Category: Jack Rasmus
Trump in Historical Perspective–From Nixon to Breitbart

 

Trump in Historical Perspective–From Nixon to Breitbart

Trump is not a new phenomenon. He is the latest, and most aggressive to date, repackaging of corporate-radical right attempts to reassert corporate hegemony and control over the global economy and US society. His antecedents are the policies and strategies of Nixon, Reagan and Gingrich’s ‘Contract for America’ in the 1990s.

Trump has of course added his ‘new elements’ to the mix. He’s integrated the Teaparty elements left over from their purge by Republican Party elites after the 2012 national elections. He’s unified some of the more aggressive elements of the finance capital elites from hedge funds, commercial real estate, private equity, securities speculators and their ilk—i.e. the Adelsons, Singers, Mercers, and Schwarzman’s. He’s captured, for the moment at least, important elements of the white industrial working class in the Midwest and South, co-opted union leaders from the building trades, and even neutralized top union leaders in some manufacturing industries with fake promises of a new manufacturing renaissance in the US. He’s firmly united the gun lobby of the NRA and the religious right now with the Breitbart propaganda machine and the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ fringe.

Trump is a political and economic reaction to the crisis in the US economy in the 21st century, which the Obama administration could not effectively address after the 2008-09 crash. Trump shares this historical role with Nixon, who was a response to another decline in US corporate-economic political power in the early 1970s; with Reagan who was a response to the economic stagnation of the late 1970s; and with the ‘Contract for America’, a program associated with a takeover of Congress by the radical right in 1994, after the US housing and savings and loan crash and recession in 1989-1992. All these antecedents find their expression in the Trump movement and the policy and program positions that are now taking form under the Trump regime.

American economic and political elites are not reluctant to either change the rules of the game in their favor whenever warranted to ensure their hegemony, targeting not only foreign capitalist competitors when their influence grows too large but also potential domestic opposition by workers and unions, minorities, and even liberals who try to step out of their role as junior partners in rule.

This restructuring of rule has occurred not only in the early 1970s, early 1980s, mid 1990s, but now as well post Obama—i.e. a regime that failed to contain both foreign competition and domestic restlessness. US elites did it before in the 20th century as well, on an even grander scale in 1944-47 and before that again during the decade of the first world war.

What’s noteworthy of the current, latest restructuring is its even greater nastiness and aggressiveness compared to earlier similar efforts to restore control.
Trump’s policies and strategies reflect new elements in the policy and politics mix. He’s rearranged the corporate-right wing base—bringing in new forces and challenging others to go along or get out. New proposals and programs reflect that base change–i.e. in immigration, trade, appeals to white working class jobs, economic nationalism in general, etc. But Trump’s fundamental policies and strategy share a clear continuity with past restructurings introduced before him by Nixon and Reagan in the early 1970s and 1980s, respectively.

NIXON-TRUMP

Like his predecessors, Trump arose in response to major foreign capitalist and domestic popular challenges to the Neoliberal corporate agenda. Nixon may have come to office on the wave of splits and disarray in the Democratic party over Vietnam in 1968, but he was clearly financed and promoted by big corporate elements convinced that a more aggressive response to global economic challenges by Europe and domestic protest movements were required. European capitalists in the late 1960s were becoming increasingly competitive with American, both in Europe and in the US. The dollar was over-valued and US exports were losing ground. And middle east elites were nationalizing their oil fields. Domestically, American workers and unions launched the second biggest strike wave in US history in 1969-71, winning contract settlements 20%-25% increases in wages and benefits. Mass social movements led by environmentalists, women, and minorities were expanding. Social legislation like job safety and health laws were being passed.

Nixon’s response to these foreign and domestic challenges was to counterattack foreign competitors by launching his ‘New Economic Program’ (NEP) in 1971 and to stop and rollback union gains. Not unlike Trump today, the primary focus of NEP was to improve the competitiveness of US corporations in world markets.

