Category: Jack Rasmus
The Trump-Goldman Sachs Tax Cut for the Rich-print
| October 13, 2017 | 9:28 pm | Analysis, Donald Trump, Jack Rasmus | No comments

The Trump-Goldman Sachs Tax Cut for the Rich-print

The Trump-Goldman Sachs Tax Cut for the Rich-print

The following will shortly appear in various blogs and print publications. My detailed analysis of the Trump tax plan announced this past week.
Dr. Jack Rasmus
Copyright 2017

“This past week Trump introduced his long awaited Tax Cut, estimated between $2.0 to $2.4 trillion. Like so many other distortions of the truth, Trump claimed his plan would benefit the middle class, not the rich—the latest in a long litany of lies by this president.

Contradicting Trump, the independent Tax Policy Center has estimated in just the first year half of the $2 trillion plus Trump cuts will go to the wealthiest 1% households that annually earn more than $730,000. That’s an immediate income windfall to the wealthiest 1% households of 8.5%, according to the Tax Policy Center. But that’s only in the first of ten years the cuts will be in effect. It gets worse over time.

According to the Tax Policy Center, “Taxpayers in the top one percent (incomes above $730,000), would receive about 50 percent of the total tax benefit [in 2018]”. However, “By 2027, the top one percent would get 80 percent of the plan’s tax cuts while the share for middle-income households would drop to about five percent.” By the last year of the cuts, 2027, on average the wealthiest 1% household would realize $207,000, and the even wealthier 0.1% would realize an income gain of $1,022,000.

When confronted with these facts on national TV this past Sunday, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, quickly backtracked and admitted he could not guarantee every middle class family would see a tax cut. Right. That’s because 15-17 million (12%) of US taxpaying households in the US will face a tax hike in the first year of the cuts. In the tenth and last year, “one in four middle class families would end up with higher taxes”.

The US Economic ‘Troika’

The Trump Plan is actually the product of the former Goldman-Sachs investment bankers who have been in charge of Trump’s economic policy since he came into office. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, and Gary Cohn, director of Trump’s economic council, are the two authors of the Trump tax cuts. They put it together. They are also both former top executives of the global shadow bank called Goldman Sachs. Together with the other key office determining US economic policy, the US central bank, held by yet another ex-Goldman Sachs senior exec, Bill Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve bank, the Goldman-Sachs trio of Mnuchin-Cohn-Dudley constitute what might be called the ‘US Troika’ for domestic economic policy.
The Trump tax proposal is therefore really a big bankers tax plan—authored by bankers, in the interest of bankers and financial investors (like Trump himself), and overwhelmingly favoring the wealthiest 1%.

Given that economic policy under Trump is being driven by bankers, it’s not surprising that the CEO of the biggest US banks, Morgan Stanley, admitted just a few months ago that a reduction of the corporate nominal income tax rate from the current 35% nominal rate to a new nominal rate of 20% will provide the bank an immediate windfall gain of 15%-20% in earnings. And that’s just the nominal corporate rate cut proposed by Trump. With loopholes, it’s no doubt more.

The Trump-Troika’s Triple Tax-Cut Trifecta for the 1%

The Trump Troika has indicated it hopes to package up and deliver the trillions of $ to their 1% friends by Christmas 2017. Their gift will consist of three major tax cuts for the rich and their businesses. A Trump-Troika Tax Cut ‘Trifecta’ of $ trillions.

1.The Corporate Tax Cuts

The first of the three main elements is a big cut in the corporate income tax nominal rate, from current 35% to 20%. In addition, there’s the elimination of what is called the ‘territorial tax’ system, which is just a fancy phrase for ending the fiction of the foreign profits tax. Currently, US multinational corporations hoard a minimum of $2.6 trillion of profits offshore and refuse to pay US taxes on those profits. In other words, Congress and presidents for decades have refused to enforce the foreign profits tax. Now that fiction will be ended by officially eliminating taxes on their profits. They’ll only pay taxes on US profits, which will create an even greater incentive for them to shift operations and profits to their offshore subsidiaries. But there’s more for the big corporations.

The Trump plan also simultaneously proposes what it calls a ‘repatriation tax cut’. If the big tech, pharma, banks, and energy companies bring back some of their reported $2.6 trillion (an official number which is actually more than that), Congress will require they pay only a 10% tax rate—not the current 35% rate or even Trump’s proposed 20%–on that repatriated profits. No doubt the repatriation will be tied to some kind of agreement to invest the money in the US economy. That’s how they’ll sell it to the American public. But that shell game was played before, in 2004-05, under George W. Bush. The same ‘repatriation’ deal was then legislated, to return the $700 billion then stuffed away in corporate offshore subsidiaries. About half the $700 billion was brought back, but US corporations did not invest it in jobs in the US as they were supposed to. They used the repatriated profits to buy up their competitors (mergers and acquisitions), to pay out dividends to stockholders, and to buy back their stock to drive equity prices and the stock market to new heights in 2005-07. The current Trump ‘territorial tax repeal/repatriation’ boondoggle will turn out just the same as it did in 2005.

2. Non-Incorporate Business Tax Cuts

The second big business class tax windfall in the Trump-Goldman Sachs tax giveaway for the rich is the proposal to reduce the top nominal tax rate for non-corporate businesses, like proprietorships and partnerships, whose business income (aka profits) is treated like personal income. This is called the ‘pass through business income’ provision.
That’s a Trump tax cut for unincorporated businesses—like doctors, law firms, real estate investment partnerships, etc. 40% of non-corporate income is currently taxed at 39.6% (the top personal income tax rate). Trump proposes to reduce that nominal rate to 25%. So non-incorporate businesses too will get an immediately 14.6% cut, nearly matching the 15% rate cut for corporate businesses.

In the case of both corporate and non-corporate companies we’re talking about ‘nominal’ tax rate cuts of 14.6% and 15%. The ‘effective’ tax rate is what they actually pay in taxes—i.e. after loopholes, after their high paid tax lawyers take a whack at their tax bill, after they cleverly divert their income to their offshore subsidiaries and refuse to pay the foreign profits tax, and after they stuff away whatever they can in offshore tax havens in the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, and a dozen other island nations worldwide.

For example, Apple Corporation alone is hoarding $260 billion in cash at present—95% of which it keeps offshore to avoid paying Uncle Sam taxes. Big multinational companies like Apple, i.e. virtually all the big tech companies, big Pharma corporations, banks and oil companies, pay no more than 12-13% effective tax rates today—not the 35% nominal rate.

Tech, big Pharma, banks and oil companies are the big violators of offshore cash hoarding/tax avoidance schemes. Microsoft’s effective global tax rate last year was only 12%. IBM’s even less, at 10%. The giant drug company, Pfizer paid 18% and the oil company, Chevron 14%. One of the largest US companies in the world, General Electric, paid only 1%. When their nominal rate is reduced to 20% under the Trump plan, they’ll pay even less, likely in the single digits, if that.

Corporations and non-corporate businesses are the institutional conduit for passing income to their capitalist owners and managers. The Trump corporate and business taxes means companies immediately get to keep at least 15% more of their income for themselves—and more in ‘effective’ rate terms. That means they get to distribute to their executives and big stockholders and partners even more than they have in recent years. And in recent years that has been no small sum. For example, just corporate dividend payouts and stock buybacks have totaled more than $1 trillion on average for six years since 2010! A total of more than $6 trillion.

But all that’s only the business tax cut side of the Trump plan. There’s a third major tax cut component of the Trump plan—i.e. major cuts in the Personal Income Tax that accrue overwhelmingly to the richest 1% households.

3. Personal Income Tax Cuts for the 1%

There are multiple measures in the Trump-Troika proposal that benefits the 1% in the form of personal income tax reductions. Corporations and businesses get to keep more income from the business tax cuts, to pass on to their shareholders, investors, and senior managers. The latter then get to keep more of what’s passed through and distributed to them as a result of the personal income tax cuts.

The first personal tax cut boondoggle for the 1% wealthiest households is the Trump proposal to reduce the ‘tax income brackets’ from seven to three. The new brackets would be 35%, 25%, and 12%.

Whenever brackets are reduced, the wealthiest always benefit. The current top bracket, affecting households with a minimum of $418,000 annual income, would be reduced from the current 39.6% to 35%. In the next bracket, those with incomes of 191,000 to 418,000 would see their tax rate (nominal again) cut from 28% to 25%. However, the 25% third bracket would apply to annual incomes as low as $38,000. That’s the middle and working class. So households with $38,000 annual incomes would pay the same rate as those with more than $400,000. Tax cuts for the middle class, did Trump say? Only tax rate reductions beginning with those with $191,000 incomes and the real cuts for those over $418,000!

