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Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Cult of Austerity
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
26 December 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the sixth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first part, second part, third part, fourth part, and fifth part in the series.
It could almost be a slogan: Bilderberg brings people together. Specifically, every year, the Bilderberg Group holds secret, “private” meetings at four star hotels around the world, bringing together nearly 150 of the world’s most influential bankers, corporate executives, dynasties, heads-of-state, foreign policy strategists, central bankers and finance ministers. It also invites the heads of international organizations, think tanks, foundations, universities, military and intelligence officials, media barons, journalists and academics.
Participants at Bilderberg appreciate having a closed-door forum where they can speak openly and directly to one other – and of course, not to us. But perhaps we, the people, would also like to hear what they have to say. For the past four years, Bilderbergers have been running around the world preaching the gospel of “austerity” and “structural reform” – very important terms. If you don’t know what they mean, Bilderbergers are working their day jobs to make sure you will learn.
What is Austerity?
If you’ve been to Bilderberg, chances are you’re a fan of austerity: promoting it, demanding it, implementing it and profiting from it.
Austerity has several names and phrases, including “fiscal consolidation” and “balancing the budget.” There are so many things to call it – but in the end you know it’s austerity because the policies are the same and the effects of those policies are, too. There is a reason why political and technocratic language is made to sound so vague and dull: because behind the words lie brutal actions and devastating consequences. If we understood their true meaning, their use would very often be shocking and unacceptable. Instead, their use has become common and seemingly inconsequential.
Here, however, are the consequences:
Austerity is a set of policies which are, in theory, designed to help a nation or government reduce its “budget deficit,” balance its books and, in time, even produce a yearly “surplus,” or profit. Thus, “austerity measures” are designed to do one thing: cut spending on almost everything, except, of course, the really important things like military and police, subsidies to large banks and corporations, and debt repayments. Otherwise it’s like at a clearance sale for countries, where everything must go. This is how the story generally works:
A country is in the midst of a “fiscal crisis.” It must make a very large interest payment on a debt it owes to some very large banks. These banks individually control more wealth and assets than most of the countries they deal with. Collectively, the banks hold more wealth and assets than any other single group in the world, and they always want their pound of flesh. When a country needs money, banks are there to help. Then the country is in their debt, with regular interest payments at a premium. A country can borrow an enormous sum of money by doing this, and not just from banks but from an array of financial institutions.
Apart from direct loans, this money is often borrowed in a very specific way. A country is in need of financing its budget over the coming year, so it plans what is called a “bond sale.” Bonds are financial instruments (aka, numbers on screens) that represent government or corporate debt. Governments sell their bonds in the “open market,” and when a government sells its bonds, the buyers are typically other nations, banks, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, international organizations and rich people. These parties “purchase” the bond at a set price, providing cash which that government puts in its treasury or finance ministry. In return, the newly purchased bond is a promise of future profits. It comes with a set interest rate and agreed upon dates for future payments. The government gets to fund its budget and manage its ministries and policies, while the banks earn interest – and influence.
The arrangement suits both parties, so long as it keeps going forever. But of course, it doesn’t. Eventually, the country builds up a substantial overall debt. Its interest payments become much larger and more frequent. Its need to borrow becomes much greater, and in ever greater amounts. On top of managing its budget, the government now has to pay huge sums of money to the global financial cartel. If the government can’t fund its budget, provide services and pay employees, it’s a government that is likely to collapse. But if it doesn’t pay its interest to the banks, then the government will almost certainly collapse. This is because it has entered the world of global financial warfare.
If a nation looks like it’s facing such a situation (which we call a “fiscal crisis”), financial markets tend to lose confidence in that country’s ability to repay its debts, and the downward spiral proceeds. They now begin to see the country as a “risk,” and suddenly institutions like credit ratings agencies are downgrading the country’s rating, just like a credit card company downgrades your individual rating. There are only three ratings agencies that dominate almost the entire global market for rating credit, so when they declare a downgrade, it becomes the gospel. This means that once a country is officially a risk, the financial institutions that continue to purchase its bonds (ie. debt) can demand a much higher interest rate on future payments, since those institutions are taking a greater risk.
At this point, one of two things happens. Either financial markets continue to purchase the country’s bonds with higher interest rates, or they decide that the country is too much of a risk and they refuse to fund it further. If they continue funding, the country continues to make its payments, though it remains unable to fund its regular functions. The country is left in a perpetual fiscal crisis whereby the interest payments get larger and the crisis gets deeper. This continues until financial markets stop purchasing debt.
The country is now in a major crisis. This is when rich, powerful governments and international organizations come to the “rescue” with money to lend – specifically, the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But their money comes with strict conditions. These conditions have been defined and demanded beforehand by the major banks and financial institutions, and by the plethora of economists, central banks and finance ministries that support them. These are the “experts” and technocrats of global economic governance.
Such conditions require a country to “fix the problem” that created its fiscal crisis. But the main problem facing countries, according to bankers, economists, technocrats and politicians, is that they spend far too much money on social services that benefit their populations. Therefore, in order for a country to be able to borrow, it must implement “correct” policies designed to balance its budget and restore public finances. These policies are collectively described as “austerity measures,” and the process of implementing them is frequently referred to as “fiscal consolidation.” Long story short: governments must cut spending.
This means that healthcare, education, pensions, welfare and social services must be drastically gutted, masses of public sector employees must be fired, and taxes must be increased. Thus, austerity creates a new class of unemployed, pushed into poverty and deprived of all the resources that are meant to help the poor and disadvantaged, let alone everyone else. The economy goes into a deep depression as people stop spending and businesses collapse, unemployment and poverty soar, suicide and mortality rates increase, and racial and ethnic conflicts erupt. All of this is done so that a country is able to get a large loan (sometimes called a national bailout) from institutions like the IMF, European Union and the central banks of powerful U.S., Japanese and European nations. This loan is provided in order to pay the interest the country owes to the global financial cartel.
Populations are impoverished and societies are devastated in order to pay interest to global banks. All of this happens as a result of numbers on screens. This is “austerity,” or “fiscal consolidation,” as we know it.
Time to Reform
Either coupled with or following from austerity measures, lenders and bankers demand that the conditions of the loans include not only “necessary” austerity measures, but also important “structural reforms.” This bland term hides policies and objectives behind it that have the effect of radically altering the entire structure of the economy over a period of several years or even decades. These “reforms” will make the economy strong and “competitive” again, and bring the country out of its austerity-induced depression.
Typical structural reforms include privatizing all state-owned companies, assets and resources, which allow foreign companies, states and banks to purchase important national assets cheaply (and provide a short cash infusion in the process). Countries then have to further “liberalize” markets by reducing any and all government protections and regulations over specific sectors of the economy, allowing foreign banks and corporations to “compete” on an “even playing field.” This forces local and national industries, businesses and communities to compete against some of the largest transnational corporations in the world, many with more wealth and assets than their entire country is worth. As a result, foreign investors can afford to out-compete the local economy by providing cheaper products and services while maintaining global profits. Local businesses cannot compete, so they fail or are bought up. This often contributes to growing unemployment.
One of the key “structural reforms” demanded is “labor flexibility.” In countries with unions, workers rights, pensions and protections, where the labor force has institutional power, the labor market is often considered “rigid.” It does not bend to the wishes and demands of corporations and financial markets that want labor to be “flexible” to their demands. What do they demand? Cheap, exploitable labor. Implementing “labor flexibility” means it’s necessary to dismantle labor protections, regulations and benefits. Essentially, it’s a war on the working class.
“Structural reforms,” in essence, open up a nation, its resources and its population to be controlled, exploited and plundered by the world’s largest banks and corporations. These would be hard policies to sell if those who sold them spoke plainly. Instead, they describe a world in which nations need to “increase competitiveness” and implement the necessary “structural reforms” to create “economic growth.” The point is that it’s all so technical, you’re not supposed to understand it. But actually, it’s pretty simple. Which is why, every day, more and more of us are getting the message.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
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 .
Global Power Project: The Group of Thirty, Architects of Austerity
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
The Group of Thirty, a preeminent think tank that brings together dozens of the world’s most influential policy makers, central bankers, financiers and academics, has been the focus of two recent reports for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project. In studying this group, I compiled CVs of the G30’s current and senior members: a total of 34 individuals. The first report looked at the origins of the G30, while the second examined some of the current projects and reports emanating from the group. In this installment, I take a look at some specific members of the G30 and their roles in justifying and implementing austerity measures.
