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THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL MELTDOWN
HOW BANKS BROKE THE SOCIAL COMPACT PROMOTING THEIR OWN SPECIAL INTERESTS

Prof. Michael Hudson
Global Research, January 28, 2012

Banks Weren’t Meant to Be Like This. What will their future be – and what is the government’s proper financial role?

The inherently symbiotic relationship between banks and governments recently has been reversed. In medieval times, wealthy bankers lent to kings and princes as their major customers. But now it is the banks that are needy, relying on governments for funding – capped by the post-2008 bailouts to save them from going bankrupt from their bad private-sector loans and gambles.

Yet the banks now browbeat governments – not by having ready cash but by threatening to go bust and drag the economy down with them if they are not given control of public tax policy, spending and planning. The process has gone furthest in the United States. Joseph Stiglitz characterizes the Obama administration’s vast transfer of money and pubic debt to the banks as a “privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. It is a ‘partnership’ in which one partner robs the other.”2 Prof. Bill Black describes banks as becoming criminogenic and innovating “control fraud.”3 High finance has corrupted regulatory agencies, falsified account-keeping by “mark to model” trickery, and financed the campaigns of its supporters to disable public oversight. The effect is to leave banks in control of how the economy’s allocates its credit and resources.

If there is any silver lining to today’s debt crisis, it is that the present situation and trends cannot continue. So this is not only an opportunity to restructure banking; we have little choice. The urgent issue is who will control the economy: governments, or the financial sector and monopolies with which it has made an alliance.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel. Already a century ago the outlines of a productive industrial banking system were well understood. But recent bank lobbying has been remarkably successful in distracting attention away from classical analyses of how to shape the financial and tax system to best promote economic growth – by public checks on bank privileges.


How banks broke the social compact, promoting their own special interests

People used to know what banks did. Bankers took deposits and lent them out, paying short-term depositors less than they charged for risky or less liquid loans. The risk was borne by bankers, not depositors or the government. But today, bank loans are made increasingly to speculators in recklessly large amounts for quick in-and-out trading. Financial crashes have become deeper and affect a wider swath of the population as debt pyramiding has soared and credit quality plunged into the toxic category of “liars’ loans.”

The first step toward today’s mutual interdependence between high finance and government was for central banks to act as lenders of last resort to mitigate the liquidity crises that periodically resulted from the banks’ privilege of credit creation. In due course governments also provided public deposit insurance, recognizing the need to mobilize and recycle savings into capital investment as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum. In exchange for this support, they regulated banks as public utilities.

Over time, banks have sought to disable this regulatory oversight, even to the point of decriminalizing fraud. Sponsoring an ideological attack on government, they accuse public bureaucracies of “distorting” free markets (by which they mean markets free for predatory behavior). The financial sector is now making its move to concentrate planning in its own hands.

The problem is that the financial time frame is notoriously short-term and often self-destructive. And inasmuch as the banking system’s product is debt, its business plan tends to be extractive and predatory, leaving economies high-cost. This is why checks and balances are needed, along with regulatory oversight to ensure fair dealing. Dismantling public attempts to steer banking to promote economic growth (rather than merely to make bankers rich) has permitted banks to turn into something nobody anticipated. Their major customers are other financial institutions, insurance and real estate – the FIRE sector, not industrial firms. Debt leveraging by real estate and monopolies, arbitrage speculators, hedge funds and corporate raiders inflates asset prices on credit. The effect of creating “balance sheet wealth” in this way is to load down the “real” production-and-consumption economy with debt and related rentier charges, adding more to the cost of living and doing business than rising productivity reduces production costs.

Since 2008, public bailouts have taken bad loans off the banks’ balance sheet at enormous taxpayer expense – some $13 trillion in the United States, and proportionally higher in Ireland and other economies now being subjected to austerity to pay for “free market” deregulation. Bankers are holding economies hostage, threatening a monetary crash if they do not get more bailouts and nearly free central bank credit, and more mortgage and other loan guarantees for their casino-like game. The resulting “too big to fail” policy means making governments too weak to fight back.

The process that began with central bank support thus has turned into broad government guarantees against bank insolvency. The largest banks have made so many reckless loans that they have become wards of the state. Yet they have become powerful enough to capture lawmakers to act as their facilitators. The popular media and even academic economic theorists have been mobilized to pose as experts in an attempt to convince the public that financial policy is best left to technocrats – of the banks’ own choosing, as if there is no alternative policy but for governments to subsidize a financial free lunch and crown bankers as society’s rulers.

The Bubble Economy and its austerity aftermath could not have occurred without the banking sector’s success in weakening public regulation, capturing national treasuries and even disabling law enforcement. Must governments surrender to this power grab? If not, who should bear the losses run up by a financial system that has become dysfunctional? If taxpayers have to pay, their economy will become high-cost and uncompetitive – and a financial oligarchy will rule.


The present debt quandary

The endgame in times past was to write down bad debts. That meant losses for banks and investors. But today’s debt overhead is being kept in place – shifting bad loans off bank balance sheets to become public debts owed by taxpayers to save banks and their creditors from loss. Governments have given banks newly minted bonds or central bank credit in exchange for junk mortgages and bad gambles – without re-structuring the financial system to create a more stable, less debt-ridden economy. The pretense is that these bailouts will enable banks to lend enough to revive the economy by enough to pay its debts.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, bankers are taking as much bailout money as they can get, and running, using the money to buy as much tangible property and ownership rights as they can while their lobbyists keep the public subsidy faucet running.

The pretense is that debt-strapped economies can resume business-as-usual growth by borrowing their way out of debt. But a quarter of U.S. real estate already is in negative equity – worth less than the mortgages attached to it – and the property market is still shrinking, so banks are not lending except with public Federal Housing Administration guarantees to cover whatever losses they may suffer. In any event, it already is mathematically impossible to carry today’s debt overhead without imposing austerity, debt deflation and depression.

This is not how banking was supposed to evolve. If governments are to underwrite bank loans, they may as well be doing the lending in the first place – and receiving the gains. Indeed, since 2008 the over-indebted economy’s crash led governments to become the major shareholders of the largest and most troubled banks – Citibank in the United States, Anglo-Irish Bank in Ireland, and Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland. Yet rather than taking this opportunity to run these banks as public utilities and lower their charges for credit-card services – or most important of all, to stop their lending to speculators and gamblers – governments left these banks operating as part of the “casino capitalism” that has become their business plan.

There is no natural reason for matters to be like this. Relations between banks and government used to be the reverse. In 1307, France’s Philip IV (“The Fair”) set the tone by seizing the Knights Templars’ wealth, arresting them and putting many to death – not on financial charges, but on the accusation of devil-worshipping and satanic sexual practices. In 1344 the Peruzzi bank went broke, followed by the Bardi by making unsecured loans to Edward III of England and other monarchs who died or defaulted. Many subsequent banks had to suffer losses on loans gone bad to real estate or financial speculators.

By contrast, now the U.S., British, Irish and Latvian governments have taken bad bank loans onto their national balance sheets, imposing a heavy burden on taxpayers – while letting bankers cash out with immense wealth. These “cash for trash” swaps have turned the mortgage crisis and general debt collapse into a fiscal problem. Shifting the new public bailout debts onto the non-financial economy threaten to increase the cost of living and doing business. This is the result of the economy’s failure to distinguish productive from unproductive loans and debts. It helps explain why nations now are facing financial austerity and debt peonage instead of the leisure economy promised so eagerly by technological optimists a century ago.

So we are brought back to the question of what the proper role of banks should be. This issue was discussed exhaustively prior to World War I. It is even more urgent today.


How classical economists hoped to modernize banks as agents of industrial capitalism

Britain was the home of the Industrial Revolution, but there was little long-term lending to finance investment in factories or other means of production. British and Dutch merchant banking was to extend short-term credit on the basis of collateral such as real property or sales contracts for merchandise shipped (“receivables”). Buoyed by this trade financing, merchant bankers were successful enough to maintain long-established short-term funding practices. This meant that James Watt and other innovators were obliged to raise investment money from their families and friends rather than from banks.

It was the French and Germans who moved banking into the industrial stage to help their nations catch up. In France, the Saint-Simonians described the need to create an industrial credit system aimed at funding means of production. In effect, the Saint-Simonians proposed to restructure banks along lines akin to a mutual fund. A start was made with the Crédit Mobilier, founded by the Péreire Brothers in 1852. Their aim was to shift the banking and financial system away from debt financing at interest toward equity lending, taking returns in the form of dividends that would rise or decline in keeping with the debtor’s business fortunes. By giving businesses leeway to cut back dividends when sales and profits decline, profit-sharing agreements avoid the problem that interest must be paid willy-nilly. If an interest payment is missed, the debtor may be forced into bankruptcy and creditors can foreclose. It was to avoid this favoritism for creditors regardless of the debtor’s ability to pay that prompted Mohammed to ban interest under Islamic law.

Attracting reformers ranging from socialists to investment bankers, the Saint-Simonians won government backing for their policies under France’s Second Empire. Their approach inspired Marx as well as industrialists in Germany and protectionists in the United States and England. The common denominator of this broad spectrum was recognition that an efficient banking system was needed to finance the industry on which a strong national state and military power depended.


Germany develops an industrial banking system

It was above all in Germany that long-term financing found its expression in the Reichsbank and other large industrial banks as part of the “holy trinity” of banking, industry and government planning under Bismarck’s “state socialism.” German banks made a virtue of necessity. British banks “derived the greater part of their funds from the depositors,” and steered these savings and business deposits into mercantile trade financing. This forced domestic firms to finance most new investment out of their own earnings. By contrast, Germany’s “lack of capital … forced industry to turn to the banks for assistance,” noted the financial historian George Edwards. “A considerable proportion of the funds of the German banks came not from the deposits of customers but from the capital subscribed by the proprietors themselves.[4] As a result, German banks “stressed investment operations and were formed not so much for receiving deposits and granting loans but rather for supplying the investment requirements of industry.”

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Germany’s rapid victories were widely viewed as reflecting the superior efficiency of its financial system. To some observers the war appeared as a struggle between rival forms of financial organization. At issue was not only who would rule Europe, but whether the continent would have laissez faire or a more state-socialist economy.

In 1915, shortly after fighting broke out, the Christian Socialist priest-politician Friedrich Naumann published Mitteleuropa, describing how Germany recognized more than any other nation that industrial technology needed long‑term financing and government support. His book inspired Prof. H. S. Foxwell in England to draw on his arguments in two remarkable essays published in the Economic Journal in September and December 1917: “The Nature of the Industrial Struggle,” and “The Financing of Industry and Trade.” He endorsed Naumann’s contention that “the old individualistic capitalism, of what he calls the English type, is giving way to the new, more impersonal, group form; to the disciplined scientific capitalism he claims as German.”

This was necessarily a group undertaking, with the emerging tripartite integration of industry, banking and government, with finance being “undoubtedly the main cause of the success of modern German enterprise,” Foxwell concluded (p. 514). German bank staffs included industrial experts who were forging industrial policy into a science. And in America, Thorstein Veblen’s The Engineers and the Price System (1921) voiced the new industrial philosophy calling for bankers and government planners to become engineers in shaping credit markets.

Foxwell warned that British steel, automotive, capital equipment and other heavy industry was becoming obsolete largely because its bankers failed to perceive the need to promote equity investment and extend long‑term credit. They based their loan decisions not on the new production and revenue their lending might create, but simply on what collateral they could liquidate in the event of default: inventories of unsold goods, real estate, and money due on bills for goods sold and awaiting payment from customers. And rather than investing in the shares of the companies that their loans supposedly were building up, they paid out most of their earnings as dividends – and urged companies to do the same. This short time horizon forced business to remain liquid rather than having leeway to pursue long‑term strategy.

German banks, by contrast, paid out dividends (and expected such dividends from their clients) at only half the rate of British banks, choosing to retain earnings as capital reserves and invest them largely in the stocks of their industrial clients. Viewing these companies as allies rather than merely as customers from whom to make as large a profit as quickly as possible, German bank officials sat on their boards, and helped expand their business by extending loans to foreign governments on condition that their clients be named the chief suppliers in major public investments. Germany viewed the laws of history as favoring national planning to organize the financing of heavy industry, and gave its bankers a voice in formulating international diplomacy, making them “the principal instrument in the extension of her foreign trade and political power.”

A similar contrast existed in the stock market. British brokers were no more up to the task of financing manufacturing in its early stages than were its banks. The nation had taken an early lead by forming Crown corporations such as the East India Company, the Bank of England and even the South Sea Company. Despite the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, the run-up of share prices from 1715 to 1720 in these joint-stock monopolies established London’s stock market as a popular investment vehicle, for Dutch and other foreigners as well as for British investors. But the market was dominated by railroads, canals and large public utilities. Industrial firms were not major issuers of stock.

In any case, after earning their commissions on one issue, British stockbrokers were notorious for moving on to the next without much concern for what happened to the investors who had bought the earlier securities. “As soon as he has contrived to get his issue quoted at a premium and his underwriters have unloaded at a profit,” complained Foxwell, “his enterprise ceases. ‘To him,’ as the Times says, ‘a successful flotation is of more importance than a sound venture.’”

Much the same was true in the United States. Its merchant heroes were individualistic traders and political insiders often operating on the edge of the law to gain their fortunes by stock-market manipulation, railroad politicking for land giveaways, and insurance companies, mining and natural resource extraction. America’s wealth-seeking spirit found its epitome in Thomas Edison’s hit-or-miss method of invention, coupled with a high degree of litigiousness to obtain patent and monopoly rights.

In sum, neither British nor American banking or stock markets planned for the future. Their time frame was short, and they preferred rent-extracting projects to industrial innovation. Most banks favored large real estate borrowers, railroads and public utilities whose income streams easily could be forecast. Only after manufacturing companies grew fairly large did they obtain significant bank and stock market credit.

What is remarkable is that this is the tradition of banking and high finance that has emerged victorious throughout the world. The explanation is primarily the military victory of the United States, Britain and their Allies in the Great War and a generation later, in World War II.


The regression toward burdensome unproductive debts after World War I

The development of industrial credit led economists to distinguish between productive and unproductive lending. A productive loan provides borrowers with resources to trade or invest at a profit sufficient to pay back the loan and its interest charge. An unproductive loan must be paid out of income earned elsewhere. Governments must pay war loans out of tax revenues. Consumers must pay loans out of income they earn at a job – or by selling assets. These debt payments divert revenue away from being spent on consumption and investment, so the economy shrinks. This traditionally has led to crises that wipe out debts, above all those that are unproductive.

In the aftermath of World War I the economies of Europe’s victorious and defeated nations alike were dominated by postwar arms and reparations debts. These inter-governmental debts were to pay for weapons (by the Allies when the United States unexpectedly demanded that they pay for the arms they had bought before America’s entry into the war), and for the destruction of property (by the Central Powers), not new means of production. Yet to the extent that they were inter-governmental, these debts were more intractable than debts to private bankers and bondholders. Despite the fact that governments in principle are sovereign and hence can annul debts owed to private creditors, the defeated Central Power governments were in no position to do this.

And among the Allies, Britain led the capitulation to U.S. arms billing, captive to the creditor ideology that “a debt is a debt” and must be paid regardless of what this entails in practice or even whether the debt in fact can be paid. Confronted with America’s demand for payment, the Allies turned to Germany to make them whole. After taking its liquid assets and major natural resources, they insisted that it squeeze out payments by taxing its economy. No attempt was made to calculate just how Germany was to do this – or most important, how it was to convert this domestic revenue (the “budgetary problem”) into hard currency or gold. Despite the fact that banking had focused on international credit and currency transfers since the 12th century, there was a broad denial of what John Maynard Keynes identified as a foreign exchange transfer problem.

Never before had there been an obligation of such enormous magnitude. Nevertheless, all of Germany’s political parties and government agencies sought to devise ways to tax the economy to raise the sums being demanded. Taxes, however, are levied in a nation’s own currency. The only way to pay the Allies was for the Reichsbank to take this fiscal revenue and throw it onto the foreign exchange markets to obtain the sterling and other hard currency to pay. Britain, France and the other recipients then paid this money on their Inter-Ally debts to the United States.

