Category Archives: Banking
Here is letter #5:
My name is Mike Eastwood, I’m just a 20-year-old kid from a small town in Oklahoma, but let me tell you my story. I come from a stable and mostly happy family life. I have two sisters (I’m a middle child) who graduated valedictorians of their high schools. I graduated with a 3.7 GPA from my 3A high school in 2009.
My older sister graduated in 2003 from a state college. She worked for the next five years but has been inconsistently employed and predominantly unemployed since 2008, when she moved to San Diego to join her husband who was stationed there by the Marines. All the while, she’s been trying to pay off the $90,000 in student loans she racked up while trying to get a degree in pharmaceuticals that she is not able to use.
I am still going through college, attempting a degree in history. I decided to go to a community college after high school to avoid debt. I’ve been attending classes that do not challenge me intellectually in any way because, frankly, I was and am too scared of the debt that comes from a decent school. I do this in hopes that I can someday be a teacher, though I know that is a career that will leave me in debt for the rest of my life, regardless of how hard I work. My younger sister just graduated (again, a valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA) and she chose not to go to college after seeing the debt involved in getting a degree, as well as numerous examples of people racking up debt for a degree that doesn’t help them move forward in life. Each of us attempted and qualified for many scholarships but none of us qualified for PELL Grants or FAFSA Student Aid. Our parents combined (my mother is a teacher, my father runs a collating machine) make about $65,000 a year, putting us just out of reach of any federal assistance.
Why do I mention this to you? Goldman Sachs doesn’t have anything to do with school directly and I can’t place the blame for our debts on the shoulders of your corporation, nor would I try to. I tell you this because I want to show the state and cost of education, even at a local level, and far more importantly, I want to bring to your awareness the lives of those people who seem to have slipped beyond the vision of you and your fellow executives. My sister, with $90,000 in total student loans and paying a bit above the minimum payment (minimum payment is $345 a month; she pays $400) and paying against an 8.9% annual interest rate, cannot successfully pay off that student loan during her lifetime, assuming she is forced to continue working for K-Mart. And to perhaps offer a bit more perspective on her situation, she works forty hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.25, which earns her roughly $780 a month. Just repaying her student loans costs her more than half of her total income and it’s a payment that will never end.
Again, this isn’t your fault. She didn’t make the job market for those entering the field of pharmaceuticals plummet. And again, I do not blame Goldman Sachs for these problems. Allow me to give another example. As I said before, I’m only 20 years old. I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in April of this year. Type-1 diabetes means I’ll have to take insulin shots for the rest of my life, avoid some foods, and remove other foods from my diet completely. I was diagnosed after attending a local soccer game where I fell unconscious while sitting and watching. My blood sugar had gotten so high that the fact I hadn’t had a stroke was a true miracle (1,115, in case you’re curious.) This serious medical problem and diagnosis cost me $2,470. I will also have to pay nearly $160 a month for all of my insulin and diabetes supplies. I don’t have health care myself, but fortunately, because I’m under 24 and thanks to the new laws passed in 2010, I can remain listed on my mother’s health insurance. Unfortunately, my mother is a teacher and her coverage is not all that great. On top of my now $15,000 in school debt and the $1,045 loan I took out last January to cover the cost of my and my fiancé’s bills for a month when she was out of work, I’m in a lot of debt for a kid who was only in high school two years ago, and it is especially high considering that I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my fiancé, I drive a beat-up Pontiac Sunbird, and try desperately not to exceed my means.
I want to stress that I don’t blame Goldman Sachs for these problems; I’m not trying to insinuate in any way that you are at fault for this debt or these problems in my life or my family’s lives. What I do want to show you is the gap between the lives of everyday Americans and the lives you all lead as the executives of such a prestigious operation. Between your lives and the lives of those of us who have had to struggle and fight for every bit of happiness we have.
You’ve influenced our government elections using more than $11,200,000 for the sake of your own interests, leaving the American people with no other alternative but to watch and pray it all gets better. Your profits in 2010 were about $21,700,000,000. My siblings and I made a combined $31,859 and, with my parents’ income, that’s $96,859. This is barely enough to pay back my older sister’s student loans. My family, with the possible exception of my father, is well-educated, hardworking, and politically involved, and yet there is no light at the end of the tunnel. “Work hard and you’ll have a good life” is a cruel axiom.
The reason I sent you this message is so that you might read it and understand that we are frustrated by our lives, by the fact that a huge portion or our incomes are taken away for the sake of supporting federal and state governments that ignore the people they are supposed to represent, and that ignore them because global business juggernauts have the ability to simply buy a vote. Your corporate tax breaks are ridiculous. Your unlimited access to involvement in the affairs of the politics that are supposed to allow the people to improve the quality of their own lives is cruel and unfair. Most of all, your ignorance of the trials and hardships of the average American is unforgivable.
Please understand why we stand in the streets with signs. It is not for handouts, it’s not to taunt or torment the rich, and it’s most certainly not because a bunch of lazy, uneducated hippies want to lay blame on the shoulders of giant corporations. It’s because our lives are in shambles and because you have taken from us our only outlet for change. So we forge a new outlet and we stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity. Let us change, begin to change yourselves, so that we will again have the American Dream.
