Breakup of the Eurozone? Is Iceland’s Rejection of Financial Bullying a Model for Greece and Ireland? (Michael Hudson – Counterpunch)


From Michael Hudson at Counterpunch (a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World EconomyThis article is an excerpt from Prof. Hudson’s work in progress, “Debts that Can’t be Paid, Won’t Be,” to be published later this year.):

At issue from Europe’s vantage point – at least that of its bankers – is a broad principle: Governments should run their economies on behalf of banks and bondholders. They should bail out at least the senior creditors of banks that fail (that is, the big institutional investors and gamblers) and pay these debts and public debts by selling off enterprises, shifting the tax burden onto labor. To balance their budgets they are to cut back spending programs, lower public employment and wages, and charge more for public services, from medical care to education…

The problem is that privatization and regressive tax shifts raise the cost of living and doing business. This makes economies less competitive, and hence even less able to pay debts that are accruing interest, leading toward a larger ultimate default.

The textbook financial response of turning the economy into a set of tollbooths to sell off is predatory. Third World countries demonstrated its destructive consequences from the 1970s onward under IMF austerity planning. Europe is now repeating the same shrinkage.

Financial power is to achieve what military conquest had done in times past. Pretending to make subject economies more “competitive,” the aim is more short-run: to squeeze out enough payments so that bondholders (and indeed, voters) will not be obliged to confront the reality that many debts are unpayable except at the price of making the economy too debt-ridden, too regressively tax-ridden and too burdened with rising privatized infrastructure charges to be competitive. Spending cutbacks and a regressive tax shift dry up capital investment and productivity the long run. Such economies are run like companies taken over by debt-leveraged raiders on credit, who downsize and outsource their labor force so as to squeeze out enough revenue to pay their own creditors – who take what they can and run. The tactic attack of this financial attack is no longer overt military force as in days of yore, but something less costly because its victims submit more voluntarily…

The ECB makes governments unable to finance their spending

Introduction of the euro in 1999 explicitly prevented the ECB or any national central bank from financing government deficits. This means that no nation has a central bank able to do what those of Britain and the United States were created to do: monetize credit to domestic banks. The public sector has been made dependent on commercial banks and bondholders. This is  a bonanza for them, rolling back three centuries of attempts to create a mixed economy financially and industrially, by privatizing the credit creation monopoly as well as capital investment in public infrastructure monopolies now being pushed onto the sales block for bidders – on credit, with the winner being the one who promises to pay out the most interest to bankers to absorb the access fees (“economic rent”) that can be extracted.

Politics is being financialized while economies are being privatized. The financial strategy was to remove economic planning from democratically elected representatives, centralizing it in the hands of financial managers. What Benito Mussolini called “corporatism” in the 1920s (to give it its polite name) is now being achieved by Europe’s large banks and financial institutions – ironically (but I suppose inevitably) under the euphemism of “free market economics.”

Language is adapting itself to reflect the economic and political transformation (surrender?) now underway. Central bank “independence” was euphemized as the “hallmark of democracy,” not the victory of financial oligarchy. The task of rhetoric is to divert attention from the fact that the financial sector aims not to “free” markets, but to place control in the hands of financial managers – whose logic is to subject economies to austerity and even depression, sell off public land and enterprises, suffer emigration and reduce living standards in the face of a sharply increasing concentration of wealth at the top of the economic pyramid…

The internal contradiction (as Marxists would say) is that the existing mass of interest-bearing debt must grow, as it receives interest – which is re-invested to earn yet more interest. This is the “magic” or “miracle” of compound interest. The problem is that paying interest diverts revenue away from the circular flow between production and consumption…

The financial system intrudes into this circular flow. Income spent to pay creditors is not spent on goods and services; it is re-invested in new loans, or on stocks and bonds (assets in the form of financial and property claims on the economy), or increasingly on “gambling” (the “casino capitalism” of derivatives, the international carry trade (that is, exchange-rate and interest-rate arbitrage) and other financial claims that are independent of the production-and-consumption economy. So as financial assets accrue interest – bolstered by new credit creation on computer keyboards by commercial banks and central banks – the financial rake-off from the “real” economy increases.

The idea of paying debts regardless of social cost is backed by mathematical models as complex as those used by physicists designing atomic reactors. But they have a basic flaw simple enough for a grade-school math student to understand: They assume that economies can pay debts growing exponentially at a higher rate than production or exports are growing. Only by ignoring the ability to pay – by creating an economic surplus over break-even levels – can one believe that debt leveraging can produce enough financial “balance sheet” gains to pay banks, pension funds and other financial institutions that recycle their interest into new loans. Financial engineering is expected to usher in a postindustrial society that make money from money (or rather, from credit) via rising asset prices for real estate, stocks and bonds.

It all seems much easier than earning profit from tangible investment to produce and market goods and services, because banks can fuel asset-price inflation simply by creating credit electronically on their computer keyboards…

The problem is that credit is debt, and debt must be paid – with interest. And when an economy pays interest, less revenue is left over to spend on goods and services. So markets shrink, sales decline, profits fall, and there is less cash flow to pay interest and dividends. Unemployment spreads, rents fall, mortgage-holders default, and real estate is thrown onto the market at falling prices.

When asset prices crash, these debts remain in place. As the Bubble Economy turns into a nightmare, politicians are taking private (and often fraudulent) bank losses onto the public balance sheet. This is dividing European politics and even threatening to break up the Eurozone.

Breakup of the Eurozone?

… “Saving the euro” is a euphemism for governments saving the financial class – and with it a debt dynamic that is nearing its end regardless of what they do. The aim is for euro-debts to Germany, the Netherlands, France and financial institutions (now joined by vulture funds) are to preserve their value. (No haircuts for them). The price is to be paid by labor and industry…

Spain’s unemployment rate of 20 per cent, just a bit more than in the Baltics, with nearly twice as high an unemployment rate among recent school graduates. But as William Nassau Senior is reported to have said when told that a million Irishmen had died in the potato famine: “It is not enough!”

Read more.

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This entry was posted in Bankers' Bailout, Budget, Civil Disobedience, Debt Default/Restructuring, ECB/IMF, Economy, Emigration, EU, Euro / Sovereign Money, Geopolitics, Ideology, Independence/Nationalism, ireland and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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