Adam Smith pointed out that no government ever had paid down its public debt. But creditors always have been reluctant to acknowledge that debtors are unable to pay. Ever since David Ricardo’s lobbying for their perspective in Britain’s Bullion debates, creditors have found it their self-interest to promote a doctrinaire blind spot, insisting that debts of any magnitude could be paid. They resist acknowledging a distinction between raising funds domestically (by running a budget surplus) and obtaining the foreign exchange to pay foreign-currency debt. Furthermore, despite the evident fact that austerity cutbacks on consumption and investment can only be extractive, creditor-oriented economists refused to recognize that debts cannot be paid by shrinking the economy.5 Or that foreign debts and other international payments cannot be paid in domestic currency without lowering the exchange rate.

The more domestic currency Germany sought to convert, the further its exchange rate was driven down against the dollar and other gold-based currencies. This obliged Germans to pay much more for imports. The collapse of the exchange rate was the source of hyperinflation, not an increase in domestic money creation as today’s creditor-sponsored monetarist economists insist. In vain Keynes pointed to the specific structure of Germany’s balance of payments and asked creditors to specify just how many German exports they were willing to take, and to explain how domestic currency could be converted into foreign exchange without collapsing the exchange rate and causing price inflation.

Tragically, Ricardian tunnel vision won Allied government backing. Bertil Ohlin and Jacques Rueff claimed that economies receiving German payments would recycle their inflows to Germany and other debt-paying countries by buying their imports. If income adjustments did not keep exchange rates and prices stable, then Germany’s falling exchange rate would make its exports sufficiently more attractive to enable it to earn the revenue to pay.

This is the logic that the International Monetary Fund followed half a century later in insisting that Third World countries remit foreign earnings and even permit flight capital as well as pay their foreign debts. It is the neoliberal stance now demanding austerity for Greece, Ireland, Italy and other Eurozone economies.

Bank lobbyists claim that the European Central Bank will risk spurring domestic wage and price inflation of it does what central banks were founded to do: finance budget deficits. Europe’s financial institutions are given a monopoly right to perform this electronic task – and to receive interest for what a real central bank could create on its own computer keyboard.

But why it is less inflationary for commercial banks to finance budget deficits than for central banks to do this? The bank lending that has inflated a global financial bubble since the 1980s has left as its legacy a debt overhead that can no more be supported today than Germany was able to carry its reparations debt in the 1920s. Would government credit have so recklessly inflated asset prices?


How debt creation has fueled asset-price inflation since the 1980s

Banking in recent decades has not followed the productive lines that early economic futurists expected. As noted above, instead of financing tangible investment to expand production and innovation, most loans are made against collateral, with interest to be paid out of what borrowers can make elsewhere. Despite being unproductive in the classical sense, it was remunerative for debtors from 1980 until 2008 – not by investing the loan proceeds to expand economic activity, but by riding the wave of asset-price inflation. Mortgage credit enabled borrowers to bid up property prices, drawing speculators and new customers into the market in the expectation that prices would continue to rise. But hothouse credit infusions meant additional debt service, which ended up shrinking the market for goods and services.

Under normal conditions the effect would have been for rents to decline, with property prices following suit, leading to mortgage defaults. But banks postponed the collapse into negative equity by lowering their lending standards, providing enough new credit to keep on inflating prices. This averted a collapse of their speculative mortgage and stock market lending. It was inflationary – but it was inflating asset prices, not commodity prices or wages. Two decades of asset price inflation enabled speculators, homeowners and commercial investors to borrow the interest falling due and still make a capital gain.

This hope for a price gain made winning bidders willing to pay lenders all the current income – making banks the ultimate and major rentier income recipients. The process of inflating asset prices by easing credit terms and lowering the interest rate was self-feeding. But it also was self-terminating, because raising the multiple by which a given real estate rent or business income can be “capitalized” into bank loans increased the economy’s debt overhead.

Securities markets became part of this problem. Rising stock and bond prices made pension funds pay more to purchase a retirement income – so “pension fund capitalism” was coming undone. So was the industrial economy itself. Instead of raising new equity financing for companies, the stock market became a vehicle for corporate buyouts. Raiders borrowed to buy out stockholders, loading down companies with debt. The most successful looters left them bankrupt shells. And when creditors turned their economic gains from this process into political power to shift the tax burden onto wage earners and industry, this raised the cost of living and doing business – by more than technology was able to lower prices.


The EU rejects central bank money creation, leaving deficit financing to the banks

Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty forbids the ECB or other central banks to lend to government. But central banks were created specifically – to finance government deficits. The EU has rolled back history to the way things were three hundred years ago, before the Bank of England was created. Reserving the task of credit creation for commercial banks, it leaves governments without a central bank to finance the public spending needed to avert depression and widespread financial collapse.

So the plan has backfired. When “hard money” policy makers limited central bank power, they assumed that public debts would be risk-free. Obliging budget deficits to be financed by private creditors seemed to offer a bonanza: being able to collect interest for creating electronic credit that governments can create themselves. But now, European governments need credit to balance their budget or face default. So banks now want a central bank to create the money to bail them out for the bad loans they have made.

For starters, the ECB’s €489 billion in three-year loans at 1% interest gives banks a free lunch arbitrage opportunity (the “carry trade”) to buy Greek and Spanish bonds yielding a higher rate. The policy of buying government bonds in the open market – after banks first have bought them at a lower issue price – gives the banks a quick and easy trading gain.

How are these giveaways less inflationary than for central banks to directly finance budget deficits and roll over government debts? Is the aim of giving banks easy gains simply to provide them with resources to resume the Bubble Economy lending that led to today’s debt overhead in the first place?


Conclusion

Governments can create new credit electronically on their own computer keyboards as easily as commercial banks can. And unlike banks, their spending is expected to serve a broad social purpose, to be determined democratically. When commercial banks gain policy control over governments and central banks, they tend to support their own remunerative policy of creating asset-inflationary credit – leaving the clean-up costs to be solved by a post-bubble austerity. This makes the debt overhead even harder to pay – indeed, impossible.

So we are brought back to the policy issue of how public money creation to finance budget deficits differs from issuing government bonds for banks to buy. Is not the latter option a convoluted way to finance such deficits – at a needless interest charge? When governments monetize their budget deficits, they do not have to pay bondholders.

I have heard bankers argue that governments need an honest broker to decide whether a loan or public spending policy is responsible. To date their advice has not promoted productive credit. Yet they now are attempting to compensate for the financial crisis by telling debtor governments to sell off property in their public domain. This “solution” relies on the myth that privatization is more efficient and will lower the cost of basic infrastructure services. Yet it involves paying interest to the buyers of rent-extraction rights, higher executive salaries, stock options and other financial fees.

Most cost savings are achieved by shifting to non-unionized labor, and typically end up being paid to the privatizers, their bankers and bondholders, not passed on to the public. And bankers back price deregulation, enabling privatizers to raise access charges. This makes the economy higher cost and hence less competitive – just the opposite of what is promised.

Banking has moved so far away from funding industrial growth and economic development that it now benefits primarily at the economy’s expense in a predator and extractive way, not by making productive loans. This is now the great problem confronting our time. Banks now lend mainly to other financial institutions, hedge funds, corporate raiders, insurance companies and real estate, and engage in their own speculation in foreign currency, interest-rate arbitrage, and computer-driven trading programs. Industrial firms bypass the banking system by financing new capital investment out of their own retained earnings, and meet their liquidity needs by issuing their own commercial paper directly. Yet to keep the bank casino winning, global bankers now want governments not only to bail them out but to enable them to renew their failed business plan – and to keep the present debts in place so that creditors will not have to take a loss.

This wish means that society should lose, and even suffer depression. We are dealing here not only with greed, but with outright antisocial behavior and hostility.

Europe thus has reached a critical point in having to decide whose interest to put first: that of banks, or the “real” economy. History provides a wealth of examples illustrating the dangers of capitulating to bankers, and also for how to restructure banking along more productive lines. The underlying questions are clear enough:

* Have banks outlived their historical role, or can they be restructured to finance productive capital investment rather than simply inflate asset prices?

* Would a public option provide less costly and better directed credit?

* Why not promote economic recovery by writing down debts to reflect the ability to pay, rather than relinquishing more wealth to an increasingly aggressive creditor class?

Solving the Eurozone’s financial problem can be made much easier by the tax reforms that classical economists advocated to complement their financial reforms. To free consumers and employers from taxation, they proposed to levy the burden on the “unearned increment” of land and natural resource rent, monopoly rent and financial privilege. The guiding principle was that property rights in the earth, monopolies and other ownership privileges have no direct cost of production, and hence can be taxed without reducing their supply or raising their price, which is set in the market. Removing the tax deductibility for interest is the other key reform that is needed.

A rent tax holds down housing prices and those of basic infrastructure services, whose untaxed revenue tends to be capitalized into bank loans and paid out in the form of interest charges. Additionally, land and natural resource rents – along with interest – are the easiest to tax, because they are highly visible and their value is easy to assess.

Pressure to narrow existing budget deficits offers a timely opportunity to rationalize the tax systems of Greece and other PIIGS countries in which the wealthy avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The political problem blocking this classical fiscal policy is that it “interferes” with the rent-extracting free lunches that banks seek to lend against. So they act as lobbyists for untaxing real estate and monopolies (and themselves as well). Despite the financial sector’s desire to see governments remain sufficiently solvent to pay bondholders, it has subsidized an enormous public relations apparatus and academic junk economics to oppose the tax policies that can close the fiscal gap in the fairest way.

It is too early to forecast whether banks or governments will emerge victorious from today’s crisis. As economies polarize between debtors and creditors, planning is shifting out of public hands into those of bankers. The easiest way for them to keep this power is to block a true central bank or strong public sector from interfering with their monopoly of credit creation. The counter is for central banks and governments to act as they were intended to, by providing a public option for credit creation.

Notes

2 Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Obama’s Ersatz Capitalism,” The New York Times, April 1, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/opinio...glitz.html.

3 http://neweconomicperspectives.blogspot.com , and The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One (2005).

4 George W. Edwards, The Evolution of Finance Capitalism (New York: 1938):68.

5 review the literature from the 1920s, its Ricardian pedigree and subsequent revival by the IMF and other creditor institutions in Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World Economy (1992; new ed. ISLET 2010). I provide the political background in Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972; 2nd ed., London: Pluto Press, 2002),





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A WEB OF FINANCIAL FRAUD AND CRIMINALITY: AMERICA's SHADOW BANKING SYSTEM

Ellen Brown
Web of Debt
http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/robo.php

The Wall Street Journal reported on January 19th that the Obama Administration was pushing heavily to get the 50 state attorneys general to agree to a settlement with five major banks in the “robo-signing” scandal.  The scandal involves employees signing names not their own, under titles they did not really have, attesting to the veracity of documents they had not really reviewed.  Investigation reveals that it did not just happen occasionally but was an industry-wide practice, dating back to the late 1990s; and that it may have clouded the titles of millions of homes.  If the settlement is agreed to, it will let Wall Street bankers off the hook for crimes that would land the rest of us in jail – fraud, forgery, securities violations and tax evasion.

To the President’s credit, however, he seems to have shifted his position on the settlement in response to protests before his State of the Union address.  In his speech on January 24th, President Obama did not mention the settlement but announced instead that he would be creating a mortgage crisis unit to investigate wrongdoing related to real estate lending.  “This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans,” he said.

The Deeper Question Is Why

Whether massive robo-signing occurred is no longer in issue.  The question that needs to be investigated is why it was being done.  The alleged justification—that the bankers were so busy that they cut corners—hardly seems credible given the extent of the practice.

The robo-signing largely involved assignments of mortgage notes to mortgage servicers or trusts representing the investors who put up the loan money.  Assignment was necessary to give the trusts legal title to the loans.  But assignment was delayed until it was necessary to foreclose on the homes, when it had to be done through the forgery and fraud of robo-signing.  Why had it been delayed?  Why did the banks not assign the mortgages to the trusts when and as required by law?

Here is a working hypothesis, suggested by Martin Andelman: securitized mortgages are the “pawns” used in the pawn shop known as the “repo market.”  “Repos” are overnight sales and repurchases of collateral.  Yale economist Gary Gorton explains that repos are the “deposit insurance” for the shadow banking system, which is now larger than the conventional banking system and is necessary for the conventional system to operate.  The problem is that repos require “sales,” which means the mortgage notes have to remain free to be bought and sold.  The mortgages are left unendorsed so they can be used in this repo market.

The Evolution of the Shadow Banking System

Gorton observes that there is a massive and growing demand for banking by large institutional investors – pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds – which have millions of dollars to park somewhere between investments.  But FDIC insurance covers only up to $250,000.  FDIC insurance was resisted in the 1930s by bankers and government officials and was pushed through as a populist movement: the people demanded it.  What they got was enough insurance to cover the deposits of individuals and no more.  Today, the large institutional investors want similar coverage.  They want an investment that is secure, that provides them with a little interest, and that is liquid like a traditional deposit account, allowing quick withdrawal.

The shadow banking system evolved in response to this need, operating largely through the repo market. “Repos” are sales and repurchases of highly liquid collateral, typically Treasury debt or mortgage-backed securities—the securitized units into which American real estate has been ground up and packaged, sausage-fashion. The collateral is bought by a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV), which acts as the shadow bank. The investors put their money in the SPV and keep the securities, which substitute for FDIC insurance in a traditional bank. (If the SPV fails to pay up, the investors can foreclose on the securities.) To satisfy the demand for liquidity, the repos are one-day or short-term deals, continually rolled over until the money is withdrawn. This money is used by the banks for other lending, investing or speculating. Gorton writes :

This banking system (the “shadow” or “parallel” banking system)—repo based on securitization—is a genuine banking system, as large as the traditional, regulated banking system.  It is of critical importance to the economy because it is the funding basis for the traditional banking system. Without it, traditional banks will not lend and credit, which is essential for job creation, will not be created.  

All Behind the Curtain of MERS

The housing shell game was made possible because it was all concealed behind an electronic smokescreen called MERS (an acronym for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.).  MERS allowed houses to be shuffled around among multiple, rapidly changing owners while circumventing local recording laws.  Title would be recorded in the name of MERS as a place holder for the investors, and MERS would foreclose on behalf of the investors.  Payments would be received by the mortgage servicer, which was typically the bank that signed the mortgage with the homeowner.  The homeowner usually thinks the servicer is the lender, but in fact it is an amorphous group of investors.          

This all worked until courts started questioning whether MERS, which admitted that it was a mere conduit without title, had standing to foreclose.  Courts have increasingly held that it does not.

Making matters worse for the servicing banks, Fannie Mae sent out a memo telling servicers that in order to be reimbursed under HAMP—a government loan modification program designed to help at-risk homeowners meet their mortgage payments—the servicers would have to produce the paperwork showing the loan had been assigned to the trust.

The hasty solution was a rash of assignments signed by an army of “robosigners,” to be filed in the public records.  But the documents are patent forgeries, making a shambles of county title records.

Complicating all this are tax issues.  Since 1986, mortgage-backed securities have been issued to investors through SPVs called REMICs (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits).  REMICs are designed as tax shelters; but to qualify for that status, they must be “static.”  Mortgages can’t be transferred in and out once the closing date has occurred.  The REMIC Pooling and Servicing Agreement typically states that any transfer significantly after the closing date is invalid.  Yet the newly robo-signed documents, which are required to begin foreclosure proceedings, are almost always executed long after the trust’s closing date.  The whole business is quite complicated, but the bottom line is that title has been clouded not only by MERS but because the trusts purporting to foreclose do not own the properties by the terms of their own documents.

John O’Brien, Register of Deeds for the Southern Essex District of Massachusetts, calls it a “criminal enterprise.”  On January 18th, he called for a full scale criminal investigation , including a grand jury to look into the evidence.  He sent to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz over 30,000 documents recorded in the Salem Registry that he says are fraudulent.

From Lending Machines to Borrowing Machines

The bankers have engaged in what amounts to a massive fraud, not necessarily because they started out with criminal intent, but because they have been required to in order to come up with the collateral (in this case real estate) to back their loans.  It is the way our system is set up: the banks are not really creating credit and advancing it to us, counting on our future productivity to pay it off, the way they once did under the deceptive but functional façade of fractional reserve lending.  Instead, they are vacuuming up our money and lending it back to us at higher rates.  