Michael EastwoodBartlesville, Oklahoma 74003
* Abby Joseph Cohen (born 1952 in Queens, New York) is an American economist and financial analyst on Wall Street. She is a partner and—as of March 2008—Senior U.S. investment strategist at Goldman Sachs responsible for leadership of the firm’s Global Markets Institute. Prior to that date, she was Chief Investment Strategist. In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal. (from Wikipedia)
This is despite a loophole in the law blocking repossessions.
A new report estimates that lenders have issued legal proceedings to take properties off up to 44,000 borrowers.
These are made up of residential and buy-to-let properties, according to calculations contained in a new report by Davy Stockbrokers.
An analysis estimates that what it calls non-cooperative borrowers number between 23,700 and 43,700.
Letters threatening legal action have been sent to these borrowers.
And there are fears that large numbers of properties, particularly buy-to-lets, will be repossessed.
Ulster Bank said that up to a third of its property owners in arrears were making no payments at all. The bank said it would not hesitate to repossess in these cases.
Strong demand for family-type homes and the presence in the market of large numbers of cash buyers mean that a flood of newly repossessed properties can be absorbed.
A number of banks were also likely to keep repossessed properties on their books, take the rental income and slowly release them on the market, Mr Mac Coille wrote. Changes in the law to restore the right of lenders to repossess properties have been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas and are expected to become law soon.
Davy reckons that arrears will keep rising this year, with large numbers of homeowners struggling to repay largely due to income decreases rather than job losses.
For large numbers of borrowers in trouble the mortgage repayments are so high they represent more than half of their income, Davy reported, citing unpublished Central Bank studies.
A separate MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) report found that distressed borrowers had just €777 a month left, after paying for utilities, food and childcare. But the mortgage was around €500 a month.
Banks will have to write down up to €11.5bn of mortgage debt. Most of this will be in the form of split mortgages where part of the mortgage owed is put to one side, and in most cases will probably have to be written off at the end of the mortgage term.
But one-third of borrowers are in such a bad financial position that a debt writedown will not work. These are mainly buy-to-let investors.
Half of investor mortgages are paying interest only. Despite this, almost 30,000 out of 150,000 buy-to-let mortgages are in arrears.
By TANA FRENCH
DUBLIN — FOR the past month, Ireland has been outraged by tapes of Anglo Irish Bank officials, back in 2008, discussing lying to the government about how big a loan they needed, and how they knew there was no chance that the loan would ever be repaid. That loan was the first domino in a sequence that ended with the whole Irish economy flat on its face.
It’s not the bankers’ actions that have outraged people — pretty much everyone had a fair idea that this was what had gone down. It’s the overpowering sense of amorality revealed on the recordings, which were released by the Irish Independent newspaper. The bankers have a great laugh about the situation. It genuinely never seems to mean anything to them that the taxpayer is going to be forced to pay their bills, to the tune of tens of billions. More than that: it never seems to occur to them that their actions might harm people.
I write psychological crime, so I spend a fair amount of time thinking about morality and amorality and what underlies them. And it seems to me that this amorality could be a symptom of something deeper: a total disconnect between action and consequence.
Ireland’s population is just over half that of New York City’s. Our ruling class — including many of the politicians, bankers and property developers who wrecked the economy — is a tiny community, interwoven by friendship, marriages, education, sports and financial transactions to a degree that would be unimaginable in a bigger country. That interweaving has created a safety net that won’t let any of the ruling elite fall. If you’re a banker and your golf buddy’s kid wants to be a banker, then it doesn’t matter if the kid is an idiot, or if he kills cats for kicks: you’ll take him on, and you’ll keep him on.
For many of these people, action and consequence don’t apply; their lives are mapped out from birth, and nothing they do will alter that map. It seems to me that that would be intensely disempowering, even terrifying. Instead of being a series of interlinked actions, life is made up of a scattering of events that have no discernible relationship to one another and that you don’t influence in any real way. In that climate, it would be difficult to develop the sense that your actions make any difference, that you have any responsibility for the consequences. Without cause and effect, there’s no foundation for morality.
I’m not saying this is an excuse. It isn’t. But, like everyone in Ireland, I want answers — for the taxes piled on taxes, for the enormous cuts to essential services, for the dole queues and the flood of emigration, for the desperation in the voices of people who are trapped in ghost estates and don’t have the money to buy their kids shoes. And I wonder if this could be one small facet of one of the answers.
Another question, maybe a more interesting one, is how people who weren’t part of that powerful elite got sucked into the property pyramid scheme that fueled the boom. Some commentators have implied that the answer is basically the same: people got deep into credit-card debt, or took out mortgages for 10 times their income, because they were temporarily sucked into the psychosis of the powerful and it didn’t occur to them that there might be consequences.
But I wonder if, for these people, the truth might actually be the opposite.
Throughout the economic boom, the politicians and bankers and property developers, along with the news media, were telling all of us that cause and effect were perfectly, inextricably linked: “If you buy a vastly overpriced and shoddily built house in the middle of nowhere, the economy will keep growing, and in a few years your house’s value will have doubled, and you can sell it to some other sucker and buy something you actually want and live happily ever after and UTOPIA!!!” It was as simple and certain as sticking a coin into a vending machine: insert Action X, and the life machine will inevitably whir and beep and spit out Future Y.
