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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.
The Global Banking ‘Super-Entity’ Drug Cartel: The “Free Market” of Finance Capital
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
This essay is the product of research undertaken for the first volume of The People’s Book Project. Please donate to help the first volume come to completion: a study of the institutions, ideas, and individuals of power and resistance in a snap-shot of the world today, looking at the global economic crisis, war and empire, repression and the global spread of anti-austerity and resistance movements.
I would like to introduce you, the reader, to some realities of our global banking system, resting on the rhetoric of free markets, but functioning, in actuality, as a global cartel, a “super-entity” in which the world’s major banks all own each other and own the controlling shares in the world’s largest multinational corporations, influence governments and policy with politicians in their back pockets, routinely engaging in fraud and bribery, and launder hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money, not to mention arms dealing and terrorist financing. These are the “too big to fail” and “too big to jail” banks, the centre of our global economy, what we call a “free market,” implying that the global banks – and corporations – have “free reign” to do anything they please, engage in blatantly criminal activities, steal trillions in wealth which is hidden offshore, and never get more than a slap on the wrist. This is the real “free market,” a highly profitable global banking cartel, functioning as a worldwide financial Mafia.
Scientific Research Proves the Existence of a Global Financial “Super-Entity”
In October of 2011, New Scientist reported that a scientific study on the global financial system was undertaken by three complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. The conclusion of the study revealed what many theorists and observers have noted for years, decades, and indeed, even centuries: “An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.” As one of the researchers stated, “Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it’s conspiracy theories or free-market… Our analysis is reality-based.” Using a database which listed 37 million companies and investors worldwide, the researchers studied all 43,060 trans-national corporations (TNCs), including the share ownerships linking them.
The mapping of ‘power’ was through the construction of a model showing which companies controlled which other companies through shareholdings. The web of ownership revealed a core of 1,318 companies with ties to two or more other companies. This ‘core’ was found to own roughly 80% of global revenues for the entire set of 43,000 TNCs. And then came what the researchers referred to as the “super-entity” of 147 tightly-knit companies, which all own each other, and collectively own 40% of the total wealth in the entire network. One of the researchers noted, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.” This network poses a huge risk to the global economy, as, “If one [company] suffers distress… this propagates.” The study was undertaken with a data set established prior to the economic crisis, thus, as the financial crisis forced some banks to die (Lehman Bros.) and others to merge, the “super-entity” would now be even more connected, concentrated, and problematic for the economy.
The top 50 companies on the list of the “super-entity” included (as of 2007): Barclays Plc (1), Capital Group Companies Inc (2), FMR Corporation (3), AXA (4), State Street Corporation (5), JP Morgan Chase & Co. (6), UBS AG (9), Merrill Lynch & Co Inc (10), Deutsche Bank (12), Credit Suisse Group (14), Bank of New York Mellon Corp (16), Goldman Sachs Group (18), Morgan Stanley (21), Société Générale (24), Bank of America Corporation (25), Lloyds TSB Group (26), Lehman Brothers Holdings (34), Sun Life Financial (35), ING Groep (41), BNP Paribas (46), and several others.
In the United States, five banks control half the economy: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs Group collectively held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, which equals roughly 56% of the U.S. economy. This data was according to central bankers at the Federal Reserve. In 2007, the assets of the largest banks amounted to 43% of the U.S. economy. Thus, the crisis has made the banks bigger and more powerful than ever. Because the government invoked “too big to fail,” meaning that the big banks will be saved because they are very important, the big banks have incentive to make continued and bigger risks, because they will be bailed out in the end. Essentially, it’s an insurance policy for criminal risk-taking behaviour. The former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis stated, “Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact.” Remember, “market” means the banking cartel (or “super-entity” if you prefer). Thus, they build new bubbles and buy government bonds (sovereign debt), making the global financial system increasingly insecure and at risk of a larger collapse than took place in 2008.
When politicians, economists, and other refer to “financial markets,” they are in actuality referring to the “super-entity” of corporate-financial institutions which dominate, collectively, the global economy. For example, the role of financial markets in the debt crisis ravaging Europe over the past two years is often referred to as “market discipline,” with financial markets speculating against the ability of nations to repay their debt or interest, of credit ratings agencies downgrading the credit-worthiness of nations, of higher yields on sovereign bonds (higher interest on government debt), and plunging the country deeper into crisis, thus forcing its political class to impose austerity and structural adjustment measures in order to restore “market confidence.” This process is called “market discipline,” but is more accurately, “financial terrorism” or “market warfare,” with the term “market” referring specifically to the “super-entity.” Whatever you call it, market discipline is ultimately a euphemism for class war.
The Global Supra-Government and the “Free Market”
In December of 2011, Roger Altman, the former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under the Clinton administration wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he explained that financial markets were “acting like a global supra-government,” noting:
They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth.
Altman continued, explaining that when the power of this “global supra-government” is flexed, “the immediate impact on society can be painful – wider unemployment, for example, frequently results and governments fail.” But of course, being a former top Treasury Department official, he went on to endorse the global supra-government, writing, “the longer-term effects can be often transformative and positive.” Ominously, Altman concluded: “Whether this power is healthy or not is beside the point. It is permanent,” and “there is no stopping the new policing role of the financial markets.” In other words, the ‘super-entity’ global ‘supra-government’ of financial markets carries out financial extortion, overthrows governments and impoverishes populations, but this is ultimately “positive” and “permanent,” at least from the view of a former Treasury Department official. From the point of view of those who are being impoverished, the actual populations, “positive” is not necessarily the word that comes to mind.
In the age of globalization, money – or capital – flows easily across borders, with banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions acting as the vanguards of a new international order of global governance. Where finance goes, corporations follow; where corporations venture, powerful states stand guard of their interests. Our global system is one of state-capitalism, where the state and corporate interests are interdependent and mutually beneficial, at least for those in power. Today, financial institutions – with banks at the helm – have reached unprecedented power and influence in state capitalist societies. The banks are bigger than ever before in history, guarded by an insurance policy that we call “too big to fail,” which means that despite their criminal and reckless behaviour, the government will step in to bail them out, as it always has. Financial markets also include credit ratings agencies, which determine the supposed “credit-worthiness” of other banks, corporations, and entire nations. The lower the credit rating, the riskier the investment, and thus, the higher the interest is for that entity to borrow money. Countries that do not follow the dictates of the “financial market” are punished with lower credit ratings, higher interest, speculative attacks, and in the cases of Greece and Italy in November of 2011, their democratically-elected governments are simply removed and replaced with technocratic administrations made up of bankers and economists who then push through austerity and adjustment policies that impoverish and exploit their populations. In the age of the “super-entity” global “supra-government,” there is no time to rattle around with the pesky process of formal liberal democracy; they mean business, and if your elected governments do not succumb to “market discipline,” they will be removed and replaced in what – under any other circumstances – is referred to as a ‘coup.’
Banks and financial institutions provide the liquidity – or funds – for what we call “free markets.” Free markets in principle would allow for free competition between companies and countries, each producing their own comparative advantage – producing what they are best at – and trading with others in the international market, so that all parties rise in living standards and wealth together. The “free market” is, of course, pure mythology. In practice, what we call “free markets” are actually highly protectionist, regimented, regulated, and designed to undermine competition and enforce monopolization. The “free markets” serve this purpose for the benefit of large multinational corporations and banks.
When we use the term “free markets” we are generally referring to the “real” economy, legitimate and legal. When it comes to illegitimate markets, for example, the global drug trade, we do not tend to refer to them as “free markets” but rather, “illegal” and run by “cartels.” Cartels, like corporations, are hierarchically organized totalitarian institutions, where decisions and power and exercised from the top-down, with essentially no input going from the bottom-up. Large multinational corporations, like large international cartels, seek to control their particular market throughout entire nations, regions, and beyond. Often, co-operation between corporations allow them to function in an oligopolistic manner, where the collectively dominate the entire market, carving it up between them. Major oil companies, agro-industrial firms, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, military contractors and water management corporations are well-known for these types of activities.
Cartels have often been known to engage in a similar practice, though typically they are more competitive with each other. When interests are threatened – which is defined as when a corporation or cartel is at risk of losing its total dominance of its market in a particular region – conflict arises, and often violently so, with the potential for coups, assassinations, terror campaigns, and war. This is when the state intervenes to protect the market for the cartel or corporate interests. Thus, a market like the global drug trade functions relatively similar to those of the “legitimate” economy, pharmaceuticals, energy, technology, etc. The illicit trade in drugs is as much a “free market” as is the trade in automobiles or oil. And of course, the money ends up in the same place: the global supra-government of “financial markets.”
Banking Cartel or Drug Cartel… or What’s the Difference?
In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that billions of dollars in drug money saved the major banks during the financial crisis, providing much-needed liquidity. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated that drug money was “the only liquid investment capital” available to banks on the brink of collapse, with roughly $325 billion in drug money absorbed by the financial system. Without identifying specific countries or banks, Costa stated that, “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities… There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”
In 2010, Wachovia Bank (now owned by Wells Fargo) settled the largest action ever under the U.S. bank secrecy act, paying a fine of $50 million plus forfeiting $110 million of drug money, of which the bank laundered roughly $378.4 billion out of Mexico. The federal prosecutor in the case stated, “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations.” The fine that the bank paid for laundering hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money was less than 2% of the bank’s 2009 profit, and on the same week of the settlement, Wells Fargo’s stock actually went up. The bank admitted in a statement of settlement that, “As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk” of holding such an account, but “despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business.” The leading investigator into the money laundering operations, Martin Woods, based out of London, had discovered that Wachovia had received roughly six or seven thousand subpoenas for information about its Mexican operation from the federal government, of which Woods commented: “An absurd number. So at what point does someone at the highest level not get the feeling that something is very, very wrong?” Woods had been hired by Wachovia’s London branch as a senior anti-money laundering officer in 2005, and when in 2007 an official investigation was opened into Wachovia’s Mexican operations, Woods was informed by the bank that he failed “to perform at an acceptable standard.” In other words, he was actually doing his job. In regards to the settlement, Woods stated:
The regulatory authorities do not have to spend any more time on it, and they don’t have to push it as far as a criminal trial. They just issue criminal proceedings, and settle. The law enforcement people do what they are supposed to do, but what’s the point? All those people dealing with all that money from drug-trafficking and murder, and no one goes to jail?
As the former UN Office of Drugs and Crime czar Antonio Maria Costa said, “The connection between organized crime and financial institutions started in the late 1970s, early 1980s… when the mafia became globalized,” just like other major markets. Martin Woods added that, “These are the proceeds of murder and misery in Mexico, and of drugs sold around the world,” yet no one went to jail, asking, “What does the settlement do to fight the cartels? Nothing – it doesn’t make the job of law enforcement easier and it encourages the cartels and anyone who wants to make money by laundering their blood dollars. Where’s the risk? There is none.” He added: “Is it in the interest of the American people to encourage both the drug cartels and the banks in this way? Is it in the interest of the Mexican people? It’s simple: if you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 30,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point.” Woods, who now runs his own consultancy, told the Observer in 2011 that, “New York and London… have become the world’s two biggest laundries of criminal and drug money, and offshore tax havens. Not the Cayman Islands, not the Isle of Man or Jersey. The big laundering is right through the City of London and Wall Street.”
Just as the “too big to fail” program acts as an insurance policy for the big banks to engage in constant criminal activity, taking ever-larger financial risks with the guarantee that they will be bailed out, the settlements and lack of criminal prosecutions for banks laundering drug money provides the incentive to continue laundering hundreds of billions in drug money, because so long as the fine is smaller than the profit accrued from such a practice, it comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis: if the cost of laundering drug money is less than the benefit, continue with the policy. The same cost-benefit analysis goes for all forms of criminal activity by banks and corporations, whether bribery, fraud, or violating environmental, labour and other regulations. So long as the penalty is less than the profit, the problem continues.
An article in the Observer from July of 2012 referred to global banks as “the financial services wing of the drug cartels,” noting that HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, had been called before the U.S. Senate to testify about laundering drug money from Mexican cartels, holding one “suspicious account” for four years on behalf of the largest drug cartel in the world, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. In fact, a multi-year investigation into HSBC revealed that the bank was not only a major international drug money-laundering conduit, but also laundered money for clients with ties to terrorism. In July of 2012, as the Senate was publicly investigating HSBC, Antonio Maria Costa stated, “Today I cannot think of one bank in the world that has not been penetrated by mafia money.” The global drug trade is estimated to be worth roughly $380 billion annually, with most of the money made in the consumer markets of North America and Europe. Using the example of the $35 billion per year cocaine market in the United States, only about 1.5% of these profits make their way to the coca-leaf producers (mostly poor peasants) in South America (who became the target of our bombing and chemical warfare campaigns in the “war on drugs”), while the international traffickers get roughly 13% of the profits, with the remaining 85% earned by the distributors in the U.S. HSBC was accused of laundering the profits of the distributors.
The U.S. Senate report concluded that HSBC had exposed the U.S. financial system to “a wide array of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing,” including billions in “proceeds from illegal drug sales in the United States.” HSBC acknowledged, in an official statement, that, “in the past, we have sometimes failed to meet the standards that regulators and customers expect.” Among those “standards” that HSBC “sometimes failed to meet,” according to the Senate investigation, were financing provided to banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh which were tied to terrorist organizations, while the bank’s regulator failed to take a single enforcement action against HSBC. Among the terrorist organizations which potentially received financial assistance from HSBC through Saudi banks was al-Qaeda. HSBC put aside $700 million to cover any potential fines for such activities, which is not uncommon for banks to do. Banks like ABN Amro, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Lloyds and ING had all reached major settlements for admitting to facilitating transactions and engaging in money laundering for clients in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.
As executives from HSBC appeared in the U.S. Senate, the bank’s head of compliance since 2002, David Bagley, resigned as he testified before the committee, commenting, “Despite the best efforts and intentions of many dedicated professionals, HSBC has fallen short of our own expectations and the expectations of our regulators.” As Ed Vulliamy reported in the Observer, in May of 2012, a poor black man named Edward Dorsey Sr. was convicted of peddling 5.5 grams of crack cocaine in Washington D.C. and was given 10 years in jail. Meanwhile, just across the river from where Dorsey had committed his crime, executives from HSBC admitted before the U.S. Senate that they laundered billions in drug money, just as Wachovia had admitted to the previous year, with no one going to prison. The lesson from this is clear: if you are poor, black, and are caught with a couple grams of crack-cocaine, you can expect to go to prison for several years (or in this case, a decade); but if you are rich, white, own a bank, and are caught laundering billions of dollars (or hundreds of billions of dollars) in drug money, you will be fined (but not enough to make such practices unprofitable), and may have to resign. Too big to fail is simply another way of saying “too big to jail.”
Of course, it’s not fair to put all the blame for international drug money-laundering on the shoulders of HSBC and Wachovia, as Bloomberg reported, Mexican drug cartels also funneled money through the Bank of America and even the banking branch of American Express, Banco Santander, and Citigroup. Even the FBI has accused Bank of America of laundering Mexican drug cartel funds. But it’s not just drug money that banks launder; all sorts of illicit funds are laundered through major banks, many of which have been fined or are now being investigated for their criminal activities, including JPMorgan, Standard Chartered, Credit Suisse, Lloyds, Barclays, ING, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, among others. Another major Swiss bank, UBS, has been very consistent in committing fraud and engaging in various conspiracies, a great deal of which was committed against Americans, though the bank was given “conditional immunity” from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Financial Fraud and the ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’
The major banks of the world have been caught in conspiracies of ripping off small towns and cities across the United States, which allowed banks like JPMorgan Chase, GE Capital, UBS, Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Bear Stearns, and others, to steal billions of dollars from schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to a court settlement on the issue. The theft was done through the manipulation of the public bidding process, something that the Mafia has become experts in with regards to garbage and construction industry contracts. In short, the banking system actually functions like a Mafia cartel system, not to mention, taking money from the Mafia and cartels themselves. Banks like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs engaged in bribery, fraud, and conspiracies which resulted in the bankruptcy of counties all across the United States. Still, they continue to be ‘respected’ by the political class which refuses to punish them for their criminal activity, and instead, rewards them with bailouts and follows their instructions for policy.
Over the summer of 2012, another major banking scandal hit the headlines, regarding the manipulation of the London inter-bank lending rate known as the Libor. The Libor rate, explained the Economist, “determines the prices that people and corporations around the world pay for loans or receive for their savings,” as it is used as a benchmark for establishing payments on an $800 trillion derivatives market, covering everything from interest rate derivatives to mortgages. Essentially, the Libor is the interest rate at which banks lend to each other on the short term, and is established through an “honour system” of where 18 major banks report their daily rates, from which an average is calculated. That average becomes the Libor rate, and reverberates throughout the entire global economy, setting a benchmark for a massive amount of transactions in the global derivatives market. Whereas the derivatives market is a massive casino of unregulated speculation, the Libor scandal revealed the cartel that owns the casino.
The scandal began with Barclays, a 300-year old bank in Britain, revealing that several employees had been involved in rigging the Libor to suit their own needs. More banks quickly became implemented, and countries all over the world began opening investigations into this scandal and the role their own banks may have played in it. By early July, as many as 20 major banks were named in various investigations or lawsuits related to the rigging of the Libor.
Among the major global banks which are being investigated by U.S. prosecutors are Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, UBS, Bank of America, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Credit Suisse, Lloyds Banking Group, Rabobank, Royal Bank of Canada, Société Générale, and others. Prosecutors in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Japan were investigating collusion between the major banks on the manipulation of the Libor. In June of 2012, Barclays paid a fine to US and UK authorities, admitting its culpability in the rigging with a $450 million settlement. With information and documents pouring out, implicating further banks and institutions in the scandal, a general consensus was emerging that the Libor had been manipulated since at least 2005, though, as one former Morgan Stanley trader wrote in the Financial Times, the rigging had began as early as 1991, if not before. The British Banker’s Association was responsible for setting the Libor rate by polling roughly 18 major banks on their highest and lowest rates daily. Thus, rigging by one bank would require the co-operating of at least nine other banks in purposely manipulating their rates in order to have any effect upon the Libor. Douglas Keenan, the former Morgan Stanley trader, wrote that, “it seems the misreporting of Libor rates may have been common practice since at least 1991.”
Rolf Majcen, the head of a hedge fund called FTC Capital told Der Spiegel that, “the Libor manipulation is presumably the biggest financial scandal ever.” As regulators were using words like “organized fraud” and “banksters” to describe the growing scandal, it was becoming common to refer to the major banks as functioning like a “cartel” or “mafia.” The CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, resigned in disgrace, as did Marcus Agius, the Chairman of Barclays (who also serves as a director on the board of BBC, and is married into the Rothschild banking dynasty). The “cartel” manipulated the Libor for a great number of reasons, among them, to appear to be in better health by rigging their credit ratings upwards. The Business Insider referred to the Libor rigging as a “criminal conspiracy” from the start, essentially designed to promote manipulation as the Libor was determined by an “honor system” for banks to properly report their rates. Imagine giving a pile of credit cards to a group of credit card fraud convicts and establishing an “honour system.” Could one truly be surprised if it didn’t work out? Well, the Libor scandal is effectively based upon the same logic, except that the repercussions are global in scope.
Traders at the Royal Bank of Scotland referenced, in internal emails, to their participation in operating a “cartel” that made “amazing” amounts of money through the manipulation of interest rates, with a former senior trader at RBS writing that managers at the bank had “condoned collusion.” The same trader, who was later hung out to dry by RBS as a scapegoat, wrote in an email to a trader at Deutsche Bank that, “It is a cartel now in London,” where the Libor is established.
The cartel, however, did not simply include the major banks, but also required the cooperation or at least negligence of regulators and central banks. Documents released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank of England show correspondence between then-President of the NY Fed Timothy Geithner (who is now Obama’s Treasury Secretary) and Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discussing how Barclays was manipulating the Libor rates during the 2008 financial crisis. While the NY Fed corresponded with both the Bank of England and Barclays itself on the acknowledgment of interest rate manipulation, it never told the bank to stop the rigging practice. An official at Barclays even informed the NYFed in 2008 that the bank was under-reporting the rate at which it could borrow from other banks so that Barclays could “avoid the stigma” of appearing to be weaker than its peers, adding that “other participating banks were also under-reporting their Libor submissions.”
A Barclays employee told the New York Fed in an April 2008 phone call that, “We know that we’re not posting um, an honest Libor… and yet we are doing it, because, um, if we didn’t do it, it draws, um, unwanted attention on ourselves.” The New York Fed official replied: “You have to accept it… I understand. Despite it’s against what you would like to do. I understand completely.” Several months later, a Barclays employee told a New York Fed official that the Libor rates were still “absolute rubbish.”
While the New York Fed expressed sympathy for the poor and helpless global banks need to engage in fraud and interest rate manipulation in order to lie and appear to be healthier than it was, the Bank of England went a step further, when Paul Tucker, the head of markets at the BoE wrote a note to Barclays CEO Bob Diamond in 2008 suggesting that Barclays lower its Libor rate, thus encouraging the rigging itself, instead of just expressing sympathy for the “need” to commit fraud.
The main British banking lobby group, the British Banker’s Association (BBA), which was responsible for overseeing the Libor rate process (no conflict of interest there, right?), was, in late September of 2012, stripped of its right to oversee the Libor, to be replaced with a formal regulator. The BBA’s “oversight” of Libor dates back to 1984, when the City of London (Britain’s Wall Street) had begun an experiment to establish a new way of setting interest rates, asking the banking lobby group to set the rate in 1986 when the Libor began. The BBA’s Foreign Exchange and Money Markets Committee is responsible for setting the Libor, and they meet every two months to review the process in secret without any minutes being published, and even the membership of the Committee is kept a secret. Spokespersons at Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS refused to comment on whether they had any representatives on the committee, while Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of America and Citigroup didn’t even respond to emailed inquiries about their involvement with the committee, as Bloomberg reported. A British regulator, in the understatement of the century, stated, “There is an apparent lack of transparency,” adding that the BBA’s committee “doesn’t appear to be sufficiently open and transparent to provide the necessary degree of accountability to firms and markets with a direct interest in being assured of the integrity of Libor.” When the fox guards the henhouse, it takes a great deal of stupidity to be “surprised” when some hens go missing.
