Thursday, February 19, 2009

The global collapse: a non-orthodox view

By Walden Bello

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 February 2009

Week after week, we see the global economy contracting at a pace worse than predicted by the gloomiest analysts. We are now, it is clear, in no ordinary recession but are headed for a global depression that could last for many years.

The fundamental crisis: overaccumulation

Orthodox economics has long ceased to be of any help in understanding the crisis. Non-orthodox economics, on the other hand, provides extraordinarily powerful insights into the causes and dynamics of the current crisis. From the progressive perspective, what we are seeing is the intensification of one of the central crises or “contradictions” of global capitalism: the crisis of overproduction, also known as overaccumulation or overcapacity. This is the tendency for capitalism to build up, in the context of heightened inter-capitalist competition, tremendous productive capacity that outruns the population's capacity to consume owing to income inequalities that limit popular purchasing power. The result is an erosion of profitability, leading to an economic downspin.

To understand the current collapse, we must go back in time to the so-called Golden Age of Contemporary Capitalism, the period from 1945 to 1975. This was a period of rapid growth both in the center economies and in the underdeveloped economies — one that was partly triggered by the massive reconstruction of Europe and East Asia after the devastation of the Second World War, and partly by the new socioeconomic arrangements and instruments based on a historic class compromise between Capital and Labor that were institutionalized under the new Keynesian state

But this period of high growth came to an end in the mid-1970s, when the center economies were seized by stagflation, meaning the coexistence of low growth with high inflation, which was not supposed to happen under neoclassical economics.

Stagflation, however, was but a symptom of a deeper cause: the reconstruction of Germany and Japan and the rapid growth of industrializing economies like Brazil, Taiwan, and South Korea added tremendous new productive capacity and increased global competition, while income inequality within countries and between countries limited the growth of purchasing power and demand, thus eroding profitability. This was aggravated by the massive oil price rises of the seventies.

The most painful expression of the crisis of overproduction was global recession of the early 1980s, which was the most serious to overtake the international economy since the Great Depression, that is, before the current crisis.

Capitalism tried three escape routes from the conundrum of overproduction: neoliberal restructuring, globalization, and financialization

Escape Route # 1: Neoliberal Restructuring

Neoliberal restructuring took the form of Reaganism and Thatcherism in the North and Structural Adjustment in the South. The aim was to invigorate capital accumulation, and this was to be done by 1) removing state constraints on the growth, use, and flow of capital and wealth; and 2) redistributing income from the poor and middle classes to the rich on the theory that the rich would then be motivated to invest and reignite economic growth.

The problem with this formula was that in redistributing income to the rich, you were gutting the incomes of the poor and middle classes, thus restricting demand, while not necessarily inducing the rich to invest more in production. In fact, it could be more profitable to invest in speculation.

In fact, neoliberal restructuring, which was generalized in the North and south during the eighties and nineties, had a poor record in terms of growth: Global growth averaged 1.1 percent in the 1990s and 1.4 percent in the '80s, compared with 3.5 percent in the 1960s and 2.4 percent in the '70s, when state interventionist policies were dominant. Neoliberal restructuring could not shake off stagnation.

Escape Route # 2: Globalization

The second escape route global capital took to counter stagnation was “extensive accumulation” or globalization, or the rapid integration of semi-capitalist, non-capitalist, or pre-capitalist areas into the global market economy. Rosa Luxemburg, the famous German radical economist, saw this long ago in her classic “The Accumulation of Capital” as necessary to shore up the rate of profit in the metropolitan economies.

How? By gaining access to cheap labor, by gaining new, albeit limited, markets, by gaining new sources of cheap agricultural and raw material products, and by bringing into being new areas for investment in infrastructure. Integration is accomplished via trade liberalization, removing barriers to the mobility of global capital, and abolishing barriers to foreign investment.

China is, of course, the most prominent case of a non-capitalist area to be integrated into the global capitalist economy over the last 25 years.

By the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, roughly 40-50 percent of the profits of US corporations came from their operations and sales abroad, especially in China.

The problem with this escape route from stagnation is that it exacerbates the problem of overproduction because it adds to productive capacity. A tremendous amount of manufacturing capacity has been added in China over the last 25 years, and this has had a depressing effect on prices and profits. Not surprisingly, by around 1997, the profits of US corporations stopped growing. According to one calculation, the profit rate of the Fortune 500 went from 7.15 in 1960-69 to 5.30 in 1980-90 to 2.29 in 1990-99 to 1.32 in 2000-2002. By the end of the 1990s, with excess capacity in almost every industry, the gap between productive capacity and sales was the largest since the Great Depression.

