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Money Managers for Mankind? China in the Age of Global Governance, Part III

Money Managers for Mankind? China in the Age of Global Governance, Part III

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

3 March 2016

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 9 February 2016

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This is the third article in a three-part series looking at China’s transformed role on the world financial stage. Read the first and second articles here.

In pursuing the strategy toward China of “integrate, but hedge,” the United States and its G-7 allies attempted to manage China’s global financial role, giving the world’s second largest economy a greater stake in the existing system while attempting to prevent alternative or antagonistic emerging market economies from gaining power.

However, due to the slow pace of reforms and their often disappointing results – case in point: the five-year delay of International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms that would give China and other emerging economies greater influence in the Fund and World Bank – China has turned to creating its own development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). And while China was developing the AIIB over the course of 2015, China was not only hedging its own bets – it was also advancing a strategy of “integration” on the monetary front. In the world of currencies, central banks and the global monetary order, China had an important year.

The main issue has been the inclusion of the Chinese currency – the yuan, or renminbi – in the elite basket of currencies managed by the IMF known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). Consisting of four of the world’s most traded currencies (the U.S. dollar, the euro, Japanese yen and British pound), the SDR is a currency unit whose value is weighted among those four currencies and used in IMF transactions between nations and central banks. But the real importance of the SDR basket is that it is a symbolic grouping of the few select currencies (and countries) that dominate the global monetary system. They are the most traded, saved and important currencies in the world, giving the countries and institutions that control them inordinate power in the global monetary and economic system.

China has lobbied for years to be included in the SDR basket, as both a sign of its global economic status and as a recognition of its new geopolitical power. But for China to be included, it needed to meet a number of criteria related to how easily tradable the currency is, how many central banks use the currency as a reserve asset, and whether or not interest rates are determined by market forces. Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University who was previously the China country director at the IMF, commented that “this is ultimately going to be decided on political rather than economic merits.”

In laying the groundwork for inclusion, the IMF announced late last May that the renminbi was no longer considered to be “undervalued” – a long-held complaint of the IMF, United States and other G-7 nations that felt for such a large economy to maintain such a cheap currency gave it an overwhelming trade advantage, keeping its products cheaper and thus more competitive in international markets. Thus, the IMF’s declaration paved the way for consideration of the Chinese currency to be included in the SDR.

When the G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors met in Berlin in late May, they discussed the potential inclusion of the renminbi in the SDR basket. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said that “it is desirable in principle” but “the technical conditions must be examined.” The G-7 countries continued to push China to reform its capital markets in order to increase its potential for inclusion. This pressured China to implement further market reforms to “liberalize” its financial markets, allowing for private financial institutions to play a larger role in managing the country’s economy (as opposed to being more state-directed and managed).

Earlier that same month, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), China’s central bank, approved roughly 30 foreign financial institutions to invest its domestic bond market, giving banks like HSBC, BNP Paribas, Société Générale, ING and Morgan Stanley greater access to the world’s third largest bond market (following the U.S. and Japan). China made moves over subsequent months to increase the access of foreign central banks and sovereign wealth funds to its bond market, as the country continued reforms that liberalized its economy. However, China still remained hesitant to adapt market forces too quickly or too fully that might have the effect of destabilizing the economy.

In August, the IMF recommended that while the renminbi should be added to the SDR basket, with a final decision to be made in November, the currency’s actual addition to the basket should not take place until September of 2016. This was in order to allow the country to implement further financial reforms and give banks, central banks and asset managers enough time to adjust their currency holdings to a slightly reformed monetary order. Some G-7 countries, such as Germany, France, Britain and Italy, favored a quick inclusion of the renminbi to the SDR, but Japan and the U.S. favored a more cautious approach.

Then, partway into August, China shocked global financial markets with a rapid currency devaluation – done partly to provide a boost to its own slowing economy – raising criticism from several countries that China was engaging in a currency war to lower the value of the renminbi in order to boost exports at the expense of other nations. However, because China’s currency is so closely tied to the U.S. dollar, as the dollar has risen in value over the past year or so, China’s currency has risen with it. This has put further strain on China’s economy and decreased its competitiveness relative to other global currencies whose value has declined relative to the rise of the dollar. That’s why, when China devalued in August, it explained the move as an attempt to move more towards a market oriented value for its exchange rate.

China was accused of currency manipulation due to its sudden devaluation, though it was in fact more accurately a response to the pressures from the manipulated changes in the value of the big currencies (U.S. dollar, Japanese yen and euro), which fluctuated in response to the winding down or ramping up of their respective Quantitative Easing (QE) programs. China managed to mute some harsher criticisms of its move by quickly announcing further market-oriented reforms to its financial and interest rate markets.

At a meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors in early September, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew pressured his Chinese counterparts to continue the process of implementing market reforms, and specifically allowing markets a larger say in determining the value of the Chinese currency.

In mid-November, the IMF officially recommended that China be included in the SDR basket, which would “turn its currency into one of the pillars of international finance,” noted the New York Times. However, the final decision was to be made by the IMF’s Executive Board at the end of the month, where the G-7 countries have the power to pass or block any final moves. Following the IMF staff recommendation, China’s central bank announced that it would be implementing further reforms to allow markets more of a say in setting interest rates. And in late November, the IMF Executive Board voted in agreement to let the renminbi be included in the SDR basket, effective October 1, 2016.

Then, partway into December, China announced that it would begin to measure the value of its currency against a basket of 13 currencies instead of just the U.S. dollar. This would give the currency more room to fall in value relative to the U.S. dollar’s rise, and would give the country more “monetary independence” from the decisions and actions of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The announcement came just as the Fed was set to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade, a move that would drive the U.S. currency even higher and put even more pressure on China as its economy continues to slow. In response, the Chinese currency hit a new four-year low against the U.S. dollar, increasing the country’s trade competitiveness.

The rise of China is one of the most important economic stories of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and will continue to remain so. While the United States and the G-7 seek to “integrate, but hedge” their bets in bringing China into the structures of global economic governance, such as through inclusion into the SDR basket, China continues to pressure for greater political power commensurate with its economic weight, “hiding its brightness, biding its time.” But the time is increasingly present, visible with China’s founding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as a potential rival to the World Bank.

