Category Archives: Economics

Growth, more growth, then the end of growth…

If you don’t understand geometric or exponential growth then you don’t understand anything about the magnitude of the predicament that humanity now faces or the fundamental changes that are about to occur, one way or another.

I’ve never seen the facts of exponential growth so clearly and elegantly presented as in this video lecture by the late Professor Albert Bartlett. In Arithmetic, Population and Energy, Professor Bartlett shows that even seemingly small rates of growth must ultimately result in a situation that cannot be sustained. He relates the simple arithmetic of exponential growth specifically to human population, peak energy, and resource depletion and blows away the foolish arguments of politicians and pundits who argue that growth can continue as it has in the past.

Bartlett does not mention debt growth, but  I must add that it is an even more immanent problem and the most acute symptom of the “disease” that has infected civilization, that is the global interest-based debt-money system. I urge everyone to view Prof. Bartlett’s presentation, then, if you haven’t already, read my recent article,  Money, debt and the end of the growth imperative.

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The Pace University Left Forum Panel Reconvenes and Henry George is Rebranded

Scott Baker has provided a comprehensive summary of a very important recent event that featured some visionary thinkers in economics, money and finance. His description begins…

The team of panelists from last year’s Pace University Left Forum panel – reviewed in the March/April, 2012 issue of GroundSwell – reconvened this year on June 8, 2013, minus Kucinich adviser Dave Kelley who was sidelined due to a back injury.   The remaining panelists were Dr. Michael Hudson, Dr. Cay Hehner, and Chair Andy Mazzone.   The title of this year’s panel was “Wall Street’s War to Impose Austerity.”

Baker follows with his “Abstract” summary…

Wall Street had a record year in profits last year. Bonuses were up and stock prices zoomed. Meanwhile, the productive classes continued to see their wages stagnate as they have for 40 years, while under-reported inflation figures and regressive tax schemes took more of their paychecks, if they could find work. But now Austerity threatens to siphon whatever is left from the bottom to the banking elites. Faux progressive organizations like Third Way in the U.S. are attempting to privatize Social Security to pour billions into Wall Street for further gambling. From Cyprus’ confiscation of up to 70% of bank deposits to Greek pro-recession budget slashing, the road to neo-feudalism continues. Based on Professor Dr. Michael Hudson’s book “Finance Capitalism and its Discontents” and “The Bubble and Beyond”, panelists Dr. Michael Hudson, Dr. Cay Hehner, Dave Kelley, and Chair Andy Mazzone will discuss specific austerity measures that are designed to confiscate, impoverish, and destroy the middle class, while widening the already historic wage gap even further. Learn how the expansive forces of industrial capitalism have been subverted by today’s predatory finance capitalism aided by junk economics and failure to collect the economic rent. What is the rentier class and how does it collect 1/3 of GDP? Is government regulation always wrong? What is the best tax policy? Why the 1% versus the 99%?

Current president of the Henry George School, Andy Mazzone, gave the opening, and after introducing himself as an ex-CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and a trained economist in Marxism, said he now classifies himself as a neo-Georgist — defined as “someone who believes all forms of monopoly should be taxed” while untaxing all forms of earned income — wages, sales, capital.   (In previous discussions with Mr. Mazzone, I have challenged this tax-all-monopolies philosophy a bit, relying on my experience in the fast-changing world of Information Technology where I was a Manager of Information Systems for over 2 decades, and where monopolies may last no longer than the next business cycle.   I think we get into questionable territory in advocating taxing patentable innovations (though I would agree that patents are too easily granted nowadays).   The land monopoly is different, of course, because land, unlike capital, cannot be created by people, is finite, and generally appreciates, while capital goods depreciate and are replaced by newer “improvements,” just as Henry George said over a hundred years ago when improvements came along at a much slower rate.)

Mazzone went on to say that Michael Hudson’s book, “Super Imperialism” basically forecast the current crisis and the financialization of everything, and the subsequent collapse from de-industrialization.

The full report goes on for six pages and includes a number of arguments relating to social justice and economic fairness as well as some essential historical perspective. You can read the rest of it here.

Showdown looming over shutdown

Once again, the Democrats and Republicans in Washington are facing off in a battle over the budget. The Republicans, who control the House, are demanding huge cuts that would pull the teeth from regulatory agencies, like the EPA, Fish and Wildlife, and the IRS, decimate social programs in health and education, including Medicare. Some of the details are provided in this New York Times article.

The elite agenda has long been apparent– to further concentrate power and wealth in their hands, to reduce the middle-class to serfdom, and to change the nature of our government to something more akin to imperial Rome or the fascist states of the 20th century. That agenda, since the start of the Reagan-Thatcher era of the 1980’s, has been advancing under both Republican and Democratic administrations with only moderate variations in its pace.