Central Bankers, Markets and Austerity
For the current members of the Group of Thirty who are sitting or recently-sitting central bankers, their roles in the financial and economic turmoil of recent years is well-known and, most especially, their role in bailing out banks, providing long-term subsidies and support mechanisms for financial markets, and forcing governments to implement austerity and “structural reform” policies, notably in the European Union. With both the former European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet and current ECB President Mario Draghi serving as members of the G30, austerity measures have become a clearly favored policy of the G30.
In a January 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jean-Claude Trichet explained that he had been “involved personally in numerous financial crises since the beginning of the 1980s,” in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Soviet Union, having been previously the president of the Paris Club – an “informal” grouping that handles debt crisis and restructuring issues on behalf the world’s major creditor nations. In this capacity, Trichet “had to deal with around 55 countries that were in bankruptcy.”
In July of 2010, Trichet wrote in the Financial Times that “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability,” noting that “consolidation is a must,” which is a different way of saying austerity. In each of E.U. government bailouts – of which the ECB acted as one of the three central institutions responsible for negotiating and providing the deal, alongside the European Commission and the IMF, forming the so-called Troika – austerity measures were always a required ingredient, which subsequently plunged those countries into even deeper economic, social and political crises (Spain and Greece come to mind).
The same was true under the subsequent ECB president and G30 member, Draghi, who has continued to demand austerity measures, structural reforms (notably in dismantling the protections for labor), and extended support to the banking system, even to a greater degree than his predecessor. In a February 2012 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Draghi stated that “the European social model has already gone,” noting that countries of the Eurozone would have “to make labour markets more flexible.” He meant, of course, that they must have worker protections and benefits dismantled to make them more “flexible” to the demands of corporate and financial interests who can more easily and cheaply exploit that labor.
In a 2012 interview with Der Spiegel, Draghi noted that European governments will have to “transfer part of their sovereignty to the European level” and recommended that the European Commission be given the supranational authority to have a direct say in the budgets of E.U. nations, adding that “a lot of governments have yet to realize that they lost their national sovereignty a long time ago.” He further explained, incredibly, that since those governments let their debts pile up they must now rely on “the goodwill of the financial markets.”
Another notable member of the Group of Thirty who has been a powerful figure among the world’s oligarchs of austerity is Jaime Caruana, the General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which serves as the bank for the central banks of the world. Caruana was previously Governor of the Bank of Spain, from 2000 to 2006, during which time Spain experienced its massive housing bubble that led directly to the country’s debt crisis amid the global recession. In 2006, a team of inspectors within the Bank of Spain sent a letter to the Spanish government criticizing then-Governor Caruana for his “passive attitude” toward the massive bubble he was helping to facilitate.
As head of the BIS, Caruana delivered a speech in June of 2011 to the assembled central bankers at an annual general meeting in Basel, Switzerland, in which he gave his full endorsement of the austerity agenda across Europe, noting that “the need for fiscal consolidation [austerity] is even more urgent” than during the previous year. He added, “There is no easy way out, no shortcut, no painless solution – that is, no alternative to the rigorous implementation of comprehensive country packages including strict fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.”
At the 2013 annual general meeting of the BIS, Caruana again warned that attempts by governments “at fiscal consolidation need to be more ambitious,” and warned that if financial markets view a government’s debt as unsustainable, “bond investors can and do punish governments hard and fast.” If governments continue to delay austerity, he said, the markets will have to use “market discipline” to force governments to act, “and then the pain will be large indeed.” In further recommending “structural reforms” to labor and service markets, Caruana noted that “the reforms are critical to attaining and preserving confidence,” by which, of course, he meant the confidence of markets.
The ‘Academic’ of Austerity: Kenneth Rogoff
Kenneth Rogoff is an influential academic economist and a member of the Group of Thirty. Rogoff currently hold a position as professor at Harvard University and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He sits on the Economic Advisory Panel to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and previously Rogoff spent time as the chief economist of the IMF as well serving as an adviser to the executive board of the Central Bank of Sweden. Rogoff is these days most famous – or infamous – for co-authoring (with Carmen Reinhart) a study published in 2010 that made the case for austerity measures to become the favored policy of nations around the world.
The study, entitled, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” appeared in the American Economic Review in 2010 to great acclaim within high-level circles. One of the main conclusions of the paper held that when a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio hits 90%, “they reach a tipping point after which they’ll start experiencing serious growth slowdowns.” The paper was cited by the U.S. Congress as well as by Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and one of Europe’s stalwart defenders of austerity, who has demanded the measures be instituted on multiple countries in the E.U. in return for bailout funds.
A Google Scholar search for the terms “Growth in a Time of Debt” and “Rogoff” turned up approximately 828 results. In 2013, Forbes referred to the paper as “perhaps the most quoted but least read economic publication of recent years.” The paper was also cited in dozens of media outlets around the world, multiple times, especially by influential players in the financial press.
In 2012, Gideon Rachman, writing in the Financial Times, said Rogoff was “much in demand to advise world leaders on how to counter the financial crisis,” and noted that while the economist had been attending the World Economic Forum meetings for a decade, he had become “more in demand than ever” after having “written the definitive history of financial crises over the centuries” alongside Carmen Reinhart. Rogoff was consulted by Barack Obama, “and is known to have spent many hours with George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor,” wrote Rachman, noting that Rogoff advised government’s “to get serious about cutting their deficits, [which] strongly influenced the British government’s decision to make controlling spending its priority.”
The praise became all the more noteworthy in April of 2013 when researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, published a paper accusing Rogoff and Reinhart of “sloppy statistical analysis” while documenting several key mistakes that undermined the conclusions of the original 2010 paper. The report from Amherst exploded across global media, immediately forcing Rogoff and Reinhart on the defensive. The New Yorker noted that “the attack from Amherst has done enormous damage to Reinhart and Rogoff’s credibility, and to the intellectual underpinnings of the austerity policies with which they are associated.”
As New York Times columnist and fellow G30 member Paul Krugman noted, the original 2010 paper by Reinhart and Rogoff “may have had more immediate influence on public debate than any previous paper in the history of economics.” After the Amherst paper, he added, “The revelation that the supposed 90 percent threshold was an artifact of programming mistakes, data omissions, and peculiar statistical techniques suddenly made a remarkable number of prominent people look foolish.” Krugman, who had firmly opposed austerity policies long before Rogoff’s paper, suggested that “the case for austerity was and is one that many powerful people want to believe, leading them to seize on anything that looks like a justification.”
Indeed, many of those “powerful people” happen to be members of the Group of Thirty who are, with the notable exception of Krugman, largely in favor of austerity measures. Krugman himself tends to represent the limits of acceptable dissent within the G30, criticizing policies and policy makers while accepting the fundamental concepts of the global financial and economic system. He commented that he had been a member of the G30 since 1988 and referred to it as a “talk shop” where he gets “a chance to hear what people like Trichet and Draghi have to say in an informal setting,” adding, “while I’ve heard some smart things from people with a role in real-world decisions, I’ve also heard a lot of very foolish things said by alleged wise men.”
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 World of Resistance (WOR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
The Debtor’s War: A Modern Greek Tragedy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Early on Thursday, 7 November 2013, Greek riot police stormed the offices of Greece’s main public broadcaster, which had been under a five-month occupation by workers who opposed the government’s decision to shutdown the broadcaster, firing thousands and destroying a major cultural institution. The broadcast seems to have come to an end.
The long and painful Greek tragedy continues, where society and culture are gutted, people impoverished, driven into a deep depression, with growing political and social conflicts, the rise of fascism, detention camps filled with immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, trying to escape the dictators we arm, or the wars we support, with suicide rates spiking, health and well-being deteriorate, services and support vanish, and all the people are left to be punished, humiliated, oppressed and destroyed… These are called “solutions” to an economic crisis, on the road to “economic recovery”… think about that for a moment.
Why is this done? Because some of the world’s largest banks demand it. The same banks that created the global financial crisis, and the European debt crisis, and the global food crisis (which drives tens of millions more people into hunger, and makes the banks richer in the process)., and which launder hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money, profit from arms sales, war and terror. Those banks want the people of Greece (and Spain, and Italy, Portugal, and Ireland, and everywhere, always, across the world) to pay the interest they feel they are owed.