But the cuts in the nominal tax rate for the top 1% to 5% households are only part of the personal income tax windfall for the rich under the Trump plan. The really big tax cuts for the 1% come in the form of the repeal of the Inheritance Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax, as well as Trump’s allowing the ‘carried interest’ tax loophole for financial speculators like hedge fund managers and private equity CEOs to continue.

The current Inheritance Tax applies only to those with estates of $11 million or more, about 0.2 of all the taxpaying households. So its repeal is clearly a windfall for the super rich. The Alternative Minimum Tax is designed to ensure the super rich pay something, after they manipulate the tax loopholes, shelter their income offshore in tax havens, or simply engage in tax fraud by various other means. Now that’s gone as well under the Trump plan. ‘Carried interest’, a loophole, allows big finance speculators, like hedge fund managers, to avoid paying the corporate tax rate altogether, and pay a maximum of 20% on their hundreds of millions and sometimes billions of dollars of income every year.

Who Pays?

As previously noted, folks with $91,000 a year annual income get no tax rate cuts. They still will pay the 25%. And since that is what’s called ‘earned’ (wage and salary) income, they don’t get the loopholes to manipulate, like those with ‘capital incomes’ (dividends, capital gains, rents, interest, etc.). What they get is called deductions. But under the Trump plan, the deductions for state and local taxes, for state sales taxes, and apparently for excess medical costs will all disappear. The cost of that to middle and working class households is estimated at $1 trillion over the decade.

Trump claims the standard deduction will be doubled, and that will benefit the middle class. But estimates reveal that a middle class family with two kids will see their standard deduction reduced from $28,900 to $24,000. But I guess that’s just ‘Trump math’.

The general US taxpayer will also pay for the trillions of dollars that will be redistributed to the 1% and their companies. It’s estimated the federal government deficit will increase by $2.4 trillion over the decade as a result of the Trump plan. Republicans in Congress have railed over the deficits and federal debt, now at $20 trillion, for years. But they are conspicuously quiet now about adding $2.4 trillion more—so long as it the result of tax giveaways to themselves, their 1% friends, and their rich corporate election campaign contributors.

And both wings of the Corporate Party of America—aka Republicans and Democrats—never mention the economic fact that since 2001, 60% of US federal government deficits, and therefore the US debt of $20 trillion, are attributable to tax cuts by George W. Bush and Barack Obama: more than $3.5 trillion under Bush and more than $7 trillion under Obama. (The remaining $10 trillion of the US debt due to war and defense spending, price gouging by the medical industry and big pharma driving up government costs for Medicare, Medicaid, and other government insurance, bailouts of the big banks in 2008-09, and interest payments on the debt).

The 35-Year Neoliberal Tax Offensive

Tax cutting for business classes and the 1% has always been a fundamental element of Neoliberal economic policy ever since the Reagan years (and actually late Jimmy Carter period). Major tax cut legislation occurred in 1981, 1986, and 1997-98 under Clinton. George W. Bush then cut taxes by $3.4 trillion in 2001-04, 80% of which went to the wealthiest households and businesses. He cut taxes another $180 billion in 2008. Obama cut another $300 billion in his 2009 so-called recovery program. When that faltered, it was another $800 billion at year end 2010. He then extended the Bush tax cuts that were scheduled to expire in 2011 two more years. That costs $450 billion each year. And in 2013, cutting a deal with Republicans called the ‘fiscal cliff’ settlement, he extended the Bush tax cuts of the prior decade for another ten years. That cost a further $5 trillion. Now Trump wants even more. He promised $5 trillion in tax cuts during his election campaign. So the current proposal is only half of what he has in mind perhaps.

Neoliberal tax cutting in the US has also been characterized by the ‘tax cut shell game’. The shell game is played several ways.

In the course of major tax cut legislation, the elites and their lobbyists alternate their focus on cutting rates and on correcting tax loopholes. They raise rates but expand loopholes. When the public becomes aware of the outrageous loopholes, they then eliminate some loopholes but simultaneously reduce the tax rates on the rich. When the public complains of too low tax rates for the rich, they raise the rates but quietly expand the loopholes. They play this shell game so the outcome is always a net gain for corporations and the rich.

Since Reagan and the advent of neoliberal tax policy, the corporate income tax share of total US government revenues has fallen from more than 20% to single digits well below 10%. Conversely, the payroll tax has doubled from 22% to more than 40%. A similar shift within the personal income tax, steadily around 40% of government revenues, has also occurred. The wealthy pay less a share of the total and the middle class pays more. Along the way, token concessions to the very low end of working poor are introduced, to give the appearance of fairness. But the middle class, the $38 to $91,000 nearly 100 million taxpaying households foot the bill for both the 1% and the bottom. This pattern was set in motion under Reagan. His proposed $752 billion in tax cuts in 1981-82 were adjusted in 1986, but the net outcome was more for the rich and their corporations. That pattern has continued under Clinton, Bush, Obama and now proposed under Trump.

To cover the shell game, an overlay of ideology covers up what’s going on. There’s the false argument that ‘tax cuts create jobs’, for which there’s no empirical evidence. There’s the claim US multinational corporations pay a double tax compared to their competitors, when in fact they effectively pay less. There’s the lie that if corporate taxes are cut they will automatically invest the savings, when in fact what they do is invest offshore, divert the savings to stock and bond and other financial markets, boost their dividend and stock buybacks, or stuff the savings in their offshore subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes.

All these neoliberal false claims, arguments, and outright lies continue today to justify the Trump-Goldman Sachs tax plan—which is just the latest iteration of neoliberal tax policy and tax offensive in the US. The consequences of the Trump plan, if it is passed, will be the same as the previous tax giveaways to the 1% and their companies: it will redistribute income massively from the middle and working classes to the rich. Income inequality will continue to worsen dramatically. US multinational corporations will begin again to divert profits, and investment, offshore; profits brought back untaxed will result in mergers and acquisitions, dividend payouts, and financial markets investment. No real jobs will be created in the US. The wealthy will continue to pump their savings into financial asset markets, causing further bubbles in stocks, exchange traded funds, bonds, derivatives and the like. The US economy will continue to slow and become more unstable financially. And there will be another financial crash and great recession—or worse. Only this time, the vast majority of US households—i.e. the middle and working classes—will be even worse off and more unable to weather the next economic storm.

Nothing will change so long as the Corporate Party of America is allowed to continue its neoliberal tax giveaways, its tax cutting ‘shell games’, and is allowed to continue to foment its ideological cover up.”

Dr. Jack Rasmus, October 2, 2017

Dr. Rasmus is author of the just published book, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017, and the previously published ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, October 2016, and ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’, January 2016, also by Clarity press. More information is available at Claritypress.com/RasmusIII. For more analyses on the Trump and neoliberal taxation, listen to Dr. Rasmus’s, September 29, 2017 radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network at http://alternativevisions.podbean.com. He blogs at jackrasmus.com and his website is http://kyklosproductions.com.

Update on Greek Debt Crises–Why Syriza Continues to Lose
| September 24, 2017 | 3:36 pm | Greece, Jack Rasmus, Syriza | No comments

Update on Greek Debt Crises–Why Syriza Continues to Lose

Update on Greek Debt Crises–Why Syriza Continues to Lose

This past August marked the second anniversary of the Greek debt crisis and the third major piling on of debt on Greece in August 2015 by the Eurozone ‘Troika’ of European Commission, European Central Bank, and the IMF. That 2015 third debt deal added $86 billion to the previous $230 billion imposed on Greece—all to be paid by various austerity measures squeezing Greek workers, taxpayers, retirees, and small businesses demanded by the Troika and their northern Euro bankers sitting behind it.

Studies by German academic institutions showed that more than 95% of the debt repayments by Greece to the Troika have ended up in Euro bankers’ hands.

But the third debt deal of August 2015, which extends another year to August 2018, was not the end. Every time a major multi-billion dollar interest payment from Greece was due to the Troika and their bankers, still more austerity was piled on the $83 billion August 2015 deal. The Troika forced Greece to introduce even more austerity in the summer of 2016, and again still more this past summer 2017, to pay for the deal.