In an April 2008 meeting with officials at the Bank of England, Angela Knight, the head of the British Banker’s Association, suggested that the BBA perhaps should no longer be responsible for oversight of “the world’s most important number,” which had become too big for the BBA to manage. No one at the meeting cared enough to do anything about it, however, and so nothing changed. Where was the incentive to change the system, after all? Yes, massive fraud was taking place, and this was well understood by the banks committing it, as well as the regulators and central banks overseeing it. But on the plus side, everyone was getting away with it. So indeed, there was no incentive to change the system. From the point of view of those managing it, the Libor was functioning as it should. A cartel was established because a cartel was desired. The fact that it was all highly illegal, fraudulent, and immoral was – and is – beside the point. Mexican drug cartels do not worry about the legality of their operations because they are, by definition, illegal. They worry simply about getting away with their illegal operations. The same can be said for the global banking cartel. So long as they get away with criminal cartel operations, there is no incentive to change the system, and instead, there is only an incentive to expand and further entrench the cartel’s operations.
Canada’s antitrust regulator began an investigation into the “international cartel” of banks rigging the Libor, focusing on the role played by banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Royal bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Citigroup, among others. A law professor at the University of Toronto who was hired by the regulator to study the case commented that, “international cartels are of a significant concern for the Canadian economy.” We have truly reached an impressive circumstance when the actual regulators of the banks refer to the banking system as an “international cartel.”
A lawsuit was being filed by several homeowners in the U.S. who were attempting to sue some of the world’s largest banks for fraud, as the Libor manipulation sparked increases on their mortgages, resulting in illegal profits for banks. The class action lawsuit filed in New York in October of 2012 accused banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, Barclays, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and others of fraud over a period of ten years. For U.S. states and municipalities that bought interest-rate swaps before the financial crisis, the Libor rigging was poised to more than double their losses. Banks had sold roughly $500 billion of interest-rate swaps (in the derivatives market) to municipalities before the financial crisis, with roughly $200 billion of those swaps tied to the Libor. As one legal expert who studies derivatives told Bloomberg, “Almost all interest-rate swaps begin with Libor.” This prompted several states in the U.S. to begin their own investigations into how the Libor-rigging may have negatively affected them.
Punishing the World’s Population into Poverty: Life Under the Global Cartel
While the global cartel of criminal banks rig rates, launder drug money, fund terrorists, engage in bribery, fraud and demand multi-trillion dollar bailouts from our governments (effectively selling their bad debts to the public), and then give themselves massive bonuses, they are also demanding – through what is called “market discipline” – that our governments deal with our debts by undertaking policies of “austerity” and “structural reform,” which are euphemisms for impoverishment and exploitation. Thus, after the cartel helped create a massive financial crisis, and after our governments rewarded them for their criminal activity, the cartel now demands that our governments punish their populations into poverty and open their economies, resources and labour up for cheap and easy exploitation by banks and multinational corporations. This is referred to as the “solution” for getting out of the ‘Great Recession,’ and which is sure to great a Great Depression. Greece is now two and a half years into its “austerity” and “adjustment” reforms, with its debt growing as a result, poverty exploding, misery spreading, health, education, welfare rapidly declining, suicide rates and hunger increasing, as the Greek people are subjected to a program of “social genocide.” Market discipline demands austerity and adjustment, or in other words, class warfare creates poverty and exploitation.
Countries that refuse to implement programs of austerity and adjustment are subjected to financial terrorism by the “international cartel,” as financial markets engage in “market discipline” by using the derivatives market to speculate against that particular country’s ability to pay its interest or debt, thus making its credit ratings decrease and borrowing rates increase, plunging the country into a deeper crisis. In any other scenario, this is called terrorism or in the very least, extortion: do what I say or I will punish you and destroy you. This is what former U.S. Treasury official Roger Altman referred to in the Financial Times as the new “global supra-government” who can “force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes,” and thus, “have become the most powerful force on earth.” Countries, regional, and international organizations all bow down to the dictates of the “international cartel” of the “global supra-government,” and so countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal, organizations like the European Union, European Central Bank, powerful states like Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S., and other international organizations like the IMF, Bank for International Settlements, and the OECD all demand and implement austerity measures and structural “reforms.” Either they follow the orders of the “cartel” – which we commonly refer to as the “invisible hand” of the “free market – or they directly challenge “the most powerful force on earth.” In the global economy, a small country like Greece standing up to the “global supra-government” is much like a small Greek restaurant trying to stand up to the city Mafia.
In the U.S., states that were defrauded in the billions of dollars by the cartel, and took on major debts as a result, are now the harbingers of austerity in America. Beginning in 2010, roughly 20 states across the U.S. began implementing austerity measures, and have been doing much worse economically as a result (the predicted effect of austerity). Even the institutions which are the most militant in demanding austerity measures, such as the European Union and the IMF, have acknowledged in recent reports that countries which pursue austerity to supposedly reduce their debts end up getting much larger debts as a result, and that such measures are actually extremely damaging to economies. This is not news, of course, since there is a rather large sample of data from the past 30 years of forced austerity and adjustment measures across Africa, Asia, and Latin America (at the behest of the IMF, World Bank, western governments, and of course, the “cartel”), which show quite clearly the effect that austerity and adjustment have in rapidly expanding poverty and facilitating exploitation. As austerity is hitting several U.S. states, jobs are lost and poverty increases with debt, standards of living decline and the recession deepens into a depression. The population is essentially punished for the crimes of the global cartel, while public employees, pensioners, welfare recipients, teachers and workers get the blame.
In late October of 2012, the CEOs of 80 major corporations and banks in the United States banded together (as any well functioning cartel does) in order to pressure Congress, regardless of who the next President is, to pursue an agenda of harsh austerity measures and structural reforms. In a statement to Congress signed by the 80 CEOs, the American branch of the global cartel (its most significant branch), demanded that policies be enacted immediately, though implemented gradually, “to give Americans time to prepare for the changes in the federal budget.” Among the demands are to reform Medicare and Medicaid, healthcare, Social Security, increase taxes, and generally reduce spending. All of this amounts to a large federal program of austerity, to cut social spending and increase taxes on the population, thus impoverishing the population. This, in the words of the letter to Congress, “must be bipartisan and reforms to all areas of the budget should be included.” Among the signatories to the letter were the CEOs of AT&T, Bank of America, BlackRock, Boeing, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical Company, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merck, Microsoft, Motorola, Time Warner, and Verizon, among many others.
This followed roughly one week after a group of 15 major global bank CEOs sent a letter to President Obama and the U.S. Congress lecturing the U.S. political class on “moral authority,” giving their formal orders to the U.S. political establishment, that regardless of Democratic or Republican administrations, they are losing patience with the democratic apparatus of the state, and warned: “The solvency, productive capacity, and stability of the United States, as well as its moral authority as a global leader, require that its fiscal challenges be credibly met.” Among the signatories to the letter were the CEOs of Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo. The Wall Street Journal, reporting on this letter, commented that even for “a dying democracy, it’s embarrassing enough to see bankers telling our government what to do,” but in this letter, “we even see foreign bankers telling our government what to do,” as other CEOs of the global cartel signed the letter, from banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse, and Deutsche Bank. The “consequences of inaction” on the U.S. debt, read the letter, “would be very grave.” In other words, the U.S. political class has received a threat from the global cartel that it is now time to implement austerity and adjustment measures, or to face the consequences of financial terrorism.
Hiding the Loot: The Offshore Economy in the Age of the Global Plutonomy
While people are being forced into poverty to pay off the bad debts of the “super-entity” global banking cartel of drug-money laundering banks which make up the “global supra-government,” the richest people in the world have been hiding their wealth in offshore tax havens, and of course, with the help of those same banks. James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey, a major global consultancy, published a major report on tax havens in July of 2012 for the Tax Justice Network, compiling data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and other private sector entities which revealed that the world’s superrich have hidden between $21 and $32 trillion offshore to avoid taxation. Henry stated: “This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries.” John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network commented that, “Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people… This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich.” Roughly 92,000 of the super-rich, globally, hold at least $10 trillion in offshore wealth. In many cases, the worth of these offshore assets far exceeds the debts of the countries that they flow from, the same debts that are used to keep these countries and their populations in poverty and a constant state of exploitation.
The estimated total of hidden offshore wealth amounts to more than the combined GDP of the United States and Japan, hidden in secretive financial jurisdictions like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. The process of hiding this wealth is largely facilitated by the major global banks, which compete with one another to attract the assets of the world’s super-rich. James Henry explained that the wealth of the world’s super-rich is “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy;” more of that “free market” magic. The top ten banks in the world, which include UBS and Credit Suisse (based in Switzerland) as well as Goldman Sachs in the United States, collectively managed roughly $6.4 trillion in offshore accounts for 2010 alone. As the report revealed, “for many developing countries the cumulative value of the capital that has flowed out of their economies since the 1970s would be more than enough to pay off their debts to the rest of the world,” debts which are largely illegitimate as it stands. This trend is exacerbated in the oil-rich states of the world such as Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The report stated: “The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.” With roughly half of the world’s offshore wealth belonging to the top 92,000 richest individuals, they represent the top 0.001%, a far more extreme global disparity than that which is invoked by the Occupy movement’s 1% paradigm. Henry commented: “The very existence of the global offshore industry, and the tax-free status of the enormous sums invested by their wealthy clients, is predicated on secrecy.” Remember, “free market” means that those who own the market (the global cartel), and free to do anything they please.
A 2005 report from Citigroup coined the term “plutonomy,” to describe countries “where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few,” and specifically identified the U.K., Canada, Australia, and the United States as four plutonomies. Keeping in mind that the report was published three years before the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the Citigroup report stated: “Asset booms, a rising profit share and favourable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries,” and that, “the rich are in great shape, financially.” It’s only everyone else that is suffering, which by definition, is a “well functioning” economy. As the Federal Reserve reported, “the nation’s top 1% of households own more than half the nation’s stocks,” and “they also control more than $16 trillion in wealth — more than the bottom 90%.” The term ‘Plutonomy’ is specifically used to “describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality,” and that they have three basic characteristics, according to the Citigroup report:
1. They are all created by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist friendly cooperative governments, immigrants…the rule of law and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.”
2. There is no “average” consumer in Plutonomies. There is only the rich “and everyone else.” The rich account for a disproportionate chunk of the economy, while the non-rich account for “surprisingly small bites of the national pie.” [Citigroup strategist Ajay] Kapur estimates that in 2005, the richest 20% may have been responsible for 60% of total spending.
3. Plutonomies are likely to grow in the future, fed by capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity and globalization.
Kapur, who authored the Citigroup report, stated that there were also risks to the Plutonomy, “including war, inflation, financial crises, the end of the technological revolution and populist political pressure,” yet, “the rich are likely to keep getting even richer, and enjoy an even greater share of the wealth pie over the coming years.”
In February of 2011, Ajay Kapur, the author of the Citigroup report who is now with Deutsche Bank, gave an interview in which he explained that, “the world economy is even more dependent on the spending and consumption of the rich,” and that, “Plutonomist consumption is almost 10 times as volatile that of the average consumer.” He further explained that increased debt levels are a sign of plutonomies:
We have an economy today where a large fraction of the population doesn’t pay federal income taxes and, because of demand for entitlements, we have a system of massive representation without taxation. On the other hand, you have plutonomists who protect their turf and the taxation amounts are not enough to pay for everyone’s demand. So I’ve come to the conclusion that budget deficits are biased toward getting bigger and bigger. Budget deficits are going to become a manifestation of a plutonomy.
The plutonomy is largely characterized by a lack of a consuming and vibrant middle class. This is a trend that has been accelerating for several decades, particularly in North America and Britain, where the middle class population is heavily indebted. The middle class has existed as a consumer class, keeping the lower class submissive, and keeping the upper class secure and wealthy by consuming their products, produced with the labour of the lower class.
The most advanced plutonomies in the world are the most advanced industrial and technological nations, where the major corporations and banks are highly subsidized and protected by the state, as is typical for a state-capitalist society. While the industrial and rich northern state-capitalist societies were able to industrialize and grow rich through highly protectionist measures, the poor south of the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America) were subjected to “free market” policies which opened up their economies to be exploited and plundered by the rich northern nations. No country has ever become an industrial power by implementing free market policies, but rather, by doing the exact opposite: heavy subsidies and state protection for key industries, technologies, and corporate entities.
While the ‘Third World’ was forced to implement “free market” policies in order to get loans, the predictable result took place: mass impoverishment and exploitation. The ‘Third World’ states were run by tiny elites who dominated the countries politically and economically, and who hid their stolen wealth in foreign banks and offshore tax havens. Now, in the midst of the global economic crisis which has been ravaging the world for the past four years, the rich northern countries are themselves implementing the same “free market” policies, though designed to subject their populations to “market discipline” while maintaining – and in fact increasing – the protectionist and subsidized policies for the multinational corporations and banks. It is important to note that “market discipline” and actual “free market” policies are exclusively designed for the general population, not the elite. Workers, students, the elderly, the poor and the many are to be subjected to “market discipline” while the banks and multinational corporations continue to be heavily subsidized (as the largest national welfare recipients) and protected by the state. Thus, just as our banks and corporations have plundered the Third World with rapacious delight over the past three decades, now they will be able to do the same to the populations of the rich nations themselves. The state will transform, as it did in the ‘Third World’, into a typically totalitarian institution which is responsible for protecting the super-rich and controlling, oppressing, or, in extreme cases of resistance, eliminating the ‘problem populations’ (i.e., the people).
Welcome to the global plutonomy in the age of austerity, the result of living under – and tolerating – a global “super-entity” corporate-financial cartel. Truly, one must pause and, if only for a moment, appreciate the ability of this global cartel to function so effectively in spite of its blatant criminal activities, and face almost absolutely no repercussions. Something truly is wrong with a society when a poor black man caught with 5 grams of crack-cocaine goes to prison for ten years, while rich white bank executives admit to laundering billions of dollars in drug money and receive only a fine and a slap on the wrist (maybe).
The lesson is clear: if you are a thief, steal by the billions or trillions, and then no one can do anything about it. If you are in the drug trade: handle only billions (or hundreds of billions) in drug money, and then you will get away with it. If you don’t want to pay taxes, be a member of the top o.oo1% of the world’s super-rich and hide your billions in offshore tax-free accounts. If you want more, create a global economic crisis, demand to be saved by the state to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars, and then, tell the state to punish their populations into poverty in order to pay for your mistakes.
In other words, if you want to indulge your criminal fantasies, lie and steal, profit from death and drugs, dominate and demand, be king and command, become the highly-functioning socially-acceptable sociopath you always knew you could be… think big. Think BANK. Serial killers, bank robbers and drug dealers go to jail; bankers get bailouts and get an unlimited insurance policy called “too big to fail.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Andy Coghlan and Debora MacKenzie, “Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world,” New Scientist, 24 October 2011:
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 Dean Baker, “The eurozone crisis is not about market discipline,” Al-Jazeera, 18 December 2011:
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 John Paul Rathbone, “Money laundering: Taken to the cleaners,” 20 July 2012:
 Agustino Fontevecchia, “HSBC Helped Terrorists, Iran, Mexican Drug Cartels Launder Money, Senate Report Says,” Forbes, 16 July 2012:
 Roberto Saviano, “Where the Mob Keeps its Money,” The New York Times, 25 August 2012:
 Dominic Rushe, “HSBC ‘sorry’ for aiding Mexican drugs lords, rogue states and terrorists,” The Guardian, 17 July 2012:
 Ed Vulliamy, “Global banks are the financial services wing of the drug cartels,” The Observer, 21 July 2012:
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 Alexander Eichler, “Mexican Drug Cartel Laundered Money Through BofA, FBI Alleges,” The Huffington Post, 9 June 2012:
 Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Edward Wyatt, “In Laundering Case, a Lax Banking Law Obscured Money Flow,” The New York Times, 8 August 2012:
Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess, “
Money-Laundering Inquiry Is Said to Aim at U.S. Banks,” The New York Times, 14 September 2012:
 James B. Stewart, “For UBS, a Record of Averting Prosecution,” The New York Times, 20 July 2012:
 Matt Taibbi, “The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia,” Rolling Stone, 21 June 2012:
 William D. Cohan, “How Wall Street Scams Counties Into Bankruptcy,” Bloomberg, 1 July 2012:
 “The Libor Scandal: The Rotten Heart of Finance,” The Economist, 7 July 2012:
 Shahien Nasiripour, “Nine more banks added to Libor probe,” The Financial Times, 26 October 2012:
 Douglas Keenan, “My thwarted attempt to tell of Libor shenanigans,” The Financial Times, 26 July 2012:
 “The Cartel: Behind the Scenes in the Libor Interest Rate Scandal,” Der Spiegel, 1 August 2012:
 Matt Taibbi, “Why is Nobody Freaking Out About the LIBOR Banking Scandal?” Rolling Stone, 3 July 2012:
 Raúl Ilargi Meijer, “LIBOR Was A Criminal Conspiracy From The Start,” The Business Insider, 11 July 2012:
 Steven Swinford and Harry Wilson, “RBS traders boasted of Libor ‘cartel’,” The Telegraph, 26 September 2012:
 Jill Treanor and Dominic Rushe, “Timothy Geithner and Mervyn King discussed Libor worries in 2008,” The Guardian, 13 July 2012:
 Mark Gongloff, “New York Fed’s Libor Documents Reveal Cozy Relationship Between Regulators, Banks,” The Huffington Post, 13 July 2012:
 Chris Giles, “Libor scandal puts BoE in line of fire,” The Financial Times, 17 July 2012:
 Jill Treanor, “British Bankers’ Association to be stripped of Libor rate-setting role,” The Guardian, 25 September 2012:
 Liam Vaughan, “Secret Libor Committee Clings to Anonymity Following Scandal,” Bloomberg, 21 August 2012:
 David Enrich and Max Colchester, “Before Scandal, Clash Over Control of Libor,” The Wall Street Journal, 11 September 2012:
 Andrew Mayeda, “Canada Regulator Says Has Power to Probe Libor ‘Cartel’,” Bloomberg, 22 June 2012:
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 Darrell Preston, “Rigged Libor Hits States-Localities With $6 Billion: Muni Credit,” Bloomberg, 9 October 2012:
 Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 24 July 2012:
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Jason Cherkis, “A Thousand Cuts: Austerity Measures Devastate Communities Around The World,” The Huffington Post, 17 July 2012:
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 We’re living in a plutonomy, The Telegraph, 2 April 2006:
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 Gus Lubin, Deutsche Bank Says The ‘Global Plutonomy’ Is Stronger Than Ever, And That Means 10X More Volatility, Business Insider, 17 February 2011:
Crowdfunding a Book for the Revolution
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Dear Readers and Supporters,
Funding for The People’s Book Project has essentially – despite a few select donations – come to a halt. At the moment, there are not enough remaining funds to sustain the Project past the next week or so. For this reason, I have started a crowdfunding initiative through Indiegogo, a large crowdfunding website, to attempt to raise funds for both the Book Project itself, and to facilitate a trip to Europe, specifically Greece and Spain, in order to undertake research and journalism from the front lines of the economic crisis and anti-austerity revolts. This was done in an attempt to shift the burden of financial support from those who have long supported my work – through my website(s) – to a new audience with a much wider reach than my own, which is very minimal, to say the least.
However, funding through Indiegogo is also currently not sufficient, so I am asking for your help in promoting this initiative, through Facebook, social media, networking, etc. The only way to increase financial support is to increase exposure, and I cannot do this on my own. If you have the means, or are so inclined, your financial contributions would be enormously appreciated as well, either through my website or on Indiegogo. However, it is in the networking, social media, and promotion that I need a great deal of help. I often see the same names who take it upon themselves to help promote my work through social media, and it is incredibly appreciated; just as I often see the same names who provide financial support. While both of these groups – with some overlap between them – are essentially the reason why I have been able to continue independent research and writing up to this point, I need to expand my exposure and bases of support, in order to continue the Project itself, but also to lift some of the burden from those who have consistently supported this Project as it approaches its one-year anniversary.
So, if you have not made a financial contribution, please consider doing so, and just as – if not more – importantly, please help in sharing my articles, book promotions, and the new Indiegogo fundraising page. Your efforts mean a great deal to me, and are enormously appreciated. So thank you for all you have done, and continue to do!
In looking at the objective for the first volume of the Book Project, with a focus on the global economic crisis and global anti-austerity and resistance movements, I feel that I should re-post some of the research and writing that has come about through the generous support of readers and supporters thus far, and of which a great deal will be going into the first volume of the Book.
Starting with the global economic crisis and anti-austerity resistance movements, the following articles, samples, and excerpts have been made possible due to the generous support of readers:
These articles are collectively but a small sample of the actual research and writing which has gone into the Project over the past two months, which has surpassed 300 pages in writing (with over 100 pages on Greece alone!).
On the subjects of education as social control, class warfare, and student movements, the following articles have been made possible: the series, “Class War and the College Crisis.”
Further into the subject of the Quebec student movement, the following work has been made possible due to reader contributions and support:
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring: Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
Quebec Steps Closer to Martial Law to Repress Students: Bill 78 is a “Declaration of War on the Student Movement”
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”! … Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
On the issue of Empire, the following research, samples, and writing have been made available through reader support and donations:
An Education for Empire: The Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations in the Construction of Knowledge
Education or Domination? The Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations Developing Knowledge for the Developing World
The U.S. Strategy to Control Middle Eastern Oil: “One of the Greatest Material Prizes in World History”
All of this does not even begin to truly cover the amount of extensive research and writing which has been undertaken in the past year, a good deal of which will be integrated into the first volume of the Book. Again, ALL of this has only been made possible due to the support of readers.
Readers and supporters have also undertaken – of their own initiative – to kindly translate some of my articles into foreign languages, simply because they chose to do so, and for which they received no financial compensation.
Among the French translations of some of my articles are:
A Greek translation of my article:
An Italian translation of one of my recent articles on the European debt crisis:
And in Spanish translations:
So thank you, sincerely, for all of your support over this past year. I could not have done any of this without you, and it’s only possible – and will only be possible in the near future – because of your support. And I will thank you in advance for helping to promote my writing, research, and fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.