Escape Route # 3: Financialization

Given the limited gains in countering the depressive impact of overproduction via neoliberal restructuring and globalization, the third escape route — financialization — became very critical for maintaining and raising profitability.

With investment in industry and agriculture yielding low profits owing to overcapacity, large amounts of surplus funds have been circulating in or invested and reinvested in the financial sector — that is, the financial sector is turning on itself.

The result is an increased bifurcation between a hyperactive financial economy and a stagnant real economy. As one financial executive noted in the pages of the Financial Times, “there has been an increasing disconnect between the real and financial economies in the last few years. The real economy has grown … but nothing like that of the financial economy — until it imploded.” What this observer does not tell us is that the disconnect between the real and the financial economy is not accidental — that the financial economy exploded precisely to make up for the stagnation owing to overproduction of the real economy

One indicator of the super-profitability of the financial sector is that while profits in the US manufacturing sector came to one percent of US gross domestic product (GDP), profits in the financial sector came to two percent. Another is the fact that 40 percent of the total profits of US financial and non-financial corporations is accounted for by the financial sector although it is responsible for only fiv percent of US gross domestic product (and even that is likely to be an overestimate).

The problem with investing in financial sector operations is that it is tantamount to squeezing value out of already created value. It may create profit, yes, but it does not create new value — only industry, agricultural, trade, and services create new value. Because profit is not based on value that is created, investment operations become very volatile and prices of stocks, bonds, and other forms of investment can depart very radically from their real value — for instance, the stock of Internet startups may keep rising to heights unknown, driven mainly by upwardly spiraling financial valuations.

Profits then depend on taking advantage of upward price departures from the value of commodities, then selling before reality enforces a “correction,” that is a crash back to real values. The radical rise of prices of an asset far beyond real values is what is called the formation of a bubble.

Profitability being dependent on speculative coups, it is not surprising that the finance sector lurches from one bubble to another, or from one speculative mania to another.
Because it is driven by speculative mania, finance driven capitalism has experienced about 100 financial crises since capital markets were deregulated and liberalized in the 1980s, the most serious before the current crisis being the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.

Dynamics of the Subprime Implosion

The current Wall Street collapse has its roots in the Technology Bubble of the late 1990s, when the price of the stocks of Internet startups skyrocketed, then collapsed, resulting in the loss of $7 trillion worth of assets and the recession of 2001-2002.

The loose money policies of the Fed under Alan Greenspan had encouraged the Technology Bubble, and when it collapsed into a recession, Greenspan, trying to counter a long recession, cut the prime rate to a 45-year low of 1.0 percent in June 2003 and kept it there for over a year. This had the effect of encouraging another bubble — the real estate bubble.

As early as 2002, progressive economists were warning about the real estate bubble. However, as late as 2005, then Council of Economic Advisers Chairman and now Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke attributed the rise in US housing prices to “strong economic fundamentals” instead of speculative activity. Is it any wonder that he was caught completely off guard when the Subprime Crisis broke in the summer of 2007?

The subprime mortgage crisis was not a case of supply outrunning real demand. The “demand” was largely fabricated by speculative mania on the part of developers and financiers that wanted to make great profits from their access to foreign money — most of it Asian and Chinese in origin — that flooded the US in the last decade. Big ticket mortgages were aggressively sold to millions who could not normally afford them by offering low “teaser” interest rates that would later be readjusted to jack up payments from the new homeowners.

How did problematic mortgages become such a massive problem? The reason is that these assets were then “securitized” — that is converted into spectral commodities called “collateralized debt obligations” (CDOs) that enabled speculation on the odds that the mortgage would not be paid. These were then traded by the mortgage originators working with different layers of middlemen who understated risk so as to offload them as quickly as possible to other banks and institutional investors. These institutions in turn offloaded these securities onto other banks and foreign financial institutions.

The idea was to make a sale quickly, get your money upfront and make a tidy profit, while foisting the risk on the suckers down the line — the hundreds of thousands of institutions and individual investors that bought the mortgage-tied securities. This was called “spreading the risk,” and it was actually seen as a good thing because it lightened the balance sheet of financial institutions, enabling them to engage in other lending activities.

