Jul 302018
 
 July 30, 2018  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Family of Saltimbanques 1905

 

Why did Britain vote Yes in the Brexit vote Cameron called? To a large degree to protest policies he himself imposed. For many it’s still a mystery ‘mechanism’, but not for all. People like Steve Bannon understand it very well. That is, austerity and mass migration make voters turn to the political right. Even if they are initiated by the right. When Britain’s Tories under David Cameron and George Osborne began ripping apart much of the country’s institutions and infrastructure, they knew that their austerity measures would only make their party stronger.

The incompetence of Theresa May and her ministers on Brexit will lead to an almighty backlash, and soon, but then Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, far to the right of May, will take over. Labour under Corbyn doesn’t stand a chance. The same pattern repeats itself everywhere, and nobody knows how to stop it. How could they if and when they don’t understand it?

For the right, this is a ‘can’t lose’, and they’re not done. That’s why Steve Bannon is touring Europe. It’s easy pickings: a rightwing government that imposes austerity measures will be rewarded for it with more voters. If it also lets in large numbers of migrants, even more votes. Can’t lose. The migration streams in Europe are supported by the right, because they know that subsequently opposing them will keep them in power.

Under political systems as we once knew them, you’d expect people to turn left instead of right, but there is no left left to vote for. What’s left of what was once left, has become an indistinguishable part of a big shapeless blob in the center -or even center-right- of our political systems. Or perhaps we should say: the systems as we once knew them. And it’s indeed just what’s left of the left, which in most cases is very little. In many countries, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, formerly left parties have been all but extinguished, former ‘glory’ brought to its knees.

Spain is an exception, but leftwing PM Pablo Sanchez seems to have landed his job primarily by playing a better game of chess -or poker- than his opponents when he forced then-PM Mariano Rajoy out. But just wait till you see what happens when refugees and migrants begin flooding into Spain, instead of Greece and Italy, for real. That development has already started. Italy closed its borders, Spain opened them. It will lead to a rightwing government in Madrid, too.

This is not about opinion. it’s simply what happens. When there is no left to turn to to halt austerity, let alone temper migration numbers, people will turn to the only alternative available to them. Right. The same right that is more than ready to magnify the problems, whether it’s migration or increasing levels of poverty. They win either way.

 

In Germany, the leftwing SDP hardly exists anymore. Center-right Angela Merkel, Queen of Europe, opened the doors of the nation and whaddaya know, parties to her right started growing. If I can insert one bit of opinion here, I’d say letting one million migrants into your country in one year is asking for trouble. Migration must always take place in moderation, especially when the difference in wealth between an existing population and new arrivals is very large. It’s different in Turkey or Lebanon, where wealth disparities are much smaller.

And those countries are already largely Muslim, whereas allowing many people into your country who have completely different religions and worldviews is a whole different game. Canada does this -relatively- well: new arrivals are Canadian first, and Muslim or Syrian after. European countries have never mastered that model; that’s why they have ghetto’s and assorted other problems. Migration and assimilation must be two sides of the same coin, or you have not immigration but an invasion.

The right can do what it wants and still win and get bigger, while privatizing everything in sight and robbing the public of all they once owed. And then that same public will vote for them again. It’s neoliberal and neocon and there’s nobody left to explain, let alone fight it. And if there were, there’s a formidable propaganda machine waiting in the wings, and they’ve been at it for a while now. The -formerly- left has no such machine. The best they can do is blame Russia. But they themselves are to blame, not Moscow.

 

So the people vote against their own best interests, and it’s not even very hard to get them to do that anymore. All you need to do is deprive them of all other options. Once the left wing becomes part of the center, whether it’s in the US or any of many European countries, rien ne va plus. The die has been cast.

The left must turn against neoliberalism, but it has no economists to explain the reason why, and no leaders who understand economics. So they have become neoliberalists themselves. They’re all stuck in the austerity model, and nobody gets how damaging it is to take a meat cleaver to an already suffering economy. The people of Greece can explain that one.

Economies function -or not- because of money flowing through them. You can cut away some of the fat in lean times, but you can’t cut away the arteries. Austerity is deadly to an economy, but the irony is that it makes people vote for those who first, initiate it, and second, promote more austerity.

I don’t want to insert any political opinions, but I do think that for a society, and an economy, to properly function there needs to be a balance, between left and right, between rich and poor, between owners and workers. We’re far away from any such balance wherever I look. And as I’ve said before, that’s why we have Trump.

To reveal what has so far remained hidden: everything done under the guise of ‘left’ that was merely more neoliberalism. To allow people who don’t agree with him to form an opinion and an identity, something they thought was not necessary under neoliberals like Obama or Tony Blair or Merkel. I don’t see any of that happening though, and that means many more years of Trump and other rightwing dominance.