• To this effect the US dollar was devalued as the US intentionally imploded the post-1945 Bretton Woods international monetary system. Trump wants to force foreign competitors to raise the value of their currencies, in effect achieving a dollar devaluation simply by another means. The means may be different, but the goal is the same.
• Nixon imposed a 10% import tax, not unlike Trump’s proposed 20% border tax today.
• Nixon proposed subsidies and tax cuts for US auto companies and other manufacturers; Trump has been promising Ford, Carrier Corp., Boeing and others the same, in exchange for token statements they’ll reduce (not stop or reverse) offshoring of jobs.
• Nixon introduced a 7% investment tax credit for businesses without verification that he claimed would stimulate business spending in the US; Trump is going beyond, adding multi-trillion dollar tax cuts for business and investors, while saying more tax cuts for businesses and investors is needed to create jobs, even though historically there’s no empirical evidence whatsoever for the claim.
• Nixon froze union wages and then rolled back their 1969-71 20% contract gains to 5.5%; Trump attacks unions by encourage state level ‘right to work’ business legislation that will outlaw workers requiring to join unions or pay dues.
• Nixon accelerated defense spending while refusing to spend money on social programs by ‘impounding’ the funds authorized by Congress; Trump has just announced an historic record 9% increase in defense spending, while proposing to gut spending on education, health, and social programs by the same 9% amount.
• Nixon’s economic policies screwed up the US economy, leading to the worst inflation and worst recession since the great depression; So too will Trump’s.
Similarities between Nixon and Trump abound in the political realm as well.
• Nixon fought and railed against the media; so now too is Trump. The only difference was one used a telephone and the other his iphone.
• Nixon declared he had a mandate, and the ‘silent majority’ of middle America was behind him; Trump claims his ‘forgotten man’ of middle America put him in office.
• Nixon bragged construction worker ‘hard hats’ backed him, as he encouraged construction companies to form their anti-union Construction Industry Roundtable’ group; Trump welcomes construction union leaders to the White House while he supports reducing ‘prevailing wage’ for construction work.
• Nixon continually promoted ‘law and order’ and attempted to repress social movements and protests by means of the Cointelpro program FBI-CIA spying on citizens, while developing plans for rollout in his second term to intensify repression of protestors and social movements; Trump tweets police can do no wrong (whom he loves second only to his generals)and calls for new investigations of protestors, mandatory jail sentences for protestors and flagburners, and encourages governors to propose repressive legislation to limit exercise of First Amendment rights of free assembly.
• Trump’s also calling for an investigation of election voting fraud, which will serve as cover to propose even more State level limits on voters rights.
• Nixon undertook a major shift in US foreign policy, establishing relations with Communist China—a move designed to split the Soviet Union (Russia) further from China; Trump is just flipping Nixon’s strategy around, trying to establish better relations with Russia as a preliminary to intensifying attacks on China.
• Anticipating defeat in Southeast Asia, Nixon declared victory and walked away from Vietnam; Trump will do the same in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East.
• The now infamous ‘Powell Memorandum’ was written on Nixon’s watch, (within days of Nixon’s August 1971 NEP announcement)—a plan for corporate America to launch an aggressive economic and social offensive to rollback unions and progressive movements and to restore corporate hegemony over US society; an equivalent Trump ‘Bannon Memorandum’ strategic plan for the same will no doubt eventually be made public after the fact as well.
• Nixon was a crook; so will be Trump branded, but not until they release his taxes and identify payments (emoluments) received by his global businesses from foreign governments and security services. But this won’t happen until corporate America gets its historic tax cuts, deregulation, and new bilateral free trade agreements from Trump.

REAGAN-TRUMP

The parallels in economic policy and political strategy are too many and too similar to consider merely coincidental. Nixon is Trump’s policy and strategy mentor.

Similar comparisons can be made between Trump and Reagan, given a different twist here, a change in emphasis there.

