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Austerity Revisited: How Global Financiers Rigged the Bank Bailouts of the 1980s
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
20 May 2014
In the first part of this Global Power Project series, I examined the origins and early evolution of the International Monetary Conference, an annual meeting (to be held June 1-3 in Munich) of several hundred of the world’s most influential bankers who gather in secrecy with the finance ministers, regulators and central bankers of the world’s most powerful nations. The second part looked at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis. Now, in Part 3, we examine the role the IMC played throughout that debt crisis which began in August of 1982.
At the 1982 International Monetary Conference, bankers noted that they had been cutting back extensively on loans to developing countries, with some leading bankers warning that the lending cut-backs could result in “aggravating the problems of countries already in economic difficulties and threatening to throw them into default” – which is exactly what happened a couple of months after that’s year’s conference.
A. W. Clausen, former CEO of Bank of America, spoke at the IMC in 1982 as then-president of the World Bank, and told the assembled bankers it was “an honour to be the first President of the World Bank to address the International Monetary Conference,” noting that, “themes of partnership and interdependence have repeatedly been at the center of our IMC meetings.” It was the subject Clausen wanted to address, “the tightening interdependence between the developed and the developing nations,” announcing “a new era of partnership between the World Bank and international commercial banks for helping the economies of the developing countries.”
Clausen told the bankers that “in order to develop a closer partnership with you, we intend to expand the International Finance Corporation [the investment arm of the World Bank] to explore the possibility of a multilateral insurance scheme for private investment, and to develop new mechanisms for attracting commercial bank co-financing.”
He also noted that the “fundamental objective of the World Bank” was “to help raise the standard of living of people, especially poor people, in the developing countries,” and argued that “people in developing countries will benefit from a closer partnership between the World Bank and international commercial banks.” Clausen was speaking roughly three months before Mexico announced its debt repayment problems, sparking the debt crisis, though he acknowledged that the developing world was experiencing a “balance-of-payments disequilibrium and debt-servicing difficulties.”
In addition, Clausen noted that the affiliate organization of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, had a special purpose which was “to encourage productive private enterprises in developing nations” whose loans do not have to be guaranteed by governments, and which can take equity (or shareholdings) in corporations. Clausen noted that together with the IMF and the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank “has helped to build an interdependent global economy,” adding: “International commercial banking depends on the relatively integrated, dynamic, and peaceful world economy that these official institutions have nurtured.”
Thus, he suggested, “we should now develop the complementarity between the World Bank and international commercial banks into a closer relationship of collaboration,” and recommended “greater collaboration between [the] IFC and commercial banks,” which “has great potential for stimulating commercial investment in the developing countries.” All of the initiatives Clausen proposed revolved around the basic objective of increasing “the collaboration of the international banking community” with the World Bank, in order “to assist poor nations to better manage their economies through the establishment of economic policies that are conducive to economic growth and development” and thus “bringing them fully into the global economy.”
The Debt Crisis
In the first full year of the international debt crisis that tore Latin America and other developing countries into financial ruin – with entire populations pushed overnight into poverty through austerity measures that were demanded by the IMF and the global banks, in return for additional loans and debt rescheduling – the more than 200 global bankers at the International Monetary Conference met in Belgium where they were “treated like royalty,” met at the airport by “special hostesses” and were then chauffeured in Mercedes limousines to the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The bankers attended a cocktail party at the Palais d’Egmont and hosted the King of Belgium for an afternoon lunch. It was in this “fairy-tale atmosphere,” as the New York Times described it, that the world’s top bankers met with government officials and central bankers and enjoyed “the luxury of thinking about the grand problems of world finance, unfettered by the real world’s concerns.”
The bankers at the 1983 conference agreed that the major debtor countries, in particular Brazil and Mexico, would need time to reshape their economies, with estimates ranging from three to seven or eight years of austerity, and various “structural reforms” designed to enforce neoliberal economic policies upon those entire populations. James Wolfensohn, a former partner at Salomon Brothers who started his own consultancy (and later went on to become President of the World Bank), delivered a popular speech at the IMC recommending that there could be no one solution to the debt crisis, but that each country would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
The banker William S. Ogden, a former vice chairman of Chase Manhattan, presented another popular speech at the IMC in which he explained that what was needed to resolve the debt crisis was “sustained world economic growth, avoidance of protectionism, increased government aid to the third world and more disciplined economic policies among the developing countries.” In other words, harsh austerity measures.
