Category Archives: Free markets and their discontents

Michael Hudson, Other Experts Discuss America, China and Russia Jockeying in G20 and APEC Summits

Yves here. This is an intriguing exchange among Michael Hudson, John Weeks, professor emeritus of development economics at the University of Long and Colin Bradford of Brookings. The points of difference between Hudson and Bradford are sharp, with Bradford admitting to giving a Washington point of view that Obama scored important gains at the APEC summit, with Hudson contending that both confabs exposed America’s declining role and lack of foreign buy-in for its neoliberal economic policies.

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Wisconsin as a Frontier of School Privatization: Will Anyone Notice the Looting?

I never dreamed that a class I took in college, The Politics of Popular Education, which covered the nineteenth century in France and England, would prove to be germane in America. I didn’t have any particular interest in the topic; the reason for selecting the course was that the more serious students picked their classes based on the caliber of the instructor, and this professor, Kate Auspitz, got particularly high marks. The course framed both the policy fights and the broader debate over public education in terms of class, regional, and ideological interests.

The participants in these struggles were acutely aware that the struggle over schooling was to influence the future of society: what sort of citizens would these institutions help create?

As the post below on the march of school privatization in Wisconsin demonstrates, those concerns are remarkably absent from current debates. The training of children is simply another looting opportunity, like privatizing parking meters and roads.

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Treasury Liquidity Freakout: Searching for a Market-Maker

As someone old enough to have done finance in the Paleolithic pre-personal computer era (yes, I did financial analysis using a calculator and green accountant’s ledger paper as a newbie associate at Goldman), investor expectations that market liquidity should ever and always be there seem bizarre, as well as ahistorical. Yet over the past month or two, there has been an unseemly amount of hand-wringing about liquidity in the bond market, both corporate bonds, and today, in a Financial Times story we’ll use as a point of departure, Treasuries.

These concerns appear to be prompted by worries about what happens if (as in when) bond investors get freaked out by the Fed finally signaling it is really, no really, now serious about tightening and many rush for the exits at once. The taper tantrum of summer 2013 was a not-pretty early warning and the central bank quickly lost nerve. The worry is that there might be other complicating events, like geopolitical concerns, that will impede the Fed’s efforts at soothing rattled nerves, or worse, that the bond market will gap down before the Fed can intercede (as if investors have a right to orderly price moves!).

Let’s provide some context to make sense of these pleas for ever-on liquidity.

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The Return of the Trade Cold War?

Yves here. With an active US effort to isolate Russia, which Russia is seeking to undermine (with only limited success so far) in strengthening ties with China and other emerging economies, most analysts have seen the geopolitical struggle in terms of short-term effects, such as on Russia’s and Europe’s growth rates over the next year. At the same time, the Chinese initiative to create a development bank, meant to rival the World Bank, is seen by many as an important step in breaking the dollar hegemony, along with moves by China and Japan to enter into oil contracts denominated in currencies other than the greenback.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, we believe the frisson over the demise of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency is greatly overdone. As much as the US is abusing its role, particularly in its aggressive use of its influence over the dollar payments system as a weapon, there are simply no viable candidates for replacement on the horizon.

However, this post examines a consequence of US economic aggression against Russia that has not rceived the attention that it merits: that of reducing the amount of international trade, something economists see as a driver of growth. Note that per the Lipsey Lancaster theorem, there is ample reason to doubt the near-religious belief that more open trade is always a good thing. However, sudden restrictions in trade, which is what is taking place with US/European sanctions on Russia and Russia implementing counter-sanctions, is certain to cause short-term dislocations. And as we noted in a recent post, the cordon sanitaire being placed around Russia will led it to operate more as an autarky, which may not necessarily be a negative in the medium to long term.

This post seeks to identify the impact of reduced trade between Russia and Europe. This sort of analysis could become more germane going forward. While a currency rival to the dollar any time soon looks to be far-fetched, ever-more obvious US economic imperialism may lead other countries to strengthen trade ties among themselves to the detriment of the US, or like Russia, to move to greater self-sufficiency as a defensive measure. While economists assume that our current open trade system could never be rolled back, that was the tacit assumption during the last great era of open trade, the period right before World War I. The Great War put that all in rapid reverse gear. While no one expects a violent rupture, we may be in the early stages of seeing fractures developing in the trade system.

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Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on Inverted Totalitarianism as a Threat to Democracy

Yves here. We’ve been featuring what we consider to be standout segments in an important Real News Network series, an extended discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on capitalism and democracy. This offering focuses on what Wolin calls “inverted totalirianism,” or how corporations and government are working together to keep the general public in thrall. Wolin discusses how propaganda and the suppression of critical thinking serve to a promote pro-growth, pro-business ideology which sees democracy as dispensable, and potentially an obstacle to what they consider to be progress. They also discuss how America is governed by two pro-corproate parties and how nay “popular” as in populist, candidate gets stomped on.

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Will US Browbeating of Japan Revive the Zombified TransPacific Partnership?