• Reagan introduced a major increase in defense spending, including a 600 ship navy, more missiles and nuclear warheads, and a military front in space called ‘star wars’; Trump loves generals and promises them his record 9% increase in war spending as well, paid for by equal cuts in social programs.
• Reagan introduced a $700 billion plus tax cut for business and investors in 1981, and an even more generous investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation allowances (tax cuts); Trump promises to cut business tax rates by half, end all taxes on their offshore profits, end all inheritance taxes, keep investor offshore tax loopholes, etc.—more than $6 trillion worth– while eliminating wage earners’ tax credits.
• Reagan cut social spending by tens of billions; Trump has proposed even more tens of billions.
• Reagan promised to balance the US budget but gave us accelerating annual budget deficits, fueled by record defense spending and the tax cuts for business of more than $700 billion (on a GDP of $4 trillion), the largest cuts in US history up to that time; Trump’s budget deficit from $6 trillion in business tax cuts and war spending escalation will make Reagan’s pale in comparison.
• Reagan’s trade policy to reverse deteriorating US trade with Japan and Europe, was to directly attack Japan and Europe ( 1985 Plaza Accord and Louvre Accord trade agreements), forcing Japan-Europe to over-stimulate their economies and inflate their prices to give US companies an export cost competitive advantage; Trump’s policy simply changes the target countries to Mexico, Germany and China. Each will have its very own ‘Accord’ deal with Trump-US.
• The first free trade NAFTA deal with Canada was signed on Reagan’s watch; Trump only wants to ‘rearrange the deck chairs’ on the free trade ‘Titanic’ and replace multilateral free trade with bilateral deals he negotiates and can claim personal credit for.
• Reagan encouraged speculators to gut workers’ pension plans and he shifted the burden of social security taxation onto workers to create a ‘social security trust fund’ surplus the government could then steal; Trump promises not to propose cutting social security, but refuses to say if the Republicans in Congress attach cuts to other legislation he’ll veto it.
• Reagan deregulated banks, airlines, utilities, trucking and other businesses, which led to financial crises in the late 1980s and the 1990-91 recession; Trump has championed repeal of the even token 2010 Dodd-Frank bank regulation act, and has deregulated by executive order even more than Reagan or Nixon.
• Stock market, junk bond market, and housing markets crashed in the wake of Reagan’s financial deregulation initiatives; the so-called ‘Trump Trade’ since the election have escalated stock and junk bond valuations to bubble heights.
• Reagan bragged of his working class Republican supporters, and busted unions like the Air Traffic Controllers, while encouraging legal attacks on union and worker rights; Trump has his ‘forgotten man’, and courts union leaders in the White House while encouraging states to push ‘right to work’ laws that prohibited requiring workers to join unions or pay dues.
• Reagan replaced his chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volcker, when he wouldn’t go along with Reagan-James Baker (Treasury Secretary) plans on reducing interest rates; Trump will replace current chair, Janet Yellen, when her term as chair expires next year.

Then there are the emerging political parallels between Reagan and Trump as well:

• Even before the 1980 national election was even held, Reagan’s future staff members met secretly with foreign government of Iran to request they not release the 300 American hostages there before the 1980 election; Trump staff (i.e. General Flynn), apparently after the election, met with Russian representatives to discuss relations before confirmed by Congress. Reagan’s boys got off; Flynn didn’t. Events are similar, though outcomes different.
• Reagan attacked the liberal media. Much less aggressively perhaps than Trump today, but nevertheless the once liberal-progressive Public Broadcasting Company was chastised, under threat by the government of budget cuts or outright privatization. It responded by inviting fewer left of center guest opinions to the show. So too thereafter did mainstream television Sunday talk shows (‘Meet the Press’, etc.); Trump’s attack on the media is more aggressive, aiming not to tame the media but de-legitimize it. He has proposed to privatize the Public Broadcasting Corporation.
• Reagan staff directly violated Congressional laws by arranging drug money seizures from Latin America by the CIA to pay for Iranian arms bought for the US by Israel, that were then distributed to the ‘contras’ in Nicaragua to launch a civil war against their duly elected left government. Nixon had his ‘Watergate’, Reagan his ‘Irangate’. Next ‘gate’ will be Trump’s.
• Reagan’s offensive against the environment was notorious, including appointments of cabinet members who declared publicly their intent to dismantle the department and gutting the EPA budget; Trump’s appointments and budget slashing now follow the same path.
• If Nixon’s policy was court China-challenge Russia, Reagan’s was court Russia-isolate China; Trump’s policy is to return to a Nixonian court Russia-confront China.