Last month, August 2017, Syriza and its ‘rump’ leadership—-most of its militant elements were purged by Syriza’s leader, Alex Tsipras, following the August 2015 debt deal—-hailed as some kind of significant achievement that the private banks and markets were now willing to directly lend money to Greece once again. Instead of borrowing still more from the Troika—-i.e. the bankers representatives—-Greece now was able once again to borrow and owe still more to the private bankers instead. In other words, to pile on more private debt instead of Troika debt. To impose even more austerity in order to directly pay bankers, instead of indirectly pay their Troika friends. What an achievement!

Greece’s 2012 second debt deal borrowed $154 billion from the Troika, which Greece then had to pay, according to the debt terms, to the private bankers, hedge funds and speculators’ which had accumulated over preceding years and the first debt crisis of 2010. So the Troika simply fronted for the bankers and speculators in the 2nd and 3rd debt deals. Greece paid the Troika and it paid the bankers. But now, as of 2017, Syriza and Greece can indebt themselves once again directly to the bankers by borrowing from them in public markets. As the French say, everything changes but nothing changes!

What the Greek debt deals of 2010-2015, and the never-ending austerity, show is that supra-state institutions like the Troika function as debt collectors for the bankers and shadow bankers when the latter cannot successfully collect their debt payments on their own. This is the essence of the new, 21st century form of financial imperialism. New, emerging Supra-State institutions prefer weaker national governments to indebt themselves directly to the banks and squeeze their own populace with Austerity whenever they can to make the payments. The Supra-State may not be involved. But it will step in if necessary to play debt collector if and when popular governments get control of their governments and balk at onerous debt repayments. And in free trade currency zones and banking unions, like the Eurozone, that Supra-State role is becoming increasingly institutionalized and regularized. And as it does, forms of democracy in the associated weaker nation states become increasingly atrophied and eventually disappear.

Syriza came to power in January 2015 as one of those popularly elected governments intent on adjusting the terms of debt repayment. But after a tragic, comedy of errors negotiation effort, capitulated totally to the Troika’s negotiators after only seven months.

The capitulation by Syriza’s leader, Alex Tsipras, in July 2015 was doubly tragic in that he had just put to a vote to the Greek people a week beforehand whether to reject the Troika’s deal and its deeper austerity demands. And the Greek popular vote called for a rejection of the Troika’s terms and demands. But Tsipras and Syriza rejected their own supporters, not the Troika, and capitulated totally to the Troika’s terms.

The August 2015 3rd debt deal quickly thereafter signed by Syriza-Tsipras was so onerous—-and the Tsipras-Syriza treachery so odious—-that it left opposition and popular resistance temporarily immobilized. That of course was the Troika’s strategic objective. Together with Tsipras they then pushed through their $83 billion deal, while Tsipras simultaneously purged his own Syriza party to rid it of elements refusing to accept the deal. Polls showed at that time, in August-September 2015, that 70% of the Greek people opposed the deal and considered it even worse than the former two debt agreements of 2010 and 2012. Other polls showed 79% rejected Tsipras himself.

To remain in power, Tsipras immediately called new Parliamentary elections, blocking with the pro-Troika parties and against former Syriza dissidents, in order to push through the Troika’s $83 billion deal. This week, September 20, 2017 also marks the two year anniversary of that purge and election that solidified Troika and Euro banker control over the Syriza party—-a party that once dared to challenge it and the Eurozone’s neoliberal Supra-State regime.

The meteoric rise, capitulation, collapse, and aftermath ‘right-shift’ of Syriza raises fundamental questions and lessons still today. It raises questions about strategies of governments that make a social-democratic turn in response to popular uprisings, and then attempt to confront more powerful neoliberal capitalist regimes that retain control of their currencies, their banking systems, and their budgets–such as in the case of Greece. Even in the advanced capitalist economies, the message is smaller states beware of the integration within the larger capitalist states and economies–whether by free trade, central banking integration, budget consolidations, or common currencies. Democracy will soon become the victim in turn.

The following is an excerpt from the concluding chapter of this writer’s October 2016 book, ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, Clarity Press, which questioned strategies that attempted to resurrect 20th century forms of social-democracy in the 21st century world of supra-State neoliberal regimes. It summarizes Syriza’s ‘fundamental error’—a naïve belief that elements of European social democracy would rally around it and together they—i.e. resurgent social democracy and Syriza Greece—would successfully outmaneuver the German-banker-Troika dominated Euro neoliberal regime that solidified its power with the 1999 Euro currency reforms.

Syriza and Tsipras continue to employ the same error, it appears, hoping to be rescued by other Euro regime leaders instead of relying on the Greek people. Tsipras-Syriza recently invited the new banker-president of France, Emmanuel Macron, who this past month visited Athens. Their meeting suggests Tsipras and the rump Syriza still don’t understand why they were so thoroughly defeated by the Troika in 2015, and have been consistently pushed even further into austerity and retreat over the past two years.

But perhaps it no longer matters. Polls show Tsipras and the rump Syriza trailing their political opponents by more than two to one in elections set to occur in 2018.

EXCERPT from ‘Looting Greece’, Chapter 10, ‘Why the Troika Prevailed’.

Syriza’s Fundamental Error

To have succeeded in negotiations with the Troika, Syriza would have had to achieve one or more of the following— expand the space for fiscal spending on its domestic economy, end the dominance and control of the ECB by the German coalition, restore Greece’s central bank independence from the ECB, or end the control of its own Greek private banking system from northern Europe core banks. None of these objectives could have been achieved by Syriza alone. Syriza’s grand error, however, was to think that it could rally the remnants of European social democracy to its side and support and together have achieved these goals—especially the expanding of space for domestic fiscal investment. It was Syriza’s fundamental strategic miscalculation to think it could rally this support and thereby create an effective counter to the German coalition’s dominant influence within the Troika.

Syriza went into the fight with the Troika with a Greek central bank that was the appendage, even agent, of the ECB in Greece, and with a private banking system in Greece that was primarily an extension of Euro banks outside Greece. Syriza struggled to create some space for fiscal stimulus within the Troika imposed debt deal, but it was thoroughly rebuffed by the Troika in that effort. It sought to launch a new policy throughout the Eurozone targeting fiscal investment, from which it might benefit as well. But just as the ECB was thwarted by German-core northern Euro alliance countries, the German coalition also successfully prevented efforts to promote fiscal stimulus by the EC as well. The Troika-German coalition had been, and continues to be, successful in preventing even much stronger members states in France and Italy from exceeding Eurozone fiscal stimulus rules. The dominant Troika German faction was not about to let Greece prevail and restore fiscal stimulus, therefore, when France and Italy were not. Greece was not only blocked from launching a Euro-wide fiscal investment spending policy; it was forced to introduce ‘reverse fiscal spending’ in the form of austerity.

Syriza’s insistence on remaining in the Euro system meant Grexit was never an option. That in turn meant Greece would not have an independent central bank providing liquidity when needed to its banking system. With ECB control over the currency and therefore liquidity, the ECB could reduce or turn on or off the money flow to Greece’s central bank and thus its entire private banking system at will—which it did repeatedly at key moments during the 2015 debt crisis to influence negotiations.

As one member of the Syriza party’s central committee reflected on the weeks leading up to the July 5 capitulation, “The European Central Bank had already begun to carry out its threats, closing down the country’s banking system”.

The ECB had actually begun turning the economic screws on Syriza well before the final weeks preceding the referendum: It refused to release interest on Greek bonds it owed under the old debt agreement to Greece from the outset of negotiations. It refused to accept Greek government bonds as collateral necessary for Greek central bank support of Greece’s private banks. It doled out Emergency Lending Assistance, ELA, funds in amounts just enough to keep Greek banks from imploding from March to June and constantly threatened to withhold those same ELA funds when Troika negotiators periodically demanded more austerity concessions from Greece. And it pressured Greece not to impose meaningful controls on bank withdrawals and capital flight during negotiations, even as those withdrawals and money flowing out of the country was creating a slow motion train wreck of the banking system itself. The ECB, in other words, was engineering a staged collapse of Greece’s banking system, and yet Syriza refused to implement any possible policy or strategy for preventing or impeding it.

For a more detailed analysis of the respective strategies and tactics of Syriza and the Troika in 2015 and after, and the role played by individual leaders and organizations, see the concluding chapter of Jack Rasmus, ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, Clarity Press, October 2016, pp. 231-57. Dr. Rasmus is also author of the recently published, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017.