Here are the questions that come to my mind as we approach what appears to be a critical juncture:

1. Are the Democrats in Congress really making a sincere attempt to oppose the elite agenda and protect the general interests of all the people, or is their vocal opposition just for show?

2. How far will the American people allow themselves to be pushed before they will stand up for themselves and for the common good?

3. And when they do stand up, what form will their actions take, and will it be in time to avoid an ugly and destructive confrontation?

I have often thought that Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism in the 1930s by instituting a wide range of programs under the “New Deal” that curbed abuses of power by Wall Street and corporate leaders and provided for a more equitable distribution of the economic pie. There were a few hard liners who disagreed with that and actually tried to engineer a coup d’état to depose him. Fortunately, that attempt failed when Major General Smedley Butler refused to go along with it.

So, here we are again in the midst of an economic depression, but this time the redistribution of wealth is going in the opposite direction, which can only worsen our predicament. And, no, there will not be a new “New Deal.”

Many things have changed drastically over the past 80 years. Some of these like surveillance technologies and advanced weaponry have favored the presently dominant force of centralized control, while others like microcomputers, the internet, and cheap global person to person communications have favored the emergent force of decentralized power and global community. Society is being rebuilt from the bottom upward, community by community. Those efforts will need to be rapidly ramped up in the face of increasingly dysfunctional national governments.

As David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, said to state and local political and business leaders a couple years ago, “Washington will become a fountain of harm as you struggle with our own problems.” And so it, not just in Washington, but in Athens, London, Rome, and capitals around the world.

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Developing a framework for an equitable, harmonious and sustainable global society

The current global mega-crisis is forcing us to confront the flaws and inconsistencies inherent in the present dominant structures of economics, money, and finance. As a result, we have before us a great opportunity to open up a conversation that admits to consideration ideas and proposals that may have heretofore be rejected out of hand as radical, impractical, or utopian, ideas like those put forth by Mahatma Gandhi three quarters of a century ago.

My good friend and scholar, Rajni Bakshi, has recently articulated that possibility and those ideas in her article, Civilizational Gandhi. You can download the full article here. I also recommend her article, Replacing Keynes With Gandhi.

Ms. Bakshi is the Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations based in Mumbai, India.

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Creting the new paradigm economy

There has been over the years, no shortage of common sense ideas that have the power to create a world that works for everyone. Many of these are included in this recent article. I leave it to the reader to use their good judgement in sorting the wheat from the chaff. –t.h.g.

Six Economic Steps to a Better Life and Real Prosperity for All

By Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb

We’ve got to break out of the old ways of thinking about the economy.

Most activists tend to approach progressive change from one of two perspectives: First, there’s the “reform” tradition that assumes corporate control is a constant and that “politics” acts to modify practices within that constraint. Liberalism in the United States is representative of this tradition. Then there’s the “revolutionary” tradition, which assumes change can come about only if the major institutions are largely eliminated or transcended, often by violence.

But what if neither revolution nor reform is viable?

Paradoxically, we believe the current stalemating of progressive reform may open up some unique strategic possibilities to transform institutions of the political economy over time. We call this third option evolutionary reconstruction. Like reform, evolutionary reconstruction involves step-by-step nonviolent change. But like revolution, evolutionary reconstruction changes the basic institutions of ownership of the economy, so that the broad public, rather than a narrow band of individuals (i.e., the “one percent”) owns more and more of the nation’s productive assets.

More…

Why Obama Won, and What We Can Expect Next

Michael Hudson is one of the few academic economists who is not completely deluded. He is worthy of your attention. This is is recent article that appeared in COUNTERPUNCH.–t.h.g.

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

by MICHAEL HUDSON

The Democrats could not have won so handily without the Citizens United ruling. That is what enabled the Koch Brothers to spend their billions to support right-wing candidates that barked and growled like sheep dogs to give voters little civilized option but to vote for “the lesser evil.” This will be President Obama’s epitaph for future historians. Orchestrating the election like a World Wrestling Federation melodrama, the Tea Party’s sponsors threw billions of dollars into the campaign to cast the President’s party in the role of “good cop” against stereotyped opponents attacking women’s rights, Hispanics and nearly every other hyphenated-American interest group.