In Solidarity, now and always,
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer living in Montreal, Canada. His website (www.andrewgavinmarshall.com) features a number of articles and essays focusing on an analysis of power and resistance in the political, social, and economic realms. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, and is currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and resistance movements emerging around the world. To help this book come to completion, please consider donating through the website or on Indiegogo.
Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a sample analysis from my upcoming book on the global economic crisis and global resistance movements. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project to help support the effort to finish this book.
Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
– George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946
Political language functions through euphemism, by employing soft-sounding or simply meaningless words to describe otherwise monstrous and vicious policies and objectives. In the European debt crisis, political language employed by politicians, economists, technocrats and bankers is designed to make policies which create poverty and exploitation appear to be logical and reasonable. The language employed includes the words and phrases: fiscal austerity/consolidation, structural adjustment/reform, labour flexibility, competitiveness, and growth. To understand political language, one must translate it. This requires four steps: first, you look at the rhetoric itself as inherently meaningless; second, you examine the policies that are taken; third, you look at the effects of the policies. Finally, if the effects do not match the rhetoric, yet the same policies are pursued time and time again, one must translate the effects as the true meaning of the rhetoric. Thus, the rhetoric has meaning, but not at face value.
The debt crisis followed the 2007-2009 financial crisis, erupting first with Greece, then Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain, and threatens even to spread elsewhere. Of those mentioned, only Italy has not received a bailout. Though whether “bailed out” or not, Europe’s people are being forced to undergo “austerity measures,” a political-economic euphemism for cutting social spending, welfare, social services, public sector jobs, and increased taxes. The aim, they are told, is to get their “fiscal house in order.” The people protest, and go out into the streets. The state responds by meeting the people with riot police, batons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. This is called “restoring order.”
The effects of austerity are to increase poverty, unemployment, and misery. People are fired from the public sector, welfare and social benefits are reduced or lost, retirement ages are increased to keep people in the work force and off the pension system, which is also cut. Cuts to health care and education take a social and physical toll; as poverty increases the need for better health care, that very system is dismantled when it is needed most. Taxes are increased, and wages are decreased. People are deeper in debt, and destined for destitution. The objective, we are told, is to reduce public spending so that the government can reduce its deficit (the yearly debt).
In Europe, austerity has been the siren call of all the agencies, organizations, and individuals who represent the interests of elite financial control. 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.
In April of 2011, the two president of the EU – Barroso and Van Rompuy – felt it was necessary to clarify (just in case people were getting the wrong idea), that: “Some people fear this work is about dismantling the welfare states and social protection… Not at all … It is to save these fundamental aspects of the European model… We want to make sure that our economies are competitive enough to create jobs and to sustain the welfare of all our citizens and that’s what our work is about.” However, the following year, the new European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi (former governor of the Bank of Italy), stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal 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.”
Thus, “austerity packages” will then prepare the state and economy for the next phase, which, we are told, would make the country “competitive” and create “growth.” This is how the country would pay off its total debt, which deficits merely add to. This process is called “structural adjustment” (or “structural reform”) and it requires “competitiveness” to facilitate “growth.”
As we can loosely translate “austerity” into poverty, we may translate “structural adjustment” into exploitation. After all, nothing goes better with poverty than exploitation! How does “structural adjustment” become exploitation? Well through competitiveness and growth, of course! Structural adjustment means that the state liberalizes the economy, so everything is deregulated, all state-owned assets are privatized, like roads, hospitals, airports, rivers, water systems, minerals, resources, state-owned companies, services, etc. This, as the story goes, will encourage “investment” in the country when it “needs it most.” This idea suggests that foreign banks and corporations will enter the “market” and purchase all these wonderful things, explaining that they work better when they are “competitive” in the “free market,” and then with their new investments, they will create new industries, employ local people, revive the economy, and with the “trickle down” from the most productive and profitable, all of society will rise in living standards and opportunity.
But first, other “structural adjustment” measures must be simultaneously employed. One of the most important ones is called “labour flexibility.” This means that if you have protected wages, hours, benefits, pensions… well, now you don’t! If you are a member of a union, or engage in collective bargaining (which has at its disposal the threat of a strike), soon you won’t. This is done because, as the story goes, wages must be decreased to increase the competitiveness of the labour force. Simply put, if less money goes into labour during the process of production, what is ultimately being produced will be cheaper on “the market,” and thus, will become more attractive to potential buyers. Thus, with lower wages comes greater profits. ECB president Mario Draghi himself emphasized that the “structural reforms” which Europe needs are, “the product and services market reform,” and then “the labour market reform which takes different shapes in different countries.” He added that the point was “to make labour markets more flexible and also fairer than they are today.” Isn’t that nice? He wants to make labour markets “fairer.” What this means is that, since some countries have protections for various workers, this is unfair to the workers who have no protections, because, as Draghi explained, “in these countries there is a dual labour market: highly flexible for the young part of the population… [and] highly inflexible for the protected part of the population.” Thus, “labour markets at the present time are unfair in such a setting because they put all the weight of flexibility on the young part of the population.” So to make the labour markets “fair,” everyone should be equally exploitable, and thus, equally flexible.
Labour flexibility will then help “specialize” your country in producing one or a few select goods, which you can produce better, cheaper, and more of than anywhere else. Then your economy will have success and the lives of all will prosper and grow… just not their wages. That is left to the “trickle down” from those whose wages are increased, the corporate, banking, and government executives and managers. That is because they take all the risk (remember, you are not risking anything when you passively accept your wages and standards of living to be rapidly decreased), and thus, they should get all of the reward. And because their rewards are so huge, large scraps will fall off of their table and onto the floor, which the wage-slaves below can fight over. By the laws of what I can only assume is “magic,” this will eventually lift the downtrodden from a life of poverty and labour and all will enjoy the fruits of being in a modern, technological, democratic-Capitalist paradise! Or so the fable goes.
The actual, predictable, and proven results of “structural adjustment” aimed at achieving “growth” through “competitiveness” is exploitation. The privatization of the economy allows foreign banks and corporations to come in and buy the entire economy, resources, commodities, infrastructure and wealth. Because the country is always in crisis when it does this, everything is sold very cheaply, pennies on the dollar kind of cheap. That is because the corporations and banks are doing the government and people a favour by investing in a country which is a large risk. The money the state gets from these sales is recorded as “revenue,” and helps reduce the yearly debt (deficit). The result for the people, however, is that mass layoffs take place, commodity prices increase, service costs increase, and thus, poverty increases. But privatization has benefits, remember; it encourages “competitiveness.” If everything was privatized, everyone would compete with each other to produce the best goods for the lowest costs, and everyone can subsequently prosper together in a society of abundance.
What actually takes place is that multinational corporations and banks, which already own most of the world’s resources, now own yours, too. This is not competitive, because they are ultimately all cartels, and collude together in exploiting vast resources and goods from around the world. They do compete in the sense of seeing which one can exploit, produce, and control more than the other. But at the bottom of this system, everyone else gets poorer. This is called “competitiveness,” but what it actually means is control. So if the economy needs to become more competitive, what is really being said is that it needs to come under more control, and of course, in private corporate and financial hands.
State owned industries are simply closed down, employees fired, and the product or resource which that industry was responsible for producing is then imported from another country/corporation. A corporation takes over that domestic good/resource and then extracts/produces it for itself. But this requires labour. It’s a good thing that the labour force has had its back broken through austerity and adjustment, because now there are no protected jobs, wages, hours, unions, or workers’ rights in general. Thus, the population is free to be exploited for long hours and minimal wages. This makes what they are producing to be cheaper, and thus, more “competitive.” This can become extremely profitable for corporations and banks which took all the risk in this entire process (remember: you don’t count; you had very little to begin with, so you lost very little. They have a lot, and thus, a lot more to lose. That’s what risk means). If workers attempt to form unions or organize and demand higher wages, the corporation can simply threaten to close down the plant, and move the jobs to somewhere else with a more “flexible” labour force. Or, the corporation could simply hire local immigrant populations (or ship in others) and pay them less for more hours, and leave you without any jobs. This is called “labour flexibility.” Labour flexibility translates as cheap labour: to bring everyone down to an equally low level of worker standards, and thus, to encourage “utilization,” which means exploitation.
In the ‘Third World,’ this has been best achieved through what are called “Export Processing Zones (EPZs),” a term used to describe a designated area outside of state control in which corporations may establish factories to freely exploit labour as they choose. Commodities are shipped in, goods are produced in the EPZs, from where they are then exported abroad, free of pesky national taxation and regulation. Ultimately, EPZs are mini corporate colonies. In late May of 2012, it was reported that Germany was looking for “alternatives” to its exclusive focus on austerity, and subsequently came up with a six-point plan for “growth.” One of the most notable points from Berlin was to establish “special economic zones to be created in crisis-plagued countries at the periphery of the euro zone,” as “foreign investors could be attracted to those zones through tax incentives and looser regulations.” Essentially, they are EPZs for the eurozone. The plan also calls for establishing trusts which would organize the sell-off of state assets in massive privatization schemes. Further, what is needed, according to Berlin, was to establish a “dual education system, which combines a standardized practical education at a vocational school with an apprenticeship in the same field at a company in order to combat high youth unemployment.” In other words, no more academic or intellectual education for youth, but rather “vocational” or labour-oriented education, to not allow the expectations of the youth to rise too far, and to simply prepare them for a life of ‘work’ by attaining the necessary vocational skills. And of course, the plan for “growth” from Germany also includes more efforts at establishing “labour flexibility,” which would include “a loosening of provisions that make it difficult to fire permanent employees and to create employment relationships with lower tax burdens and social security contributions.” In other words: make it easy to fire workers, have lower wages, and eliminate benefits.
Economists and politicians often talk about the need to “utilize labour flexibility to increase competitiveness and achieve growth.” What they are really saying is that they need to exploit cheap labour to increase control and achieve profits and power. Lucas Papademos was installed (unelected) as the “Technocratic” prime minister of Greece in November of 2011, in order to “help” Greece undertake the mandatory “reforms.” Papademos was the perfect candidate for the job: he was an economist educated in the U.S., served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was chief economist at the Bank of Greece, he became Governor of the bank in 1994, where he oversaw the conversion of Greece into the euro, and in 2002, he joined the European Central Bank board, where he became a Vice President under Jean-Claude Trichet.
In a 2005 interview with the Financial Times while he was Vice President at the European Central Bank (ECB), Lucas Papademos said that European “growth” potential was looking good, but added: “There is a risk that, unless there are changes in policies – more reforms in labour and product markets – as well as in the behaviour of private economic agents, this [growth] range may have to be revised downwards.” He explained: “the main way that potential growth could increase is through policies that boost productivity growth and raise labour utilization by increasing the average hours worked and the participation rate in the labour market and by making this market more flexible and adaptable.” In May of 2010, Bank of England governor Mervyn King stated that the eurozone needed “structural reforms, changes in wages and prices in the countries that need to regain competitiveness.” Former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet had also emphasized that what was needed was a program of fiscal austerity, “accompanied by structural reforms to promote long-term growth.” In other words, what was needed was impoverishment, accompanied by exploitation to promote long-term profits.
The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the Euro-area bailout fund, was headed by a man named Klaus Regling. In an article he wrote for The Banker, Regling emphasized that funds from the EFSF would come with conditions, including of course, austerity measures, but also, “structural reforms, such as modernizing public administrations, improving labour market performance and enhancing the tax systems, with the aim of increasing a country’s competitiveness and growth potential.” In other words, the conditions imposed on countries receiving a bailout would amount to an impoverishment program (“austerity”), combined with increased exploitation (“structural reforms”), through privatization of state industries and assets (“modernizing public administration”), creating a cheap labour force (“improving labour market performance”), extracting all remaining domestic wealth (“enhancing the tax systems”), designed to increase control (“competitiveness”) and profits (“growth”).
Mario Draghi, as president of the ECB, called for a “growth pact” (or a “profit pact”) for Europe, to go alongside the “fiscal pact” (or “poverty pact”). This received quick endorsements from France’s new president Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, and José Manuel Barroso. Merkel was sure to emphasize, however, that growth would be “in the form of structural reforms.”
The combination of “fiscal austerity” and “structural adjustment” are generally referred to as a “comprehensive structural adjustment program” or a “restructuring of the economy.” This language is important to understand because “restructuring” as a word is used to describe two processes: one, is that it is what is needed to prevent a country from defaulting on its debt and to return the country to a period of growth; and, on the other hand, “restructuring” is used to describe what takes place after a country defaults. The words in both situations are the same, and so are the policies, though in a default they are inflicted more severely. The very process we are told we must undergo to prevent a default, is the very same process that we undergo after a default. Thus, the combination of fiscal austerity and structural adjustment is, in actuality, a slow and painful default.
This combination of austerity and adjustment amounts to a program and effect of social devastation. Thus, the words “structural adjustment program,” “restructuring,” and “default” in actuality translate into social genocide. These three terms provide further insight into their use: the class system is what is being restructured, as middle classes are wiped out and pushed into poverty, the poor are made destitute, and the elite become concentrated and in total control; the political and economic system is being adjusted to fit this restructuring; and the promise that people everywhere were told, that their leaders and society exists to serve their interests, is what is being defaulted on. The state does not default; it is the ‘social contract’ that is defaulted. Just as Mario Draghi told the Wall Street Journal, “the European social model has already gone… Fiscal consolidation is unavoidable in the present set up, and it buys time needed for the structural reforms.” Thus, social genocide.
As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism,
question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” But there remains intent and meaning behind the words that are used. When we translate the political language of the European debt crisis, it reveals a monstrous agenda of impoverishment and exploitation. Thus, we also see the necessity of political language for those who use it: one cannot argue openly for programs of impoverishment and exploitation for obvious reasons, so words like “fiscal consolidation” and “structural reform” are used, because they are vague and obscure.
Ultimately, one can get away with saying, “we need a comprehensive austerity package augmented by structural reforms, such as labour flexibility, designed to increase competitiveness and facilitate growth,” as opposed to: “We need to rapidly impoverish our populations, whom we will then exploit to the fullest, such as by creating a cheap labour force, which would increase elite control and generate private profits.” Such honesty and bluntness would lead to revolt, so, political language is used instead. In Europe, political language is part of a ‘power dialectic’ which supports policies and agendas that aim to take more for those who already have the most, and to take from all the rest; to impoverish, exploit and oppress; to plunder, profit and punish.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
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Super Mario Monti and the Dictatorship of Austerity in Italy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is Part 2 of a two-part excerpt on ‘Italy in Crisis.’ These excerpts are rough-draft, unedited samples of a chapter on the European debt crisis to be featured in my upcoming book (as yet ‘Untitled’), to be done by the end of the summer. The book covers the following: the origins, evolution, and effects of the global economic crisis; the acceleration of international imperialism; the elite global social engineering project of constructing a system of ‘global governance’; emerging resistance and revolutionary movements (and elite attempts to co-opt, control, or crush them), including the Arab Spring, European anti-austerity protests, the Spanish Indignados, the Chilean student movement, the Occupy movement, the Quebec ‘Maple Spring’, and the Mexican student movement, among others. This sample allows you to see the research that is going into this book, and if you would like to see the book come to completion, please consider making a generous donation to The People’s Book Project. With a fundraising goal of $2,500 the Project has raised $810, and just $1,690 to go!
In Part 1 of this series (The Decline of the Roman Democracy and Rise of the ‘Super Mario’ Technocracy), I examined the Technocratic coup in Italy, which removed the democratically-elected Berlusconi and replaced him with an unelected technocrat, Mario Monti, an economist, Bilderberg member, former European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission, former European Commissioner for Competition, and a former adviser to Goldman Sachs International, was also on the board of the Coca-Cola Company, and founded the European think tank, Bruegel. Mario Monti was installed by the European elites with one purpose: punish the population of Italy through ‘fiscal austerity’ and ‘structural adjustment.’
The Technocracy of Austerity
Monti wasted no time in punishing the people of Italy for the crimes and excesses of Europe and the world’s elite. On December 2, 2011, Monti announced a 30 billion euro ($40.3 billion) package of austerity measures, which included “raising taxes and increasing the pension age.” Monti described the measures as “painful, but necessary.” He told a press conference that, “We have had to share the sacrifices, but we have made great efforts to share them fairly.” Monti, who is both Prime Minister and Economy Minister, said he had renounced his own salaries from those positions. Considering that he was – until taking those positions – an adviser to Coca-Cola and Goldman Sachs, among other prominent jobs, those salaries likely would not make much of a difference to Monti’s bank account, anyway. The Deputy Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli (who is still on the board of the Monti-founded think tank Bruegel), said that, “the package should ensure that Italy meet its target of a balanced budget by 2013.” The Welfare Minister Elsa Fornero broke down into tears as she announced an end to inflation indexing on many pension bands, which would essentially amount to “an effective income cut for many retired people.” Unions spoke out against the cuts, stating that they would “hit poorer workers and pensioners disproportionately hard.” Deputy Economy Minister Grilli said that 12-13 billion euros of the package would come from spending cuts, and the rest of the 30 billion euro package would come from tax increases. The minimum age for pensioners (that is, the retirement age) was set to be raised for both men and women to 66 by 2018, as well as providing “incentives” to keep people in the workforce until the age of 70.
The austerity package was passed by an undemocratic decree which Monti named the “Save Italy” decree, and while the union leaders denounced the package, the main business lobby in Italy, Confindustria, praised the package as vital “for the salvation of Italy and the euro.” As Elsa Fornero, the Minister for Welfare, began crying as she announced the austerity measures, she explained, “We know we are asking for sacrifices, but we hope they will be understood in the name of growth and to avoid collective impoverishment.” Of course, austerity is just that: “collective impoverishment.”
In response to the austerity package, Italy’s three largest labour unions began a week of strikes on December 12, with port, highway, and haulage workers stopping work for three hours on the 12th, while metalworkers, including employees of Fiat, put down their tools for eight hours. Printing press operators stopped working for a full shift, and most newspapers were expected to not publish the following day. Public transport strikes took place on December 15-16, and bank employees were set to stop work in the afternoon of December 16, while the public administration closed down for the entire day of December 19. Susanna Camusso, the head of the largest and most militant labour federation, CGIL, said, “We’re not giving up on the idea that the austerity package must be changed… It hurts workers, pensions and the country as a whole.” Mario Monti held a last-minute meeting with the union leaders to unsuccessfully attempt to stop the strikes that were set to begin the following day.
CGIL leader Camusso said that as a result of the austerity measures, “We see every risk of a social explosion.” CGIL, which represents six million members, half of whom are pensioners, stated that, “We are flexible in the face of the emergency but we are not willing to accept everything… You can’t ride roughshod over people.” With only 57% of Italians working, raising the retirement age, as dictated by the austerity package, would amount to “closing the door on the young unemployed,” warned Camusso, adding that Monti had done nothing for “young people and women who can’t find work, and when they do it is badly paid.”
In late December, the Italian Senate passed a vote of confidence on Mario Monti’s government when they approved the new austerity package. Monti commented: “Today this chamber concludes a rapid, responsible, complex job… on a decree that was passed in extreme emergency and that enables Italy to hold its head high as it faces the very serious European crisis.”
Prior to the European Summit held at the end of January 2012, Mario Monti was holding meetings with Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. Italy, wrote the Economist, “it seems fair to say, is back at the top table after being quietly shoved off under the leadership of Silvio Berlusconi.” Monti emphasized to Merkel, Sarkozy, and other leaders that the EU needs to not simply “enforce fiscal discipline,” but to stimulate growth. This would mean, according to Monti, “not only finding ways to lower interest rates, but encouraging liberalisation wherever possible.” Monti even suggested that Germany should “liberalize” (meaning: privatize) some of its services. Monti, in an interview with the Economist, stated that, “It is rather unusual for Italy to be at the forefront of pro-market initiatives,” but that he planned to undertake a major liberalization of Italy, saying: “I am convinced that it is also in Italy’s national interest.” Acknowledging that his government is “unelected,” Monti told the Economist that, “there was in Italy a hidden demand for a boring government which would try to tell the truth in non-political jargon.” Monti warned, however, that, “Austerity is not enough, even for budgetary discipline, if economic activity does not pick up a decent rate of growth… A lowering in interest rates does not depend only on Italy’s efforts but also, and essentially, on Europe’s ability to confront the crisis in a more decisive way.” Monti stated that Italy’s domestic political situation is getting problematic for the EU, with a growing appeal to ‘Euroscepticism,’ warning: “What I see now, week after week, in parliament is a widening of the spread of this attitude… The degree of impatience-cum-hostility to the EU, to Germany and to the ECB is mounting.”
Monti warned Merkel and other EU leaders that Italian sacrifices alone would not get Italy out of crisis, that Italy needed some form of outside support, without which, he warned: “a protest against Europe will develop in Italy, also against Germany, which is viewed as the ringleader of E.U. intolerance, and against the European Central Bank… I cannot have success with my policies if the E.U.’s policies don’t change.” In particular, he was referring to the need to bring down Italy’s interest rates, something that could likely only be achieved through the ECB purchasing large amounts of Italian bonds, which would increase “market confidence” in Italy and bring down interest rates. Otherwise, Monti lamented, the popular discontent of the people with the economic situation could push Italy to “flee into the arms of populists.” Spoken like a true unelected technocrat. Imagine that, a government which dares to serve the interests of the people over whom it rules! Not in the ‘New Europe.’
In late January, Philip Stephens, writing for the Financial Times, stated that, “Italy is back,” and that while Merkel “sits at the top of Europe’s power list,” and Sarkozy “can lay claim to be the continent’s most energetic leader,” it is Mario Monti who “is its most interesting.” Stephens declared that, “Mr. Monti’s fate may turn out to be Europe’s.” Barack Obama’s White House announced that in a future meeting between Obama and Monti, the two leaders would discuss “the comprehensive steps the Italian government is taking to restore market confidence and reinvigorate growth through structural reform, as well as the prospect of an expansion of Europe’s financial firewall.” Stephens translated this as: “Mr. Obama is behind Mr. Monti all the way – including when he puts pressure on Ms. Merkel.” Lamenting the Italy of Berlusconi, who was “shunned by his European Union peers,” though always embraced as a friend by Russia’s Putin, Stephens wrote that Monti, “a serious-minded academic with a serious plan, is different in every dimension.” He also noted that there was “a second Italian at the top table,” meaning Mario Draghi, the new President of the European Central Bank, “the other Mario,” who in terms of economic orthodoxy, “styles himself an honorary German.” Stephens wrote that Monti is so important because “it is in Italy that the euro’s long-term prospects will be decided,” as Italy is the euro-area’s third largest economy (after Germany and France), and if Italy “cannot chart a credible economic course, the euro does not have a future as a pan-European project.” While praising Monti’s austerity package, Stephens said that, “the real test will come in liberalizing the economy,” which “will not be easy,” but “the choices are unavoidable.”
