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Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Power of the Finance Ministry

Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Power of the Finance Ministry

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

8 January 2015

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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This is the seventh installment in a series looking at the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first partsecond partthird partfourth partfifth part and sixth part in the series.

Throughout the course of the financial and debt crises in Europe, politicians played a supporting role to financial markets and financial technocrats – that is, the economists, academics, central bankers, finance ministers and heads of international organizations who articulate the interests of powerful financial and social groups in the technocratic language of “expertise,” and who enact policies, create and shape major institutions, and whose decisions affect the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, of people.

A number of the world’s top technocrats between 2008 and 2014 have been members or guests of Bilderberg meetings. Most especially, European technocrats have been highly represented within the membership, and were among the most influential players throughout Europe’s financial and debt crises. This article examines the technocratic institution of the “Finance Ministry,” specifically as it relates to the European debt crisis and the Bilderberg Group.

The Ministry of Finance

Finance ministers and ministries have truly immense power in the modern world. They manage the finances – money and debt – and budgets of states, and are responsible for the allocation of funding to governments, their departments, and their policies. Depending on an individual nation’s power and governance system, finance ministries can often wield influence that dwarfs other top government officials, and occasionally even presidents and prime ministers. They are pivotal determining domestic and foreign policy, and most responsible for designing and implementing financial and economic policy.

The wealthier a nation, the more important its finance ministry, and the more powerful are its officials. In the United States, it’s the Treasury Department and its secretary; in the U.K. it’s the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; in most European nations, and in Japan, it’s simply the Finance Minister.

In January of 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with the leaders of France, Britain and West Germany. The New York Times noted that Carter was the only leader in the group who had not previously served as a finance minister. The paper’s Frank Vogl wrote: “More former finance ministers are now occupying the top political offices in the leading industrial nations than ever,” with the addition of Japan’s new prime minister, Masayoshi Ohira. The leaders knew each other well, having spent years interacting at major conferences and coordinating policies as finance ministers before taking the top political spots. Collectively, they are key officials of “global economic leadership.”

The role of finance ministers in global economic leadership has only expanded in subsequent decades. They meet, discuss and coordinate global policies alongside central bankers at the G7, G8 and G20 meetings. The also hold shares in and are represented on the boards of international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which manages the finances and economic policies of dozens of countries around the world.

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Europe in Crisis

Europe’s finance ministers were pivotal in the management of the European debt crisis. These technocrats shaped the financial policies of powerful nations and international organizations, coordinated with central banks, created new transnational institutions, and pushed policies that have had profound effects upon the future of the European Union and the 500 million people who live within it. Many of the most influential finance ministers in Europe were also frequent participants in Bilderberg meetings over the period of time from the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 and throughout the debt crisis until 2014.

Throughout the course of the European debt crisis, Germany was joined by what the Financial Times called “its two closest allies in the Eurozone,” the Netherlands and Finland, who shared the German hardline demands of austerity and structural reforms for countries in crisis. Together, the central banks and finance ministries of these three nations frequently coordinated actions and objectives.

The three countries were among the major creditors to the crisis-hit debtor nations, and thus their united response to the crisis guaranteed that they would be the most influential national bloc within the E.U. This gave them a great deal of leverage in shaping the policies of other major technocratic institutions, like the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC).

In 2008, the Financial Times ranked Finland’s Jyrki Katainen as the top finance minister in Europe, describing him as “part of a new wave of youthful center-right European leaders,” and one who could possibly become the future Finnish prime minister. In 2010, Katainen was again ranked on the top ten list of the best finance ministers in Europe, as determined by a group of judges who were mainly chief economists from major banks.

The Financial Times noted that Katainen, who had served as minister since 2007, led Finland “through its deepest recession since independence from Russia in 1917,” and that he was “a chief ally of Germany in the push for tougher European Union fiscal rules.” Katainen had attended Bilderberg meetings in both 2009 and 2010.

The following year, in 2011, Katainen took the top job as Prime Minister of Finland, forming a coalition government in which he appointed one of the opposition party leaders, Jutta Urpilainen, as the Finance Minister, the first woman to hold the post. The Financial Times noted that Urpilainen was “likely to take a tough stance on Eurozone policy,” committing herself and the government “to helping create a more stable Eurozone.”

In May of 2012, the Financial Times wrote that previously as finance minister and presently as prime minister, Jyrki Katainen had taken Finland on “a hard line over matters such as the Greek bailout and austerity, often exceeding the position even of Germany.” As part of this “hard line” abroad, Finland also employed it at home, with Katainen overseeing the implementation of successive austerity measures. In 2013, while Finland was entering its third recession since the financial crisis began – all under Katainen’s watch – the prime minister announced further budget cuts.

Finland’s hard line from 2011 on was pushed by its finance minister Jutta Urpilainen, “who took a more demanding position on the crisis.” Urpilainen attended Bilderberg meetings in 2012 and 2013. In 2011, the Financial Times ranked Urpilainen on the list of top ten European finance ministers, noting that she “demanded ailing fellow Eurozone economies provide collateral in return for aid… earning herself a reputation in Brussels as stubborn.”

She again earned a top ten spot in 2012, with the Financial Times commenting that she had “taken one of the toughest approaches on bailouts among her European counterparts,” and in doing so had “caused tension with her predecessor, Kyrki Katainen,” then serving as prime minister.

In the midst of the eruption of the Greek debt crisis in 2010, the Greek Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou, who was responsible for negotiating the E.U. bailout, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting. That same year, the Financial Times gave him a top ten ranking, noting that he had “stayed cool while negotiating harsh fiscal and structural reforms with the European Union and [IMF],” and that he cut the budget deficit “by a national record.” This, of course, had extremely negative consequences for the population of Greece.

In the midst of Italy’s exploding debt crisis in 2011, its finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting having also earned himself a top ten ranking in 2009. A former Italian finance minister, Tomasso Padoa-Schioppa, had also attended Bilderberg meetings between 2008 and 2010.

In 2013, the Bilderberg meeting was attended by Bjarne Corydon, the Danish finance minister, as well as Anders Borg, the Swedish finance minister. Anders Borg ranked among the top ten finance ministers in all of the Financial Times surveys between 2008 and 2012, including holding the number one and number two ranking for 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2010, the Financial Times noted that “Borg has had a good crisis,” as he “established himself as one of Europe’s most authoritative economic voices, and his reputation has been enhanced by Sweden’s rapid recovery from recession.”

In 2011, the Financial Times wrote that Borg, a former banker who had served as Swedish finance minister since 2005, “is a master at blending erudition with popular appeal,” noting that his criticism of bank bonuses “won voters’ hearts while his devotion to fiscal discipline [austerity] and sound public finances has endeared him to the markets.” Borg carries heavy weight in Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, earning a reputation as “the wizard behind one of Europe’s best-performing economies.”

Shortly after the democratically-elected governments of Greece and Italy were replaced with bankers and economists in a technocratic coup in November of 2011, the Financial Times reported that “Sweden has, in effect, had an unelected technocrat running its public finances for the past six years.” That technocrat, Anders Borg, previously “worked as a bank economist in the private sector and as an adviser to both Sweden’s central bank and the country’s Moderate party.”

Throughout the European debt crisis, meetings of the Eurogroup, composed of the finance ministers of the 17-member states of the single currency, played a key role doing “the heavy lifting on the bloc’s economic policy, from banking reforms to bailouts.” The “Troika” that was formed to manage the debt crisis – composed of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – would report directly to the Eurogroup of finance ministers on all important decisions related to the bailouts and austerity packages.

Finance ministers, together with Europe’s central bankers and other technocrats leading major EU and international organizations, were key to shaping the response and policies of the financial and debt crisis. At Bilderberg meetings, all of these officials were able to gather together, alongside captains of industry and top financiers, to discuss Europe’s problems and coordinate responses.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada. 

Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Cult of Austerity

Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Cult of Austerity

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

26 December 2014

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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This is the sixth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first partsecond partthird partfourth part, and fifth part in the series.

It could almost be a slogan: Bilderberg brings people together. Specifically, every year, the Bilderberg Group holds secret, “private” meetings at four star hotels around the world, bringing together nearly 150 of the world’s most influential bankers, corporate executives, dynasties, heads-of-state, foreign policy strategists, central bankers and finance ministers. It also invites the heads of international organizations, think tanks, foundations, universities, military and intelligence officials, media barons, journalists and academics.

Participants at Bilderberg appreciate having a closed-door forum where they can speak openly and directly to one other – and of course, not to us. But perhaps we, the people, would also like to hear what they have to say. For the past four years, Bilderbergers have been running around the world preaching the gospel of “austerity” and “structural reform” – very important terms. If you don’t know what they mean, Bilderbergers are working their day jobs to make sure you will learn.

What is Austerity?

If you’ve been to Bilderberg, chances are you’re a fan of austerity: promoting it, demanding it, implementing it and profiting from it.

Austerity has several names and phrases, including “fiscal consolidation” and “balancing the budget.” There are so many things to call it – but in the end you know it’s austerity because the policies are the same and the effects of those policies are, too. There is a reason why political and technocratic language is made to sound so vague and dull: because behind the words lie brutal actions and devastating consequences. If we understood their true meaning, their use would very often be shocking and unacceptable. Instead, their use has become common and seemingly inconsequential.

Here, however, are the consequences:

Austerity is a set of policies which are, in theory, designed to help a nation or government reduce its “budget deficit,” balance its books and, in time, even produce a yearly “surplus,” or profit. Thus, “austerity measures” are designed to do one thing: cut spending on almost everything, except, of course, the really important things like military and police, subsidies to large banks and corporations, and debt repayments. Otherwise it’s like at a clearance sale for countries, where everything must go. This is how the story generally works:

A country is in the midst of a “fiscal crisis.” It must make a very large interest payment on a debt it owes to some very large banks. These banks individually control more wealth and assets than most of the countries they deal with. Collectively, the banks hold more wealth and assets than any other single group in the world, and they always want their pound of flesh. When a country needs money, banks are there to help. Then the country is in their debt, with regular interest payments at a premium. A country can borrow an enormous sum of money by doing this, and not just from banks but from an array of financial institutions.

Apart from direct loans, this money is often borrowed in a very specific way. A country is in need of financing its budget over the coming year, so it plans what is called a “bond sale.” Bonds are financial instruments (aka, numbers on screens) that represent government or corporate debt. Governments sell their bonds in the “open market,” and when a government sells its bonds, the buyers are typically other nations, banks, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, international organizations and rich people. These parties “purchase” the bond at a set price, providing cash which that government puts in its treasury or finance ministry. In return, the newly purchased bond is a promise of future profits. It comes with a set interest rate and agreed upon dates for future payments. The government gets to fund its budget and manage its ministries and policies, while the banks earn interest – and influence.

The arrangement suits both parties, so long as it keeps going forever. But of course, it doesn’t. Eventually, the country builds up a substantial overall debt. Its interest payments become much larger and more frequent. Its need to borrow becomes much greater, and in ever greater amounts. On top of managing its budget, the government now has to pay huge sums of money to the global financial cartel. If the government can’t fund its budget, provide services and pay employees, it’s a government that is likely to collapse. But if it doesn’t pay its interest to the banks, then the government will almost certainly collapse. This is because it has entered the world of global financial warfare.

If a nation looks like it’s facing such a situation (which we call a “fiscal crisis”), financial markets tend to lose confidence in that country’s ability to repay its debts, and the downward spiral proceeds. They now begin to see the country as a “risk,” and suddenly institutions like credit ratings agencies are downgrading the country’s rating, just like a credit card company downgrades your individual rating. There are only three ratings agencies that dominate almost the entire global market for rating credit, so when they declare a downgrade, it becomes the gospel. This means that once a country is officially a risk, the financial institutions that continue to purchase its bonds (ie. debt) can demand a much higher interest rate on future payments, since those institutions are taking a greater risk.

At this point, one of two things happens. Either financial markets continue to purchase the country’s bonds with higher interest rates, or they decide that the country is too much of a risk and they refuse to fund it further. If they continue funding, the country continues to make its payments, though it remains unable to fund its regular functions. The country is left in a perpetual fiscal crisis whereby the interest payments get larger and the crisis gets deeper. This continues until financial markets stop purchasing debt.

The country is now in a major crisis. This is when rich, powerful governments and international organizations come to the “rescue” with money to lend – specifically, the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But their money comes with strict conditions. These conditions have been defined and demanded beforehand by the major banks and financial institutions, and by the plethora of economists, central banks and finance ministries that support them. These are the “experts” and technocrats of global economic governance.

Such conditions require a country to “fix the problem” that created its fiscal crisis. But the main problem facing countries, according to bankers, economists, technocrats and politicians, is that they spend far too much money on social services that benefit their populations. Therefore, in order for a country to be able to borrow, it must implement “correct” policies designed to balance its budget and restore public finances. These policies are collectively described as “austerity measures,” and the process of implementing them is frequently referred to as “fiscal consolidation.” Long story short: governments must cut spending.

This means that healthcare, education, pensions, welfare and social services must be drastically gutted, masses of public sector employees must be fired, and taxes must be increased. Thus, austerity creates a new class of unemployed, pushed into poverty and deprived of all the resources that are meant to help the poor and disadvantaged, let alone everyone else. The economy goes into a deep depression as people stop spending and businesses collapse, unemployment and poverty soar, suicide and mortality rates increase, and racial and ethnic conflicts erupt. All of this is done so that a country is able to get a large loan (sometimes called a national bailout) from institutions like the IMF, European Union and the central banks of powerful U.S., Japanese and European nations. This loan is provided in order to pay the interest the country owes to the global financial cartel.

Populations are impoverished and societies are devastated in order to pay interest to global banks. All of this happens as a result of numbers on screens. This is “austerity,” or “fiscal consolidation,” as we know it.

Time to Reform

Either coupled with or following from austerity measures, lenders and bankers demand that the conditions of the loans include not only “necessary” austerity measures, but also important “structural reforms.” This bland term hides policies and objectives behind it that have the effect of radically altering the entire structure of the economy over a period of several years or even decades. These “reforms” will make the economy strong and “competitive” again, and bring the country out of its austerity-induced depression.

Typical structural reforms include privatizing all state-owned companies, assets and resources, which allow foreign companies, states and banks to purchase important national assets cheaply (and provide a short cash infusion in the process). Countries then have to further “liberalize” markets by reducing any and all government protections and regulations over specific sectors of the economy, allowing foreign banks and corporations to “compete” on an “even playing field.” This forces local and national industries, businesses and communities to compete against some of the largest transnational corporations in the world, many with more wealth and assets than their entire country is worth. As a result, foreign investors can afford to out-compete the local economy by providing cheaper products and services while maintaining global profits. Local businesses cannot compete, so they fail or are bought up. This often contributes to growing unemployment.

One of the key “structural reforms” demanded is “labor flexibility.” In countries with unions, workers rights, pensions and protections, where the labor force has institutional power, the labor market is often considered “rigid.” It does not bend to the wishes and demands of corporations and financial markets that want labor to be “flexible” to their demands. What do they demand? Cheap, exploitable labor. Implementing “labor flexibility” means it’s necessary to dismantle labor protections, regulations and benefits. Essentially, it’s a war on the working class.