Let me put this simply: a computer screen somewhere, at some big bank, says that some country owes that bank a certain amount of money, and thus, the people of that country must suffer and even die, so that the government can afford to pay back the bank. That’s what government’s are for, right? To serve banks… right?
Greece needs to pay the bank, because the bank and all the bank’s friends (what we call “financial markets”) have decided to punish the country of Greece by betting against the ability of the country to repay its debts, to crash its credit rating, making its ability to borrow and spend increasingly expensive and impossible. Now Greece is basically broke. Greece needs money, so it turns to the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF for “assistance.”
They demand that Greece – in return for the loan(s) – impoverish its population, cut all social services and health care, education, anything of benefit to the population – destroy it! – because it’s “too costly.” These are called “austerity measures.” Then, ensure that the newly-impoverished population has all their ‘benefits’ withdrawn, which were promised to them through the ‘social contract’ between the population and the government (essentially, a social agreement between people and the state which legitimizes the state’s ability to rule over them). These things must be destroyed. So things like pensions, social security, labour rights and regulations, protections and safety, industries, resources, services and anything that again benefits the population, must be dismantled and sold for cheap to foreign banks and corporations. All must be dismantled to ensure that the newly-impoverished population and country can be effectively and efficiently exploited by cosmopolitical corporations. These are called “structural reforms,” presumably because they ‘reform’ the very structure of society.
Then, with the combination of impoverishment and exploitation, comes the saintly glow of the all-encompassing human desire and civilizational drive – our goal and purpose as a species on this planet, what our societies are organized by and for – the highest stage of humanity: “economic growth.” Who wouldn’t want “growth”? Well, unless we’re talking about something like a wart, rash, infection, inflammation, or a tumour, everyone wants “growth”, right? Even if it’s at the expense of entire societies and populations of actual individual and living human beings, like any single one of us. Just so long as they suffer for “growth,” all will be well and happy.
So what does “growth” mean? It means that the banks and corporations – which worked with government agencies and officials in creating the global economic and financial crises in the first place – now have the ability to reap the benefits of destruction: massive profits, and growing global power. Large corporations have more money than most countries on earth. Their power is protected by the state, their influence unquestioned, their domination of the world’s resources, materials, culture and society is rapidly advancing, and they are – institutionally and ideologically – totalitarian. So what’s not to love, really?
They want it all. Profit and power. Our world is dominated and being re-shaped by a tiny global financial, corporate, political and intellectual elite. And all must suffer so that they can have what anyone in their position would want to have: more, they want it all. And they want you to just shut up and let them take it all. If you have a problem with that, well, that’s what riot police, prisons, and fascism are for.
This is why Greece must suffer. This is why we hear the unholy trinity economic mantra of: “austerity,” “structural reform,” and “economic growth.” The modern Greek Tragedy of ‘The Debtor’s War’ is driven by the tyrannical trio known as the ‘Troika’: the European Commission (of unelected, unaccountable supranational elite technocrats who serve the interests of global corporate and financial power), the European Central Bank (of unelected technocrats and economists who serve the interests of “financial markets” and the big banks), and the IMF (of unelected technocrats and economists who serve global financial and corporate interests). This institutional ‘Troika’ (the EC, ECB, and IMF) demanded the implementation of the ideological ‘Troika’: austerity, structural reform, and economic growth.
Together, institutionally and ideologically, they wreak havoc upon humanity.
Welcome to the most completely INSANE point in human history; the all-or-nothing. Welcome to reality.
Now please, kindly help change it.
Large Corporations Seek U.S.–European ‘Free Trade Agreement’ to Further Global Dominance
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the latest plan of conglomerates to strengthen their grip over the planet.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at: AlterNet
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the latest corporate-driven agenda in what is commonly called a “free trade agreement,” but which really amounts to ‘cosmopolitical corporate consolidation’: large corporations dictating and directing the policies of states – both nationally and internationally – into constructing structures which facilitate regional and global consolidation of financial, economic, and political power into the hands of relatively few large corporations.
Such agreements have little to do with actual ‘trade,’ and everything to do with expanding the rights and powers of large corporations. Corporations have become powerful economic and political entities – competing in size and wealth with the world’s largest national economies – and thus have taken on a distinctly ‘cosmopolitical’ nature. Acting through industry associations, lobby groups, think tanks and foundations, cosmopolitical corporations are engineering large projects aimed at transnational economic and political consolidation of power… into their hands. With the construction of “a European-American free-trade zone” as “an ambitious project,” we are witnessing the advancement of a new and unprecedented global project of transatlantic corporate colonization.
The Atlantic Fortress as “Grand Strategy”
In a 2006 article for Der Spiegel, Gabor Steingart suggested that, “to combat the rise of China and Asia,” the “role NATO played in an age of military threat could be played by a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone in today’s age of economic confrontation.” With the possible “addition of Canada,” the US and EU “could stem the dwindling of Western market power by joining forces… [which] would inevitably lead to a convergence of the two economic systems.” In a process that would likely take decades, “a mega-merger of markets” would send a “new message” to the East, to “serve as a fortress.”
During the worst of the initial financial and economic crisis in January of 2009, Henry Kissinger wrote an article for the New York Times in which he noted that America’s “prescription for a world financial order has generally been unchallenged,” though the crisis had changed this, as “disillusionment” became “widespread.” Nations now wanted to protect themselves from the global markets and thus, become more independent. Kissinger warned against this, proclaiming: “An international order will emerge if a system of compatible priorities comes into being. It will fragment disastrously if the various priorities cannot be reconciled… The alternative to a new international order is chaos.”
Kissinger noted that the economic world was “globalized,” yet the political world was not, and in the midst of “political crises around the world” accelerated by “instantaneous communication,” the political and economic systems had to become “harmonized in only one of two ways: by creating an international political regulatory system with the same reach as that of the economic world; or by shrinking the economic units to a size manageable by existing political structures, which is likely to lead to a new mercantilism, perhaps of regional units.” President Obama’s election victory was an “opportunity” in “shaping a new world order.” But that opportunity had to become “a policy” as manifested through “a grand strategy.” A central facet to that grand strategy would include the strengthening of the “Atlantic partnership,” which “will depend much more on common policies.”
Some four years later, former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski praised the “enormous promise” in the new transatlantic agreement, “It can shape a new balance between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceanic regions, while at the same time generating in the West a new vitality, more security and greater cohesion.” Not worth mentioning, apparently, was that this was all about “cohesion” of power interests. In the same speech where Brzezinski endorsed “greater cohesion” between the U.S. and the European Union, he criticized the EU for being “a Europe more of banks than of people, more of commercial convenience than an emotional commitment of the European peoples.”
It’s the type of “cohesion” that only bankers, corporations, and “grand strategists” like Kissinger and Brzezinski could like. So naturally, such an agreement has a great deal of support, encouragement, and organized planning. While the idea of ‘transatlantic integration’ has long been on the lips and in the documents of grand strategists and corporate-financed think tanks, it kept its distance from formal policy. In 2007, the EU-US summit meeting of leaders – US President Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso – established the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) to promote economic cooperation between the two regions.
The economic crisis itself delayed any progress from taking place, as countries focused on rescuing their banks and imposing austerity measures in order to punish their populations into poverty, privatize society, and create the conditions ripe for unhindered plundering of resources and exploitation of labour. This is called “structural reform.” But structural reforms only show “success” when corporations begin profiting from them. That’s called an “economic recovery.” There is an entire language to the European debt crisis – and to political economy in general – which, when translated, helps to elucidate the rationality of policy choices.
Political Language: Words or Weapons?
As George Orwell once wrote: “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
In a world undergoing radical transformations in political, economic, and social structures and relations – from the Arab Spring, the global economic crisis, food crisis and land grabs, to the global spread of protest movements – political language becomes weaponized. Hiding behind seemingly meaningless words, obscured by over-used rhetoric and abstract, undefined terms and concepts, political and economic language function by preventing the population from understanding the true meaning and implications of the policies pursued.
Take, for example, the word ‘austerity.’ It has been used endlessly – in rhetoric and policies – as the ‘solution’ to the economic, financial, and debt crises, but it’s meaning is obscured as an abstract notion of cutting public spending in order to decrease the debt, and thus, increase investor confidence in the country. This is supposed to lead to an economic “recovery.” The problem is that it doesn’t: it leads to a very deep depression. Yet, the policies continue to be promoted and pursued.
