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27 July, 2012

The illusion of the self-regulating society through the deregulated market

by system failure

At the end of 1992, just days after Clinton’s election as president of the US, Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve at that time, went to see the new president. The famous economist and supporter of the neoliberal economy of deregulation, warned Clinton to withdraw his campaign promises for social reform, because, as he claimed, the deficit reached a dangerously high level. Greenspan told Clinton that he should cut government spending, so that interest rates would go down and the markets would boom. He believed that markets would transform America, not politics. It was the beginning of the full deregulated market for the US and the world.

The rise of computers during 90s, brought a new idea, that machines could create a stable world without the need of political intervention. Economists and bankers viewed the world as a giant economic system that now prevailed against all western governments. They believed that the way for a global economic stability, was for nations to open themselves up to the free capital flows. The computers created mathematical models that parceled out the loans and then hedged and balanced them so that there was no risk.

The large laboratory, chosen by the gurus of the free market to conduct their new experiment, was South-East Asia. Under the American pressure, countries like South Korea and Thailand, withdrew all their restrictions allowing the inflow of capital from the West. This helped for the so-called “Asian miracle” in the economy.

But a group of economists in the White House, headed by Joseph Stiglitz, worried that, the flood of money from the West, would fund a massive speculative bubble in property, and when the boom collapsed, the money would flee, leaving countries like Thailand and South Korea decimated. According to Stiglitz, all this flow of money was not for the interest of Korea or US, but for the interest of a very small group of people making money from these medium-term capital flows, i.e. some bankers and hedge funds.

But the group faced the opposition of Robert Rubin, which was the Secretary of Treasury at that time, and former co-chairman in Goldman Sachs. Rubin was preventing the warnings of the group to reach the president.  

The Asian crisis began in Thailand. Hundreds of thousands of offices and apartments were built, but nobody wanted them, and brokers went bankrupt under the weight of loans. Investors from the West panicked and rushed to get their money out of the country. The panic began to spread first in South Korea. Housewives formed queues to give their surplus to the government to save country, but this was not enough.

Then, groups of technocrats of IMF arrived and offered billions of dollars in loans to stabilize the economies. The IMF argued that the reason of the crisis was that Asian economies were not westernized enough. In exchange for loans, they should turn to free market models. This meant cuts in government spending and elimination of the corruption and nepotism of the power elites. The crisis worsened and spread to Indonesia, whose president Suharto was an “emperor” enclosed by a corrupt clique of advisors and family members. At first, he refused to do what the IMF wanted, so the IMF turned to Rubin.

Rubin and the Treasury were determined to press Suharto to do what they wanted. In January 1998, Suharto retreated and signed an agreement with IMF. Indonesia received a huge loan to stabilize the economy which worked for a while. But later, the Indonesian currency collapsed, loosing 80% of its value and destroying the economy. The exchange rate of the country collapsed and the economy went into free fall. Indonesia was not the only one. In every country which received loans from IMF, such as Thailand and South Korea, the economy was stable for a while and then the exchange rate collapsed. Billions of dollars were given to Asian banks from the IMF, but many of them were used immediately to rescue western investors who wanted to take their money out of the country.

Providing billions of dollars in loans, the IMF rescued western investors and pushed the taxpayers of the countries deeper into debt because they had to repay the IMF. The result of the cuts was the destruction of the area. In Indonesia, the government subsidies were removed as instructed  by the western bankers. Prices soared and within a few months, in a country of more than 200 million, 15% of the male workforce lost their jobs. Economic output fell by 14%. The economy collapsed and ethnic and religious strife began. The same happened in Thailand and South Korea. Millions of people went back into poverty from which they thought they had escaped forever. By the mid 1998, the Asian economies collapsed. It was the biggest disaster for countries since the big recession of the 30s.

This was the first interference from outside in the deregulated market, which is supposed that could bring automatically stability and prosperity. And of course, the intervention was for the benefit of speculators and at the expense of the vast majority of the people.

At the beginning of last decade, when the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed during 9/11 attacks, the market suffered the biggest drop in history. Two weeks later, the “Enron” scandal revealed, and quickly became clear, that this was just the tip of the iceberg of a massive fraud from the corporations. Since the early 90s, many major companies were presenting fake profits, hiding their debts, with the help of the largest accounting firms. The paradox is that in the mid 90s, Greenspan had already realized that something was wrong with the economy, but ultimately convinced himself that computers were increasing the productivity in novel ways, too new to be detected in the data. 

After September 11, and given the great speculative bubble that was created during the previous decade, it seemed that the American economy was about to collapse. Then Greenspan took action by cutting down the interest rates several times. The goal was simple: to encourage American consumers to borrow and spend. The consumers’ desires would become the engine that would stabilize the system. It was a huge risk, because cutting the interest rates to almost zero, Greenspan released a flood of cheap money into the economy, which in the past led always to inflation and dangerous instability. But this time it didn’t happen. A huge consuming boom began, bigger than any other in history, without inflation. Everything seemed to remain stable and the system seemed that it could manage itself without any direct political control. 