“Structural reforms,” in essence, open up a nation, its resources and its population to be controlled, exploited and plundered by the world’s largest banks and corporations. These would be hard policies to sell if those who sold them spoke plainly. Instead, they describe a world in which nations need to “increase competitiveness” and implement the necessary “structural reforms” to create “economic growth.” The point is that it’s all so technical, you’re not supposed to understand it. But actually, it’s pretty simple. Which is why, every day, more and more of us are getting the message.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. 

World of Resistance Report: IMF, World Bank, Giant Consultants Admit The Storm Is Coming

World of Resistance Report: IMF, World Bank, Giant Consultants Admit The Storm Is Coming

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

21 July 2014

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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Following Parts 123 and 4 of the World of Resistance Report, in this fifth installment I examine the warnings of social unrest and revolution emanating from the world’s major international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, as well as the world’s major consulting firms that provide strategic and investment advice to corporations, banks and investors around the world.

These two groups – financial institutions and the consultants that advise them – play key roles in the spread of institutionalized corporate and financial power, and as such, warnings from these groups about the threat posed by “social unrest” carry particular weight as they are geared toward a particular audience: the global oligarchy itself.

Organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank were responsible for forcing neoliberal economic “restructuring” on much of the developing world from the 1980s onwards, as the IMF and E.U. are currently imposing on Greece and large parts of Europe. The results have been and continue to be devastating for populations, while corporations and banks accumulate unprecedented wealth and power.

As IMF austerity programs spread across the globe, poverty followed, and so too did protests and rebellion. Between 1976 and 1992, there were 146 protests against IMF-sponsored programs in 39 different countries around the world, often resulting in violent state repression of the domestic populations (cited explicitly by Firoze Manji and Carl O’Coill in “The Missionary Position: NGOs and Development in Africa,” International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 3, 2002).

These same programs by the IMF and World Bank facilitated the massive growth of slums, as the policies demanded by the organizations forced countries to undertake massive layoffs, privatization, deregulation, austerity and the liberalization of markets – amounting, ultimately, to a new system of social genocide. The new poor and displaced rural communities flocked to cities in search of work and hope for a better future, only to be herded into massive urban shantytowns and slums. Today roughly one in seven people on Earth, or over 1 billion, live in slums. (An excellent source on this is Mike Davis’s “Planet of Slums”.)

How the Big Institutions Have Operated

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning former chief economist at the World Bank, blew the whistle on the World Bank’s and IMF’s policies in countries around the world – an act for which he was ultimately fired. In an interview with Greg Palast for the Guardian in 2001, Stiglitz explained that the same four steps of market liberalization are applied to every country.

The first includes privatization of state-owned industries and assets. The second step is capital market liberalization, which “allows investment capital to flow in and out,” though as he put it, “the money often simply flows out.” As Stiglitz explained, speculative cash flows into countries, and when there are signs of trouble it flows out dramatically in a matter of days, at which point the IMF demands the countries raise interest rates as high as 30% to 80%, further wrecking the economy.

At this point comes step three, called “market-based pricing,” in which prices get raised on food, water and cooking gas, leading to what Stiglitz calls “Step-Three-and-a-Half: the IMF riot.” When a nation is “down and out, [the IMF] squeezes the last drop of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up.” This process is always anticipated by the IMF and World Bank, which have even noted in various internal documents that their programs for countries could be expected to spark “social unrest.”

And finally comes step four, “free trade,” meaning that highly protectionist trade rules go into effect under supervision of the World Bank and World Trade Organization.

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Expecting Riots

The term “IMF riots” was applied to dozens of nations around the world that experienced waves of protests in response to the IMF/World Bank programs of the 1980s and 1990s, which plunged them into crisis through austerity measures, privatization and deregulation all enforced under so-called “structural adjustment programs.”

As the Guardian noted in September of 2012, “the European governments are out-IMF-ing the IMF in its austerity drive so much that now the fund itself frequently issues the warning that Europe is going too far, too fast.” Thus, we saw “IMF riots” – protests against austerity and structural adjustment measures – erupting over the past three years in Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere in the E.U.

An academic study published in August of 2011 by Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth examined the link between austerity and social unrest, analyzing 28 European countries between 1919 and 2009, and 11 Latin American countries since 1937. The researchers measured levels of social unrest looking at five major indicators: riots, anti-government protests, general strikes, political assassinations and attempted revolutions.

The verdict: The researchers found there was “a clear and positive statistical association between expenditure cuts and the level of unrest.” In other words, the more that austerity was imposed, the more unrest resulted. Spending cuts, they wrote, “create the risk of major social and political instability.”

The Eurozone has been referred to by some as “an unemployment torture chamber” due to the structural reforms to the labor market – enforced through bailout conditions – which were purportedly designed to make it easier for employers to hire and fire but, instead, “firing has utterly dominated the employers’ agendas,” according to the Globe and Mail. This has created a “lost generation” in which unemployment in the E.U. for youths between 16 and 24 amounts to roughly 25% – while in Italy it’s roughly 40% and for Greece and Spain it’s as high as 60%. Tom Rogers, an adviser to Ernst & Young, noted, “Youth joblessness at these levels risks permanently entrenched unemployment, lowering the rate of sustainable growth in the future.”

The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warned in 2008 that “social unrest may happen in many places, including advanced economies.” The head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, warned in 2009 that “If we do not take measures, there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”

Additionally, in November of 2009, the IMF chief warned the premier British corporate lobbying group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), that if a second major bailout of the banks were to occur, democracy itself would be jeopardized. The “man on the street” would not accept further bailouts, Strauss-Kahn said, and “the political reaction will be very strong, putting some democracies at risk.”

Consulting in the Midst of a Crisis

Global consulting firms play a peculiar role in the global economic order. The consulting, or “strategy,” firms became commonplace in the 1960s onward, and were frequently seen as “home to some great minds in the corporate world,” hired by corporate, financial and other institutional clients to advise management on strategy and investments. The Financial Times referred to the industry as “a global behemoth, employing an estimated 3 million people and generating revenues of $300 billion a year,” with the industry’s “product” being “the knowledge vested in its people.”

According to an Oxford team of researchers, in 2011 consulting firms advised on more than $13 trillion of U.S. institutional money. Worldwide, consultants advised roughly $25 trillion worth of assets. Consulting advice was seen to be “highly influential” in the United States; yet despite the enormous power wielded by consultancy firms, the Oxford study found that the funds recommended to investors by consultants did not in the end perform better than other funds.

Still, the influence of giant consulting firms remains, although their reputations have taken some hits along the way. The world’s largest consulting firms at the end of 2013 were McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Booz & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Oliver Wyman, Deloitte Consulting, The Parthenon Group, A.T. Kearney and Accenture. With these large firms advising even larger clients on strategy and investments, it’s worth examining some of the advice and perspectives published by these agencies.

For example, McKinsey & Company, the world’s largest global management consulting firm, published a report in 2012 (Dominic Barton, “Capitalism for the Long Term,” Autumn 2012) noting that in the previous few years the world had been witnessing “a dramatic acceleration in the shifting balance of power between the developed West and the emerging East, a rise in populist politics and social stresses in a number of countries, and significant strains on global governance systems.”

For corporate executives, “the most consequential outcome of the [economic] crisis is the challenge to capitalism itself.” And while “trust in business hit historically low levels more than a decade ago,” McKinsey warned, “the crisis and the surge in public antagonism it unleashed have exacerbated the friction between business and society,” adding to anxiety over rising income inequality and other factors.