That very same year, Ogden was in the midst of creating a unique organization of international banks and bankers to represent their collective interests as a global community in the face of the debt crisis. That organization came to be known as the Institute of International Finance, itself the subject of a previous set of exposés in the Global Power Project.
At the 1984 meeting of the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a special meeting occurred among some of the top banks that held a large percentage of Mexico’s debt. They participated in a “closed meeting” with major central bankers and finance officials, including representatives of the IMF, who recommended that the banks lower their interest rates on loans to Mexico in order to reduce pressure on the country. Walter B. Wriston, chairman of Citicorp, who had previously opposed any concessions to the impoverished nations in crisis, at this point appeared willing to adhere to some reductions in interest rates for Mexico.
The closed meeting was also attended by Willard C. Butcher, Jr., the chairman of Chase Manhattan; John F. McGillicuddy, chairman of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company; Lewis T. Preston, chairman of J.P. Morgan & Company; Walter V. Shipley, chairman of Chemical Bank; Wilfried Guth, managing director of Deutsche Bank; Guido R. Hanselmann, executive board member of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), and Sir Jeremy Morse, chairman of Lloyds Bank of London.
The following day, the international banks announced that they would agree to negotiate a long-term debt solution for Mexico. Included in the decision as well was the IMF managing director, Jacques de Larosiere; the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker; and a special representative of the banks, Citibank Vice Chairman William R. Rhodes, who announced the decision to negotiate on behalf of the banks and who was personally responsible for chairing multiple “bank advisory committees” that negotiated debt rescheduling with various countries in Latin America.
Three years later, in 1987, Mexico was still caught in a painful crisis and the world’s bankers were still meeting for the IMC in luxurious surroundings, partaking in opulent social events to discuss the issue of world debt problems. The more than 200 bankers at the meeting expressed their frustration with the problems of the global monetary system, the instability of the floating exchange rate system, and currency crises. William Butcher, that year’s chairman of the IMC, warned that the global monetary system would not “correct itself” and instead the search for a new and more stable system “must be intensified.”
The most popular speech at the IMC that year was delivered by Japan’s vice minister of finance for international affairs, Toyoo Gyohten, who proposed the establishment of “some international mechanism” which would be responsible for managing international monetary crises, and would be required “to have at least several hundred billion dollars in order to influence the financial markets.”
At the next year’s meeting of the IMC, then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, spoke to the assembled bankers, explaining that further declines in the U.S. Dollar would not help American exports. His comments led to a rise in the Dollar, “greeted positively in the financial markets,” and stock and bond prices rose on Wall Street. The heads of the central banks of other major industrial nations, such as West Germany and Britain, were also present at the conference where collectively the central bankers “reiterated the need to keep inflation down as a way to continue worldwide economic growth” – a position met with great approval by the bankers present at the meeting.
At the 1989 meeting of the IMC, many of Mexico’s largest international lenders attended a special meeting after which they announced a $5.5 billion “aid” package (aka bailout) for Mexico in cooperation between Japanese banks, the IMF and the World Bank. But the so-called “aid packages” handed out by Western banks and international organizations to the crisis-hit developing nations were, in fact, bailouts for the major banks: the funds were given to the countries explicitly to pay the interest that they owed to the banks, while at the same time forcing those governments to implement strict austerity measures and other economic reforms.
William R. Rhodes, Citibank’s main official responsible for debt rescheduling agreements, was present at the meeting, which was also attended by Angel Gurria, the chief debt negotiator for Mexico. Rhodes stated that the meeting at the IMC “set the stage for rapid progress.” In the final part of the Global Power Project series on the International Monetary Conference, I examine the continued relevance of the IMC from 1989 to the present – including the bankers who composed its leadership, as well as a review of leaked documents pertaining to the 2013 meeting of the IMC in Shanghai.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 27-year-old 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.
State of Power 2014: The Transnational Institute
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at the Transnational Institute, 21 January 2014
In its third annual ‘State of Power’ report, TNI uses vibrant infographics and penetrating essays to expose and analyse the principal power-brokers that have caused financial, economic, social and ecological crises worldwide.
In my contribution to the ‘State of Power’ report (and in cooperation with Occupy.com), “State of Europe: How the European Round Table of Industrialists Came to Wage Class War on Europe,” I examine the role of a major corporate interest group in shaping the policies of the European Union.