The integration of China into the structures and systems of global economic governance will have lasting ramifications. Not simply because it represents a shift from the dominance that the G-7 nations held over the global economy for the past four decades, but because the Chinese model of state-run totalitarian capitalism itself presents an alternative approach to constructing a market economy. As China increasingly becomes a part of the governing structure of the world economy, its model will gain increased influence. Indeed, if war and hostilities between the other great powers are to be avoided, the future of global capitalism may well rely on a combination of Western markets and institutions backed up by totalitarian institutions like the regime in Beijing.

Given that the capitalist system is experiencing a crisis in its legitimacy – with warnings from the head of the Bank of England, the IMF, and influential financial dynasties that the system is increasingly under threat due to its excesses – democracy may no longer be compatiblewith capitalism. And totalitarian state structures may be the only way to save capitalism from itself.

“Hide Your Brightness, Bide Your Time”: China in the Age of Global Governance, Part II

“Hide Your Brightness, Bide Your Time”: China in the Age of Global Governance, Part II

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

3 March 2016

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 2 February 2016

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This is the second article in a three-part series focusing on China’s transformed role on the world financial stage. Read the first part here.

One of the most important developments in the global economy over the past thirty years has been the integration of China into the global economic system and its governing institutions. The United States and the G-7, which collectively dominate these institutions, have managed the process in a slow, incremental fashion, allowing China a larger voice, greater representation and more authority in return for its implementation of reforms to further advance the market economy and allow Western banks and corporations greater access to the Chinese market.

But China, and other emerging market economies, have become increasingly frustrated with the slow efforts on the part of the G-7 nations and the institutions they control. With emerging economies, and notably China, accounting for such a large share of global economic growth and wealth, those countries feel increasingly underrepresented in international economic institutions and decision-making. Their international political power does not accurately reflect their international economic influence.

Integration and greater representation within the global economic architecture is designed to give emerging economies a greater stake in the international economic and political system, providing them with ownership and authority. However, if the process is too slow or the results too weak, emerging economies could potentially create their own parallel institutions and perhaps even (in the long term) construct a parallel or opposing economic system altogether.

China is the most important emerging market economy and the one at the forefront of this process of integration. The United States has for decades pursued a strategy toward China described as “integrate, but hedge.” In a nutshell, the concept is that it is imperative to bring China within the international system, but it must be done slowly and in a way that curbs China’s potential capacity to disrupt the system or existing power structures. However, such a strategy can backfire, for hedging bets can easily transform into antagonism, pushing China to adopt more aggressive responses and ultimately creating the circumstance such a strategy was supposed to avoid.

This process is evident in the development of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which came in response to the slow efforts by the U.S. to give China and other emerging economies greater representation and ownership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. In 2010, the IMF agreed to implement reforms to its governance structure and that of its sister institution, the World Bank – which is dominated by the U.S. and the G-7 – allowing several emerging market countries to gain increased shares and power within the 188-member-nation institutions.

But since the reforms were agreed in 2010 and ratified by virtually every nation in the world, only the U.S. has refrained, held back by a Congress that proclaims its wariness to give up any influence within the Fund. However, America would maintain its status as the top shareholder in the IMF and World Bank, while remaining the only one with veto power, and Japan would keep its position as the second largest shareholder. But the reforms would elevate China from the Fund’s sixth largest shareholder to third largest, putting it ahead of Germany, the United Kingdom and France.

Following years of delays in ratifying the IMF’s quota and shareholder reforms, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in October of 2013 plans for the formation of “a new multinational, multibillion-dollar bank to finance roads, rails and power grids across Asia.” The so-called Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank would present a challenge to the role of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in which Japan and the U.S. are the two largest shareholders.

The U.S. was quick to pursue a strategy of containment and opposition to the proposed bank. As China was engaging in behind-the-scenes diplomacy with several Asian, European and other large nations around the world to gain support for the AIIB, the United States was lobbying its allies to oppose the bank and refuse to join its membership. China was meanwhile attempting to secure a roster of rich nations to join the AIIB as founding members and thus provide the development bank with much-needed capital. The U.S., however, was pressuring South Korea and Australia, among others, to reject the proposal and ensure that “membership in the bank would be limited to smaller countries, depriving it of the prestige and respectability the Chinese seek.”

At first, the U.S. lobbying and pressure seemed to work. When the AIIB was officially founded in late October of 2014, it had a membership of roughly 20 smaller countries along with China. The only other large nation to join was India. But in March of 2015, the UK defied pressure from the U.S. and announced that it would be joining the AIIB. U.S. officials weren’t pleased; one told the Financial Times that Washington was frustrated with Britain’s “trend toward constant accommodation of China.” This approach, said the official, “is not the best way to engage a rising power.”

Once Britain, a G-7 member, joined the AIIB, it led the way for other powerful and rich nations to do so. Within days, three other G-7 nations – Germany, France and Italy – all announced they were joining the bank. At the same time, Japan, China’s major competitor for economic, political and military influence in the region, said it was sticking by its major patron, the United States, and refused to join the AIIB. “The United States now knows Japan is trustworthy,” said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But the American strategy of opposition to the AIIB was not without its critics. Lawrence Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary, former chief economist at the World Bank, and a top economic adviser to President Obama in his first term, wrote in the Financial Times that the U.S. decision to oppose the AIIB could represent “the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.” Summers wrote that “the global economic architecture needs substantial adjustment,” with the U.S. and G-7 nations needing to adapt to a world in which China was virtually the same economic size as the United States, and in which emerging market economies accounted for roughly half of global wealth.

The President of the World Bank, U.S.-appointed Jim Yong Kim, pledged to find ways to cooperate with the new Chinese-led development bank, as did the Japanese head of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Former World Bank President Robert Zoellick also wrote that U.S. opposition to the AIIB was “a strategic mistake.” Even President Obama in April suggested that the AIIB could potentially be a “good thing,” but stressed that it would have to adopt the standards set by U.S. and Western-controlled institutions like the World Bank.