Mario Monti, upon unveiling his “liberalization” plans in late January, stated: “Italy’s economy has been slowed down for decades by three constraints: insufficient competition; an inadequate infrastructure; and complicated administrative procedures.” Thus, Monti passed a decree opening the occupation of taxi drivers up to “competition,” prompting taxi drivers to block central streets in Rome. As liberalization brings in higher petrol prices (which were previously under more control), truck drivers and agricultural workers set up barricades in Sicily. One Italian paper (owned by the Berlusconi family) headlined: “Half of Italy is ready to wage war on the government.” Once decrees are issued, they go into effect immediately, but require parliamentary approval within two months. Monti’s liberalization decrees of January (following the austerity decrees of December) also targeted the gas and electricity markets, as well as the insurance sector and public services. Next in Monti’s target: the labour market. One analyst at Roubini Global Economics told the Financial Times: “Although structural reforms are necessary to boost long-term growth, they will take several years to bear fruit and, in a period of economic contraction and government retrenchment, will have an adverse effect on short-term output, deepening the recession which will last through 2013.”
In his first interview since resigning as Prime Minister, Berlusconi told the Financial Times in early February that he was “stepping aside” from frontline Italian politics and had no intention of running for prime minister again. Berlusconi gave his “strongest endorsement to date of the technocratic government led by Mario Monto,” specifically in “its intention to implement labour market reforms opposed by trade unions.” Berlusconi declared: “I have now stepped aside, even in my party.” He explained that he resigned the previous November because he had been attacked “by an obsessive campaign by the national and foreign media that blamed me personally and the government for the high spread of Italian state bonds and the crisis on the stock market.” Thus, he contended: “After having evaluated the causes of the crisis, which did not rest in Italy but in Europe and the euro, I believed that if I had stayed in government I would have damaged Italy as we would have had more terrible media campaigns… With a sense of responsibility, though having a majority in both houses of parliament… I stepped aside and with elegance.” One can always rely upon a politician to sing their own praises, especially if they are undeserving. He did suggest, however, that he would consider running for parliament, quipping: “I still have strong popular backing, almost twice as much as my colleagues Merkel and Sarkozy… In opinion polls, I personally have 36 per cent support. If I walk out in the street I stop the traffic. I am a public danger and I cannot go out to do the shopping.” Berlusconi concluded:
The hope is that this government, which is supported for the first time by the whole of parliament, will have the chance to propose great structural reforms, starting from the state’s institutional architecture, without which we cannot think of having a modern and truly free and democratic country.
Martin Wolf, perhaps the most influential financial columnist in the world, writing for the Financial Times in January of 2012, asked if the two Marios – nicknamed by the media as the “Super-Marios” – will be able to “save the eurozone?” Wolf wrote that they “bring sophisticated pragmatism to the table,” and hoped that they would “shift policy in a more productive direction.” Wolf referred to the ECB’s new long-term refinancing operation announced in December of 2011, which is essentially a bank bailout with a three-year yield at the ECB’s average interest rate (which stands at 1% currently). When the ECB began this new program, roughly 523 banks took 489 billion euros, described by Wolf as “a bold and cunning move by Mr. Draghi and probably the most he could get away with right now.” Wolf also referred to Monti’s willingness to argue that the creditor countries “do more to lower his country’s borrowing costs,” or interest rates, warning in the Financial Times against a “powerful backlash” among voters in the EU periphery states. Wolf wrote that, “Mr. Monti is in a strong position to make this argument,” as Monti “is a well-respected official with staunchly pro-European views and a strong sympathy for German attitudes to competition and fiscal and monetary stability.” Wolf explained that, “Draghi and Monti are addressing two interlinked fragilities: the vulnerability of the banking system and the unsustainable terms on which weaker countries can now borrow.” While praising the “Super-Marios,” Martin Wolf said that they alone could not save the eurozone, whose problems run very deep, and where even the ‘solutions’ to the crises felt by various EU states can make larger, structural reforms even more challenging. As Wolf correctly noted: “In Italy’s case, for example, the combination of high interest rates and vulnerable banks with fiscal austerity is likely to lead to a lengthy and deep recession and so to a rise in cyclical fiscal deficits [debt incurred during and because of the economic crisis at the time] as the structural deficit falls [the debt acquired by spending more than what is brought in through revenue].” Naturally, though, this simply means that the overall debt will increase. Wolf wrote, ultimately, that if “break-up [of the euro] is ruled out, one must choose reforms, however painful.” This is because, according to Wolf, “the costs of failure are so large that the possibility of domestic and eurozone reform must be kept alive.” On this, the “Super-Marios” can be leaders.
When the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Italy’s debt in January by two notches to BBB, “with a warning of more to come,” Mario Monti stated that he “agrees with almost everything in S&P’s analysis,” and “jokes that he could almost have written it himself.” He told the Financial Times that, “If I ever dictated anything, it must have been what S&P had to say about domestic Italian economic policy,” and then laughed. As a result of the downgrade, Italy had the lowest credit rating of any eurozone country which did not receive a bailout, apart from Cyprus. Why was Monti so pleased with the downgrade? He quoted the report to the interviewer from the Financial Times, going through the risk factors associated with Italy, but adding: “Nevertheless, we have not changed our political risk score for Italy. We believe that the weakening policy environment at European level is to a certain degree offset by a strong domestic Italian capacity.” In other words: “Mr. Monti’s 60 days in office have been enough to convince the agency that his government is on a path of reform that could return the country to growth and shrink its debt levels, but that European Union mismanagement of the eurozone debt crisis is dragging down struggling countries, including Italy.” Mr. Monti stated, “I think I’m the only one in Europe not to have criticized the rating agencies.”
In discussing how his government came into existence, as in, not through democratic means, Monti told the Financial Times that he agreed that he could be helping to bring a “revolution,” referring to the number and extent of measures he intended to pass before democratic elections take place. He explained that if Italy’s borrowing costs (interest rates) fall, “the political parties will not dare stop the experiment [in technocracy] before it has to stop… And in my view the political parties will not dare go back to the acrimonious, superficial and tough confrontation that animated parliament. The image and style of public debate has changed.” He added: “If and when success comes, you will find us not really taking credit… My ambition is that Italy becomes a boring country, in relative terms. It is really in the hands of Europe.”
In February of 2012, Mario Monti gave an interview with PBS Newshour in which he continued to heap praise upon austerity measures, saying that because Greece’s debt had been so high, “it would have been hard – let’s face realities – to have a soft landing from those excesses of deficit without a recession.” He added, “I think there is a valid point if we say that Europe needed to be put under a safe place as regards the public finances of each member state.” Monti thanked “German and other pressures” for pushing countries in that direction of austerity. And now, he claimed, “the time has come to focus more energies on how collectively we can achieve more growth in Europe.” Growth, of course, simply means growth of profits for big banks and multinational corporations.
Super Mario’s ‘Structural Adjustment’: The Meaning of “Growth”
When Europe’s political and financial elite discuss “growth” in the current context as an added “solution” on top of austerity, what they really mean is to implement major structural changes: to liberalize the economy, privatize all assets, state subsidies, services, industries, and resources. This will allow corporations and banks to come in and purchase all of these assets and industries, and since this process takes place in the midst of a deep crisis, they are able to take control of all the assets for very cheap prices. This is called “foreign direct investment.”
The major corporations of Europe, of North America, and elsewhere, will be able to control directly a much larger share of the economy. Their purchases provide short-term funds for the state, thus increasing short-term revenue. However, since state industries are privatized and sold for pennies on the dollar, they are actually losing long-term revenue, but that isn’t mentioned. Markets respond to the short-term, not the long-term, and of course, we want to have our world and its social, political, and economic stability determined by forces that theoretically do not look more than a couple months ahead. The process of liberalization and privatization is also sold on the prospect of “creating jobs,” because the theory goes that corporations will enter the market with the ability to invest and thus, create jobs for workers. The reality is that the corporations buy up the industries, and generally shut them down to relocate elsewhere for cheaper labour. This means mass firings. This also means that unions and labour rights in general have to be dismantled and people have to be kept in line, under control.
Austerity measures are aimed at redistributing wealth from the mass of society to the very top percentiles, which is achieved through increased taxation, mass firing of public sector workers, cuts to social spending, health care, welfare, education and other areas. This, quite predictably, creates a massive social crisis. Many austerity packages – such as Monti’s in Italy – also include efforts to undermine labour and unions. This prepares the work force for the period and programs of “growth,” in which workers will be forced to submit to exploitative working conditions with no collective bargaining rights, or else the industries will simply fire them all, close up shop, and go elsewhere. This is why we hear all the Eurocrats and politicians in Europe and elsewhere explain that austerity and growth are not mutually exclusive, that they can and should co-exist together. Indeed, from the view of the ‘effects’ of these policies, a joint program of “austerity” and “growth” makes perfect sense: commit social genocide (through fiscal austerity), and exploit, plunder, and profit from the spoils of economic war (growth through structural adjustments).
In the ‘Third World’ over the past three decades, these policies were imposed by the IMF, World Bank, Western imperial powers, and Western banks and corporations. With the primary engine being the International Monetary Fund (IMF), countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, which were in the midst of a major debt crisis in the 1980s, were forced to sign what were called ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ (SAPs) with the IMF and World Bank if they wanted to get any loans or aid from Western banks or institutions. The SAPs would be a set of conditions that the countries would have to adhere to if they were to get a loan, and the conditions included a mix of ‘fiscal austerity’ and ‘structural adjustment’: devalue the currency to make it cheaper to invest in the country (but which creates inflation and increases the costs of food, fuel, and other commodities, hurting the poor and middle classes); cut social spending to reduce the deficit (but which saw the destruction of education, health care, welfare and social programs, as well as mass firings from the public sector); trade liberalization, to allow for foreign countries and corporations to more easily invest in the country, and thus, bring in revenue (which meant dismantling all tariffs, trade barriers, price controls, state subsidies, and resulted in the easy exploitation and cheap purchase of the country’s wealth by foreign corporations and banks); and privatization, meant to encourage investment and allow for the market to make state-owned industries and asset more “efficient” (but which resulted in mass firings, closing of entire industries, mass corruption, and total control of the economy being handed to foreign banks and corporations).
The result of SAPs – the combination of “austerity” and “growth” – over three decades has been devastating: poverty has rapidly accelerated and expanded; wealth becomes heavily polarized, with a tiny minority owning the economy, and everyone else with next to nothing; the small elite become increasingly dependent upon and integrated with a global elite (based primarily in the West), and disassociated from their fellow citizens; mortality rates go up as health care and social services are dismantled or made incredibly expensive at a time of deepening poverty in which more people need the services more than ever before; social unrest and repression become rampant, as the people rise up against ‘Structural Adjustment,’ the state resorts to increasingly authoritarian and brutal measures to control or crush resistance to the programs and to protect the dominance of the tiny minority, locally and internationally.
This, essentially, is the fate of Europe and the rest of the industrialized world. Europe, simply being the most integrated region of the world (a trend which is accelerating everywhere in the world), is experiencing the brunt of this crisis before the rest of the industrialized nations of the world. So when politicians and financial elites say that Europe needs “growth” in conjunction with austerity, and this will lead to “recovery”, remember what “growth” means: exploitation, plundering, and profits. When you remember this, suddenly everything the politicians and pundits have been saying for years, suddenly makes sense.
When asked if he felt that there was a danger of “a backlash” in Italy against what people “may see as E.U. imposed changes to their way of life that are very, very painful,” Monti replied that, “there was such a risk of backlash,” but he explained: “I try to avoid that backlash by always presenting the necessary sacrifices that Italians have to go through not as an imposition from Brussels or Germany or the European Central Bank, but rather as a necessary step that Italians have to undertaking — to undertake also at the suggestion of Europe, but basically for their own interests, for the interests of ourselves and of future generations of Italians. This is precisely meant to avoid backlashes.” Interesting statement: saying that austerity is for the interests of Italians and “future generations” is done not to speak truth, but “to avoid backlashes” against the E.U. Monti emphasized that, “it is very, very important” to ensure that the single currency, “which was meant to be the culminating point of the European construction,” does not become, “through psychological negative effects, a factor of disintegration of Europe.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in early February, Mario Monti publicly outlined his strategy for “growth” in Europe, which he proposed privately to other European governments the previous month, pushing Europe beyond austerity and suggesting “tougher European rules aimed at prying open member states’ national industries,” of course to “encourage economic growth and competition in the euro zone.” Monti explained that if this is not done, “Europe will not be a nice place to live in five years from now if we haven’t solved the problem of how to grow… We have to say what growth will look like in a fiscally compacted union.” His proposal “would speed up the process by which European authorities sanction nations that violate the tenets of the EU’s single market.” For Monti and other technocrats like himself, this “growth” does not include government spending. Since Italy is supposed to knock off 30 billion euros ($39.8 billion) – 2% of its GDP – from its public debt “every year for decades,” this means, explained Monti, that “any thought of budget-stimulated growth ideas will have to go away.” Instead, Monti suggested that the European Union “should back single markets more forcefully to support economic growth,” which instead of having Berlin sign off on the EU spending its way to prosperity, would mean “to push Germany to liberalize its own economy,” which, claimed Monti, “would have a trickle-down effect.”
Monti was undertaking various programs of “liberalization” in Italy, such as liberalizing major professions and sectors, such as pharmacies, taxis, and notaries. To handle Italy’s “unemployment” issue, which is significant to say the least, Monti was seeking to “introduce new measures aimed at making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers,” which, he said, “will increase the overall flexibility of the labor market,” meaning that it will allow for cheaper and more easily-exploited labour by corporations. Monti even stated that the changes he was making in the labour market were aimed at “reducing the segmentation of Italy’s labor market between those who are protected, sometimes hyper-protected, and those, particularly the young, who can’t really get into the labor market.” So, instead of having various work forces that are “protected” (or “hyper-protected” in Monti’s words), it would be better to simply bring everyone down to the same level to allow for “flexibility,” or in other words, easy exploitative capacity. For “Super Mario,” no protection is better than any protection when it comes to workers. Imagine if there were politicians who thought the same thing about bankers.
While Europe agreed to a ‘Fiscal Compact’ to ensure austerity, Monti felt that the EU should add to this a growth pact, and felt that the supranational and undemocratic European Union should have “an efficient mechanism to swiftly sanction countries that don’t open up their economies to competition,” meaning exploitation and plundering. Thus, the previous month, Monti submitted a proposal “aimed at giving the European Commission – the EU’s governing body – greater power over sanctioning member states.” This proposal, which had not been reported prior to this interview, “could speed up the process by years, by making it easier for the commission to impose rulings rather than having to take member states to court, as it often does now.” When asked what this has to do with growth, Monti replied: “A lot, because if you give more teeth to the commission to remove national obstacles to the functioning of the single market, we’ll create a large level playing field, which the business community always insists is a key component of growth.” Well that answers that: it will lead to “growth” because the business community says so. Thank you, Prime Minister.
Monti acknowledged that this creates obvious concerns, especially with countries like the U.K. and France which would likely oppose the proposal for fear of its encroachment on their sovereignty, and the existence of a “democratic deficit” which will continue “as member states gradually hand over more of their fiscal and economic policies to the central oversight of European institutions.” But for this, Monti has a solution: “Much of the reconciliation between more centralized governance and the scope for democracy will be resolved through an even stronger role of the European Parliament,” which is, in effect, utterly useless.
The Most Important Man in Europe?
In late February, Time Magazine published an article reporting on an interview they conducted with Monti in which they referred to him as “the most important man in Europe.” The article described Monti as “the tough taskmaster Italy so desperately needs,” though he “has the aura of a gentlemanly grandfather.” Time reported that Monti was “fixing a deadlocked democracy,” no doubt by ruling as an unelected technocrat, “and charging forward with greater European integration,” in a “wholesale overhaul of Italian society.” Monti told Time, “I believe that reforms will not really take hold if they do not gradually come into the culture of the people.” Time declared that for the problem of Italy’s partisan politics, “the solution was Monti.” Monti said that the request to rule came “at such a severe time of crisis for Italy that I could not refuse.” Thus, declared Time Magazine: “Today he reigns over Rome like a new Caesar.” In effect, “the democratic process has been suspended to allow an unelected technocrat to implement policies that elected politicians could not.” Monti himself refers to this as a “temporary mutual disarmament” of the left and right, a technocratic euphemism for “dictatorship of austerity.”
The publication praised Monti’s austerity package in December, his liberalization program in January, and his new plan to overhaul the labour market; then lamented that Monti is taking on “entrenched interest groups,” such as taxi drivers (no joke, the article referred to taxi drivers as “entrenched interest groups”), who staged strikes in Rome and other Italian cities, and pharmacists who were threatening to do the same thing, or truckers that blocked roadways in protest of a fuel-tax hike. The president of a national taxi union stated, “In Italy, the economy was more based on rules that used to be applied to create wealth for the general public… I don’t understand why suddenly the only solution is to get rid of the rules.” He added: “Monti has always lived in the salons… He really doesn’t know the problems of ordinary people.” To this, Monti replied, “Maybe they’re right,” but he felt this was an advantage: “Italy has piled up huge public debt because the successive governments were too close to the life of ordinary citizens, too willing to please the requests of everybody, thereby acting against the interests of future generations.” Monti earned a reputation – and the nickname “Super Mario” – back when he was an EU Commissioner, where he came into conflict with some major global corporations, such as blocking a merger between GE and Honeywell, which prompted the then-CEO of GE, Jack Welch, to refer to Monti as “cold-blooded.” Monti acknowledged that as he is more successful in pushing “reforms,” the effects of those reforms would put pressure on the political parties to abandon him, and make it more difficult for him to continue his programs before he leaves office in 2013. “The point,” explained Monti, “is how to keep this pressure even once the most visible elements of emergency hopefully are over.” This would largely be left to accelerating the process of European integration: “I think there is a genuine wish on the part of the E.U. and Germany and France to again play an active game with Italy for a relaunch of European integration… I think we will be seeing an acceleration of the good news.” Apparently, accelerating the integration and institutionalization of an undemocratic, technocratic, supranational structure is “good news.”
When Mario Monti went to visit Wall Street on the seventh floor of the New York Stock Exchange (to visit his actual ‘constituents’), he received a long, standing ovation when he entered the room with an audience of 200 people. Charlie Himmelberg, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, commented that, “It’s been impressive how quickly the sentiment has changed on Italy.” Blaise Antin, the head of sovereign research at TCW said, “It is a good thing Monti visits investors… But plenty will ultimately depend on the Italian parliament” in the tough choices ahead. Monti told the crowd of Wall Street financiers that, “What’s important is that this improved governance of the euro zone is almost there and the euro zone crisis is almost overcome, I believe.” Monti later reflected at a new conference in New York that he was “warmly greeted by the financial community” on Wall Street. No doubt.
Super Mario Wages War on Workers
After making the rounds in interviews, state visits, meeting Obama, and visiting his constituents at Wall Street, Mario Monti went back to Italy in late February to push forward on his “labour reforms” to undermine and destroy unions and workers’ rights. By March, the effects were being felt among Italians. Monti went to great pains to denounce what he described as Italy’s “two-tier labour market,” dividing generations and leaving the young out to dry. The New York Times wasted no time in supporting Monti’s calls to dismantle this system. Framing the discourse around the generational divide, in which “older workers came of age with guaranteed jobs and ironclad contracts granting generous pensions and full benefits,” the younger Italians, “the best-educated in the country’s history… are lucky to find temporary work, which offers few benefits or stability.” Thus, one of Monti’s “solutions” was to “make it easier for companies to hire and fire.”
Very typical of the neoliberal economic discourse, is to draw conclusions based upon these facts alone: older workers have benefits, younger workers have few opportunities; thus, older workers are destroying future generations with their “entitlements.” Solution: dismantle entitlements and benefits so all can work on an “equal playing field.” The discourse divides workers and people against each other, meanwhile, there is no mention of the fact that the reason why the youth have so few job opportunities has more to do with the lack of state and business investment, the deregulation and privatization of industries over the 1990s (while Mario Draghi was head of the Treasury), the effects of the euro (creating an economic hierarchy between the Northern nations of the EU and the Southern states), or the very obvious fact that Italy is in a severe crisis because its corrupt government colluded with global banks and suffered under the institutions and rules of the E.U., which promote elite interests and undermine democracy and self-determination. No, mentioning the massive – and elite-driven – causes for the crisis Italy faces, and the unemployment issues which are symptomatic of that crisis, is too inconvenient for the New York Times. Instead, it is simply easier and more acceptable in the popular discourse to pit workers against each other, in an effort to undermine them all, collectively.
An economist at Bocconi University, of which Mario Monti was president until he became Prime Minister of Italy, supported this discourse for Italy, arguing: “Reforming contracts, unemployment benefits and salary levels would permit labor productivity to rise, which would in turn permit the country to grow… It’s a central theme for improving a country like Italy.” Undertaking all of these labour “reforms,” in actuality, would allow for youth to enter the job market to a certain degree, as it would mean that other “hyper-protected” workers no longer have protection, and all of Italy’s workforce is left vulnerable to exploitation. Thus, youth could be hired as extremely cheap labour, since for them, some work – even horrible work with little pay – is better than nothing at all. If workers who had protections attempt to organize and salvage various labour rights, companies can simply fire them and hire cheap, young workers with no benefits as replacements. This is called “youth opportunity.” This is how sweatshops became so popular in the ‘developing’ world over the past several decades, which were also brought about through fiscal austerity and structural adjustment: undermine labour/worker rights for easy exploitation, and if they attempt to organize, strike, or obtain rights, foreign corporations can fire them all and hire cheaper labour, close their factories and outsource elsewhere, or ship in cheaper immigrant labour forces. This has the effect of bringing the standards and conditions of the entire work force, and indeed, the global labour market, down to a more easily exploitative position: equality of exploitation (what economists and bankers call “labour flexibility”).