THE Irish are notoriously cynical, but the Utopia myth hit at exactly the moment when we were most open to unquestioning belief. The majority of Irish people were so desperately poor, for most of the country’s history, that when suddenly we weren’t broke any longer, the cynicism was washed away by the flood of prosperity. We needed to believe that the Celtic Tiger hadn’t simply wandered in, because that would mean it could wander out again. We needed to believe that we had somehow made it happen, and that therefore there were things we could do, like buying overpriced houses, to make it keep happening. We needed, basically, to believe in that chain of action and consequence.
And so the Irish tendency to raise an eyebrow at anything that’s presented as certain paradise dissolved just at the moment when it was needed most.
A lot of my generation believed that chain was unbreakable. When it shattered, so did they — not just financially (although that too), but also psychologically. Their whole sense of a world governed by coherent cause and effect, of their ability to have any agency in their own lives, came under attack.
Those people, the ones who trusted too deeply in action and consequence, were the ones who got utterly, shamelessly destroyed by the people who had no such belief. I’m pretty sure the effects of that betrayal, for Ireland, will take decades to fully unfurl.
Tana French is the author, most recently, of the novel “Broken Harbor.”
Canada has now been governed for some time by conservatives who allegedly care about deficits and debt, yet when the implosion of American banks dragged Canada into a recession, our government started spending far more, not less. Years later, we continue to spend into the red and our debt lurches ever higher. By contrast, even since the ascent of the Conservative Party in London, the U.K. has been biting a fiscal bullet. They have chosen to trim government spending in the hope of jump-starting future economic growth—in a word, austerity. According to Mark Blyth, this is a bad idea: “Austerity doesn’t work. Period.” Believing it only persists due to “epistemic arrogance and ideological insistence,” he sets out to trace the intellectual history of austerity, going back to its roots, from Adam Smith, David Hume and John Locke to more recent proponents like Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek and current German leader Angela Merkel. Then Blyth gives us a decidedly discouraging historical tour of austerity in action, which among other things makes us feel sorry for Great Britain’s prospects.
Blyth, a professor at Brown University, is an unusually gifted communicator of complex economic ideas. But though he pens such colloquial sentences—“Iceland, in many ways, was Ireland on crack”—this book is most suitable for readers with at least an intermediate familiarity with macroeconomics. Blyth does not pause long to explain the importance of bond yields. Yet his book provides a rich background for understanding the policy options facing those who would solve the ongoing Euro-crisis. Blyth also revisits the momentous American decision to bail out its banks, which continues to prompt Republican murmurings about the necessity for belt-tightening. Insofar as the United States and Europe have a debt crisis, it is partly the result of a banking crisis. Bank bailouts created much of the debt that we hear so much hyperventilating about. As for puny Iceland, it chose to let its toxic banks go bust, and its economy is now doing rather well.
Blyth is too rigorous to be an ideologue. He thinks austerity measures have their place, but only under the right conditions. Now, apparently, is not such a time.
“The republic that was created from the ashes of the rising was a perversion of the human rights ideals of 1916,” the outgoing Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has said.
Addressing the first evening of the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, she said people were not yet fully aware of what a real republic looked like. Delivering the 13th annual John Hume lecture, Ms O’Reilly said it was particularly appropriate that the lecture was named after the Nobel peace prize winner as he was a “pre-eminent human rights defender”.
She criticised the successors of the 1916 leaders, accusing them of franchising the State “to a private organisation called the Catholic Church, shedding in particular its responsibility for the education and health systems, and thereby allowing little actual space for the elected leaders of this republic to play their role in pursuing the happiness and prosperity of the nation”.
It was difficult for citizens to remind themselves that “we are actually the ones in charge”.
This was a difficulty, she added, that the executive and judiciary also struggled with. Referring to former attorney general Peter Sutherland, she said his core assertion made in a speech earlier this year, that the courts were “inappropriately forced to decide not alone what our values in this republic are or should be, but also to divine what the elected representatives of the people think about those values”.
She said that while the courts had too much unwanted power, parliament spent “much of its time ducking and diving and pretending it has no power whatsoever”. She accused the executive of “planting its boot far too firmly on the neck of the parliament and wielding power in a manner never envisaged by the Constitution.”
Quoting President Michael D Higgins, she said: “There is a deep-seated anti-intellectualism prevalent in Irish life,” and that our political and cultural life was marked by the false notion that one person’s ignorance was as good as another’s knowledge. She turned to the Constitution, quoting article 28.4.1 which states that the Government “shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann”.
“Quite clearly this is not the case. The nub of the problem is that parliament does not take itself seriously,” she said. “Our failures are essentially human rights failures and we should be particularly alive to the fact that, never more so than at a time of recession and austerity, are bodies such as a Human Rights Commission and an Equality Authority needed to make sure that in a decade’s time we won’t be weeping our way through another pitiful cataloguing of State-inflicted abuse, albeit with a modern twist.”