Review of ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017, by David Baker (forthcoming Z Magazine)
| September 10, 2017 | 8:39 pm | Jack Rasmus | No comments

 

Review of ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017, by David Baker (forthcoming Z Magazine)

The following is a review of Dr. Jack Rasmus, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, August 2017, by David Baker, which will appear in the October 1, issue of Z Magazine.

“Jack Rasmus has written a series of important books about the global economy; the critical question is, important or not, why would the general reader make the effort required to read any of them? The best answer comes from Noam Chomsky who tells us that we face two existential threats, nuclear holocaust and the environmental collapse called climate change. Those threats to tens of millions of people worldwide can only be mitigated by bringing back real democracy from the shadow of the empty political theater which we currently endure; but to bring back real democracy, we need to understand what destroyed it and what destroyed it is the collection of economic engines called neoliberalism. The most reliable guide to understanding neoliberalism is Jack Rasmus; his book, Central Bankers on the Ropes, examines the fundamental role of central banks in our new, savage global economy.

The word savage would puzzle Volker, Greenspan, Bernake, Yellen et al but it accurately describes neoliberalism’s impact on the world; the lower 90% are collateral damage in the service of the 1%. But the central banks have always served rulings elites; kings and princes historically have financed their endless wars with the help of the institutional ancestors of central banks; in more modern times, central banks provide trillions of dollars in cash, in various forms, to the financial industry which in turn have been used to prop up the stock and bond markets world wide; offshore jobs, gamble in financial instruments, and pour out dividends. The central banks are in effect a conduit straight to the one percent; as fast as legal tender is electronically printed, it ends up hoarded in their accounts, where it stays.

Jack Rasmus is excellent at peeling away the layers of economic deceit to demonstrate that the rivers of cash pouring out of the central banks does not bring prosperity to the lower 90%; the idea that prosperity is even trickling down is empty ideology. The way in which he peels away the layers of deceit is by examining each of the central banks, in turn, The Fed, The Bank of Japan, the EU Central Bank, and the Central Bank of China, and determines which if any is actually achieving their publicly announced goals. These goals include inflation at 2%; interest rate stabilization; money supply stabilization; bailing out major financial institutions during economic downturns, and increasing GDP.

With the exception of China, each central bank has failed in all of their stated goals. Since their publicly stated goals are not being achieved, we have to examine their actual outcomes to determine what their real goals are and ultimately after peeling away all the layers of deception, their real goal to help the one per cent, by propping up stocks and bonds, providing capital to offshore jobs as well as gamble in financial assets.

The case of China is of particular importance because prior to the 2008 collapse, China pulled out of economic downturns relatively quickly and easily and did achieve its announced goal of significant increases in GDP. What happened after 2008, is that China changed its mix of monetary and fiscal policy, conventional banking, and strict restrictions on capital flows. But because China wanted its currency used as a major trading currency, it was pushed by the rest of the world banking community to open up its economy to capital flows and allow non conventional banking, i.e. shadow banking to operate within in its borders. This was a huge mistake; once China made this shift in policy, it could no longer pull itself out of downturns easily and it is finding it harder and harder to maintain its GDP goals. It has fallen into the chronic subsidization trap of financial institutions.

It is this paradigm shift, the chronic subsidization of financial institutions by central banks world wide that is the key finding; it is why central bankers are “on the ropes.” Historically, one of the major roles of central banks has been to bail out large financial institutions when they fail. Which is exactly what the Fed and others did during the 2008-2009 collapse. But by 2010, the financial institutions were stabilized but the trillions of liquidity injections, quantitative easing and low or no interest loans, continued. Why? Because the banking industry and the one per cent were making so much money from what became chronic subsidization, a subsidization that continues to this day. And here is the problem. The central banks know that a serious downturn is coming; if they continue to generate trillions of dollars in world wide debt through the extension of credit then the inevitable collapse becomes greater; but if they stop, they also risk a huge collapse since the rise in financial assets worldwide has nothing to do with the real economy but is propped up by the central banks.

Rasmus also documents another element of the central banks dilemma; they can’t raise interest rates. The central banks want to raise interest rates, for many reasons but one important reason is because it allows them to lower rates when the inevitable financial bust comes. If they can’t raise rates now, they can’t lower them when the bust comes; likewise, if they can’t stop the cash distributions now, they have nothing left in their monetary weapons to use when the crash comes. Over and over again, throughout history, it was the raising of interest rates by central banks that plunged the world into either recession or depression. So we are truly looking at the abyss since the coming collapse will be more violent, due to the rising oceans of debt [over $20 trillion] and the central banks have no monetary weapons left, either cash or lowering interest rates.

Which brings me to the heart of the debate, what in the austere language of economics is called Fiscal Policy versus Monetary Policy. Progressive fiscal policy is what finally dragged the US out of the Great Depression; it is what Ronald Regan sneered at as “Tax and Spend”. For a progressive, you tax based upon ability and spend based upon need; and, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the progressive tax and spend policies produced prosperity for all. If you think about it, taxes are the only way to generate capital without falling into the credit/debt trap. Not so with monetary policy.

Monetary policy is economic policy driven by the central banks who in turn serve the one percent. There are many tools that can be used in Monetary Policy, the most well known of which are electronically printing low or interest free loans as well as direct buys of stocks and bonds and raising and lowering interest rates. What Jack Rasmus provides is the insight that the one percent are not willing to wait for prosperity to “trickle up” from the lower 90%; they want instant cash now, as fast as the Fed can electronically print it. Even if it brings down the entire world economy. The lower 90% can wait, apparently forever.

Once again, China did provide an interesting contrast prior to 2008; it had a true fiscal policy, not the fiscal austerity that monetary policy demands. China made and continues to make enormous expenditures on infrastructure, on a scale close to the fiscal policies of the US during WWII. In sharp contrast, none of the other central banks or economies examined engage in this kind of fiscal policy; the case of the EU is quite extreme; they are prohibited by their enabling legislation from engaging in any fiscal policy other than fiscal austerity.

Extraordinary dangers require extraordinary measures. Jack Rasmus concludes with a proposed US constitutional amendment that would place The Fed under strict democratic controls such as nationalizing all banking, prohibiting shadow banking and casino capitalism, placing strict controls on capital flows, and making the explicit goal of The Fed the raising of household disposable incomes. There is a body of scholarly work that demonstrates that the US Constitution was designed to protect investor rights [see e.g. An Economic Interpretation of the US Constitution] so why not amend it and finally give the people control over their economy? One criticism of this proposal is that it really doesn’t go far enough; doesn’t global capitalism require global controls? Thomas Piketty in his groundbreaking work, Capital, proposes just that.

David Baker

The McLaughlin Campaign for Lt. Governor–The RPA (Richmond Progressive Alliance) Takes Progressive Politics to the State Level–audio
| September 10, 2017 | 8:36 pm | Jack Rasmus | No comments

The Gayle McLaughlin Campaign for Lt. Governor of California—Progressive Local Politics In Action – 09.08.17

To Listen to the podcast of the show go to:

http://prn.fm/alternative-visions-gayle-mclaughlin-campaign-lt-governor-california-progressive-local-politics-action-09-08-17/

Or go to: http://www.alternativevisions.podbean.com

SHOW ANNOUNCEMENT

Jack Rasmus interviews Gayle McLaughlin, founding organizer of the successful grass roots independent political action movement in Richmond, California, former mayor of Richmond and current city council member. McLaughlin explains how the Richmond Political Alliance, RPA, has been able to take over city government despite intense opposition from oil giant, Chevron Corp., that previously ran the city. How the RPA’s strategy and tactics enabled real political action, outside the two wings of the corporate party of America (aka Democrats and Republicans), to become successful. Gayle describes the progressive improvements the RPA has achieved, how it started, its organizational innovations and direct community ties and how electoral action and direct action tactics were melded successfully. McLaughlin and the RPA are now undertaking efforts to extend progressive politics to the state level with her candidacy for Lt. Governor of California. For more information about her Lt. Governor campaign, go to her website http://www.GayleforCalifornia.org . For how the RPA became a successful grass roots movement, its strategy, organization structure and tactics, see http://www.RichmondProgressiveAlliance.net. And for local San Francisco bay area residents, check out her campaign’s next meeting at 747 Lobos St., Richmond, Calif., this Sunday, September 10 at 2-5pm.