When the interest rates were raised on the subprime loans, adjustable mortgage, and other housing loans, the game was up. There are about four million subprime mortgages which will likely go into default in the next two years, and five million more defaults from adjustable rate mortgages and other “flexible loans” that were geared to snag the most reluctant potential homebuyer will occur over the next several years. But securities whose value run into as much as$2 trillion had already been injected, like virus, into the global financial system. Global capitalism's gigantic circulatory system was fatally infected. And, as with a plague, we don't know who and how many are fatally infected until they keel over because the whole financial system has become so non-transparent owing to lack of regulation.

For Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, and Citigroup, the losses represented by these toxic securities simply overwhelmed their reserves. Iceland's banks and many European financial institutions have since joined the list of victims. Some, like Lehman Brothers, have been allowed to die, but most have been kept alive with massive injections of taxpayers' cash by governments that want the banks to lend to keep the real economy going.

Collapse of the Real Economy

But instead of performing their primordial task of lending to facilitate productive activity, the banks are holding on to their cash or buying up rivals to strengthen their financial base. Not surprisingly, with global capitalism's circulatory system seizing up, it was only a matter of time before the real economy would contract, as it has with frightening speed in the last few weeks. Woolworth, a retail icon, has folded in Britain, the US auto industry is on emergency care, and even mighty Toyota has suffered an unprecedented decline in its profits. With American consumer demand plummeting, China and East Asia have seen their goods rotting on the docks, bringing about a sharp contraction of their economies and massive layoffs.

Globalization has ensured that economies that went up together in the boom would also go down together, with unparalleled speed, in the bust, the end of which is nowhere to be discerned.

This is the longer version of an essay by the author released by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Feb. 6, 2009.

Copyright 2009 and content partners. All rights reserved.

Walden Bello, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is professor at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; senior analyst at Focus on the Global South; and president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition.

~ Source: Transnational Institute ~

'Rockefeller, I.G. Farben, and the global cartel to enforce drug–based medicine'; The phenomenon that was Max Headroom

From The History and Conspiracies of the Pharmaceutical Industry and How Cancer Politics Have Kept You in the Dark.

"...Long before OPEC, there was I.G. Farben. In the late 1920s, it stood poised to control the entire European petroleum market by offering a less expensive synthetic substitute. This plan might have been desirable to Germany, preparing for war, and for Europe in general, but it was a threat to the hegemony of the multinational oil interests of the Rockefellers, known then as Standard Oil Of New Jersey. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1839-1937), was the quintessential 19th.-century capitalist “robber baron,” building up immense wealth by controlling an entire industry—oil. By the late 1860s, he already owned the world’s largest refinery; in 1870, he founded Standard Oil Company with the intention of “consolidating nearly all oil refining into one giant corporation,” explains historian Daniel Yergin in The Prize. Already by 1879, Rockefeller’s reach was prodigious; he owned 90% of America’s oil refining capacity and, in 1899, his new company, Standard Oil Of New Jersey held stock in 41 other corporations.

In 1929, Rockefeller and I.G. Farben cut a deal. Rockefeller would sell oil but not drugs and have the hydrogenation patent for use outside of Germany; I/G. Farben would stay out of oil outside of Germany and sell only chemicals. I.G. Farben also received 2% of Standard’s stock, worth $35 million. In 1930, the 2 giants established a joint company to develop the oil-chemical field. Over the decades, the Rockefeller/I.G. Farben cartel would reap massive profits from both areas. What better arrangement than to control both drugs and oil? Nearly all manufactured chemicals, including drugs, require coal tar or crude oil as a component (often in the form of petroleum jelly)..."

From SCIENTIST AT WORK: Bruce N. Ames; Strong Views on Origins of Cancer

"...When it comes to controversy, Dr. Bruce N. Ames, though not physically intimidating at 5 feet 9 inches tall, is no shrinking violet. The man who invented the leading laboratory test to screen chemicals for their ability to damage genes has years of solid science and the accolades of countless colleagues behind him when he makes such provocative and socially unpopular statements as these:

"I think pesticides lower the cancer rate."

"Pollution seems to me to be mostly a red herring as a cause of cancer."

"Environmentalists are forever issuing scare reports based on very shallow science."

"Standard animal cancer tests done with high doses are practically useless for predicting a chemical's risk to humans."

"Nearly all the polluted wells in the U.S. seem less of a hazard than chlorinated tap water."

"99.9 percent of the toxic chemicals we're exposed to are completely natural -- you consume about 50 toxic chemicals whenever you eat a plant."

"Elimination of cancer is not in the cards, even if we get rid of every external factor."

