May 272015
 
 May 27, 2015  Posted by at 11:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,


Dorothea Lange Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men 1939

There are many things going on in the Greece vs Institutions+Germany negotiations, and many more on the fringe of the talks, with opinions being vented left and right, not least of all in the media, often driven more by a particular agenda than by facts or know-how.

What most fail to acknowledge is to what extent the position of the creditor institutions is powered by economic religion, and that is a shame, because it makes it very difficult for the average reader and viewer to understand what happens, and why.

Greek FinMin Yanis Varoufakis has often complained that he can’t get the finance ministers and others to discuss economics. As our mutual friend Steve Keen put it:

Steve Keen said the finance minister was frustrated with the progress of Greece’s talks with the euro zone, adding Varoufakis had compared the talks to dealing with “divorce lawyers”. Keen said the finance ministers of Europe refused to discuss certain euro policies, according to Varoufakis. [..] When asked what [Varoufakis and he] mainly discuss at the moment, Keen said, “Mainly his frustration, the fact that the one thing that he can’t discuss with the finance ministers of Europe is economics..”

“He goes inside, he is expected to be discussing what the economic impact of the policies of the euro are and how to get a better set of policies, living within the confines of the euro and the entire European Union system, and he said they simply won’t discuss it. He said it is like walking into a bunch of divorce lawyers, it is not anything like what you think finance ministers should be talking about..”

They won’t discuss these things because they have found religion, in the sense that there is for them only one truth, to the exclusion of all others. They toe the preconceived line, because if they didn’t they would lose their positions.

They are undoubtedly also very hesitant to discuss economics with Varoufakis because they are aware of his prowess in the field. They are much less knowledgeable, which makes it tempting to hide behind numbers, behind Germany, and behind their faith that their views are the only right ones. Which is precisely what Varoufakis challenges.

You won’t see the Pope in a muslim prayer five times daily with his face to Mecca, or an imam celebrating Holy Mass. And that’s sort of alright, there’s nothing that says everyone should have the same religion. But when it comes to a field such as economics, and certainly when multi-trillion dollar decisions are being taken, and people in the streets are already going broke and hungry, that is definitely not alright.

The number one priority under such circumstances absolutely must be to find a solution, find it fast, and alleviate the suffering. Not to push through any particular policy or vision. Now, you can accuse Greece of not doing that, and the institutions and their pundits in the press do that on a 24/7 basis, but that view lacks substance.

The institutions demand more austerity measures for Greece, whereas it’s plain to see that austerity is what has led to the misery of the people. In particular, pensions cuts are apparently still a point neither side wants to give in on. But not only have Greek pensions already been cut by 40% or so, they are the last straw for many entire families.

Which means the entire pension system would need to be thoroughly reformed, not just pensions cut, or more, and more widespread, misery is in the offing. And there simply is no time to achieve that thorough reform before Greek repayment deadlines set in. Don’t forget, the entire Syriza government hasn’t been able (allowed) to do anything but negotiate. And is then accused of not doing enough.

This inflexible insistence on more austerity, and hence more misery, for the Greek people, is a good example of how religion driven the IMF, EU and ECB are. As I’ve written many times, it’s about power, not about money; it wouldn’t cost all that much, but could achieve a lot, to let Greeks off the austerity hook for a bit. All it takes is flexibility when entering the negotiations. But there ain’t much of that, if any, on the creditors’ side.

Which is why this Bloomberg piece on the IMF’s ‘enforcer’ for Greece Poul Thomsen should bring a smile to our faces.

A former IMF colleague of Thomsen’s, Ashoka Mody, last month in a Bloomberg View column called for the fund to “recognize its responsibility for the country’s predicament” and forgive much of Greece’s debt. There’s little sign that the IMF and Thomsen might bend the rules or cross their red lines now. While some issues such as short-term budget targets may be negotiable, the fund’s position is that any Greek agreement must bring debt down to sustainable levels and include concrete commitment to reforms, especially cuts to public pensions.

“We are open to new ideas and different ways to achieve a country’s economic goals. We are a pragmatic institution,” Thomsen said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “But we also need to be mindful of economic realities. At the end of the day it needs to add up. And we need to ensure that we treat our member states equally, that we apply our rules uniformly.”

For all we know that’s even the way he sees things. But the IMF is neither a flexible nor a beneficial institution. It’s a power tool for the wealthy. The philosophy behind the institutions’ view of the negotiations, and indeed their entire view of economics in general, is constructed to follow the preferences of the wealthy, who have a strong vested interest in centralized control over just about everything, because more centralization makes it easier for them to exert this control.