The corporate-radical right alliance continued after Reagan, re-emerging once again in the 1994 so-called ‘Contract With America’, as Clinton’s Democrats lost 54 seats in the US House of Representatives to the Republican right after backtracking on notable Democrat campaign promises made in the 1992 elections. The landslide was a harbinger of things to come in a later Obama administration in 2010.

The Contract for America proposed a program that shares similar policies with the Trump administration. It was basically a plagiarism of a Reagan 1985 speech. But it provided program continuity through the 1990s, re-emerging in a more aggressive grass roots form in the Teaparty movement in 2008.

TRUMP’s ‘Breitbartification’ of NIXON-REAGAN

Trump is more than just Nixon-Reagan on steroids. Trump is taking the content and the tone of the conservative-radical right to a more aggressive level. The aggressiveness and new elements added to the radical right conservative perspective in the case of Trump are the consequence of adding a Breitbart-Steve Bannon strategic (and even tactical) overlay to the basic Nixon-Reagan programmatic foundation.

The influence of Bannon on Trump strategy, programs, policy and even tactics cannot be underestimated. This is the new key element, missing with Nixon, Reagan, and the Contract with America. The Breitbart strategy is to introduce a major dose of ‘economic nationalism’, heretofore missing in the radical right. This is designed to expand the radical right’s appeal to the traditional working class–a key step on the road to establishing a true Fascist grass roots populist movement in the future.

The appearance of opposition to free trade, protectionism, reshoring of jobs, cuts in foreign aid, direct publicity attacks on Mexico, China, Germany and even Australia are all expressions of Trump’s new element of economic nationalism.

Another element of Bannonism is to identify as ‘the enemy’ the neoliberal institutions—the media and mainstream press, the elites two parties, and even the Judiciary whenever it stands up to Trump policies.

Added to the ‘enemy’ is the ‘danger within’, which is the foreigner, the immigrant, both inside and outside the country. The immigrant is the potential ‘new jew’ in the Trump regime. This too comes from Breitbart-Bannon.

Another strategic element brought by Bannon to the Trump table is the expanded hiring and tightening of ties to various police organizations nationwide and the glorification of the police while denigrating anyone who stands up to them. No more investigations of police brutality by the federal government under Trump.

Still another Breitbart strategic element is to attack the character of democracy itself, raising issues of fraud in voting, and undermining popular understanding of what constitutes the right to assembly and free speech. That is all a prelude to legitimizing further state level limitations and restrictions on voting rights, already gaining momentum before Trump.

Even the military is not exempt from the Bannon-Breitbart strategy: high level military and defense establishment figures who haven’t wholeheartedly come over to the Trump regime are replaced with non-conformist and opportunist generals from the military establishment.

Bannon-Breitbart is the conduit to the various grass roots right wing radical elements, that will be organized and mobilized if necessary, should the old elites, media and their supporters choose to challenge Trump directly with impeachment or other ‘nuclear’ options.

Nixon and Reagan both restructured the political and economic US capitalist system. But they did so within the rules of the game within that system. Trump differs by attacking the rules of the game, and the established elites and their institutions, while offering those same elites the opportunity for great economic personal gain if they go along. Some are, and some still aren’t. The ‘showdown’ is yet to come, and not until 2018 at the earliest.

Trump should be viewed as a continuation of the corporate-radical right alliance that has been growing in the US since the 1970s. The difference today is that that alliance is firmly entrenched at all levels and in all institutions now, unlike in the past, and inside as well as outside the government. And the opposition to it today is far weaker than in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s: the Democratic Party has virtually collapsed outside Washington DC as it continues myopically on its neoliberal path with its recent selection of Perez as national chair by the Clinton-Obama-Big Donor wing (i.e. the former Democratic leadership Conference faction that captured the party back in 1992) still firmly in control of that party; the unions are but a shadow of their past selves and split, with some actually supporting Trump; the so-called liberal press has been thoroughly corporatized and shows it has no idea how to confront the challenge, feeding the Trump movement instead of weakening it; grass root minority, ethnic, and progressive movements are fragmented and isolated from each other like never before, locked into their mutually isolated identity politics protests; and what was once the ‘far left’ of socialists have virtually disappeared organizationally, condemning the growing millions of youth who express a favorable view of socialism to have to learn the lessons of political organizing from scratch all over again. But they will learn. Trump and friends will teach them.