Having interviewed over 400 business and government leaders around the world, the McKinsey report noted that “despite a certain amount of frustration on each side, the two groups share the belief that capitalism has been and can continue to be the greatest engine of prosperity ever devised.” However, the report warned, “there is growing concern that if the fundamental issues revealed in the crisis remain unaddressed and the system fails again, the social contract between the capitalist system and the citizenry may truly rupture, with unpredictable but severely damaging results.” McKinsey & Company thus called for “nothing less than a shift from… quarterly capitalism to what might be referred to as long-term capitalism.”

In another instance, KPMG, one of the world’s leading accountancy firms and professional service providers, published a report in 2013 examining a list of “megatrends” in the world leading up to the year 2030 (“Future State 2030: The Global Megatrends Shaping Governments,” KPMG International, 2013). One of the major trends it referred to was “the rise of the individual,” in which technological and educational advancements “have helped empower individuals like never before, leading to increased demands for transparency and participation in government and public decision-making.”

This process is “ushering in a new era in human history,” KPMG went on. With major social issues left unresolved such as growing inequality and access to education, services, employment and healthcare, “growing individual empowerment will present numerous challenges to government structures and processes, but if harnessed, could unleash significant economic development and social advancement.”

The report further warned that there were other major consequences with the “rise of the individual,” including “rising expectations” and increased “income inequality within countries leading to potential for greater social unrest.” The fact that populations are “increasingly connected” and “faster dissemination of information through social media accelerates action” posed other concerns. John Herhalt, a former partner at KPMG, was quoted in the report as saying, “Citizens are not just demanding technologically advanced interactions with government, but also asking for a new voice.”

Further, a 2013 survey of 1,300 CEOs from 68 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers, another of the world’s largest consulting firms, reported general views shared by CEOs around the world (“Dealing With Disruption: Adapting to Survive and Thrive,” 16th Annual Global CEO Survey). When asked about the ability of firms to deal with the potential impact of disruptive scenarios, the vast majority (75%) of CEOs responded that their companies “would be negatively affected, with major social unrest being cause for the greatest concern.” This was perceived as a greater threat than an economic slowdown in China.

CEOs, noted the report, “know they’ll have to repair the bridges of trust between business and society,” as the global financial crisis and its aftermath “have badly damaged faith in institutions of every kind.” Due to the revolution in social media, it concluded, many new “stakeholders… have an unprecedented amount of clout.”

After in-depth analyses of documents, speeches and reports from the world’s major economic institutions – from international organizations like the World Bank and IMF to global consultancy firms like McKinsey & Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers; and from big banks like HSBC, JPMorgan Chase and UBS to oligarchic platforms like the World Economic Forum – three issues are prevalent in terms of assessing the fears and threats facing the global elite: 1) growing inequality, 2) decline of public trust in institutions of all kinds, and 3) the resulting social unrest.

It should be clear by now that as global inequality continues to rise, trust in institutions will continue to fall, and social unrest will explode in new and more dramatic ways than we have witnessed thus far. We truly are entering a World of Resistance.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

World of Resistance Report: Financial Institutions Fear Global Revolution

World of Resistance Report: Financial Institutions Fear Global Revolution

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

11 July 2014

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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In Part 1 of the WoR Report, I examined Zbigniew Brzezinski’s warnings to elites around the world of the “global political awakening” of humanity. In Part 2, I looked at the relationship between inequality and social instability, and in Part 3 I examined the World Economic Forum’s warnings of growing inequality and the “lost generation” of youth who pose the greatest threat to oligarchic interests around the world. In this fourth installment in the series, we turn to reports from top banks and financial institutions warning about the growing threats to their interests posed by an increasingly disenfranchised and impoverished population – manifested in protests, strikes and social unrest.

In November of 2011, Bob Diamond, the CEO of one of the world’s largest banks, Barclays, stated in a speech: “We’ve seen violent protests in Greece, public sector strikes across Europe, [and] anti-capitalist demonstrations that started on Wall Street have spread to other places around the world.” Diamond added: “Young people have been especially hit hard by high levels of unemployment. The threat of further social unrest remains if we don’t work together to generate stronger economic growth and more jobs.”

A March 2013 report by senior economic adviser George Magnus of UBS Investment Research, entitled “Social Unrest and Economic Stress: Europe’s Angst, and China’s Fear,” noted that “the wave of social unrest that rumbled across Europe between 2008 and 2011 has become less intense… [and] has come as a cause for relief in financial markets.” Yet, he wrote, the occasional upsurge in large-scale national and European-wide anti-austerity protests and strikes “signifies the deep malaise in the complex and fragile trust relationship between European citizens and their governments and institutions.” Since 2010, approximately 13 out of 19 E.U. governments had been voted out of office or had collapsed, indicating that “public anger… is far from dormant, and its expression is mostly unpredictable.”

Social unrest, added the UBS report, “is a systemic phenomenon” that is “highly uncertain, complex and ambiguous,” and which can lead “to the toppling of governments, or even political systems.” Social unrest across the E.U. “has been notable more for the public expression of lack of trust in the institutions of government, including in Brussels,” the headquarters of the European Union.

This “lull” in social unrest, warned Magnus, “is most likely deceptive.” The present problem in Europe “is the same” as the main problems in Europe of the 1930s – when mass poverty, unemployment and social unrest led to the rise of fascism. The underlying problem in both eras was “the inadequacy of mainstream, political channels to address rising public concern about the loss of economic security, social stability and, yes, cultural identity.”

Citing an OECD study, the bank report noted that “austerity has gone hand-in-hand with a variety of forms of social and political instability, and politically-motivated violence.” There have been “heightened levels of social unrest and shocks to the political system in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy… sometimes requiring the force of the state to suppress it.” These are especially important matters for banks to pay attention to, since the European debt crisis was caused primarily by the big banks – and the austerity and “structural reform” policies (along with the bailouts that accompanied them) were designed for the benefit of those banks as well. Thus, resistance to austerity and “reform” is, in effect, resistance to the bailouts for the big banks.

In May of 2013, JPMorgan Chase released a report, “The Euro Area Adjustment: About Halfway There,” which assessed “progress” in the European Union on the issue of austerity and structural reform. The “adjustment” of European society, claimed the report, was “about halfway done on average,” noting that the process would continue for much of the rest of the decade although it faced major challenges, including the development of “new institutions” in the E.U. and what the bank called “national legacy problems.” This vague term referred to “the constitutions and political settlements in the southern periphery [of the E.U.], put in place in the aftermath of the fall of fascism, [which] have a number of features which appear to be unsuited to further integration in the region.”

Just what does this mean? The bank explained that “fiscal austerity” was likely to be a major feature in the E.U. “for a very extended period.” However, if the European Monetary Union is to survive the coming decade, “deep seated political problems in the periphery… need to change.” But what precisely are these “deep seated problems”? The bank elaborated that many of the southern periphery states’ constitutions “tend to show a strong socialist influence,” referring to the fact that many constitutions guaranteed various social rights for populations, including labor, healthcare and educational and civil rights.

Further, the bank reported that many of these nations suffer from the following features: “Weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labor rights; consensus building systems… and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo.” The translation: democracy itself is the problem. As such, JPMorgan noted, “the process of political reform has barely begun.” In other words, out with democracy and in with financial and corporate oligarchy.

The bank’s report also noted that there were a number of potential threats as the process of “political reform” advanced, including “the collapse of several reform minded governments in the European south,” a “collapse in support for the Euro or the E.U.,” the possibility of “an outright electoral victory for radical anti-European parties,” or perhaps even “the effective ungovernability of some Member States once social costs (particularly unemployment) pass a particular level.” JPMorgan Chase warned that while there wasn’t a current situation of “ungovernability” in E.U. states, the longer-term prospects were “hard to predict, and a more pronounced backlash to the current approach to crisis management cannot be excluded.”