“Instead of lending into the economy,” says British money reformer Ann Pettifor, “bankers are borrowing from the real economy.”  She wrote in the Huffington Post in October 2010:

[T]he crazy facts are these: bankers now borrow from their customers and from taxpayers. They are effectively draining funds from household bank accounts, small businesses, corporations, government Treasuries and from e.g. the Federal Reserve. They do so by charging high rates of interest and fees; by demanding early repayment of loans; by illegally foreclosing on homeowners, and by appropriating, and then speculating with trillions of dollars of taxpayer-backed resources.

Not only has the system destroyed county title records, but it is highly vulnerable to bank runs and systemic collapse.  In the shadow banking system, as in the old fractional reserve banking system, the collateral is being double-counted: it is owed to the borrowers and the depositors at the same time.  This allows for expansion of the money supply, but bank runs can occur when the borrowers and the depositors demand their money at the same time.  And unlike the conventional banking system, the shadow banking system is largely unregulated.  It doesn’t have the backup of FDIC insurance to prevent bank runs.

That is what happened in September 2008 following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, a major investment bank.  Gary Gorton explains that it was a run on the shadow banking system that caused the credit collapse that followed.  Investors rushed to pull their money out overnight.  LIBOR—the London interbank lending rate for short-term loans—shot up to around 5%.  Since the cost of borrowing the money to cover loans was too high for banks to turn a profit, lending abruptly came to a halt.

Fixing the System

The question is how to eliminate this systemic risk.  As noted by The Business Insider :

Regulate shadow banking more tightly, and you probably have to also provide government backstops. Shudder. Try to shut the thing down or restrict it and you suck credit out of the system, credit which much of the non-financial “'real” economy uses and needs.

Interestingly, countries with strong public sector banking systems largely escaped the 2008 credit crisis.  These include the BRIC countries —Brazil Russia, India, and China—which contain 40% of the global population and are today’s fastest growing economies.  They escaped because their public sector banks do not need to rely on repos and securitizations to back their loans.  The banks are owned and operated by the ultimate guarantor—the government itself.  The public sector banking model deserves further study.

Whatever the solution, a system that requires the slicing and dicing of mortgages behind an electronic smokescreen so they can be bought and sold as collateral for the pawn shop of the repo market is obviously fraught with perils and is unsustainable.  Please contact your state attorney general and urge him or her not to go through with the robo-signing settlement, which will be granting immunity for crimes that are not yet fully known.  Phone numbers are here.  The surface of this great shadowy second banking system has barely been scratched.  It needs a very thorough investigation.    

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WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE GREAT RECESSION?
So many big names are in the frame

Fred Goodwin lost his knighthood but the global financial crisis was not all his fault – and the list of those who erred is long

Larry Elliott
guardian.co.uk, Friday 3 February 2012  

GREENSPAN KING

Alan Greenspan, left, and Mervyn King confer at a meeting at the IMF's headquarters in Washington in 2005. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

In 2000 it was the $164bn (£103bn) AOL takeover of Time Warner in America. In 2007 it was the-then Sir Fred Goodwin's £49bn acquisition of ABN Amro that signalled that the markets had peaked and were about to crumble.

Every financial crisis has its totemic moment; a decision that even at the time seems to defy logic and in retrospect is seen as an act of gross stupidity. Yet it takes more than one individual banker, no matter how powerful, to make a crisis and when the historians come to chronicle the Great Recession of 2008-09 the list of guilty men and women will include more than one former knight of the realm.

Here, then, is a (far from exhaustive) list of those who might be considered most culpable – who caused, exacerbated or failed to prevent the worst downturn in the global economy since the 1930s.

Alan Greenspan

Laughably given an honorary knighthood in 2002 for his "contribution to global economic stability", Greenspan's responsibility for the crash cannot be underestimated. A fanatical believer in the self-righting qualities of financial markets, he was the bubble king who allowed the dotcom boom of the late 1990s to get out of hand and then, when plummeting share prices pushed the economy into recession, started the whole process off again, this time in the housing market. As chairman of the Federal Reserve, he cut interest rates and left them at rock-bottom levels for two years.
Cheap borrowing costs encouraged Americans to load up on debt to buy homes, even when they had no savings, no income and no job prospects.
These so-called sub-prime borrowers were the cannon fodder for the biggest boom-bust in US history. The housing collapse brought the global economy to its knees.

Sir Mervyn King

Britain was mini-me to the US in the days of grand illusion before the crash, having its debt-fuelled party where growth was concentrated in the speculative sectors of housing and finance. King became Bank of England governor in 2003, and while he has subsequently been one of the most pro-active central bankers with a refreshingly robust approach to the banks, the case against him is that he failed to "lean against the wind" during the economic upswing, leaving interest rates too low, and then waited too long when the economy was nosediving into its most severe postwar recession before cutting bank rate. Under the government's tripartite system of regulation, the Old Lady was supposed to ensure developments in the City did not pose a systemic risk to the economy. It failed in that task.

Gordon Brown

We have abolished Tory boom and bust, Brown said repeatedly in his 10 years as chancellor of the exchequer. He hadn't. His last big speech before becoming prime minister, made at the Mansion House in June 2007 just as the financial crisis was about to break, praised the bankers for their remarkable achievements and predicted "the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London". It wasn't. Brown presided over the loss of a million manufacturing jobs and an ever-widening trade deficit while cosying up to the City. He used to quip that there were two types of chancellors: those who failed and those who got out in time. He got that one right.

Bill Clinton

One Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, put a cage round Wall Street after its excesses in the 20s led to the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression. Another Democrat, Bill Clinton, gave Wall Street the cage keys.
After a fierce lobbying campaign, Clinton agreed to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which ensured a complete separation between investment and retail banks. The move heralded the coming of superbanks, huge behemoths that took in retail deposits and used them to take highly-leveraged punts in the markets. To make matters worse, Clinton beefed up Jimmy Carter's 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to force lenders to take a more relaxed approach to disadvantaged borrowers. Liberalised banks plus millions of new sub-prime customers equalled one big problem.

Eugene Fama

The economics profession failed to cover itself in glory in the run-up to 2007. Not only did economists fail to spot that financial institutions were loading themselves up with vast quantities of toxic sub-prime debt, most of them thought it was theoretically impossible for a crisis to happen.
In large part, responsibility for that lies with Fama, a Chicago University economics professor who in the 70s came up with the efficient markets hypothesis (EMH), which stated that financial markets price assets at their true worth based on all the publicly available information, encouraging the belief that the best thing to do was to pile in when prices were rising. Bubble-think, in other words.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher

Just as many trends in modern popular music can be traced back to the Beatles, so politics was shaped by the activities of Reagan and Thatcher, the Lennon and McCartney of deregulation, market forces and trickle-down economics. The changes pushed through in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced union power, making it harder for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic cake as they had in previous decades. The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary Americans and Britons, and a higher propensity to get into debt.


Hank Paulson

The US treasury secretary in 2008, Paulson was the Sir Anthony Eden of the financial crisis. He had all the necessary credentials a Republican president would consider necessary for the job – chief executive of Goldman Sachs with an MBA from Harvard. He was considered the brightest and best of his generation. Like Eden over Suez, he was faced with a monumental challenge. And he blew it. Paulson's big mistake was to put Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae into conservatorship, wiping out the stakes of those who had invested $20bn in the two government-backed mortgage lenders over the previous 12 months. Unsurprisingly, there was no great rush among private investors to rescue Lehman Brothers when it ran into trouble the following week, and when the US treasury allowed the investment bank to go bust every financial institution in the world was seen as at risk.

Fred the Shred destroyed a bank; Paulson triggered the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Kathleen Corbet

No rogues' gallery of the crisis would be complete without a representative of the credit rating agencies. These were the bodies that took fees from the banks while giving the top AAA rating to collateralised debt obligations, the hugely complex financial instruments that bundled together the toxic sub-prime mortgages with the sound home loans. Corbet was CEO of Standard & Poor's, the biggest of the rating agencies, and she left her post in a "long-planned" move in August 2007 just as the financial markets were shutting down. The justification for the top-notch ratings was that the poor-quality loans would be lost in the mix, but when the crisis broke the reality was more like a food scare, in which supermarkets know there are a few dodgy ready-made meals on their shelves but must bin the lot as they are not sure which ones they are.

Phil Gramm

"Some people look at sub-prime lending and see evil," said this senator in a debate on Capitol Hill in 2001. "I look at sub-prime lending and I see the American dream in action." Gramm, who thinks Wall Street a "holy place", was the main cheerleader in Congress for financial deregulation, putting pressure on the Clinton administration to ease restrictions – not that it needed much persuading. The fact that he had been the biggest recipient of campaign fund donations from commercial banks and in the top five for donations from Wall Street from 1989 to 2002 was, of course, entirely coincidental.

The bankers

Was it Fred Goodwin at RBS or Adam Applegarth at Northern Rock – the first UK high street bank to suffer a full-scale run on its branches since the 1860s? Was it Dick Fuld, the man in charge at Lehman Brothers when it went belly-up? Jimmy Cayne, who spent the first month of the crisis playing bridge rather than running Bear Stearns? Or Stan O'Neal, whose attempts to rid Merrill Lynch of its fuddy-duddy image saddled the bank with $8bn of bad debts? How about Andy Hornby, the whizzkid running HBOS? Or perhaps the man chosen by Gordon Brown to be HBOS's white knight – Sir Victor Blank, chairman of Lloyds?
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A DOOMSDAY VIEW OF 2012


Introduction: The economic, political and social outlook for 2012 is profoundly negative. The almost universal consensus, even among mainstream orthodox economists is pessimistic regarding the world economy. Though even here their predictions understate the scope and depth of the crises.

There are powerful reasons to believe that beginning in 2012, we are heading toward a steeper decline than what was experienced during the Great Recession of 2008 – 2009. With fewer resources, greater debt and increasing popular resistance to shouldering the burden of saving the capitalist system, the governments cannot bail out the system. Many of the major institutions and economic relations which were cause and consequence of world and regional capitalist expansion over the past three decades are in the process of disintegration and disarray. The previous economic engines of global expansion, the US and the European Union, have exhausted their potentialities and are in open decline. The new centers of growth, China, India, Brazil, Russia, which for a ‘short decade’ provided a new impetus for world growth have run their course and are de-accelerating rapidly and will continue to do so throughout the new year.

The Collapse of the European Union

Specifically, the crises wracked European Union will break up and the de facto multi-tiered structure will turn into a series of bilateral/multi-lateral trade and investment agreements. Germany,France , the Low and Nordic countries will attempt to weather the downturn. England, namely the City of London, in splendid isolation, will sink into negative growth, its financiers scrambling to find new speculative opportunities among the Gulf petrol-states and other ‘niches’. Eastern and Central Europe, particularly Poland and the Czech Republic, will deepen their ties to Germany but will suffer the consequences of the general decline of world markets. Southern Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy) will enter into a deep depression as the massive debt payments fueled by savage assaults on wages and social benefits will severely reduce consumer demand.

Depression level unemployment and under-employment running to one-third of the labor force will detonate year-long social conflicts, intensifying into popular uprisings. Eventually a break-up of the European Union is almost inevitable. The euro as a currency of choice will be replaced by or return to national issues accompanied by devaluations and protectionism. Nationalism will be the order of the day. Banks in Germany, France and Switzerland will suffer huge losses on their loans to the South. Major bailouts will become necessary, polarizing German and French societies,between taxpaying majorities and the bankers. Trade union militancy and rightwing pseudo ‘populism’ (neo-fascism) will intensify the class and national struggles

A depressed, fragmented and polarized Europe will be less likely to join in any Zionist inspired US-Israeli military adventure against Iran (or even Syria). Crises ridden Europe will oppose Washington’s confrontationalist approach to Russia and China.

The US: The Recession Returns with a Vengeance

The US economy will suffer the consequences of its ballooning fiscal deficit and will not be able to spend its way out of the world recession of 2012. Nor can it count on ‘exporting’ its way out of negative growth by turning to previously dynamic Asia, as China, India and the rest of Asia are losing economic steam. China will grow far below its 9% moving average. India will decline from 8% to 5% or lower. Moreover, the Obama regime’s military policy of ‘encirclement’, its economic policy of exclusion and protectionism will preclude any new stimulus from China.

Militarism Exacerbates the Economic Downturn

The US and England will be the biggest losers from the Iraqi post war economic reconstruction. Of $186 billion dollars in infrastructure projects, US and UK corporations will gain less than 5% (Financial Times, 12/16/11, p 1 and 3). A similar outcome is likely in Libya and elsewhere. US imperial militarism destroys an adversary, plunging into debt to do so, and non-belligerents reap the lucrative post-war economic reconstruction contracts.
The US economy will fall into recession in 2012 and the “jobless recovery of 2011” will be replaced by a steep increase of unemployment in 2012. In fact, the entire labor force will shrink as people losing their unemployment benefits will fail to register.
Labor exploitation (“productivity”) will intensify as capitalists force workers to produce more, for less pay, thus widening the income gap between wages and profits.

The economic downturn and growth of unemployment will be accompanied by savage cuts in social programs to subsidize financially troubled banks and industries. The debates among the parties will be over how large the cuts to workers and retirees will be to secure the ‘confidence’ of the bondholders. Faced with equally limited political choices, the electorate will react by voting out incumbents, abstaining and via spontaneous and organized mass movements, such as the “occupy Wall Street” protest. Disatisfaction, hostility and frustration will pervade the culture. Democratic demagogues will scapegoat China ,the Republican demagogues will blame the immigrants.Both will fulminate against “the islamo-fascists” and especially Iran..

New Wars in the Midst of Crises: Zionists Pull the Trigger

The 52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations and their “Israel First” followers in Congress, State, Treasury and the Pentagon will push for war with Iran. If they are successful it will result in a regional conflagration and world depression. Given the extremist Israeli regimes’ success in securing blind obedience to its war policies from the US Congress and White House, any doubts about the real possibility of a major catastrophic outcome can be excluded.

China: Compensatory Mechanisms in 2012

China will face the global recession of 2012 with several possibilities of ameliorating its impact. Beijing can shift toward producing goods and services for the 700 million domestic consumers currently out of the economic loop. By increasing wages, social services and environmental safety, China can compensate for the loss of overseas markets. China’s economic growth which is largely dependent on real estate speculation will be adversely affected when the bubble is burst .A sharp downturn will result.. This will lead to job losses, municipal bankruptcies and increased social and class conflicts. This can result in either greater repression or gradual democratization. The outcome will profoundly affect China’s market - state relations. The economic crises will likely strengthen state control over the market.

Russia Faces the Crises

Russia’s election of President Putin will lead to less collaboration in backing US promoted uprisings and sanctions against Russian allies and trading partners. Putin will turn toward greater ties with China and will benefit from the break-up of the EU and the weakening of NATO. The western media backed opposition will use its financial clout to erode Putin’s image and encourage investment boycotts though they will lose the Presidential elections by a big margin. The world recession will weaken the Russian economy and will force it to choose between greater public ownership or greater dependency on state funds to bail out prominent oligarchs.

The Transition 2011 – 2012: From Regional Stagnation and Recession to World Crises

The year 2011 laid the groundwork for the breakdown of the European Union. The crises began with the demise of the euro, stagnation in the US and the outbreak of mass protests against the obscene inequalities on a world scale. The events of 2011 were a dress rehearsal for a new year of full scale trade wars between major powers, sharpening inter-imperialist struggles and the likelihood of popular rebellions turning into revolutions. Moreover, the escalation of Zionist orchestrated war fever against Iran in 2011 promises the biggest regional war since the US-Indo-Chinese conflict. The electoral campaigns and outcomes of Presidential elections in the US, Russia and France will deepen the global conflicts and economic crises. During 2011 the Obama regime announced a policy of military confrontation with Russia and China and policies designed to undermine and degrade China’s rise as a world economic power. In the face of a deepening economic recession and with the decline of overseas markets, especially in Europe, a major trade war will unfold. Washington will aggressively pursue policies limiting Chinese exports and investments. The White House will escalate its efforts to disrupt China’s trade and investments in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. We can expect greater US efforts to exploit China’s internal ethnic and popular conflicts and to increase its military presence off China’s coastline. A major provocation or fabricated incident in this context is not to be excluded. The result in 2012 could lead to rabid chauvinist calls for a new costly ‘Cold War’. Obama has provided the framework and justification for a large scale long-term confrontation with China. This will be seen as a desperate effort to prop up US influence and strategic positions in Asia. The US military “quadrangle of power” – US-Japan-Australia-South Korea – with satellite support from the Philippines, will pit China’s market ties against Washington’s military build-up.