In June of last year, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke chimed in, saying, “The U.S. Congress is largely at fault for all that’s happening,” referring to the role of the legislature in blocking the ratification of the IMF’s reforms. Because of this, he explained, China and other countries have been increasingly looking to create their own regional institutions. “It would have been better to have a globally unified system,” said Bernanke.

By September, following a state visit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama at the White House, the U.S. formally announced “what amounts to a truce” over their opposition to the AIIB, with the U.S. saying it would stop lobbying against the institution in return for China agreeing to increase its financial contributions to institutions like the World Bank. However, both the United States and Japan continued to refuse to join the AIIB as members. At a joint press conference, President Xi said that “China is the current international system’s builder, contributor and developer and participant, and also beneficiary.” China was willing, he added, “to work with all other countries to firmly defend the fruits of victory of the second world war, and the existing international system.”

According to plan, the AIIB is to start with a capital base of $100 billion, and its ownership structure is designed to give countries in the Asia Pacific region roughly 75% of the voting shares, “giving smaller Asian countries a greater say than they have in other global organizations.” China provides the AIIB with nearly $30 billion of its $100 billion, giving its chief backer between 25% and 30% of voting shares and the only veto, since major decisions require a 75% majority.

The second largest contributor and shareholder is India, providing $8.4 billion, followed by Russia at $6.5 billion. Next is Germany with a $4.5 billion contribution, South Korea and Australia each providing $3.7 billion, with France and Indonesia each contributing $3.4 billion. Among the other large shareholders are Brazil, the UK, Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Iran, Thailand and the Netherlands.

The result: while the U.S. and Japan sit on the sidelines hedging their bets, the AIIB starts its place in the world of global economic governance with a membership of 57 nations from around the world. As former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said several decades ago, “Hide your brightness; bide your time.” With the founding of the AIIB, China may very well be staking a claim on its time for greater power in the global economy.

“Integrate, But Hedge”: China In the Age of Global Governance, Part I

“Integrate, But Hedge”: China In the Age of Global Governance, Part I

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

3 March 2016

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 26 January 2016

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This is the first article in a three-part series focusing on China’s transformed financial role on the world stage.

“Hide your brightness; bide your time,” cautioned Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of modern China who was the country’s supreme ruler from 1978 until the 1990s. Deng oversaw the “opening” of China into a modern state-capitalist society. He articulated a strategy for China’s integration into the global economic system – a strategy that progressed over the past four decades such that the world’s most populous nation is now its second largest economy, increasingly able to flex its new geopolitical and economic power and ambitions.

But China’s integration into the existing structures of global economic governance is not without risks and challenges. The country has grown economically as a result of slow, state-managed reforms to its economic system and the degree to which it has worked with the Western-created and -dominated economic system – in particular, those members of the Group of Seven (G-7) nations, the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada.

The G-7 was established a few years prior to China’s economic opening, and in the subsequent four decades has been the prime driving force in shaping the architecture of the global economic system. As emerging market economies implemented economic reforms encouraged by the G-7 nations and the institutions they dominate, they demanded more representation and power within the institutions and structures of global economic governance. China is chief among the emerging market economies, and has been at the forefront of pushing for representation and influence in the global economy and its governing institutions.

The G-7 nations, and in particular the United States, have accepted that emerging markets and China need to be integrated into the existing structure, but the challenge has been to manage the process in a slow, incremental way that allows the G-7 to continue pressuring emerging markets into implementing further reforms while maintaining G-7 nations’ own position at the center of the system. For this reason, the Group of 20 (G-20) was created in the late 1990s as a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from the G-7 countries and several important emerging markets, including China.

Over the years and decades that China has implemented market reforms (albeit, managed by a totalitarian one-party state), the country has joined such institutions as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and gained elevated status within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. However, its political, diplomatic and military power has also grown alongside its economic weight. East Asia, once the unquestioned domain of American and Japanese power, now has a new regional hegemon. This makes the imperative for China to integrate into the global economic architecture all the more imperative, as it would give the country a greater stake in the system as it exists, instead of potentially creating an alternative or rival system and institutions.

However, while integration is essential in the eyes of the West (and, indeed, in the eyes of many of China’s rulers, as well), it also carries immense risks. Unlike Japan, China is not dependent upon the U.S. for military protection and support, nor does it operate through a similar state democratic structure with which the industrialized world is familiar. Indeed, China and Japan are often antagonistic toward one another, a long product of Japan’s historical imperial war mongering and colonialism in the region. China has no desire to bow down to any outside power such as the U.S., nor submit to regional competitors such as Japan, and least of all does it intend to play second fiddle to any other power in its own backyard.

So, while there is a mutually beneficial economic relationship between China and the West, prompting the need for further integration into the structures of global economic governance, there is also a great deal of mistrust and uncertainty between China and the West, particularly on military and foreign policy matters. Historically, the rise of any new great power has always taken place in an environment of geopolitical tension and war. America, as the existing global hegemon, has designed its political and economic strategy toward China with these concerns in mind.

The American approach toward China was articulated, and in part designed, by the political scientist and former top U.S. government official and adviser Joseph Nye, as a strategy of “integrate, but hedge.” Nye, who formerly served in senior positions in both the State Department and Defense Department, is considered one of the most influential foreign policy intellectuals in the U.S. His influence extendsthrough multiple think tanks and advisory boards of which he is a member, including the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Aspen Strategy Group, and on advisory boards to the Defense Department and State Department.

Nye explained in The New York Times that in his role at the Defense Department in the 1990s, he helped develop the Pentagon’s East Asian Strategy Report, which identified three major powers in the region: the United States, Japan and China. It was at this time that the U.S. strategy of “integrate, but hedge” was designed, and it continued through the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Maintaining the U.S. alliance with Japan was central to the strategy, as it “would shape the environment into which China was emerging.” The objective was “to integrate China into the international system,” which included joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), but Nye added: “We needed to hedge against the danger that a future and stronger China might turn aggressive.”

In the Fall of 2011, high ranking members of the Obama administration began making clear that U.S. grand strategy envisioned an increased focus and presence in the Pacific Asian region. Writing in Foreign Policy in October of 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained that the U.S. was implementing “a strategic turn to the region” to maintain “peace and security” and “open markets.” Such a strategy would “secure and sustain America’s global leadership.” Clinton wrote that the U.S. relationship with China was “one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships the United States has ever had to manage” which “calls for careful, steady, dynamic stewardship.”

