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Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
27 November 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
On Nov. 13, the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it was charging 10 individual bankers, working for two separate banks, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, with fraud over their rigging of the Euribor rates. The latest announcement shines the spotlight once again on the scandals and criminal behavior that have come to define the world of global banking.
To date, only a handful of the world’s largest banks have been repeatedly investigated, charged, fined or settled in relation to a succession of large financial scams, starting with mortgage fraud and the Libor scandal in 2012, the Euribor scandal and the Forex (foreign exchange) rate rigging. At the heart of these scandals, which involve the manipulation of interest rates on trillions of dollars in transactions, lie a handful of banks that collectively form a cartel in control of global financial markets – and the source of worldwide economic and financial crises.
Banks such as HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS anchor the global financial power we have come to recognize as fraud. The two, after all, are not mutually exclusive. In more explicit terms, this cartel of banks functions as a type of global financial Mafia, manipulating markets and defrauding investors, consumers and countries while demanding their pound of flesh in the form of interest payments. The banks force nations to impose austerity measures and structural reforms under the threat of cutting off funding; meanwhile they launder drug money for other cartels and organized crime syndicates.
Call them the global Mafiocracy.
In May, six major global banks were fined nearly $6 billion for manipulation of the foreign exchange market, which handles over $5 trillion in daily transactions. Four of the six banks pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged.” Those banks were Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, while two additional banks, UBS and Bank of America, were fined but did not plead guilty to the specific charges. Forex traders at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other banks conspired to manipulate currency prices through chat room groups they established, where they arrogantly used names like “The Mafia” and “The Cartel.”
The FBI said the investigations and charges against the big banks revealed criminal behavior “on a massive scale.” The British bank Barclays paid the largest individual fine at around $2.3 billion. But as one trader at the bank wrote in a chat room conversation back in 2010, “If you aint cheating, you aint trying.” The total fines, while numerically large, were but a small fraction of the overall market capitalization of each bank – though the fine on Barclays amounted to some 3.4% of the bank’s market capitalization, the highest percentage by far among the group.
Despite the criminal conspiracy charges covering the years 2007 through 2013, the banks and their top officials continue to lay the blame squarely at the feet of individual traders. Axel Weber, the former president of the German Bundesbank (the central bank of Germany), who is now chairman of Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, commented that “the conduct of a small number of employees was unacceptable and we have taken appropriate disciplinary actions.”
Looking at the larger scale of bank fines and fraud in the roughly eight years since the global financial crisis, the numbers increase substantially. In addition to a 2012 settlement for mortgage-related fraud in the U.S. housing market, which amounted to some $25 billion, several large banks paid individual fines related to mortgage and foreclosure fraud – including a $16 billion fine for Bank of America, and $13 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Added to these are fines related to the rigging of the Libor rate (the interest rate at which banks lend to each other) and the Forex rigging, as well as money laundering, violating sanctions, manipulating the price of gold, manipulating the U.S. electricity market and assisting tax evasion, among other crimes.
According to a research paper published in June, the total cost of litigation (fines, penalties, settlements, etc.) paid by 16 major global banks since 2010 has reached more than $300 billion. Bank of America paid the most, amounting to more than $66 billion, followed by JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, Santander, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, UBS, National Australia Bank, Standard Chartered and Société Générale.
Virtually all of these banks also appear on a list of data, compiled through 2007, revealing them to be among the most interconnected and powerful financial institutions in the world. This core group of corporations forms part of a network of 147 financial institutions that Swiss scientists refer to as the “super-entity,” which, through their various shareholdings, collectively controland own each other and roughly 40% of the world’s 43,000 largest transnational corporations.
In other words, the big banks – along with large insurance companies and asset management firms – do not simply act as a cartel in terms of engaging in criminal activities, but they form a functionally interdependent network of global financial and corporate control. Further, the banks work together in various industry associations and lobbying groups where they officially represent their collective interests.