In Connecticut, Senate candidate Linda McMahon spent a reported $97 million (including her earlier ego trip) to make her Democratic challenger look good. It was that way throughout the country. Republicans are pretending to wring their hands at their defeat, leaving the Democrats to beat up their constituency and take the blame four years from now. …More…

 

Debunking economic growth

Herman Daly is one of the few academic economists who talks sense. He has been a staunch advocate of sustainable development and steady-state economics. Here is an excerpt from his recent article. –t.h.g  

Eight Fallacies about Growth

by Herman Daly

One thing the Democrats and Republicans will agree on in the current U.S. presidential campaign is that economic growth is our number one goal and is the basic solution to all problems. The idea that growth could conceivably cost more than it is worth at the margin, and therefore become uneconomic in the literal sense, will not be considered. But, aside from political denial, why do people (frequently economists) not understand that continuous growth of the economy (measured by either real GDP or resource throughput) could in theory, and probably has in fact, become uneconomic? What is it that confuses them?

Read the full article here.

Americas failed policies and destruction of the middle class

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Treasury Secretary. He is a knowledgeable and astute observer of geopolitics and the domestic and global economies. In the following article which appears in Counterpuch, he describes quite clearly, and I think accurately, the present situation and the prospects for America. It’s well worth reading in its entirety.–t.h.g.

American Freefall

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Washington has been at war since October, 2001. This war took a back seat when Bush concocted another excuse to order the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war that went on without significant success for 8 years and has left Iraq in chaos with dozens more killed and wounded every day, a new strong man in place of the illegally executed former strongman, and the likelihood of the ongoing violence becoming civil war.

Upon his election, President Obama foolishly sent more troops to Afghanistan and renewed the intensity of that war, now in its eleventh year, to no successful effect.

These two wars have been expensive. According to estimates by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, when all costs are counted the Iraq invasion cost US taxpayers $3 trillion dollars. Ditto for the Afghan war. In other words, the two gratuitous wars doubled the US public debt. This is the reason there is no money for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, the environment, and the social safety net.

Americans got nothing out of the wars, but as the war debt will never be paid off, US citizens and their descendants will have to pay interest on $6,000 billion of war debt in perpetuity.

Not content with these wars, the Bush/Obama regime is conducting military operations in violation of international law in Pakistan, Yemen, and Africa, organized the overthrow by armed conflict of the government in Libya, is currently working to overthrow the Syrian government, and continues to marshall military forces against Iran.

Finding the Muslim adversaries insufficient for its energies and budget, Washington has encircled Russia with military bases and has begun the encirclement of China. Washington has announced that the bulk of its naval forces will be shifted to the Pacific over the next few years, and Washington is working to reestablish its naval base in the Philippines, construct a new one on a South Korean island, acquire a naval base in Viet Nam, and air and troop bases elsewhere in Asia.

In Thailand Washington is attempting to purchase with the usual bribes an air base used in the Vietnam war. There is opposition as the country does not wish to be drawn into Washington’ s orchestrated conflict with China. Downplaying the real reason for the airbase, Washington, according to Thai newspapers, told the Thai government that the base was needed for “humanitarian missions.” This didn’t fly, so Washington had NASA ask for the air base in order to conduct “weather experiments.” Whether this ruse is sufficient cover remains to be seen.

US Marines have been sent to Australia and elsewhere in Asia. To corral China and Russia (and Iran) is a massive undertaking for a country that is financially busted. With wars and bankster bailouts, Bush and Obama have doubled the US national debt while failing to address the disintegration of the US economy and rising hardships of US citizens.

The annual US budget deficit is adding to the accumulated debt at about $1.5 trillion per year with no prospect of declining. The financial system is broken and requires ongoing bailouts. The economy is busted and has been unable to create high-paying jobs, indeed any jobs. Despite years of population growth, payroll employment as of mid-2012 is the same as in 2005 and substantially below 2008. Yet, the government and financial presstitute media tell us that we have a recovery.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in 2011 was only 1 million more than in 2002. As it takes about 150,000 new jobs each month to stay even with population growth, that leaves a decade long job deficit of 15 million jobs.

The US unemployment and inflation rates are far higher than reported. In previous columns I have explained, based on statistician John Williams’ work (shadowstats.com), the reasons that the government’s headline numbers are serious understatements. The headline (U3) unemployment rate of 8.2% counts no discouraged workers who have given up on finding a job. The government has a second unemployment rate (U6), seldom reported, which includes short-term discouraged workers. That rate is 15%. When the long-term discouraged workers are added in, the current US unemployment rate is 22%, a number closer to the unemployment rate of the Great Depression than to the unemployment rates of postwar recessions.

Changes in the way inflation is measured have destroyed the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a measure of the cost of living. The new methodology is substitution based. If the price of an item in the index rises, a lower priced alternative takes its place. In addition, some price rises are labeled quality improvements whether they are or not and thus do not show up in the CPI. People still have to pay the higher price, but it is not counted as inflation.