In November of 2011, President Obama declared the “pivot” to Asia was a “top priority” for the United States. “The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay,” said the President, though he claimed that it was not a strategy designed to “contain” China. “We’ll seek more opportunities for co-operation with Beijing,” he said. “All our nations [of the Pacific region] have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China.”

Thomas Donilon, President Obama’s National Security Advisor from 2010 to 2013, described the same strategy toward China while speaking to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in November of 2012. One of the central elements of the pivot to Asia, explained Donilon, was “pursuing a stable and constructive relationship with China.” America’s relationship with China “has elements of both cooperation and competition,” and U.S. policy was designed “to seek to balance these two elements in a way that increases both the quantity and quality of our cooperation with China as well as our ability to compete.” The U.S. had made clear, he said, “that as China takes a seat at a growing number of international tables, it needs to assume responsibilities commensurate with its growing global impact and its national capabilities.”

Another component of the pivot to Asia was to advance the region’s “economic architecture,” which meant a stronger engagement with regional forums and multilateral institutions, and notably advancing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional ‘trade’ deal driven by the United States to “deepen regional economic integration.” The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was finalized in 2015 as a “21st century trade agreement” between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. The agreement was largely viewed by America’s allies as “a counterweight” to China’s regional and global economic and political ambitions.

The Financial Times described the TPP as the “economic backbone” of the U.S. pivot to Asia, writing that, “the goal for the U.S. and Japan is to get ahead of China… and to create an economic zone in the Pacific Rim that might balance Beijing’s economic heft in the region.” As President Obama said: “When more than 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should write those rules.”

So while the United States continues to “write the rules” of global economic governance as it pursues its decades-long strategy of “integrate, but hedge,” China appears to still be following the original advice of Deng Xiaoping: “Hide your brightness, bide your time.” Time will tell.

 

Meet the “Emerging Market” Superstars of Global Economic Governance, Part II

Meet the “Emerging Market” Superstars of Global Economic Governance, Part II

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By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

2 February 2016

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 19 January 2016 and at the Transnational Institute on 21 January 2016

This is the second of a two-part article that was co-produced and co-published with the Transnational Institute, timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum starting this week in Davos, Switzerland. The first installment of the article appeared on 18 January.

Monetary Orthodoxy and its Political Repercussions

Central bankers are notoriously conservative and orthodox in their ideological positions. In the world of economics, this puts them in the position of being the political guardians of the global neoliberal order. In terms of policies, this translates into being strong promoters of low inflation, often requiring them to raise interest rates; supporters of liberalization (or deregulation) of markets, particularly financial and debt markets; implementing austerity measures (cutting social spending), and undertaking various structural reforms (such as the deregulation of labour markets and privatization of state assets) designed to further transform their respective societies into modern market economies.

While central bankers themselves are confined to the strict mandates of their institutions, often focused around what’s called maintaining “price stability” (keeping inflation at a low and stable level, generally between 2-5% depending on the country), they are still able to greatly influence the broader set of economic policies and priorities, and through their control over monetary policy they have the capacity to inflate or shrink an economy, giving them immense leverage over other policy-makers.

One of the most important characteristics of modern central banks is their so-called “independence,” referring to the degree to which the central bank and its governor are accountable to political authorities. If a central bank is “independent,” this means it has the power to act independently of elected (or otherwise established) political authorities so long as it is operating within its mandate and using the various policy options and instruments available to it (such as raising or lowering interest rates). Some of the most powerful central banks in the world, such as the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England, are examples of independent central banks led by unelected technocrats who are unaccountable to elected officials and the democratic process.

Thus, in the world of central banking, the prevailing orthodoxy revolves around the twin concepts of operational independence and a mandate focusing on price stability. The combination of these factors gives central bankers immense political power, for their economic decisions have profound social and political consequences, capable of causing recessions or depressions, creating mass unemployment, collapsing governments, bailing out banks and financial institutions (and handing the bill to the public), and transforming the very structure of society itself.

This political power is most frequently used to the benefit of the national and international private financial community (banks, insurance companies, asset managers, etc.) as opposed to the wider public community or nation. A mandate of “price stability” (low inflation), for example, is beneficial to creditors because it increases the amounts they are owed and protects the value of their savings. Higher inflation, on the other hand, can reduce the value of their savings and make it easier for debtors to pay off debts. There are of course exceptions and nuances to this general scenario. For example, hyperinflation is bad for everyone, and low to moderate inflation may be good for debtors so long as their wages are adjusted to inflation (which allows them to be paid more in dollar amounts for the same amount of work, and thus, helps to pay off debts faster).

Raghuram Rajan acknowledged the political nature of central banking during a speech at the annual congregation of global central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in late August of 2015. While the work and focus of central bankers is largely “technical,” explained Rajan, both history and “the current political environment” have an immense influence on monetary policy and its technical components. Rajan noted that central bankers think of and promote themselves as “apolitical,” but the “background influence of political economy” is always present, “sometimes without recognizing it.”

The problem for central bankers, he suggested, was their communication of political issues, because once central bankers do so, they become engaged in “the political dialogue,” which they are supposed to avoid, “because you’re a technocrat whose supposed view is apolitical.” An unelected technocrat at a central bank is capable of “making decisions that infringe on the prerogative of elected officials,” he said, but such “decisions may mean political trade-offs,” or deals to be made with politicians. When it comes to making policy, he said, “nothing can really be clean.”

This is something that Governor Rajan knows very well. In January of 2015, he made a private deal with the elected government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which he agreed to cut interest rates, giving a boost to economic growth in return for the government agreeing to implement a host of austerity measures and “structural reforms” designed to further develop India’s “power, land, minerals and infrastructure.” But by early February, Rajan indicated that “the war on inflation” was far from won in India, and refused to cut rates further.