"Nearly half of all natural chemicals tested, like half of synthetic chemicals, are carcinogenic in rodents when given at high doses."

"We're shooting ourselves in the foot with environmental regulations that cost over 2 percent of the G.N.P., much of it to regulate trivia."

Coming as they do from a highly respected scientist who does not do consulting work for industry, such remarks are especially irritating to those who believe that modern industry has touched off an epidemic of cancer and birth defects by contaminating the air, water, soil and food with toxic chemicals..."

From Many Believe Cancer Myths

Hiding A Cure

The ACS telephone survey included 957 randomly selected adults from across the nation who reported that they had no history of cancer. Among the most common misconceptions identified in the survey:

* 41 percent said they believed surgery could spread cancer, and 13 percent said they didn't know if this was true.

* 27 percent agreed with the statement: "There is currently a cure for cancer but the medical industry won't tell the public about it because they make too much money treating cancer patients." Fourteen percent believed the statement might be true.


From Anarchism and sex

"...Within certain historic anarchist traditions (as well as within the left), there has often been a significant strand of ‘puritanism’ towards sex and any activities deemed generally frivolous.

We all know the story about Emma Goldman dancing all night with the blokes at an anarchist social event, then being chastised for behaviour not befitting a revolutionary (we know about her subsequent outrage too). We also know that some sections of the anarchist movement in the Spanish revolution have been accused of similar puritanism, and the idea that anarchist and communist revolutionaries should somehow live their lives like ascetic monks or nuns still, in some quarters, continues to this day.

The novels of 19th century anarchist writers like Octave Mirbeau were classed as pornography by the literary establishment of the time. The Diary of a Chambermaid portrayed the sexual habits of the bourgeoisie in such a way that Jean Grave commented, “What filth and decay there is under the pretty surface of our society”. To be fair, Mirbeau’s proletarian anti-heroine, Celestine, was certainly no sexual saint either, but the emphasis on the so called sexual ‘perversity’ and ‘depravity’ of the rich at play clearly implies the notion that sexual waywardness is in some way bourgeois. This is really not that dissimilar from the old Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party) telling us a few years back that homosexuality was nothing but a bourgeois disease..."

From Memoirs Recount Limitations Of Life In Modern Iran

"...Fellow memoir writer Azar Nafisi, author of Things I've Been Silent About, grew up in Iran in an earlier generation and remembers a sense of freedom that stands in stark contrast to the current reality.

"I grew up in a society where my heroine was a young Iranian feminist poet who openly wrote about having sinned in the arms of a man who was not her husband. I took all of this for granted," Nafisi says.

But Nafisi says that members of her daughter's generation have been jailed and flogged for wearing lipstick — which she jokingly refers to as a "weapon of mass destruction" — or for showing their hair or listening to forbidden music..."

1987: Remembering the ''March against fear and intimidation'' in Forsyth, Georgia

Two members of the Southern White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, wearing starched and pressed combat fatigues, sat in a restuarant Wednesday night in Cumming, Ga., and, as snow began to swirl outside, considered the likelihood of trouble when thousands of people gather this Saturday for a ''march against fear and intimidation'' in Forsyth County.

''I really don't know what's going to happen,'' said Mike Eddington, one of the Klan members. ''But I think it should worry the other side, don't you?''

Both Mr. Eddington, a construction worker from adjacent Gwinnett County, and his colleague, Bobby Starnes, a welder from nearby Barrow County, said they expected members of Klan organizations from more than 20 states to be on hand for a counterdemonstration on Saturday.

It was a similar crowd of Klan members and their friends and sympathizers that erupted into violence last Saturday when a small group of blacks and whites trying to stage a ''walk for brotherhood'' were driven back onto their bus by stones and bottles, threats and insults hurled from the crowd. National Leaders to March

The incident, which took place just 30 miles north of Atlanta, the capital of the civil rights movement in America, stunned the city and its civil rights establishment, which was celebrating the second national holiday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In response to the incident, Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and other leaders of the civil rights movement have planned the return march on Forsyth County Saturday. Among the national political figures who plan to participate are Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, former Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, Representative John Lewis of Georgia and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The King Center has ordered 100 buses to transport the marchers from their starting point at the King grave here in downtown Atlanta to the highway exit to Cumming, the county seat. '2,000 to 5,000' Expected

The Rev. Hosea Williams, the civil rights leader who also is an Atlanta City Councilman and who was hit by a stone in last Saturday's incident, said he expected the march to attract ''anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 people.''

