Category Archives: Global Economy

Pertinent to global economic issues and events.

Greece and the Global Debt Crisis

Greece and the Global Debt Crisis
Thomas H. Greco, Jr.

ABSTRACT

The Greek debt crisis is emblematic of a more general, decades-long pattern of economic exploitation and reactionary politics that threatens not only the European Union but the stability of the global financial infrastructure and Western democratic civilization. The situation calls for a different form of globalization, not one that is dominated by transnational banks and corporations, but one that is built upon local self-determination and self-reliance, and based on local and domestic control of money, credit, and finance. Greece (and other debtor countries) can recover a measure of sovereignty and rebuild its economy by combining “debt triage” with public and private actions for creating domestic liquidity.

            In the summer of 1977, I first ventured abroad from North America on a journey to explore ancient civilizations, cultures, and religions, and to experience contemporary life in Egypt, Israel, and Greece. During my six-week odyssey, I was able to visit the Pyramids, amble over the Holy Land, and visit the temple ruins of Athens and Delphi.

At one point while in Cairo I came upon a scene that greatly troubled me. There was a small burro hitched to an enormous cart that was laden to the hilt with onions. I felt nauseous as I watched the poor animal lying on its side being flogged by a man in a vain effort to rouse it to the task of moving what seemed to be an impossible load. As a stranger in a strange land, I felt helpless to intervene and quickly moved away. I often wonder what might have been the ultimate outcome, but in my imagination I see the man with the whip standing over the lifeless body of that animal lying in the street, and weeping in worry and frustration.

Now, when I contemplate Greece’s current predicament, that image comes to mind. I see Greece as that beaten and dying animal, overburdened with debt that is beyond its capacity to service, and being flogged by its creditors in a vain attempt to get it to pay up. In my mind’s eye I see a future in which the dead carcass of Greece is being carved up and distributed amongst the creditor institutions. In actuality, Greece will survive, but under new (foreign) management, as she is forced to sell off her assets at fire-sale prices.

In the eyes of the Germans and other creditors, represented by the so-called “troika” institutions (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), the Greek people are lazy freeloaders who have been living “high on the hog” at their expense, and who now balk at repaying what they borrowed.

But there is another side to the story that paints a different picture, and even if there is a bit of truth in that characterization, what is there to be gained by creditors insisting upon their “pound of flesh”? As civilization has advanced, debtor prisons have been eliminated and bankruptcy laws have been instituted to protect people and companies from creditors who insist upon collecting more than debtors, for whatever reason, are able to pay. Why can’t nations be afforded the same considerations?

First of all, it was not the Greek people who did the borrowing, it was a series of Greek governments that were either corrupted, coerced, or seduced into taking on a series of debts that were increasingly burdensome. Greece was lured into the debt trap from which it seems impossible to escape. Ellen Brown has summarized in her article, The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion, some of the many moves that were made to ensnare the Greek government, and by extension, the Greek people.  … more.

To read my prescriptions and the full article, click here. The article is excerpted from the book, Rebuilding after Collapse: Political Structures for Creative Response to the Ecological Crisis, edited by John Culp. –t.h.g.

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What we can and cannot afford

Can we afford health care for all, free education for all, housing for the homeless, food for the hungry, a decent and efficient national system of transportation, a clean and healthy environment, a fair and equitable distribution of our collective production, and a true democracy in which people decide their own fate and how their money is to be spent? Politicians of all stripes tell us we cannot. “Where will the money come from?” is their plaint whenever such measures are proposed.

But other countries have many of those things. There is a vast number of countries that have free or almost free universal health care, as can be seen in this list. And here is a list of 11 countries that have BOTH free universal health care AND free college. The list includes not only affluent countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, but relatively poor countries such as Greece, Argentina and Brazil.

Anyone who has traveled in western Europe knows that Amtrak is a bad joke compared HSRinChinato the extensive and efficient rail systems in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere. China too has much better trains than the U.S. and has been rapidly expanding its transport infrastructure. According to Wikipedia, China already has “the world’s longest high speed rail network” which is “also the most extensively used, with 1.713 billion trips delivered in 2017 bringing the total cumulative number of trips to 7 billion.”

Way back in 2005 I rode from downtown Shanghai to the airport at  Pudong on the maglev train that reached speeds up to 431 kmph (268 mph).

Yet, when President Trump calls for an almost $80 billion increase to the military budget, hardly anyone asks, “where’s the money going to come from?” and the measure easily gains Congressional approval.