The largest European banks and financial institutions are represented by the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), whose membership consists of the CEOs or Chairmen of roughly 25 of the top financial institutions on the continent, including Deutsche Bank, AXA, HSBC, Allianz, RBS, ING, Barclays, BNP Paribas, UBS, and Credit Suisse, among others.
In the United States, the Financial Services Forum (FSF) represents the largest American along with some European banks and financial institutions. The Forum’s membership consists of less than 20 executives, including the CEOs or Chairmen of such firms as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, AIG, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street Corporation, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, among others.
And on a truly global scale, there is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the premier global association representing the financial industry, with a membership of nearly 500 different institutions from more than 70 countries around the world, including banks, insurance companies, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, central banks, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and development banks.
In addition to these various groups and associations, many of the same large banks and their top executives also serve as members, leaders or participants in much more secretive groups and forums – for example, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a yearly meeting of hundreds of the world’s top bankers hosted by the American Bankers Association, which invites selected politicians, central bankers and finance ministers to attend their off-the-record discussions. In addition, there is the Institut International d’Etudes Bancaires (International Institute of Banking Studies), or IIEB, which brings together the top officials from dozens of Europe’s major financial institutions for discussions with central bankers, presidents and prime ministers in “closed sessions” with virtually no coverage in the media.
These financial institutions are major owners of government debt, which gives them even greater leverage over the policies and priorities of governments. Exercising this power, they typically demand the same thing: austerity measures and “structural reforms” designed to advance a neoliberal market economy that ultimately benefits those same banks and corporations. The banks in turn create the very crises that require governments to bail them out, racking up large debts that banks turn into further crises, pressuring economic reforms in return for further loans. The cycle of crisis and control continues, and all the while, the big banks and financial institutions engage in criminal conspiracies, fraud, manipulation and money-laundering on a massive scale, including acting as the financial services arm of the world’s largest drug cartels and terrorists organizations.
Welcome to the world governed by the global financial Mafiocracy – because if you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.
I have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise money to support my efforts to finish the first book of what will likely be a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’.
What I am asking of my readers is not only to consider donating to the project, but more importantly, to share and promote it through social media, by sending it to others who you think may be interested, and to help get the word out in any way you can!
Every bit helps, and a great deal of help is needed if this is to be successful!
I have collected below links to the campaign, as well as a video I made to promote it, and links to the sample introduction chapter that I published online so that potential patrons could read the kind of material that they would be supporting.
About the Project:
This book will tell the stories of the rich and powerful oligarchs and family dynasties who collectively rule our world: the global Mafiocracy, operating behind-the-scenes playing their games of power politics, globalization’s Game of Thrones where rich and influential families play their games, balancing collusion and cooperation with fierce competition to rule the world Empire of Economics.
In 1975, Henry Kissinger told President Ford: “The trick in the world now is to use economics to build a world political structure.”
This book is that story.
A small network of banks and other financial institutions dominate the global economy, its wealth and resources. This small network of corporate power functions as a global financial Mafia, complete with excessive criminal behaviour in laundering drug money, funding terrorists, rigging interest rates and manipulating markets.
Name a nation, and there are rich dynasties that rule behind the scenes. The Rockefellers in the United States, the Rothschilds in France and Britain, the Agnelli family in Italy, the Wallenbergs in Sweden, the Tata family of India and Oppenheimers of South Africa, the Koc and Sabanci families of Turkey, the Gulf Arab monarchs and the rich industrial families of Germany with dark Nazi pasts.
Germany once again rules Europe, with the European Union’s institutions of unelected technocrats undertaking a process of internal colonization as they impose their economic empire upon Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. Finance ministers and central bankers are the agents of empire, cooperating closely with bankers, oligarchs and dynasties to create a world which best serves their interests. The global financial Mafia mingles with political leaders at forums and secret meetings like the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral Commission and the World Economic Forum.
From the streets of Athens, to Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, China, South Africa, Chile, Canada, and in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, people are rising up against exploitation, repression and domination.
This book is not simply a collection of stories of the ruling Mafiocracy; it is designed to encourage strategy among popular and revolutionary movements capable of creating something altogether new. It is time to do away with a world ruled by oligarchs, and save the species from itself. But first, we must know our world better.