From the introduction:
“Founded in 1983, the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) quickly became – and today remains – one of the most influential voices of organized corporate interests in Europe. Not quite a lobby, not quite a think tank, the ERT is an action-oriented group made up of roughly 50 CEOs or Chairmen of Europe’s top industrial corporations who collectively push specific ideologies, pressure political elites, and plan objectives and programs designed to shape the European Union and the ‘common market’.
The past thirty years of the ERT’s existence has revealed it one of the most influential organizations in Europe, widely known to the EU’s political, technocratic, and financial elites, holding regular meetings, dinners, and social events with prime ministers and cabinet officials of EU member states, as well as the leadership of the European Commission itself. In the wake of the European debt crisis of the past several years, the ERT has again been at the forefront of shaping the changes within the EU, promoting austerity and structural reforms as the ‘solution’ to the debt crisis.
As through their three-decade history, the Round Table today continues to promote the ideologies and interests of corporate and financial power at the expense of the interests of labour and the population more widely. This paper aims to examine this highly influential group in order to shed some light on an organization very well known to those who make the important decisions within the EU, yet largely in the shadows to those who have to suffer the consequences of those decisions.”
To read the full essay on the ERT and the European Union, click here.
To review and access all of the reports which contributed to the TNI ‘State of Power’ report, click here.
Global Power Project: The Group of Thirty, Financial Crisis Kingpins
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
25 February 2014
The following article was originally posted on 18 December 2013 at Occupy.com
Following parts one, two and three of the Global Power Project’s Group of Thirty series, this fourth and final instalment focuses on a few of the G30 members who have played outsized roles both in creating and managing various financial crises, providing a window on to the ideas, institutions and individuals who help steer this powerful global group.
The Assassin of Argentina
Prior to 2008, one of the most notable examples of a highly destructive financial crisis took place in Argentina which, heavily in debt, faced a large default and was brutally punished by financial markets and the speculative assault of global finance, otherwise known as “capital flight.” Less known in the story of Argentina’s 1998 to 2002 economic catastrophe was the significant role played by just one man: Domingo Cavallo.
A longtime member of the Group of Thirty, Cavallo formerly served both as Governor of the Central Bank and Minister of Economy in Argentina. He has been referred to by Pulitzer Prize-winning economic researcher Daniel Yergin as “one of the most influential figures in recasting the relationship of state and marketplace in Latin America.”
Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina, ruled by a ruthless military dictatorship, was marred by excessive human rights abuses and persecution of intellectuals and dissidents during the so-called “Dirty War” in which as many as 30,000 people were killed or disappeared . The terror was reminiscent of nearby Chile, where a coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973, with the help of the CIA, provided a petri-dish experiment in the implementation of neoliberal “reforms.” It was Chile’s dictatorship that set the example, and Argentina’s soon followed.
In a 2002 interview, Domingo Cavallo noted that, “The experience of Chile during the ’80s was very instructive, I think, for most Latin American economies, and many politicians in Latin America, because Chile was successful by opening up and trying to expand their exports and in general their foreign trade and getting more integrated into the world economy… And of course we used, particularly here in Argentina, the experience of Chile to go ahead with our own reforms.”
Asked about the association between economic “reforms” in Chile and the ruthless dictatorship that implemented them, Cavallo explained, “There were discussions on the feasibility of implementing market reforms in a democracy. But in 1990… the first democratic president after Pinochet maintained the reforms and also tried to improve on them [and] it was demonstrated that itwould be possible to implement similar reforms under a democratic regime.”
What specific reforms was Cavallo referring to? Under Argentina’s military dictatorship, Cavallo served for one year as Governor of the Central Bank in 1982, where he was responsible for implementing a state bailout of corporations and banks. After, Cavallo returned to academic life. But all that changed with the election of Carlos Menem in 1989, who served as president until 1999. In 1991, Menem appointed Cavallo as Minister for Economy, a position he held until 1996.
Cavallo led the neoliberal restructuring of Argentina: pegging the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar, trying to reduce inflation, undertaking massive privatizations while opening up the economy to “free trade,” and deregulating financial markets. The New York Times in 1996 heaped praise on Cavallo for his “constructive” role in leading the economy “back to vitality and international respectability,” despite the fact that his reforms “brought high unemployment and painful reductions in social programs.”