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AXA, one of the world’s largest financial institutions and insurance companies, published a report in July of 2013 written by Manolis Davradakis, entitled “Emerging Unrest: Looking for a Pattern,” which expressed particular concerns and perspectives on the issue of social unrest. The report noted that emerging market economies “are currently experiencing a surge in political risk due to social unrest that is being fueled by reasons that differ from those that resulted in the Arab Spring.”

The “main cause” of unrest in emerging market nations was “the rise of the middle class,” as this portion of the population “realize that they continue to experience the same everyday problems as poorer population strata, namely a high crime rate, poor public services, and corruption.” The report cited examples of social unrest in Turkey and Brazil, warning that these countries could see their credit ratings cut if the social upheaval is “lasting.”

The AXA report referred to the multiple episodes of unrest across emerging market nations in the summer of 2013 as “riots,” stating that they had several points in common, namely that “they were sparked by a government decision affecting daily life” and that the protesters were “not affiliated with political parties or movements” but instead were “well educated members of the middle class.” These factors were reminiscent of the massive unrest that took place in the advanced economies during the 19th century when emerging middle classes were struggling “for better living standards and more representation in political governance.”

Beyond a certain point, warned AXA, “repressing mass demands for a more open society becomes costly and economically ineffective.” A government’s inability or lack of will “to acknowledge the people’s right to freedom of expression and a voice in decision-making is a source of social unrest.”

AXA devised a Poor Governance Index (PGI), analyzing seven key indicators that could lead to social unrest, and concluded that the potential for instability in the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – was quite high. It also cited increased potential for unrest in Egypt, Ukraine, Indonesia, South Africa, Tunisia and Turkey, warning that such unrest “may have implications for emerging market [credit] ratings.” It noted that several credit ratings agencies had already warned about the effects that “prolonged social unrest” could have on the ratings for Turkey and Brazil.

Going further, in July of 2013, Stephen D. King, chief economist of HSBC bank, warned that growing wealth gaps and increasing divisions between generations could result in youth uprisings similar to the Peasants Revolt of the Middle Ages. King commented: “I am intrigued at the moment that the youth are quite peaceful, and I wonder whether that might change. It is very difficult to predict but youth movements might become more focused on their own rights rather than the economy.”

In October of 2013, King wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he warned that as bad as things already were, “they are going to get much worse, for the United States and other advanced economies, in the years ahead,” writing that both sides of the North Atlantic region had “already succumbed to a Japan-style ‘lost decade’” in which “promises can no longer be met, mistrust spreads and markets malfunction.” King wrote that “facing the pain will not be easy,” especially as policy makers continue to “opt for the illusion” and “pray for a strong recovery… because the reality is too bleak to bear.”

The “bleak” reality is that these and other big banks and financial institutions have repeatedly collapsed the global economy and profited along the way, punishing entire societies and populations into poverty through a process of plundering and exploitation as governments feared the wrath of “financial markets.” The banks that are now bigger, more dangerous and more powerful than ever fear the growing discontent, unrest and resistance of populations – especially the youth. The world’s major financial institutions fear that the global economic system which they helped to create, and over which they rule, will ultimately come back to haunt them in the form of mass social unrest, potentially undermining their power and the system as a whole.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

World of Resistance Report: Davos Class Jittery Amid Growing Warnings of Global Unrest

 World of Resistance Report: Davos Class Jittery Amid Growing Warnings of Global Unrest

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted on 4 July 2014 at Occupy.com

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In Part 1 of the WoR Report, I examined the “global political awakening” as articulated by arch-imperial strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski. In Part 2 published last week I took a more detailed look at the ways global inequality and injustice relate to the coming era of instability and social unrest. Here, in Part 3, I explore the warnings on inequality and revolt now coming from one of the premier institutions of the global oligarchy: the World Economic Forum.

As an annual gathering of thousands of leading financial, corporate, political and social oligarchs in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has taken a keen interest in recent years discussing the potential for social upheaval as a result of mass inequality and poverty. A WEF report released in November of 2013 warned that a “lost generation” of unemployed youth in Europe could potentially pull the Eurozone apart. One of the report’s authors, the CEO of Infosys, commented that “unless we address chronic joblessness we will see an escalation in social unrest,” noting that youth especially “need to be productively employed, or we will witness rising crime rates, stagnating economies and the deterioration of our social fabric.” The report added: “A generation that starts its career in complete hopelessness will be more prone to populist politics and will lack the fundamental skills that one develops early on in their career.”

In short, if the global ruling class – known affectionately as the Davos Class – doesn’t quickly find ways to accommodate the continent’s increasingly unemployed and “lost” youth, those people will potentially turn to “populist politics” of resistance that directly challenge the global political and economic order. For the individuals and interests represented at the World Social Forum, this poses a monumental and, increasingly, an existential threat.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2013-2014, entitled “Assessing the Sustainable Competitiveness of Nations,” noted that the global financial crisis and its aftermath “brought social tensions to light” as economic growth was not translated into positive benefits for much or most of the planet’s population. Citing the Arab Spring, growing unemployment in Western economies and increasing income inequality, there was growing recognition that dangerous upheaval could be on the way. The report noted: “Diminishing economic prospects, sometimes combined with demand for more political participation, have also sparked protests in several countries including, for example, the recent events in Brazil and Turkey.”

The WEF report wrote that “if economic benefits are perceived to be unevenly redistributed within a society,” this could frequently result in “riots or social discontent” such as the Arab Spring revolts, protests in Brazil, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other recent examples. The report concluded that numerous nations were at especially high risk of social unrest, including China, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, India, Peru and Russia, among others.

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In early 2014, the World Economic Forum released the 9th edition of its Global Risks report, published to inform the debate, discussion and planning of attendees and guests at the annual WEF meeting in Davos. The report was produced with the active cooperation of major universities and financial corporations, including Marsh & McLennan Companies, Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, National University of Singapore, University of Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. It included a large survey conducted in an effort to assess the major perceived risks to the global order atop which the Davos Class sits.

The report noted that the “most interconnected” risks were fiscal crises, structural unemployment and underemployment, all of which link to “rising income inequality and political and social instability.” The young generation now coming of age globally, noted the WEF, “faces high unemployment and precarious job situations, hampering their efforts to build a future and raising the risk of social unrest.” This “lost generation” faces not only high unemployment and underemployment, but also major educational challenges since “traditional higher education is ever more expensive and its payoff more doubtful.”

Perceiving the innovations and skills of today’s generation which are enabling the growing foment, the Forum noted:

“In general, the mentality of this generation is realistic, adaptive and versatile. Smart technology and social media provide new ways to quickly connect, build communities, voice opinion and exert political pressure… [youth are] full of ambition to make the world a better place, yet feel disconnected from traditional politics and government – a combination which presents both a challenge and an opportunity in addressing global risks.”

The Global Risks 2014 report cited a global opinion survey on the “awareness, priorities and values of global youth,” which the authors refer to as “generation lost.” This generation, noted the survey, “think independently of this basic fallback system of the older generation – governments providing a safety net,” which “points to a wider distrust of authorities and institutions.” The “mindset” of today’s youth has been additionally shaped by the repercussions and apparent failures to deal with the global financial crisis, as well as increasing revelations about U.S. intelligence agencies engaging in massive digital spying. For a generation largely mobilized through social media, online spying has held particular relevance, as “the digital revolution gave them unprecedented access to knowledge and information worldwide.”

Protests and anti-austerity movements were able to “give voice to an increasing distrust in current socio-economic and political systems,” with youth making up significant portions of “the general disappointment felt in many nations with regional and global governance bodies such as the EU and the International Monetary Fund.” The youth “place less importance on traditionally organized political parties and leadership,” which creates a major “challenge for those in positions of authority in existing institutions” as they try “to find ways to engage the young generation,” adds the report.