Help me to complete the first book in a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’. For four years I have been doing my own research, scouring the archives of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, government documents, official reports and corporate strategies, studying the world of power and empire, translating the political language of ‘economics’ into plain and simple English.
I have been published in multiple news sources, online and in print, interviewed by radio and television networks, and now I am asking for your help to raise $10,000 so that I can finish the first book in this series, to expose the Empire for all to see, its strengths as well as the weaknesses left exposed for us to exploit. Let us bring true democracy and an end to Mafiocracy. Help me to write this book, and together, let’s help each other to end the Empire.
Donate today. Thank you.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Global Power Project: Bilderberg and the Global Financial Mafia
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
11 December 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In the previous Bilderberg article, I wrote that financial markets were “a type of global parasite with unprecedented power capable of determining the fate of nations and peoples.” In truth, the “super-entity” known as financial market power functions like a cartel, or an organized criminal network: a Mafia. This installment examines some of the members of the global financial mafia who are present at Bilderberg meetings and thus are given unparalleled access to political leaders behind closed doors.
At Bilderberg meetings, participants frequently include leading officials and advisers to banks like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and AXA, among others. The participation of leaders and advisers to these and other large financial institutions provides world leaders with direct, “private” access to some of the leading voices at the core of global financial markets. The interests and actions of financial markets can thus be articulated to the leaders of powerful political, media, military, intelligence and technocratic institutions. The “invisible hand” may voice where and when it might smack.
Through Bilderberg, leaders in financial markets are given an inside look at, and access to, those who shape and wield foreign and economic policy in the world’s most powerful nations. Their interests become a part of that process, just as geopolitical interests are integrated into the actions of financial markets. While financial markets command no armies, they determine the flow and functions of money upon which all armies are dependent, and to which nations are obedient. Bilderberg brings these institutions and individuals together for an off-the-record, private chat about global affairs and policy.
Martin Feldstein, who serves on the International Council of JPMorgan Chase, attended all but one Bilderberg meeting between 2010 and 2014. Feldstein is one of the most influential American economists over the past several decades, serving as a professor at Harvard, a member of the Group of Thirty, the Trilateral Commission, the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He advised President George W. Bush as a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board between 2007 and 2009, a position in which he was given access to top-secret intelligence information. He had previously served as one of Ronald Reagan’s chief economic advisers, and President Obama appointed him in 2009 to serve on the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, advising on how to manage the “recovery” following the financial crisis.
Feldstein’s views are well known. Relating to Europe’s debt crisis, for which Bilderberg meetings hold a great deal of significance, Feldstein wrote in the Financial Times in July of 2013 that governments that bowed to “popular political pressure” to lessen the brutal austerity measures widely seen as the cause of mass unemployment, poverty and social unrest, were at risk of facing rising interest rates and “a new fiscal crisis.”
In other words, if governments bend to the will of the people, financial markets will seek to bend them back. A “fiscal crisis” only takes place when creditors (financial markets) decide to stop funding the government. In Europe, nations are largely dependent upon banks to provide them with credit to function. Thus, if the heads of financial markets don’t like the policies of nations, they can cut off their funding, creating a major crisis and even collapsing the government. This leverage forces nations to follow policies favored by financial markets, such as austerity and various other “structural reforms.” Meanwhile, the policies combine to impoverish the population, enrich the elite, allow for mass exploitation of resources and labor, and consolidate control of the economy into the hands of relatively few, large global banks and corporations.
Another key Bilderberg member and leading figure in financial markets is Josef Ackermann, whom I have written about previously. Ackermann has been one of Europe’s most powerful bankers over the past decade, as the CEO of Deutsche Bank and a major power player throughout the debt crisis holding key leadership positions in large industry associations such as the Institute for International Finance (IIF).
The current chairman of the Bilderberg Group, Henri de Castries, is chairman and CEO of the French insurance giant, AXA, one of the top companies on the Swiss study’s list of the “super-entity” of banks and insurance giants. De Castries is also a member of the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), a lobby group made up of the chairmen and CEOs of Europe’s largest financial institutions.