Review of ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, by Clarity Press, October 2016

Review of ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, by Clarity Press, October 2016

February 19, 2017 by jackrasmus

As I predicted in the book reviewed below, the Greek Debt Crisis is about to emerge again (4th time). The Troika have launched a repeat of their 2016 maneuvers to force Greece into more austerity concessions. Last year it was to put to rest a possible Greek debt crisis in summer 2016, before the Brexit vote might lead to unknown Greek follow up efforts to reject the austerity. This year a repeat is in progress, with IMF, German ministers, and ECB suggesting another austerity increase is necessary–this time before French, Dutch, and Italian elections this coming April-June (and German elections thereafter).

The following accurate review of my late 2016 book, ‘Looting Greece’, just appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of New Politics journal. It’s a fair assessment of the themes and predictions of the book (notably another Greek debt crisis was inevitable). The review by Aaron Amaral is offered here below. (watch this blog in coming weeks for my follow up article on the coming next Greek debt crisis, as well as forthcoming articles on the French elections).

“By Aaron Amaral
Aaron Amaral is a New York City-based labor lawyer and socialist activist. He is a member of AKNY-Greece Solidarity Movement (New York), writes for Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Review, and is a member of the New Politics editorial board.

Reflections on Opportunity Lost
Greece and the Syriza Experience

Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges
By: Jack Rasmus
Clarity Press, 2016, 315 pp., $24.95.

Stylistically, Looting Greece departs sharply from the memoir-like quality of Helena Sheehan’s book. Yet in writing such an analytically clear, historical account of the European and Greek debt crises, Jack Rasmus also has made a valuable contribution.

The book is divided into ten chapters, the first five of which deal with the evolution of the debt crisis prior to the coming to power of the Syriza government in January 2015. Chapters six through nine offer a blow-by-blow account of the failed strategy of Syriza in its dance with the creditors. The last chapter provides a broader overview and comparative analysis of how and why the Troika prevailed. Finally, in an extended conclusion, Rasmus puts forward an argument for financial imperialism as a new and growing form of imperialism.

For Europe, the creation of the European Monetary Union (EMU) and European Central Bank (ECB) in 1999, and the Lisbon Strategy, mark the origin of the current debt crisis. The ECB embarked on a devaluation of the EMU that led to external devaluation, which boosted trade.

Simultaneously, internal devaluation occurred through labor market flexibility, that is, reducing labor security, wages, and benefit costs. Germany was the first to engage in neoliberal policies, with internal labor market changes known as Hartz reforms undertaken by a Social Democratic government; these kept German wages stagnant for nearly a decade and created a base for the production of cheap exports. With the German Bundesbank essentially dictating policy to the ECB, and cheap money and cheap goods flowing into the European periphery, the structures of the European economies were transformed. And so long as the money flowed back to the European central economies, primarily Germany, it was a virtuous circle for European capital. However, with onset of the 2008 economic crisis, this dynamic changed:

In addition to bank-provided money capital, German private foreign direct investment into Greece also rose from 1.4 billion euros in 2005 to more than 10 billion by 2008. As the money and capital to Greece was recycled back to Germany and the northern core economies in the form of exports, Germany got business profits, economic growth, and its money capital returned to it. In addition, as financial intermediaries in the recycling of money capital, both core and Greek banks got interest payments from the Greek loans and Greek bonds, Greeks got German and core export goods for a few years, but loaded up on credit and debt in the process for what appears will remain an interminable period of debt repayments well into the future (63-64).

When the banking and financial systems froze up in the aftermath of 2008, the cycle and flow of credit and money stopped between the European core and periphery. And when the peripheral (Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and other) economies started to slow down, German exports and investment began to shift overseas. This further slowed the flow of credit. As Greece had been running an internal trade deficit with Germany, the initial impact of the credit crunch in Greece was that private banks became loaded with debt, monies that had been borrowed to facilitate imports from Germany.