According to the World Bank, more than 25% of the world’s youth, or some 300 million people, “have no productive work.” On top of this, “an unprecedented demographic ‘youth bulge’ is bringing more than 120 million new young people on to the job market each year, mostly in the developing world.” This fact “threatens to halt economic progress, creating a vicious cycle of less economic activity and more unemployment,” which “raises the risk of social unrest by creating a disaffected ‘lost generation’ who are vulnerable to being sucked into criminal or extremist movements.”

Noting that more than 1 billion people currently live in slums – a number that has been steadily increasing as income inequality rises – the report stated that “this growing population of urban poor is vulnerable to rising food prices and economic crises, posing significant risks of chronic social instability.” Growing income inequality is now being termed a “systemic risk,” according to the WEF. And in a stark admission from that institution representing the world’s major profiteers of global capitalism, the report acknowledged that globalization “has been associated with rising inequality between and within countries” and that “these factors render poor people and poor countries vulnerable to systemic risks.”

The four major “emerging market” BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China “now rank among the 10 largest economies worldwide.” But slow political reforms within these countries, coupled with external economic shocks (like financial crises caused by Western nations and their corporate institutions) could aggravate the “existing undertones of social unrest.” Within the BRIC nations and other emerging market economies, “popular discontent with the status quo is already apparent among rising middle classes, digitally connected youths and marginalized groups,” the report went on. Collectively, these groups “want better services (such as healthcare), infrastructure, employment and working conditions,” as well as “greater accountability of public officials, better protected civil liberties and more equitable judicial systems.” Further, a “greater public awareness of widespread corruption have sharpened popular complaints.”

Both Brazil and Turkey have made universal healthcare systems a constitutional obligation, which was a stated ambition of other emerging market nations such as India, Indonesia and South Africa. The failure to create these healthcare systems “may arouse social unrest,” warned the WEF. The World Economic Forum’s chief economist, Jennifer Blanke, stated: “The message from the Arab Spring, and from countries such as Brazil and South Africa is that people are not going to stand for it any more.” David Cole, the group chief risk officer of Swiss Re (one of the contributing companies to the WEF report) commented: “The members of generation lost are not lost because they have tuned out. They are highly tuned in. They are lost because they are being left out or they are deciding to leave.” http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/16/income-gap-biggest-risk-global-community-world-economic-forum

The World Economic Forum’s Risk report for 2014 was primarily concerned with “the breakdown of social structures” and “the decline of trust in institutions.” It warned of risks of “ideological polarization, extremism – in particular those of a religious or political nature – and intra-state conflicts such as civil wars.” All of these issues relate directly “to the future of the youth.”

It’s an interesting paradox for an organization to see the greatest threat to its ideological and social power being “the future of the youth” when it has already written off the present generation as “lost.” However, this is a view shared not only by the World Economic Forum but, increasingly, by other powerful institutions creating something of an echo chamber through the mainstream media. The head of the IMF has warned that youth unemployment in poor nations was “a kind of time bomb,” and the head of the International Labor Organization (ILO) warned in 2011 that the “world economy” was unable “to secure a future for all youth,” thus undermining “families, social cohesion and the credibility of policies.” While there was “already revolution in the air in some countries,” as reported in the Globe and Mail, the dual crises of unemployment and poverty were “fuel for the fire.”

In April of 2014, the World Economic Forum on Latin America reported that the primary challenge for the region was “to reduce inequality,” noting that between 70 and 90 million people in Latin America had entered what were referred to as the “consuming classes,” or “middle classes,” over the previous decade. However, Marcelo Cortes Neri, Brazil’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, explained, “When we talk about middle class we think of the U.S. middle class, with two cars and two dogs and a swimming pool. That is not Latin American middle class or the world middle class.”

He added that the emerging so-called “middle class” in Latin America and elsewhere “could become a problem for governance,” commenting: “They are the ones that put pressure for better levels of education and healthcare; they are the ones that go to the streets to demand rights.” Neri then posed the question: “How prepared is Latin America to have a robust middle class?” In particular, youth between the ages of 15 and 29 raised specific concerns for Latin America’s elite, with Neri warning: “This is the group I am most worried about. They have very high expectations and so the probability they will get frustrated is enormous.”

When one of the world’s most influential organizations representing the collective interests of the global oligarchy openly acknowledges that globalization has increased inequality, and in turn, that inequality is fueling social unrest around the world manifesting the greatest potential threat to those oligarchic interests, we can safely say we’re entering a new era of global instability and resistance.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance Report, and host of a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

World of Resistance Report: Inequality, Injustice and the Coming Unrest

World of Resistance Report: Inequality, Injustice and the Coming Unrest

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

26 June 2014

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In Part 1 of the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, I examined today’s global order – or disorder – through the eyes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. National Security Adviser and long-time influential figure in foreign policy circles. Brzezinski articulated what he refers to as humanity’s “global political awakening,” spurred by access to education, technology and communications among much of the world’s population.

Brzezinski has written and spoken extensively to elites at American and Western think tanks and journals, warning that this awakening poses the “central challenge” for the U.S. and other powerful countries, explaining that “most people know what is generally going on… in the world, and are consciously aware of global iniquities, inequalities, lack of respect, exploitation.” Mankind, Brzezinski said in a 2010 speech, “is now politically awakened and stirring.”

But Brzezinski is hardly the only figure warning elites and elite institutions about the characteristics and challenges of an awakened humanity. The subject of inequality – raised to the central stage by the Occupy movement – has become a fundamental feature in the global social, political and economic discussion, as people become increasingly aware of the facts underlying the stark division between the haves and have nots. While inequality is both a source and a result of the concentration of power in the hands of a few, it also represents the greatest threat to those very same power structures and interests.

As many if not most of us are by now aware, the global state-capitalist system is run by a relatively small handful of powerful institutions, groups and individuals who collectively control the vast majority of planetary wealth and resources. Banks, corporations, family dynasties and international financiers like the IMF and World Bank form a highly interconnected, interdependent network we now think of as the global oligarchy.

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Thomas Pogge explained in the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law that in the 20 years following the end of the Cold War, there were roughly 360 million preventable poverty-related deaths – more than all of the deaths in all of the wars of the 20th century combined. By 2004, over 1 billion people remained “chronically undernourished” and nearly a billion lacked access to clean drinking water and shelter. Roughly 1.6 billion lacked access to electricity while 218 million children were working as cheap labour.

Pogge noted that almost half of humanity – roughly 3.5 billion people – lived on less than $2.50 a day, and that all of these people could be lifted out of poverty with an expenditure $500 billion, which is roughly two-thirds of the annual U.S. Pentagon budget.

Preceding the statistics that would get popularized with the Occupy movement, Pogge asserted that the top 1% owned approximately 40% of global wealth while the bottom 60% of humanity owned less than 2%. “We are now at the point where the world is easily rich enough in aggregate to abolish all poverty,” Pogge wrote. “We are simply choosing to prioritize other ends instead.”

Still today, every year, approximately 18 million people – half of whom are children under the age of five – die from poverty-related causes, all of which are preventable. Seen through this lens, poverty, and by definition, inequality, has become the greatest purveyor of violence, death and injustice on Earth.

Meanwhile, the international charity Oxfam noted that the 100 richest people in the world made a combined 2012 fortune of $240 billion – enough to lift the world’s poorest out of poverty four times over. In the previous 20 years, the world’s richest 1% increased their income by 60%, perpetuating a system of extreme wealth which is, according to an Oxfam executive, “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.”

Not only that, a former chief economist for McKinsey & Company published data in 2012 for the Tax Justice Network that reported the world’s super rich had hidden between $21 and $32 trillion in offshore tax havens – a trend that has been increasing in the past three decades to reveal that inequality is “much, much worse than official statistics show.”.