In 2012, the Financial Times referred to Henri de Castries as one of France’s “best known captains of industry,” having served as an unofficial adviser to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and been school classmates with the current President Francois Hollande. De Castries is considered “as establishment as you can get in France.”
In the wake of the European debt crisis, Henri de Castries supported the policies of austerity and structural reform, warning in 2012 that the crisis would continue for some time. He suggested that governments needed to learn how to “spend less” and the only way to “win back our competitiveness” was “through business investment and not by public spending,” adding: “What we need is a profound cultural change.”
Marcus Agius, a member of Bilderberg’s steering committee, is the chairman of PA Consulting, having previously served as the chairman of Barclays, the bank listed in the number one spot on the list compiled by the Swiss study. As chair of Barclays between 2007 and 2012, Agius also served as chairman of the British Bankers Association, was a director of the BBC from 2006 to 2013, and served as a Business Ambassador of the Trade and Investment Ministry of the British government. Agius also married the daughter of Edmund de Rothschild, bringing him into the family of one of the most prestigious and influential financial dynasties in the world.
Agius resigned from Barclays in 2012 as a result of the massive global financial fraud revealed by the Libor rate scandal, whereby some of the world’s largest banks – including Barclays – formed a cartel at the British Bankers Association to manipulate the interest rate at which banks lend to each other, influencing prices throughout the global economy. Despite the resulting scandal for Agius and others, which forced resignations in 2012, he stayed on the bank’s payroll as an adviser until March of 2014, a full 20 months following his official resignation.
Douglas J. Flint, who is chairman of HSBC, has attended every Bilderberg meeting since 2011. He is also chairman of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), and is a member of the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), the Financial Services Forum, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), and serves on advisory boards to the Mayors of Shanghai and Beijing.
W. Edmund Clark, the chair of one of Canada’s largest banks, TD Bank, has attended every Bilderberg meeting since 2010.
Peter Sutherland has been a long-time Bilderberg participant, and serves as the chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president and Bilderberg participant at every meeting between 2010 and 2014, now serves as the chairman of the Board of International Advisers of Goldman Sachs.
Peter R. Orszag, a Vice Chairman at Citigroup, attended Bilderberg meetings between 2010 and 2012.
The Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs, J. Michael Evans, attended Bilderberg meetings in 2012 and 2013.
This is but a small sampling of some of the names of the leaders of financial institutions represented at Bilderberg meetings over the past few years. Apart from leading individual banks and financial institutions, many of the financiers who attend Bilderberg meetings simultaneously hold leadership positions within other large banking lobby groups, industry associations, and major international conferences.
For example, Bilderberg members and participants frequently hold simultaneous leadership positions at the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the International Monetary Conference (IMC), and the Group of Thirty (G30), all of which have been the focus of previous installments of the Global Power Project, as they have been profoundly influential organizations in their own right. The fact that so many leading figures in those organizations are leaders and participants in Bilderberg meetings lends extra weight to the importance of the meetings.
Roger Altman, a Bilderberg steering committee member and head of a large investment bank, wrote in a May 2013 article in the Financial Times that financial markets in the 21st century were “much more powerful than any government leader,” noting that the spread of austerity across Europe was not driven by Angela Merkel of Germany or other political leaders, but rather, by “private lenders… who declined to finance further borrowing by those countries,” and thus, “markets triggered the Eurozone crisis, not politicians.”
The views and the desires of bankers and financiers are important – and influential – precisely because if these individuals don’t get what they want, they wield the power in numbers on screens that can force the hands of even the most powerful governments and politicians. As such, the favored policies of bankers frequently become the implemented policies of states.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada.
Global Power Project, Part 9: Banking on Influence With Morgan Stanley
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally published at Occupy.com
Morgan Stanley, one of the largest banks in the United States, reported a 66% increase in earnings in July over the same period last year. Morgan Stanley had taken more than $107 billion of U.S. taxpayer money through the bailout programs in the wake of the financial crisis that it helped to create, making it the largest U.S. recipient of bailout funds.