Monti declared: “We have to get away from a dual labor market where some are overly protected, while others totally lack protection and benefits when unemployed.” Thus, he said, “equity and growth” would be the “watchwords” of his government. Since “growth” means profits, plunder, and exploitation, “equity” is a logical addition to this: equity in exploitation. The New York Times, reporting on a 33-year old graduate without job opportunities, said she would “welcome” such changes, as she, “like so many in her generation, feels thwarted, overly reliant on her parents and uncertain of her future.” Amazingly, in the same article, it was acknowledged that the two-tier labour system was not created by “entitlements,” but rather as a result of policies the government undertook nearly a decade previous (in facilitating Italy’s entry into the euro-zone), in which the state made it easier for Italian corporations “to hire younger workers on a range of temporary contracts and internships,” while many of the early-retirement benefits for older workers were put in place during the mass privatizations (undertaken by Mario Draghi), in order to facilitate the reduction of staff “and cutting costs in the period before Italy joined the euro zone.” The article then went on to blame the unions, claiming that “younger Italians have come to see them as part of the problem.”
One must actually pause in appreciation of the intellectual gymnastics displayed by the New York Times in publishing an article which quietly acknowledges that the causes of Italy’s two-tiered labour and employment issues were the result of demands and policies put in place in order to join the single-currency, yet still concluded that the main problem was “overly-protected workers,” and thus, that the solutions lie in undermining labour and workers’ rights. The article even acknowledged that the government’s policies of making it easy for Italian corporations to exploit youth labour were designed “to make the market more flexible,” yet does not question the logic in Monti’s program of solving the crisis brought on by this “flexibility” by implementing measures to make it “more flexible.” The Monti-logic, which the New York Times readily endorses, is to look at policies that didn’t work (in terms of what people were ‘told’ they were meant to achieve), and then to advance and accelerate those same policies in the hopes that it will have the opposite effect as to that which it has always had before. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again, expecting different results. If we actually apply that definition, almost the entire discipline of economics – and most especially neoliberal economics – is absolutely insane. Either that, or they simply use coded rhetoric which sounds like one thing, means another, and is done so to promote a global social, political, and economic agenda which would otherwise be impossible to publicly justify: preserving and accumulating for a tiny minority, and exploiting and punishing the vast majority.
Right on cue, the effects of the economic crisis over the previous year, exacerbated by Monti’s labour reforms and austerity package, was being felt across Italy. In Naples, one of Europe’s poorest cities, by late March it was reported that child labour has returned, as “thousands of children are leaving school to help their families make ends meet,” an increasing trend in the country, in which children work in the black market or “are recruited for sinister purposes by the mafia.” The most common job for child workers is as a “shop assistant,” earning less than a euro an hour. This trend had been developing in Italy over a number of years, as one local government report in the Campania region revealed that between 2005 and 2009, more than 54,000 children left school to join the work force, with 38% of them under the age of 13. The deputy mayor of Naples, located in the Campania region, commented: “Of course, we were the poorest region in Italy. But we haven’t seen a situation like this since the end of the Second World War… At age 10, these kids are already working 12 hours a day, which is a clear breach of their right to development.” The succession of financial reforms put in place by the Italian government since 2008 introduced drastic cuts, and in June of 2010, the Campania region had to end its minimum welfare program, “plunging more than 130,000 families into poverty.” Children from poor families face three options: struggle to stay in school, drop out to work in the black economy, or “join the ranks of the Camorra, the Neopolitan mafia.” Since the beginning of the crisis, support for youth and their families has been cut by 87%, and roughly 20,000 educators in the Campania region had not been paid for two years. Perhaps this is what Mario Monti means by “labour flexibility.”
In late March, reported the Economist, as Mario Monti was engaged in talks with employers and unions, trying to get them to accept labour-market reforms, “when it became clear that unanimity was impossible, Mr. Monti declared the talks over and said his government would press ahead regardless.” It is quite appropriate, one must acknowledge, that for a government which was created through undemocratic means, it should only continue to act and rule undemocratically as well. Such is the path Mario Monti has taken with Italy. On March 16, the Italian parliament’s three largest parties endorsed Monti’s reforms, on the warning from President Napolitano that, “failure to agree would have serious consequences.” The main problem for Monti came from the largest union federation, the CGIL, an historic ally of the Democratic Party (PD), which had endorsed Monti and his austerity packages, leading one senior leader in the PD to suggest that the party leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, “could face a backbench revolt or a party split.”
The Wall Street Journal naturally congratulated Monti, in an article entitled, “Monti pulls a Thatcher,” for showing “political courage” in walking away from negotiations with Italy’s labour unions, announcing that he was “going to move ahead with reforming the country’s notorious employment laws – with or without union consent.” Italy had stringent rules regarding the ability of employers to fire workers, what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “job-for-life scheme,” which Monti’s reforms will replace with a “generous system of guaranteed severance when employees are dismissed” for what are called, “economic reasons.” The Journal heaped praise upon Monti, as “standing up to Italy’s labor unions takes courage, and not only of the political sort,” noting how there was an economist ten years prior who was shot and killed “for his role in designing a previous attempt at labor reform.” Monti had been ruling by decree since December, but announced in late March that the labour reform proposals would be voted through the National Assembly. The WSJ wrote that as a former economics professor, Mario Monti “has a rare opportunity to educate Italians on the consequences of opposing reform,” to which the Journal suggested, they need only to look at Greece: “If that doesn’t scare them sober, then nothing will help.”
Within a week, Monti allowed for a very slight change to his labour reform bill, which would give judges “greater leeway in determining whether companies were justified in laying off a worker.” The Wall Street Journal then referred to this, in an article entitled, “Surrender, Italian Style,” as a “cave-in to the left side of his political coalition,” and noted that, “Monti was brought in as Prime Minister to retrieve his country from the edge of a Greek abyss,” and that this “labor bill is a surrender to those who are bringing” that abyss to Italy. For the WSJ, any capitulation – no matter how minor (and this particular one was very minor) – to unions and labour, is deemed an absolute “surrender” or “cave-in.” Monti defended himself in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he explained that this “surrender” was still a move in the right direction of reform, as it “introduces a more predictable [i.e., controllable] and speedier [i.e., systematic] procedure to handle dismissals for economic or other objective reasons.” He elaborated: “First, a fast, compulsory, out-of-court settlement procedure at local level; then, if conciliation fails, the worker can take the case to a judge as happens in other countries.” In “extreme cases” where the “economic or other reason” for firing the worker is deemed “manifestly inexistent,” the judge then has the ability to decide “for reinstatement instead of compensation.” When the “economic dismissal” is “not justified” in other cases (i.e., not an “extreme case”), compensation will be given with a cap at 24 months of wages. Monti said that it was a “complex reform” and deserves “serious analysis rather than snap judgments.” He then wrote: “I would suggest that perhaps the fact that it has been attacked by both the main employers association and the metalworkers union, part of the leading trade union confederation [CGIL], indicates that we have got the balance right.” This reform, claimed Monti, “will make the Italian labor market more flexible” which “lays the foundation for increase productivity, economic growth and employment.”
In mid-April, Italy’s major unions took to the streets of Rome in protest against Mario Monti’s pension-system reforms put in place in January, “saying it traps hundreds of thousands of workers in a legal limbo without retirement pay.” The reform that raised the retirement age affects those who are already retired. Bloomberg gave the example of Maria Dinelli, who had an early-retirement deal in 2008, in which her former employer provided benefits until her pension was to begin in 2015. Under Monti’s reforms, her pension won’t begin until 2017, upon which she commented, “I’ll be without a salary or pension for two full years before the retirement age, and will have to put money aside… You were told you had guarantees, then you lose it all because a new government takes power and changes the rules.” Tens of thousands of Italians took to the streets of Rome on April 13 as the Italian Labor Ministry said the night before that, “there are 65,000 Italians who may be left without support between when they leave work and when their pension kick in as the higher retirement age delays their payout,” while unions say the amount of people affected is five times that size, at roughly 300,000, prompting one union leader to state, “If these figures were correct,” referring to the Labor Ministry numbers, “then we’d have to say that the thousands of workers who’ve turned to the union for help are not real and just ghosts.” A labor law professor in Rome estimated the number may actually be as high as 450,000.
Monti referred to this plan as “cutting edge.” Well, it certainly ‘cuts.’ Meanwhile, Italians are facing increased taxes and record-high gasoline prices, thus producing a “slump in consumer demand” which pushed Italy into a deeper recession. Nicola Marinelli of Glendevon King Asset Management in London stated: “An overhaul of the pension system was unavoidable because the old scheme was too generous compared to the country’s possibilities and the European standards… That said, the protest of these workers may be a harbinger of future social tensions. I don’t think the younger workers have really realized they will have starvation-level pensions.” Just another “cutting edge” facet of Monti’s reforms. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, Monti’s reforms had not yet included “a heavy hand with the richest taxpayers,” prompting a labor law professor to opine, “I think it’s about time for those who have more to contribute to the needs of the country.” But such is not the nature of austerity.
In fact, in April it was reported that the political class in Italy, the “army of politicians and senior officials” who support Monti and his reforms in Parliament, “are clinging to fat salaries that far outstrip those of their peers abroad.” Monti had issued a decree which aimed to “prevent public servants earning more than U.S. President Barack Obama,” many of whom “earn considerably more.” Italy’s wealthy, however, not simply the top politicians and bureaucrats alone, “are hardly carrying their share of the burden.” One economist noted: “There has not been an equal distribution of sacrifices… In proportion to their salaries, higher incomes are paying less.” Italy has roughly 1,000 lawmakers across the nation, who earn more than their counterparts in the United States, with a base salary of 11,283 euros per month, while the lowest-earning households in Italy, “hurt most by rising fuel, property and sales taxes,” live “on less than 8,000 euros per year, or 667 euros per month, after taxes.” Between 2006 and 2010, Italy’s poorest families already lost almost 12 percent of their real income, according to data from the Bank of Italy. Unlike the political class, most Italian families are “traditionally thrifty,” however, under austerity in 2011, “households saved only 12 percent of their gross income, the lowest level since 1995.” That is the nature of austerity: when you need to save more than ever before, the ability to do so becomes harder than ever before. In March, a Moroccan worker in Italy set himself on fire in protest, and an Italian businessman did the same. Polls in Italy have shown that the people are “increasingly dissatisfied with the parties and politicians that led the country for the past two decades,” as more than 40% of respondents said that they wouldn’t vote for any of them if there were an election today.
Italy Under Austerity
The Wall Street Journal reported in early April that figures from the Italian Treasury revealed that Monti’s austerity measures were “stunting activity in the euro-zone’s third-largest economy,” and while “recent tax increases are helping Italy cut its fiscal shortfall,” they are also “pushing economic activity to contract even faster.” Industry Minister Corrado Passera stated: “With austerity one doesn’t grow.” The majority of tax increases are on the income of workers, though they also include taxes on consumption (such as Value Added Taxes – VAT) and on property assets. As Italy’s GDP contracted by 1% in the first quarter of 2012, yields on Italian government bonds rose, making it more expensive for Italy to borrow. Former prime minister Berlusconi commented: “The cure that the European Union has prescribed for our country is the one that has already caused a disaster in Greece and is beginning to do so again in Spain,” though he continued to throw his support behind the technocratic government. One businessman in Italy warned that, “Consumers have insurmountable obstacles ahead of them, with higher income-tax rates from March, higher property taxes as of June and a value-added tax increase in September.”
By late April, unemployment in Italy had reached nearly 10%, according to “official” statistics (meaning, it’s actually much higher), and in Sardinia, one in two young people were out of work. The construction industry in Italy has been hard hit, leading to one industry businessman killing himself, adding to a wave of “austerity suicides” across Italy, reaching 25 by April for the year of 2012.
In May of 2012, the Italian anarchist group which had claimed responsibility for shooting a nuclear engineering firm chief threatened to target Mario Monti. The group, referring to itself as the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation – International Revolutionary Front, sent a statement to a newspaper in southern Italy, warning that “Monti was among seven remaining targets after Roberto Adinolfi, chief executive of Ansaldo Nucleare, was shot in the leg last week.” The statement read: “We say to Monti that he is one of the seven remaining and that the people have no interest in staying in Europe, saving the banks and helping to balance the accounts of a state that squandered money for its own interests.” The statement explained that any suicide connected to tax difficulties brought about by the austerity measures would be punished as a “state murder.” This referred to a series of suicides in Italy by businessmen and others, “despairing at the collapse of their livelihoods because of the crisis.” It was the same anarchist group that in the previous year, claimed responsibility for sending letter bombs to several banks, including to Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, while the director-general of Equitalia in Italy lost a finger opening one of the letter bombs in December. One of the members of the group, facing prosecution in court, “called for armed revolution… when asked about the Adinolfi shooting.”
Mario Monti had been pushing himself into European politics as a “mediator” between Germany and the weaker euro-zone economies, to seemingly “broaden” decision-making in Europe beyond the Franco-German axis. In the first few weeks of May, Monti’s technocratic administration had been “courting Berlin on two fronts,” trying to draw the parliaments of both countries closer together, and in term of ideology, they had been “trying to convince German officials – in both private meetings and public speeches – that the compromise solution to stoking growth in Europe’s weaker economies is investment in big public projects, such as transportation, Internet networks or electricity grids, while maintaining fiscal discipline.” Some spending, claimed Monti, should be “exempted” from fiscal austerity, something which Germany had long opposed. But with the French elections in early May getting rid of Nicolas Sarkozy and bringing in the Socialist President Francois Hollande, who favoured a strategy of spending on growth, Monti was seeking to find a common ground between Germany and France, but in a way that ultimately was supportive of the European Union, specifically. Nicholas Spiro, who heads a London-based sovereign debt consultancy, stated, “If there’s one European leader whose policies can appeal to both Chancellor Merkel and President-elect Hollande, it’s Monti.” The refined “growth” program promoted by Monti would be based on “creating bonds to fund European Union infrastructure projects and boosting the firepower of the European Investment Bank to fund public investments.” Thus, it would be based upon European spending, not individual nations spending, and so the debt would be pan-European, and controlled by the EU.
In late April, Mario Monti announced that he would be making more cuts to spending by the end of the year, “and appointed an expert from the private sector as a special commissioner to oversee the spending review.” The cuts, amounting to some 4.2 billion euros (or $5.6 billion), “would allow him to avoid proceeding with a plan to raise the national sales tax to 23 percent in October from 21 percent, a move that could hurt consumer spending and slow a return to growth,” reported the New York Times. Monti stated, “Today we are faced with the necessity of making up for the time lost… And not in years, but in months.” The new special commissioner from the private sector to review the process was Enrico Bondi, known as “Mr. Fix-it” for having successfully restructured the bankrupt Parmalat group. The change in austerity measures followed intense pressure from the business community in Italy to push the burden from increased taxation to more government spending cuts.
In mid-May, yields on Italian debt jumped up to nearly 6%, as evidence emerged that Italy was sliding into an even deeper recession, brought on by Monti’s austerity measures and ‘structural adjustments.’ The government in Italy was openly discussing using troops to protect various targets after a wave of violent actions, claimed by various anarchist groups, such as the shooting of the nuclear industry executive, as well as petrol bombs being thrown at tax offices in early May. An Italian banker warned that unless the European Central Bank was converted into a lender of last resort, Italy faces “massive devaluation, three to five years of hyperinflation, and unbearable unemployment.” Moody’s ratings agency downgraded 26 Italian banks in May, evoking the anger of the Italian Banking Association, which called the downgrade, “irresponsible, incomprehensible, and unjustifiable,” and said it was “an attack on Italy, its companies, its families and its citizens.”
Italy held a series of local elections in early May, in which the Italian comedian, Beppe Grillo, who is also leading a political party, the Five Star Movement, which “rode a wave of protest against austerity politics” and suggested, “We will see you in parliament.” Grillo had been increasingly critical of Monti’s tax hikes, and in one local election forced a run-off with the Democratic Party (PD), and managed to “trounce” Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom People party in all the local elections, while the right-wing Northern League party, which has also criticized Monti’s reforms, “was humiliated at the polls.” The major Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, said, following the elections, “As of yesterday, it seems Monti is now more alone.”
In mid-June, police in Italy, Switzerland and Germany arrested 10 people suspected of involvement in “leftwing terrorist activity” in Italy and elsewhere over the previous three years, connected to one of two organizations, the Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI) and the International Revolutionary Front (FRI). A general in Italy’s semi-militarized Carabinieri police force said that, “the two groups were in contact with the Greek anarchist movement.” The individuals who were arrested, however, were not suspected of being involved in the major act associated with the groups, the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi in Italy, though the General claimed, “The origin is the same.” The arrests did, however, include suspected involvement in the failed letter bomb sent to former Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann.
In mid-June, as the G20 meeting unfolded in Mexico, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said that the euro area needs a “road map with concrete interventions to make the euro more stably credible,” as well as a “pro-growth plan,” stating, “the two things are strictly complementary.” Even though Monti had imposed his brutal austerity measures upon the people of Italy, the bond rates for the country remained high, prompting Monti to comment, “There must be something wrong if a country that complies still has such high interest rates.” Monti noted that through the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the European bail out fund, Italy had supplied loans to Greece, Ireland and Portugal amounting to 31.5 billion euros, commenting, “Italy has not until now asked for loans… She has made a lot of them and every day that passes, is in fact subsidizing others with the high interest rates she pays in the market.”
In late June, following the G20 summit, Mario Monti announced a “growth decree” for Italy, which included “discount loans for corporate R&D [Research & Development], tax credits for businesses that hire employees with advanced degrees, and reduced headcount at select government ministries.” Also in late June, Italy, Germany, France and Spain agreed to a “growth pact” for Europe with the total value of 130 billion euros ($163 billion), noting that, “austerity alone will not be enough to pull the euro zone out of its deep crisis.” The total sum represents 1% of the European Union’s GDP. Also envisioned are “project bonds” which would be financed through the EU’s budget, and issued “for private-sector infrastructure projects,” or in other words, corporate subsidies.
At the end of June, it was reported that Italy’s economic crisis was deepening, due in large part to the austerity measures, but also as a result of the increasingly high yields (interest rates) on Italian bonds, as Italy had to pay the highest interest rates since December in a 5.24 billion euro auction of 5 and 10 year government bonds (meaning that the country pays high interest rates to the financial institutions which purchased these bonds until they expire in a 5-or-10 year term). The ten-year bonds sold at an average rate of 6.19 percent, while the five-year bonds were at an average rate of 5.84 percent. This, the Financial Times warned, “is the latest sign of a deepening double-dip recession in Italy and will add urgency to prime minister Mario Monti’s demands for short-term measures” to reduce interest rates (such as the ECB purchasing bonds on the market). An Italian business lobby, however, went on to praise the “huge steps, unthinkable only a year ago,” which were implemented by Monti’s technocratic government, though adding, “the process is far from being completed.”
In late June, a bickering Italian parliament passed Monti’s labour reform package, just ahead of the EU summit. Angela Merkel said that Italy had “taken the road towards solid public finances, growth, jobs and competitiveness.” The reform of the labour market has been a major demand of the European Commission and the European Central Bank, and thus, Brussels praised the passing of the reforms, and even the IMF chimed in to cheer on Monti. The reform package was passed in parliament as protests led by the labour unions, took place outside, with police helicopters overhead and demonstrators clashing with security forces blocking the way to the parliament building.
At the EU summit at the end of June, Italy and Spain forced leaders to remain at the summit overnight, forcing an agreement to restructure Spain’s 100 billion euro bank recapitalization plan (the Spanish bailout), allowing funds to be injected directly into banks in Spain, “meaning Madrid can sweep the burden of the bailouts off its sovereign books.” Though this, in turn, requires the “creation of a single banking supervisor to be run by the European Central Bank,” likely as a precursor to a European banking union. Italy also received concessions, though less than Spain received, yet was the main driving force behind the revised rules for the eurozone bailout fund – the EFSF (and later the ESM) – which would have it purchasing sovereign bonds in order to lower the borrowing costs, as it would increase confidence in Italian bonds and thus, lower the interest rates, Monti’s key demand in the previous months. The countries that have their bonds purchased by the bailout fund “will no longer be subject to Greek-style monitoring programmes,” but instead, “they would simply have to maintain their EU debt and deficit commitments.” Monti declared, “It is a double satisfaction for Italy.” For Angela Merkel, who had for months refused to support any short-term rescue measures, “the deal was a significant concession.” Though, of course, every concession comes with a condition: “a German-led group of northern creditor countries will gain more control over all of the eurozone banks through the new single supervisor,” the mechanism through which to establish the banking union.
Upon this news, Spanish and Italian government bond yields fell sharply, with a Deutsche Bank economist commenting, “There was so little expectation and since there was a breakthrough at least on bank recapitalizations, the markets salute that.” The German media reported that, “Italy and Spain broke the will of the iron chancellor by out-negotiating her in the early hours of Friday morning,” on June 29. Der Spiegel reported that, “Monti emerged from the late-night negotiations as a clear victor.” Merkel had to concede to Monti, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, specifically on the issue of “demands” for the bailouts, as Merkel has been the reigning Queen of austerity. Faced up to Monti, however, the permanent European bailout fund – the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – can loan to countries “which fulfill the budgetary rules laid down by the European Commission… without agreeing to tough additional austerity measures.” Thus, strict oversight by the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF – would no longer apply.
Monti’s uprising at the summit began at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening, when European Council President Herman Van Rompuy wanted to conclude the first working session and announce the growth pact to the press. Monti, furious, asked Van Rompuy where he was going, and then refused to agree to the growth pact until resolving the issue of establishing “concrete measures to fight the high interest rates on Italian government bonds.” Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy supported Monti, adding that he could not support the growth pact either until such an issue had been resolved. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt asked if the attendees “were now all hostages,” and Van Rompuy remained seated. After midnight, representatives from the ten non-euro EU countries left for their hotel rooms, while the 17 eurozone countries “remained in their seats and began a decisive round of negotiations.” After a few hours, Monti and Rajoy convinced Merkel “that countries would in the future be able to receive funds from the ESM without having to submit to troika oversight.” Thus, “only the European Commission’s annual targets will have to be met.” The session ended at 4:20 a.m. on Friday morning, with European Commission President Barroso and Council President Van Rompuy announcing it at a press conference.