(For a full history of the RPA from origin to present, Dr. Rasmus also recommends reading RPA member, Steve Early’s book, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of An American City, Beacon Press, 2017. )

Central Banks as Engines of Income Inequality and Financial Crisis
| September 3, 2017 | 7:12 pm | Analysis, Economy, Jack Rasmus | No comments

Central Banks as Engines of Income Inequality and Financial Crisis–print

Central Banks as Engines of Income Inequality and Financial Crisis–print

My just published book, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Rope?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, Clarity Press, July 2017, is now available for immediate purchase on Amazon.com, as well as from this blog. (see book icon)

The following is an excerpt from an article by the title of this blog post, that appears in ‘Z magazine’s September 1 issue–describing how central bank policies have become a major contributor to income inequality, subsidizing and boosting capital incomes, as well as now are a primary cause of recurrent financial crises.

“CENTRAL BANKS AS ENGINES OF INCOME INEQUALITY AND FINANCIAL CRISES, Z Magazine, September 1, 2017”

“This September 2017 marks the nineth year since the last major financial crisis erupted in 2008. In that crisis investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapsed. So did the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-government mortgage agencies, that were then bailed out at the last minute by a $300 billion US Treasury money injection. Washington Mutual and Indymac banks, the brokerage Merrill Lynch, and scores of other banks and shadow banks went under, or were forced-merged by the government, or were consolidated or restructured. The finance arms of General Motors and General Electric were also bailed out, as were the auto companies themselves, to the tune of more than a hundred billion dollars. Then there was the insurance giant, AIG, that speculated in derivatives and ultimately required more than $200 billion in bailout funds. The ‘too big too fail’ mega banks—Citigroup and Bank of America—were technically bankrupt in 2008 but were bailed at a cost of more than $300 billion. And all that was only the US. Banks in Europe and elsewhere also imploded or recorded huge losses. The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, helped bail them out as well by providing more than a trillion US dollars in loans and swaps to Europe’s banking system as well.

Although the crisis at the time was deeply influenced by the crash of residential housing in the US. Few US homeowners were bailed out, unlike the big banks, insurance companies, auto companies, and other businesses. More than 14 million US homeowners were allowed to foreclose on their homes. A mere $25 billion was provided to rescue homeowners, and most of that going to bank mortgage servicing companies who were supposed to refinance their mortgages but didn’t. More than $10 trillion conservatively was provided to financial institutions, banks and shadow banks, and big corporations, and foreign banks by US policy makers in the government and at the US central bank, the Federal Reserve. $25 billion for 14 million vs. more than $10 trillion for capitalists and investors.

The Federal Reserve Bank as Bail Out Manager

A common misunderstanding is that the banking system bailouts were managed by the US Congress passing what was called the Trouble Asset Relief Program, TARP. Introduced in October 2008, TARP provided the US Treasury a $750 billion blank check with which to bail out the banks. But less than half of TARP was used, and most of that went to the auto companies and smaller banks. Only half of the $750 billion was actually spent. By early 2009 the remainder returned to the US Treasury. So Congress didn’t actually bail out the big banks—the AIG, Bank of America, Citibank, investors in the subprime mortgage bonds that collapsed, etc. The real bail out was engineered by the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, in coordination with the main European central banks—the Bank of England, European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan.

The Central banks bailed out the big banks. That has always been the primary function of central banks. That’s why they were created in the first place. It’s called the ‘lender of last resort’ function. Whenever there’s a general banking crisis, which occurs periodically in all capitalist economies, the central bank simply prints the money (electronically today) and injects it free of charge into the failing private banks, to fill up and restore the private banks massive losses that occur in the case of banking crashes. Having a central bank, with operations little understood by the general public, is a convenient way for capitalism to rescue its banks without having to have capitalist politicians—i.e. in Congress and the Executive—do so directly and more publicly. Central banks take the heat off of the politicians, who otherwise would have to raise taxes to bail out the banks—and thus incur the ire of the general public even more so than they do for not preventing the crisis.

From Bail Outs to Perpetual Bank Subsidization

But central banks since 2008 have been evolving toward a new primary function. No longer just bailing out the banks when they get in trouble. But providing a permanent regime of subsidization of the banks even when they’re not in trouble. The latter function is new, and has become a permanent feature of the capitalist global banking feature in the post-2008 period. For the US banks were fully bailed out by 2010. But the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, as well as other major central banks, have simply kept the flow of free money, often just printed money, into the banking system even after the banks were effectively bailed out. In other words, since 2010 the Federal Reserve has continued to provide free money to the banks and continued to buy up the collapsed subprime mortgage bonds from banks and individual investors. In short, it has been subsidizing the profits of the financial system for the past nine years.
With the Fed in the lead, in 2008-09 the central banks of the advanced capitalist economies simply created money—i.e. the dollars, the pounds, euros and yen—and allowed banks and investors to borrow it virtually free. That is, the Fed and other central banks simply opened electronic accounts for the banks within the central bank. Banks were then allowed to borrow that money that was ‘electronically printed’, at essentially no interest. It was free money.

But free money in the form of near zero interest was still not the full picture. The Fed and other central banks were also pro-active in providing money to the banks. The Fed and other central banks went directly to the banks, as well as other institutional and even private investors, and said: ‘we’ll also buy up your bad assets that virtually collapsed in price as a result of the 2008-09 crash. This direct buying of bad mortgage and government bonds—and in Europe and Japan, buying of corporate bonds and even company stocks—was called ‘quantitative easing’, or QE for short. And what did the central banks pay for the assets they bought from banks and investors, many of which were worth as low as 15 cents on the dollar? No one knows, because the Fed to this day has kept it secret how much they overpaid for the bad assets they bought from individual investors, bankers or corporations.

But the QE and the effectively zero interest rates continued for nine years in the US and the UK. And in 2015 it was accelerated even faster in Europe. And since 2014 faster still in Japan. And even in China after 2015, when its stock market bubble burst. Central banks of the major economies after 2008 have thus opened a ‘fire hose’ of free money to their private banks and their investors. And in the course of the past nine years, the private capitalist banking system has become addicted to the free money. They cannot ‘earn’ profits on their own any longer, it appears. They are increasingly dependent on the free money from their central bankers. This is a fundamental change in the global capitalist economic system in the past decade—a change which is having historic implications for growing income inequality worldwide in the advanced economies as well as for another inevitable global financial crisis that will almost certainly erupt within the next decade.

The $25 Trillion Banking System Bailout

In the last financial crisis of 2008-09, central banks rescued their private banks by ensuring zero interest rates at which they could borrow funds. But central banks went a step further. The Fed and others pro-actively went directly to banks and investors and bought up their collapsed subprime bonds and other securities as well. But we do know the total amount of ‘bad assets’ they bought? The total was more than $20 trillion—i.e. in free money provided at zero rates and by central banks buying the ‘bad assets’ from the banks and investors by paying them more than the collapsed market prices at the time for those mortgage bonds and securities.

In the US, the Fed officially purchased $4.5 trillion in ‘bad assets’ between 2009 and 2014. But it was actually more, perhaps as much as $7 trillion. That’s because as some of the Fed purchased bonds matured and were paid off, the Fed reinvested the money once again to maintain the $4.5 trillion. So US banks and shadow banks got free money loans at 0.1% interest rates for nine years, plus the Fed directly bought up additional securities from investors in the amount of around $7 trillion. The cumulative totals from the zero rates and QE bond buying are likely more than $10 trillion for the US alone. That’s how the US banks got ‘bailed out’, not by the US Congress and the TARP program.

But the same occurred by other central banks of the advanced economies. The 2008-09 crash was global, so the Fed was not the only central bank player is this massive money printing and bailout scam. The European Central bank, as of 2017, has bailed out Europe banks via its QE and other programs to the tune of $4.9 trillion so far. The Bank of England, another $.7 trillion. And the Bank of Japan as of mid-2017 by more than $5 trillion. The People’s Bank of China, PBOC, did not institute formal QE programs. But after 2011 it too started injecting trillions of dollar in equivalent yuan, its currency, to prevent its private sector from defaulting on bank loans, to bail out its local governments that over invested in real estate, and to stop the collapse of its stock markets in 2015-16. PBOC bailouts to date amount to around $6 trillion. And the totals today continue to rise for all, as the UK, Europe, Japan, and China continue their central bank engineered bail out binge, and in the case of Europe and Japan are actually accelerating their QE programs.