Syriza getting its way on reforms doesn’t fit in that picture; before you know more parties want some say in their futures too. Most of all, though, different ideas on economics in general cannot be accepted. Everybody has to follow the IMF line of ‘reforms’, asset sales, privatizations, labor protection and austerity. Certainly everyone who owes the Fund money. That’s its ultimate power tool.

That the EU follows that line merely means it’s and immoral and amoral institution, and a union only in name. The ECB follows the IMF line on economics, which means there’s no room for aberrant views, no matter how well founded and thought through. There’s no place in there for people like Varoufakis, or Steve Keen.

It’s not about knowledge or brilliance, it’s about keeping the faith, because that keeps the power where it’s at. Yeah, there’s a hint of Galileo in there somewhere. The ‘philosophy’ is neo-liberal mixed with let’s say, Keynes-for-the-rich, aka QE.

A nice example of how the IMF operates, and how far its power tentacles reach, came in a Guardian piece on Chapter 11 bankruptcy for countries, and why Argentina took its case to the UN, not the IMF:

When Argentina tabled a motion calling for the UN to examine the issue of sovereign debt restructuring last autumn, 124 countries voted for it; 11, including the UK and the US, with their powerful financial lobbies, voted against; and there were 41 abstentions. Llorenti, who is chairing the UN “ad hoc committee” set up as a result of that vote, says the 11 countries that objected hold 45% of the voting power at the IMF. He believes they would prefer the matter to be tackled there, where they can shape the arguments: “It’s a matter of control, really.”

Another thing I‘ve said before is that the IMF is a prime example of why we should steer away from supra-national organizations. We can’t make them run for our own benefit, they invariably end up being run for the benefit of the few, because their inherent lack of transparency and democracy makes them an irresistible target for sociopathic individuals, who seek control, not democracy, and for the elites whose interests they invariably end up representing.

There’s the World Bank, NATO, the IMF, the EU. The UN is somewhat more democratic, but only somewhat. Behind the veil it’s not at all.

Amongst the European finance minsters there should still be a few who may have doubts about what’s happening to Greece, what’s being demanded of it. And who realize that the purely political decision to bail out the banks that had lent to Greece, and shove their debts into the lap of all Europeans, who in turn pushed it right back into Greece’s lap, is at best highly questionable.

If these Europeans want to save their union, they need to be told that what they’re doing right now is the exact wrong way to go about that, 180º wrong. What happens today is not holding or pulling the member states together, it’s driving them apart.

Perhaps it is indeed ultimately a choice between the banks and the people. And perhaps it scares them stiff not to choose the banks. With their limited knowledge of how economies function, they must believe the story of how everything will fall to pieces if the banks fail. Besides, if they question it, they’re out.

But economics cannot be a religion, it cannot have this inflexibility and resistance to change. And neither can politics, not if we want our unions, our countries and our societies to survive, if we want to survive, and our children. Economics is not a science, though it very much longs for that status. It shouldn’t be a religion either, however.

There is nothing that says, or proves, that bailing out banks and forcing austerity on people (note the combination) is the best, or only, way to rescue an economy in trouble. That austerity is the way to rebuild an economy. These are mere ideas, conceived by people who studied textbooks.

What Greece is asking for is a simple bottom beneath its society, lest it completely falls to bits, lest all it’s left with is some right wing movement or another. But instead, the institutions’ approach to economics, to democracy and to power look to make a true solution for the Greek problem impossible.

That in turn would seem to make a Grexit, in some shape or another, the only way left to go. Why would anyone want to live in a world dominated by religious fanatics and their henchmen?

Finally, as for what the euro, and hence the eurozone, were intended to do, here’s Greg Palast from 2012, talking about father of the euro, Robert Mundell:

Robert Mundell, Evil Genius Of The Euro

“It’s very hard to fire workers in Europe,” he complained. His answer: the euro. The euro would really do its work when crises hit, Mundell explained. Removing a government’s control over currency would prevent nasty little elected officials from using Keynesian monetary and fiscal juice to pull a nation out of recession.

“It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians,” he said. “[And] without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.” He cited labor laws, environmental regulations and, of course, taxes. All would be flushed away by the euro. Democracy would not be allowed to interfere with the marketplace – or the plumbing. [..]

The supply-side economics pioneered by Mundell became the theoretical template for Reaganomics – or as George Bush the Elder called it, “voodoo economics”: the magical belief in free-market nostrums that also inspired the policies of Mrs Thatcher.

Mundell explained to me that, in fact, the euro is of a piece with Reaganomics: “Monetary discipline forces fiscal discipline on the politicians as well.” And when crises arise, economically disarmed nations have little to do but wipe away government regulations wholesale, privatize state industries en masse, slash taxes and send the European welfare state down the drain.