The weather, which produced a rare 4 to 6 inches of snow here Wednesday night, will not deter the marchers, Mr. Williams said. ''We are going to march in Forsyth County this Saturday if it's cold as ice or if it gets hotter than hell.''

~ more... ~

From Turkey's Kurdish clashes continue

"...Demonstrators marking the 10th anniversary of the arrest of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan have clashed with Turkish police for a second day.

Police used water cannon and tear gas to break up thousands of stone-throwing demonstrators across south-east Turkey.

A number of demonstrators and police were injured and some 50 arrests made.

Protesters were angry that Mr Ocalan continues to be held as the only inmate on a prison island where he is serving a life sentence for treason..."

From The Deadly Face of Development: Struggle Against Evictions in Korea

"...On Monday, January 19th, evictee-protesters members from Jun Chul Yun, or the Federation Against House Demolition, including tenants from the neighborhood as well as other areas, occupied a five story building in Yongsan4ga neighborhood and assembled a defensive shelter on the roof. Roof-top access was blocked to prevent the police from removing them. The evictee-protesters prepared themselves for an occupation and struggle, supplied with, among other items, paint thinner and molotov cocktails.

A 1,500 strong police force was dispatched to disperse about 50 protesters. At 10pm, the night before the police raid, "contract workers" hired by the landowners, referred to by many as "construction thugs" for their traditional role in threatening and attacking evictees, gathered on the second floor of the building. The police threatened to use force against the protestors unless they ended their sit-in. In an apparent attempt to intimidate the protesters, the construction thugs set fire to used tires on the third floor of the building.

At 6am, Tuesday the 20th, the police sent a SWAT team into the building, and mobilized three water trucks to spray the roof with water. In an unprecedentedly short period of time for dealing with protests and sit-ins, a SWAT team was deployed in an "anti-terror" operation. According to Yongsan District police chief Baek Dong-san, they took such swift action because the protesters continued hurling cocktails, bricks and golf balls and spraying acid at officers and passers-by. There were 42 activists on the roof. Access to the roof being blocked off from inside the building, the police used a crane to lift the SWAT team above the roof in a metal storage container unit. The police sprayed the roof from the container box with a water hose, while the protesters resisted, throwing molotov cocktails. At 7:30, a fire, of unknown origins broke out within the makeshift fort. The police continued to spray water cannons and hoses at the roof, the water mixing with paint thinner and spreading the fire throughout the building. The smoke grew thicker and flames bigger, and protesters struggled to evacuate the shed. As the shed filled with water, the paint-thinner, being lighter than water, floated on the surface and prevented the fire from being extinguished. Cans of paint thinner were seen being frantically thrown out of small windows in the shed, in an attempt to prevent the growth of the fire. One protester, seeking to flee the flames, hung from a window, eventually falling four floors to the ground. He suffered severe injuries from the fall, as the police had not prepared any mattresses around the building. The fire was ultimately extinguished by 8am. Five protesters and a police officer died. The cause of death of all six individuals is under investigation..."

From Even anarchists like a little romance

"...Anarchists share few of the beliefs of mainstream society - except the desire to be with someone special on Valentine's Day. So the once-notorious group Class War is marking 14 February with a speed-dating event.

It's the day every singleton dreads. If recession, bad weather and global turmoil aren't enough to make a lonely heart's blood boil, then surely the arrival of 14 February must turn every spinster and bachelor into a committed anti-St Valentine dissident.
Roxy the penguin at London Zoo, who has no mate (despite 431 friends on MySpace)
Ugh. Valentine's Day is too commercial

Happily, salvation is on hand from an unexpected quarter: Class War, anarchist agitators of tabloid infamy, and now Britain's most unlikely matchmakers.

Better known for generating outraged headlines - the group was blamed by Fleet Street for instigating 1990's Trafalgar Square poll tax riots, and featured a regular page three "hospitalised copper" in its own newspaper - its activists have arrived upon a fresh tactic to advance the downfall of bourgeois society. Speed dating.

This Valentine's night, the outfit once condemned by the Daily Mail as a "sinister urban revolutionary band dedicated to turning the nation's inner cities into no-go areas for the police" wants to help introduce curious insurrectionaries to each other for fun, friendship, or possibly more..."

The phenomenon that was Max Headroom

Max Headroom I love 1985

Max Headroom and intro to the series

Max Headroom - Paranoimia

Max Headroom on Security

20 Minutes into the Future

The Max Headroom chronicles

Max Headroom trivia


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