This was viewed as “a message” by the central banker to the government to include austerity measures and other reforms if the government expected any further monetary support. The government acquiesced to the Governor’s demands, and the budget submitted by the Finance Minister included a “panopoly” of austerity measures and other reforms. Private bankers and investors expressed their delight at the new budget.

A couple days after the budget was announced, another important announcement was made for Rajan, as he was granted special new powers with the central bank being given an “inflation target” (putting “price stability” into the mandate). This effectively gave Rajan and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) greater independence from political authorities. The day after he was granted these new powers, Rajan cut interest rates in line with his previous deal with the government in return for the budget items he demanded, and possibly in a quid-pro-quo for granting him new independent powers. During 2015, there continued to be tussles between the RBI and the government about the independence of the Bank, but it seems likely that Rajan will emerge victorious.

Governor Carstens of Mexico also had his own struggles throughout the year, dealing with the repercussions of potential higher interest rates in the United States. However despite the Mexican economy slowing down, but Governor Carstens refused to cut interest rates any further, not wanting to “let inflation and the peso go adrift.” The main guideline of the central bank, he said, “should be inflation expectations,” adding that he would even consider raising rates if need be, possibly even before the U.S. Federal Reserve raised its own rates. “We will act,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Carstens endorsed the austerity package introduced by the Mexican Finance Minister Luid Videgaray, but warned that, “What’s important here is that the Finance Ministry sticks to its promises.”

In late July, Governor Carstens enjoyed a notable victory in the world of central bankers: inflation in Mexico hit its lowest level since 1970, and at 2.76%, it was below the 3% target set by the central bank. As the Wall Street Journal opined, this achievement “polishes Mexico’s credentials as the most economically orthodox country in Latin America, and one where inflation-control policies are sacrosanct.” Carstens referred to it as “an important milestone for Mexico.”

In September, Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray announced that President Pena Nieto would nominate Carstens for a second six-year term at the head of the country’s central bank, which was “likely to give confidence to financial markets.” And despite the inevitable negative consequences of higher U.S. interest rates on emerging market economies, both Governors even came out in support of the Federal Reserve raising rates. Carstens said such a move would be reflective of a stronger U.S. economy which would be “very good news.” Rajan, on the other hand, said, “It’s preferable to have a move early on and an advertised, slow move up rather than the Fed be forced to tighten more significantly down the line.”

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Emerging Markets – An Expanding Global Elite

Rajan and Carstens are also a reflection of one of the most important economic stories in the past several decades, which has been the rise of what we call the “emerging market” economies, countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia, among others. In the 25 years prior to the global financial crisis, the Group of Seven (G-7) countries (United States, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada) accounted for roughly half of global GDP, but their share has declined relative to the growth of emerging markets. In 1990, emerging economies accounted for less than a third of global growth, but by 2013, they accounted for roughly half, in what The Economist called “the biggest economic transformation in modern history.”

Emerging markets have not risen in economic size and strength in opposition to the economic system defined and governed by the G-7 nations, but rather through their integration into that economic order and acceptance of the economic orthodoxy propagated by the developed economies. With their rise, they are demanding greater international political power to match their increased international economic weight.

Despite unity on economic policy, this shift has not been a smooth process or without resistance, given the reluctance of the United States and G-7 nations to give space for emerging nations to articulate alternatives particularly on issues of foreign policy where there is more divergence of views. In managing this process, the G-7 nations have granted special status to a small group of emerging economies and to the top financial diplomats that represent them in international circles. In particular, China, India, Brazil and Mexico are the most favoured emerging economies, the most integrated into the structures of global economic governance, and whose top diplomats (in particular, central bankers) are the most respected and represented in global financial circles.

The Emerging Consensus

These two governors of the global economy, perhaps the two most respected central bankers from emerging market economies, represent the changing faces of global economic governance, but also represent the fact that for emerging markets to get real power, they must first give up any alternative economic ideology or vision. Both Carstens and Rajan attended prestigious American universities, worked in high level positions at the IMF and in their respective finance ministries before ascending to the throne of monetary managers for Latin America’s second largest – and Asia’s third largest – economy.

Integration into the existing power structures of global economic governance requires first and foremost, ideological capitulation: to accept the market system as the ideal form of the global economic order. They may push for reforms and alterations, but the substance remains largely the same: the market remains supreme and sovereign. Carstens and Rajan may be global economic governors of a different variety than the world is accustomed to, but they are firmly entrenched within the existing apparatus and ideology of global economic governance. Keep your eyes on these two, they’re going places, and taking their respective countries – and the global economy – with them.

Highlights from Carsten and Rajan’s calendar in 2015 

The following is a list of some of the most important meetings and gatherings of international financial diplomats and technocrats attended by one or both of governors Carstens and Rajan over the course of 2015.

Jan. 11-12: Bi-Monthly meeting of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Basel, Switzerland

Jan. 21-24: World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, Davos, Switzerland

Feb. 8-10: Institute of International Finance (IIF) G20 Conference, Istanbul, Turkey

March 9: Bi-Monthly Meeting of the BIS, Basel, Switzerland

March 26: Financial Stability Board (FSB) Plenary Meeting, Frankfurt, Germany

April 16-19: World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Spring Meeting, Washington, D.C.

May 10-11: Bi-Monthly Meeting of Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Basel, Switzerland

June 11-13: 73rd Plenary Session, Group of Thirty (G-30), Hosted by the Central Bank of Brazil

July 7: Bi-Monthly Meeting of Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Basel, Switzerland

Aug. 27-29: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Policy Symposium, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, United States

Sept. 4-5: G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting, Ankara, Turkey

Sept. 25: Financial Stability Board (FSB) Meeting, London, U.K.