Like the other big banks, Morgan Stanley had been busy paying settlements for the massive criminal fraud conspiracies it engaged in, particularly related to the housing crisis. In 2011, the banks came to a $40 million settlement with the state of Nevada over mortgage fraud.
In 2012, Morgan Stanley paid a settlement of $4.8 million regarding electricity price-fixing charges leveled against the bank in New York State, costing consumers roughly $300 million, after generating $22 million in revenue for the bank. In a settlement over foreclosure fraud in 2013, the bank along with Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $557 million to more than 200,000 homeowners who had been foreclosed on.
A former real estate executive for Morgan Stanley pleaded guilty in 2012 to violating anti-corruption laws, and was “charged with secretly acquiring millions of dollars’ worth of property investments for himself and a Chinese government official.” In 2012, one Morgan Stanley executive was charged with a hate crime for using racial slurs and stabbing a cab driver of Egyptian descent, after having refused to pay the cab fare.
And yet it’s not simply enough for this financial behemoth to defraud the American public and profit from the economic crisis it helped create. It has also managed to profit from increasing hunger and land grabs across the so-called Third World. As big banks speculate on food prices, they drive the costs of food up, sparking food riots and increasing hunger across much of the world while making banks a nice profit in the process.
The three financial institutions most active in food speculation are Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Thus, as millions more people get pushed into hunger, rest assured: Morgan Stanley will be there to swoop up the profits, as untold numbers of people get displaced and foreign investors purchase their lands at giveaway prices. In just one example, Morgan Stanley bought 40,000 hectares of land in Ukraine.
Thus, based on mortgage fraud, the housing crisis, bailouts, the food crisis and the great global land grabs, it’s fair to say that Morgan Stanley is a bank seeking profits at the expense of people, the environment and the world at large. The Global Power Project investigated 24 individuals on both the executive committee and board of directors of Morgan Stanley. The most highly represented institution shared by elites at Morgan Stanley is the Council on Foreign Relations, with six individual affiliations between the two organizations.
It is followed by four mutual affiliations with McKinsey & Co., and three affiliations each between the bank and the former Merrill Lynch (now owned by Bank of America), Columbia University, the Brookings Institution, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Further, the bank has two individual affiliations with each of the following: the World Economic Forum, the Business Council, Merck & Co., President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the Conference Board, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Stanford University and Alcoa.
Meet the Elites
James P. Gorman is Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, a former executive at Merrill Lynch, and a former Senior Partner at McKinsey & Co. He is a current member of the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School, a member of the Business Council, the Partnership for New York City, the Financial Services Forum, the board of directors of the Institute of International Finance, and the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Klaus Kleinfeld is on the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, and is Chairman and CEO of Alcoa, the world’s leading aluminum producer. Kleinfeld is also the former CEO of Siemens and a former director of Citigroup. He is a member of the Supervisory Board of Bayer AG, Chairman of the Board of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, a Trustee of the Conference Board, and a member of the Business Roundtable, the Board of Trustees of the Brookings Institution, the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, the board of directors of the World Economic Forum USA, the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Meetings.
Hutham S. Olayan is Senior Executive Director of the Olayan Group, President and CEO of Olayan America Corporation, and is a Trustee of the American University of Beirut. She is a member of the board of directors of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a member of the International Board of the U.S.-Middle East Project, and a member of the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution. She is founding member of the Arab Bankers Association of North America, a member of the board of the MasterCard Foundation, a member of the International Advisory Board of the Blackstone Group, a member of the boards of Georgetown University and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and is a Counselor of the Conference Board. Olayan is a member of the Advisory Council of the Carnegie Middle East Center and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
James W. Owens is the former Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, and a member of the board of directors of IBM, Alcoa and the Council on Foreign Relations. Owens is also Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, a Senior Advisor to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), a former Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Business Council, and a former member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of North Carolina State University.