What can one deduct from this? If the rhetoric promotes specific policies for a desired effect, and the desired effect is never met, yet the rhetoric and policies continue to be promoted, we can assume one of two things: either, as Einstein defined it, the world’s decision-makers are all insane (“doing the same thing over again, expecting different results”); or, they are simply speaking a different language, and we lack an understanding of it. In such circumstances, it is helpful to attempt translating this language.
The policies of ‘austerity’ include firing public sector workers, cutting spending on health care, education, welfare, social services, pensions, increasing the retirement age, increasing taxes and decreasing wages. The results, inevitably, is impoverishment of the general population, increased unemployment, the elimination of health and social services when needed most, increased cost of living and decreased standards of living. Thus, we can loosely translate ‘austerity’ as impoverishment, since that is what the actual effects of the policies have.
In March 2010, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) suggested Europe undertake a program of austerity lasting for no less than six years from 2011 to 2017, which the Financial Times referred to as “highly sensible.” In April of 2010, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank to the world’s central banks – called for European nations to begin implementing austerity measures. In June of 2010, the G20 finance ministers agreed: it was time to enter the age of austerity! German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European midwife of austerity, set an example for the EU by imposing austerity measures at home in Germany. The G20 leaders met and agreed that the time for stimulus had come to an end, and the time for austerity poverty was at hand. This was of course endorsed by the unelected technocratic president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.
The unelected president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, also agreed, explaining in his unrelenting economic wisdom that austerity “has no real effect on economic growth.” Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), also hopped on the austerity train, writing in the Financial Times that, “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability.” Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) stated in June of 2011 that the need for austerity was “more urgent” than ever, while BIS chairman, Christian Noyer, also the governor of the Bank of France (and board member of the ECB), stated that apart from austerity, “there’s no solution possible” for Greece.
But of course, austerity is not complete without its sister-program of ‘structural reform’ (or ‘structural adjustment’), which includes policies aimed at privatizing all state-owned assets, resources, and services, the dismantling of labour and environmental protections and regulations, the opening of new ‘markets,’ and enormous subsidies and protections for multinational banks and corporations.
Why is this done? To promote investment, competition, and growth. Privatizing everything in sight – including airports, land, water management, roads and resources – encourages investment because corporations can come in and purchase national assets for pennies on the dollars. Indeed, most privatization programs include enormous subsidies and protections for corporations in order to provide an incentive for them to invest. And competition is best promoted by allowing just a handful of transnational conglomerates to cheaply acquire a nation’s wealth and resources, and then by promoting what’s called “labour flexibility.” These ‘reforms’ mean that workers’ rights are to be dismantled, cutting wages, benefits, protections, the ability to unionize and make demands, to make the labour force flexible to the demand of big business, who demand little more than a cheap labour force (as well as absolute control of the global economy). Thus, across markets – Europe for the EU, North America for NAFTA – and indeed, across the world, labour forces are put into competition with one another in a race to the bottom of who can be the best, and therefore, cheapest labour available – in order to attract investment and jobs.
Thus, the effect of ‘structural reforms’ is to facilitate the exploitation of resources and people and to consolidate economic and political power into corporate hands. Austerity thus serves the purpose of impoverishing the population to make them ready and willing to accept the structural reforms (or “adjustment”) which adjust them to a situation of social devastation by making them into an employable – and cheap – labour force. Unhindered corporate plundering is facilitated by dismantling all “barriers” to investment, and thus, control of the entire economy. Austerity and structural reform create the conditions for investment, competition, and growth. Investment essentially means subsidized acquisition/control over the economy by corporations, competition implies protection for corporate interests, and growth means that corporations are making massive profits. The effect of all these policies and programs is to consolidate regional and global economic and political power into the hands of cosmopolitical corporations.
Austerity is impoverishment for populations.
Structural reform is exploitation of people/resources, and consolidation of political power in corporate hands.
Investment is corporate control of the economy.
Competition is protectionism for corporations.
Growth is corporate profits.
Mario Draghi is the president of the European Central Bank (ECB) – one of the three institutions of the ‘Troika’ with the European Commission and IMF – imposing austerity and structural reform measures across Europe in return for bailing out bankers. In February of 2012, he gave an interview with the Wall Street Journalin which he explained that, “there was no alternative to fiscal consolidation,” meaning austerity, and that Europe’s social contract was “obsolete” and the social model was “already gone.” However, Draghi explained, it was now necessary to promote “growth,” adding, “and that’s why structural reforms are so important.”
In addition to austerity and structural reforms, new markets are required, and thus, “free trade” must be promoted. This is all part of the road to ‘recovery.’ Free trade also has a technical definition: its policies dismantle environmental, labour, and other social protections, increase privatization, deregulation, and include large subsidies and protections for corporations. And today’s ‘free trade’ agreements grant unprecedented rights to corporations to sue governments directly for having laws or regulations which corporations view as “barriers to investment.” Free trade thus promotes competition between populations – in a race to the bottom – and protection for the powerful, for corporations and banks. What we call free trade agreements essentially function as a process of corporate colonialism: the regional and global consolidation of financial, economic, political and social power into relatively few corporate hands.
With the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, countries turned to bailouts to rescue the large banks that destroyed their economies. In doing this, they accumulated large debts, handing the bill to the populations. The people pay for the debts through austerity, and thus, poverty, which in turn necessitates structural reform, and thus, exploitation. Free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), being negotiated between 12 Pacific-rim countries, facilitate transnational corporate colonialism.
A new corporate world is emerging, and the transatlantic partnership is a centerpiece in constructing this ‘new world order.’ While the crisis had initially stalled the process, it was revived at the EU-US summit meeting in November of 2011, when political leaders ordered the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) to create a High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, led by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, “tasked to identify policies and measures to increase U.S.-E.U. trade and investment to support mutually beneficial job creation, economic growth, and international competitiveness,” by working closely with both public and private sector/corporate groups.
The Transatlantic Corporate Complex
The impetus for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was provided by a plethora of corporate-dominated think tanks and big business organizations, including the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, the German Marshall Fund, BusinessEurope, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the European Round Table of Industrialists, among several others. These institutions collectively form a transatlantic corporate complex, uniting elites from major corporations, banks, think tanks, foundations, academia and policy circles in order to establish consensus on elite agendas and to provide the strategies and objectives to be implemented.
The Atlantic Council was founded in 1961 by former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson and several other prominent citizens in the United States in order to help consolidate support for the ‘Atlantic Alliance.’ The Atlantic Council’s first published volume, Building the American-European Market: Planning for the 1970s, was published in 1967, and the Council continued to publish policy papers, books, monographs and other reports throughout the 1970s.
The Atlantic Council’s leadership and direction is provided by the members of its boards, consisting of the foreign policy elite of the United States as well as major cosmopolitical corporations, including the likes of Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright along with executives from corporations such as Deutsche Bank, BAE, and Lockheed Martin. [For a look at some of the other names of directors and advisors, see Appendix 1]
The Atlantic Council thus represents the interests of trans-Atlantic corporate and financial interests and the foreign policy elite within the United States. Thus, what issues and agendas they promote tend to wield significant influence behind them, with extensive access to policy-makers and processes. Back in 2004, the Atlantic Council published a report, The Transatlantic Economy in 2020: A Partnership for the Future? in which they recommended increasing integration between the two economies and regions, the joint management of the world economy, and more “transgovernmental cooperation.”
The German Marshall Fund of the United States was founded in 1972 with a donation from the German government to Harvard University, where 25-years prior U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall announced the Marshall Plan for Europe’s economic recovery after World War II. The German Marshall Fund (GMF) “is dedicated to the promotion of greater understanding and common action between Europe and the United States,” and includes a number of corporate executives, news commentators and other elites on its leadership boards [See Appendix 2].
The Business Roundtable (BRT) is an organization of CEOs from major U.S. corporations “with more than $7.3 trillion in annual revenues,” according to its website. The BRT was founded in 1972 “on the belief that… businesses should play an active and effective role in the formation of public policy.” The Chairman of the Executive Committee of the BRT is W. James McNerney, the president and CEO of Boeing. The Executive Committee includes the CEOs of a number of other major cosmopolitical corporations [see Appendix 3].