Europe: Deeper Austerity and Intensified Class Struggle

The austerity programs imposed in Europe, from England to Latvia to southern Europe will really take hold in 2012. Massive public sector firings and reduced private sector salaries and hiring’s will lead to a year of permanent class warfare and regime challenges. The ‘austerity policies’ in the South, will be accompanied by debt defaults which will result in bank failures in France and Germany.. England’s financial ruling class, isolated in Europe but dominant in England, will insist that the Conservatives ‘repress’ labor and popular unrest. A new tough neo-Thatcherite style of autocratic rule will emerge ; the Labor-trade union opposition will issue empty protests and tighten the leash on the rebellious populace. In a word, the regressive socio-economic policies put in place in 2011 set the stage for new police-state regimes and more acute and possibly bloody confrontations with workers and unemployed youth with no future.

The Coming Wars that Ends America “As We Know It”

Within the US, Obama has laid the groundwork for a new and bigger war in the Middle East by relocating troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and concentrating them facing Iran. To undermine Iran, Washington is expanding clandestine military and civilian operations against Iranian allies in Syria, Pakistan, Venezuela and China. The key to the US and Israeli bellicose strategy toward Iran is a series of wars in neighboring states, world- wide economic sanctions , cyber-attacks aimed at disabling vital industries and clandestine terrorist assassinations of scientists and military officials. The entire push, planning and execution of the US policies leading up to war with Iran can be empirically attributed to the Zionist power configuration occupying strategic positions in government, mass media and ‘civil society’. A systematic analysis of policymakers designing and implementing economic sanctions policy in Congress finds prominent roles for mega-Zionists like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman; in the White House, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Feltman in State; Stuart Levy and his replacement David Cohen in Treasury.

The White House is totally beholden to Zionist fund raisers and takes its cue from the ‘52’ Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations. The Israeli-Zionist strategy is to encircle Iran, weaken it economically and attack its military. The Iraq invasion was the US’s first war for Israel; the Libyan war the second; the current proxy war against Syria is the third. These wars have destroyed Israel’s adversaries or are in the process of doing so. During 2011, economic sanctions, which were designed to create domestic discontent in Iran were the principle weapon of choice. The global sanctions campaign engaged the entire energies of the major Jewish-Zionist lobbies. They also faced no opposition in the mass media, Congress or the White Office. The Zionist power configuration(ZPC) faced virtually no criticism from any of the progressive, leftist and socialist journals, movements or grouplets – with a few notable exceptions. The past year’s relocation of troops from Iraq to the borders of Iran, the sanctions and the rising Big Push from Israel’s fifth column in the US means War in the Middle East. This likely means a “surprise” aerial and maritime missile attack by US forces. This will be based on a concocted pretext of an “imminent nuclear attack” cooked up by Mossad and transmitted by the ZPC to the Congress and White House for consumption and transmission to the world. It will be a destructive, bloody, prolonged war for Israel. The US will bear the direct military cost by itself but the rest of the world will pay a dear economic price. The Zionist promoted US war will convert the recession of early 2012 into a major depression by the end of the year and probably provoke mass upheavals.

Conclusion

All indications point to 2012 being a turning point year of unrelenting economic crises spreading outward from Europe and the US to Asia and its dependencies in Africa and Latin America. The crises will be truly global. Inter-imperial confrontations and colonial wars will undermine any efforts to ameliorate this crisis. In response mass movements will emerge which will move over time from protests and rebellions, hopefully to social revolutions and political power.
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THE “GLOBAL CRISES OF CAPITALISM”; WHOSE CRISES, WHO PROFITS?

James Petras
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info...e30588.htm

From the Financial Times to the far left, tons of ink has been spilt writing about some variant of the “Crises of Global Capitalism”. While writers differ in the causes, consequences and cures, according to their ideological lights, there is a common agreement that “the crises” threatens to end the capitalist system as we know it. There is no doubt that, between 2008-2009, the capitalist system in Europe and the United States suffered a severe shock that shook the foundations of its financial system and threatened to bankrupt its ‘leading sectors’.

However, I will argue the ‘crises of capitalism’ was turned into a ‘crises of labor’. Finance capital, the principle detonator of the crash and crises, recovered, the capitalist class as a whole was strengthened, and most important of all, it utilized the political, social, ideological conditions created as a result of “the crises” to further consolidate their dominance and exploitation over the rest of society.

In other words, the ‘crises of capital’ has been converted into a strategic advantage for furthering the most fundamental interests of capital: the enlargement of profits, the consolidation of capitalist rule, the greater concentration of ownership, the deepening of inequalities between capital and labor and the creation of huge reserves of labor to further augment their profits.

Furthermore, the notion of a homogeneous global crisis of capitalism overlooks profound differences in performance and conditions, between countries, classes, and age cohorts.

The Global Crises Thesis:The Economic and Social Argument

The advocates of global crises argue that beginning in 2007 and continuing to the present, the world capitalist system has collapsed and recovery is a mirage. They cite stagnation and continuing recession in North America and the Eurozone. They offer GDP data hovering between negative to zero growth. Their argument is backed by data citing double digit unemployment in both regions. They frequently correct the official data which understates the percentage unemployed by excluding part-time, long-term unemployed workers and others. The ‘crises’ argument is strengthened by citing the millions of homeowners who have been evicted by the banks, the sharp increase in poverty and destitution accompanying job loses, wage reductions and the elimination or reduction of social services. “”Crises” is also associated with the massive increase in bankruptcies of mostly small and medium size businesses and regional banks.

The Global Crises: The Loss of Legitimacy

Critics, especially in the financial press, write of a “legitimacy crises of capitalism” citing polls showing substantial majorities questioning the injustices of the capitalist system, the vast and growing inequalities and the rigged rules by which banks exploit their size (“too big to fail”) to raid the Treasury at the expense of social programs.

In summary the advocates of the thesis of a “Global Crises of Capitalism” make a strong case, demonstrating the profound and pervasive destructive effects of the capitalist system on the lives of the great majority of humanity.

The problem is that a ‘crises of humanity’ (more specifically of salary ad wage workers) is not the same as a crisis of the capitalist system. In fact as we shall argue below growing social adversity, declining income and employment has been a major factor facilitating the rapid and massive recovery of the profit margins of most large scale corporations.

Moreover, the thesis of a‘global’ crises of capitalism amalgamates disparate economies, countries, classes and age cohorts with sharply divergent performances at different historical moments.

Global Crises or Uneven and Unequal Development?

It is utterly foolish to argue for a “global crises” when several of the major economies in the world economy did not suffer a major downturn and others recovered and expanded rapidly. China and India did not suffer even a recession. Even during the worst years of the Euro-US decline,the asian giants grew on average about 8%. Latin America’s economies especially the major agro-mineral export countries (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, ) with diversified markets, especially in Asia, paused briefly (in 2009) before assuming moderate to rapid growth (between 3% to 7%) from 2010-2012.

By aggregating economic data from the Euro-zone as a whole the advocates of global crises, overlooked the enormous disparities in performance within the zone. While Southern Europe wallows in a deep sustained depression,by any measure, from 2008 to the foreseeable future, German exports, in 2011, set a record of a trillion euros; its trade surplus reached 158 billion euros, after a155 billion euro surpluses in 2010. (BBC News, Feb. 8 2012).

While aggregate Eurozone unemployment reaches 10.4%, the internal differences defy any notion of a “general crises”. Unemployment in Holland is 4.9%, Austria 4.1% and Germany 5.5% with employer claims of widespread skilled labor shortages in key growth sectors. On the other hand in exploited southern Europe unemployment runs to depression levels, Greece 21%, Spain 22.9%, Ireland 14.5%, and Portugal 13.6% (FT 1/19/12, p.7). In other words, “the crises” does not adversely affect some economies, that in fact profit from their market dominance and techno-financial strength over dependent, debtor and backward economies. To speak of a ‘global crises’ obscures the fundamental dominant and exploitative relations that facilitate ‘recovery’ and growth of the elite economies over and against their competitors and client states. In addition global crises theorists wrongly amalgamated crises ridden, financial-speculative economies (US, England) with dynamic productive export economies (Germany, China).

The second problem with the thesis of a “global crises” is that it overlooks profound internal differences between age cohorts. In several European countries youth unemployment (16-25) runs between 30 to 50% (Spain 48.7%, Greece 47.2%, Slovakia 35.6%, Italy 31%, Portugal 30.8% and Ireland 29%) while in Germany, Austria and Holland youth unemployment runs to Germany 7.8%, Austria 8.2% and Netherlands 8.6% (Financial Times (FT) 2/1/12, p2). These differences underlie the reason why there is not a ‘global youth movement’ of “indignant” and “occupiers” .Five-fold differences between unemployed youth is not conducive to ‘international’ solidarity. The concentration of high youth unemployment figures explains the uneven development of mass- street protests especially centered in Southern Europe. It also explains why the northern Euro-American “anti-globalization” movement is largely a lifeless forum which attracts academic pontification on the “global capitalist crises” and the impotence of the “Social Forums” are unable to attract millions of unemployed youth from Southern Europe .They are more attracted to direct action. Globalist theorists overlook the specific way in which the mass of unemployed young workers are exploited in their dependent debt ridden countries. They ignore the specific way they are ruled and repressed by center-left and rightist capitalist parties. The contrast is most evident in the winter of 2012. Greek workers are pressured to accept a 20% cut in minimum wages while in Germany workers are demanding a 6% increase.

If the ‘crises’ of capitalism is manifested in specific regions, so too does it affect different age/racial sectors of the wage and salaries classes. The unemployment rates of youth to older workers varies enormously: in Italy it is 3.5/1, Greece 2.5/1, Portugal 2.3/1, Spain 2.1/1 and Belgium 2.9/1. In Germany it is 1.5/1 (FT 2/1/12). In other words because of the higher levels of unemployment among youth they have a greater propensity for direct action ‘against the system’; while older workers with higher levels of employment (and unemployment benefits) have shown a greater propensity to rely on the ballot box and engage in limited strikes over job and pay related issues. The vast concentration of unemployed among young workers means they form the ‘available core’ for sustained action; but it also means that they can only achieve limited unity of action with the older working class experiencing single digit unemployment.

However, it is also true that the great mass of unemployment youth provides a formidable weapon, in the hands of employers to threaten to replace employed older workers. Today, capitalists constantly resort to using the unemployed to lower wages and benefits and to intensify exploitation(dubbed to “increase productivity”) to increase profit margins. Far from being simply an indicater of ‘capitalist crises’, high levels of unemployment have served along with other factors’ to increase the rate of profit, accumulate income, widen income inequalities which augments the consumption of luxury goods for the capitalist class:the sales of luxury cars and watches is booming.

Class Crises: The Counter-Thesis

Contrary to the “global capitalist crises” theorists, a substantial amount of data has surfaced which refutes its assumptions. A recent study reports “US corporate profits are higher as a share of gross domestic product than at any time since 1950” (FT 1/30/12). US companies cash balances have never been greater, thanks to intensified exploitation of workers, and a multi-tiered wage systems in which new hires work for a fraction of what older workers receive (thanks to agreements signed by ‘door mat’ labor bosses).

The “crises of capitalism” ideologues have ignored the financial reports of the major US corporations.According to General Motors 2011 report to its stockholders,they celebrated the greatest profit ever,turning a profit of $7.6 billion, surpassing the previous record of $6.7 billion in 1997.A large part of these profits results from the freezing of its underfunded US pension funds and extracting greater productivity from fewer workers-in other words intensified exploitation-and cutting hourly wages of new hires by half.(Earthlink News 2/16/12)

Moreover the increased importance of imperialist exploitation is evident as the share of US corporate profits extracted overseas keeps rising at the expense of employee income growth.In 2011, the US economy grew by 1.7%,but median wages fell by 2.7%.Accordingto the financial press”the profit margens of the S and P 500 leapt from

6% to 9% of the GDP in the past three years,a share last achieved three generations ago.At roughly a third, the foreign share of these profits has more than doubled since 2000”(FT 2/13/12 P9.If this is a “capitalist crises”then who needs a capitalist boom ?

Surveys of top corporations reveal that US companies are holding 1.73 trillion in cash, “the fruits of record high profit margins” (FT 1/30/12 p.6). These record profit margins result from mass firings which have led to intensifying exploitation of the remaining workers. Also negligible federal interest rates and easy access to credit allow capitalists to exploit vast differentials between borrowing and lending and investing. Lower taxes and cuts in social programs result in a growing cash pile for corporations. Within the corporate structure, income goes to the top where senior executives pay themselves huge bonuses. Among the leading S and P 500 corporations the proportion of income that goes to dividends for stockholders is the lowest since 1900 (FT 1/30/12, p.6).

A real capitalist crisis would adversely affect profit margins, gross earnings and the accumulation of “cash piles”. Rising profits are being horded because as capitalists profit from intense exploitation , mass consumption stagnates.

Crises theorists confuse what is clearly the degrading of labor, the savaging of living and working conditions and even the stagnation of the economy, with a ‘crises’ of capital: when the capitalist class increases its profit margins, hoards trillions, it is not in crises. The key point is that the ‘crises of labor’ is a major stimulus for the recovery of capitalist profits. We cannot generalize from one to the other. No doubt there was a moment of capitalist crises (2008-2009) but thanks to the capitalist state’s unprecedented massive transfer of wealth from the public treasury to the capitalist class – Wall Street banks in the first instance – the corporate sector recovered, while the workers and the rest of the economy remained in crises, went bankrupt and out of work.

From Crises to Recovery of Profits: 2008/9 to 2012

The key to the ‘recovery’ of corporate profits had little to do with the business cycle and all to do with Wall Street’s large scale takeover and pillage of the US Treasury. Between 2009-2012 hundreds of former Wall Street executives, managers and investment advisers seized all the major decision-making positions in the Treasury Department and channeled trillions of dollars into leading financial and corporate coffers. They intervened financially troubled corporations,like General Motors, imposing major wage cuts and dismissals of thousands of workers.

Wall Streeters in Treasury elaborated the doctrine of “Too Big to Fail” to justify the massive transfer of wealth. The entire speculative edifice built in part by a 234 fold rise in foreign exchange trading volume between 1977-2010 was restored (FT 1/10/12, p.7). The new doctrine argued that the state’s first and principle priority is to return the financial system to profitability at any and all cost to society, citizens, taxpayers and workers. “Too Big to Fail” is a complete repudiation of the most basic principle of the “free market” capitalist system: the idea that those capitalists who lose bear the consequences; that each investor or CEO, is responsible for their action. Financial capitalists no longer needed to justify their activity in terms of any contribution to the growth of the economy or “social utility”. According to the current rulers Wall Street must be saved because it is Wall Street, even if the rest of the economy and people sink (FT 1/20/12, p.11). State bailouts and financing are complemented by hundreds of billions in tax concessions, leading to unprecedented fiscal deficits and the growth of massive social inequalities. The pay of CEO’s as a multiple of the average worker went from 24 to 1 in 1965 to 325 in 2010 (FT 1/9/12, p.5).

The ruling class flaunts their wealth and power aided and abetted by the White House and Treasury. In the face of popular hostility to Wall Street pillage of Treasury, Obama went through the sham of asking Treasury to impose a cap on the multi-million dollar bonuses that the CEO’s running bailed out banks awarded themselves. Wall Streeters in Treasury refused to enforce the executive order, the CEO’s got billions in bonuses in 2011 . President Obama went along, thinking he conned the US public with his phony gesture,while he reaped millions in campaign funds from Wall Street!

The reason Treasury has been taken over by Wall Street is that in the 1990’s and 2000’s, banks became a leading force in Western economies. Their share of the GDP rose sharply (from 2% in the 1950’s to 8% in 2010” (FT 1/10/12, p.7).

Today it is “normal operating procedure” for President’s to appoint Wall Streeter’s to all key economic positions; and it is ‘normal’ for these same officials to pursue policies that maximize Wall Street profits and eliminate any risk of failure no matter how risky and corrupt their practioners.