If the answer to austerity is to vote for more austerity, what will be the answer to collapsing stock- and housing markets? I have an idea. And it doesn’t include Jeremy Corbyn. Or Bernie Sanders.

 

 

May 242015
 
 May 24, 2015  Posted by at 11:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing F.W. Grand store, Washington, DC 1925

Mario Draghi made another huge faux pas Thursday, but it looks like the entire world press has become immune to them, because it happens all the time, because they don’t realize what it means, and because they have a message if not a mission to sell. But still, none of these things makes it alright. Nor does Draghi’s denying it was a faux pas to begin with.

And while that’s very worrisome, ‘the public’ appear to be as numbed and dumbed down to this as the media themselves are -largely due to ’cause and effect’, no doubt-. We saw an account of a North Korean defector yesterday lamenting that her country doesn’t have a functioning press, and we thought: get in line.

It’s one thing for the Bank of England to research the effects of a Brexit. It’s even inevitable that a central bank should do this, but both the process and the outcome would always have to remain under wraps. Why it was ‘accidentally’ emailed to the Guardian is hard to gauge, but it’s not a big news event that such a study takes place. The contents may yet turn out to be, but that doesn’t look all that likely.

The reason the study should remain secret is, of course, that a Brexit is a political decision, and a country’s central bank can not be party to such decisions.

It’s therefore quite another thing for ECB head Mario Draghi to speak in public about reforms inside the eurozone. Draghi can perhaps vent his opinion behind closed doors, for instance in talks with politicians in European nations, but any and all eurozone reforms remain exclusively political decisions, even if they are economic reforms, and therefore Draghi must stay away from the topic, certainly in public. Far away.

There has to be a very clear line between central banks and governments. The latter should never be able to influence the former, because it would risk making economic policy serve only short term interests (until the next election). Likewise the former should stay out of the latter’s decisions, because that would tend to make political processes skewed disproportionally towards finance and the economy, at the potential cost of other interests in a society.

This may sound idealistic and out of sync with the present day reality, but if it does, that does not bode well. It’s dangerous to play fast and loose with the founding principles of individual countries, and perhaps even more with those of unions of sovereign nations.

Obviously, in the same vein it’s fully out of line for German FinMin Schäuble to express his opinion on whether or not Greece should hold a referendum on euro membership, or any referendum for that matter. Ye olde Wolfgang is tasked with Germany’s financial politics, not Greece’s, and being a minister for one of 28 EU members doesn’t give him the liberty to express such opinions. Because all EU nations are sovereign nations, and no foreign politicians have any say in other nations’ domestic politics.

It really is that simple, no matter how much of this brinkmanship has already passed under the bridge. Even Angela Merkel, though she’s Germany’s political leader, must refrain from comments on internal Greek political affairs. She must also, if members of her cabinet make comments like Schäuble’s, tell them to never do that again, or else. It’s simply the way the EU was constructed. There is no grey area there.

The way the eurozone is treating Greece has already shown that it’s highly improbable the union can and will last forever. Too many -sovereign- boundaries have been crossed. Draghi’s and Schäuble’s comments will speed up the process of disintegration. They will achieve the exact opposite of what they try to accomplish. The European Union will show itself to be a union of fairweather friends. In Greece, this is already being revealed.

The eurozone, or European monetary union, has now had as many years of economic turmoil as it’s had years of prosperity. And it’ll be all downhill from here on in, precisely because certain people think they can afford to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. The euro was launched on January 2002, and was in trouble as soon as the US was, even if this was not acknowledged right away. Since 2008, Europe has swung from crisis to crisis, and there’s no end in sight.

At the central bankers’ undoubtedly ultra luxurious love fest in Sintra, Portugal, where all protagonists largely agree with one another, Draghi on Friday held a speech. And right from the start, he started pushing reforms, and showing why he really shouldn’t. Because what he suggests is not politically -or economically- neutral, it’s driven by ideology.

He can’t claim that it’s all just economics. When you talk about opening markets, facilitating reallocation etc., you’re expressing a political opinion about how a society can and should be structured, not merely an economy.

Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)

Our strong focus on structural reforms is not because they have been ignored in recent years. On the contrary, a great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal. Rather, if we talk often about structural reforms it is because we know that our ability to bring about a lasting return of stability and prosperity does not rely only on cyclical policies – including monetary policy – but also on structural policies. The two are heavily interdependent.

So what I would like to do today in opening our annual discussions in Sintra is, first, to explain what we mean by structural reforms and why the central bank has a pressing and legitimate interest in their implementation. And second, to underline why being in the early phases of a cyclical recovery is not a reason to postpone structural reforms; it is in fact an opportunity to accelerate them.

Structural reforms are, in my view, best defined as policies that permanently and positively alter the supply-side of the economy. This means that they have two key effects. First, they lift the path of potential output, either by raising the inputs to production – the supply and quality of labour and the amount of capital per worker – or by ensuring that those inputs are used more efficiently, i.e. by raising total factor productivity (TFP).