Oct. 8-11: World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meeting, Lima, Peru

Nov. 9: Bi-Monthly Meeting of Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Basel, Switzerland

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

Meet the “Emerging Market” Superstars of Global Economic Governance, Part I

Meet the “Emerging Market” Superstars of Global Economic Governance, Part I

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By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

25 January 2016

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 18 January 2016 and at the Transnational Institute on 21 January 2016

One is Mexican, described by the Financial Times for his “Wall Street-sized reputation for financial wizardry”; the other is Indian hailed by India’s Economic Times as “the Poster Boy of Banking” whose “chiselled features are as sharp as his brain.” Meet Agustin Carstens and Raghuram Rajan. As the world’s economic elite gathers this week to meet in Davos, they are a perfect example of what has been called the “Davos class” – what Samuel Huntingdon described as a class who “see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.” U.S.-educated central bankers in two emerging market economies, their stories focused on their activities in one year, 2015, reveal how global power has both shifted and yet ultimately reinforced a global economic empire. Carstens entered the inner circle of financial elites, via his role as Mexico’s finance minister from 2006 to 2009, during which time he was responsible for managing the country’s response to the global financial crisis. In that capacity, Carstens turned to the IMF in April of 2009 for a $47 billion credit line to help Mexico weather the financial fallout from the crisis. During this time, he was appointed Chairman of the Joint Development Committee (JDC) of the World Bank, and after being appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Mexico in 2010, he became a member of the steering committee of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), set up to help coordinate response to the financial crisis, and was also appointed to the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland, which coordinates between 60 major central banks around the world. This impressive career resumé led to him being considered in 2011 as a contender for the top spot at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Raghuram Rajan’s rise to Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) followed a reverse trajectory to that of Carsten – not building his career first at a national level, but rather by gaining financial market legitimacy for his work at the IMF making himself a highly-sought after candidate within India’s elite circles. However, like Carstens, he started off in the U.S. education system, obtaining a PhD in economics from MIT in the United States in 1991, then became a professor at the University of Chicago before, in 2003, becoming the first non-Westerner and youngest person ever to fill the post of Chief Economist at the IMF, a position he held until 2007. His predictions in 2005 that “financial innovations” of the previous years and decades could make financial markets increasingly fragile, vulnerable and prone to crisis may have been questioned at the time, but after the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and proved Rajan correct, they led to him becoming well respected.

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IMF Economic Counselor and Research Department Director Raghuram Rajan briefs the press on the World Economic Outlook on April 13, 2005 at the International Monetary Fund Headquarters (IMF), Washington, D.C. The IMF World Economic Outlook presents analysis and projections of economic developments at the global level, in major country groups and in many individual countries. IMF Staff Photographer/ Stephen Jaffe

But this independence of thinking didn’t dim his belief in central tenets of neoliberalism, necessary to receive the support from financial markets to stand for office. In August of 2012, Rajan was appointed as the chief economic adviser to India’s finance ministry, praised by the Wall Street Journal as “a strong believer in liberalization and privatization,” who felt that India should continue with many of the market reforms it began implementing in the early 1990s. And the following August, in 2013, he was appointed to head the central bank by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Immediately upon becoming Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Rajan told the Financial Times that he planned to turn India into “a more continental and open economy” within a globalized world. Such a task is not easy, and comes with a great many risks. “I have to be careful,” he concluded.

Fostering a common vision in support of private financial capital

As central bankers in a globalized financial order, Carstens and Rajan have plenty of opportunities to meet up. They both sit on important committees of the Bank for International Settlements that meets every two months. Rajan is Vice Chairman of the BIS Board of Directors while Carstens is Chairman of BIS’s Economic Consultative Committee (ECC) and Chairman of the Global Economy Meeting (GEM). The latter has been described by its former chairman and President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, “as the prime group for the governance of central bank cooperation.” The Spring and Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), taking place in April and September (or October), are also another regular stop in their calendars, especially for Carstens who has been appointed Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), a secretive steering committee for the Fund. In addition, both Rajan and Carstens attend the private gatherings of the Group of 20 (G-20) nations that take place four times a year.

Beyond the world of inter-state financial cooperation, both Carstens and Rajan are frequent guests at meetings of private financiers – and thus all too easily pulled into the vision and interests of the private financial world – through gatherings of groupings such as the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the world’s largest and most important association of global financial institutions. IIF brings together the top executives of nearly 500 major banks, asset management firms, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and other investment institutions.

During the IMF’s Spring Meeting in Washington in 2015, D.C., Carstens along with the Chinese Central Banker Zhou Xiaochuan, spoke at a forum on the subject of “International Capital Markets and Emerging Markets.” Carstens also sits as a member of an IIF exclusive advisory working group dedicated to supporting capital flows to emerging market countries, called the “Group of Trustees of the Principles,” sitting alongside other current and former central bankers, finance ministry officials and private bankers and financiers.

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In 2013, shortly after his appointment as Governor of the RBI, Rajan spoke to an audience of the IIF outlining his objectives for reforming India’s economy over the coming years, which included further “liberalization” of India’s various financial and debt markets and to transform his own institution into a modern central bank with strict Western standards and credentials. Governor Rajan is also a member of the very exclusive Group of Thirty (G30), a private research and advocacy group of roughly 30 individuals, including current and former central bankers.

Among these meetings, the annual meeting in Davos in January, which Carstens attended in 2015, is a key forum to meet other elites outside financial circles including dozens of heads of state and hundreds of ministers and other high-ranking government officials, business and financial leaders, media and academic figures, and the chiefs of every major international organization.

Carsten and Rajan’s interactions and meetings at least ten times a year alongside other top financial diplomats help to foster shared experiences, understanding and objectives, encourage cooperation at the supranational level, and further align their ideological positions relative to one another. Similarly, their extensive interactions and affiliation with private financial market participants helps to create a community of shared interests between central bankers and financiers. Ultimately, these groupings and exchanges allow the central bankers to come face to face with their main constituents, for it is the interests of financial markets that central banks protect above all else, whether through the promotion of liberalization and other “structural reforms,” including austerity measures that are frequently demanded by markets.

Central banks also serve financial markets through the implementation of bailout programs designed to save banks and financial institutions when markets fail, as well as through the management of monetary policy with its primary objectives of achieving ‘price stability’ (low and stable inflation), which generally favours creditors at the expense of debtors. The prevailing orthodoxy of central bankers is closely aligned with the interests and objectives of private financial institutions, and Governors Carstens and Rajan are no exceptions.

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

 

Exposing BlackRock: Who’s Afraid Of Laurence Fink and His Overpowering Institution?

Exposing BlackRock: Who’s Afraid Of Laurence Fink and His Overpowering Institution?