The Revolving Door: From Wall Street to Treasury and Return

Effectively the relation between Wall Street and Treasury has become a “revolving door”: from Wall Street to the Treasury Department to Wall Street. Private bankers take appointments in Treasury (or are recruited) to ensure that all resources and policies Wall Street needs are granted with maximum effort, with the least hindrance from citizens, workers or taxpayers. Wall Streeters in Treasury give highest priority to Wall Street survival, recovery and expansion of profits. They block any regulations or restrictions on bonuses or a repeat of past swindles.

Wall Streeters ‘make a reputation’ in Treasury and then return to the private sector in higher positions, as senior advisers and partners. A Treasury appointment is a ladder up the Wall Street hierarchy. Treasury is a filling station to the Wall Street Limousine: ex Wall Streeters fill up the tank, check the oil and then jump in the front seat and zoom to a lucrative job and let the filling station (public) pay the bill.

Approximately 774 officials (and counting) departed from Treasury between January 2009 and August 2011 (FT 2/6/12, p. 7). All provided lucrative “services” to their future Wall Street bosses finding it a great way to re-enter private finance at a higher more lucrative position.

A report in the Financial Times Feb. 6, 2012 (p. 7) entitled appropriately Manhattan Transfer” provides typical illustrations of the Treasury-Wall Street “revolving door”.

Ron Bloom went from a junior banker at Lazard to Treasury, helping to engineer the trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street and returned to Lazard as a senior adviser. Jake Siewert went from Wall Street to becoming a top aide to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and then graduated to Goldman Sachs, having served to undercut any cap on Wall Street bonuses.

Michael Mundaca, the most senior tax official in the Obama regime came from the Street and then went on to a highly lucrative post in Ernst and Young a corporate accounting firm, having help write down corporate taxes during his stint in “public office”.

Eric Solomon, a senior tax official in the infamous corporate tax free Bush Administration made the same switch. Jeffrey Goldstein who Obama put in charge of financial regulation and succeeded in undercutting popular demands, returned to his previous employer Hellman and Friedman with the appropriate promotion for services rendered.

Stuart Levey who ran AIPAC sanctions against Iran policies out if Treasury’s so-called “anti- terrorist agency” was hired as general counsel by HSBC to defend it from investigations for money laundering (FT 2/6/12, p. 7). In this case Levey moved from promoting Israels’ war aims to defending an international bank accused of laundering billions in Mexican cartel money. Levey, by the way spent so much time pursuing Israels’ Iran agenda that he totally ignored the Mexican drug cartels’ billion dollar money laundering cross-border operations for the better part of a decade.

Lew Alexander a senior advisor to Geithner in designing the trillion dollar bail out is now a senior official in Nomura, the Japanese bank. Lee Sachs went from Treasury to Bank Alliance, (his own “lending platform”). James Millstein went from Lazard to Treasury bailed out AIG insurance run into the ground by Greenberg and then established his own private investment firm taking a cluster of well-connected Treasury officials with him.

The Goldman-Sachs-Treasury “revolving door” continues today. In addition to past and current Treasury heads Paulson and Geithner, former Goldman partner Mark Patterson was recently appointed Geithner’s “chief of staff”. Tim Bowler former Goldman managing director was appointed by Obama to head up the capital markets division.

It should be abundantly clear that elections, parties and the billion dollar electoral campaigns have little to do with “democracy” and more to do with selecting the President and legislators who will appoint non-elected Wall Streeters to make all the strategic economic decisions for the 99% of Americans. The policy results of the Wall Street-Treasury revolving door are clear and provide us with a framework for understanding why the “profit crises” has vanished and the crises of labor has deepened.

The “Policy Achievements” of the Revolving Door

The Wall Street-Treasury conundrum (WSTC) has performed herculean and audacious labor for finance and corporate capital. In the face of universal condemnation of Wall Street by the vast majority of the public for its swindles, bankruptcies, job losses and mortgage foreclosures, the WSTC publically backed the swindlers with a trillion dollar bailout. A daring move on the face of it; that is if majorities and elections counted for anything. Equally important the WSTC dumped the entire “free market” ideology that justified capitalist profits based on its “risks”, by imposing the new dogma of “too big to fail” in which the state treasury guarantees profits even when capitalists face bankruptcy, providing they are billion dollar firms. The WSTC dumped the capitalist principle of “fiscal responsibility” in favor of hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the corporate-financial ruling class, running up record peace time budget deficits and then having the audacity to blame the social programs

supported by popular majorities. (Is it any wonder these ex-Treasury officials get such lucrative offers in the private sector when they leave public office?) Thirdly, Treasury and the Central Bank (Federal Reserve) provide near zero interest loans that guarantees big profits to private financial institution which borrow low from the Fed and lend high, (including back to the Government!) especially in purchasing overseas Government and corporate bonds. They receive anywhere from four to ten times the interest rates they pay. In other words the taxpayers provide a monstrous subsidy for Wall Street speculation. With the added proviso, that today these speculative activities are now insured by the Federal government, under the “Too Big to Fail” doctrine.

Under the ideology of “regaining competitiveness” the Obama economic team (from Treasury, the Federal Reserve, Commerce, Labor) has encouraged employers to engage in the most aggressive shedding of workers in modern history. Increased productivity and profitability is not the result of “innovation” as Obama, Geithner and Bernache claim; it is a product of a state labor policy which deepens inequality by holding down wages and raising profit margins. Fewer workers producing more commodities. Cheap credit and bailouts for the billion dollar banks and no refinancing for households and small and medium size firms leading to bankruptcies, buyouts and ‘consolidation’ namely, greater concentration of ownership. As a result the mass market stagnates but corporate and bank profits reach record levels. According to financial experts under the WSTC “new order” “bankers are a protected class who enjoy bonuses regardless of performance, while relying on the taxpayer to socialize their losses” (FT 1/9/12, p.5). In contrast labor, under Obama’s economic team, faces the greatest insecurity and most threatening situation in recent history: “in what is unquestionably novel is the ferocity with which US business sheds labor now that executive pay and incentive schemes are linked to short term performance targets” (FT 1/9/2012, p. 5).

Economic Consequences of State Policies

Because of the Wall Street “ takeover” of strategic economic policy positions in Government we can now understand the paradox of record profit margins in the midst of economic stagnation. We can comprehend why the capitalist crises has, at least temporarily, been replaced by a profound crises of labor. Within the power matrix of Wall Street-Treasury Dept. all the old corrupt and exploitative practices that led up to the 2008-2009 crash have returned: multi-billion dollar bonuses for investment bankers who led the economy into the crash; banks “snapping up billions of dollars of bundled mortgage products that resemble the sliced and diced debt some (sic) blame for the financial crises” (FT 2/8/12, p.1). The difference today is that these speculative instruments are now backed by the taxpayer (Treasury). The supremacy of the financial structure of the pre-crises US economy is in place and thriving … “only” the US labor force has sunk into greater unemployment, declining living standards, widespread insecurity and profound discontent.

Conclusion: The Case Against Capitalism and for Socialism

The profound crises of 2008-2009 provoked a spate of questioning of the capitalist system, even among many of its most ardent advocates (FT 1/8/12 to 1/30/12) criticism abounded. ‘Reform, regulation and redistribution’ were the fare of financial columnists. Yet the ruling economic and governing class took no heed. The workers are controlled by door mat union leaders and lack a political instrument. The rightwing pseudo populists embrace an even more virulent pro capitalist agenda, calling for across the board elimination of social programs and corporate taxes. Inside the state a major transformation has taken place which effectively smashed any link between capitalism and social welfare, between government decision-making and the electorate. Democracy has been relaced by a corporate state, founded on the revolving door between Treasury and Wall Street, which funnels public wealth to private financial coffers. The breach between the welfare of society and the operations of the financial architecture is definitive.

The activity of Wall Street has no social utility, its practioners enrich themselves with no redeeming activity. Capitalism has demonstrated conclusively, that it thrives through the degradation of tens of millions of workers and rejects the endless pleas for reform and regulation. Real existing capitalism cannot be harnessed to raising living standards or ensuring employment free of fear of large scale, sudden and brutal firings. Capitalism, as we experience it over the past decade and for the foreseeable future, is in polar opposition to social equality, democratic decision-making and collective welfare.

Record capitalist profits are accrued by pillaging the public treasury, denying pensions and prolonging ‘work till you die’, bankrupting most families with exorbitant private corporate medical and educational costs.

More than ever in recent history, record majorities reject the rule by and for the bankers and the corporate ruling class (FT 2/6/12, p. 6). Inequalities between the top 1% and the bottom 99% have reached record proportions. CEO’s earn 325 times that of an average worker (FT 1/9/12, p.5). Since the state has become the ‘foundation’ of the economy of the Wall Street predators, and since ‘reform’ and regulation has dismally failed , it is time to consider a fundamental systemic transformation that begins via a political revolution which forcibly ousts the non-elected financial and corporate elites running the state for their own exclusive interests. The entire political process,including elections, are profoundly corrupt: each level of office has its own inflated price tag.The current Presidential contest will cost $2 to $3 billion dollars to determine which of the servants of Wall Street will preside over the revolving door.

Socialism is no longer the scare word of the past. Socialism involves the large-scale reorganization of the economy, the transfer of trillions from the coffers of predator classes’ of no social utility to the public welfare. This change can finance a productive and innovative economy based on work and leisure, study and sport. Socialism replaces the everyday terror of dismissal with the security that brings confidence, assurance and respect to the workplace. Workplace democracy is at the heart of the vision of 21st century socialism. We begin by nationalizing the banks and eliminating Wall Street. Financial institutions are redesigned to create productive employment, to serve social welfare and to preserve the environment. Socialism would begin the transition, from a capitalist economy directed by predators and swindlers and a state at their command, toward an economy of public ownership under democratic control.

James Petras has a long history of commitment to social justice, working in particular with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement for 11 years. In 1973-76 he was a member of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Repression in Latin America. He writes a monthly column for the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, and previously, for the Spanish daily, El Mundo. He received his B.A. from Boston University and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. His most recent book is” The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counter Attack” (Clarity Press 2012) 2nd edition.



Reply
HOW GREECE COULD TAKE DOWN WALL STREET
Ellen Brown
February 20, 2012
www.webofdebt.com/articles/greece.php

In an article titled “Still No End to ‘Too Big to Fail,’” William Greider wrote in The Nation on February 15th:

Financial market cynics have assumed all along that Dodd-Frank did not end “too big to fail” but instead created a charmed circle of protected banks labeled “systemically important” that will not be allowed to fail, no matter how badly they behave.

That may be, but there is one bit of bad behavior that Uncle Sam himself does not have the funds to underwrite: the $32 trillion market in credit default swaps (CDS). Thirty-two trillion dollars is more than twice the U.S. GDP and more than twice the national debt.

CDS are a form of derivative taken out by investors as insurance against default. According to the Comptroller of the Currency, nearly 95% of the banking industry’s total exposure to derivatives contracts is held by the nation’s five largest banks: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, and Goldman Sachs. The CDS market is unregulated, and there is no requirement that the “insurer” actually have the funds to pay up. CDS are more like bets, and a massive loss at the casino could bring the house down.

It could, at least, unless the casino is rigged. Whether a “credit event” is a “default” triggering a payout is determined by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), and it seems that the ISDA is owned by the world’s largest banks and hedge funds. That means the house determines whether the house has to pay.

The Houses of Morgan, Goldman and the other Big Five are justifiably worried right now, because an “event of default” declared on European sovereign debt could jeopardize their $32 trillion derivatives scheme. According to Rudy Avizius in an article on The Market Oracle (UK) on February 15th, that explains what happened at MF Global, and why the 50% Greek bond write-down was not declared an event of default.

If you paid only 50% of your mortgage every month, these same banks would quickly declare you in default. But the rules are quite different when the banks are the insurers underwriting the deal.

MF Global: Canary in the Coal Mine?
MF Global was a major global financial derivatives broker until it met its unseemly demise on October 30, 2011, when it filed the eighth-largest U.S. bankruptcy after reporting a “material shortfall” of hundreds of millions of dollars in segregated customer funds. The brokerage used a large number of complex and controversial repurchase agreements, or “repos,” for funding and for leveraging profit. Among its losing bets was something described as a wrong-way $6.3 billion trade the brokerage made on its own behalf on bonds of some of Europe’s most indebted nations.

Avizius writes:

[A]n agreement was reached in Europe that investors would have to take a write-down of 50% on Greek Bond debt. Now MF Global was leveraged anywhere from 40 to 1, to 80 to 1 depending on whose figures you believe. Let’s assume that MF Global was leveraged 40 to 1, this means that they could not even absorb a small 3% loss, so when the “haircut” of 50% was agreed to, MF Global was finished. It tried to stem its losses by criminally dipping into segregated client accounts, and we all know how that ended with clients losing their money. . . .

However, MF Global thought that they had risk-free speculation because they had bought these CDS from these big banks to protect themselves in case their bets on European Debt went bad. MF Global should have been protected by its CDS, but since the ISDA would not declare the Greek “credit event” to be a default, MF Global could not cover its losses, causing its collapse.

The house won because it was able to define what “ winning” was. But what happens when Greece or another country simply walks away and refuses to pay? That is hardly a “haircut.” It is a decapitation. The asset is in rigor mortis. By no dictionary definition could it not qualify as a “default.”

That sort of definitive Greek default is thought by some analysts to be quite likely, and to be coming soon. Dr. Irwin Stelzer, a senior fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s economic policy studies group, was quoted in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post (UK) as saying:

It’s only a matter of time before they go bankrupt. They are bankrupt now, it’s only a question of how you recognise it and what you call it.

Certainly they will default . . . maybe as early as March. If I were them I’d get out [of the euro].

The Midas Touch Gone Bad
In an article in The Observer (UK) on February 11th titled “The Mathematical Equation That Caused the Banks to Crash,” Ian Stewart wrote of the Black-Scholes equation that opened up the world of derivatives:

The financial sector called it the Midas Formula and saw it as a recipe for making everything turn to gold. But the markets forgot how the story of King Midas ended.

As Aristotle told this ancient Greek tale, Midas died of hunger as a result of his vain prayer for the golden touch. Today, the Greek people are going hungry to protect a rigged $32 trillion Wall Street casino. Avizius writes:

The money made by selling these derivatives is directly responsible for the huge profits and bonuses we now see on Wall Street. The money masters have reaped obscene profits from this scheme, but now they live in fear that it will all unravel and the gravy train will end. What these banks have done is to leverage the system to such an extreme, that the entire house of cards is threatened by a small country of only 11 million people. Greece could bring the entire world economy down. If a default was declared, the resulting payouts would start a chain reaction that would cause widespread worldwide bank failures, making the Lehman collapse look small by comparison.

Some observers question whether a Greek default would be that bad. According to a comment on Forbes on October 10, 2011:

[T]he gross notional value of Greek CDS contracts as of last week was €54.34 billion, according to the latest report from data repository Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC). DTCC is able to undertake internal netting analysis due to having data on essentially all of the CDS market. And it reported that the net losses would be an order of magnitude lower, with the maximum amount of funds that would move from one bank to another in connection with the settlement of CDS claims in a default being just €2.68 billion, total. If DTCC’s analysis is correct, the CDS market for Greek debt would not much magnify the consequences of a Greek default—unless it stimulated contagion that affected other European countries.

It is the “contagion,” however, that seems to be the concern. Players who have hedged their bets by betting both ways cannot collect on their winning bets; and that means they cannot afford to pay their losing bets, causing other players to also default on their bets. The dominos go down in a cascade of cross-defaults that infects the whole banking industry and jeopardizes the global pyramid scheme. The potential for this sort of nuclear reaction was what prompted billionaire investor Warren Buffett to call derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction.” It is also why the banking system cannot let a major derivatives player—such as Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers—go down. What is in jeopardy is the derivatives scheme itself. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal on January 20th:

Hanging in the balance is the reputation of CDS as an instrument for hedgers and speculators—a $32.4 trillion market as of June last year; the value that may be assigned to sovereign debt, and $2.9 trillion of sovereign CDS, if the protection isn’t seen as reliable in eliciting payouts; as well as the impact a messy Greek default could have on the global banking system.