In his opening address, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he looked to 2016 and the centenary of the Easter Rising. “To be a real republic, Ireland has to be a sovereign republic,” he said. “We will strive . . . and work even harder so that we will become the best small country in the world for business, to raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect. This will be the republic of 2016.”
Kevin O’Rourke links to an interesting paper by Jeff Frankel which discusses different ways recessions are measured. The standard European measurement says that when an economy falls two quarters in a row it is officially in recession (we know all about that given our official double-dip). This measurement has the advantage of being statistically clear and simple. This, though, can lead to false readings. For instance, over two years the economy declines in half of the eight quarters – leaving it much lower. If, though, none of those quarters were consecutive, then according to the European measurement, there was no recession even though output has fallen. This may be an extreme case but it shows how quirky this measurement can be.
The US has a different way of measuring recessions. According to Frankel:
‘In the United States, the arbiter of when recessions begin and end is the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The NBER Committee does not use that rule of thumb (Europe’s two consecutive quarters of decline), nor any other quantifiable rule . . . When it makes its judgments it looks beyond the most recently reported GDP numbers to include also employment and a variety other indicators, in part because output measures are subject to errors and revisions. The Committee sees nothing special in the criterion of two consecutive quarters.’
The problem with this approach is that there is no single definitive measurement so disputes easily arise.
I’d like to introduce another way to measure a recession. It is based on the sinking-ship metaphor. A ship starts sinking. It eventually stops and starts to rise again. While it’s rising back to the surface we can say that it is in recovery mode. However, it will remain below water until it gets back to the surface.
Similarly with an economy: an economy goes into decline, eventually stops falling and starts rising. However, it remains metaphorically below water until it returns to the point at which it had started sinking. If an economy is below its pre-recession levels it remains ‘recessed’.
Take, for instance, the US Great Depression in the 1930s. The economy tanked big time in 1929. However, by 1935 the economy had experienced nearly three years of rising GDP, employment, consumer spending and investment. However, no one then (or now) would have said that the Great Depression was over by 1935 – it was still well below its 1929 level.
In 2007, the economy was generating a little over €43,000 for every woman, man and child. As seen, according to the IMF projections, even by 2018 the economy will not have returned to the 2007 level. It won’t happen until 2019. In other words, the economy will remain under-water for 11 years – in other words, ‘recessed’.
Of course, this is GDP – which is flattered by multi-national accounting practices (profit-tourism, etc.). What does it look like when we measure GNP per capita? Here we use the Government’s own assumptions in their end-of-the-decade scenario.
When looking at this domestic measurement (with all its faults) we find that the economy will be underwater for 14 years. 14 years. We won’t find ourselves above pre-recession levels until 2022. And if that’s not depressing enough, the ESRI’s John Fitzgerald estimates that even our GNP figures are over-stated given the presence of re-domiciled multi-nationals. The real GNP figures are substantially lower which suggests that a return to the surface could take even longer based on projected trends.
Staying with the metaphor, when the ship returns to the surface what kind of shape will it be in? Even though the economy has returned to the surface, many people will still be underwater. The Government’s end-of-the-decade scenario projects double-digit unemployment by 2019. Average real wages may not return to pre-recession levels until 2020 and even later. How many will still be living in deprivation, how many in poverty, how many will have emigrated? The ship may be back on the surface, hundreds of thousands won’t be.
To give another idea of what we’re facing into, let’s use the Government’s assumptions to track the ‘jobs recession’.
We won’t return to pre-crisis levels of employment until 2024. That’s 16 years under-water.
So when we start growing again – GDP, domestic demand, employment – just remember: we will have to grow for a long-time just to get back to where everything started collapsing. In other words, the ship may start rising soon but we will be underwater for a very long time.
Hopefully, you can hold your breath.
By Michael Taft,
The time is ripe—if not for the full-blown revolution, then at least for a transformative backlash to recenter the imperatives of social justice that have lately become so attenuated.
ZAGREB, CROATIA—What is often described in media, political and financial circles as the global “debt crisis” actually poses even more insidiously widespread dangers than the ubiquitous doom-filled reports commonly inform. “The greatest catastrophe threatening Greece and Europe is not the economic crisis,” says Costas Douzinas, professor of law at Birkbeck, University of London, “but the total destruction of the social bond, the way we see ourselves, the way we see our relation to the community. This is long-term. Economic crisis, fiscal deficits, can be restored in the medium term. But once you lose the social ethos, then there is no way back.”
That was the takeaway in May as scholars, writers, politicians and activists came together at Zagreb’s sixth annual Subversive Forum to plumb the depths of the current malaise, but also to propose remedies for the five years of European economic upheaval that has produced personal hardship, civic unrest, governmental instability and a general sense of paralysis.
For two weeks every year, Zagreb’s civic festival welcomes hordes of progressive lecturers and audiences to a program of films, debates, roundtable discussions and protest-planning sessions. Running past midnight in the city’s elegant 1920-vintage movie house Kino Europa, standing-room-only keynote speeches attract staunch partisans for advancing the interests of the public sphere against the authoritarian mediocracy that now prevails.
The cataclysm of human and social devastation in Europe is this generation’s defining moment. But calling it a debt crisis, as Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis explains, is like going to the hospital with advanced inoperable cancer and having the doctor diagnose your suffering as a pain crisis.