As readers may recall, we declared the toxic, national-sovereignty-gutting, misnamed “trade” deal called the TransPacific Partnership to be dead based on America’s colossal mishandling of Japan (not that it has handled the other prospective signatories any better, mind you). The pact was designed to be an “everybody but China” grouping, a centerpiece of Obama’s pivot to Asia. Japan’s participation is essential to meeting that objective, as well as to another critical objective: that of getting major nations to sign up to agreements that subordinated national regulations to the profit-making rights of foreign investors, who could sue governments over any incursions in secretive, conflicted arbitration panels.

Nevertheless, meetings on the TransPacific Partnership continue, with the latest round in Sydney last week. The US press is depicting the Japanese as bad guys who can be browbeaten into giving up protecting their beef and rice farmers, among others. Is that likely to happen?

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Can Capitalism and Democracy Co-Exist?

Yves here. Real News Network is running an eight-part series on capitalism and democracy, with Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin as interlocutors. I thought the second segment in the series, which is historically focused, to be particularly strong. It seeks to trace the evolution of what they call corporate capitalism, or what we’ve sometimes called Mussolini-style corporatism.

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Class Traitors: How Ideological Brainwashing Gets Rich and Ordinary Americans to Undermine Their Economic Interest

Linda Beale, of ataxingmatter, has written forcefully and persuasively about some of the propagandizing-accepted-as-gospel that the well-heeled use to advocate policies that advance their economic interests. For instance, as most Naked Capitalism readers appreciate, but a remarkably large swathe of the US population does not, tax cuts for big corporations are simply a transfer to the rich. From a post last year:

I’ve argued frequently in the past that there is no there there–i.e., that lowering corporate tax rates will do nothing to create jobs. Instead, I’ve said, it will simply deliver an even higher profit margin to be skimmed off by the highest paid executives and, possibly, shareholders. The higher profit margins are unlikely even to be used to increase workers’ shares of the corporate revenues through higher wages, a place where they could most help the economy other than new jobs created. Thus, the drive for “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform (cut corporate taxes, cut expenditures elsewhere to make up for the decreased corporate tax revenues) is just another example of corporatism as an engine of the modern form of US class warfare

Beale takes up a different theme today: how the rich and poor act against their economic interest. For many in middle and lower income strata in red states, hostility to the government is an article of faith even though those states (and many of those same govement-hating citizens) are significant beneficiaries of Federal programs.

But less well recognized are the ways that the wealthy are undermining themselves. They’ve taken the “increase our distance from everyone else” experiment well beyond its point of maximum advantage, not just to the society around them but also in terms of the costs to the class warriors.

As we’ve pointed out, highly unequal societies have lower lifespans, even among the rich; the shallower social networks of stratified societies and the high cost of losing one’s perch, in terms of loss of friends and status, creates an ongoing level of stress that has a longevity cost. Beale points out something we’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, that creating an underclass with inadequate access to medical services is a great breeding ground for public health problems. The fact that many low income Americans can’t afford to take sick days and health plans generally have high deductibles, which discourage individuals from getting treated until they are sure they are really sick, isn’t a great program design if you want to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

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Uber Economics: There is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Yves here. This post on Uber raises a sobering point about activism and human cognition. How do you opposed a cause you regard as dubious without unwittingly legitimating it? For instance, remember when one of the many justifications offered for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? Even though that idea was patently false, efforts to debunk it actually reinforced the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden simply by featuring their names in close proximity.

If readers, particularly activists, have ideas for how to steer clear of effectively promoting ideas and causes you are challenging, please let us know in comments.

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The Financialization of Life

Yves here. One of the efforts the Naked Capitalism community has been engaged in is trying to understand and map our emerging political and economic order. Over the last four decades, massive changes have taken place in social values, in job security, in the importance of communities relative to other networks, like professional associations, and in the role of the state. Economists, social scientists, and laypeople have used various frameworks for describing this period. Understanding the driving process is important not merely for the purposes of description, but also for analysis, since a major question remains open: is this a last gasp of large-scale industrial capitalism, or is this the starting phase of a new economic order? We’ve tended to see this period as a self-limiting finance-led counter-revolution against the New Deal, but that may prove to be too optimistic a reading.

This Real News Network interview with Costas Lapavitsas, a professor in economics at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, takes a different perspective. Lapavitsas contends that financialization itself constitutes a new form of capitalism, which is supported by neoliberal ideology.

Independent of whether you fully agree with Lapavitsas’ framing, this talk gives a good overview of the major economic and political changes since 1970. His summary would be useful for those who could use a historical perspective on these shifts, or want a high-level understanding of the restructuring of modern economies without having to get too deep into the weeds. But even though this interview is designed to go down easily, it offers a lot of grist for thought.

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Goldman Makes It Official That the Stock Market is Manipulated, Buybacks Drive Valuations

It’s remarkable that this Goldman report, and its writeup on Business Insider, is being treated with a straight face. The short version is current stock price levels are dependent on continued stock buybacks. Key sections of the story:

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