Players in the future may simply refuse to play. When the house is so obviously rigged, the legitimacy of the whole CDS scheme is called into question. As MF Global found out the hard way, there is no such thing as “risk-free speculation” protected with derivatives.



ARGENTINE ADVICE FOR GREECE : DEFAULT NOW
http://rt.com/news/argentina-advice-gree...033/print/

Here in Argentina, when we watch the terrible things that are happening today in Greece, we can only exclaim, “Hey!! That’s exactly what happened in Argentina in 2001 and 2002…!”

­A decade ago, Argentina too went through a systemic Sovereign Public Debt collapse resulting in social turmoil, worker hardship, rioting and street fights with the police.

Some months before Argentina exploded, then-President Fernando de la Rúa – forced to resign at the height of the 2001 crisis – had called back as finance minister the notorious pro-banker, Trilateral Commission member and Rockefeller/Soros/Rhodes protégée Domingo Cavallo.

Cavallo was the gruesome architect of Argentina’s political and economic capitulation to the US and UK when he was President Carlos Menem’s foreign minister and economy minister in the ’90s.

Menem and Cavallo are primarily responsible for Argentina’s signing of a formal Treaty of Capitulation with the UK/US after the 1982 Falklands War, opening up our economy to unrestricted privatization, deregulation and grossly excessive US Dollar-indebtedness, almost tripling our sovereign debt in a few short years (see my February 11, 2012 article British Laughter in the Falklands).

The Plan? Prepare Argentina for planned weakening, bankster take-over and collapse, so that a new weakening-takeover-collapse cycle could begin. In 2001, Cavallo was back to finish his work…

During that very hot summer in December 2001, true to its Latin temperament, Argentina even had four (yes, 4!) presidents in just one week. One of them, Adolfo Rodriguez Sáa, who only lasted three days, at least did one thing right, even if he did it the wrong way: he declared Argentina’s default on its sovereign debt.

All hell broke loose! The international bankers and IMF did everything they could to break Argentina’s back; global media pundits predicted all kinds of impending catastrophes. Debt default meant Argentina would have to weather the pain and agony alone, being cast out by the “international financial community”.


‘You’re not the boss of me!’
But no matter how bad it got, it would always be better to do that without the bankers, without the IMF’s, European Central Bank’s, US Fed’s and US Treasury’s “help”. Better to sort out your mess on your own, than to have parasitic banker vultures carving out their pound of flesh from your nation’s decaying social and economic body.

And how bad did it get in 2002? A 40 per cent drop in GDP; 30 per cent unemployment; 50 per cent of the population fell below the poverty line; dramatic, almost overnight, devaluation against the US Dollar from 1 peso per dollar to 4 pesos per dollar (then it tapered down to 3 pesos per dollar); if you had a US dollar Bank account, the government forced you to change it into pesos at the rate of 1.40 pesos per dollar.

What did Argentina’s government do wrong? In the months leading to collapse it bowed to all the bankers and IMF-mandated measures and “recipes”, which were actually the very cause of collapse: Argentina was loaned far more than it could pay back…. And the banker knew it! This was described in our December 19, 2011 article, Argentina: Tango Lessons.

Successive governments since then have continued to be functional to banker interests by rolling over debt 30 to 40 years, aggregating huge interest and in 2006 paying the full debt to the IMF – almost US$10 billion in full, cash and in US dollars (sole entity given most-favoured creditor status).


­Same vultures circling Greece
Today, Greece is confronted with a similarly tough decision. Either it keeps its sovereignty, or it capitulates to the “Vulture Troika” – the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund – who work for the Bankers, not the People.

Not surprisingly, today we find that Greece too has a Trilateral Commission Rockefeller/Rothschild man at the helm: Lucas Papademos who is doing the same things Argentina did in 2001/2.

Argentina not only suffered Cavallo, but President De la Rúa himself was co-founder of the local Global Power Masters lobby, CARI – Argentine International Relations Council – local branch of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, networking with the Trilateral Commission / Bilderberg mafia.

Greece today should do what Argentina did a decade ago: better to endure pain and hardship, and sort out the mess made by your politicians in connivance with international bankers on your own, wielding whatever shred of sovereignty you still have than allowing the Banker Vultures sitting in Frankfurt, New York and London decide your future.

It’s the Neocolonial Private Power Domination Model, stupid!
Or do you think it’s just bad luck, bad judgment and coincidence that countries – Greece, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Iceland, Ireland, Russia, Malaysia, Ukraine, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, France, even the US and UK – always borrow too much from the bankers and then “discover” that they cannot pay it back and that, symmetrically, the same bankers – CitiCorp, HSBC, Deutsche, Commerz, BNP, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorganChase, BBVA lend too much to countries and then “discover” they cannot collect?

No! That is the very yellow-brick road that leads to the Emerald City of “debt restructuring”, “debt refinancing”, and “sovereign debt bond mega-swaps” that snowball sovereign debt, spreading it over 20, 40 or more years into the future. That guarantees unimaginably colossal interest profits for the Mega-Bankers and for all those nice politicians, media players, traders and brokers, without whom that would not be possible.

This is a Model. It must keep rolling and rolling and rolling… As this Monster Machine steams forwards, it completely tramples on, overruns, destroys, flattens and obliterates people, jobs, workers, health services, pensions, education, national security and just about everything human on its path. Run by parasitic usurer technocrats, it does not care what it destroys because it has no ethics; no Christian, Muslim or Buddhist morals. It only worships a greedy golden idol of money, money and more money. This is 21st-century Money Power Slavery.

Three generations of Argentines saw hopes dashed and dreams thwarted by this Monster Machine, suffering the hardship, woes and humiliations that come when countries give up sovereignty.


­Bring back the drach!
So, Greece: Just default on your “sovereign debt”! Just revert to the drachma! Just say “No, thanks!” to the German bankers and the Troika Vultures.

Please, Greece: just say “No!” to your Trilateral Commission president!

You will be setting a strong precedent for your European neighbours. Like Spain, which is hurting so badly right now for similar reasons. Like Italy, with its Trilateral Commission Prime Minister Mario Monti (also Trilateral’s European Chairman!).

Greece, the Cradle of Democracy, can teach the world a lesson in True Democracy by kicking these parasites out of the country, which will hopefully trigger kicking them out of Europe and one day, kicking them out of the global economy.

Because what Greece and Argentina and Italy and Spain suffer today is not True Democracy, but rather a distorted bastard imitation that systematically yields control to the Global Power Masters at the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg and Mega-Banking Overworld. They run the whole “democracy show”, whereby all countries end up having “the best democracy that money can buy”… which is no democracy at all…

The Money Power juggernaut is steaming full speed towards us all. If Greece falls, who’ll be next? Spain? Italy? Portugal? Argentina (yet again!!!)?
So what if Greece’s reverting to the drachma marks the beginning of the end for the euro? Let Italy revert to the lira, Spain to the peseta, Portugal to the escudo…! A National Currency is a key National Sovereignty factor.

All governments should understand that you either govern for the people and against the bankers; or you govern for the bankers and against the people.


GREECE SHOWS US HOW TO PROTEST AGAINST A FAILED SYSTEM

John Holloway
February 19, 2012 "The Guardian'
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/...led-system

I do not like violence. I do not think that very much is gained by burning banks and smashing windows. And yet I feel a surge of pleasure when I see the reaction in Athens and the other cities in Greece to the acceptance by the Greek parliament of the measures imposed by the European Union. More: if there had not been an explosion of anger, I would have felt adrift in a sea of depression. The joy is the joy of seeing the much-trodden worm turn and roar. The joy of seeing those whose cheeks have been slapped a thousand times slapping back. How can we ask of people that they accept meekly the ferocious cuts in living standards that the austerity measures imply? Do we want them to just agree that the massive creative potential of so many young people should be just eliminated, their talents trapped in a life of long-term unemployment? All that just so that the banks can be repaid, the rich made richer? All that, just to maintain a capitalist system that has long since passed its sell-by date, that now offers the world nothing but destruction. For the Greeks to accept the measures meekly would be to multiply depression by depression, the depression of a failed system compounded by the depression of lost dignity.

The violence of the reaction in Greece is a cry that goes out to the world. How long will we sit still and see the world torn apart by these barbarians, the rich, the banks? How long will we stand by and watch the injustices increase, see the health service dismantled, education reduced to uncritical nonsense, the water resources of the world privatised, communities wiped out and the earth torn up for the profits of mining companies?

The attack that is so acute in Greece is taking place all over the world. Everywhere money is subjecting human and non-human life to its logic, the logic of profit. This is not new, but the intensity and breadth of the attack is new, and new too is the general awareness that the current dynamic is a dynamic of death, that it is likely that we are all heading towards the annihilation of human life on earth. When the learned commentators explain the details of the latest negotiations between the governments on the future of the eurozone, they forget to mention that what is being negotiated so blithely is the future of humanity.

We are all Greeks. We are all subjects whose subjectivity is simply being flattened by the steamroller of a history determined by the movement of the money markets. Or so it seems and so they would have it. Millions of Italians protested over and over again against Silvio Berlusconi but it was the money markets that brought him down. The same in Greece: demonstration after demonstration against George Papandreou, but in the end it was the money markets that dismissed him. In both cases, loyal and proven servants of money were appointed to take the place of the fallen politicians, without even a pretence of popular consultation. This is not even history made by the rich and powerful, though certainly they profit from it: it is history made by a dynamic that nobody controls, a dynamic that is destroying the world, if we let it.

The flames in Athens are flames of rage, and we rejoice in them. And yet, rage is dangerous. If it is personalised or turned against particular groups of people (the Germans, in this case), it can so easily become purely destructive. It is no coincidence that the first minister to resign in protest against the latest round of austerity measures in Greece was a leader of the extreme right party, Laos. Rage can so easily become a nationalist, even fascist rage; a rage that does nothing to make the world better. It is important, then, to be clear that our rage is not a rage against the Germans, not even a rage against Angela Merkel or David Cameron or Nicolas Sarkozy. These politicians are just arrogant and pitiful symbols of the real object of our rage – the rule of money, the subjection of all life to the logic of profit.

Love and rage, rage and love. Love has been an important theme in the struggles that have redefined the meaning of politics over the last year, a constant theme of the Occupy movements, a profound feeling even at the heart of the violent clashes in many parts of the world. Yet love walks hand in hand with rage, the rage of "how dare they take our lives away from us, how dare they treat us like objects". The rage of a different world forcing its way through the obscenity of the world that surrounds us. Perhaps.

That pushing through of a different world is not just a question of rage, although rage is part of it. It necessarily involves the patient construction of a different way of doing things, the creation of different forms of social cohesion and mutual support. Behind the spectacle of the burning banks in Greece lies a deeper process, a quieter movement of people refusing to pay bus fares, electricity bills, motorway tolls, bank debts; a movement, born of necessity and conviction, of people organising their lives in a different way, creating communities of mutual support and food networks, squatting empty buildings and land, creating community gardens, returning to the countryside, turning their backs on the politicians (who are now afraid to show themselves in the streets) and creating directly democratic forms of taking social decisions. Still insufficient perhaps, still experimental, but crucial. Behind the spectacular flames, it is this searching for and creation of a different way of living that will determine the future of Greece, and of the world.

For this coming Saturday action throughout the world has been called for in support of the revolt in Greece. We are all Greeks.


Reply
GLOBAL SYSTEMIC CRISIS
EUROLAND 2012-2016: PERPETUATION OF A NEW GLOBAL POWER ON CONDITION OF DEMOCRATIZATION


http://www.leap2020.eu/GEAB-N-62-is-avai...a9183.html

As anticipated by LEAP/E2020, the fear largely
fed by the City of London and Wall Street of a
Eurozone break-up over the Greek debt crisis
proved unfounded. Euroland has come out of this
violently conflictual episode with its "natural
allies" much reinforced. According to our team,
2012 will mark the starting point for the
perpetuation of a new global power, Euroland.
However, this development remains conditional on
the question of democratization that we analyze
in this issue, through the three sequences of
Euroland’s evolution 2012-2016. These five years
will lead Europeans to profoundly influence a
global geopolitical rebalancing whilst
domestically a radical new phase of European
integration is opening up in the coming months.
Moreover, this GEAB issue anticipates the US
Dollar’s progress as a dominant currency for
global commercial transactions. The 2012 to 2013
period will in fact bring great changes in this
area directly affecting global trade as the
relative power of the currencies involved. In
addition recommendations on currencies, gold,
Greece, Russia, the US economy and stock markets,
LEAP/E2020 offers a preview in this issue of the
next book to be published in March 2012 by
Anticipolis Editions entitled "2015 - The Great
fall of Western real estate" by Sylvain Périfel
and Philippe Schneider.

For this press release, LEAP/E2020 has chosen to
present its anticipations on the first of the
three Euroland sequences 2012-2016.

As previously announced, LEAP/E2020 is presenting
its anticipations for Europe over the 2012-2016
period in this issue. In the context of a global
systemic crisis, two strategic trends will mark
these five years for Europeans: on the one hand
the stabilization of Euroland as a new full
global power (1); and, on the other, the absolute
requirement for the European elite to raise the
democratic freeze which now weighs heavily on the
process of European integration. In this issue
our team analyzes why, starting from the second
half of 2012, conditions will be at their best
for Euroland to take on these two trends fully
(2). Of course, numerous economic, financial,
strategic and political challenges remain for
Europeans; but, with the global systemic crisis
entering its phase of reconstituting world
geopolitical balances, with Euroland, they have a
“new sovereign” able to positively influence the
course of events (3). Of course, this capacity is
conditional upon the democratic legitimization of
the whole of Euroland governance. From 2012 to
2016, three major sequences will characterize
Euroland’s stabilization as a full sovereign and
the lifting of the democratic freeze.

Before going into the European case in detail,
our team would like to remind readers that the
big difference today between the anticipation of
the United States’ development and Europe’s is
due to the fact that the United States has a
completely paralysed antiquated
politico-institutional system, whereas European
integration has a strong dynamic associated with
great institutional flexibility. The absence of
major reform in the United States since the
beginning of the crisis in 2008 compared with the
impressive series of European institutional leaps
and bounds since mid-2010 (developments
considered impossible by many just two years ago)
offers a striking illustration. In the American
case, the question of anticipation of events thus
forces to be able to identify the points of
rupture of a sclerotic system. In the European
case, it’s a question on the other hand of
targeting the course of events and evaluating
their pace of development (4). Which is much
simpler in fact when, like LEAP/E2020, one has a
good understanding of how Europe functions
institutionally, and has a good sense for public
opinion in the various Member States (5).

The last point of this preamble, the European
decision-making process will considerably improve
for Euroland since, from now on, only the
countries using the Euro will take the decisions.
Moreover, it’s a feature of these years of crisis
to have finally clarified an absurd situation
which saw countries outside the Eurozone, even
anti-Euro (like the United Kingdom), take part in
decisions on the Euro. But nevertheless, the very
nature of the European decision-making process,
implying negotiations and compromises, will
continue to show it as being chaotic and slow, as
opposed to national decision making. It will be
much less than before, but still there all the
same because it’s the very characteristic of the
functioning of European integration; ultimately
it is also one of its conditions of effectiveness,
in order that each State really applies what has
been decided.

Now, let’s move on to the analysis of the three
major sequences which will characterise the
2012-2016 period. These three sequences have been
presented out of sequence to make them clearer;
but it’s obvious of course that they all overlap.

1st Sequence - 2012-2013: End of Euroland’s
consolidation of its budget-finance operations /
Launching of the first pro-active common
socio-economic policies / Acceleration of the
distinction between Euroland-EU
By mid-2012, as we have already indicated in
preceding GEAB issues, Euroland will be endowed
with a whole set of new national leaders (Spain,
Italy, Greece, France, Slovenia, Belgium,…) and
the following months there will be elections in
Germany. Euroland will thus be led by men and
women who, for the most part, came to power
after the start of the crisis.