Yes there is pain, but the pain is symptomatic of bigger problems. The “debt crisis” is also a food crisis—people can’t afford to buy enough to eat. It’s a housing crisis, an education crisis, an unemployment crisis, an immigration crisis, a human rights crisis. In Greece, the New York Times reports, prostitution has surged 150 percent in the last two years as a direct result of social desperation, with supply-and-demand dynamics driving prices for sex work as low as five euros.
The Left rightly rejects austerity, despising it as collective punishment of citizens who had nothing to do with the financial collapse. Public health scholars David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu explain in The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills that such spending cuts drastically lower life expectancy due to a higher prevalence of suicide, HIV, alcoholism, heart disease and depression.
Underlying all these other crises is the steady transformation of the over-bureaucratized European Union into a democracy-free zone. Voter turnout is in decline (especially for European Parliament elections, but also in national contests), as constituencies manifest apathy or disenfranchisement. Decisions that people should be able to make for themselves and that are consequential for their lives—how much society spends on healthcare, on education, on defense—emanate instead from afar by EU administrators. A “Merkiavellian” regime, some call it; a secular empire of finance.
The principles of democratic self-determination are hamstrung by the powerful Troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (the EU’s legislative and operational council)—which a disempowered citizenry increasingly views as an automaton that squelches democracy as it protects the interests of the power elite.
A teachable moment
But as many Europeans grow resigned to the “new normal,” a passionate movement of social democrats and subversive activists aims to recast a fatalistic narrative of inevitable capitulation. From the rubble of this financial catastrophe, they are extrapolating a systemic critique of how this mess came to pass and more importantly, how to use the collapse as a teachable moment. The time is ripe—if not for the full-blown revolution, then at least for a transformative backlash to recenter the imperatives of social justice that have lately become so attenuated.
The EU had been promoted as a strong “single market” (by many reckonings, the world’s largest economy) that would defuse Europe’s centuries of conflict: shared economic prosperity would generate cooperative unity. But clearly the EU has not delivered the promised transnational harmony. Capitalism is, after all, inherently a competition, which means there are winners and losers. Labor, always a weak player in this competition, loses the most in a race to attract foreign investment. Consequently, the labor movement fears a descent into what Slavoj Žižek calls a tyrannical “capitalism with Asian values.”
“Peripheral countries,” a label that has become so prevalent in the EU discourse, typifies the fault lines in the “union.” At the Subversive Forum, I noticed how keenly language highlights these tensions and fissures. Not surprisingly, people don’t like being thought of as peripheral—a lesson that might have been learned in light of the offense that the “third world” has always felt about that similarly condescending term. They also don’t appreciate being called PIIGS, the acronym that lumps together Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (the extra “i” doesn’t soften the blow). The term is outdated anyhow as more countries slide into severe downturns. With France and the United Kingdom falling into recession and Cyprus imploding, we can expect even coarser acronyms in the future.
It’s not just about nomenclature. The discourse of “othering” reveals old and supposedly effaced neocolonialist prejudices at their worst. In the minds of those who oppose humane terms of support, the “pigs” are lazy and corrupt, unsophisticated and out of date. They have brought their troubles on themselves and forced austerity will do them good.
The idea of Europe and even the word itself, has become toxic, unstable; co-opted by the bureaucrats’ failed vision, nobody knows exactly what it means. Is the UK in Europe? What about other EU but non-Eurozone countries—like Poland or Sweden? Is Iceland, the canary in the coal mine for financial meltdown, European? Euro-Asiatic hybrids such as Russia and Turkey? Non-EU countries like Norway and Switzerland? Can a country be expelled from Europe?
“Europe” is uttered with a sneer or a spasm of abjection. “Euro,” which once denoted simply a strong cosmopolitan currency, is now a root that has spawned a more cynical vocabulary: Eurocritic, Euroskeptic, Europhobe. But if the establishment’s lexicon is becoming degraded, the radical retorts are more fiercely honed. “Union” and “unity” have been exposed as feckless in the face of European inability to sustain these, inspiring a more rousing synonym, “solidarity,” that resounds among those who are focused on social equality rather than financial technicalities. Paradoxically, the counter-rhetoric of the Left has expanded the context of the crisis by contracting the terminology. What was originally construed as “the global economic crisis” morphed into “the Eurozone crisis,” or “the Eurocrisis,” then became more tightly compressed into “the crisis,” and finally—stripping away everything else to convey simply a primordial vortex of personal agony and social decrepitude—the definite article dropped off, leaving just “crisis.”
“Crisis” has mobilized a radical critique of European capitalism. It’s not as simple as debating whether countries should leave the EU, or the euro—as bad as things are now, the alternative is probably catastrophic. But the Left has embarked upon a deep analysis of what sort of society has grown out of the EU’s financial autocracy. “Criminals, disguised as statesmen, were robbing us blind,” says Slovenian poet and critic Aleš Debeljak. “Crisis made us realize this truth.”
The radical mission is to uncover and expose the roots of this incompetence and institutional corruption, to question the motives and hidden agendas lurking beneath the “bankruptocracy” (another salient coinage), to educate and motivate suffering masses, and to reform the system.