Rasmus does a good job of showing that this trade deficit was caused neither by higher wages to the Greek working class nor by escalation in Greek consumer spending. Rather the debt was driven up by European Union and ECB policy, in the interest of European capital.

Looting Greece then takes the reader, in exacting if painful detail, through the distinct though compounding circumstances that led to each of the three austerity memoranda.

The first memorandum provided that a total of 110 billion euros was “lent” to the Greek government, 91 percent of which went to bailing out the banks that had been left with bad loans following the 2008 crash. The initial austerity measures demanded by the Troika were premised on unrealistic economic projections of growth but caused very real cuts in wages, pensions, and social security. And the result was a shifting of the massive debt load, mainly from the private banks onto the Greek government.

Then the second memorandum, argues Rasmus, “was primarily to refinance, pay off, and reduce Greek debt held by … private investors” (99), many of whom had already taken advantage of the bond markets to ramp up interest rates paid on Greek debt. Looting Greece does a great job in explaining the ways in which both the rules adopted by the ECB and the neoliberal ideology of “the German Hypothesis” (91), which drove their adoption, played a role in the cycle of debt and austerity that led to a humanitarian catastrophe in Greece.

Chapters five through nine offer an account of the rise of Syriza and a blow-by-blow telling of their approach to the problem of debt and austerity and the process of negotiations once the party came to power in January 2015. Rasmus’ account of the “institutional taming” of the Syriza government is painful to relive, but offers strong support for his argument that in the run up to the third Greek debt restructuring deal of 2015, Syriza and Tsipras would discover there was no option to return to social democracy and social democratic policies without austerity. The choice was either to leave the euro and the neoliberal regime, or remain caretakers for that regime on the system’s periphery, condemned to some degree of perpetual indebtedness, austerity, and long-run negative economic growth (118).

The last chapter provides an explicit assessment of the relative strategies of Syriza and the Troika and the structural/institutional straitjacket within which Syriza was attempting to negotiate. It also unequivocally answers yes to the likelihood of a fourth memorandum, given the logic of indebtedness and austerity and the current strategic course of the Greek government:

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 achieve these goals (228-29).

An extended conclusion to Looting Greece is entitled “A New Financial Imperialism Emerges.” In part, Rasmus argues that the views found in Lenin, Bukharin, and Hilferding, that finance capital is subordinate to industrial capital, need to be revised. The space devoted to this argument, however, is limited. While he argues that Greece has become a state dominated by the supra-national imperialist state of the Troika, given the degree to which sections of the Greek left have historically argued for Greece as a neo-colony, or one for which national oppression is primary, the full implications are not untangled by Rasmus.

Neoliberal Free Trade–In Theory and Practice from Nixon to Trump–Video
| February 14, 2017 | 8:20 pm | Analysis, Economy, Jack Rasmus | No comments

Neoliberal Free Trade–In Theory and Practice from Nixon to Trump–Video

I was recently asked to make a presentation on Free Trade to the Henry George Society on February 9, 2017. A video recording of about 70 minutes of that presentation is now available from my website. To view,

GO TO:

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

(Click on the flashing TV icon to play)

For a limited time the presentation may also be available on Youtube at:

PRESENTATION ANNOUNCEMENT:

Dr. Rasmus explains the real facts about free trade and how it’s more about money capital flows, multinational corporations’ foreign direct investment, and job offshoring. Why free trade is a centerpiece of Neoliberal policy since Reagan. The origins of modern free trade in the 1970s-80s and its evolution From Reagan to Obama and now Trump. Free trade and the creation of US ‘twin deficits’ (trade and budget). How free trade and twin deficits enable massive corporate tax cuts and war spending by the US. Trump as free trader not protectionist. How free trade is destroying national sovereignty and representative democracy. Free trade as emerging global corporate government. Why free trade does not ‘benefit all’ and who are the losers and gainers. Rasmus debunks economists’ holy grail of ‘comparative advantage theory’ and how the economic ideology of free trade has served as the theoretical justification of free trade in practice. Free trade as economic lynchpin for neoliberal global economic policy.