Until the end of 2011 it wasn’t the case; quite
the contrary, most Eurozone leaders were
electoral products of the world before the
crisis. The fact that these leaders, mediocre
politicians in the main, and completely
unprepared for the collapse of the values/beliefs
which they held until 2008, were nevertheless
able to face relatively well the global crisis,
then the Greek crisis and its effects, against
the background of a violent attack on the
European single currency by City of London and
Wall Street, was proof of the dynamics of
European integration at work within Euroland. In
fact, our team considers that they were the
generation of politicians the least prepared to
“save European integration” since they were
generally not very interested in Europe and often
under the control of the banks and Washington. To
pick up from an analysis of Franck Biancheri’s
going back to 1989, “the babyboomer politicians
are likely to break the European project of which
they understand nothing, prior to the “Erasmus”
generations entering the fray”.

It will never be known what would have happened
if the global systemic crisis had exploded five
years later, but what is certain is that they
will have managed to avoid “breaking Europe”.
Even Nicolas Sarkozy, who we consider has been
the worst French president of the Fifth Republic
for France and Europe, as our readers know,
deserves credit on this subject for having had
the savvy to push ahead on the need for summits
for Euroland leaders only. What this episode
teaches us is that if even unprepared and
unreliable leaders knew how to find the answers
allowing the building of the bases for Euroland
in the middle of an historical crisis, it’s
reasonable to believe that more inspired and
better prepared leaders (at least due to the fact
that they will have lived through this crisis
before coming to power) will be able to fare at
least as well, if not better (6).

This analysis is reinforced by another
determining factor of the European
decision-making process: in the absence of the
system’s democratization, the technocrats are the
real masters of the game on the EU circuit
including Frankfurt, Brussels,… and national
capitals (7). They, since the creation of ECSC in
1951, wove the fabric of European integration.
They, who offered our disorientated leaders the
solutions of these last two years. They, who are
already preparing the initiatives for the next
few years. But to be able to take the leap of
European integration, they need the politicians.
And the politicians are only ready to take risks
in two cases: when they are afraid and when they
are visionaries (8). Fear was the incentive in
2010/2011. The vision of the future will be that
in 2012/2016.

Two elements determine this swing from reaction
to project, because it’s indeed that: fear
involves only reactions; the vision of the future is
typified by projects.

On one side, after the “bolt tightening” episode,
quite rightly demanded by the countries in
surplus (Germany, Netherlands, Finland,…) (9), we
saw the idea developing everywhere amongst the
Euroland elite that it was also necessary to
project oneself positively in the future
(recovery, common investments, Eurobonds,…).
Transition by the austerity phase was inevitable,
as we had anticipated since 2008/2009, because
Euroland integration requires common rules,
actually applied, and to stop the policies of
collective over-indebtedness promoted these last
decades by the bankers and the financial centres
of the City and Wall Street.

Greece is a textbook case. We comment further in
our recommendations in this issue but we are very
clear in this issue: to overcome the Greek
problem, it’s necessary to break the parasitic
ruling class which led this country to ruin.
However, Euroland hasn’t really the means to do
it to date, apart from really showing the Greeks
that nobody trusts their leaders any more. It’s
also dissuasive as regards other countries’
leaders, trying to keep power by debt.

Thus 2012 and 2013 will see the finalization of
the new rules for common budget, tax and economic
governance in Euroland. Common budgets control,
progress towards fiscal harmonization (10),
repatriation of the Euro financial markets to
Euroland (11), reinforced financial regulation, a
European credit rating agency, a financial
transactions tax, Eurobonds, introduction of a
maximum limit of exposure of government debt to
non-Euroland financial markets,…

For the teams coming to power in Euroland, these
developments are obvious; whereas they were
revolutionary for their predecessors. But, on
these bases, the two years to come will also see
the launching of several major common initiatives
intended to build the future: a common program of
public investment (common infrastructures in the
fields of transport, education (12), training,
health, science and technology,…).

Their financing will start one of the big debates
of these next two years because it will be
impossible, according to our team, to avoid
recourse to direct borrowing from citizens, thus
short-circuiting the banks and financing on the
financial markets. For an amount equivalent to
that of the MES, 500 billion Euros, half will cut
government debt dependence on the international
financial markets (via Eurobonds) and half will
finance major future projects. If the MES is an
embryo of European Monetary Fund, this major loan
will be the bedrock of a European Treasury. And
it will belong to the panoply of trans-European
social solidarity tools which will emerge by
2014, for gradually replacing the numerous
traditional EU structural funds (13).

Moreover, from the second half of 2012, Euroland
will see the French’s constructive return to the
European project. It’s a reality forgotten by
many since it’s been 17 years since it
disappeared from the European decision-making
process. Whether it be Jacques Chirac or Nicolas
Sarkozy, none of the French presidents since 1995
had a European streak (unlike their predecessors
- De Gaulle, Giscard and Mitterrand). Jacques
Chirac at least had the Gaullist backbone of the
refusal to be subservient, which enabled him to
resist the general recruitment for the invasion
of Iraq, in partnership with the German
chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Russian president
Vladimir Putin. Nicolas Sarkozy himself hasn’t
had any backbone, national or European. He will
have done nothing, only cross the political
landscape (14) driven by interests foreign to the
common good of the French and Europeans.

These declining or anecdotal trends have, of
course, been reinforced by the Anglo-Saxon
domination of the European agenda, pushing
expansion and the European Market to the
detriment of integration and European power. In
the end, that’s 17 years that France has ceased
making its intellectual contribution to the
advance of European integration (15). This
“French absence” at European level was only the
reflection of a growing disconnect between
Parisian power and the true country (16); a
situation which, according to LEAP/E2020, is
approaching its denouement with the overwhelming
rejection of the current president by the French.

Without too much of a wait, the next election of
François Hollande at France’s helm will allow the
bond between the true country (17) and French
leaders to be rebuilt, at least for a year or
two; sufficient time to revitalize the French
contribution at European level. The socialist
candidate’s personality also works in favour of
this development. He’s a politician for whom
Europe is a key component of his commitment,
along Mitterrand-Delors lines; and he has the
right profile for future Euroland leaders over
this 2012-2016 period: they will have to be good
team players because managing Euroland will be a
team business and not one for individuals. These
five years will more resemble an in-house stowing
of a space station’s various pieces of equipment
than a cavalry charge. Each epoch needs a certain
kind of leader: the Euroland of the next few
years needs European team members, reliable and
inventive, knowing where they want to go and
aware that they can’t get there on their own.
Beyond any partisan considerations, in his course
and the conduct of his campaign, our team thinks
that François Hollande has shown that he has these
qualities (18).

In this context, he has to urgently reposition
his campaign speeches on the renegotiation of the
current European treaty into promising to
negotiate additions to it. It’s necessary to
reassure the German and Dutch partners in
particular; and it’s useful for Angela Merkel to
avoid making the major strategic error of
entering the campaign at Nicolas Sarkozy’s side
(19). For, on the one hand, this does nothing to
avoid the defeat of the latter (and even the
opposite); and, on the other, that will make the
first months of Franco-German co-operation after
the 6th May 2012 more difficult, even if it’s
urgent to open the driving core of Euroland to
other countries (Netherlands, Spain, Italy,…).

At the same time these two years will see the
acceleration of the difference between Euroland
and the EU. It is a phenomenon which will in fact
characterize the whole of the decade. Euroland
which functions to a large extent in the form of
informal networks will gradually have to equip
itself with some institutional bases. They will
be modest because nobody wants a repeat of the
bureaucracy which definitively ossified Brussels;
but modelled on the ECB, the MES, a secretariat
of Euroland governance will prove to be necessary
very quickly, then certain specific institutions
as well as a specific Euroland component within
the European Parliament (meetings reserved for
the European representatives of the Euroland
countries to discuss specific Euroland questions,
modelled on the Euroland summits).

This development will be all the more strong and
rapid that the United Kingdom will try to slow
down or block Euroland actions. There was such an
example of the counter-productive effect of the
British veto last December; it quite simply
obliged the others to move on without London.

In general, Eurolanders will seek to use the
existing EU institutions but distancing
non-Eurolanders from the decision-making
processes. Each time it’s impossible or too
complicated, a new institutional base will be
created. This development will be all the easier
as all the EU countries, except for the United
Kingdom, have a rationale for adhesion to the
Euro in fact (20). Most EU countries know that
they will be in Euroland by 2017; which greatly
facilitates Euroland progress for the years to come.

Thus, after about fifteen years of mistakes under
British and US influence, during which Europeans
were misled on enlargement projects without a
future (Turkey, Ukraine,…) (21) and illusory
economic-financial strategies (Lisbon treaty
strategy,…), the next few years will bear the
mark of the return to political and economic
integration, as was the case at the time of the
first EU renaissance in 1984-1992. According To
LEAP/E2020, 2012/2013 will thus mark the
beginning of the second EU renaissance.

Notes:

(1) That’s to say being able to call up all a
“sovereign’s” attributes: currency, budget,
economy, international policy and defence.

(2) By the way, we point out that LEAP/E2020’s
anticipations since 2006 /2007 on Euroland’s
emergence due to the global systemic crisis
proved to be right; just like our warnings
against the forecasts of those who saw, still
only a few months ago, the Eurozone breaking up
and the Euro disappearing. Remember that on this
subject our anticipations have always been
founded on rational and objective analyses,
respecting the principles of political
anticipation methodology, whatever the personal
opinions of our team members. It’s that, and only
that, which has enabled us, since 2006, to calmly
face the dominant thinking or the periods of mass
hysteria which always feels outraged by refusals
to think like everyone else. In a crisis period,
lucidity is essential to try to understand events
and their consequences. Yet lucidity is
incompatible with “ready to think”, whether
dictated by power or fear. By way of an anecdote,
CNBC ’s headline on 15/2/2012 on a better
Euroland economic performance than forecast by
the Anglo-Saxon “experts” was very revealing:
“Euroland GNP better than hoped for. What does
that mean?”. On the one hand, one can
legitimately wonder whether the first part of the
title shouldn’t have said “ Euroland GNP “not as
bad as hoped” to reflect these “experts’” real
state of mind ? And, on the other hand, the
question in the second part of the headline
sounds like a kind of confession: “and if one had
taken our desires for realities?”.

(3) This trend is reinforced by the massive
arrival during this decade of the generations
born after the signature of the Treaty of Rome,
the first generations for which Europe is a
natural socio-political area… unlike the
babyboomer generation, privileged pool of the Eurosceptics.

(4) Of which the Anglo-Saxon media which nourish
the world media goldfish bowl are incapable, in
particular because they generally look through
the British prism which is ideologically unable
to understand the continental process of European
integration as other than a threat to avert or
scorn. Two attitudes which aren’t very favourable
for generating lucidity over events.

(5) For information, nearly a year before the
French and Dutch referenda on the European
Constitution, in the context of the splitting of
responsibilities between national and European
institutions, we anticipated that the “No” votes
would carry the day in the two countries (when
all the surveys gave victory to the “Yes” votes).

(6) In previous GEAB issues we have already
evoked the comparison with the Euro-missile
crisis, which in less than three years led the
European Community, after a change of leaders,
from an existential crisis to the first
renaissance of the Community project (1984-1992).

(7) It is so true that they are able to replace
failing politicians in government posts like
Mario Monti in Italy or Lucas Papademos in
Greece… and with an unquestionable success for
the moment in the case of Mario Monti. This
situation thus leads citizens to cast a very
critical eye over their national political
classes, pushing them to reform themselves in the
next few years. Source: Independent, 15/02/2012

(8) The two cases are exclusive since a visionary
politician has little chance of letting himself
be trapped in a frightening situation; whereas
the frightened politician is the one who has
exactly no idea how to get out of a trap.

(9) Countries which Nicolas Sarkozy’s France
clung to, so as not to appear as belonging to the other camp

(10) Once the Greek situation has been
stabilized, Ireland and its tax dumping will be
the centre of Euroland’s attention.

(11) The City has led a two year “blitzkrieg” in
vain to try and break the Eurozone. From now on
Euroland will increase the pressure each year to
reduce the already declining power of the City.
And David Cameron, like the British Eurosceptics
financed by the hedge funds, won’t be able to do
much by the way, whatever they think only 34
kilometres separate Dover from Calais.

(12) In particular, a vast programme, successor
to Erasmus, simultaneously training the European
elite, of a sufficient number and quality; and to
offer the European dimension to hundreds of
thousands of young people each year, is a very
practical form of democratizing access to Europe.

(13) A few years ago our team ironically
explained to the high level officials in Brussels
that if they didn’t set up trans-Euroland
solidarity policies to face asymmetrical shocks,
then it would be necessary for them to invest
heavily in European riot police to control citizens’ anger.

(14) We remind that we have been anticipating
since November 2010, in GEAB N°49, that Nicolas
Sarkozy wouldn’t be reelected in 2012.

(15) The episodes of the poor European
constitution project and the adoption of the
Treaty of Lisbon without a referendum are two other illustrations.

(16) A president re-elected by default in 2002
when Jacques Chirac faced with Jean-Marie le Pen;
and deception over the “goods”, identified too
late after his election, with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

(17) One of the axes of his policy exactly aims
at decentralizing, “de-parisianising” French
power. Source: Débats 2012, 27/01/2012

(18) He will have five years to prove that he can be François EurHollande.

(19) An error largely interpreted as such in Germany.

(20) Including Denmark which is waiting for the
right moment for a referendum on the subject
(source: Euronews, 23/01/2012). The Czech case is
very simple: with Vaclav Klaus no longer
president, the Czech Republic will join the
remainder of the European countries to prepare
for Euro entry. It will be a phenomenon similar
to the 2007 replacement of the Polish Kaczynski
twins, pro-American and anti-European, by current
the Prime Minister Donald Tusk, leading to a 180°
turn in European policy. A final remark on the
Klaus case: his party like his re-election to the
presidency in 2008, via the vote of members of
the Czech parliament, faced multiple accusations
of corruption. Its “representativeness” of Czech
public opinion is measured with these kind of
“details”. In 2013, the president will finally be
elected by universal suffrage. Source: Rue89, 09/02/2011

(21) This drift of the original European project
prevented citizens from concentrating on the
question of the governance/democratization tandem
since Europe was always a movable feast. Thus,
even at young generation level, the official
promotion of this Europe without borders
prevented the emergence of new initiatives to try
and influence their future. Our team can note
that currently, and at very high speed, this situation
is changing radically.








































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FEDERAL RESERVE IS A CACHE OF STOLEN ASSETS
http://www.batr.org/totalitariancollecti...00911.html

The American "TC" Saga - Part 1 - INTRODUCTION
The American "TC" Saga - Part 2 - STATE
The American "TC" Saga - Part 3 - CHURCH
The American "TC" Saga - Part 4 - FAMILY
The American "TC" Saga - Part 5 - ECONOMY
The American "TC" Saga - Part 6 - SCHOOL
The American "TC" Saga - Part 7 - MEDIA
The American "TC" Saga - Part 8 - CORPORATIONS and LAW
The American "TC" Saga - Part 9 - CORPORATE STATE
The American "TC" Saga - Part 10 - GLOBAL CONTROLLERS


BREAKING ALL THE RULES
BREAKING ALL THE RULES Forum

Totalitarian Collectivism

Until the control of the issue of currency and credit is restored to government and recognized as its most conspicuous and sacred responsibility, all talk of sovereignty of Parliament and of democracy is idle and futile... Once a nation parts with control of its credit, it matters not who makes the nation’s laws... Usury once in control will wreck any nation.

William Lyon Mackenzie King

Federal Reserve is a Cache of Stolen Assets

The American Revolution, in no small part, was a repudiation of the central banking tyranny exported to the New World by the Bank of England. Few legacies have grown more despotic than the consequences of living under the rule of fractional reserve banking. Many good willed conservatives understand that the system is imploding. Some envision a second American Revolution that expels the remnant Tories that have hijacked our Federalism separation of powers form of government. Woefully, the prospects for a States Rights revolt are slim. However, the scenario of a domestic French Revolution style carnage is brewing with every escalation of the pompous arrogance worthy of a Jean-Joseph, marquis de Laborde or the manipulative usury of the House of Rothschild.

The eruption of populist outrage is long overdue. The lack of objective mainstream media coverage is expected. Their attempt to spin the natural disguise for a corrupt establishment in the hearts of sincere and persecuted citizens is typical. The elite’s message is that they will either control the movement, or at the very least, strip it from any positive synergism. Send in the clowns, like Michael Moore. Wall Street Capitalism: A Love Affair explains the hideous agenda of the clueless socialists that condemn all things Wall Street, while advancing the ultimate goals of the New World Order globalists. Street theater no longer is enough. The peasants are rallying their pitchforks, as they storm the Bastille; however, they got their GPS coordinates wrong. The correct address is 33 Liberty Street, New York, NY. That is the location of the dominate Federal Reserve temple. When the public finally comes to grips with the real cause of the unsustainable debt, they will understand that the private central banking system bears the ultimate redress for their sins against America and all humanity.