Laura Tyson, who sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, is Professor of Global Management at the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, and is former Dean of the London Business School and former Dean of Haas Business School. Tyson was the former National Economic Adviser to President Clinton from 1993 to 1996 and was a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council and Domestic Policy Council, as well as Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Tyson was director of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1997 to 2007, where she remains as a member, and is also a member of the MIT Corporation, as well as a former member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. A Senior Advisor to McKinsey Global Institute, Credit Suisse Research Institute, The Rock Creek Group, and a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress, Tyson is currently a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and has been a member of the Foreign Affairs Policy Board to the U.S. Secretary of State since 2011. She is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution Hamilton Project, a member of the board of AT&T, a former member of the board of Eastman Kodak Company from 1997 to 2011, and a member of the board of CB Richard Ellis and Silver Spring Network. Tyson is additionally a former director of New America Foundation, a former member of the board of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, and currently sits as a member of the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum, the advisory board of Generation Investment Management and H&Q Asia Pacific, as well as a member of the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology and Economic Policy and on the board of directors of the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget.
At Morgan Stanley, like elsewhere among the big Wall Street banks, an elite class of individuals connected through their institutional affiliations and social groups exert incredible influence over finance, corporations, the government, media, policy, educational institutions and global society at large. Regardless of the immense suffering that Morgan Stanley and its like institutions inflict on the world, so long as it is able to profit from that suffering, it considers itself safe and secure.
Too big to fail. Too big to jail. Too cancerous to care.
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 hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
The “Real” Recovery: Welcome to the Network of Global Corporate Control
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is the second of a three-part series exclusive for Occupy.com
How have your personal finances been since the global economic crisis began in 2008? Are you in debt? Unemployed? Struggling? Are you below the poverty line? Has your standard of living stagnated – or declined? Turns out, it doesn’t matter how the population is doing, because, we are told, we are in an “economic recovery,” or haven’t you heard?
Why is this a “recovery”? It’s simple: because global banks and corporations are making record profits, obviously everything is “back on track.”
Despite international turmoil in financial markets, a collapsing Europe, natural disaster in Japan, and increased food and fuel prices spurring social unrest and poverty, global corporations had a wonderful year in 2011.
The Global 500 posted record revenues for 2011 at $29.5 trillion, up 13.2% from 2010. Eight of the top 10 conglomerates were in the energy sector, receiving “an extra boost… as average oil prices reached their highest inflation-adjusted level since the 1860s.” The oil industry alone generated $5 trillion in sales, roughly 17% of the total sales of the Global 500.
Commercial banks emerged as the second largest industry on the Global 500, “thanks largely to lending in new markets,” such as Latin America, certain parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The auto industry was the third largest industry on the Global 500, taking in a total of $2.4 trillion in sales, up 14.6% from 2010.
In 2011, as bank profits in the United States and Europe were increasing, the very same banks recording billions in quarterly profits were announcing cuts to thousands of jobs. In April of 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that three of Europe’s largest banks, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Banco Santander, had reported major profits for the first quarter, “even during a financial crisis.”
As the banks in Europe were worried about their ability to continue reporting profits, they employed a new method to ensure continued plundering: buying back their bonds (government debts) at cheap rates. Thus, not only are they able to increase quarterly profits, but they are able to ensure that the crisis continues and deepens by perpetuating the problems that created it (and profiting along the way).
Major banks like Société Générale, Commerzbank AG, Banco Santander and others have opted for choosing short-term profits at the expense of long-term stability. Reports over the summer of 2012 suggested that global corporate profits were lagging due to the economic crisis in Europe. But not to worry, they’re still doing much better than you ever will.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, corporations began implementing massive layoffs to keep their profits up; interest rates remained low, which kept the costs of borrowing very low and, as the Financial Times reported in early 2012, “U.S. corporate profits are higher, as a share of gross domestic product, than at any time since 1950.”
According to a 2011 study from Northeastern University, since the Second World War, “there’s never been a worse recovery for jobs and worker pay,” and at the same time, “never a better one for corporate profits.” The economic “recovery” was said to have begun in June of 2009, but how is “recovery” defined? After all, people are still struggling, more than ever in recent history; unemployment is high, job losses soar, poverty spreads and insecurity reigns supreme.