“We can’t leave economic issues to the experts any longer,” says Maja Breznik, from the Slovenian Peace Institute. “It’s time for amateur investigations.”
These investigations, an end-run around the self-interested strategies of bankers and other EU cronies, begin from the premise that the vicious circle of debt is not the fault of immoderate spending by governments or households. Instead the primary goal of “recovery” has been a non sequitur: protecting the interests of private moneylenders and multinationals and refilling their coffers after their financial miscalculations and chicanery. The problem as it is being addressed bears little relation to the actual predicament, so society has plunged into deep recession.
As Europe tries to emerge from crisis, an exclusive focus on debt represents a class struggle designed by financiers to transfer losses from their books on to the taxpayers. Troubled countries are forced to sell off their economies to foreign investors. The Troika arranges bailouts under the harshest terms, with the heaviest burdens borne by agencies that support public welfare, because reducing social spending allows countries to pay more money, more quickly, back to the banks.
Privatization of the commons en- sues: everything that can be liquidated is sold, then rented back to the most disempowered classes. Much of the population is perpetually indebted and the idea of “permanent work” becomes a rarity, replaced by piece-work, part-time work and frequent lay-offs. The social contract has been broken.
We “amateur investigators” must ask questions about real value, as opposed to the merely monetary expressions of value that the Troika fetishizes. It seems reasonable to proclaim “bankrupt” (figuratively and literally) the discourse of valuation that culminated in the exotic, abstruse financial products that precipitated the crash.
It is our turn to open the discussion of what is valued from the perspective of the victims of fiscal malfeasance. (By “us” I refer to non-bankers, non-wealthy, non-functionaries and for good measure a healthy cadré of academic fellow travelers.) GDP itself is a subjective measure of value, a war-accounting mechanism that is not the only way to count. A euro is not just a euro: not every use of money is equally valuable. A different model of social accounting—one that focuses on the bottom, the workers, the poor and middle class, and starts with wages, taxes, social security—will produce a very different economic narrative than the one that has predominated for the last five years.
“We demand a new right,” argues Franco “Bifo” Berardi, a Marxist scholar from Milan’s Academy of Fine Arts, “The right to insolvency. We are not going to pay the tax. If I am insolvent, I don’t have money, so I won’t pay the debt.” Instead, there should be a moratorium on interest payments, some debt should be canceled and some repaid with a growth clause (as Germany did in the 1950s). Countries would pay as they grow, and as they can afford it.
Žižek—the Subversive Forum’s patron saint since its inception—warns that the radical Left has historically had a proclivity to sit on the sidelines: “They prefer sometimes not to take power so that when everything goes wrong they can write their books explaining in detail why everything had to go wrong. There is some deeply rooted masochism of the radical Left. Their best books are usually very convincing stories of failure.”
But today there is an especially high onus to take action, to engage in political reform. Leftist activists and politicians do have a concrete agenda for fixing the crisis. In Greece, defying the eulogies of democracy, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza coalition has shown impressive strength in the last few elections and stands within grasp of parliamentary victory and a majority coalition in the near future. Nearly destroyed by crisis, Greece may soon emerge as the most advanced site of resistance. “The future of Greece is the future of Europe,” Tsipras proclaims, providing a heartening reverberation for the slogan that protestors chant across the continent, “Nous sommes tous des grecs”: We are all Greeks.
The Left’s challenge is to reorganize in a more cooperative, collective way: reclaiming the commons, reappropriating the wealth that is now in the hands of the state and the banks, and reconstituting the social fabric that was destroyed by economic restructuring.
Political platforms like Syriza’s draw on a wealth of theoretical foundations and strategic visions for reform.
Erik Wright, a University of Wisconsin sociologist who wrote Envisioning Real Utopias, is one of many academic subversives who offered Zagreb audiences a sophisticated array of fresh ideas for transcending the status quo of capitalism and replacing it with an emancipatory alternative, a democratic egalitarian pathway that empowers people to take control of their own destinies. Wright described a range of innovations that can be introduced “inside of capitalism” but that embody non-capitalistic principles and more fully reflect the values of democracy: worker-owned cooperatives, participatory budgeting (where citizens help determine civic priorities), freely provided public services like transportation and libraries (which we can think of as anti-capitalist ways to give people mobility and books), and unobstructed access to the commons of intellectual property. Peer-to-peer collaborations like Wikipedia illustrate how a non-capitalist means of production can flourish within capitalism and ultimately displace capitalism altogether (as evidenced by the recent demise of the print edition of that imperialist icon, the Encyclopedia Britannica).
Urban farms organized through community land trusts can support food production divorced from agribusiness. Crowd-sourcing finance like Kickstarter sidesteps the entrenched hegemonies of cultural production. The gift economy in music from the Internet allows people to download songs for free and pay whatever they want. (Wright believes these musicians actually make more income than they would in a conventional sales model because they have created a more palatable moral economy with their fans.)