In early 2014, Oxfam released a report revealing that the world’s 85 richest individuals had a combined wealth equal to the collective wealth of the world’s poorest 3.5 billion people – approximately $1.7 trillion. Meanwhile, the world’s top 1% own roughly half the world’s wealth, at $110 trillion. Oxfam noted: “This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems… inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.”

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What Does All the Inequality Mean in Terms of Instability?

Where there is great inequality, there is great injustice and where there is great injustice, there is the inevitability of instability. This relationship, between inequality and instability, has not gone unnoticed by the world’s oligarchs and plutocratic institutions. The potential for “social unrest” has gotten especially high since the onset of the global financial and economic crisis that began in 2007 and 2008.

The head of the OECD warned in 2009 that the world’s leading economies would have to take quick action to resolve the global crisis or face a “fully blown social crisis with scarring effects on the vulnerable workers and low-income households.”

The major credit ratings agency Moody’s warned back in 2009 that the growing debts among nations would “test social cohesiveness” as investors demanded countries impose still more painful austerity measures, leading to growing “political and social tension” and “social unrest.” In February of that same year, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned that following the economic crisis, many nations were “going to be confronted by unrest and inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts.”

Brzezinski himself said:, “There’s going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could even be riots.” And meanwhile, the top-ranking U.S. military official and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, commented that the global financial crisis was a greater security concern to the U.S. than either of the massive ground wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. “It’s a global crisis,” he said, and “as that impacts security issues, or feeds greater instability, I think it will impact our national security in ways that we quite haven’t figured out yet.”

Mullen’s point was reiterated by U.S. intelligence director Dennis Blair, who warned Congress that the global crisis was “the primary near-term security concern” for the U.S., adding that “the longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests.” Blair noted that as a result of the crisis, roughly 25% of the world’s nations had already experienced “low-level instability such as government changes.” If the crisis persisted beyond two years, Blair noted, there was a potential for “regime-threatening instability.” U.S. intelligence analysts were also fearful of a “backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States.”

In November of 2008, the U.S. Army War College produced a document warning that the U.S. military must be prepared for the possibility of a “violent strategic dislocation inside the United States,” possibly caused by an “unforeseen economic collapse” and/or a “purposeful domestic resistance” and the “loss of functioning of political and legal order.” Under “extreme circumstances,” the document warned, “this might include the use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States.”

In 2009, the British spy agency MI5, along with the British Ministry of Defence, were preparing for the potential of civil unrest to explode in Britain’s streets as a result of the economic crisis, [noting](http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/86981/MI5-alert-on-bank-riot> that there was a possibility the state would deploy British troops in major cities.

A December 2009 article in The Economist warned that increased unemployment and poverty along with “exaggerated income inequalities” following the global economic crisis made for a “brew that foments unrest.” In October of 2011, the International Labour Organizationwarned in a major report that the jobs crisis resulting from the global economic crisis “threatens a wave of widespread social unrest engulfing both rich and poor countries,” and pointed out that 45 of the 118 countries studied already saw rising risks of unrest, notably in the E.U., Arab world and Asia.

In June of 2013, the same ILO warned that the risks of social unrest including “strikes, work stoppages, street protests and demonstrations,” had increased in most countries around the world since the economic crisis began in 2008. The risk was “highest among the E.U.-27 countries,” it noted, with an increase from 34% in 2006-2007 to 46% in 2011-2012. The most vulnerable nations in the E.U. were listed as Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, a fact “likely due to the policy responses to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis and their impact on people’s lives and perceptions of well-being.”

The E.U.’s “bleak economic scenario has created a fragile social environment as fewer people see opportunities for obtaining a good job and improving their standard of living,” warned the ILO, and advanced economies were “going to suffer a lost decade of jobs growth.”

An October 2013 report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned that the long-term consequences of austerity policies imposed by E.U. governments “will be felt for decades even if the economy turns for the better in the near future.” The report noted: “We see quiet desperation spreading among Europeans, resulting in depression, resignation and loss of hope… Many from the middle class have spiraled down to poverty.”

The study further reported “that the rate at which unemployment figures have risen in the past 24 months alone is an indication that the crisis is deepening, with severe personal costs as a consequence, and possible unrest and extremism as a risk. Combined with increasing living costs, this is a dangerous combination.”

In November 2013, The Economist reported: “From anti-austerity movements to middle-class revolts, in rich countries and in poor, social unrest has been on the rise around the world.” While there are various triggers – from economic distress (Greece and Spain) to revolts against dictatorships (the Arab Spring) to the growing aspirations of middle class populations (Turkey and Brazil), “they share some underlying features,” the magazine reported. The common feature, it noted, “is the 2008-09 financial crisis and its aftermath,” and an especially important factor sparking unrest in recent years was “an erosion of trust in governments and institutions: a crisis of democracy.”

A sister company of The Economist, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), measured the risk of social unrest in 150 countries around the world, with an emphasis on countries with institutional and political weaknesses. The EIU noted that “recent developments have indeed revealed a deep sense of popular dissatisfaction with political elites and institutions in many emerging markets.” Indeed, the decline in trust has been accelerating across the developed world since the 1970s. The fall of Communist East European regimes in 1989 eroded that trust further, and the process sped up once again with the onset of the global financial crisis.

According to EIU estimates, roughly 43% (or 65) of the countries studied were considered to be at “high” or “very high” risk of social unrest in 2014. A further 54 countries were considered to be at “medium risk” and the remaining 31 were considered “low” or “very low.” Comparing the results to a similar study published five years previously, an additional 19 countries have been added to the “high risk” category.

Among the countries considered a “very high risk” for social unrest in 2014 were Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Egypt, Greece, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Among the countries in the “high risk” category were Algeria, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Jordan, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Ukraine.

It doesn’t take demonstrators filling the streets to tell us that inequality breeds instability. While many factors combine under different circumstances to lead to “social unrest,” inequality is almost always a common feature. Injustice, poor governance, corruption, poverty, exploitation, repression and corrosive power structures all support and are supported by underlying conditions of inequality. And as inequality is no longer a local, national or regional phenomenon but a global one, so too is the “threat” of instability that the world’s elite financial, media and think-tank institutions are now so busy warning about. So long as inequality increases, so will instability. Resistance, and even revolution, are the new global reality.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

 

When Fat Cats Meet In Munich: Welcoming the International Monetary Conference

When Fat Cats Meet In Munich: Welcoming the International Monetary Conference

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

2 June 2014

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In Part 1 of this series, I examined the history and early evolution of the annual meeting that takes place among world bankers and financial and monetary officials at the International Monetary Conference. Part 2 looked at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis.Part 3 examined the influence of the IMC throughout that decade’s debt crisis. This last installment – published just as the IMC prepares for its June 1-3 meeting at Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, Germany – looks at what the IMC has done since the 1990s to maintain its status among the world’s most highly influential bodies in economic, financial and monetary affairs. Included is a rundown of bankers who run the IMC along with leaked documents from the 2013 meeting in Shanghai.

At the 1992 International Monetary Conference in Toronto, there was a general consensus among private bankers and public officials that, as a result of enormous over-lending to Latin America and developing countries throughout the previous debt-crisis decade, the task of financing “the transformation of the former Soviet Union to a market economy” could not be left to bank loans alone. Hilmar Kopper, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, told the conference attendees that commercial banks would only engage in large-scale financing if there were “government-guaranteed credits” and “an agreement on the old debt,” implying that the banks would essentially need the guarantee of a government bailout scheme if things got bad. Japan’s former vice minister of finance, Toyoo Gyohten, told the attendees that “public-sector agencies must cooperate with private banks, with the willingness to share the unavoidable risk.”