An Exchange of Views on Trump: Is This An Emerging Fascism in USA?

 

An Exchange of Views on Trump: Is This An Emerging Fascism in USA?

I recent gave an interview with Global Research in Canada, on the significance of Trump and whether the US traditional elites will eventually ‘tame’ him. (The interview will be posted on my website shortly and will be announced here). A listener of the Global Research radio interview replied to me on the subjects covered in the interview, making some very good points. I replied briefly. The exchange follows below:

“Jack,

I was very interested to hear you’re recent interview on the GLOBALRESEARCHNEWSHOUR, and then was
BLOWN AWAY by the volume of serious material you have
on your websites.

As a dedicated observer of “events,” critical websites, etc, I was shocked that I had not heard your name before; and there… recalled yet another affirmation of the mainstream media’s success in isolating our eyes and ears from the wealth of wisdom which is ours to enjoy, so soon as we’re able to connect.

Listening to the interview and your latest podcast, I found myself agreeing on so many points: Trump’s rhetoric vs. real intent, (tax cuts for rich, de-regulation); pivot to China; neo-liberal-con 2.0; Japanese re-armament, etc.

I’m writing to you today because I believe you’re able to see what many otherwise-intelligent critics lately do not; namely, that Trump is NOT anti-establishment.

As you know, there’s a whole campaign underway, (by the corp-rat “liberal” media and CIA) attacking Trump with the lamest, most ridiculous charges.

“Russia did it.”

This would be laughable if it weren’t for the many serious critics who are taking this as evidence of Trump’s “opposition” to the establishment.

Some, like Michel Chussudovsky, describe this as the friction between two factions of the Elite. Chris Hedges speaks of a possible “coup.” Many take this as an opportunity to expose the thoroughly-corrupt, presstitute media and state, (“a shocking, unprecedented intrusion”, etc).

By acknowledging such charges as “attacks,” progressive observers affirm his “anti-establishment” credentials… the core of his credibility amongst intelligent conservatives.

Yet the weak, lame, luridly-absurd nature of the “attacks” on Trump could only be expected to strengthen him; for the very essence of his persona is STRENGTH – the “winner against all odds,” brushing off criticism with nary a care.

In keeping with their character, the Lamestream ‘liberal’ media and the Demoncratic Party are INTENTIONALLY flinging weak, irrelevant shit at him in order to STRENGTHEN his credibility, and then poison/hijack the real resistance.

(Chussudovsky speaks of this latter point quite succinctly… infiltrators, provocateurs, etc).

They’re infecting the widespread shock/outrage over Trump’s seizure-of-power with ridiculous, (facile) self-defeating logic. They’re turning the movement’s eyes away from those liberal/Demoncrats who laid the foundation for Trump, and who keep propping him up in various forms.

This further makes impossible any effective communication with intelligent conservatives, who then see such anti-Trump protests as NOTHING MORE than Demoncratic, liberal mainstream machinations.

Now, it’s true that some are using the term “fascist” quite loosely. Comparisons with Hitler are usually clumsy, at best. Yet lost in the muddle is the historical fact that the Nazis, (and mussolinin’s blackshirts) first represented themselves as REBELS… against “the establishment” – first against the Conservative
Parties, before moving to destroy the liberal state and the left.

While Trump today may be more thug than fascist, the trajectory of his play is certainly FASCISTIC, and the character of his cabinet is decidely so.

Trump is simply serving as a useful front-man for the nasty business going on behind the scenes. TPTB may certainly bump him off or depose him if/when it serves their interests; but for now, the “Trump as rebel “meme is strengthening his position.

On the international scale, the Trump phenom is falling in with a long line of reactionary, anti-immigrant,”strong-man” parties… on the rise in Europe, each… but a few steps away from an openly fascist declaration.

This is entirely in keeping with the decay of capitalism, and the last refuge of the Elite, (for maintaining power): the descent into barbarism, chaos as a tool for social re-organization along military lines, mass murder.

(This may also help to explain a “deal” that may have been made with Putin’s Russia, backing off in return for support of the “populist” movements in Europe, and the “pivot to Asia” instead).