Currently, the substitution-based rate of inflation is about 2%. However, when inflation is measured as the actual cost of living, the rate of inflation is 5%.

The Misery Index is the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. The level of the current Misery Index depends on whether the new rigged measures are used, which understate the misery, or the former methodology that accurately measures it. Prior to the November 1980 election, the Misery Index hit 22%, which was one reason for Reagan’s victory over President Carter. Today if we use previous methodology, the Misery Index stands at 27%. But if we use the new rigged methodology, the Misery Index is 10%.

The understatement of inflation serves to boost Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is calculated in current dollars. To be able to determine whether GDP rose because of price rises or because of increases in real output, GDP is deflated by the CPI. The higher the inflation rate, the less the growth in real output and vice versa. When the substitution based methodology is used to measure inflation, the US economy experienced real growth in the 21st century except for the sharp dip during 2008-2010.

However, if the cost-of-living based methodology is used, except for a short period during 2004, the US economy has experienced no real growth since 2000. The lack of employment and real GDP growth go together with the decline in real household median income. The growth in consumer debt substituted for the lack of income growth and kept the economy going until consumers exhausted their ability to take on more debt. With the consumer dead in the water, the outlook for economic recovery is poor.

Politicians and the Federal Reserve are making the outlook even worse. At a time of high unemployment and debt-stressed households, politicians at local, state, and federal levels are cutting back on government provision of health care, pensions, food stamps, housing subsidies and every other element of the social safety net. These cutbacks, of course, further reduce aggregate demand and the ability of income stressed Americans to survive.

The Federal Reserve has interest rates so low that retirees and others living on their savings can earn nothing on their money. The interest rates paid on bank CDs and government and corporate bonds are lower than the rate of inflation. To live on interest income, a person has to purchase Greek, Spanish, or Italian bonds and run the risk of capital loss. The Federal Reserve’s policy of negative interest rates forces retirees to spend down their capital in order to live. In other words, the Fed’s policy is destroying personal savings as people are forced to spend their capital in order to cover living expenses.

In June the Federal Reserve announced that it was going to continue its policy of driving nominal interest rates even lower, this time focusing on long-term Treasury bonds. The Fed said it would be purchasing $400 billion of the Treasury’s 30-year bonds. Driving interest rates down means driving bond prices up. With 5-year Treasury bonds paying only seven-tenths of one percent and 10-year Treasuries paying only 1.6%, below even the official rate of inflation, Americans desperate for yield move into 30-year bonds currently paying 2.7%. However, the the high bond prices mean that the risk of capital loss is very high.

The Fed’s debt monetization, or a drop in the exchange value of the dollar as other countries move away from its use to settle their balance of payments, could set off inflation that would take interest rates out of the Fed’s control. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall.

In other words, bonds are now the bubble that real estate, stocks, and derivatives were. When this bubble pops, Americans will take another big hit to their remaining wealth.

It makes no sense to invest in long-term bonds at negative interest rates when the federal government is piling up debt that the Federal Reserve is monetizing and when other countries are moving away from the flood of dollars. The potential for a rising rate of inflation is high from debt monetization and from a drop in the dollar’s exchange value. Yet, bond fund portfolio managers have to follow the herd into longer term maturities or see their performance relative to their peers drop to the bottom of the rankings.

Some individual investors and foreign central banks, anticipating the dollar’s loss of value, are accumulating gold and silver bullion. Realizing the danger to the dollar and its policy from the rapid rise in the price of bullion during 2011, the Federal Reserve has arranged offsetting action. When the demand for physical bullion drives up the price, short sales of bullion in the paper market are used to drive the price back down. Similarly, when investors begin to flee Treasuries, thus causing interest rates to rise, J.P. Morgan and other dependencies of the Federal Reserve sell interest-rate swaps, thus offsetting the effect on interest rates of the bond sales. (Keep in mind that interest rates rise when bond prices fall and vice versa.)

The point of all this information is to establish that except for the 1 percent, the incomes and wealth of Americans are being cut back across the board. From 2002 through 2011 the economy lost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs. These jobs were replaced with lowerpaying waitress and bartender jobs (1,189,000), ambulatory health care service jobs (1,512,000) and social assistance jobs (578,000).

These replacement jobs in domestic services mean that on a net basis US consumer income was moved out of the country. Potential aggregate demand in the US dropped by the differences in pay in the job categories. Clearly and unambiguously, jobs offshoring lowered US disposable income and US GDP and, thereby, employment.