Here are the things we cannot afford:

  1. We cannot afford continuation of the Empire with its deployment of military forces around the world and endless overt and covert warfare.
  2. We cannot afford continuation of the interest-based, debt-money regime that forces unnecessary expansion of economic activity and centralizes power and concentrates wealth in the hands of a super elite.
  3. We cannot afford continuation of the environmental destruction and climate change that is caused by the fossil fuel based economy.

The $727 billion U.S. military budget for 2019 dwarfs all other segments and amounts to 61% of all discretionary spending. To trump2019_discpie_unbranded_largeput it in perspective, the U.S. spends many times more on military than any other country. According to the National Priorities Project, the next highest military spender, China, spends only about one third as much on its military.

I have written extensively about the defects inherent in the centrally controlled interest-based, debt-money regime, which is driving the endless expansion of debt that makes economic growth an imperative. See, for example, my article, Money, debt and the end of the growth imperative.

Ultimately, if we do not take appropriate action, nature will decide our fate. See the work of Joseph Tainter and Jared Diamond, starting with this interview of Joseph Tainter by Jim Puplava.

In a future post I will elaborate upon these points, but for now I recommend viewing the recent Jimmy Dore show at https://youtu.be/yHpN7X9iK3o.

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Central Bank Interventions and the Looming Catastrophe

In this recent interview below, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts describes the “house of cards” that is today’s global regime of money, banking and finance. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the major central banks around the world—the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan—have all been active in the securities markets, buying huge amounts of government and corporate bonds and shares of private companies, a process that is euphemistically called “quantitative easing.”

As Roberts points out, these actions are being taken to support the big banks. I agree, but it goes much deeper than that. The underlying objective is to preserve the global interest-based debt-money system which requires continual expansion if debt, an inherent systemic flaw which I call the “debt growth imperative.” The result of these market manipulations, of course, has been the inflation of market bubbles in bonds, stocks, and real estate, and the massive transfer of wealth into the hands of a small segment of the population.

Roberts does not mention it, but the recurrent waves of tax cuts for the rich likewise seem to be designed to keep these market bubbles pumped up. The wealthy class, for the most part, does not spend these windfall gains, they invest them in, you guessed it, bonds, stocks and real estate. If tax cuts were to go mainly to the lower and middle classes, what would they do with the money? They would surely spend much of it, which would stimulate consumption of consumer goods and restore the real economy, but much of it would go toward reducing the massive amounts of debt that these people carry and make it unnecessary for them to borrow even more. A system that requires perpetual expansion of debt cannot tolerate that.
Now, do you understand?

 

Our new feudal world order

Charles Hugh Smith’s article, Loving Our Debt-Serfdom: Our Neofeudal Status Quo, exposes the stark reality and brilliantly explains our current predicament.

Smith begins by defining the terms, Neoliberal, Neocolonial, and Neofeudal, then goes on to explain how they operate in today’s world. He says,
“Neofeudalism is a subtle control structure that is invisible to those who buy into the Mainstream Media portrayal of our society and economy. This portrayal includes an apparent contradiction: America is a meritocracy–the best and brightest rise to the top, if they have pluck and work hard– and America is all about identity politics: whomever doesn’t make it is a victim of bias.
Both narratives neatly ignore the neofeudal structure which disempowers the workforce in the public sphere and limits the opportunities to build capital outside the control of the state-corporate duopoly.”

He goes on to describe the control mechanisms that characterized historical feudalism and outlines their present neofeudal manifestation, saying, “Our system is Neofeudal because the non-elites have no real voice in the public sphere, and ownership of productive capital is indirectly suppressed by the state-corporate duopoly,” and backs it up with numbers that show the growing income and wealth inequality and crushing debt burden of the lower classes.

Read the complete article here. Highly recommended!

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The decay of western civilization

One of my correspondents, Irish financial advisor Christopher Quigley, recently sent me a link to his article, Civilizations Die by Suicide Not by Murder. In that article, he mentions famed historian Arnold Toynbee’s monumental work, A Study of History which describes the rise and fall of 23 civilizations throughout human history. Toynbee concluded from his study that, “civilizations start to decay when they lose their moral fiber and the cultural elite turns parasitic.” That certainly rings true for our present world—the banking and corporate elite and their political minions have clearly turned parasitic, putting power and profit above all else.

Then by some strange coincidence I happened to notice a few days ago a book on display at my public library.  The book is, The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas J. Preston, which tells the story of the search for a legendary city that was supposed to have existed several hundred years ago in the eastern part of Honduras in Central America. It is a true adventure story that reads like fiction. Preston was part of a team that went looking for, and by using some highly advanced technology, ultimately found, not only a city, but extensive remnants of a lost civilization, one that appears to be distinct from the Mayan and others of the region that are well known.