Home Forums Austerity, Economics and Religion

This topic contains 4 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  rapier 4 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #21296

    Dorothea Lange Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men 1939 There are many things going on in the Greece vs Institutions+Germa
    [See the full post at: Austerity, Economics and Religion]

    #21299

    Dr. Diablo
    Participant

    Summed up in the phrase “Submit or Die”

    When did Canada begin to have such awful exports? Mundell and Carnie and Harper; acting ministers who don’t even reside in the country but in Arizona; refusing to oppose fascism even in name (UN A/C.3/69/L.56/Rev.1), joining with all the wrong crowd in foriegn wars, etc? What’s happened to y’all up there?

    And the unsavory thing about Mundell is not that he wants to drown European principles in the bathtub, but that the plan–now enacted by powerful men–was not to be discussed, debated, voted on, or chosen by the people. No one was to know what direction, what options they were choosing, what road they were headed down. Where the original votes in Ireland, France, and Holland didn’t go their way, the referendums were halted forever. But that’s not democracy, and that’s not consent. There’s a word for it, and you’ll find it in UN A/C.3/69/L.56/Rev.1.

    #21305

    John Day
    Participant

    Back in 2010, no real macroeconomic theory predicted a Greek return to growth, under the imposed conditions. The conditions were worsened by 2012 changes to the “bailout”.
    The rationale given was NEVER CREDIBLE.
    What if the purpose of the experiment was NEVER to see if it could improve Greek economy under prevailing macroeconomic conditions?
    I believe that our shadowy puppet-masters, the 0.001% and the 0.01% who directly serve them are smart. It hurts, but they are probably smarter than I am. Our interests diverge, and I’m smart enough to see that. They lie to keep the herd moving in the same direction. I’m smart enough to see that. They shoot their guns and shout to spook the herd into sudden, rapid changes of direction. When do we get that again?
    They overgraze the herd whenever possible, then massively cull the herd when overshoot leads to starvation, and that is called “war”. When do we get that again?
    The global herds of people are getting quite different treatments since 9/11/01, and particularly since September 2008.
    What if these smaller herds are being observed under experimental conditions?
    It’s inevitable that the different conditions of herds will give different patterns of movement and survival and economy to different nation-states. It’s impractical to think this valuable information is not being studied intently, at great cost.
    The Masters-of-the-Universe know no “moral” bounds, and see the limits of possibility from a very different vantage than we do.
    WW-3 is always a viable policy tool.
    What kinds of losses can be expected, under what kinds of conditions, and where, and when, and how will that affect chain of command?
    Questions that big need really big models, as big as Greece, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Ukraine, and so on.
    George Soros, coming of age as a brilliant Jewish boy in Fascist Budapest in WW-2, has insight into this sort of thing. He gave a warning recently. Who was warned? I’m not saying he’s our friend…

    #21308

    mutthead52
    Participant

    They are not smarter than you, John (or Diablo), but they are far, far better connected, and started with infinitely more resources. Their network labors full time to protect those connections and that wealth. That’s what the article means when it says that the FinMins must toe their pharisaical religious line or “lose their positions”–not in their govts as much as in the gang. It’s like Hollywood: just a family thing now; talent is largely irrelevant, but those without family connections need not apply.

    #21309

    rapier
    Participant

    I prefer economics as ideology not religion so much. Let’s look that word up.

    “Ideology, in the Althusserian sense, is “the imaginary relation to the real conditions of existence.” It can be described as a set of conscious and unconscious ideas which make up one’s goals, expectations, and motivations. An ideology is a comprehensive normative vision, meaning that it is a set of standards that are followed by people, government, and/or other groups that is considered the “norm”. [1][further explanation needed], a way of looking at things, as argued in several philosophical tendencies (see political ideologies). It can also be a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of society to all members of society (a “received consciousness” or product of socialization[further explanation needed], as suggested in some Marxist and Critical theory accounts. While the concept of “ideology” describes a set of ideas broad in its normative reach, an ideology is less encompassing than as expressed in concepts such as worldview, imaginary and ontology.
    Ideology refers to the system of abstracted meaning applied to public matters, thus making this concept central to politics. Implicitly, in societies that distinguish between public and private life, every political or economic tendency entails ideology, whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideology

    Some gobblety gook but that’s about right. Plenty if not most ideologies are centered around economics or pretend to be but I am saying economics as practiced by all Western countries via their central banks and China and Japan are playing under the current economic orthodoxy which is an ideology.

    As a nominal ‘liberal’ as defined in the US and carrying over from my past I find it absolutely impossible to explain that Paul Krugman’s economics is an ideology. The victory of the ideology that is modern economic model is so total that there is no language that I have found to tell ‘liberals’ that Krugman is not their friend. I mean if AE had .1% of the following that all Krugman fans have the zeitgeist might be lining up for change.

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