This is not to say that austerity and structural adjustment would not be pursued, but simply that the ‘Troika’ (the EC, ECB, and IMF) monitoring and imposition of austerity would cede in favour of general targets set by the European Commission. Those targets, however, would still demand fiscal austerity and structural adjustment, but would not be subject to the same oversight or schedule with which the demands must be met. Ultimately, it was a deal that was not aimed at reducing the imposition and effects of austerity, but rather, was designed to institutionalize more effectively the domination of the European Commission itself (an unelected technocratic institution), as opposed to a more ad-hoc Troika system of oversight.
In the Italy of Mario Monti – and in the European Union at large – austerity is poverty, growth is plundering, labour reform is exploitation, and democracy… is Technocracy. Welcome to Italy, welcome to the new Europe in the age of austerity.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book be finished by the end of summer:
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Debt Dynamite Dominoes: The Coming Financial Catastrophe
Assessing the Illusion of Recovery
Global Research, February 22, 2010
Understanding the Nature of the Global Economic Crisis
The people have been lulled into a false sense of safety under the ruse of a perceived “economic recovery.” Unfortunately, what the majority of people think does not make it so, especially when the people making the key decisions think and act to the contrary. The sovereign debt crises that have been unfolding in the past couple years and more recently in Greece, are canaries in the coal mine for the rest of Western “civilization.” The crisis threatens to spread to Spain, Portugal and Ireland; like dominoes, one country after another will collapse into a debt and currency crisis, all the way to America.
In October 2008, the mainstream media and politicians of the Western world were warning of an impending depression if actions were not taken to quickly prevent this. The problem was that this crisis had been a long-time coming, and what’s worse, is that the actions governments took did not address any of the core, systemic issues and problems with the global economy; they merely set out to save the banking industry from collapse. To do this, governments around the world implemented massive “stimulus” and “bailout” packages, plunging their countries deeper into debt to save the banks from themselves, while charging it to people of the world.
Then an uproar of stock market speculation followed, as money was pumped into the stocks, but not the real economy. This recovery has been nothing but a complete and utter illusion, and within the next two years, the illusion will likely come to a complete collapse.
The governments gave the banks a blank check, charged it to the public, and now it’s time to pay; through drastic tax increases, social spending cuts, privatization of state industries and services, dismantling of any protective tariffs and trade regulations, and raising interest rates. The effect that this will have is to rapidly accelerate, both in the speed and volume, the unemployment rate, globally. The stock market would crash to record lows, where governments would be forced to freeze them altogether.
When the crisis is over, the middle classes of the western world will have been liquidated of their economic, political and social status. The global economy will have gone through the greatest consolidation of industry and banking in world history leading to a system in which only a few corporations and banks control the global economy and its resources; governments will have lost that right. The people of the western world will be treated by the financial oligarchs as they have treated the ‘global South’ and in particular, Africa; they will remove our social structures and foundations so that we become entirely subservient to their dominance over the economic and political structures of our society.
This is where we stand today, and is the road on which we travel.
The western world has been plundered into poverty, a process long underway, but with the unfolding of the crisis, will be rapidly accelerated. As our societies collapse in on themselves, the governments will protect the banks and multinationals. When the people go out into the streets, as they invariably do and will, the government will not come to their aid, but will come with police and military forces to crush the protests and oppress the people. The social foundations will collapse with the economy, and the state will clamp down to prevent the people from constructing a new one.
The road to recovery is far from here. When the crisis has come to an end, the world we know will have changed dramatically. No one ever grows up in the world they were born into; everything is always changing. Now is no exception. The only difference is, that we are about to go through the most rapid changes the world has seen thus far.
Assessing the Illusion of Recovery
In August of 2009, I wrote an article, Entering the Greatest Depression in History, in which I analyzed how there is a deep systemic crisis in the Capitalist system in which we have gone through merely one burst bubble thus far, the housing bubble, but there remains a great many others.
There remains as a significantly larger threat than the housing collapse, a commercial real estate bubble. As the Deutsche Bank CEO said in May of 2009, “It’s either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.”
Of even greater significance is what has been termed the “bailout bubble” in which governments have superficially inflated the economies through massive debt-inducing bailout packages. As of July of 2009, the government watchdog and investigator of the US bailout program stated that the U.S. may have put itself at risk of up to $23.7 trillion dollars.
In October of 2009, approximately one year following the “great panic” of 2008, I wrote an article titled, The Economic Recovery is an Illusion, in which I analyzed what the most prestigious and powerful financial institution in the world, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), had to say about the crisis and “recovery.”
The BIS, as well as its former chief economist, who had both correctly predicted the crisis that unfolded in 2008, were warning of a future crisis in the global economy, citing the fact that none of the key issues and structural problems with the economy had been changed, and that government bailouts may do more harm than good in the long run.
William White, former Chief Economist of the BIS, warned:
Crying Wolf or Castigating Cassandra?
While people were being lulled into a false sense of security, prominent voices warning of the harsh bite of reality to come were, instead of being listened to, berated and pushed aside by the mainstream media. Gerald Celente, who accurately predicted the economic crisis of 2008 and who had been warning of a much larger crisis to come, had been accused by the mainstream media of pushing “pessimism porn.” Celente’s response has been that he isn’t pushing “pessimism porn,” but that he refuses to push “optimism opium” of which the mainstream media does so outstandingly.
So, are these voices of criticism merely “crying wolf” or is it that the media is out to “castigate Cassandra”? Cassandra, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who was granted by the God Apollo the gift of prophecy. She prophesied and warned the Trojans of the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon and the destruction of Troy. When she warned the Trojans, they simply cast her aside as “mad” and did not heed her warnings.
While those who warn of a future economic crisis may not have been granted the gift of prophecy from Apollo, they certainly have the ability of comprehension.
So what do the Cassandras of the world have to say today? Should we listen?
Empire and Economics
To understand the global economic crisis, we must understand the global causes of the economic crisis. We must first determine how we got to the initial crisis, from there, we can critically assess how governments responded to the outbreak of the crisis, and thus, we can determine where we currently stand, and where we are likely headed.
Africa and much of the developing world was released from the socio-political-economic restraints of the European empires throughout the 1950s and into the 60s. Africans began to try to take their nations into their own hands. At the end of World War II, the United States was the greatest power in the world. It had command of the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF, as well as setting up the NATO military alliance. The US dollar reigned supreme, and its value was tied to gold.
In 1954, Western European elites worked together to form an international think tank called the Bilderberg Group, which would seek to link the political economies of Western Europe and North America. Every year, roughly 130 of the most powerful people in academia, media, military, industry, banking, and politics would meet to debate and discuss key issues related to the expansion of Western hegemony over the world and the re-shaping of world order. They undertook, as one of their key agendas, the formation of the European Union and the Euro currency unit.
In 1971, Nixon abandoned the dollar’s link to gold, which meant that the dollar no longer had a fixed exchange rate, but would change according to the whims and choices of the Federal Reserve (the central bank of the United States). One key individual that was responsible for this choice was the third highest official in the U.S. Treasury Department at the time, Paul Volcker.
Volcker got his start as a staff economist at the New York Federal Reserve Bank in the early 50s. After five years there, “David Rockefeller’s Chase Bank lured him away.” So in 1957, Volcker went to work at Chase, where Rockefeller “recruited him as his special assistant on a congressional commission on money and credit in America and for help, later, on an advisory commission to the Treasury Department.” In the early 60s, Volcker went to work in the Treasury Department, and returned to Chase in 1965 “as an aide to Rockefeller, this time as vice president dealing with international business.” With Nixon entering the White House, Volcker got the third highest job in the Treasury Department. This put him at the center of the decision making process behind the dissolution of the Bretton Woods agreement by abandoning the dollar’s link to gold in 1971.
In 1973, David Rockefeller, the then-Chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and President of the Council on Foreign Relations, created the Trilateral Commission, which sought to expand upon the Bilderberg Group. It was an international think tank, which would include elites from Western Europe, North America, and Japan, and was to align a “trilateral” political economic partnership between these regions. It was to further the interests and hegemony of the Western controlled world order.
That same year, the Petri-dish experiment of neoliberalism was undertaken in Chile. While a leftist government was coming to power in Chile, threatening the economic interests of not only David Rockefeller’s bank, but a number of American corporations, David Rockefeller set up meetings between Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Adviser, and a number of leading corporate industrialists. Kissinger in turn, set up meetings between these individuals and the CIA chief and Nixon himself. Within a short while, the CIA had begun an operation to topple the government of Chile.
On September 11, 1973, a Chilean General, with the help of the CIA, overthrew the government of Chile and installed a military dictatorship that killed thousands. The day following the coup, a plan for an economic restructuring of Chile was on the president’s desk. The economic advisers from the University of Chicago, where the ideas of Milton Freidman poured out, designed the restructuring of Chile along neoliberal lines.
Neoliberalism was thus born in violence.
In 1973, a global oil crisis hit the world. This was the result of the Yom Kippur War, which took place in the Middle East in 1973. However, much more covertly, it was an American strategem. Right when the US dropped the dollar’s peg to gold, the State Department had quietly begun pressuring Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations to increase the price of oil. At the 1973 Bilderberg meeting, held six months before the oil price rises, a 400% increase in the price of oil was discussed. The discussion was over what to do with the large influx of what would come to be called “petrodollars,” the oil revenues of the OPEC nations.
Henry Kissinger worked behind the scenes in 1973 to ensure a war would take place in the Middle East, which happened in October. Then, the OPEC nations drastically increased the price of oil. Many newly industrializing nations of the developing world, free from the shackles of overt political and economic imperialism, suddenly faced a problem: oil is the lifeblood of an industrial society and it is imperative in the process of development and industrialization. If they were to continue to develop and industrialize, they would need the money to afford to do so.
Concurrently, the oil producing nations of the world were awash with petrodollars, bringing in record surpluses. However, to make a profit, the money would need to be invested. This is where the Western banking system came to the scene. With the loss of the dollar’s link to cold, the US currency could flow around the world at a much faster rate. The price of oil was tied to the price of the US dollar, and so oil was traded in US dollars. OPEC nations thus invested their oil money into Western banks, which in turn, would “recycle” that money by loaning it to the developing nations of the world in need of financing industrialization. It seemed like a win-win situation: the oil nations make money, invest it in the West, which loans it to the South, to be able to develop and build “western” societies.
However, all things do not end as fairy tales, especially when those in power are threatened. An industrialized and developed ‘Global South’ (Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia) would not be a good thing for the established Western elites. If they wanted to maintain their hegemony over the world, they must prevent the rise of potential rivals, especially in regions so rich in natural resources and the global supplies of energy.
It was at this time that the United States initiated talks with China. The “opening” of China was to be a Western project of expanding Western capital into China. China will be allowed to rise only so much as the West allows it. The Chinese elite were happy to oblige with the prospect of their own growth in political and economic power. India and Brazil also followed suit, but to a smaller degree than that of China. China and India were to brought within the framework of the Trilateral partnership, and in time, both China and India would have officials attending meetings of the Trilateral Commission.
So money flowed around the world, primarily in the form of the US dollar. Foreign central banks would buy US Treasuries (debts) as an investment, which would also show faith in the strength of the US dollar and economy. The hegemony of the US dollar reached around the world.
The Hegemony of Neoliberalism
In 1977, however, a new US administration came to power under the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, who was himself a member of the Trilateral Commission. With his administration, came another roughly two-dozen members of the Trilateral Commission to fill key positions within his government. In 1973, Paul Volcker, the rising star through Chase Manhattan and the Treasury Department became a member of the Trilateral Commission. In 1975, he was made President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the most powerful of the 12 regional Fed banks. In 1979, Jimmy Carter gave the job of Treasury Secretary to the former Governor of the Federal Reserve System, and in turn, David Rockefeller recommended Jimmy Carter appoint Paul Volcker as Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, which Carter quickly did.
In 1979, the price of oil skyrocketed again. This time, Paul Volcker at the Fed was to take a different approach. His response was to drastically increase interest rates. Interest rates went from 2% in the late 70s to 18% in the early 1980s. The effect this had was that the US economy went into recession, and greatly reduced its imports from developing nations. A the same time, developing nations, who had taken on heavy debt burdens to finance industrialization, suddenly found themselves having to pay 18% interest payments on their loans. The idea that they could borrow heavily to build an industrial society, which would in turn pay off their loans, had suddenly come to a halt. As the US dollar had spread around the world in the forms of petrodollars and loans, the decisions that the Fed made would affect the entire world. In 1982, Mexico announced that it could no longer service its debt, and defaulted on its loans. This marked the spread of the 1980s debt crisis, which spread throughout Latin America and across the continent of Africa.
Suddenly, much of the developing world was plunged into crisis. Thus, the IMF and World Bank entered the scene with their newly developed “Structural Adjustment Programs” (SAPs), which would encompass a country in need signing an agreement, the SAP, which would provide the country with a loan from the IMF, as well as “development” projects by the World Bank. In turn, the country would have to undergo a neoliberal restructuring of its country.
Neoliberalism spread out of America and Britain in the 1980s; through their financial empires and instruments – including the World Bank and IMF – they spread the neoliberal ideology around the globe. Countries that resisted neoliberalism were subjected to “regime change”. This would occur through financial manipulation, via currency speculation or the hegemonic monetary policies of the Western nations, primarily the United States; economic sanctions, via the United Nations or simply done on a bilateral basis; covert regime change, through “colour revolutions” or coups, assassinations; and sometimes overt military campaigns and war.
The neoliberal ideology consisted in what has often been termed “free market fundamentalism.” This would entail a massive wave of privatization, in which state assets and industries are privatized in order to become economically “more productive and efficient.” This would have the social effect of leading to the firing of entire areas of the public sector, especially health and education as well as any specially protected national industries, which for many poor nations meant vital natural resources.
Then, the market would be “liberalized” which meant that restrictions and impediments to foreign investments in the nation would diminish by reducing or eliminating trade barriers and tariffs (taxes), and thus foreign capital (Western corporations and banks) would be able to invest in the country easily, while national industries that grow and “compete” would be able to more easily invest in other nations and industries around the world. The Central Bank of the nation would then keep interest rates artificially low, to allow for the easier movement of money in and out of the country. The effect of this would be that foreign multinational corporations and international banks would be able to easily buy up the privatized industries, and thus, buy up the national economy. Simultaneously major national industries may be allowed to grow and work with the global banks and corporations. This would essentially oligopolize the national economy, and bring it within the sphere of influence of the “global economy” controlled by and for the Western elites.
The European empires had imposed upon Africa and many other colonized peoples around the world a system of ‘indirect rule’, in which local governance structures were restructured and reorganized into a system where the local population is governed by locals, but for the western colonial powers. Thus, a local elite is created, and they enrich themselves through the colonial system, so they have no interest in challenging the colonial powers, but instead seek to protect their own interests, which happen to be the interests of the empire.
In the era of globalization, the leaders of the ‘Third World’ have been co-opted and their societies reorganized by and for the interests of the globalized elites. This is a system of indirect rule, and the local elites becoming ‘indirect globalists’; they have been brought within the global system and structures of empire.
Following a Structural Adjustment Program, masses of people would be left unemployed; the prices of essential commodities such as food and fuel would increase, sometimes by hundreds of percentiles, while the currency lost its value. Poverty would spread and entire sectors of the economy would be shut down. In the “developing” world of Asia, Latin America and Africa, these policies were especially damaging. With no social safety nets to fall into, the people would go hungry; the public state was dismantled.
When it came to Africa, the continent so rapidly de-industrialized throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s that poverty increased by incredible degrees. With that, conflict would spread. In the 1990s, as the harsh effects of neoliberal policies were easily and quickly seen on the African continent, the main notion pushed through academia, the media, and policy circles was that the state of Africa was due to the “mismanagement” by Africans. The blame was put solely on the national governments. While national political and economic elites did become complicit in the problems, the problems were imposed from beyond the continent, not from within.
Thus, in the 1990s, the notion of “good governance” became prominent. This was the idea that in return for loans and “help” from the IMF and World Bank, nations would need to undertake reforms not only of the economic sector, but also to create the conditions of what the west perceived as “good governance.” However, in neoliberal parlance, “good governance” implies “minimal governance”, and governments still had to dismantle their public sectors. They simply had to begin applying the illusion of democracy, through the holding of elections and allowing for the formation of a civil society. “Freedom” however, was still to maintain simply an economic concept, in that the nation would be “free” for Western capital to enter into.
While massive poverty and violence spread across the continent, people were given the “gift” of elections. They would elect one leader, who would then be locked into an already pre-determined economic and political structure. The political leaders would enrich themselves at the expense of others, and then be thrown out at the next election, or simply fix the elections. This would continue, back and forth, all the while no real change would be allowed to take place. Western imposed “democracy” had thus failed.
An article in a 2002 edition of International Affairs, the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (the British counter-part to the Council on Foreign Relations), wrote that:
The authors then explained that NGOs have a peculiar evolution in Africa:
The authors examined how with the spread of neoliberalism, the notion of a “minimalist state” spread across the world and across Africa. Thus, they explain, the IMF and World Bank “became the new commanders of post-colonial economies.” However, these efforts were not imposed without resistance, as, “Between 1976 and 1992 there were 146 protests against IMF-supported austerity measures [SAPs] in 39 countries around the world.” Usually, however, governments responded with brute force, violently oppressing demonstrations. However, the widespread opposition to these “reforms” needed to be addressed by major organizations and “aid” agencies in re-evaluating their approach to ‘development’:
The outcome of these deliberations was the ‘good governance’ agenda in the 1990s and the decision to co-opt NGOs and other civil society organizations to a repackaged programme of welfare provision, a social initiative that could be more accurately described as a programme of social control.
The result was to implement the notion of ‘pluralism’ in the form of ‘multipartyism’, which only ended up in bringing “into the public domain the seething divisions between sections of the ruling class competing for control of the state.” As for the ‘welfare initiatives’, the bilateral and multilateral aid agencies set aside significant funds for addressing the “social dimensions of adjustment,” which would “minimize the more glaring inequalities that their policies perpetuated.” This is where the growth of NGOs in Africa rapidly accelerated.
Africa had again, become firmly enraptured in the cold grip of imperialism. Conflicts in Africa would be stirred up by imperial foreign powers, often using ethnic divides to turn the people against each other, using the political leaders of African nations as vassals submissive to Western hegemony. War and conflict would spread, and with it, so too would Western capital and the multinational corporation.
Building a ‘New’ Economy
While the developing world fell under the heavy sword of Western neoliberal hegemony, the Western industrialized societies experienced a rapid growth of their own economic strength. It was the Western banks and multinational corporations that spread into and took control of the economies of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Russia opened itself up to Western finance, and the IMF and World Bank swept in and imposed neoliberal restructuring, which led to a collapse of the Russian economy, and enrichment of a few billionaire oligarchs who own the Russian economy, and who are intricately connected with Western economic interests; again, ‘indirect globalists’.
As the Western financial and commercial sectors took control of the vast majority of the world’s resources and productive industries, amassing incredible profits, they needed new avenues in which to invest. Out of this need for a new road to capital accumulation (making money), the US Federal Reserve stepped in to help out.
The Federal Reserve in the 1990s began to ease interest rates lower and lower to again allow for the easier spread of money. This was the era of ‘globalization,’ where proclamations of a “New World Order” emerged. Regional trading blocs and “free trade” agreements spread rapidly, as world systems of political and economic structure increasingly grew out of the national structure and into a supra-national form. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in an “economic constitution for North America” as Reagan referred to it.
Regionalism had emerged as the next major phase in the construction of the New World Order, with the European Union being at the forefront. The world economy was ‘globalized’ and so too, would the political structure follow, on both regional and global levels. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was formed to maintain and enshrine global neoliberal constitution for trade. All through this time, a truly global ruling class emerged, the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC), or global elite, which constituted a singular international class.
However, as the wealth and power of elites grew, everyone else suffered. The middle class had been subjected to a quiet dismantling. In the Western developed nations, industries and factories closed down, relocating to cheap Third World countries to exploit their labour, then sell the products in the Western world cheaply. Our living standards in the West began to fall, but because we could buy products for cheaper, no one seemed to complain. We continued to consume, and we used credit and debt to do so. The middle class existed only in theory, but was in fact, beholden to the shackles of debt.
The Clinton administration used ‘globalization’ as its grand strategy throughout the 1990s, facilitating the decline of productive capital (as in, money that flows into production of goods and services), and implemented the rise finance capital (money made on money). Thus, financial speculation became one of the key tools of economic expansion. This is what was termed the “financialization” of the economy. To allow this to occur, the Clinton administration actively worked to deregulate the banking sector. The Glass-Steagle Act, put in place by FDR in 1933 to prevent commercial banks from merging with investment banks and engaging in speculation, (which in large part caused the Great Depression), was slowly dismantled through the coordinated efforts of America’s largest banks, the Federal Reserve, and the US Treasury Department.
Thus, a massive wave of consolidation took place, as large banks ate smaller banks, corporations merged, where banks and corporations stopped being American or European and became truly global. Some of the key individuals that took part in the dismantling of Glass-Steagle and the expansion of ‘financialization’ were Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve and Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers at the Treasury Department, now key officials in Obama’s economic team.
This era saw the rise of ‘derivatives’ which are ‘complex financial instruments’ that essentially act as short-term insurance policies, betting and speculating that an asset price or commodity would go up or go down in value, allowing money to be made on whether stocks or prices go up or down. However, it wasn’t called ‘insurance’ because ‘insurance’ has to be regulated. Thus, it was referred to as derivatives trade, and organizations called Hedge Funds entered the picture in managing the global trade in derivatives.
The stock market would go up as speculation on future profits drove stocks higher and higher, inflating a massive bubble in what was termed a ‘virtual economy.’ The Federal Reserve facilitated this, as it had previously done in the lead-up to the Great Depression, by keeping interest rates artificially low, and allowing for easy-flowing money into the financial sector. The Federal Reserve thus inflated the ‘dot-com’ bubble of the technology sector. When this bubble burst, the Federal Reserve, with Allen Greenspan at the helm, created the “housing bubble.”