In one chapter, Preston speaks more generally about the civilizations that existed in that region and tells of the decline around AD 650 of the Mayan city of Copan. He says,

“This happened even as the ruling classes apparently swelled in size over succeeding generations…in what archaeologists call the ‘increasingly parasitic role of the elite.’  (We see the same process today in the gross expansion of the Saudi royal family into no fewer than fifteen thousand princes and princesses.) This proliferation may have triggered the vicious internecine warfare and killing among the elite.”

He goes on to say, “The commoners were willing to support the privileged class as long as they kept up their end of the bargain with effective rituals.”

What does that suggest for western civilization today? Who are those that comprise our privileged class, and what is the nature of the bargain between them and the “commoners?” I leave it to the reader to ponder those questions, but I would suggest that the bargain must at least include assurances of social justice, basic human rights, and access to a fair share of our natural and cultural heritage. But however one might define that bargain, political developments around the world in recent years seem to indicate that increasing numbers of people are feeling let down by their leaders.

Are we then doomed? Will western civilization continue to  decay and collapse to be followed by another dark age?

I think it is not “we” who are doomed, it is the global interest-based debt-money regime that sits at the pinnacle of the power pyramid, and the American imperial hegemony that are doomed. How long the collapse will take, how much pain and suffering will it cause, how can the present dysfunctional systems be displaced? These are all open questions. The optimist in me sees the peaceful emergence of a multi-polar political order and a sustainable and equitable global economy based on the devolution of power and new exchange and financing mechanisms that are interest-free, cooperative, and grounded in a spirit of compassion and mutual aid. –t.h.g.

Edit: This article from the BBC provides an excellent elaboration on the topic of this post: How Western Civilization Could Collapse.

Recovery? What recovery?

Despite the happy talk coming out of Washington and New York about the supposed economic recovery, the present economic and political order remains on course toward self-destruction. I’ve said it over and over again that the fundamental flaw is the compound interest that is built into the global debt-money regime. The fact that virtually all money is created by banks that “lend” it into circulation at interest causes debts to grow faster and faster with the passage of time. A quick glance at the timeline for public and private debt makes this obvious.Total-US-DebtTo2014

Prof. Richard Wolff, in the video below, does not mention this debt-growth imperative, but he does a good job of explaining how the governments and the central banks managed to temporarily forestall total collapse following the 2008 financial crisis, and why their actions are failing to solve the basic problem of slack demand.

We need to look beyond economic ideologies to find ways of defusing the debt bomb which grows bigger and more deadly with every passing day. A shift toward innovative, interest-free, approaches to the exchange of value and the financing of enterprise development provides the most promising route toward a soft landing. See The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.

Brexit and the prospects for Europe and the world

It’s very difficult to know what the tactics and specific manipulations of the global elite might be from day to day. The Brexit vote surprised almost everyone, including me. But it’s hard for me to imagine that Brexit might be something the elite want because they have engineered the terms of European union to concentrate ever more power in their own hands, which is what they’ve been up to for decades, if not centuries.

Therefore, I expect a lot of foot dragging and I do not expect the referendum to be acted on with any haste. Instead, terms of union will be renegotiated with the apparent, but not real, return of some sovereignty to the Brits. Then “stay” will be sold to them and another referendum held to legitimize remaining in the union.

In the meantime, the ongoing financial crisis is approaching another tipping point which may throw the banking system into a chaotic state with which governments will be unable to cope.[i] It may then be a case of “every nation for itself” as people demand that their respective governments “do something” to prevent breakdown of their domestic economies, and to hell with EU regulations. That will mark the de facto disintegration of the European Union.

Of course, I may be completely wrong, but it will more likely be an error of timing, as I see the breakup of the UE and the demise of the global money and financial regime as inevitable. –t.h.g.

[i] According to a recent IMF report, “…Germany’s contribution to ensuring the success of the new European financial stability architecture is crucial for fostering its domestic financial stability and the success of the European reform agenda.” (IMF Country Report No. 16/189. GERMANY FINANCIAL SECTOR ASSESSMENT PROGRAM, FINANCIAL SYSTEM STABILITY ASSESSMENT). But an analysis of that same IMF report by Tyler Durden, (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-06-29/imf-deutsche-bank-poses-greatest-risk-global-financial-system) concludes that “Deutsche Bank poses the greatest systemic risk to the global financial system.”