Conservatively, therefore, the total bail outs from QE and QE-like programs among the big central banks globally—US, UK, Europe, Japan, and China—amount easily to more than $25 trillion. That’s $25 trillion of money created out of thin air.

Contrary to many critiques of rising debt levels since 2009, it is not the level of debt itself that is the problem and the harbinger of the next financial crash. It is the inability to pay for the debt, the principal and interest on it, when the next recession occurs. So long as economies are growing, businesses and households and even government can ‘finance’ the debt, i.e. continue to pay the principal and interest some way. But when recessions occur, which they always do under capitalism, that ability to keep paying the debt collapses. Business revenues and profits fall, employment rises and wages decline, and government taxes collections slow. So the income with which to pay the principal and interest collapses. Unable to make payments on principal and or interest, defaults on past incurred debt occur. Prices for financial assets—stocks, bonds, etc.—then collapse even faster and further. Businesses and banks go bankrupt, and the crisis deepens, accelerating on itself in a vicious downward spiral. That’s a great recession—or worse, a bona fide economic depression.

Think of it another way: the $25 trillion plus is what the central banks transferred in bad debt from the balance sheets of the banks and private corporations to their own central bank balance sheets. In other words, the private corporate debt at the heart of the last crisis has not been removed from the globally economy. It has only been shifted, from the business sector to the central banks. And this central bank debt has nothing to do with national governments’ debt. That’s a totally additional amount of government debt, as is consumer household debt which, in the US, is more than $1 trillion each for student loans, auto loans, credit cards, and multi-trillions for mortgage loans. Ominously, moreover, in recent months defaults on student, auto and credit card debt have begun to rise again, already in the highest in the last four years in the US.

Finally, it’s not quite correct, moreover, to even say that the $25 trillion injection of money into the banking system since 2008 has successfully bailed out the banks globally. Despite the total, there are still more than $10 trillion in what are called ‘non-performing bank loans’ worldwide. Most is concentrated in Europe and Asia—both of which are likely the locus of the next global financial crisis. And that crisis is coming.

In the interim, the central banks’ free money and bank subsidization machine is generating a fundamental dual problem within the global economy. It is feeding big time the trend toward income inequality and it is helping fuel financial asset bubbles worldwide that will eventually converge and then burst, precipitating the next global financial crash.

The Fed as Engine of Income Inequality

In the US, the US central bank’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet—and the nine years of free money at 0.1% rates—have been at the heart of a massive income shift to US investors, businesses, and the wealthiest 1% households.

Where did all this $4.5 trillion (really $7 trillion), plus the virtually free borrowed money at 0.1%, go? The lie fed to the public by politicians, businesses, and the media was this massive free money injection was necessary to get the economy going again. The trillions would jump-start real investment that would create jobs, incomes, consumption and consequently economic growth or GDP. But that’s not where it went, and the US economy experienced the weakest nine year post-recession recovery on record. Little of the money injection financed real investment—i.e. in equipment, buildings, structures, machinery, inventories, etc. Instead, investors got QE bail outs and banks borrowed the free money from the Fed and then loaned it out at higher interest rates to US multinational companies who invested it abroad in emerging markets; or they loaned it to shadow bankers and foreign bankers who speculated in financial asset markets like stocks, junk bonds, derivatives, foreign exchange, etc.; or the banks borrowed and invested it themselves in financial securities markets; or they just hoarded the cash on their own bank balance sheets; or the banks borrowed the money at 0.1% from the central bank and then left it at the central bank, which paid them 0.25%, for a 0.15% profit for doing nothing.

This massive money injection, in other words, was then put to work in financial markets and multiplied several fold. Behind the 9 year bubbles in stock and bond markets (and derivatives and exchange as well) is the massive $7 to $10 trillion Federal Reserve bank money injections. And how high have the stock-bond bubbles grown? The Dow Jones US stock market has risen from a low in 2009 of 6500 to almost 22,000 today. The US Nasdaq tech-heavy market has surpassed the 2001 peak before the tech bust. The S&P 500 has also more than tripled. Business profits have also tripled. Bond market prices have similarly accelerated. The 9 year near zero rates from the Fed have enabled corporations to issue corporate bonds by more than $5 trillion in just the last five years.
So how do these financial asset market bubbles translate into historic levels of income inequality, one might ask?

The wealthiest 1%–i.e. the investor class—cash in their stocks and bonds when the bubbles escalate. The corporations that have raised $5 trillion in new bonds and seen their profits triple in value then take that massive $6 to $9 trillion cash hoard to buyback their stocks and to issue record level of dividends to their shareholders—i.e. the 1%. Nearly $6 trillion of the profits-bond raised cash was redistributed in the US alone since 2010 to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividends payouts. The 1% get $6 trillion or more and the corporations and banks sit on the rest in the form of retained cash.

Congress and Presidents play a role in the process as well. Shareholders get to keep more of the $6 trillion plus distributed to them as a result of passage of legislation that sharply cuts capital gains and dividend taxable income. Corporations gain by getting to keep more profits after-tax, to distribute via buybacks and dividends, as a result of corporate taxation cuts as well.

The Congress and President sit near the end of the distribution chain, enabling through tax cuts the 1% and shareholders to keep more of their distributed income. But it is the central bank, the Fed, which sits at the beginning of the process. It provides the initial free money that, when borrowed and reinvested in stock markets, becomes the major driver of the stock price bubble. The Fed’s free money also drives down interest rates to near zero, allowing corporations to raise $5 trillion more cash from issuing new corporate bonds. Without the Fed and the near zero rates, there would be nowhere near $5 trillion from new bonds, to distribute to shareholders as a consequence of buybacks and dividends. Furthermore, without the Fed and its direct $4.5 trillion QE program, investors would not have the historic excess money to invest in stocks and bonds (and derivatives and currencies) that drive up the stock and bond prices to bubble levels.

The Fed, the central bank, is thus the initial enabler of the process, i.e. of the accelerating stock and bond prices that transfer so much income to the 1% when the buybacks and dividend payouts kick in. The Fed, as well as other central banks, is an originating source of the runaway income inequality that has plagued the US since late 1970s decade. It is not coincidental that income inequality began to accelerate about that time, which is also the period of which the Fed, and other central banks, themselves began to provide massive money injections to bankers and investors.

Income inequality is a function of two things. One the one hand, accelerating capital incomes of the 1% as a result of buybacks and dividend payouts that generate capital gains for the 1% which constitute nearly 100% of the 1%’s total income. On the other, stagnating or declining wage incomes of non-investor households. Inequality may rise if capital gains drive capital incomes higher; or may rise if wage incomes stagnate or decline; or may rise doubly fast if capital incomes rise while wage incomes stagnate or decline. Since 2000 both forces have been in effect: capital incomes of the 1% have escalated while wage incomes for 80% of households have stagnated or declined.

Mainstream economists tend to focus on the stagnation of wage incomes, which are due to multiple causes like deunionization, rise of temp-part-time-contract employment, free trade treaties’ wage depressing effects, failure to adjust minimum wages, high wage industry offshoring, cost shifting of healthcare from employers to workers, reduction in retirement benefits, shifting tax burdens, etc.. But they engage little in explaining why capital incomes have been accelerating so fast. Perhaps it is because mainstream economists simply don’t understand financial markets and investment very well; or perhaps some do, and just don’t want to ‘go there’ and criticize runaway capital incomes.

Central Banks as Source of Financial Instability

The fire hose of money that central banks still continue to provide the capitalist banking system provides the basis for the growing financial asset bubbles that have been occurring worldwide once again since 2009.

The zero interest rate and direct QE money continue to inject massive money and liquidity into the banking systems, at a rate far faster than investors can choose to reinvest it in real investment projects that produce real things, that hire real people, and provide real wage incomes that stimulate economic growth. As previously noted, the massive money injections are not flowing through the private banks into real investment and growth. The trillions of central bank provided money is flowing out of the advanced economies and into emerging economies; or it is flowing through the banks into the financial asset markets—i.e. stock markets, bonds, derivatives, etc.—driving up asset prices and creating bubbles in those markets; or it is being distributed in stock buybacks and dividend payouts; or it is just being hoarded in the trillions of dollars, euros, etc. on balance sheets of private corporations.