The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), founded in 1983, is an organization of several dozens CEOs of major European corporations. As Bastiaan van Apeldoorn wrote in the journal New Political Economy(Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000), the ERT “developed into an elite platform for an emergent European transnational capitalist class from which it can formulate a common strategy and – on the basis of that strategy – seek to shape European socioeconomic governance through its privileged access to the European institutions.” Wisse Dekker, former Chairman of the ERT, once stated: “I would consider the Round Table to be more than a lobby group as it helps to shape policies. The Round Table’s relationship with Brussels [the EU] is one of strong co-operation. It is a dialogue which often begins at a very early stage in the development of policies and directives.”
The ERT was a central institution in the re-launching of European integration from the 1980s onward, and as former European Commissioner (and former ERT member) Peter Sutherland stated, “one can argue that the whole completion of the internal market project was initiated not by governments but by the Round Table, and by members of it… And I think it played a fairly consistent role subsequently in dialoguing with the Commission on practical steps to implement market liberalization.” Sutherland also explained that the ERT and its members “have to be at the highest levels of companies and virtually all of them have unimpeded access to government leaders because of the position of their companies… So, by definition, each member of the ERT has access at the highest level to government.” [For a list of other corporations represented on the board of the ERT, see Appendix 4]
BusinessEurope is Europe’s main business group, representing 41 business federations in 35 countries with its “main task” – according to its website – being “to ensure that companies’ interests are represented and defended vis-à-vis the European institutions with the principal aim of preserving and strengthening corporate competitiveness.” [For a look at some of the companies that made up the Corporate Advisory and Support Group, see Appendix 5]
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 as an umbrella organization representing the voice of business throughout the United States. According to its website, the Chamber “works with more than 1,500 volunteers from member corporations, organizations, and the academic community who serve on committees, subcommittees, task forces, and councils to develop and implement policy on major issues affecting business.” Their “overarching mission” is “to strengthen the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.” [For a look at some of the companies represented on the board of directors of the Chamber, see Appendix 6]
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) was formed in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the European Commission in an effort to “serve as the official dialogue between American and European business leaders and U.S. cabinet secretaries and EU commissioners,” composed of CEOs of U.S. and European transnational corporations.
Transatlantic Corporate Colonialism in Action: Shaping the Agenda
As with any “free trade” agreement (read: cosmopolitical corporate consolidation agreement), corporations must be consulted throughout the entire process to allow them to shape the agenda and encourage specific policies, to ensure that their interests are met. Think tanks employ academics and foreign policy elites to undertake studies and produce reports which advocate policies beneficial to western political and economic domination of the world. Big business groups organize the corporate community around agendas and provide a direct “voice” to the corporate world. The boards of think tanks are dominated by political and corporate elites, and once think tanks begin to establish consensus on agendas, academics and other officials from the organizations write articles or are interviewed frequently in the media (which is owned by the same corporations), to ensure that what little is said in public about such agreements is indeed, positive and encouraging.
When the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) created the High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth in November of 2011, it announced its intent to ‘consult’ with private sector organizations on the process of transatlantic integration.
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) was one of the first major corporate organizations to support the announcement of the High-Level Working Group. In January of 2012, the TABD met with high level EU and US officials at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. They released a report, Vision for the Future of EU-US Economic Relations, which established a consensus “to press for urgent action on an visionary and ambitious agenda,” as well as for the creation of a “CEO Task Force” which would “provide direct input and support the High Level Working Group.”
The meeting was attended not only by the 21 members of the executive board of the TABD (all corporate executives), but officials representing the Atlantic Council, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the US Chamber of Commerce, World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Competition, Joaquin Almunia; Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and Michael Froman, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs.
That same month, the TABD and the Business Roundtable (BRT) released a joint statement outlining their “vision” of a Transatlantic Partnership (TAP) – modeled along similar lines as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – which would require a further “opening” of the trans-Atlantic market, being able to “compete” with other major economies (such as China), and “deepening the multilateral commitment to open markets.” As major CEOs and executives, the statement wrote, “we need nothing less” than a “strategic vision and structure [which] will need to serve as a global template.”
In February of 2012, the German Marshall Fund released a report from the Transatlantic Task Force on Trade and Investment entitled, A New Era for Transatlantic Trade Leadership. The task force was co-chaired by Ewa Bjorling, the Swedish Minister for Trade, and Jim Kolbe, a former U.S. Congressman and Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the GMF. [For other members of the Task Force, see Appendix 7] The Task Force was launched as a cooperative effort between the German Marshall Fund and the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) in May of 2011.
The report called for the EU and US to pursue “deeper transatlantic economic integration” as “essential for recovery from the current economic crisis.” The report called for “high-level commitment from political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic” and “it will require active involvement of private sector stakeholders,” or in other words, corporations.
In March of 2012, BusinessEurope released a report to contribute to the EU-US High Level Working Group entitled, Jobs and Growth: Through a Transatlantic Economic and Trade Partnership, in which it was recommended to eliminate tariffs and barriers, to trade in services, ensure access and protection for investments, “opening markets,” to establish “global standards” for intellectual property rights, and to build on the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) for regulatory cooperation.
That same month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Congress in which the U.S. Chamber, BusinessEurope, American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, the Business Roundtable, European-American Business Council, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, and several other big business associations called upon political leaders “to move swiftly to deepen the transatlantic economic and commercial relationship through ambitious trade, investment, and regulatory policy initiatives.” Thus, in the midst of an economic and social crisis created by the very corporations and banks these associations represent, and with the emergence of new economic giants like China and India, “we believe now is the time to create a barrier-free transatlantic market to drive the job creation and growth” that Europe and America “urgently need.”
The High Level Working Group – chaired by USTR Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht – should have a “far-reaching” agenda, the statement wrote, which would cover: “tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and services, investment, regulatory cooperation, intellectual property protection and innovation, public procurement, cross-border data flows, and business mobility.” The statement noted that they had received “support” from Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and then-President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as from the European Council (presided over by Herman van Rompuy). From the American side, support was given by Hillary Clinton.
In May of 2012, the Business Roundtable, European Round Table of Industrialists and the Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue sent a joint letter to President Obama, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Merkel, Italian PM Mario Monti, UK prime minister David Cameron, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, EU Trade Commissioner De Gucht and USTR Ron Kirk. The letter noted that the three organizations of corporate executives from across the Atlantic “have come together to lay out a strategic vision for a new Transatlantic Partnership (TAP),” and they together produced the report, Forging a Transatlantic Partnership for the 21st Century, to do just that. The report called for US and EU officials to launch “ambitious and comprehensive transatlantic trade, investment and regulatory negotiations by the end of this year.”
That same month, just to press the message, the presidents of the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers sent a joint letter to Obama urging him to launch negotiations to “trail blaze a true 21st century trade, investment, and regulatory cooperation initiative,” which apart from further integrating the economies, would also “have important benefits for defense and military cooperation as well.”
In June of 2012, Obama’s Export Council sent him a letter applauding the president for establishing the High Level Working Group the previous year, but urged him to “take the critical next step, in consultation with the private sector, to move forward quickly to define and launch a comprehensive and ambitious Transatlantic Partnership (TAP) negotiation.” They recommended the usual protections for intellectual property rights, liberalization of services, “elimination of industrial and agricultural goods tariffs,” among many things. The letter was signed by Export Council chairman Jim McNerney, the president and CEO of the Boeing Company.
The U.S. President’s Export Council (PEC) “is the principal national advisory committee on international trade,” founded in 1973, consisting of 28 private sector members, as well as Congress members and cabinet secretaries. The PEC reports to the president through the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. [For a list of corporations represented by the PEC, see Appendix 8]
Not wasting any time, the High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth released their interim report to their leaders in June of 2012 from the co-chairs, De Gucht and Kirk. Among other things, they recommended the “elimination” of “barriers to trade” in goods, services, and investment. They recommended a “comprehensive agreement” which “could promote a forward-looking agenda for multilateral trade liberalization.” The “aim” of the negotiations, they wrote, would be to “bind” the EU and US “at the highest level of liberalization” and “achieve new market access.” They were taking the recommendations from corporate groups seriously, and pushing those words into policies.
Paula Dobriansky, a prominent academic at the Atlantic Institute, co-authored an article for the Wall Street Journal in which she called for “a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement” between the EU and US in order to “strengthen American and European leadership for decades to come.” Frances Burwell, Atlantic Council vice president and director of the Program on Transatlantic Relations published an article for US News & World Report in November of 2012 in which she wrote that “creating a single transatlantic market… makes a great deal of sense.”