A Privatised Money Supply, presents an informative analysis.
Assuming a reserve ratio of 1:10 the table below shows how $100 of interest-free government created money (GCM), i.e. cash, is used by the banking system to create $900 of interest-bearing bank-created money (BCM) in the form of loans. The reserve ratio is the ratio of cash reserves (GCM) to deposits (mostly BCM). In our example the banking system consists of 50 banks, but the money creation process would be essentially the same for any number of banks from one to infinity.

Modern accounting uses double entry book keeping where liabilities and assets are kept exactly equal. A bank’s liabilities are its deposits. Its assets are its loans (including bonds which are loans to government) and its cash reserves. Here is how the banking system creates money. In column 1 $100 of cash is deposited in Bank 1. Bank 1 creates a $90 loan in the form of a deposit as shown in column 2. This deposit is pure BCM and, because it must be paid back with interest, is an asset. With a reserve ratio of 1:10 the bank puts aside $10 in cash (column 3) to meet cash demands from the person who deposited the $100. The remaining $90 in cash covers the $90 loan. The borrower proceeds to write cheques on his $90 deposit and these cheques get deposited in Bank 2. For these cheques Bank 2 demands and gets cash from Bank 1 until eventually all $90 ends up in Bank 2. (Naturally in real life more than two banks are involved. Thus the transactions are not so simple and orderly as they must be here for explanatory purposes, but everything comes out in the wash to give exactly the same result.) However the original $100 deposit still stands to the credit of the depositor (a liability for Bank 1) even though $90 of it has moved on to Bank 2. And the $90 loan Bank 1 created when it first received the original $100 deposit also stands (an asset for Bank 1). Banks 2, 3, 4, etc. then repeat this process eventually creating $900 of BCM in the form of loans (as shown in column 2) and dispersing the original $100 as cash reserves throughout the banking system (as shown in column 3).

Note that $900 of the $1000 of deposits in column 1 is BCM, i.e. credit created by the banks in the form of loans. (Banks make loans by "depositing money" in your account which you must pay back with interest. Thus they are loan/deposits.) Only the original $100 cash deposit is GCM. One other point. As a loan/deposit gets spent, a deposit in some other bank grows in inverse proportion. Thus the banks have increased the money supply by $900 and not by $1800. That would be double counting. The important points, however, are as follows: this ingenious system is called fractional reserve banking; it creates debt for the sole purpose of enriching the banking class; it is a subtle form of theft; historically it was condemned as a form of usury.



Column 1


Column 2


Column 3



LIABILITIES


ASSETS


ASSETS



Deposits (90% BCM)




=


Loan/Deposits (100% BCM)




+

Cash Reserves (100% GCM)


Bank 1

Bank 2

Bank 3
.
.
.

Bank 49

Bank 50

Totals

$100.00
90.00
81.00
.
.
.

0.64

0.57

$994.85
$90.00
81.00
72.90
.
.
.

0.57

0.52

$895.36
$10.00
9.00
8.10
.
.
.

0.6

0.6

$99.43


Max Amount
$1000.00
=

$900.00
+

$100.00



This method of theft operates as the normal course of business. What the banksters do with the money they obtain from debt created money is even more repulsive. All the financial speculative instruments of leveraged trading just compound the heist. So what do these outlaws do with all the money?

The end net result is that they buy, especially at rock bottom prices, all the real assets that the filthy money can purchase. When you think of Wall Street greed, go beyond the usual suspects and focus on the controllers of the assets that are under the hegemony of the central bank. Here lies the reason why the rebellion must remove the engine of enslavement from the landscape for any future financial system of commerce.

Think about who really owns the land, the buildings and the resources in our country. In order to really understand the scope and extent of the economy, the differential between actual Main Street enterprise, that feeds, clothes and shelters the population, is minuscule when compared to the financial assets, both liquid and real property, that is under the command and control of the central bank.

Most individuals do not own property encumbrance free. Most debt is owed to the banksters. The middle class is in a tailspin because the Fed has a zero interest rate policy that effectively diminished your return on capital of your savings to nothing. The same is not true for the banks. The fact that they have in excess of a 2 Trillion Dollars cash hoard on their balance sheets and refuse to lend out money to the general public, demonstrates that the inside money is waiting to pick up even more real assets, when the signal comes for the total collapse.

TARP, QE2 and the Twist are all ploys to enrich the selective banks that are part of the orthodox Fed fraternity. Technically all federal charted banks have an ownership interest in the Fed. Who among us are so naive to think that every bank is equal to the sacredly held corporate interlocking directorates that make and direct monetary policy?

Only when the middle class takes to the streets with a spontaneous civil disobedience commitment that dwarfs the Tea Party movement, will the central banking tyranny be eliminated. All the fraudulent debt that funded the asset acquisitions of crooks must be clawed back. As long as the banksters hide behind the shield of corporation personhood, LLC liability exemption and government guaranteed loans, the ordinary family will continue to be reduced to perpetual and permanent poverty.

What kind of revolution is coming to America? The lesson of the French élan of bloodletting to remove an aristocratic class is not pretty. However, a national discussion needs to concentrate on:

1) Methods of eliminating the Federal Reserve fraud and restoring an honest money system for commerce

2) Repudiation of the corporatist "Free Trade" global business model and a return to a merchant class free enterprise independent domestic economy

3) Confiscation of assets and wealth acquired through illegal systematic RICO style schemes that demand treble damages from their ill-gotten gain

Americans deserve property right protections from the criminal extortion and the cold-blooded offenses that the banksters used, to steal the national wealth. The expanding protest must result in a true restoration of a traditional upwardly mobile society, not an expanded nanny state. The suffocating debt and the profane system that spawned it must end. The term "Citizen" does not apply to elitist plutocrats. If Americans want to stave off a 21st century version, of the Committee of Public Safety, get behind the "Revolt against the Fed". Tear down the House of Rothschild. This is one time the concept of "Reparations" has standing in a legitimate court of law.

SARTRE – October 9, 2011

 
Banking was conceived in iniquity and born in sin... Bankers own the earth. Take it away from them but leave them the power to create money, and, with a flick of the pen, they will create enough money to buy it back again... Take this great power away from them and all the great fortunes like mine will disappear and they ought to disappear, for then this would be a better and happier world to live in... But, if you want to be the slaves of the bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, then let bankers continue to create money and control credit.

Sir Josiah Stamp (attributed)

(A director of the Bank of England in the 1920s)









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WHY I AM LEAVING GOLDMAN SACHS
Greg Smith
March 14, 2012 - Op-Ed Contributor
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/opinio...sachs.html

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.
When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.
Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.

When I was a first-year analyst I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a derivative was, understanding finance, getting to know our clients and what motivated them, learning how they defined success and what we could do to help them get there.
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients - for very much longer.


Greg Smith is resigning today as a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


REACTING TO GOLDMAN EXECUTIVES RESIGNATION LETTER
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/g...ic-letter/


Mr. Smith, who was head of Goldman’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said clients’ interests were sidelined in how the firm operated and thought about making money. Mr. Smith placed the blame for this cultural change on top management, including Goldman’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and its president, Gary D. Cohn.

I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival. It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons.

Goldman Sachs took issue with the opinion piece, defending the investment bank’s practices and its treatment of clients.

“We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business,” said a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs. “In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves.”

Within hours, the public resignation letter had sparked a storm of comment on the Web and Twitter, with some calling it a “must read” and others a “public relations disaster".
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WALL STREET CONFIDENCE TRICK: HOW "INTEREST RATE SWAPS" ARE BANKRUPTING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Ellen Brown
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=29907
Global Research, March 22, 2012

Web of Debt


Far from reducing risk, derivatives increase risk, often with catastrophic results. — Derivatives expert Satyajit Das, Extreme Money (2011)


The “toxic culture of greed” on Wall Street was highlighted again last week, when Greg Smith went public with his resignation from Goldman Sachs in a scathing oped published in the New York Times. In other recent eyebrow-raisers, LIBOR rates—the benchmark interest rates involved in interest rate swaps—were shown to be manipulated by the banks that would have to pay up; and the objectivity of the ISDA (International Swaps and Derivatives Association) was called into question, when a 50% haircut for creditors was not declared a “default” requiring counterparties to pay on credit default swaps on Greek sovereign debt.

Interest rate swaps are less often in the news than credit default swaps, but they are far more important in terms of revenue, composing fully 82% of the derivatives trade. In February, JP Morgan Chase revealed that it had cleared $1.4 billion in revenue on trading interest rate swaps in 2011, making them one of the bank’s biggest sources of profit. According to the Bank for International Settlements:

[I]nterest rate swaps are the largest component of the global OTC derivative market. The notional amount outstanding as of June 2009 in OTC interest rate swaps was $342 trillion, up from $310 trillion in Dec 2007. The gross market value was $13.9 trillion in June 2009, up from $6.2 trillion in Dec 2007.

For more than a decade, banks and insurance companies convinced local governments, hospitals, universities and other non-profits that interest rate swaps would lower interest rates on bonds sold for public projects such as roads, bridges and schools. The swaps were entered into to insure against a rise in interest rates; but instead, interest rates fell to historically low levels. This was not a flood, earthquake, or other insurable risk due to environmental unknowns or “acts of God.” It was a deliberate, manipulated move by the Fed, acting to save the banks from their own folly in precipitating the credit crisis of 2008. The banks got in trouble, and the Federal Reserve and federal government rushed in to bail them out, rewarding them for their misdeeds at the expense of the taxpayers.

How the swaps were supposed to work was explained by Michael McDonald in a November 2010 Bloomberg article titled “Wall Street Collects $4 Billion From Taxpayers as Swaps Backfire”:

In an interest-rate swap, two parties exchange payments on an agreed-upon amount of principal. Most of the swaps Wall Street sold in the municipal market required borrowers to issue long-term securities with interest rates that changed every week or month. The borrowers would then exchange payments, leaving them paying a fixed-rate to a bank or insurance company and receiving a variable rate in return. Sometimes borrowers got lump sums for entering agreements.

Banks and borrowers were supposed to be paying equal rates: the fat years would balance out the lean. But the Fed artificially manipulated the rates to the save the banks. After the credit crisis broke out, borrowers had to continue selling adjustable-rate securities at auction under the deals. Auction interest rates soared when bond insurers’ ratings were downgraded because of subprime mortgage losses; but the periodic payments that banks made to borrowers as part of the swaps plunged, because they were linked to benchmarks such as Federal Reserve lending rates, which were slashed to almost zero.

In a February 2010 article titled “How Big Banks' Interest-Rate Schemes Bankrupt States,” Mike Elk compared the swaps to payday loans. They were bad deals, but municipal council members had no other way of getting the money. He quoted economist Susan Ozawa of the New School:

The markets were pricing in serious falls in the prime interest rate. . . . So it would have been clear that this was not going to be a good deal over the life of the contracts. So the states and municipalities were entering into these long maturity swaps out of necessity. They were desperate, if not naive, and couldn't look to the Federal Government or Congress and had to turn themselves over to the banks.

Elk wrote:

As almost all reasoned economists had predicted in the wake of a deepening recession, the federal government aggressively drove down interest rates to save the big banks. This created opportunity for banks – whose variable payments on the derivative deals were tied to interest rates set largely by the Federal Reserve and Government – to profit excessively at the expense of state and local governments. While banks are still collecting fixed rates of from 4 percent to 6 percent, they are now regularly paying state and local governments as little as a tenth of one percent on the outstanding bonds – with no end to the low rates in sight.

. . . [W]ith the fed lowering interest rates, which was anticipated, now states and local governments are paying about 50 times what the banks are paying. Talk about a windfall profit the banks are making off of the suffering of local economies.

To make matters worse, these state and local governments have no way of getting out of these deals. Banks are demanding that state and local governments pay tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to exit these deals. In some cases, banks are forcing termination of the deals against the will of state and local governments, using obscure contract provisions written in the fine print.

By the end of 2010, according to Michael McDonald, borrowers had paid over $4 billion just to get out of the swap deals. Among other disasters, he lists these:

California’s water resources department . . . spent $305 million unwinding interest-rate bets that backfired, handing over the money to banks led by New York-based Morgan Stanley. North Carolina paid $59.8 million in August, enough to cover the annual salaries of about 1,400 full-time state employees. Reading, Pennsylvania, which sought protection in the state’s fiscally distressed communities program, got caught on the wrong end of the deals, costing it $21 million, equal to more than a year’s worth of real-estate taxes.

In a March 15th article on Counterpunch titled “An Inside Glimpse Into the Nefarious Operations of Goldman Sachs: A Toxic System,” Darwin Bond-Graham adds these cases from California:

The most obvious example is the city of Oakland where a chronic budget crisis has led to the shuttering of schools and cuts to elder services, housing, and public safety. Oakland signed an interest rate swap with Goldman in 1997. . . .

Across the Bay, Goldman Sachs signed an interest rate swap agreement with the San Francisco International Airport in 2007 to hedge $143 million in debt. Today this agreement has a negative value to the Airport of about $22 million, even though its terms were much better than those Oakland agreed to.

Greg Smith wrote that at Goldman Sachs, the gullible bureaucrats on the other side of these deals were called “muppets.” But even sophisticated players could have found themselves on the wrong side of this sort of manipulated bet. Satyajit Das gives the example of Harvard University’s bad swap deals under the presidency of Larry Summers, who had fought against derivatives regulation as Treasury Secretary in 1999. There could hardly be more sophisticated players than Summers and Harvard University. But then who could have anticipated, when the Fed funds rate was at 5%, that the Fed would push it nearly to zero? When the game is rigged, even the most experienced gamblers can lose their shirts.

Courts have dismissed complaints from aggrieved borrowers alleging securities fraud, ruling that interest-rate swaps are privately negotiated contracts, not securities; and “a deal is a deal.” So says contract law, strictly construed; but municipal governments and the taxpayers supporting them clearly have a claim in equity. The banks have made outrageous profits by capitalizing on their own misdeeds. They have already been paid several times over: first with taxpayer bailout money; then with nearly free loans from the Fed; then with fees, penalties and exaggerated losses imposed on municipalities and other counterparties under the interest rate swaps themselves.

Bond-Graham writes:

The windfall of revenue accruing to JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and their peers from interest rate swap derivatives is due to nothing other than political decisions that have been made at the federal level to allow these deals to run their course, even while benchmark interest rates, influenced by the Federal Reserve’s rate setting, and determined by many of these same banks (the London Interbank Offered Rate, LIBOR) linger close to zero. These political decisions have determined that virtually all interest rate swaps between local and state governments and the largest banks have turned into perverse contracts whereby cities, counties, school districts, water agencies, airports, transit authorities, and hospitals pay millions yearly to the few elite banks that run the global financial system, for nothing meaningful in return.

Why are these swaps so popular, if they can be such a bad deal for borrowers? Bond-Graham maintains that capitalism as it functions today is completely dependent upon derivatives. We live in a global sea of variable interest rates, exchange rates, and default rates. There is no stable ground on which to anchor the economic ship, so financial products for “hedging against risk” have been sold to governments and corporations as essentials of business and trade. But this “financial engineering” is sold, not by disinterested third parties, but by the very sharks who stand to profit from their counterparties’ loss. Fairness is thrown out in favor of gaming the system. Deals tend to be rigged and contracts to be misleading.

How could local governments reduce their borrowing costs and insure against interest rate volatility without putting themselves at the mercy of this Wall Street culture of greed? One possibility is for them to own some banks. State and municipal governments could put their revenues in their own publicly-owned banks; leverage this money into credit as all banks are entitled to do; and use that credit either to fund their own projects or to buy municipal bonds at the market rate, hedging the interest rates on their own bonds.

The creation of credit has too long been delegated to a cadre of private middlemen who have flagrantly abused the privilege. We can avoid the derivatives trap by cutting out the middlemen and creating our own credit, following the precedent of the Bank of North Dakota and many other public banks abroad.

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