The Federal Reserve maintained low interest rates and actively encouraged and facilitated the flow of money into the housing sector. Banks were given free reign and actually encouraged to make loans to high-risk individuals who would never be able to pay back their debt. Again, the middle class existed only in the myth of the ‘free market’.
Concurrently, throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the role of speculation as a financial instrument of war became apparent. Within the neoliberal global economy, money could flow easily into and out of countries. Thus, when confidence weakens in the prospect of one nation’s economy, there can be a case of ‘capital flight’ where foreign investors sell their assets in that nation’s currency and remove their capital from that country. This results in an inevitable collapse of the nations economy.
This happened to Mexico in 1994, in the midst of joining NAFTA, where international investors speculated against the Mexican peso, betting that it would collapse; they cashed in their pesos for dollars, which devalued the peso and collapsed the Mexican economy. This was followed by the East Asian financial crisis in 1997, where throughout the 1990s, Western capital had penetrated East Asian economies speculating in real estate and the stock markets. However, this resulted in over-investment, as the real economy, (production, manufacturing, etc.) could not keep up with speculative capital. Thus, Western capital feared a crisis, and began speculating against the national currencies of East Asian economies, which triggered devaluation and a financial panic as capital fled from East Asia into Western banking sectors. The economies collapsed and then the IMF came in to ‘restructure’ them accordingly. The same strategy was undertaken with Russia in 1998, and Argentina in 2001.
Throughout the 2000s, the housing bubble was inflated beyond measure, and around the middle of the decade, when the indicators emerged of a crisis in the housing market a commercial real estate bubble was formed. This bubble has yet to burst.
The 2007-2008 Financial Crisis
In 2007, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the most prestigious financial institution in the world and the central bank to the world’s central banks, issued a warning that the world is on the verge of another Great Depression, “citing mass issuance of new-fangled credit instruments, soaring levels of household debt, extreme appetite for risk shown by investors, and entrenched imbalances in the world currency system.”
As the housing bubble began to collapse, the commodity bubble was inflated, where money went increasingly into speculation, the stock market, and the price of commodities soared, such as with the massive increases in the price of oil between 2007 and 2008. In September of 2007, a medium-sized British Bank called Northern Rock, a major partaker in the loans of bad mortgages which turned out to be worthless, sought help from the Bank of England, which led to a run on the bank and investor panic. In February of 2008, the British government bought and nationalized Northern Rock.
In March of 2008, Bear Stearns, an American bank that had been a heavy lender in the mortgage real estate market, went into crisis. On March 14, 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York worked with J.P. Morgan Chase (whose CEO is a board member of the NY Fed) to provide Bear Stearns with an emergency loan. However, they quickly changed their mind, and the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, working with the President of the New York Fed, Timothy Geithner, and the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (former CEO of Goldman Sachs), forced Bear Stearns to sell itself to JP Morgan Chase for $2 a share, which had previously traded at $172 a share in January of 2007. The merger was paid for by the Federal Reserve of New York, and charged to the US taxpayer.
In June of 2008, the BIS again warned of an impending Great Depression.
In September of 2008, the US government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two major home mortgage corporations. The same month, the global bank Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, giving the signal that no one is safe and that the entire economy was on the verge of collapse. Lehman was a major dealer in the US Treasury Securities market and was heavily invested in home mortgages. Lehman filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, marking the largest bankruptcy in US history. A wave of bank consolidation spread across the United States and internationally. The big banks became much bigger as Bank of America swallowed Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan ate Washington Mutual, and Wells Fargo took over Wachovia.
In November of 2008, the US government bailed out the largest insurance company in the world, AIG. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with Timothy Geithner at the helm:
As Bloomberg reported, since the New York Fed is quasi-governmental, as in, it is given government authority, but not subject to government oversight, and is owned by the banks that make up its board (such as JP Morgan Chase), “It’s as though the New York Fed was a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank.”
In the fall of 2008, the Bush administration sought to implement a bailout package for the economy, designed to save the US banking system. The leaders of the nation went into rabid fear mongering. The President warned:
The head of the Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke, as well as Treasury Secretary Paulson, in late September warned of “recession, layoffs and lost homes if Congress doesn’t quickly approve the Bush administration’s emergency $700 billion financial bailout plan.” Seven months prior, in February of 2008, prior to the collapse of Bear Stearns, both Bernanke and Paulson said “the nation will avoid falling into recession.” In September of 2008, Paulson was saying that people “should be scared.”
The bailout package was made into a massive financial scam, which would plunge the United States into unprecedented levels of debt, while pumping incredible amounts of money into major global banks.
The public was told, as was the Congress, that the bailout was worth $700 billion dollars. However, this was extremely misleading, and a closer reading of the fine print would reveal much more, in that $700 billion is the amount that could be spent “at any one time.” As Chris Martenson wrote:
Further, the proposed bill would “raise the nation’s debt ceiling to $11.315 trillion from $10.615 trillion,” and that the actions taken as a result of the passage of the bill would not be subject to investigation by the nation’s court system, as it would “bar courts from reviewing actions taken under its authority”:
Larisa Alexandrovna, writing with the Huffington Post, warned that the passage of the bailout bill will be the final nails in the coffin of the fascist coup over America, in the form of financial fascists:
At the same time, the US Federal Reserve was bailing out foreign banks of hundreds of billions of dollars, “that are desperate for dollars and can’t access America’s frozen credit markets – a move co-ordinated with central banks in Japan, the Eurozone, Switzerland, Canada and here in the UK.” The moves would have been coordinated through the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basle, Switzerland. As Politico reported, “foreign-based banks with big U.S. operations could qualify for the Treasury Department’s mortgage bailout.” A Treasury Fact Sheet released by the US Department of Treasury stated that:
So, the bailout package would not only allow for the rescue of American banks, but any banks internationally, whether public or private, if the Treasury Secretary deemed it “necessary”, and that none of the Secretary’s decisions could be reviewed or subjected to oversight of any kind. Further, it would mean that the Treasury Secretary would have a blank check, but simply wouldn’t be able to hand out more than $700 billion “at any one time.” In short, the bailout is in fact, a coup d’état by the banks over the government.
Many Congressmen were told that if they failed to pass the bailout package, they were threatened with martial law. Sure enough, Congress passed the bill, and the financial coup had been a profound success.
No wonder then, in early 2009, one Congressman reported that the banks “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.” Another Congressman said that “The banks run the place,” and explained, “I will tell you what the problem is – they give three times more money than the next biggest group. It’s huge the amount of money they put into politics.”
The Collapse of Iceland
On October 9th, 2008, the government of Iceland took control of the nation’s largest bank, nationalizing it, and halted trading on the Icelandic stock market. Within a single week, “the vast majority of Iceland’s once-proud banking sector has been nationalized.” In early October, it was reported that:
An article in BusinessWeek explained:
This was the grueling situation that faced the government at the time of the global economic crisis. The causes, however, were not Icelandic; they were international. Iceland owed “more than $60 billion overseas, about six times the value of its annual economic output. As a professor at London School of Economics said, ‘No Western country in peacetime has crashed so quickly and so badly’.”
What went wrong?
Iceland followed the path of neoliberalism, deregulated banking and financial sectors and aided in the spread and ease of flow for international capital. When times got tough, Iceland went into crisis, as the Observer reported in early October 2008:
In 2007, the UN had awarded Iceland the “best country to live in”:
As the third of Iceland’s large banks was in trouble, following the government takeover of the previous two, the UK responded by freezing Icelandic assets in the UK. Kaupthing, the last of the three banks standing in early October, had many assets in the UK.
On October 7th, Iceland’s Central Bank governor told the media, “We will not pay for irresponsible debtors and…not for banks who have behaved irresponsibly.” The following day, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, claimed that, “The Icelandic government, believe it or not, have told me yesterday they have no intention of honoring their obligations here,” although, Arni Mathiesen, the Icelandic minister of finance, said, “nothing in this telephone conversation can support the conclusion that Iceland would not honor its obligation.”
On October 10, 2008, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “We are freezing the assets of Icelandic companies in the United Kingdom where we can. We will take further action against the Icelandic authorities wherever that is necessary to recover money.” Thus:
The UK had more than £840m invested in Icelandic banks, and they were moving in to save their investments, which just so happened to help spur on the collapse of the Icelandic economy.
On October 24, 2008, an agreement between Iceland and the IMF was signed. In late November, the IMF approved a loan to Iceland of $2.1 billion, with an additional $3 billion in loans from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Poland. Why the agreement to the loan took so long, was because the UK pressured the IMF to delay the loan “until a dispute over the compensation Iceland owes savers in Icesave, one of its collapsed banks, is resolved.”
In January of 2009, the entire Icelandic government was “formally dissolved” as the government collapsed when the Prime Minister and his entire cabinet resigned. This put the opposition part in charge of an interim government. In July of 2009, the new government formally applied for European Union membership, however, “Icelanders have traditionally been skeptical of the benefits of full EU membership, fearing that they would lose some of their independence as a small state within a larger political entity.”
In August of 2009, Iceland’s parliament passed a bill “to repay Britain and the Netherlands more than $5 billion lost in Icelandic deposit accounts”:
Iceland is now in the service of the IMF and its international creditors. The small independent nation that for so long had prided itself on a strong economy and strong sense of independence had been brought to its knees.
In mid-January of 2010, the IMF and Sweden together delayed their loans to Iceland, due to Iceland’s “failure to reach a £2.3bn compensation deal with Britain and the Netherlands over its collapsed Icesave accounts.” Sweden, the UK and the IMF were blackmailing Iceland to save UK assets in return for loans.
In February of 2010, it was reported that the EU would begin negotiations with Iceland to secure Icelandic membership in the EU by 2012. However, Iceland’s “aspirations are now tied partially to a dispute with the Netherlands and Britain over $5 billion in debts lost in the country’s banking collapse in late 2008.”
Iceland stood as a sign of what was to come. The sovereign debt crisis that brought Iceland to its knees had new targets on the horizon.
Dubai Hit By Financial Storm
In February of 2009, the Guardian reported that, “A six-year boom that turned sand dunes into a glittering metropolis, creating the world’s tallest building, its biggest shopping mall and, some say, a shrine to unbridled capitalism, is grinding to a halt,” as Dubai, one of six states that form the United Arab Emirates (UAE), went into crisis. Further, “the real estate bubble that propelled the frenetic expansion of Dubai on the back of borrowed cash and speculative investment, has burst.”
Months later, in November of 2009, Dubai was plunged into a debt crisis, prompting fears of sparking a double-dip recession and the next wave of the financial crisis. As the Guardian reported:
The neighboring oil-rich state of Abu Dhabi, however, came to the rescue of Dubai with a $10 billion bailout package, leading the Foreign Minister of the UAE to declare Dubai’s financial crisis as over.
In mid-February of 2010, however, renewed fears of a debt crisis in Dubai resurfaced; Morgan Stanley reported that, “the cost to insure against a Dubai default [in mid-February] shot up to the level it was at during the peak of the city-state’s debt crisis in November.” These fears resurfaced as:
Again, the aims that governments seek in the unfolding debt crisis is not to save their people from a collapsing economy and inflated currency, but to save the ‘interests’ of their major banks and corporations within each collapsing economy.
A Sovereign Debt Crisis Hits Greece
In October of 2009, a new Socialist government came to power in Greece on the promise of injecting 3 billion euros to reinvigorate the Greek economy. Greece had suffered particularly hard during the economic crisis; it experienced riots and protests. In December of 2009, Greece said it would not default on its debt, but the government added, “Salaried workers will not pay for this situation: we will not proceed with wage freezes or cuts. We did not come to power to tear down the social state.” As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote for the Telegraph in December of 2009:
Evans-Pritchard wrote that the crisis in Greece had much to do with the European Monetary Union (EMU), which created the Euro, and made all member states subject to the decisions of the European Central Bank, as “Interest rates were too low for Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland, causing them all to be engulfed in a destructive property and wage boom.” Further:
Greece’s debt had soared, by early December 2009, to a spiraling 300-billion euros, as its “financial woes have also weighed on the euro currency, whose long-term value depends on member countries keeping their finances in order.” Further, Ireland, Spain and Portugal were all facing problems with their debt. As it turned out, the previous Greek government had been cooking the books, and when the new government came to power, it inherited twice the federal deficit it had anticipated.
In February of 2010, the New York Times revealed that:
Even back in 2001, when Greece joined the Euro-bloc, Goldman Sachs helped the country “quietly borrow billions” in a deal “hidden from public view because it was treated as a currency trade rather than a loan, [and] helped Athens to meet Europe’s deficit rules while continuing to spend beyond its means.” Further, “Greece owes the world $300 billion, and major banks are on the hook for much of that debt. A default would reverberate around the globe.” Both Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase had undertaken similar efforts in Italy and other countries in Europe as well.
In early February, EU nations led by France and Germany met to discuss a rescue package for Greece, likely with the help of the European Central Bank and possibly the IMF. The issue had plunged the Eurozone into a crisis, as confidence in the Euro fell across the board, and “Germans have become so disillusioned with the euro, many will not accept notes produced outside their homeland.”
Germany was expected to bail out the Greek economy, much to the dismay of the German people. As one German politician stated, “We cannot expect the citizens, whose taxes are already too high, to go along with supporting the erroneous financial and budget policy of other states of the eurozone.” One economist warned that the collapse of Greece could lead to a collapse of the Euro:
However, the Lisbon Treaty had been passed over 2009, which put into effect a European Constitution, giving Brussels enormous powers over its member states. As the Telegraph reported on February 16, 2010, the EU stripped Greece of its right to vote at a crucial meeting to take place in March:
It would appear that the EU is in a troubling position. If they allow the IMF to rescue Greece, it would be a blow to the faith in the Euro currency, whereas if they bailout Greece, it will encourage internal pressures within European countries to abandon the Euro.
In early February, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in the Telegraph that, “The Greek debt crisis has spread to Spain and Portugal in a dangerous escalation as global markets test whether Europe is willing to shore up monetary union with muscle rather than mere words”:
Fear began to spread in regards to a growing sovereign debt crisis, stretching across Greece, Spain and Portugal, and likely much wider and larger than that.
A Global Debt Crisis
In 2007, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), “the world’s most prestigious financial body,” warned of a coming great depression, and stated that while in a crisis, central banks may cut interest rates (which they subsequently did). However, as the BIS pointed out, while cutting interest rates may help, in the long run it has the effect of “sowing the seeds for more serious problems further ahead.”
In the summer of 2008, prior to the apex of the 2008 financial crisis in September and October, the BIS again warned of the inherent dangers of a new Great Depression. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote, “the ultimate bank of central bankers” warned that central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, would not find it so easy to “clean up” the messes they had made in asset-price bubbles.
The BIS report stated that, “It is not impossible that the unwinding of the credit bubble could, after a temporary period of higher inflation, culminate in a deflation that might be hard to manage, all the more so given the high debt levels.” As Evans-Pritchard explained, “this amounts to a warning that monetary overkill by the Fed, the Bank of England, and above all the European Central Bank could prove dangerous at this juncture.” The BIS report warned that, “Global banks – with loans of $37 trillion in 2007, or 70pc of world GDP – are still in the eye of the storm.” Ultimately, the actions of central banks were designed “to put off the day of reckoning,” not to prevent it.
Seeing how the BIS is not simply a casual observer, but is in fact the most important financial institution in the world, as it is where the world’s central bankers meet and, in secret, decide monetary policy for the world. As central banks have acted as the architects of the financial crisis, the BIS warning of a Great Depression is not simply a case of Cassandra prophesying the Trojan Horse, but is a case where she prophesied the horse, then opened the gates of Troy and pulled the horse in.
It was within this context that the governments of the world took on massive amounts of debt and bailed out the financial sectors from their accumulated risk by buying their bad debts.
In late June of 2009, several months following Western governments implementing bailouts and stimulus packages, the world was in the euphoria of “recovery.” At this time, however, the Bank for International Settlements released another report warning against such complacency in believing in the “recovery.” The BIS warned of only “limited progress” in fixing the financial system. The article is worth quoting at length:
The BIS had thus endorsed the bailout and stimulus packages, which is no surprise, considering that the BIS is owned by the central banks of the world, which in turn are owned by the major global banks that were “bailed out” by the governments. However, the BIS warned that these rescue efforts, “while necessary” for the banks, will likely have deleterious effects for national governments.
The BIS warned that, “there’s a risk central banks will raise interest rates and withdraw emergency liquidity too late, triggering inflation”:
Of enormous significance was the warning from the BIS that, “fiscal stimulus packages may provide no more than a temporary boost to growth, and be followed by an extended period of economic stagnation.” As the Australian reported in late June:
Further, major western countries such as Australia “faced the possibility of a run on the currency, which would force interest rates to rise,” and “Particularly in smaller and more open economies, pressure on the currency could force central banks to follow a tighter policy than would be warranted by domestic economic conditions.” Not surprisingly, the BIS stated that, “government guarantees and asset insurance have exposed taxpayers to potentially large losses,” through the bailouts and stimulus packages, and “stimulus programs will drive up real interest rates and inflation expectations,” as inflation “would intensify as the downturn abated.”
In May of 2009, Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), warned that Britain faces a major struggle in the next phase of the economic crisis:
However, as dire as things look for Britain, “The UK is likely to be joined by other countries as the full scale of the downturn becomes apparent and more financial skeletons are pulled from the sub-prime closet.”
In September of 2009, the former Chief Economist of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), William White, who had accurately predicted the previous crisis, warned that, “The world has not tackled the problems at the heart of the economic downturn and is likely to slip back into recession.” He “also warned that government actions to help the economy in the short run may be sowing the seeds for future crises.” An article in the Financial Times elaborated:
In late September of 2009, the General Manager of the BIS warned governments against complacency, saying that, “the market rebound should not be misinterpreted,” and that, “The profile of the recovery is not clear.”
In September, the Financial Times further reported that William White, former Chief Economist at the BIS, also “argued that after two years of government support for the financial system, we now have a set of banks that are even bigger – and more dangerous – than ever before,” which also, “has been argued by Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund,” who “says that the finance industry has in effect captured the US government,” and pointedly stated: “recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform.”
In mid-September, the BIS released a warning about the global financial system, as “The global market for derivatives rebounded to $426 trillion in the second quarter [of 2009] as risk appetite returned, but the system remains unstable and prone to crises.” The derivatives rose by 16% “mostly due to a surge in futures and options contracts on three-month interest rates.” In other words, speculation is back in full force as bailout money to banks in turn fed speculative practices that have not been subjected to reform or regulation. Thus, the problems that created the previous crisis are still present and growing:
In late November of 2009, Morgan Stanley warned that, “Britain risks becoming the first country in the G10 bloc of major economies to risk capital flight and a full-blown debt crisis over coming months.” The Bank of England may have to raise interest rates “before it is ready — risking a double-dip recession, and an incipient compound-debt spiral.” Further:
As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote for the Telegraph, this “is a reminder that countries merely bought time during the crisis by resorting to fiscal stimulus and shunting private losses onto public books,” and, while he endorsed the stimulus packages claiming it was “necessary,” he admitted that the stimulus packages “have not resolved the underlying debt problem. They have storied up a second set of difficulties by degrading sovereign debt across much of the world.” Morgan Stanley said another surprise in 2010 could be a surge in the dollar. However, this would be due to capital flight out of Europe as its economies crumble under their debt burdens and capital seeks a “safe haven” in the US dollar.
In December of 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported on the warnings of some of the nation’s top economists, who feared that following a financial crisis such as the one experienced in the previous two years, “there’s typically a wave of sovereign default crises.” As economist Kenneth Rogoff explained, “If you want to know what’s next on the menu, that’s a good bet,” as “Spiraling government debts around the world, from Washington to Berlin to Tokyo, could set the scene for years of financial troubles.” Apart from the obvious example of Greece, other countries are at risk, as the author of the article wrote:
Rogoff predicted that, “We’re going to be raising taxes sky high,” and that, “we’re probably going to see a lot of inflation, eventually. We will have to. It’s the easiest way to reduce the value of those liabilities in real terms.” Rogoff stated, “The way rich countries default is through inflation.” Further, “even U.S. municipal bonds won’t be safe from trouble. California could be among those facing a default crisis.” Rogoff elaborated, “It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Federal Reserve buying California debt at some point, or some form of bailout.”
The bailouts, particularly that of the United States, handed a blank check to the world’s largest banks. As another favour, the US government put those same banks in charge of ‘reform’ and ‘regulation’ of the banking industry. Naturally, no reform or regulation took place. Thus, the money given to banks by the government can be used in financial speculation. As the sovereign debt crisis unfolds and spreads around the globe, the major international banks will be able to create enormous wealth in speculation, rapidly pulling their money out of one nation in debt crisis, precipitating a collapse, and moving to another, until all the dominoes have fallen, and the banks stand larger, wealthier, and more powerful than any nation or institution on earth (assuming they already aren’t). This is why the bankers were so eager to undertake a financial coup of the United States, to ensure that no actual reform took place, that they could loot the nation of all it has, and profit off of its eventual collapse and the collapse of the global economy. The banks have been saved! Now everyone else must pay.
Edmund Conway, the Economics Editor of the Telegraph, reported in early January of 2010, that throughout the year:
In other words, the ‘recovery’ is an illusion. In mid-January of 2010, the World Economic Forum released a report in which it warned that, “There is now more than a one-in-five chance of another asset price bubble implosion costing the world more than £1 trillion, and similar odds of a full-scale sovereign fiscal crisis.” The report warned of a simultaneous second financial crisis coupled with a major fiscal crisis as countries default on their debts. The report “also warned of the possibility of China’s economy overheating and, instead of helping support global economic growth, preventing a fully-fledged recovery from developing.” Further:
Nouriel Roubini, one of America’s top economists who predicted the financial crisis, wrote an article in Forbes in January of 2010 explaining that, “the severe recession, combined with a financial crisis during 2008-09, worsened the fiscal positions of developed countries due to stimulus spending, lower tax revenues and support to the financial sector.” He warned that the debt burden of major economies, including the US, Japan and Britain, would likely increase. With this, investors will become wary of the sustainability of fiscal markets and will begin to withdraw from debt markets, long considered “safe havens.” Further:
As interest rates rise, which they will have to in a tightening of monetary policy, (which up until now have been kept artificially low so as to encourage the spread of liquidity around the world), interest payments on the debt will increase dramatically. Roubini warned:
Governments will thus need to drastically increase taxes and cut spending. Essentially, this will amount to a global “Structural Adjustment Program” (SAP) in the developed, industrialized nations of the West.