As a result of Fed and other central banks’ money injections now for decades, and especially since 2008, there is a mountain of cash—virtually trillions of dollars—sitting ‘on the sidelines’. That money is looking for quick, speculative capital gains profit opportunities. That means for reinvestment short term in financial asset markets worldwide. The mountain of cash moves in and out of these global financial markets, creating and bursting bubbles as its shifts and moves. Periodically a major bubble bursts—like China’s stock market in 2015. Or a housing speculation bubble here or there. Or junk bonds or consumer debt in the US. Or the bubble in US stocks which is nearing its limit.

A new global finance capital elite has arisen in recent decades, having directly benefited from and controlling this mountain of cash. There are about 200,000 of them worldwide, mostly concentrated in the US and UK, some in Europe, but with numbers rising rapidly in Asia as well. They now control more investible assets than all the traditional commercial banks combined. Their preferred institutional investment vehicles are the global ‘shadow banking system’. Their preferred investment targets are the global system of highly liquid financial asset markets. This system of new finance capitalists, their institutions, and their preferred markets is the real definition of what is meant by the ‘financialization’ of the global economy. That financialization is generating ever more instability in the global capitalist system. But it would not exist were it not for the decades of past central bank injection of free money into the global economy—an injection which has been accelerating since 2008.

Will the Central Banks Retreat?

In 2017 a minority of policymakers in the Fed and other central banks have begun to recognize the fundamental danger to their own system from their providing free money and QE bond and stock buying money injections. The injections have not succeeded in stimulating their real economies, they have not raised prices for goods and services which continue instead to slow and stagnate, they have not sufficiently reduce unemployment (when contingent jobs are considered), and they have not raised wage incomes while bloating capital incomes instead. They have been creating financial bubbles.

So led by the Fed, the central banks of the major economies are now considering raising interest rates from the zero floor and trying to reverse their QE buying. Central bankers will meet in late August 2017 at their annual Jackson Hole, Wyoming gathering. The main topic of discussion will be raising rates and reducing their QE bloated, $15 trillion cumulative balance sheets.

But as this writer has argued, they will fail in both raising rates and selling off their balance sheets. Just as they failed in generating real economic recovery since 2009. For the banking system has become addicted and dependent therefore upon their free money injections and their firehose of central bank bond-stock buying QE programs. Should the central banks attempt to retreat, they will provoke yet another financial and economic crisis. The global capitalist system has become dependent on the permanent subsidization of the banking system by their central banks after 2008. Bail outs and lender of last resort functions by central banks have transformed into a permanent subsidization function. The global capitalist system entered a new period after 2008, changing in ways fundamentally. One of those ways is a greater dependency on the capitalist state to maintain and expand levels of profitability. One of those ways is for their central banks to continue to provide free money.

But the contradiction is that continued free money provisioning is driving further income inequality as well as fueling the next financial crash.

Jack Rasmus is the author of the just published book, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depressions’, Clarity Press, July 2017. He blogs at jackrasmus.com. For more information see http://claritypress.com/RasmusIII.html. The book is now available for order on Amazon.com.

Synopsis of ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Rope’ Book
| August 15, 2017 | 8:06 pm | Analysis, Economy, Jack Rasmus | No comments

Synopsis of ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Rope’ Book

Synopsis of ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Rope’ Book

Now publicly available for order from the publisher, Claritypress/RasmusIII.html, from public bookstores, and from this blog, the following is the synopsis of the book, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Rope?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’.

BOOK SYNOPSIS

“Central banks of the advanced economies—despite having been
designated by their respective economic and political elites as
their states’ primary economic policy institution—have failed
since 2008 to permanently stabilize the world’s banking systems or
restore pre-2008 economic growth.

Rather, central bank liquidity injections since the 1970s not only
produced the 2008-09 crisis, but they then became the central
banks’ solution to that crisis; and now promise to cause of the
next one, as a further tens of trillions of dollars of liquidity-
enabled debt has since 2008 been piled on the original trillions
before 2008.

Fed policy since 2010 has represented an historically
unprecedented subsidization of the financial system by the State,
implemented via the institutional vehicle of the central bank.
Central banks’ function of lender of last resort, originally
designed to provide excess liquidity in instances of banking
crises, has been transformed into the subsidization of the private
banking system, which today is addicted to, and increasingly
dependent upon, significant continuing infusions of liquidity by
central banks.

Taking away this central bank artificial subsidization of the private
sector, especially the financial side of the private sector, would
almost certainly lead to a financial and real collapse of the global
economy. It is thus highly unlikely that the Fed, Bank of England,
Bank of Japan or European Central Bank will be able any time
soon to retreat much from their massive liquidity injections that
have been the hallmark of central bank policy since 2008. Nor will
they find it possible to raise their interest rates much beyond
brief token adjustments. Nor exit easily from their bloated
balance sheets and extraordinary historic policies of liquidity
provisioning. That liquidity not only bailed out the banks and
financial system in 2007-09, but has been subsidizing the system
ever since in order to prevent a re-collapse.

Truly, as this book addresses in painstaking detail, central
bankers are at the end of their rope. Wrought by various growing
contradictions, central banks, as currently structured, have failed
to keep pace with the more rapid restructuring and change in the
private capitalist banking system. As a result, they have been
failing to perform effectively even their most basic functions, or
to achieve their own declared targets of price stability and
employment.

Official excuses for that failure are critiqued and rejected.
Alternative reasons are offered, including:
• the declining effects of interest rates on investment,
• the relative shift to financial asset investing at the expense
of real investment,
• failure of central banks to intervene and prevent financial
asset bubbles,
• the purposeful fragmentation of bank supervision across
regulatory institutions,
• mismanagement of the traditional money supply,
• rapid technological changes transforming the very nature of
money, credit and financial institutions and markets worldwide,
• monetary tools ineffectiveness and incorrect targets, and
• central bankers’ continuing adherence to ideological
notions of the mid-20th century that no longer hold true in the
21st—like the Taylor Rule, Phillips curves, and, in the case of ZIRP(zero interest rates) and NIRP (negative interest rates), the idea that the cost of borrowing is what first and foremost determines real investment.

Central banks must undergo fundamental restructuring and
change. That restructuring must include the democratization of
decision making and a redirecting of central banks toward a
greater direct service in the public interest. A Constitutional
Amendment is therefore proposed, along with 20 articles of
enabling legislation, addressing what reforms and restructuring
of central banks’ decision making processes, tools, targets,
functions, as well as their very mission and objectives, are
necessary if central banks are to become useful institutions for
society in general. The proposed amendment and legislation
defines a new mission and general goals for the Fed—as well as
new targets, tools and new functions—to create a new kind of
public interest Federal Reserve for the 21st century.

How Capitalist Central Banks Are Creating the Next Crisis–print
| August 13, 2017 | 8:56 pm | Analysis, Economy, Jack Rasmus | No comments

 

How Capitalist Central Banks Are Creating the Next Crisis–print

The following article appeared August 10 on Global Research, Canada, and other major blogs. The analysis is based on content from the just published book, ‘Central Bankers at the End of Their Rope?: Monetary Policy and the Coming Depression’, by Dr. Jack Rasmus, Clarity Press, July 2017

“As central bankers, finance ministers, and government policy makers head off to their annual gathering at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this August, 24-26, 2017, the key topic is whether the leading central banks in North America and Europe will continue to raise interest rates this year; another topic high on the agenda is when the three major central banks – the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of England – might begin to sell off their combined $9.8 trillion dollar balance sheets that they accumulated since the 2008-09 banking crisis.

But the more fundamental question – little discussed by central bankers and academics alike – is what are the likely effects of further immediate rate hikes and/or commencement of central banks’ balance sheet reductions? The assumption is further rate hikes and sell-offs will have little negative impact on the real economy or financial markets. But will they? The effects of hikes and sell off will prove the opposite of what they predict.

Central banks in the US and Europe were grossly in error predicting in 2008 that massive liquidity injections and zero interest rates would re-stimulate their economies and return them to pre-crisis real GDP growth rates. They are now about to repeat a similar error, as they presume that raising those rates, and retracting excess liquidity by selling off balance sheets, will not have a significant negative impact on the real economy or financial markets.

Central banks’ balance sheets have been growing for almost nine years, driven by programs of zero-bound (ZIRP) interest rates and the introduction of firehose liquidity injections enabled by quantitative easing, QE, bond and other securities purchases.