We’ve entered a dangerous new phase, yes?

Yet so long as our critical community, (progressives, left, etc) continues to allow the “anti-establishment Trump” meme to linger, so long as don’t denounce such Demoncratic/liberal attacks as FALSE criticism, then we allow them to hijack the resistance and give fresh (stale) wind to Trump’s sails.

So I’m writing to you, Jack, to encourage you to get the word out wherever you can.

Trump is a con-man/front-man for a fascist advance; and the so-called “liberal” establishment, (media, CIA, Demoncrat Party) are providing a PHONY, (weak, baseless) “opposition” in order to STRENGTHEN him and poison the resistance.

We must dump the Trump and the Demoncrats at the same time, in the same breath.

We must denounce the lying “liberal” presstitute, corp-rat media as useful tools of Trump’s ascendancy, and utterly purge every ounce of Demoncratic influence from the ranks of our resistance.

Thanks for listening Jack,

keep up the great work.

Anthony”

.
Jack Rasmus reply to Anthony

“Thanks for your commentary, and for watching, listening, reading my perspective. I agree, Trump is not yet fascist (in the 1930s sense, but that sense by no means is the only form fascism may take). We should see him as a forerunner, with the potential to become one, a kind of ante-room or proto-fascist form. But first he must neutralize the liberal democratic media, which he is out to do. And he must solidify working class support with more jobs, appearance of anti-free trade, etc. And deliver on the ‘enemy within’ (jews in Germany; immigrants in the US), while appealing to nativist pride (the new nationalism) and identifying with ‘greatness’ (myths mostly) of the past (roman imperialism, the aryan ‘volk’, for US ‘founding fathers’-US Constitution), and reestablishing ‘law and order’ (crush the commies and unions in 1930s; now the central american immigrants killing our kids and muslim immmigrants planning terrorism). This is a fight between two wings of capitalism–one a liberal order that tolerated a certain amount of ‘freedom’ (i.e. minimal voting democracy, minimal civil rights, etc.) but an order that has failed to prevent the collapse of standards of living for millions–and a new virulent wing of capitalists (wheeler-dealer property developers, shadow bankers, big oil, right wing generals, and financial speculators) who want to roll the dice and take bigger risks to re-establish US total control the global economy (as in the 1950s-60s) and bring more ‘law and order’ (aka less democracy, civil rights, liberties, contain protests, check any opposition media–left, internet, NYT-Post-CNN-hollywood crowd)–that might challenge them in re-establishing that total dominance.

If Trump fails to deliver, he will ‘double-down’. And the liberal democratic traditional wing will meantime build a case for his removal in the short run, which they’ll employ if and when he fails (if he doesn’t bring himself to heel). But Trump could also take bigger risks if he feels he is failing, That could also mean more direct conflict with China which is the real target now, not the middle east or Russia. The US elite’s won’t touch him if he is about to get into a war there, or if he delivers jobs, law and order, etc. to his US popular base. In the meantime, as they develop the real ‘dossier’ on him, he will launch his own anti-media offensive against them. You can’t have fascism without taming the media and the press, without crushing popular opposition movements, and without neutralizing the potential opposition from within the more ‘liberal’ and tolerant wing of the capitalist class itself. We’ll see what happens in the coming year. The crisis will erupt no earlier than 2018 I believe.

What is ‘Financial Imperialism’? Greece and the Eurozone Periphery as Harbinger of Things to Come

 

What is ‘Financial Imperialism’? Greece and the Eurozone Periphery as Harbinger of Things to Come

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

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

The Many Meanings of Imperialism

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

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

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

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

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Wealth Extraction as Basic Imperialist Objective

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

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

Natural Resource Exploitation

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

Production Exploitation

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

Landed Property Exploitation

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

Commercial Exploitation

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

Direct Taxation Exploitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between ‘Epic Recession’ and ‘Theory of Systemic Fragility’–How Financial Cycles and Recessions Interact

 

Between ‘Epic Recession’ and ‘Theory of Systemic Fragility’–How Financial Cycles and Recessions Interact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposition 16:

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Rasmus, copyright April 2013