In November of 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the Brookings Institution entitled, U.S. and Europe: A Revitalized Global Partnership, in which she noted: “we have to realize the untapped potential of the transatlantic market… is as much a strategic imperative as an economic one.” Informing the audience that the Obama administration was “discussing possible negotiations” with the EU on such an agreement, Clinton said it “would shore up our global competitiveness for the next century.”
Also in November, Atlantic Council board member James L. Jones (former U.S. National Security Advisor to Barack Obama) and Thomas J. Donohue (President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce) co-authored an article for Investor’s Business Dailyin which they suggested that the simultaneous economic crises in Europe and the U.S. – which they defined as “flagging competitiveness, unsustainable entitlement spending, and the ticking time bomb of oversize sovereign debt” – were a threat to the future of NATO’s ability to “tackle urgent security threats” and that this poses “the greatest challenge to the future of the trans-Atlantic community since the Cold War.”
Sustainable growth, they wrote, “only comes from one place – the private sector.” Governments have a “responsibility… to create conditions in which the private sector can drive economic expansion, investment and job creation.” An “ambitious trans-Atlantic economic and trade pact” would certainly fit this prescription of increasing “growth” and “competitiveness.” It was time, they wrote, “to move decisively to the next level of trans-Atlantic economic integration.”
Within days of Obama winning his re-election, European leaders such as David Cameron and Angela Merkel urged him to move forward with the agreement, and the New York Times even noted that “corporations and business groups on both sides of the Atlantic are also pushing hard for a pact.” Former deputy U.S. trade representative and current vice president at General Electric, Karan Bhatia, noted: “This could be the biggest, most valuable free-trade agreement by far, even if it produces only a marginal increase in trade.”
The Financial Times said that a “transatlantic partnership” would yield “geostrategic benefits,” since the EU and US account for half the world’s economy, and thus, they will “possess the leverage to set the global standards that others, including China, are likely to follow.” Since “both the EU and US are desperate for new growth,” wrote Edward Luce, the “only realistic route is via higher productivity,” implying cheaper costs and larger profits for corporations. It would be “an ambitious agenda for transatlantic market integration” including harmonizing regulations and product standards. In other words, wrote Luce: “if a drug were approved by the European Medicines Agency, the Food and Drug Administration would accept it too.” The same would apply for “financial regulation” (or lack thereof), as well as agricultural (GMO) standards, a key issue, since the EU has a ban on such products. The EU had recently shown its enthusiasm for change when it “dropped its objections to imports of US meat from abattoirs [slaughterhouses] decontaminated with lactic acid.” In the EU, “the climate of austerity ought to work in their favour” for reducing protections to do with agriculture.
In January of 2013, the Brookings Institution sent a ‘memorandum to the president’ to Barack Obama entitled, Free Trade Game Changer, in which the authors recommended pursuing both the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) as “the most realistic way to reclaim U.S. economic leadership.” The agreements have “deep strategic implications” since they would provide the US with a leading “role in setting the global rules of the road.” While the TPP “would help define the standard for economic integration in Asia,” the TAFTA “would give American and European businesses an edge in setting industrial standards for tomorrow’s global economy.” While “the erosion of support for FTAs [free trade agreements] in Congress and among the public is likely to hamper this effort,” the memo reminded Obama that public opinion must be disregarded in the corporate interest: “the time has come to launch new initiatives in these spheres.”
In early 2013, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue merged with the European-American Business Council to become the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC), a group consisting of corporate executives who hold “semi-annual meetings with U.S. Cabinet Secretaries and European Commissioners (in Davos and elsewhere),” acting as the “business advisor to the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC).” It represents some 70 major corporations, including: AIG, AT&T, BASF, BP, Deutsche Bank, EADS, ENI, Ford, GE, IBM, Intel, Merck, Pfizer, Siemens, TOTAL, Verizon, and Xerox, among others.
In January of 2013, the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC) met in Davos, Switzerland during the annual World Economic Forum, holding a meeting with high level officials in the U.S. and E.U. Michael Froman, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, spoke at the TBC meeting, declaring that “the transatlantic economy is to become the global benchmark for standards in a globalized world.” Froman and the leaders of the TBC “agreed that support from corporations operating on both sides of the Atlantic is crucial to advance transatlantic trade.”
Tim Bennett, the Director General of the TBC, stated that the structure of the TBC “allows for a combination of strong business message to policy makers as well as substantive input through working groups,” referring to high level meetings in Washington and Brussels. Other participants at the TBC meeting included the Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurria, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, European Commission Director-General for Trade, Jean-Luc Demarty, European Commission for Trade official, Marc Vanheukelen, and a former Citigroup executive.
On the Transnational Business Council (TBC)’s website, they promote specific think tanks as providing “resources”: the Atlantic Council, Bertelsmann Foundation, Brookings Institution, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Chatham House, the German Marshall Fund, and the Peterson Institute for International Relations.
The Final Report: Time to Do What the Corporations Demand!
On February 11, 2013, the U.S.-EU High Level Working Group (HLWG) on Jobs and Growth released their final report in which they predictably recommended harmonizing standards and regulations in “a comprehensive trade and investment agreement.” The report recommended “a further deepening of economic integration… to achieve a market access package that goes beyond what the United States and the EU have achieve in previous agreements.” The report further recommended increasing “government procurement,” a euphemism for privatization and state subsidies for corporations, noting: “the goal of negotiations should be to enhance business opportunities through substantially improved access to government procurement opportunities at all levels of government.”
Two days following the publication of this report, on 13 February 2013, a joint statement was issued by Barack Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, stating: “We, the Leaders of the United States and the European Union, are pleased to announce that… the United States and the European Union will each initiate the internal procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.”
With the announcement of the TTIP in February, then-U.S. Trade representative Ron Kirk stated that, “[f]or us, everything is on the table, across all sectors, including across the agricultural sector, whether it is GMOs or other issues.” He explained that “we should be ambitious and we should deal with all of these issues.” João Vale de Almeida, the European Union ambassador to the United States, wrote in an article that “an ambitious economic agreement between us would send a powerful message to the rest of the world about our leadership in shaping global economic governance in line with our values,” which is to say, corporate “values.”
The German media – and government officials – erupted in admiration of the potential for this “economic NATO” in creating “the world’s largest free trade zone.” One German publication noted that “a new economic alliance” between NATO powers was appropriate, since “the old industrialized nations fear they are falling behind the emerging economic power of China.” Another German publication noted that not only would a “trans-Atlantic free-trade zone” have major economic “benefits” and implications, “but it also makes clear that only an ever-closer West can succeed in decisively helping to determine global policy.”
The corporate world expressed immediate admiration for the announced negotiations, with the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar “commending” US and EU leaders and the High-Level Working Group “for promoting much needed economic growth and job creation.” The president of the Business Roundtable (BRT), John Engler, noted that the Roundtable itself “was an early advocate” for such an agreement, and that “negotiations should launch as soon as possible.”
C. Boyden Gray, a member of the Atlantic Council’s board of directors and former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, published a report for the Atlantic Council in February of 2013 entitled, An Economic NATO: A New Alliance for a New Global Order. Gray warned that unless the Atlantic powers “rise to the challenge… of the post-recession era together… they risk ceding to rising powers their economic and political influence.” This must not be simply a “free trade agreement,” but rather, the US and EU “must put economic cooperation on the same robust footing as military security… we need to create an ‘economic NATO’.”
The Wall Street Journal noted that the announcement “represents a nod to business interests by Mr. Obama,” noting that it was less about ‘trade’ and more about establishing global standards. European Commission president Barroso expressed as much when he said, “this is going to be the biggest free-trade agreement ever done, [and] it will certainly have an impact on global standards.” Obama’s international economic policy adviser Michael Froman noted that the agreement would “further integrate our economies and help set global rules.” EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht added: “What we want to do is make an internal market between the US and EU.”
The Financial Times noted that while it was “commonplace” to imagine that the future belonged to the emerging economies, “the old economic powers can still pack a punch.” The agreement “promises a prize whose political value is even greater than its considerable economic benefits.” Hence, we must understand these “free trade agreements” as, in actuality, cosmopolitical corporate consolidation agreements.
While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Berlin in late February, he endorsed the agreement, suggesting that it “can lift the economy of Europe, strengthen our economy, create jobs for Americans, for Germans, for all Europeans and create one of the largest allied markets in the world.”