After eight years, the official consensus among central bankers and government policy makers is that the 2008 shift to unlimited central bank liquidity and zero (or below) interest rates is now over. The front page business press and media lead story is that central banks are now about to embark collectively in a new direction – raising their benchmark rates and selling off their massive, bloated balance sheets. But don’t bet on it. They may find sooner, rather than later, that rates cannot be raised much higher and that balance sheets—now totaling $9.8 trillion for the US, UK and Europe alone—may not be reduced much, if at all, without provoking a further slowdown of their still chronically weak real economic recoveries, or without precipitating a serious contraction in equity, bond and other financial asset markets.
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Globally, balance sheet totals are actually far greater than the $9.8 trillion accumulated to date by the big 3 central banks—the Fed, Bank of England, and European Central Bank. When other major central banks, like Switzerland’s, Sweden’s, Canada’s and others are added, it’s well more than $10 trillion. And then there’s the nearly $5 trillion balance sheet of the Bank of Japan and the more than $5 trillion of the People’s Bank of China. Worldwide, central banks’ balance sheets therefore exceed well over $20 trillion…with the total still growing.

It’s equally important to understand that the $20 trillion in central bank balance sheet debt essentially represents bad debt from banks, corporations, and private investors that was in effect transferred from their private balance sheets to the balance sheets of the central banks as a result of nine years of bailout via QE (quantitative easing), zero interest rate free money, and other policies of the central banks. The central banks bailed out the capitalist system in 2008-09 by shifting the bad debts to themselves. In the course of the last 9 years, the private system loaded itself up on still more debt than it had in 2007. Can the central banks, already bloated with $20 trillion bail out bankers and friends once again? That’s the question. Attempting to unload the $20 trillion to make room for the next bailout—as the central banks now propose to do—may result, however, in precipitating the next crisis. That’s the contradiction.

Attempting to sell off such massive balance sheet holdings will prove far more daunting than those central banks now anticipate. And their coordinated raising of interest rates risks precipitating another recession – given their fundamentally weak economies with chronic low bank lending, slowing investment, stagnating productivity, contracting public investment, and lack of real wage income gains. For the global economy has undergone a major structural change in recent decades that has been rendering central bank interest rate policies increasingly ineffective with regard to stimulating real investment and growth, while simultaneously contributing to further financial fragility as well.1

The US Economy is Fragile and Weakening—Not Robust and Stable

All eyes are on the US central bank, the Fed, and what signals it gives at the Jackson Hole August 24-26 gathering, and the Fed’s subsequent policy committee in September. Will it continue to raise rates? Will it announce formally a schedule for balance sheet reduction in September? If the latter, will the announcement of sell-off be so minimal and token that it will generate a mere 0.25% hike in rates by year end 2018, as some pundits predict? Or will the psychological effects on investors – who have enjoyed eight years of record equity, bond, property, and derivatives asset price and thus extraordinary capital gains – consider the announcement as the signal to “cash in” and take their money and run, given the bubble levels already attained in equities, some bond markets, and real estate? And should the Fed continue to raise interest rates at a pace of 3 to 4 a year, what will be the impact on the US real economy?

Economic potholes are beginning to appear in a number of places. Bank lending to US business has declined sharply, now growing at only 2%; consumer loans for auto, mortgages and credit cards have halved over the past year; real investment and productivity have nearly collapsed; the so-called “Trump Bump” has dissipated; government investment has contracted below 2007 levels and infrastructure spending is still but a discussion envisioned for 2019 at the earliest, if at all; and job growth has been consistently low quality, resulting in wage stagnation or worse for the vast majority of the labor force.

In this unstable environment the Fed has nonetheless has announced plans to continue to raise interest rates and to begin selling off its balance sheet. The question is just how much and when? Consensus thinking at the Fed is that rates can continue rising 3 to 4 times a year at .25 basis points a crack through 2019 without serious negative effects. And that the Fed’s balance sheet can start selling off immediately in 2017, initially at a modest rate of $10 billion a month, accelerating further at a later date.

But these were the same central bankers who believed their QE and zero bound rate programs would return the US real economy to robust growth by 2010 but didn’t; who maintained the Fed’s massive liquidity injections would attain a 2% goods and services inflation rate, which it still hasn’t; who argued that once unemployment fell to 4.5% (in the US), wage growth and consumption would return to past trends and stimulate the economy, which has yet to occur; and who argued in 2008, also incorrectly, that Fed QE programs providing bankers virtually free money would stimulate bank lending and in turn real investment and growth. The Fed’s latest predictions could prove no more correct about the consequences of further rate hikes and balance sheet reductions than they were about QE, ZIRP, and all the rest for the past eight years.

It’s Not Your Grandpa’s Global Economy

To assume that selling off that magnitude of securities – even if slowly and over extended time – will not have an appreciable impact on nominal interest rates is the kind of assumption that resulted in previous predictive errors circa 2008 since the possible effects on investors’ psychological expectations of more rate hikes and balance sheet selling are completely unknown.
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After eight years of treating symptoms and not the disease, the global financial system has become addicted to super-low rates and to continued central bank excess liquidity provisioning. What started in 2008 as a massive, somewhat coordinated central bank lender of last resort experiment – i.e. global bank bailout – has over the past eight years evolved into a more or less permanent subsidisation of the private banking and financial systems by central banks. The system has become addicted to free money. And like all addictions, the habit won’t be broken easily. That means central bankers’ plans to raise interest rates in the immediate months ahead will likely “hit a wall” well before the announced rate levels they are projecting. Plans to sell off balance sheets will almost certainly be limited to the US Fed for some time. The ECB and BOE – as well as Bank of Japan and others – will wait and see what the Fed does. The Fed will proceed at a snails pace that will represent little more than mere tokenism, and in the event of further slowing of real GDP growth, or US financial markets correcting in a major way, it will halt selling altogether. In short, there will be little Fed balance sheet reduction before the next recession, and a continued escalation of balance sheets by central banks globally. Central banks will enter the next recession with further bloated balance sheets.

After eight years of treating symptoms and not the disease, the global financial system has become addicted to super-low rates and to continued central bank excess liquidity provisioning.

The Fed is thus on the verge of another major disastrous monetary policy shift and experiment. It will be unable to raise interest rates as it has announced, by 3 to 4 times a year for the next two years. Nor will it be able to sell off much of its current balance sheet, since anything but token adjustments will accelerate rates even higher. In this writer’s opinion, the federal funds rate cannot be raised above 2%, or the 10 year Treasury yield much above 3%, without precipitating either a serious financial market correction or an abrupt slowing of real economic growth, or both.

What the eight years since the 2008-09 financial crash and great recession reveals is that the major central banks, led by the Fed, have painted themselves in a corner. The massive liquidity provided to their banking systems – engineered by zero rates and QEs – failed even to adequately bail out their banks. Today more than $10 trillion in non-performing bank loans still overhang the major economies, despite the more than $20 trillion added to their central bank balance sheets in just the past eight years.

The fundamental changes in the global economy and radical restructuring of financial, capital and labor markets have severely blunted central banks’ main monetary tool of interest rate management. Just as reduction of rates have little positive effect on stimulating real investment and economic growth, rising rates will have a greater negative impact than anticipated on investment and growth. The Fed and other central banks may soon discover this should they raise rates much faster and further or engage in more than token balance sheet reduction.
Central bankers at the Fed, the BOE and ECB will of course argue the contrary.

They will promise the economy can sustain further significant rate hikes and can commence selling its balance sheet without severe negative consequences. But these are the same people who in 2008 promised rapid and robust recovery from QE and ZIRP programs that didn’t happen. What happened was an unprecedented acceleration in financial asset markets as equity and bond prices surged for eight years, high end real estate prices rose to prior levels, derivatives boomed, gold and crypto-currencies escalated in value, and income inequality soared to record levels – all fueled by the massive $10 trillion central bank liquidity injections that drove interest rates to zero or below. And now they tell us they plan to raise those rates without serious negative effects. Anyone want to buy the Brooklyn bridge? I think they’re also trying to sell that as well.

Dr. Jack Rasmus is author of the just published book, “Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes? Monetary Policy and the Next Depression”, Clarity Press, July 2017, and the previously published “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy”, also by Clarity Press, January 2016. For more information: http://ClarityPress.com/RasmusIII.html.

He hosts the radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network. He blogs at jackrasmus.com.

Source

1. For the author’s 2016 analysis of global financial restructuring, Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy, Clarity Press, January 2016. How central banks’ policies are failing is addressed in more detail in the just published book, Central Bankers at the End of Their Ropes: Monetary Policy and the Next Depression, by Jack Rasmus, Clarity Press, July 2017.