The crisis of capitalism offers, as a silver lining, the opportunity for us to reconceptualize more democratic and sustainable systems of social and commercial existence. It’s a moment that is uniquely receptive to new ideas, as the old ones have proven so worthless. A subversive smorgasbord can be created in the world as it is, prefiguring things that might be in the world as it could become. Are these just utopian fantasies? A questioner at Wright’s lecture asked whether a smattering of such small-scale interventions could really inspire fundamental social change, to which the sociologist responded sublimely: “We don’t know for sure. The day before Wikipedia was invented, it was impossible.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Dr. Randy Malamud is regents’ professor and chair of the department of English at Georgia State University. He is the author of eight books, including Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity (NYU Press, 1998) and An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He can be reached at rmalamudgsuedu.
― Jarod Kintz, The Days of Yay are Here! Wake Me Up When They’re Over.
The current global crisis is a manifestation of a fundamental problem in the process of the accumulation of capital. The problem is the lack of surplus value production. This contradiction has been concealed by decades of accumulating debt. Burgeoning financialisation involving bull runs since the 1980s have helped disguise the long-term weakening of the advanced capitalist economies. Economic performance in the United States, Western Europe and Japan has deteriorated since about 1973. The years since the start of the current cycle, which originated in 2001, have been worst of all.
The declining economic dynamism of the advanced capitalist world is rooted in a major sustained fall in profitability, caused primarily by the secular over-accumulation of capital. This problem goes back to the early 1970s. By 2000 in the United States, Japan and Germany, the rate of profit of private industrial capital had yet to make a comeback, rising no higher than that of the 1970s. With reduced profitability, capitalists had smaller surplus value to add to their labour processes. The perpetuation of reduced profitability since the 1970s has led to a steady falloff in accelerated capital accumulation across the advanced capitalist economies. The economic interventionism of the capitalist state have obstructed the realisation of the conditions for the necessary radical devalorisation of capital. Consequently economic downturn has not been precipitous enough to bring about a full recovery involving a restoration of profitability. The outcome is sustained stagnation.
To counter this persistent stagnation states, led by the United States, have been forced to underwrite ever greater volumes of debt through ever more varied and exotic financial forms. Initially, during the 1970s and 1980s, states were obliged to incur ever larger public deficits to sustain growth. But while provisionally keeping the economy relatively stable these deficits also rendered it increasingly stagnant. They thereby promoted the continued stagnation of capital by preventing capital proceeding through its “natural” cycle involving sharp downturns. This interventionism obstructed the return of accelerated capital accumulation. The state is now securing progressively less growth for any given increase in borrowing.
States, in the early 1990s, sought to overcome the problem by a budget balancing policy. Deficit reductions brought about by budget balancing resulted in a significant fall in aggregate demand. Consequently during the first half of the 1990s both Europe and Japan experienced devastating recessions that turned out to be the worst of the post-war period. The U.S. economy, itself, experienced the so-called jobless recovery.
Since the middle 1990s, the United States has been obliged to resort to more powerful and risky forms of stimulus to counter the tendency to stagnation. This is why public deficits were replaced with private deficits and asset inflation. In the great stock market run-up of the 1990s wealth on paper, fictitious capital, massively expanded. This development entailed a record-breaking borrowing increases. Consequently a powerful expansion of financial capital and consumption was sustained.
Government financial policy together with the general neo-liberal agenda of the bourgeoisie led to the historic equity price bubble of the years 1995-2000. Equity prices rose as a response to the law of the tendency of the general rate of profit to fall. New investment, free from significant technical composition of capital increases, exacerbated the prevailing over-accumulation of industrial capital. This was followed by the stock market crash and recession of 2000-2001.This development depressed profitability in the non-financial sector to its lowest level since 1980.
Greenspan countered the new cyclical downturn with another round in the inflation of asset prices. By reducing real short-term interest rates to zero for three years, he facilitated an historically unprecedented explosion of household borrowing. This contributed to and fed on rocketing house prices and household wealth. The world housing bubble between 2000 and 2005 was one of the biggest of all time. It made possible a steady rise in consumer spending and residential investment which together drove the expansion. Bush’s budget deficits together with record household deficits succeeded in obscuring the weakness of the underlying economic recovery by creating the appearance of sustained economic prosperity. The rise in debt-fuelled consumer demand as well as super-cheap credit superficially and provisionally revived the American economy. It also led to a new surge in imports and the increase of the balance of payments deficit to record levels.
Simultaneously, instead of increasing investment, productiveness and employment to increase surplus value, individual capitals sought to exploit the hyper-low cost of borrowing to improve their own and their shareholders’ position by way of financial manipulation — paying off their debts, paying out dividends, and buying their own stocks to drive up their value. This financialisation created a fictitious prosperity The same sort of things had been happening throughout the world economy — in Europe and Japan. In the United States and across the advanced capitalist world since 2000, the contradiction has been as follows: The slowest growth in the “real economy” since the 1970s and the greatest expansion of the fictitious economy in U.S. history.
Just as the stock market bubble of the 1990s eventually burst, the housing bubble eventually deflated. As a consequence, the house-driven expansion during the cyclical upturn moved into reverse. Just as the positive wealth effect of the housing bubble drove the economy forward, the negative effect of the housing crash drove it backward. With the value of their household residences declining and household borrowing collapsing households were forced to consume less. The sub-prime crisis arose as a direct extension of the housing bubble. Because of the ensuing enormity of the banks’ losses credit froze up at the very moment of the slide into recession.