Despite the lack of an economic base, Washington’s hegemonic aspirations continue unabated. Other countries are amused at Washington’s unawareness. Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa are forming an agreement to abandon the US dollar as the currency for international settlement between themselves.

On July 4 the China Daily reported: “Japanese politicians and prominent academics from China and Japan urged Tokyo on Tuesday to abandon its outdated foreign policy of leaning on the West and accept China as a key partner as important as the United States. The Tokyo Consensus, a joint statement issued at the end of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, also called on both countries to expand trade and promote a free-trade agreement for China, Japan and South Korea. “

This means that Japan is in play.

The Chinese government, more intelligent than Washington, is responding to Washington’s military threats by enticing away Washington’s two key Asian allies. As the Chinese economy is now as large as the US and on far firmer footing, and as Japan now has more trade with China than with the US, the enticement is appealing.

Moreover, China is next door, and Washington is distant and drowning in its hubris. Washington, which flicked its middle finger to international law and to its own law and Constitution with its arrogance and gratuitous and illegal wars and with its assertion of the right to murder its own citizens and those of its allies, such as Pakistan, has made the United States a pariah state.

Washington still controls its bought-and-paid-for NATO puppets, but these puppet states are overwhelmed with derivative debt problems brought to them by Wall Street and by sovereign debt problems, some of which were covered up by Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs.

Europe is on the ropes and has no money with which to subsidize Washington’s wars of hegemony.

Washington is becoming an isolated and despised element of the world community. Washington has purchased Europe, Canada, Australia, the former Soviet state of Georgia (and almost Ukraine), and Columbia, and continues its effort to purchase the entire world, but sentiment is turning against the rising Gestapo state that has shown itself to be lawless, ruthless, and indifferent, even hostile, to human life and human rights.

A government, whose military was unable with the help of the UK to occupy Iraq after eight years and was forced to end the conflict by putting the “insurgents” on the US military payroll and to pay them to stop killing American troops, and a government whose military has been unable to subdue a few thousand lightly armed Taliban after 11 years, is over the top when it organizes war against Iran, Russia, and China.

The only prospect Washington has of prevailing in such an undertaking is first use of nuclear weapons, of catching its demonized opponents off guard by nuking them out of the blue. In other words, by the elimination of life on earth.

Is this Washington’s program revealed by the neoconservative warmonger, Bill Kristol, who had no shame to ask publicly: “What’s the good of nuclear weapons if you can’t use them?

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  He is the author of HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, published by CounterPunch/AK Press. Dr. Roberts’ latest book is Economies in Collapse: The Failure of Globalism, published in Europe, June, 2012.He can be reached through his website.

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Fossil Fuels, Debt-money, and the Growth Economy

The video below (300 Years of FOSSIL FUELS in 300 Seconds), from the Post Carbon Institute, is very well done. It tells the story about the development of industrial civilization based on fossil fuel energy, and the mega-crisis that now confronts us. While it is inaccurate in pointing to fossil fuels as the main driver of economic growth, it is well worth the five minutes it takes to watch it.

As I’ve been saying for a long time, the availability of cheap fossil fuel energy has been the enabler of continuous economic growth, but it is not the driver. The driver of the growth imperative which has been operating for about the past 300 years is the political interest-based debt-money system. It is a system that creates money based on interest bearing “loans.” It is the compound interest that is built into the global money system that requires the continual expansion of debt, which in turn forces the physical expansion of economic output. Now nature is putting on the brakes, telling us it’s time to STOP.

We can make the transition to a regenerative economy consciously and deliberately, or we can try to deal with the developing problems on an ad hoc basis in the midst of inevitable chaos. The end of the industrial era should not be mourned, nor does it need to be painful. We have before us the opportunity to create a happier, more peaceful world, one in which we all have enough to live a dignified and fulfilling life with enough time and energy to restore our communities and our environment. For more about that, see my presentation on The Butterfly Society.—t.h.g.

Toward a sane economics

This TEDx video by Peter Joseph, creator of the Zeitgeist movies series, contrasts two opposing economic frameworks that need to be considered in transcending our present global predicament. He shows that the entire incentive structure of the dominant paradigm of political economy is all wrong, and outlines some of the necessary attributes of a sustainable earth-friendly economy.

The presentation does not get into the how-to-do-it, but provides a good starting point for working out the necessary transition to what I’ve been calling “The Butterfly Economy. My basic prescription for that involves radical sharing, collaboration, restructuring, and rebuilding our society from the bottom, on up, household to neighborhood, to community, to bioregion, including all of our non-geographic affinity groups. Begin with the people and businesses you already know and trust.

Please take ten minutes to view the video.