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

10 December 2015

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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It’s not a bank, nor an insurance company, central bank, finance ministry or sovereign wealth fund. But it advises or owns such institutions. It operates virtually unregulated, often in the background, yet there is scarcely a company, country or region of the planet that this, the world’s largest asset management firm, does not touch or influence.

At a mere 27 years of age, BlackRock manages $4.5 trillion in assets, making it the single largest investor on Earth. It manages more wealth than Japan and Germany have in GDP. In fact, only China and the United States have a larger GDP than BlackRock has assets under management. Yet when one includes assets that the company not only manages, but advises upon, the number soars to around $15 trillion, roughly equal to U.S. GDP.

It’s safe to say that BlackRock is the single largest financial institution in the world: a vast holding company that has become a major shareholder in roughly 40% of all publicly traded companies in the U.S., the largest single shareholder in one out of every five U.S. corporations, and one of the largest shareholders in companies around the world, from Canada to Brazil, Germany, Japan, China and beyond.

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Owning it All

Specifically, BlackRock is one of the top shareholders in all major U.S. banks, including JPMorgan ChaseCitigroupBank of AmericaGoldman SachsMorgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.

In terms of America’s most profitable and recognizable corporations, BlackRock is a top shareholder of WalmartGeneral ElectricGeneral MotorsFordAT&TVerizonGoogleAppleExxon Mobil and Chevron.

BlackRock’s other large holdings include Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Amazon, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Intel, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney Company, Home Depot, Philip Morris, VISA, McDonald’s, Cisco Systems, PepsiCo, IBM, Oracle, Comcast, Lockheed Martin, MasterCard, Starbucks, Boeing and ConocoPhillips, along with thousands of other, smaller brands.

But despite its size and influence, BlackRock remains virtually unregulated as an asset management firm. Unlike a bank, asset management firms do not manage and invest their own money, but do so on behalf of their many clients. In the case of BlackRock, those clients come in the form of banks, corporations, insurance companies, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, central banks and foundations. Gerald Davis, a professor of management and organization at the University of Michigan, described BlackRock as “the silent giant” that few know about, but which is “incredibly powerful.”

The company’s power is expressed not merely in terms of its equity (shareholdings) and bonds (debt ownership), but in its role as an adviser to governments and institutions. This role is not only played by certain divisions within the company, but by the co-founder and CEO of BlackRock itself, Larry Fink. The son of a shoe salesman and English professor, Laurence Fink started his finance career working for First Boston, trading bonds during the 1980s, and became the firm’s youngest-ever managing director at the age of 31.

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Fink Ascends to the Top

In 1988, Fink, along with a handful of other traders, founded BlackRock with support from its first financial backer, the private equity firm Blackstone (notice the similar name). Within five years, BlackRock had more than $20 billion under management. But in 1994, a conflict with Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman led to a separation of the two companies. Schwarzman sold Blackstone’s 32% share of BlackRock to a Pittsburgh bank, PNC, for $240 million, a transaction Schwarzman would later regret.

BlackRock went public in 1999 and began acquiring other companies throughout the 2000s. But the company’s most profitable move was its purchase of Barclays Global Investors for $13.5 billion, turning BlackRock into the world’s largest asset management firm overnight. This occurred in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis, and the firm took on a vast portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) known as iShares.

But even before it earned the title of largest money manager in the world, BlackRock was raising eyebrows concerning its business advising and contracting with governments. When the financial crisis struck the U.S. in 2008, the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve turned to BlackRock and Larry Fink for support. BlackRock advised the government on the rescues, bailouts and purchases of Bear Stearns, American International Group (AIG), Citigroup, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Throughout the crisis, Fink would find himself on the phone multiple times a day in conversation with then-President of the New York Federal Reserve, Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary and the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Fink explained, “It gives comfort to our clients that we are being involved in some of the solutions of our economy, and it allows us to show our clients that we are being asked in these difficult situations to provide advice.”

According to Vanity Fair, One of Fink’s favorite phrases to insert into casual conversations is: “As I told Washington…” And it’s something to be said without much exaggeration. When Timothy Geithner went from being President of the New York Fed to Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Fink’s access to the top echelons of political power grew immensely. Indeed, apart from other government officials, the BlackRock chief became “the Treasury secretary’s most frequent corporate interlocutor and an emblem of BlackRock’s growing influence in global financial affairs,” noted the Financial Times.

Using data compiled from the Treasury Secretary’s public records from 2009 to 2013, Geithner held phone calls or private meetings wit Fink at least 104 times during the duration of his term. Even with Geithner’s successor at Treasury, Jack Lew, pervasive contact has been maintained with Fink.

Enter Hillary’s Right-Hand Woman

In 2013, BlackRock hired to its board of directors Cheryl Mills, a “longtime confidant and counselor to former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Mills was chief of staff to Clinton at the State Department, and was “among the inner circle of advisers helping Clinton chart her plans for the future.” Mills has a long history with both Clintons; she was one of President Bill Clinton’s top attorneys during his impeachment. A former aide with knowledge of the Clinton-Mills relationship explained, “There are no secrets… Cheryl knows everything and that’s a great equalizer for them.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Mills explained that she still advises and speaks with Hillary regularly.

As Hillary Clinton campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, her discussions of Wall Street regulations focus almost exclusively on banks – but nowhere does she mention the role played by asset management firms like BlackRock. In fact, in her comments on the subject, Clinton actually tends to parrot the ideas that have been put forward by Fink himself. For instance, after Clinton gave a speech on Wall Street reform, The New York Times noted that it seemed as if “she could have been channeling Laurence D. Fink.”

For years, Fink has been touted as a possible Treasury Secretary the likelihood of which may increase if Clinton becomes president. Indeed, Fink, a longtime Democrat, would be perfectly suited to such a position as the “top consigliere” of Wall Street in Washington, Suzanna Andrews writes in Vanity Fair, “and the leading member of the country’s financial oligarchy.”

And of course it helps that Fink and BlackRock are not simply influential within the U.S. but across the globe. BlackRock has been hired as a consultant and adviser in Europe multiple times throughout the European debt crisis, having worked with the Irish central bank, the Greek central bank, and more recently the European Central Bank to advise on its quantitative easing program.