The German press warned that Internet activists, environmental, labour and consumer groups were “preparing to fight the treaty with all means at their disposal,” as they feared that “bad compromises will be made at the expense of consumers in secret negotiations between the European Commission and the Obama administration.” Enforcing equal standards for food products worries many in the EU regarding American-produced genetically engineered food products, such as corn, soybeans and beets; while intellectual property rights issues increasingly threaten the freedom of the Internet for the benefit of corporate and financial interests, such as through the failed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was overcome by a large Internet campaign and protests against it. One of the organizers for the anti-ACTA movement, Jérémie Zimmermann, stated: “Millions of citizens can be mobilized if their freedoms are threatened.” Still, despite the growing unease and opposition to such an agreement, which would be based primarily around these highly contentious issues as opposed to actual “trade” or tariffs, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the deal as “by far our most important project for the future.”
Max Baucus, the chairman of the U.S. Senate finance committee, wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he stated that the agreement was “a deal that must be done, it must be done now, and it must be done right… As chairman of the committee overseeing US trade, I will support a deal only if it gives America’s producers the opportunity to compete in the world’s biggest market.”
Speaking at Harvard in early March, Karel de Gucht referred to the agreement as “the cheapest stimulus package you can imagine,” adding that it was “a policy laboratory for the new trade rules we need – on issues like regulatory barriers, competition policy, localization requirements, raw materials and energy.”
Barack Obama stated that he was “modestly optimistic” about the agreement, as the US was moving “aggressively” while the EU was “hungrier for a deal than they have been in the past.” Speaking to the President’s Export Council, composed of executives from major corporations acting as ‘advisors,’ Obama reaffirmed that, “we want our Fortune 500 companies to be selling as much as possible.” John Kerry told a group of French business leaders that, “if we move rapidly… [the agreement] can have a profound impact on the rest of the world.”
Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, strongly endorsed the agreement, noting that it could “set a precedent” in setting standards for the global economy, adding: “We need to create a new structure for the global system.” However, he warned, agriculture was “going to be one of the most difficult issues,” due to the concern over genetically modified organisms. Barroso warned that, “the EU will only go so far.” Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch observed: “This whole negotiation is about eliminating ‘trade irritants’ but in the US consumer movement we envy and admire and seek to emulate the European food safety standards, while industry is seeking to kill them.”
In April of 2013, a “coalition” was launched to promote the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership called the Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trade (BCTT), which “seeks to promote growth, jobs, and competitiveness on both sides of the Atlantic through an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard trade and investment agreement.” The Steering Committee for the BCTT consists of a number of multinational corporations and business associations, and the secretariat is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The corporate co-chairs for the coalition include Amway, Chrysler, Citi, Dow, FedEx, Ford, GE, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, MetLife, UPS, and JPMorgan Chase. Partner associations of the BCTT include the Business Roundtable, Coalition of Service Industries, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Foreign Trade Council, the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Council for International Business. The initial objective of the BCTT was to urge the formal launching of negotiations by June or July of 2013, as well as “sustaining broad bipartisan support and on providing detailed inputs once negotiations are underway.”
At the launch of the BCTT, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president and head of international affairs, Myron Brilliant, noted that there was “vast support” for the agreement “both in the government and the private sector.” The business community, he explained, “is committed to assisting with the negotiation of a transatlantic agreement… and we will continue our efforts to encourage both governments to get this deal done quickly.” The Business Roundtable, a member of the BCTT, endorsed the new coalition in a statement from John Engler, who explained, “we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to ensure a comprehensive and ambitious agreement.” While speaking to an American business group, the British ambassador to the United States said that financial services would also be “covered by these negotiations,” noting that the U.S. and U.K. are home to “the two most significant international financial centres, on either side of the Atlantic,” on Wall Street and the City of London.
According to an Obama administration official involved in the talks, the agreement “would grant corporations new political power to challenge an array of regulations both at home and abroad.” Environmental, consumer, and other interest groups fear that the agreement “will lead to a rollback of important rules and put multinational companies on the same political plane as sovereign nations.” This would be facilitated by an “investor-state dispute resolution” mechanism, which means that corporations could directly sue governments over what they perceive as “barriers to investment” – possibly through an international tribunal (perhaps even through the World Bank). Such a tribunal “would be given authority to impose economic sanctions against any country that violated its verdict.”
Such provisions, noted a trade specialist with the Sierra Club, “elevate corporations to the level of nation states and allow them to sue governments over nearly any law or policy which reduces their future profits.” These mechanisms are “terribly risky for communities, the environment, and our climate.” The “dirty little secret,” noted Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, “is that it is not mainly about trade, but rather would target for elimination the strongest consumer, health, safety, privacy, environmental and other public interest policies on either side of the Atlantic.”
Thomas Donohue, the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t be happier. “If they made a deal tomorrow,” he said in April of 2013, “US and European companies are sitting on a boatload of cash and they’d be moving this thing up as fast as they can move.” Corporations would be able to make a profit faster than anticipated, he noted: “You open a door and say there’s money on the other side, there’s opportunity to expand, to export, to sell their products, to make partnerships… You think they’re going to wait around till 2027? They’ll be through the door before you know it.” Donohue encouraged negotiations to begin as soon as possible, “they must, they need to,” adding: “We don’t need to take our time.”
A Transatlantic Agenda for Austerity, Exploitation and Corporate Consolidation
On April 22, 2013, there was a conference hosted at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in co-operation with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, “bring[ing] together US-and Europe-based policy makers, regulators, market analysts and academics.” The aim of the conference was to “evaluate the prospects for sustainable economic growth and financial stability, and discuss challenges to transatlantic economic relations posed by the recent episodes of the economic crisis.” Speakers included New York Fed president William Dudley and Vice President of the European Commission, Olli Rehn. [For a list of other participants, see Appendix 9]
William Dudley has been president of the New York Fed since 2009, when the previous president – Timothy Geithner – became Obama’s Treasury Secretary. Prior to his new position, Dudley was a partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs; and currently he also serves as chairman of the Committee on the Global Financial System at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and is vice chairman of the Economic Club of New York.
Dudley opened the ‘invitation only’ event by suggesting, “in a global economy with a global financial system… regulation and supervision have a decidedly national orientation.” Thus, he explained, “we [must] seek to balance our domestic needs against the benefits from having a harmonized and integrated global system.” What is needed, said Dudley, is “growth.” But there was “good news” in the U.S., the housing sector was re-inflating – what’s called “recovering,” the middle class “household sector” was struggling under a heavy debt burden (called “deleveraging”), but the banking sector was “healthier” (meaning more profitable), and “the corporate sector is highly profitable and awash in cash.” That’s the “good news.”
A Bloomberg article from 2010 referred to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as “a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank,” noting that it was in fact a “quasi-governmental institution,” whose leadership is appointed by the major banks of Wall Street to represent their interests, and was “the preferred vehicle for many of the Fed’s bailout programs.” The New York Fed is actually a private bank with a great deal of public authority, and is subject to a “culture of secrecy” which was described as “pervasive.” On the board of directors of the New York Fed is Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, as well as several other bankers.
In his speech, Dudley explained that he has guided the New York Fed to purchase long-term U.S. Treasuries (U.S. government debt) and mortgage-backed securities (the same purchases which helped create the previous housing bubble) to the tune of $85 billion “each month.” Noting that the United States has begun down the path of national austerity – “fiscal consolidation” – and must continue deeper, there was a “tug of war” between having a good economy and having austerity, which is a delicate way of saying that the austerity measures will destroy the economy (something the Europeans already know very well). Thus, as Dudley explained, with immense corporate and bank profits, an asset bubble, and a coming austerity-driven economic nose-dive, “the level of uncertainty about the near-term outlook in the United States remains quite high.” But the United States was not geared “toward a growth path” based upon “business investment” and “trade,” instead having only focused on debt-based consumption.
In Europe, however, the outlook was “less bright.” But again, there was “good news,” since the “peripheral countries” such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and others, were successfully imposing harsh austerity measures, despite resistance from the population being impoverished. This, Dudley calls, “substantial efforts to bring down their structural budget deficits.” There was also progress on improving their “international competitiveness,” which is to say they are opening up to exploitation and plundering, though there was still “an opportunity for further structural reforms in labor and product markets.” Though of course this shouldn’t be done “just in the periphery,” that type of “opportunity” exists everywhere, in order to bring efficiency in exploitation, and thus, more profits: “to increase productivity and strengthen long term growth prospects.”