It is clear from the above argument that it does not necessarily follow, as held by much of the Irish Left, that stimulus provided by the capitalist state to the domestic economy is not a prescription for providing a way out of recession. Indeed the argument above teaches the lesson that “artificial stimulus” can constitute a factor that sustains or encourages recession. Most of the Irish Left, including the less passive trade union UNITE, focus its efforts on campaigning for a solution within the framework of capitalism through the medium of the capitalist state which they misidentify as an eternal nanny state. They thereby sustain the illusion that capitalism is potentially a system that can serve the interests of the working class. If this utopianism of the Left were true then there would be no need for communist society.
The Euro crisis is a general a product of the conditions that contributed to the Great Recession. After the crash of 2008 the contradictions of the Euro grew increasingly visible. Consequently the market increasingly discovered its shortcomings. This manifested itself in the growing economic and financial problems of the so called peripheral states within the Euro zone. States such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland. These economies were running growing budget deficits. This meant that they were compelled to increasingly borrow on the financial markets. But because of the worsening economic conditions under which they were forced to do this, together with other factors, the interest rates at which borrowing was possible for them became increasingly usurious. No longer were they really in a position to borrow on the bond market. This meant they were left with merely two options: a bailout from the EU or default. In this way the economic crisis for these states became a growing problem for the EU itself culminating in a collapse of the Euro and its banking system.
One thing needs to be made clear. The Irish economy did not collapse because of irresponsibility regulation, banking and unscrupulous bankers. Pinning the blame on the aforementioned is a form of populism that distracts the attention of the working class from the real problem –the contradictory limits of capitalism. It is because the generation of surplus value within the reproduction process was the central problem facing the Irish economy that the bubble was created involving vast amounts of debt. To compensate for the absence of economic growth based on profitable industrial production bubble conditions were created that inevitable burst.
The banks of the core Euro zone were bloated and sitting on mountains of toxic debt collected from its periphery and elsewhere (the United States included). Consequently the core was vulnerable to collapse too. Because the core members were not prepared to let their banks collapse they imposed draconian conditions on the states that received financial help from them. This forms part of an attempt to protect its banks by rescuing funds from the periphery that was owed to the core of the European banking system. But the real aim of the markets was not merely to force the peripheral states into default. The underlying aim was to collapse of the Euro itself thereby bringing about the reconfiguration of the European capitalist system.
Ultimately the source of the Euro crisis is not, as some argue, its flawed architecture, rampant financialisation nor the Great Recession itself. Nor was the Euro crisis itself due to reckless spending by both the public and private sectors of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
These latter factors and the Euro crisis are the result of the failure of the valorisation process to produce surplus value on a scale sufficient to provide accelerated accumulation of capital. Because of this failure capitalism has been compelled to conduct itself in a way that has led to massive financialisation involving copious credit culminating in financial crisis, crash and economic recession. Debt is not indefinitely sustainable when there obtains abject failure by the system to produce surplus value (profit) on a sufficiently large scale. As I have indicated before, the failure of capitalism to bring about an adequate restoration of profit during the 1974/75 crisis marked a turning point that resulted in the sustained stagnation of capital. The 74/75 dip was not sufficiently deep to overcome the crisis of capitalism. Consequently even if the ECB was to currently dish out mountains of Euro the problem would only partially sort itself out in the short term. In the long term it would lead to a much more acute problem.
Public nor private debt is not the problem. Public/private debt is a product of the problem of profitability. Because of the lack of profitability debt has ballooned thereby reinforcing the problem. For capitalism to economically recover a very deep depression involving massive reductions in the value of wages and social welfare spending is a necessity. The only other (authentic) option is communist revolution.
The number of complaints received by the ethics watchdog last year which related directly to Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry is 388
THE number of people being sent to jail for failing to pay paltry court fines has soared by 25 per cent in just two years. read full article
A HIGH Court judge has cleared the way for aggrieved customers to initiate private criminal prosecutions against bank staff. read full article
INDEPENDENT MEP Nessa Childers, who resigned from the Labour Party last week, has sensationally claimed that she was subjected to a campaign of “overt bullying” by senior part read full article
The Sunday Independent posed the following questions to Minister of State for Small Business John Perry but he refused to comment. A spokesman said: “As this matter currently remains before the courts, Minister Perry will be making no comment.”
In relation to the loan Mr Perry agreed with Bank of Ireland to help pay his outstanding tax bill of approximately €100,000, what security – if any – was provided to the Bank of Ireland?
• Why did Mr Perry tell Danske Bank officials that he was friends with Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher? What would this have to do with any decision the bank would make on extending credit to him? Did he expect it to make a difference?
• Why did Mr Perry meet Danske officials in his Dail office? Did he not consider this to be an inappropriate use of that office? Did he think a meeting held in a minister’s office would in any way influence Danske Bank officials in their treatment of him?
• Can Mr Perry explain his remark to Danske Bank officials on January 31 last, where he accused them of being engaged in a form of bullying? Why did he go on to ask the bank’s officials if they treated all their customers in the same way? Does he consider it appropriate to have referred to the bank’s relations with other customers given his position as a government minister?