Another NYT article credited Cavallo for the “stability” brought to Argentina through his “economic miracle,” while noting, without irony, that Cavallo’s miracle had “left million of Argentines… without a safety net” and with record-high unemployment, the emergence of urban slums, abandoned street children, over-crowded food banks, homeless shelters in churches, and even some people who were forced to eat cats in desperation. The “miracle” was so great, in fact, that despite all of the so-called stability it facilitated, President Menem ultimately dismissed Cavallo to the jubilation of tens of thousands of protesters in the streets. Though the people were pleased, financial markets expressed their disapproval .
With multiple economic and financial crises erupting around the world and in neighboring nations, Argentina, which pegged its currency to the U.S. dollar, found it could no longer compete. The touted neoliberal reforms were taking a toll as the country plunged into recession. Menem was replaced in 1999 by President Fernando De la Rua, who quickly sought support from the IMF to help repay the country’s debts owed to foreign – largely American – banks.
But Cavallo wasn’t out. In 2001, he was re-appointed as the country’s Minister of Economy just in time to receive emergency powers enabling him handle the country’s ongoing financial crisis that he helped to create . At that point, financial markets felt Argentina could not be trusted to repay its debt and the IMF refused to provide further loans, on the basis that the country had not implemented enough neoliberal reforms to meet its demands. The economy crashed and the “much-hated” Cavallo had to resign, as did the President, who fled by helicopter from the Casa Rosada as Argentines protested en masse .
Even the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco noted in 2002 that there was “some truth” to the view that “Argentina’s debt position would have been sustainable if only market uncertainty had not triggered a crisis.” But, it added, had Argentina made the effort asked of it to reduce its debt, it could have avoided “potentially destabilizing shifts in market sentiment.”
The role played by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in creating the conditions that led to the 2008 global financial meltdown is known to many. What is less known is that Greenspan, too, is a former member of the Group of Thirty. Greenspan did not work alone, of course, in his efforts to deregulate the financial system and spur the growth of the derivatives markets, which laid the groundwork for the worst financial crisis in modern times. Larry Summers, who then served as deputy secretary and later Secretary of Treasury under Bill Clinton, was also very helpful in this regard. Summers, too, is a current member of the Group of Thirty.
Currently serving as President Emeritus and as a professor at Harvard University, Summers was the former director of President Obama’s National Economic Council from 2009 to 2011. Previously, he was President of Harvard (2001 to 2009) and, prior to his positions during the Clinton administration he was Chief Economist at the World Bank (1991 to 1993). Currently, Summers is a member not only of the G30 but of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and he was also a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group.
While Chief Economist at the World Bank, Summers signed an infamous 1991 memo in which it was suggested that rich countries should dump their toxic waste and pollutants in the poorest African nations — because by the time the toxins spurred the growth of cancer in the local population, they would already statistically be dead due to already high mortality rates. The memo noted : “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”
When Summers later went to work for the Clinton administration under Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, he along with Rubin and Fed Chairman Greenspan formed the “Three Marketeers,” as Time referred to them, dedicated to “inventing a 21st century financial system” where they placed their “faith [in] financial markets.”
In the final two years of the Clinton presidency, Summers served as the Treasury Secretary alongside his deputy and protégé, Timothy Geithner, another member of the G30 who would go on to make a mark on the financial crisis — largely by convincing President Obama to bail out the Wall Street banks that crashed the economy, with zero penalty to them. Under the Obama administration, Summers served for nearly two years as Chair of the National Economic Council and was a highly influential policymaker . In 2009, he had spoken at the highly influential ultra-conservative think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, where he explained the administration’s approach to the economic recovery, noting that , “Our approach sought to go as much as possible with the grain of the market” as opposed to regulating markets.
When Summers left the Obama administration in late 2010, he returned to Wall Street and made a fortune working for the hedge fund D. E. Shaw & Co. and Citigroup. This past summer, he was considered Obama’s favorite pick to replace Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman, but faced such stiff opposition within the Democratic Party that he withdrew his name, leaving Janet Yellen – the Vice Chair of the Fed and herself a former member of the Group of Thirty – to step in .
What we see, in this analysis of the Group of Thirty, are the connections between those in positions of power to respond to and manage economic and financial crises, and those in positions of power who created such crises. Naturally, as well, the G30’s membership includes numerous bankers who, as fortune had it, shared handsomely in the profits of those crises. Put simply, the G30 can be thought above all as an exclusive club of financial crisis kingpins. And it is a club, no doubt, that will continue to play a significant and not altogether helpful role in global financial management for years to come — or until something is done to stop them.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year-old 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 .