Sadly, noted Dudley, there was also “bad news” in the EU, since the economy was “still in a recession” – or what could more accurately be described as a deep depression in the so-called “periphery” countries – where it was becoming harder to impose austerity measures and impoverish populations: “the political support for further rounds of budget-tightening has clearly lessened.” Without “growth” – meaning, without corporate and financial profits – “then the political support for continued fiscal and structural adjustment could further erode.” Europe also needed to pursue “deeper integration” at the governance level, and the development of a “pan-European banking union with the ECB [European Central Bank] as the primary overseer” was a “critically important next step.” This will of course demand each country in the EU “to give up a small amount of sovereignty with respect to banking oversight,” and hand it to the ECB, which is unaccountable and remains a driving force behind the austerity and adjustment programs. Dudley referred to this as the “one money, one market” concept.
Olli Rehn, European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs – a major driving force behind the austerity and adjustment programs – gave the keynote speech at the New York Fed conference. He began by welcoming the newly announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, explaining that they must work hard to make it “a reality.” Europe, however, is “deleveraging” – which is to say the continent is being crushed by a heavy debt burden whose owners demand ‘austerity’ and ‘adjustment’ in addition to bailouts – and this “deleveraging process is going to take time, and we need to find new sources of growth to ease the burden of adjustment.” Thus, Rehn explained, “opening up global trade opportunities is so very important.” While many EU countries were continuing with harsh austerity measures, “structural reforms” – which facilitate exploitation of labour and resources – “are the key to raising the growth potential of the European economy.”
He finished his speech, stating: “we must stay the reform course. We need to deliver in terms of free trade, financial sector reform, structural reforms that boost growth potential, and consistent consolidation of public finances. We must do so in order to create the foundations for sustainable growth and job creation. Facing these challenges, we are indeed partners on both sides of the Atlantic.”
A Call for Trans-Atlantic Resistance to Corporate Tyranny
Europe is eating itself through austerity, plunging its population into poverty while simultaneously undertaking “structural reforms” designed to facilitate the unhindered exploitation of resources, markets and labour by transnational corporations. The United States has also been implementing austerity measures, though opting instead to create fallacious ‘debt dramas’ involving the pompous parading of meaningless words – ‘fiscal cliff’ and ‘sequester’ – to avoid the blatant promotion of ‘austerity,’ which might encourage people to correctly think of Greece as an example.
So-called “free trade” agreements function as transnational austerity and ‘structural reform’ treaties: they grant corporations unlimited access to markets, protect them from competition, heavily subsidize them, privatize anything and everything, deregulate as much as possible, destroy the environment, and facilitate the unimpeded plundering of resources and exploitation of labour.
Make no mistake: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is little more than a transatlantic corporate coup. Corporations created the demand for the agreement, lobbied and promoted the agenda with political elites, and direct the entire process, ensuring that their interests are met.
It would seem, then, that it is time for activists, intellectuals, and communities and organizations of people to reach out across the Atlantic in an effort to create an organized resistance to transatlantic corporate tyranny, consolidation and colonization.
Corporations are undertaking unprecedented drives for the accumulation of profit and power, promoting agendas and projects which re-shape the world in their image, treating governments as toys, the environment as an enemy, and impoverishing populations around the world. We are witnessing a transnational social engineering project, driven by large corporations, aimed at facilitating economic, financial, political and social consolidation into their hands.
Welcome to the era of Cosmopolitical Corporate Consolidation and Colonization.
Will you accept that as legitimate? Will you accept such an agreement? Who agreed to it? Did you? Were you consulted? Have you even heard of it before?
The real question is: will we sit passively as we are led to Extinction Inc., or will we actually stand up, organize, and do something about it?
Appendix 1: Leadership of the Atlantic Council
Among the leadership on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council are Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. National Security Adviser (to presidents Ford and Bush, Sr.), Richard Armitage, James E. Cartwright, Wesley Clark, Paula Dobriansky, Christopher Dodd, Stephen Hadley, Michael Hayden, James L. Jones, Henry Kissinger, Thomas Pickering, Anne-Marie Slaughter, James Steinberg, John C. Whitehead, and with a group of honorary directors including: Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Harold Brown, Frank Carlucci, Robert Gates, Michael Mullen, William Perry, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, James Schlesinger, George Shultz, and John Warner, among others.
On the Business and Economics Advisors Group to the Atlantic Council, there are executives and management from the following companies and institutions: Deutsche Bank, Institute of International Finance, Center for Global Development, AIG, BNP-Paribas, Rock Creek Global Advisors, the Stern Group, Harvard, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council includes Josef Ackermann (Chairman of Zurich Insurance), Shaukat Aziz (former prime minister of Pakistan), Jose Maria Aznar (former PM of Spain), Zbigniew Brzezinski (former US National Security Advisor), and with top executives from: Occidental Petroleum, SAIC, the Coca-Cola Company, PwC, News Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, BAE Systems, the Blackstone Group, Thomson Reuters, Lockheed Martin, Bertelsmann, Novartis, and Investor AB, among others.
Appendix 2: Leadership of the German Marshall Fund
The board of trustees of the GMF includes a host of corporate executives and news commentators, and their funding also comes from a coterie of governments, major foundations, and multinational corporations including: Bank of America Foundation, BP, Daimler, Eli Lilly & Company, General Dynamics, IBM, NATO, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and USAID, among many others.
Appendix 3: Leadership of the Business Roundtable
Other members of the executive committee include the CEOs of Honeywell, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, MasterCard, Xerox, American Express, Eaton, JPMorgan Chase, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Caesars Entertainment, Caterpillar, McGraw-Hill, State Farm Insurance, AT&T, Frontier Communications, and ExxonMobil.
Appendix 4: Leadership of the ERT
As of 2013, members of the ERT included the CEOs of Ericsson, Siemens, Telecom Italia, BASF, Nestlé, Repsol, ThyssenKrupp, TOTAL, Rio Tinto, Fiat, Nokia, EADS, ABB, Lafarge, GDF SUEZ, BMW, Eni, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Investor AB, among many others.
Appendix 5: Corporate Partners of BusinessEurope
BusinessEurope counts among its “partner companies,” notable multinational conglomerates that make up the Corporate Advisory and Support Group who “enjoy an important status within BUSINESSEUROPE,” including: Accenture, Alcoa, BASF, Bayer, BMW, BP, Caterpillar, Diamler, DuPont, ExxonMobil, GDF Suez, GE, IBM, Microsoft, Pfizer, Shell, Siemens, Total, and Unilever, among many others.
Appendix 6: Companies Represented on the Board of the US Chamber of Commerce
The board of directors of the Chamber includes top executives and representatives from the following institutions and corporations: Accenture, Allianz of America, AT&T, Pfizer, FedEx, The Charles Schwab Corporation, Xerox, Rolls-Royce North America, Dow Chemical, Alcoa, UPS, Caterpillar, New York Life Insurance Company, Deloitte, the Carlyle Group, 3M, Duke Energy, Siemens, Verizon, IBM, and Allstate Insurance, among many others.
Appendix 7: Task Force Members
Other task force members represented such institutions as: Tufts University, Foreign Policy magazine, Standard Chartered Bank, the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD, Facebook, a former EU Ambassador to the US, a former senior VP of the World Bank, Deloitte Touche, and Susan Schwab, a former United States Trade Representative.
Appendix 8: Corporate Representatives on the PEC
Obama’s PEC includes CEOs and executives from Boeing, Xerox, Dow Chemical, UPS, Walt Disney Company, Warburg Pincus, Caesars Entertainment, Ford, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, Ernst & Young, and Archer Daniels Midland, among others.
Appendix 9: Participants in New York Fed Conference
The program for the event was to include opening remarks from the president of the New York Fed, William Dudley, and would also include the EU’s ambassador to the United States, Joao Vale de Almdeida; the European Commission’s director-general for Economic and Financial Affairs, Marco Buti; and individuals from Columbia University, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, MIT, the Brookings Institution, University of Cambridge, the EU-based think tank Bruegel, Morgan Stanley, European Banking Authority, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker was chair of the panel on ‘Transatlantic Dimensions of Financial Reform,’ and with Olli Rehn, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (a central figure of the ‘austerity’ hierarchy) as the ‘keynote’ speaker.
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Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.