So why, then, has it been said that the United States entered a “recovery”? Well, as the study pointed out, since June of 2009, 88% of all U.S. growth went to corporate profits, while wages and salaries represented 1% of growth. Compared to previous economic crises, the situation is much worse than ever before.
At the end of the recession in the early 1990s, 50% of U.S. growth went to worker pay, while corporate profits had actually declined by 1%. Following the dot-com bust in 2001, worker pay and jobs accounted for 15% of U.S. growth, while 53% of growth was accounted for by corporate profits.
In the recoveries of the 1973-75 and 1981-82 recessions, worker pay and jobs accounted for 30% of U.S. growth. In the midst of the current “recovery,” where 88% of growth is in corporate profits and 1% is in worker pay, employees have been roughly 6% more productive, working longer hours. As the study noted: “The only major beneficiaries of the recovery have been corporate profits and the stock market and its shareholders.”
Corporate profits in 2010 were 17% higher than in 2009, and when financial firms are included, the rate goes even higher. An analyst with Citigroup explained that roughly 90% of the growth in corporate profits “has come from cost-cutting,” largely facilitated by layoffs and hoarding cash.
As the Department of Commerce reported, corporate profits accounted for 14% of the national income over 2010, “the highest proportion ever recorded,” while the share of national income from smaller businesses fell to a 17-year low.
As profits soared, not only at multinational corporations, but at the major banks which caused the crisis in the first place, they continued to undertake massive layoffs. The Northeastern University report on corporate profits also noted that one of the main causes of the crisis in the first place was the relationship between increased corporate profits and decreased worker wages and benefits. Thus, without a hint of irony, the same things that created the crisis are exacerbated and made worse after the crisis: and this is what is called a “recovery.”
The Commerce Department revised its reporting of corporate profits from 2008, 2009, and 2010, noting that they were actually $343 billion higher than they had originally estimated. Over the same three-year period, personal income of American families was $265 billion lower than had been previously estimated. In late 2012, worker wages (as a total of U.S. GDP) reached an all-time low, while corporate profits reached an all-time high.
In fact, late 2012 saw corporate profits increase by 18.6% from the previous year, what Forbes reported was “the largest after-tax profit quarter in the nation’s history.” American worker wages, as a percentage of national GDP, had been – until 1975 – almost always at least half of U.S. GDP, and as recently as 2001, accounted for 49% of GDP. In 2012, they hit an “all-time low” at 43.5% of GDP. Further, CEO pay has also been rising 27 times faster than worker pay since 1978.
Of course, it’s not merely corporations raking in record profits, as the banks are not to be left behind. In the United States, second quarter profits for big banks in 2012 were at $34.5 billion, an increase of nearly $6 billion from the same time the previous year. Banks were making profits not seen since 2007, just before the financial crisis struck. Part of the reason for increased bank profits had to do with dramatic cuts in jobs and sales of assets.
In 2007, financial institutions in the United States employed over 2.2 million full-time employees, and in 2012 there were 100,000 fewer employees and 14% fewer banks. With help from the Federal Reserve, which provided immense funds for the financial industry (called “quantitative easing”) while maintaining very low interest rates, banks have been able to take in more profits from mortgages as the Fed continues to purchase bad mortgages from the big banks.
This is, of course, merely doing the same thing that created the financial crisis in the first place, but calling it a “solution.” Not to mention that the bill gets handed to the population.
In December of 2012, bank profits increased by 9.4% from the previous quarter, “the best quarterly performance in six years,” according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Banks thus had a combined profit of $37.6 billion in the third quarter of 2012, the highest total profit since the $38 billion profit recorded in the third quarter of 2006, during the height of the housing bubble.
Welcome to the “economic recovery,” where the big banks and corporations that created the global economic crisis – with the servile participation of our elected governments – are doing better than ever before, making record profits while poverty hits record levels. This is what we call “democracy.”
Perhaps it is time people begin to redefine the words “recovery” and “democracy,” unless we want to see more of the same.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.