States. And what do central banks hold? They don’t buy property, usually, back then they didn’t. They buy Treasury bonds. And so, the United States would be spending dollars abroad and foreign central banks didn’t really have anything to do but send it right back to buy treasury bonds to finance not only the balance of payments deficit, but also the budget deficit that was largely military in character. So, dollar hegemony was the system where foreign central banks keep their monetary and international savings reserves in dollars and the dollars are used to finance the military bases around the world, almost eight hundred military bases surrounding them. So, basically central banks have to keep their savings by weaponizing them, by militarizing them, by lending them to the United States, to keep spending abroad.

This gave America a free ride. Imagine if you went to the grocery store and you just paid by giving them an IOU. And then the next week you want to buy more groceries and you give them another IOU. And they say, wait a minute, you have an IOU before and you say, well just use the IOU to pay the milk company that delivers, or the farmers that deliver. You can use this as your money and just you’ll as a customer, keep writing IOU’s and you never have to pay anything because your IOU is other people’s money. Well, that’s what dollar hegemony was, and it was a free ride. And it all ended last Wednesday when the United States grabbed Russia’s reserves having grabbed Afghanistan’s foreign reserves and Venezuela’s foreign reserves and those of other countries.

And all of a sudden, this means that other countries can no longer safely hold their reserves by sending their money back, depositing them in US banks or buying US Treasury Securities, or having other US investments because they could simply be grabbed as happened to Russia. So, all of a sudden this last week, you’re seeing the world economy fracture into two parts, a dollarized part and other countries that do not follow the neoliberal policies that the United States insists that its allies follow. We’re seeing the birth of a new dual World economy.

MF: Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there. So, are we seeing then other countries starting to disinvest in US dollars? You’ve written about how the treasury bonds that these central banks buy up have been basically funding our domestic economy. Are they starting to shed those bonds or what’s happening?

MH: No, they haven’t been funding our domestic economy because the Federal Reserve can create its own money to fund the domestic economy. We don’t need to borrow from foreign countries to fund our economy. We can print it ourselves. What the dollar hegemony does is fund the balance of payments deficit. It funds our spending in other economies, our spending abroad. It doesn’t help our economy, but it does help us get a free ride from other countries. The more dollars we spend in making a military base, all these military expenditures get turned over to the local Central Bank that turns and sends them back to the Federal Reserve or deposits them in US bank accounts. So, it’s the international free ride we get, not a domestic free ride.

MF: Okay. So are we seeing countries now, since this past week, starting to move their assets back to repatriate them because I know for Afghanistan, a big problem is that most of the government’s money was outside of the country and that has been used as a weapon against Afghanistan by seizing those assets and not allowing the Central Bank of Afghanistan to have them. Are we starting to see other countries repatriating their money and gold?

MH: Well, figures are only available at the end of each month, reported at the end of each month and then there’s a two-month delay, so we don’t have any idea what’s happening. But I’ve been talking to people all over the world in the last few days and the consensus is that everybody is now deciding the only place, certainly if you’re China or Russia or Kazakhstan or you’re in the Eurasian orbit, South Asia, East Asia, you realize, wait a minute, if all we have to do is something like Allende did in Chile or all we have to do is refuse to sell off our industry to American investors and they can treat us like they’ve treated Venezuela. So you can imagine that everybody’s watching this and there’s an expectation that as a result of the war in Ukraine, that’s really America’s NATO war, that this is going to create a balance-of-payments crisis throughout the whole Global South as their energy prices go up, oil prices soar, food prices are going to soar and this is going to make it impossible for them to pay their foreign debts unless they go without food and energy. Obviously, this is a political crisis. That is, the only result can be to split the world in two.

MF: You’ve been writing about this happening. You’ve written that the de-dollarization has been happening relatively quickly in recent years. So, are we now we’re now just seeing the end result of that? I mean, people said it could happen quickly. Is that exactly what we’re seeing right now?

MH: Yes, and nobody expected that it would happen this quickly. Nobody expected that it would be the United States itself that ends de-dollarization. People thought that, well, most of the sales of my book describing this super imperialism were bought by the Defense Department and they looked at it as a how -to-do-it book. And I was brought down to the White House and the Defense Department to explain to them how imperialism works.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Dollar, Natural Gas, Oil, Russia, Ukraine 
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.