Canada’s finance minister, Don Mazankowski, told the bankers that “we are prepared to help” the former Soviet bloc countries so long as “they help themselves and get on the path to economic growth and prosperity.” His words implied that the Soviet countries must undertake similar austerity and structural adjustment packages imposed upon other countries through the 1980s debt crisis. The bankers stressed the same point, noting that “it would be difficult for governments to be generous with Russia until it established an economic recovery program approved by the International Monetary Fund.”

Throughout the 1990s, the IMC continued to be a significant forum for discussion among bankers and finance officials. Remarks made by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Hans Tietmeyer, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank (the Central Bank of Germany), at the 1995 meeting of the IMC led to a strengthening of the U.S. dollar and a weakening of the German mark in international currency markets.

IMC Influence in More Recent Years

In the early 21st century, the International Monetary Conference has remained relevant, as admitted during a 2001 press conference with the president of the European Central Bank, Willem F. Duisenberg. Duisenberg had been criticized by European media for not attending a recent Eurogroup meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from euro-currency countries, which had gathered in Brussels.

Duisenberg commented:

“I would like to point out that it has been a tradition since 1954 that the highlight of the annual International Monetary Conference, which is held in a different place every year, is the so-called Central Bankers’ Panel in which the central banks, or central bankers, of the three main currencies in the world participate. And I did so. It would have drawn more attention had I not been there, than had I been in Brussels… I can tell you that the next meeting of the International Monetary Conference will be … in Montreal [in 2002], and the year after it will be … in Berlin. On both occasions you can be sure, if it happens to coincide with the meeting of the Eurogroup, that the ECB will be represented in the Eurogroup by the Vice-President.

Indeed, as recently as the IMC’s 2013 meeting in Shanghai, we can see that the importance and relevance of the annual meeting has not diminished. Though the IMC has no publicly-accessible website, I managed to compile a rough list of leading officials and board members of the International Monetary Conference, drawing information from references on their official CVs and publicly-available biographies, as well as from leaked documents including a program overview of the 2013 conference.

Names to Know

The president and chairman of the International Monetary Conference is Baudouin Prot. Formerly CEO of BNP Paribas, one of France’s largest global banks, Prot is currently chairman of that bank as well as a current board member of Kering, Veolia Environment, Lafarge, Erbé SA and Pargesa Holding SA. He is a member of the International Advisory panel to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Major of Shanghai, the European Financial Services Round Table, and is chairman of the European Banking Group.

The executive vice president of the IMC is Frank Keating, President and CEO of the American Bankers Association and former president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (2003-2011). Keating is also the former governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003), a former official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Additionally he is a member of the board of directors of the National Archives Foundation, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Jamestown Foundation, and he was a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force in 2010.

Confirmed board members of the International Monetary Conference include: Gordon Nixon, President and CEO of Royal Bank of Canada; William Downe, CEO of BMO Financial Group; Axel Weber, Chairman of UBS; Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO of BBVA; Robert E. Setubal, President and CEO of Itau Unibanco Banco SA; Richard Waugh, President and CEO of Scotiabank; Chanda Kochhar, Managing Director and CEO of ICICI Bank; Jacko Maree, senior banker at Standard Chartered; Andreas Triechl, Chairman and CEO of Erste Group Bank; and Walter B. Kielholz, the Chairman of Swiss Re.

Interestingly, there are no major American banks or bankers listed as current board members of the IMC, which is dominated by European and Canadian bankers. Further, there were three bankers whose CVs listed them as “members” of the IMC, but when I attempted to contact the IMC and the American Bankers Association to confirm whether they were board members – the IMC has roughly 15 board members, and I had only confirmed 12 of them – neither the ABA nor IMC replied to my multiple inquiries. The three bankers who were listed as “members” – and possible, though unconfirmed, board members – are Federico Ghizzoni, the CEO of UniCredit; Douglas Flint, the Chairman of HSBC (also chairman of the Institute of International Finance), and Ibrahim S. Dabdoub, the CEO of the National Bank of Kuwait.

Compiling the CVs of the 12 confirmed board members of the International Monetary Conference, we can see what other institutions are most represented among the membership:

Four members of the IMC board are also members of the Institute of International Finance, the leading global banking lobby group; four IMC board members are also members of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum and the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), a group of leading European bankers. And three IMC board members are also represented in the European Banking Group, created to advise the European Union on financial market “regulations,” as well as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the leading corporate interest group in Canada.

Other organizations sharing leadership with two members of the IMC board are the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Major of Shanghai, and the International Advisory Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

If we include the three bankers whose CVs listed them as “members” of the IMC, the cross-over representation of leadership in these institutions increases: the European Financial Services Round Table increases representation from four to six members of the IMC board, the European Banking Group from three to five members, the Institute of International Finance from four to five, and the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Mayor of Shanghai increases from two to three.

Leaked Details from Shanghai

Leaked documents from the 2013 IMC meeting in Shanghai show the planned program for the four-day conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai in early June of 2013. Welcoming remarks were presented by the President and CEO of the American Bankers Association, Frank Keating, followed by opening remarks from the BNP Paribas chairman and president of the IMC, Baudouin Prot.

On Monday, June 3, speakers at the IMC included Han Zheng, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee; Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank; Douglas Flint, Chairman of HSBC and Chairman of the Institute of International Finance (unconfirmed board member of the IMC); Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS); Lord Adair Turner, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority in the UK and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking; and Janet Yellen, Vice Chair and Governor (now current Chair) of the Federal Reserve Board.

Other speakers at the 2013 International Monetary Conference included Axel A. Weber, Chairman of UBS; Niall Ferguson, the Lawrence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Jacob A. Frenkel, Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Group of Thirty (G30); Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance in the Government of Singapore; Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People’s Bank of China (China’s Central Bank); Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase; Jurgen Fitschen, co-Chairman of Deutsche Bank; John G. Strumpf, Chairman, President and CEO of Wells Fargo; Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO of BBVA; Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP; and Victor Yuan, Chairman and President of Horizon Research Consultancy Group.

Additional speakers at the conference included Jiang Jianqing, Chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC); Stephen Bird, CEO for Asia Pacific at Citibank in Hong Kong; Michael Pettis, Professor of International Finance at the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing; Peter Sands, Chief Executive of Standard Chartered; Shang Fulin, Chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission; Tian Guoli, Chairman of the Bank of China; and Andrew Sheng, President of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong.

The fact alone that this group of global financiers met with China’s leading bankers and top government officials within China points to the continuing relevance of the International Monetary Conference. What’s more, Janet Yellen, then a contender for the position of Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, attended the IMC meeting while sitting as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve, and outlined her views on “what more should be done” to “make the global financial system more resilient.”

One of the key issues Yellen discussed in her speech to hundreds of global bankers assembled at the 2013 IMC was the concept of “too-big-to-fail” banks, what the regulatory agencies (and, notably, central banks) refer to as “systemically-important financial institutions,” or SIFIs. Yellen noted that there have been proposals for a “sweeping restructuring of the banking system,” including the possibility of the “resurrection of Glass-Steagall-style separation of commercial banking from investment banking and imposition of bank size limits.” However, Yellen reassured the financiers, “I am not persuaded that such blunt approaches would be the most efficient ways to address the too-big-to-fail problem.”

Indeed, systemic problems of the global monetary, financial and economic system will likely remain unresolved so long as forums like the International Monetary Conference are permitted to take place outside public scrutiny. Such meetings, where central bankers, regulators and leading financial policy makers meet in private with the world’s most influential bankers, only encourage consensus, closer cooperation and, ultimately, collusion between our so-called public officials and the bankers who profited off the financial and economic destruction which they themselves caused.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

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