Where SAPs imposed upon ‘Third World’ debtor nations would provide a loan in return for the dismantling of the public state, higher taxes, growing unemployment, total privatization of state industries and deregulation of trade and investment, the loans provided by the IMF and World Bank would ultimately benefit Western multinational corporations and banks. This is what the Western world now faces: we bailed out the banks, and now we must pay for it, through massive unemployment, increased taxes, and the dismantling of the public sphere.
In February of 2010, Niall Ferguson, a prominent British economic historian, wrote an article for the Financial Times entitled, “A Greek Crisis Coming to America.” He starts by explaining that, “It began in Athens. It is spreading to Lisbon and Madrid. But it would be a grave mistake to assume that the sovereign debt crisis that is unfolding will remain confined to the weaker eurozone economies.” He explained that this is not a crisis confined to one region, “It is a fiscal crisis of the western world,” and “Its ramifications are far more profound than most investors currently appreciate.” Ferguson writes that, “the problem is essentially the same from Iceland to Ireland to Britain to the US. It just comes in widely differing sizes,” and the US is no small risk:
Ferguson points out that, “The long-run projections of the Congressional Budget Office suggest that the US will never again run a balanced budget. That’s right, never.” Ferguson explains that debt will hurt major economies:
In late February of 2010, the warning signs were flashing red that interest rates were going to have to rise, taxes increase, and the burden of debt would need to be addressed.
China Begins to Dump US Treasuries
US Treasuries are US government debt that is issued by the US Treasury Department, which are bought by foreign governments as an investment. It is a show of faith in the US economy to buy their debt (i.e., Treasuries). In buying a US Treasury, you are lending money to the US government for a certain period of time.
However, as the United States has taken on excessive debt loads to save the banks from crisis, the prospect of buying US Treasuries has become less appealing, and the threat that they are an unsafe investment is ever-growing. In February of 2009, Hilary Clinton urged China to continue buying US Treasuries in order to finance Obama’s stimulus package. As an article in Bloomberg pointed out:
The following month, the Chinese central bank announced that they would continue buying US Treasuries.
However, in February of 2009, Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest individuals, warned against buying US Treasuries:
In September of 2009, an article on CNN reported of the dangers if China were to start dumping US Treasuries, which “could cause longer-term interest rates to shoot up since bond prices and yields move in opposite directions,” as a weakening US currency could lead to inflation, which would in turn, reduce the value and worth of China’s holdings in US Treasuries.
It has become a waiting game; an economic catch-22: China holds US debt (Treasuries) which allows the US to spend to “save the economy” (or more accurately, the banks), but all the spending has plunged the US into such abysmal debt from which it will never be able to emerge. The result is that inflation will likely occur, with a possibility of hyperinflation, thus reducing the value of the US currency. China’s economy is entirely dependent upon the US as a consumer economy, while the US is dependent upon China as a buyer and holder of US debt. Both countries are delaying the inevitable. If China doesn’t want to hold worthless investments (US debt) it must stop buying US Treasuries, and then international faith in the US currency would begin to fall, forcing interest rates to rise, which could even precipitate a speculative assault against the US dollar. At the same time, a collapsing US currency and economy would not help China’s economy, which would tumble with it. So, it has become a waiting game.
In February of 2010, the Financial Times reported that China had begun in December of 2009, the process of dumping US Treasuries, and thus falling behind Japan as the largest holder of US debt, selling approximately $38.8 billion of US Treasuries, as “Foreign demand for US Treasury bonds fell by a record amount”:
So, China has given the US a vote of non-confidence. This is evident of the slippery-slide down the road to a collapse of the US economy, and possibly, the US dollar, itself.
Is a Debt Crisis Coming to America?
All the warning signs are there: America is in dire straights when it comes to its total debt, proper actions have not been taken to reform the monetary or financial systems, the same problems remain prevalent, and the bailout and stimulus packages have further exposed the United States to astronomical debt levels. While the dollar will likely continue to go up as confidence in the Eurozone economies tumbles, this is not because the dollar is a good investment, but because the dollar is simply a better investment (for now) than the Euro, which isn’t saying much.
The Chinese moves to begin dumping US Treasuries is a signal that the issue of American debt has already weighed in on the functions and movements of the global financial system. While the day of reckoning may be months if not years away, it is coming nonetheless.
On February 15, it was reported that the Federal Reserve, having pumped $2.2 trillion into the economy, “must start pulling that money back.” As the Fed reportedly bought roughly $2 trillion in bad assets, it is now debating “how and when to sell those assets.” As the Korea Times reported, “The problem: Do it too quickly and the Fed might cut off or curtail the recovery. Wait too long and risk setting off a punishing round of inflation.”
In mid-February, there were reports of dissent within the Federal Reserve System, as Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, warned that, “The US must fix its growing debt problems or risk a new financial crisis.” He explained, “that rising debt was infringing on the central bank’s ability to fulfill its goals of maintaining price stability and long-term economic growth.” In January, he was the lone voice at a Fed meeting that said interest rates should not remain near zero for an “extended period.” He said the worst case scenario would be for the US government to have to again ask the Fed to print more money, and instead suggested that, “the administration must find ways to cut spending and generate revenue,” admitting that it would be a “painful and politically inconvenient” process.
However, these reports are largely disingenuous, as it has placed focus on a superficial debt level. The United States, even prior to the onset of the economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, had long been a reckless spender. The cost of maintaining an empire is astronomical and beyond the actual means of any nation. Historically, the collapse of empires has as much or more to do with a collapse in their currency and fiscal system than their military defeat or collapse in war. Also important to note is that these processes are not mutually exclusive, but are, in fact, intricately interconnected.
As empires decline, the world order is increasingly marred in economic crises and international conflict. As the crisis in the economy worsens, international conflict and wars spread. As I have amply documented elsewhere, the United States, since the end of World War II, has been the global hegemon: maintaining the largest military force in the world, and not shying away from using it, as well as running the global monetary system. Since the 1970s, the US dollar has acted as a world reserve currency. Following the collapse of the USSR, the grand imperial strategy of America was to dominate Eurasia and control the world militarily and economically.
Throughout the years of the Bush administration, the imperial strategy was given immense new life under the guise of the “war on terror.” Under this banner, the United States declared war on the world and all who oppose its hegemony. All the while, the administration colluded with the big banks and the Federal Reserve to artificially maintain the economic system. In the latter years of the Bush administration, this illusion began to come tumbling down. Never before in history has such a large nation wages multiple major theatre wars around the world without the public at home being fiscally restrained in some manner, either through higher taxes or interest rates. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The trillion dollar wars plunged the United States deeper into debt.
By 2007, the year that Northern Rock collapsed in the UK, signaling the start of the collapse of 2008, the total debt – domestic, commercial and consumer debt – of the United States stood at a shocking $51 trillion.
As if this debt burden was not enough, considering it would be impossible to ever pay back, the past two years has seen the most expansive and rapid debt expansion ever seen in world history – in the form of stimulus and bailout packages around the world. In July of 2009, it was reported that, “U.S. taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as $23.7 trillion to bolster the economy and bail out financial companies, said Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.”
That is worth noting once again: the “bailout” bill implemented under Bush, and fully supported and sponsored by President-elect Obama, has possibly bailed out the financial sector of up to $23.7 trillion. How could this be? After all, the public was told that the “bailout” was $700 billion.
In fact, the fine print in the bailout bill revealed that $700 billion was not a ceiling, as in, $700 billion was not the maximum amount of money that could be injected into the banks; it was the maximum that could be injected into the financial system “at any one time.” Thus, it became a “rolling amount.” It essentially created a back-door loophole for the major global banks, both domestic and foreign, to plunder the nation and loot it entirely. There was no limit to the money banks could get from the Fed. And none of the actions would be subject to review or oversight by Congress or the Judiciary, i.e., the people.
This is why, as Obama became President in late January of 2009, his administration fully implemented the financial coup over the United States. The man who had been responsible for orchestrating the bailout of AIG, the buyout of Bear Stearns as a gift for JP Morgan Chase, and had been elected to run the Federal Reserve Bank of New York by the major global banks in New York (chief among them, JP Morgan Chase), had suddenly become Treasury Secretary under Obama. The Fed, and thus, the banks were now put directly in charge of the looting.
Obama then took on a team of economic advisers that made any astute economic observer flinch in terror. The titans of economic crisis and catastrophe had become the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Those who were instrumental in creating and constructing the economic crises of the previous decades and building the instruments and infrastructure that led to the current crisis, were with Obama, brought in to “solve” the crisis they created. Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and architect of the 1980s debt crisis, was now a top economic adviser to Obama. As well as this, Lawrence Summers joined Obama’s economic team, who had previously been instrumental in Bill Clinton’s Treasury Department in dismantling all banking regulations and creating the market for speculation and derivatives which directly led to the current crisis.
In short, the financial oligarchy is in absolute control of the United States government. Concurrently, the military structure of the American empire has firmly established its grip over foreign policy, as America’s wars are expanded into Pakistan, Yemen, and potentially Iran.
Make no mistake, a crisis is coming to America, it is only a question of when, and how severe.
Imperial Decline and the Rise of the New World Order
The decline of the American empire, an inevitable result of its half-century of exerting its political and economic hegemony around the world, is not an isolated event in the global political economy. The US declines concurrently with the rise of what is termed the “New World Order.”
America has been used by powerful western banking and corporate interests as an engine of empire, expanding their influence across the globe. Banks have no armies, so they must control nations; banks have no products, so they must control industries; banks have only money, and interest earned on it. Thus, they must ensure that industry and governments alike borrow money en masse to the point where they are so indebted, they can never emerge. As a result, governments and industries become subservient to the banking interests. Banks achieved this masterful feat through the construction of the global central banking system.
Bankers took control first of Great Britain through the Bank of England, building up the massive might of the British Empire, and spread into the rest of Europe, creating central banks in the major European empires. In the 20th Century, the central bankers took control of the United States through the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, prior to the outbreak of World War I.
Following World War I, a restructuring of the world order was undertaken. In part, these actions paved the way to the Great Depression, which struck in 1929. The Great Depression was created as a result of the major banks engaging in speculation, which was actively encouraged and financed by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks.
As a result of the Great Depression, a new institution was formed, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), based in Basle, Switzerland. As historian Carroll Quigley explained, the BIS was formed to “remedy the decline of London as the world’s financial center by providing a mechanism by which a world with three chief financial centers in London, New York, and Paris could still operate as one.” He explained:
The new order that is being constructed is not one in which there is another single global power, as many commentators suggest China may become, but rather that a multi-polar world order is constructed, in which the global political economy is restructured into a global governance structure: in short, the new world order is to be marked by the construction of a world government.
This is the context in which the solutions to the global economic crisis are being implemented. In April of 2009, the G20 set into motion the plans to form a global currency, which would presumably replace the US dollar as the world reserve currency. This new currency would either be operated through the IMF or the BIS, and would be a reserve currency whose value is determined as a basket of currencies (such as the dollar, yen, euro, etc), which would play off of one another, and whose value would be fixed to the global currency.
This process is being implemented, through long-term planning, simultaneously as we see the further emergence of regional currencies, as not only the Euro, but plans and discussions for other regional currencies are underway in North America, South America, the Gulf states, Africa and East Asia.
A 1988 article in the Economist foretold of a coming global currency by 2018, in which the author wrote that countries would have to give up monetary and economic sovereignty, however:
To create a global currency, and thus a global system of economic governance, the world would have to be plunged into economic and currency crises to force governments to take the necessary actions in moving towards a global currency.
From 1998 onwards, there have been several calls for the formation of a global central bank, and in the midst of the global economic crisis of 2008, renewed calls and actual actions and efforts undertaken by the G20 have sped up the development of a “global Fed” and world currency. A global central bank is being offered as a solution to prevent a future global economic crisis from occurring.
In March of 2008, closely following the collapse of Bear Stearns, a major financial firm released a report stating that, “Financial firms face a ‘new world order’,” and that major banks would become much larger through mergers and acquisitions. There would be a new world order of banking consolidation.
In November of 2008, The National, a prominent United Arab Emirate newspaper, reported on Baron David de Rothschild accompanying Prime Minister Gordon Brown on a visit to the Middle East, although not as a “part of the official party” accompanying Brown. Following an interview with the Baron, it was reported that, “Rothschild shares most people’s view that there is a new world order. In his opinion, banks will deleverage and there will be a new form of global governance.”
In February of 2009, the Times Online reported that a “New world order in banking [is] necessary,” and that, “It is increasingly evident that the world needs a new banking system and that it should not bear much resemblance to the one that has failed so spectacularly.” However, what the article fails to point out is that the ‘new world order in banking’ is to be constructed by the bankers.
This process is going hand-in-hand with the formation of a new world order in global political structures, following the economic trends. As regionalism was spurred by economic initiatives, such as regional trading blocs and currency groupings, the political structure of a regional government followed closely behind. Europe was the first to undertake this initiative, with the formation of a European trading bloc, which became an economic union and eventually a currency union, and which, as a result of the recently passed Lisbon Treaty, is being formally established into a political union.
The new world order consists of the formation of regional governance structures, which are themselves submissive to a global governance structure, both economically and politically.
In the construction of a ‘New World Order’, the capitalist system is under intense reform. Capitalism has, since its inception, altered its nature and forms. In the midst of the current global economic crisis, the construction of the ‘New Capitalism’ is based upon the ‘China model’; that is, ‘Totalitarian Capitalism’.
Governments will no longer stand behind the ‘public relations’ – propagandized illusion of ‘protecting the people’. When an economy collapses, the governments throw away their public obligations, and act for the interests of their private owners. Governments will come to the aid of the powerful banks and corporations, not the people, as “The bourgeoisie resorts to fascism less in response to disturbances in the street than in response to disturbances in their own economic system.” During a large economic crisis:
Those who proclaim the actions of western governments ‘socialist’ are misled, as the ‘solutions’ are of a different nature. Daniel Guerin wrote in Fascism and Big Business about the nature of the fascist economies of Italy and Germany in the lead up to World War II. Guerin wrote of the actions of Italian and German governments to bail out big businesses and banks in an economic crisis:
Fascist economic policy:
The bureaucracy of the fascist state becomes much more powerful in directing the economy, and is advised by the ‘capitalist magnates’, who “become the economic high command – no longer concealed, as previously, but official – of the state. Permanent contact is established between them and the bureaucratic apparatus. They dictate, and the bureaucracy executes.” This is exactly the nature of the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve, most especially since the Obama administration took office.
In November of 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) issued a report in collaboration between all sixteen US intelligence agencies and major international foundations and think tanks, in which they assessed and analyzed general trends in the world until 2025. When it reported on trends in ‘democratization’, discussing the spread and nature of democracy in the world, the report warned:
The warning from Daniel Guerin is vital to understanding this trend: “The bourgeoisie resorts to fascism less in response to disturbances in the street than in response to disturbances in their own economic system.” Totalitarianism is on the rise, as David Lyon wrote:
In 2007, the British Defense Ministry released a report in which they analyzed future trends in the world. It stated in regards to social problems, “The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx.” Interestingly:
The general trend has thus become the reformation of the capitalist system into a system based upon the ‘China model’ of totalitarian capitalism. The capitalist class fear potential revolutionary sentiment among the middle and lower classes of the world. Obama was a well-packaged Wall Street product, sold to the American people and the people of the world on the promise of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change.’ Obama was put in place to pacify resistance.
Prior to Obama becoming President, the American people were becoming united in their opposition against not only the Bush administration, but Congress and the government in general. Both the president and Congress were equally hated; the people were uniting. Since Obama became President, the people have been turned against one another: ‘conservatives’ blame the ‘liberals’ and ‘socialists’ for all the problems, pointing fingers at Obama (who is nothing more than a figurehead), while those on the left point at the Republicans and ‘conservatives’ and Bush, placing all the blame on them. The right defends the Republicans; the left defends Obama. The people have been divided, arguably more so than at any time in recent history.
In dividing the people against each other, those in power have been able to quell resistance against them, and have continued to loot and plunder the nation and people, while using its military might to loot and plunder foreign nations and people. Obama is not to provide hope and change for the American people; his purpose was to provide the illusion of ‘change’ and provide ‘hope’ to the elites in preventing a purposeful and powerful opposition or rebellion among the people. Meanwhile, the government has been preparing for the potentiality of great social and civil unrest following a future collapse or crisis. Instead of coming to the aid of the people, the government is preparing to control and oppress the people.
Could Martial Law Come to America?
Processes undertaken in the American political establishment in previous decades, and rapidly accelerated under the Bush administration and carried on by the Obama administration, have set the course for the imposition of a military government in America. Readily armed with an oppressive state apparatus and backed by the heavy surveillance state apparatus, the ‘Homeland Security’ state is about controlling the population, not protecting them.
In January of 2006, KBR, a subsidiary of the then-Vice President Cheney’s former corporation, Halliburton, received a contract from the Department of Homeland Security:
Put simply, the contract is to develop a system of ‘internment camps’ inside the United States to be used in times of ‘emergency’. Further, as Peter Dale Scott revealed in his book, The Road to 9/11:
As Scott previously wrote, “the contract evoked ominous memories of Oliver North’s controversial Rex-84 ‘readiness exercise’ in 1984. This called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to round up and detain 400,000 imaginary ‘refugees,’ in the context of ‘uncontrolled population movements’ over the Mexican border into the United States.” However, it was to be a cover for the rounding up of ‘subversives’ and ‘dissenters’. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the ‘Pentagon papers’ in 1971, stated that, “Almost certainly this [new contract] is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mid-Easterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters.”
In February of 2008, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, co-authored by a former US Congressman, reported that, “Beginning in 1999, the government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.”
Further, in February of 2008, the Vancouver Sun reported that:
Commenting on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the legislation “authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.” Further, it states that the legislation “grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.” Not only that, but, “ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials.” Startlingly, “Legal residents who aren’t citizens are treated even more harshly. The bill entirely cuts off their access to federal habeas corpus, leaving them at the mercy of the president’s suspicions.”
Senator Patrick Leahey made a statement on February 2007 in which he discussed the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, saying:
He added that, “posse comitatus [is] the legal doctrine that bars the use of the military for law enforcement directed at the American people here at home.” The Bill is an amendment to the Insurrection Act, of which Leahey further commented:
On May 9, 2007, the White House issued a press release about the National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 51, also known as the “National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive.” This directive:
The document defines “catastrophic emergency” as, “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.” It explains “Continuity of Government” (COG), as “a coordinated effort within the Federal Government’s executive branch to ensure that National Essential Functions continue to be performed during a Catastrophic Emergency.” [emphasis added]
The directive states that, “The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government. In order to advise and assist the President in that function, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (APHS/CT) is hereby designated as the National Continuity Coordinator.”
Essentially, in time of a “catastrophic emergency”, the President takes over total control of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government in order to secure “continuity”. In essence, the Presidency would become an “Executive Dictatorship”.
In late September of 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, the Army Times, an official media outlet of the Pentagon, reported that, “Helping ‘people at home’ may become a permanent part of the active Army,” as the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, having spent years patrolling Iraq, are now “training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.” Further:
None of the authorizations, bills, executive orders, or contracts related to the declaration of marital law and suspension of democracy in the event of an ‘emergency’ have been repealed by the Obama administration.
In fact, as the New York Times revealed in July 2009, the Obama administration has decidedly left in place the Bush administration decisions regarding the government response to a national emergency in ‘Continuity of Government’ (COG) plans in establishing a ‘shadow government’:
The Obama administration announced that their continuity plans were ‘settled’ and they “drew no distance between their own policies and those left behind by the Bush administration.” In July of 2009, it was also reported on moves by the Obama administration to implement a system of ‘preventive detention’. With this, any semblance of democratic accountability and freedom have been utterly gutted and disemboweled; the Republic is officially dead:
Society, and with it, any remaining ‘democracy’ is being closed down. In this economic crisis, as Daniel Guerin warned decades ago, the financial oligarchy have chosen to ‘throw democracy overboard’, and have opted for the other option: totalitarian capitalism; fascism.
The current crisis is not merely a failure of the US housing bubble, that is but a symptom of a much wider and far-reaching problem. The nations of the world are mired in exorbitant debt loads, as the sovereign debt crisis spreads across the globe, entire economies will crumble, and currencies will collapse while the banks consolidate and grow. The result will be to properly implement and construct the apparatus of a global government structure. A central facet of this is the formation of a global central bank and a global currency.
The people of the world have been lulled into a false sense of security and complacency, living under the illusion of an economic recovery. The fact remains: it is only an illusion, and eventually, it will come tumbling down. The people have been conned into handing their governments over to the banks, and the banks have been looting and pillaging the treasuries and wealth of nations, and all the while, and making the people pay for it.
There never was a story of more woe, than that of human kind, and their monied foe.
Truly, the people of the world do need a new world order, but not one determined and constructed by and for those who have created the past failed world orders. It must be a world order directed and determined by the people of the world, not the powerful. But to do this, the people must take back the power.
The way to achieving a stable economy is along the path of peace. War and economic crises play off of one another, and are systematically linked. Imperialism is the driver of this system, and behind it, the banking establishment as the financier.
Peace is the only way forward, in both political and economic realms. Peace is the pre-requisite for social sustainability and for a truly great civilization.
The people of the world must pursue and work for peace and justice on a global scale: economically, politically, socially, scientifically, artistically, and personally. It’s asking a lot, but it’s our only option. We need to have ‘hope’, a word often strewn around with little intent to the point where it has come to represent failed expectations. We need hope in ourselves, in our ability to throw off the shackles that bind us and in our diversity and creativity construct a new world that will benefit all.
No one knows what this world would look like, or how exactly to get there, least of all myself. What we do know is what it doesn’t look like, and what road to steer clear of. The time has come to retake our rightful place as the commanders of our own lives. It must be freedom for all, or freedom for none. This is our world, and we have been given the gift of the human mind and critical thought, which no other living being can rightfully boast; what a shame it would be to waste it.
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