With $4.5 trillion in assets under management, the firm is without a doubt “one of, if not the, most influential financial institutions in the world,” noted a BlackRock co-founder. And Larry Fink, the architect of “his own Wall Street empire,” could become a household name in U.S. politics soon enough.

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

Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy

Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

27 November 2015

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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On Nov. 13, the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it was charging 10 individual bankers, working for two separate banks, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, with fraud over their rigging of the Euribor rates. The latest announcement shines the spotlight once again on the scandals and criminal behavior that have come to define the world of global banking.

To date, only a handful of the world’s largest banks have been repeatedly investigated, charged, fined or settled in relation to a succession of large financial scams, starting with mortgage fraud and the Libor scandal in 2012, the Euribor scandal and the Forex (foreign exchange) rate rigging. At the heart of these scandals, which involve the manipulation of interest rates on trillions of dollars in transactions, lie a handful of banks that collectively form a cartel in control of global financial markets – and the source of worldwide economic and financial crises.

Banks such as HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS anchor the global financial power we have come to recognize as fraud. The two, after all, are not mutually exclusive. In more explicit terms, this cartel of banks functions as a type of global financial Mafia, manipulating markets and defrauding investors, consumers and countries while demanding their pound of flesh in the form of interest payments. The banks force nations to impose austerity measures and structural reforms under the threat of cutting off funding; meanwhile they launder drug money for other cartels and organized crime syndicates.

Call them the global Mafiocracy.

In May, six major global banks were fined nearly $6 billion for manipulation of the foreign exchange market, which handles over $5 trillion in daily transactions. Four of the six banks pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged.” Those banks were Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, while two additional banks, UBS and Bank of America, were fined but did not plead guilty to the specific charges. Forex traders at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other banks conspired to manipulate currency prices through chat room groups they established, where they arrogantly used names like “The Mafia” and “The Cartel.”

The FBI said the investigations and charges against the big banks revealed criminal behavior “on a massive scale.” The British bank Barclays paid the largest individual fine at around $2.3 billion. But as one trader at the bank wrote in a chat room conversation back in 2010, “If you aint cheating, you aint trying.” The total fines, while numerically large, were but a small fraction of the overall market capitalization of each bank – though the fine on Barclays amounted to some 3.4% of the bank’s market capitalization, the highest percentage by far among the group.

Despite the criminal conspiracy charges covering the years 2007 through 2013, the banks and their top officials continue to lay the blame squarely at the feet of individual traders. Axel Weber, the former president of the German Bundesbank (the central bank of Germany), who is now chairman of Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, commented that “the conduct of a small number of employees was unacceptable and we have taken appropriate disciplinary actions.”

Looking at the larger scale of bank fines and fraud in the roughly eight years since the global financial crisis, the numbers increase substantially. In addition to a 2012 settlement for mortgage-related fraud in the U.S. housing market, which amounted to some $25 billion, several large banks paid individual fines related to mortgage and foreclosure fraud – including a $16 billion fine for Bank of America, and $13 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Added to these are fines related to the rigging of the Libor rate (the interest rate at which banks lend to each other) and the Forex rigging, as well as money laundering, violating sanctions, manipulating the price of gold, manipulating the U.S. electricity market and assisting tax evasion, among other crimes.

According to a research paper published in June, the total cost of litigation (fines, penalties, settlements, etc.) paid by 16 major global banks since 2010 has reached more than $300 billion. Bank of America paid the most, amounting to more than $66 billion, followed by JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, Santander, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, UBS, National Australia Bank, Standard Chartered and Société Générale.

Virtually all of these banks also appear on a list of data, compiled through 2007, revealing them to be among the most interconnected and powerful financial institutions in the world. This core group of corporations forms part of a network of 147 financial institutions that Swiss scientists refer to as the “super-entity,” which, through their various shareholdings, collectively controland own each other and roughly 40% of the world’s 43,000 largest transnational corporations.

In other words, the big banks – along with large insurance companies and asset management firms – do not simply act as a cartel in terms of engaging in criminal activities, but they form a functionally interdependent network of global financial and corporate control. Further, the banks work together in various industry associations and lobbying groups where they officially represent their collective interests.

The largest European banks and financial institutions are represented by the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), whose membership consists of the CEOs or Chairmen of roughly 25 of the top financial institutions on the continent, including Deutsche Bank, AXA, HSBC, Allianz, RBS, ING, Barclays, BNP Paribas, UBS, and Credit Suisse, among others.

In the United States, the Financial Services Forum (FSF) represents the largest American along with some European banks and financial institutions. The Forum’s membership consists of less than 20 executives, including the CEOs or Chairmen of such firms as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, AIG, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street Corporation, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, among others.

And on a truly global scale, there is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the premier global association representing the financial industry, with a membership of nearly 500 different institutions from more than 70 countries around the world, including banks, insurance companies, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, central banks, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and development banks.

In addition to these various groups and associations, many of the same large banks and their top executives also serve as members, leaders or participants in much more secretive groups and forums – for example, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a yearly meeting of hundreds of the world’s top bankers hosted by the American Bankers Association, which invites selected politicians, central bankers and finance ministers to attend their off-the-record discussions. In addition, there is the Institut International d’Etudes Bancaires (International Institute of Banking Studies), or IIEB, which brings together the top officials from dozens of Europe’s major financial institutions for discussions with central bankers, presidents and prime ministers in “closed sessions” with virtually no coverage in the media.

These financial institutions are major owners of government debt, which gives them even greater leverage over the policies and priorities of governments. Exercising this power, they typically demand the same thing: austerity measures and “structural reforms” designed to advance a neoliberal market economy that ultimately benefits those same banks and corporations. The banks in turn create the very crises that require governments to bail them out, racking up large debts that banks turn into further crises, pressuring economic reforms in return for further loans. The cycle of crisis and control continues, and all the while, the big banks and financial institutions engage in criminal conspiracies, fraud, manipulation and money-laundering on a massive scale, including acting as the financial services arm of the world’s largest drug cartels and terrorists organizations.

Welcome to the world governed by the global financial Mafiocracy – because if you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.