But ultimately, the reason for this unusual booming was the exact opposite. It happened due to the massive exercise of political power, from an elite thousand miles away. The Chinese government kept the exchange rate of the country at a low level. Therefore, the Chinese products became cheap and flooded America. And to pay for them, the US dollars flooded China. But rather than spend this money for the population, the Chinese leaders loaned them immediately back to America by buying government bonds. It was a perfect system of cheap goods and cheap money inflow in the US, all controlled by the Chinese political power. And that’s what created stability. From this, came an orgy of lending from banks to even most unreliable borrowers in the US. Although this time, the deregulated market had been stabilized thanks to the political intervention of China, the bankers wanted to make more money.

So finally, in 2008 the dream collapsed. Greenspan’s vision for a new world and Gordon Brown’s promise that there will be no more bubbles and cracks, turned out to be fantasies based on a wave of financial speculation. Speculation happened, because those who controlled the economy in America and Britain, promised to build a new kind of democracy, based on the markets, which could bring stability. But again and again, it led to the opposite, in chaos and instability around the world. And now, finally it happened in the heart of the West. But again, like in South-East Asia more than a decade ago, those who controlled the economy, triggered the political power this time, to save and protect their sovereignty. They asked from politicians to save them with money and politicians agreed. And again, just like in South-East Asia, the price paid by the citizens of the countries.

And again, the outside interference in the deregulated market, which supposedly could bring stability and prosperity alone, was based on the protection of speculative interests at the expense of the vast majority of the people.

And the scenario has been played so many times, that someone could easily predict what would happen. Ireland has been praised as a model economy and the “Celtic tiger” took the place of the “Asian miracle”. But, as expected, the tiger died. An amount equal to 22% of the GDP of the whole country has been given to save just one bank. Today, Ireland is under close supervision, suffering from a monstrous total debt. In 2008, the Greek government rushed to give 28 billion to bailout banks, even before the arrival of crisis, and this was just the beginning.

Just before the recent elections in Greece, the banker Loukas Papadimos secured another 18 billion for just 4 banks. Many other bailout packages have been given to the banks meanwhile. Just compare all these billions with the 1.4 billion euros by 2015 that the European Investment Bank announced for the whole small-medium business sector in Greece, and you will understand.

And what was the result? Increase of unemployment, lost jobs, poverty, wage and pension cuts, destruction of the social state, increased debt and deficit. Not to mention that after the burst of the real estate bubble in America, financial investors from all over the world massively turned to the most secure investment: the basic types of food. The result was the peaking prices in just a few days and hunger or malnutrition for millions of people in the developing countries.

And now, the crisis is threatening countries like Italy and Spain, approaching the heart of the eurozone. And the banks in those countries continuously receive bailout packages of billions, with the majority of people paying the price again, as it happened so many times before. It seems that, this failed economic model, must be kept alive at any cost, because it is for the benefit of the bankers and speculators. 

14 July, 2012

Searching for new middle class tanks and the role of federalization

by system failure

Since the beginning of the current crisis, Germany tried to present it as a Greek problem, in order to hide the responsibilities of the banks and the big capital, and the fact that Germany itself is gaining from this crisis. The propagandistic role of the mainstream German media – and also large portion of the Greek media - of mass consumption on this, is well known.   

Until now, the middle class in the European periphery, was playing the role of the “safety pillow” between the lower class of the very poor and the upper class of the superrich. Through a false – as we see clearly now – wealth and a culture of overconsumption, with the neoliberal way of the gambling economy, bubble economy and banking loan, middle class became the vast majority of the population in western countries generally.

But today, the middle class itself, is characterized by a multilevel structure, with groups of citizens who often have conflicting interests that emerge on the surface or motivated, especially during such an economic crisis. This fact is used successfully by the representatives of the new order, to prevent primarily a possible massive dynamic reaction, with unpredictable results for their plans. A typical example in Greece, is the conflict between the hotel owners – even small hotels – and hotel stuff. Another characteristic example, is that many owners of small and middle businesses, accept the cuts in the public sector wages nearly as a fair treatment, while, on the other hand, they accept with realism, the continuing strengthening of the banking monster with rescue packages of billions, waiting patiently but vainly for the gates of banking loan to open again and believing what the governments say, that this is necessary to secure deposits.

But as the prescription of austerity and fiscal discipline fails dramatically and the game of the big banks and their role in crisis is revealed more and more clearly, the European elite understands that the middle class “safety pillow” in the countries of the periphery is shrinking dangerously, and threatens to create unpredictable unbalances. The alarm has been activated in recent Greek elections, where for the first time in modern history of the country, a leftish party threatened the dominance of the two-party establishment of PASOK and Nea Dimokratia which governed the country since 1974, and is directly connected with the domestic and European elites, beyond the fact that for the first time, the same establishment lost so much power through recent elections.