And second, they make economies more resilient to economic shocks by facilitating price and wage flexibility and the swift reallocation of resources within and across sectors. These two effects are complementary. An economy that rebounds faster after a shock is an economy that grows more over time, as it suffers from lower hysteresis effects. And the same structural reforms will often increase both short-term flexibility and long-term growth.

And earlier in the -long- speech he said: “Our strong focus on structural reforms is not because they have been ignored in recent years. On the contrary, a great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal.

So Draghi states that reforms have already been successful. Wherever things seem to go right, he will claim that’s due to ‘his’ reforms. Wherever they don’t, that’s due to not enough reforms. His is a goalseeked view of the world.

He claims that the structural reforms he advocates will lead to more resilience and growth. But since these reforms are for the most part a simple rehash of longer running centralization efforts, we need only look at the latter’s effects on society to gauge the potential consequences of what Draghi suggests. And what we then find is that the entire package has led to growth almost exclusively for large corporations and financial institutions. And even that growth is now elusive.

Neither reforms nor stimulus have done much, if anything, to alleviate the misery in Greece or Spain or Italy, and Portugal is not doing much better, as the rise of the Socialist Party makes clear. The reforms that Draghi touts for Lisbon consist mainly of cuts to wages and pensions. How that is progress, or how it has made the Portuguese economy ‘more resilient’, is anybody’s guess.

Resilience cannot mean that a system makes it easier to force you to leave your home to find work, but that is exactly what Draghi advocates. Instead, resilience must mean that it is easier for you to find properly rewarded work right where you are, preferably producing your own society’s basic necessities. That is what would make your society more capable of withstanding economic shocks.

Still, it’s the direct opposite of what Draghi has in mind. Draghi states that [structural reforms] “.. make economies more resilient to economic shocks by facilitating price and wage flexibility and the swift reallocation of resources within and across sectors.”

That obviously and simply means that, if it pleases the economic elites who own a society’s assets, your wages can more easily be lowered, prices for basic necessities can be raised, and you yourself can be ‘swiftly reallocated’ far from where you live, and into industries you may not want to work in that don’t do anything to lift your society.

Whether such kinds of changes to your society’s framework are desirable is manifestly a political theme, and an ideological one. They may make it easier for corporations to raise their bottom line, but they come at a substantial cost for everyone else.

Draghi tries to push a neoliberal agenda even further, and that’s a decidedly political agenda, not an economic one.

There was a panel discussion on Saturday in which Draghi defended his forays into politics, and he was called on them:

Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised

The ECB president on Saturday said his calls were appropriate in a monetary union where growth prospects had been badly damaged by governments’ resistance to economic reforms. Mr Draghi said it was the central bank’s responsibility to comment if governments’ inaction on structural reforms was creating divergence in growth and unemployment within the eurozone, which undermined the existence of the currency area. “In a monetary union you can’t afford to have large and increasing structural divergences,” the ECB president said. “They tend to become explosive.”

He even claims it’s his responsibility to make political remarks….

Mr Draghi’s defence of the central bank came after Paul De Grauwe, an academic at the London School of Economics, challenged his calls for structural reforms earlier in the week. Mr De Grauwe said central banks’ push for governments to take steps that removed people’s job protection would expose monetary policy makers to criticism over their independence to set interest rates.

The ECB president [..] said central banks had been wrong to keep quiet on the deregulation of the financial sector. “We all wish central bankers had spoken out more when regulation was dismantled before the crisis,” Mr Draghi said. A lack of structural reform was having much more of an impact on poor European growth than in the US, he added.

De Grauwe is half right in his criticism, but only half. It’s not just about the independence to set interest rates, it’s about independence, period. A central bank cannot promote a political ideology disguised as economic measures. It’s bad enough if political parties do this, or corporations, but for central banks it’s an absolute no-go area.

Pressure towards a closer economic and monetary union in Europe is doomed to fail because it cannot be done without a closer political union at the same time. They’re all the same thing. They’re all about giving up sovereignty, about giving away the power to decide about your own country, society, economy, your own life. And Greeks don’t want the same things as Germans, nor do Italians want to become Dutch.

Because of Greece, many EU nations are now increasingly waking up to what a ‘close monetary union’ would mean, namely that Germany would be increasingly calling the shots all over Europe. No matter how many technocrats Brussels manages to sneak into member countries, there’s no way all of them would agree, and it would have to be a unanimous decision.

Draghi’s remarks therefore precipitate the disintegration of Europe, and it would be good if more people would recognize and acknowledge that. Europe are a bunch of fairweather friends, and if everyone is not very careful, they’re not going to part ways in a peaceful manner. The danger that this would lead to the exact opposite of what the EU was meant to achieve, is clear and present.