The German leadership, which of course is completely controlled by the big banks and multinational corporative cartels, is now turning to its own middle class and the middle class in developed countries of north, searching for a new counterweight, so that, this geographically displaced middle class, could take the role of a new “safety pillow” against the dangerous imbalances that are rising in the southern countries and the periphery.

But the Germans now also worry, that the excessive highlighting of the national characteristics of the “undisciplined” and “wasteful” countries (the “lazy” Greeks, the PIIGS of the south and the periphery etc.), against the “good students” of the north, in a – among other things – fragmented or even multi-divided European Union, and given the significant rise of the extreme nationalist parties across the whole Europe, will create other imbalances much more dangerous, with an even greater surge of extreme nationalism and the awakening of the ghosts of the past.    

The only way to avoid this type of imbalances that might prove fatal to the initiators of the new order, is to move rapidly to a kind of federalization of the eurozone initially. It started with the statements of Merkel-Hollande speaking for “more Europe” and then with the recent statements of Schauble about “one parliament”, “one government” and “one minister of finances”.   

In this way, the middle class of the north will accept without question the hard austerity measures and the destruction of the social state in the countries of the south and the periphery, considering that these are indispensable in order to maintain its own privileges, while on the other hand, the vast majority of the people of the south and the periphery, will be discovering that it is pointless to seek for the invisible enemy attacking them in a vast federation, guided by the monster of the faceless markets, which will threaten Europe, every so often, with a total financial disaster. 

But over the time, the “Chinification” of Europe will be planned and forwarded rapidly and spread to every corner, in the name of economic competition against the huge cheap labor tanks of China, India and South-East Asia. Unless the people of Europe react massively, and understand that, the neoliberal experiment that is carried out in Greece until now, will eventually turn against them and against all those things conquered with hard work and decades of sacrifices, such as the labor rights and the social state, and through new struggles, manage to change the course of Europe, not for the benefit of the dominant politico-economic elites, but for the benefit of the vast majority of the people. 

12 July, 2012


by system failure

The vast majority of the mainstream media in Greece and abroad, tried to present the decisions of the recent European summit as a victory of the countries of the periphery – with Italy and Spain leading – against countries of the “hard core” in the eurozone. For this of course, helped also the “opium of the people”, football, where Italy’s victory over Germany in the semifinal of the European Championship, with the goals of Mario Balotelli, coincided – incidentally(?) – with the “victory” of the other Mario, Monti, against tough Mrs. Merkel. Plenty of symbolism and coincidences for mass consumption.   
But the basic agreement, which was advertised extensively, and refers to the direct recapitalization of the banks by the European support mechanisms, is nothing but another victory of the bankers against European people who suffer from the extensive and continuous cuts in pensions and wages. That is, if for example the bankrupt banks are large enough to be characterized as TBTF (Too Big to Fail), they will continue to be bailed out through the “back door”, getting rid of any “disturbing” state supervision.    
Besides that, this decision opens the door for privatization of the banks which are under state control. On the grounds that the state would get rid of “potential” failed banks so that in case of bankruptcy will not have the responsibility of the recapitalization and therefore adding to the debt and deficit, there is a strong possibility to see a large wave of privatizations of the banks that remained under state control.    
Therefore, we could say that this is just a strategic win of the big European bankers which, during the current crisis, they found themselves in a difficult position, under the disturbing state intervention and the governments “threatening” to nationalize the largest financial institutions.The statements of the biggest Greek bankers were characteristic, accepting the decision rather with a relief, as they saw that the “risk” of the nationalization of their banks has been removed.
Therefore, the true picture is that the bankrupt TBTF banks will continue to be funded with taxpayers’ money at a European level. So, what changes in effect, is that the European taxpayers will continue to bailout banks in a European level, rather than the taxpayers of each country bailing out separately the domestic banks. Also at a European level, this will help larger banks to eliminate weaker competitors and banks that will not have the appropriate access to the funding mechanisms (something that happened in the US during the crisis of 1929 and the crisis of 2008), and to establish definitive sovereignty over European territory, forcing the EU to supply them with more and more liquidity, to prevent their collapse and the collapse of the - more than ever – unified and interdependent European economy.

Therefore, it is not strange, that the mainstream media “forgot” the fact that Mario Monti is primarily a technocrat banker, highlighting his nationality against Mrs. Merkel’s, and pointing this way to the direction of the win of the “poor” European south against the “rich” European north, and burying the core and the true aspect of the decisions.

However, what the European “leaders” truly forgot, is actually the European people, because once again, they didn’t seem to have any intention to take any substantial decision to relief the suffering people and enhance the social state. In contrast, they have chosen to facilitate bankers and secure more liquidity for them at the expense of the European taxpayers, just as required by the neoliberal conception for the economy function.