Archive for the ‘Token Money’ Category

The Crisis (Pt 6)

May 24, 2020

U.S. unemployment hits Depression levels

In April, the U.S. Labor Department U-3 measure of unemployment hit 14.7 percent. The U-3 rate had been used over the last year or so to claim that unemployment was the lowest since 1969. In fact, it is designed to greatly underestimate the real level of unemployment. Even some Federal Reserve Board officials admit that the real rate of unemployment is over 20 percent and fast approaching the all-time quasi-official estimate of 24.9 percent that occurred at the very bottom of the Depression in March 1933. Nobody denies that the number of unemployed in the U.S. is in the tens of millions — around 50 million if you believe AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

However, it is claimed by Trump and most economists that the current unemployment crisis is the result of the deliberate shutting down of the economy made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is occurring, according to this logic, is not the long-feared Depression II but the “Great Suppression.” Though unemployment generally declined after March 1933 — except for the sharp but short-lived Roosevelt recession of 1937-38 — “full employment” did not return until the U.S. had entered World War II in 1941. This time, it is claimed by Trump and many economists, in contrast to 1933 there is no underlying economic crisis. Therefore, “full employment” will return much more quickly. The pandemic will have run its course within months, as Trump claims, or at most within several years, as claimed by more cautious economists.

Therefore, the argument goes, while still a terrible situation it is not quite Depression II. Though unemployment may be as bad as during the Depression, it won’t last nearly as long. Anyway, Depression-level unemployment is the necessary price we have to pay to stave off the much greater evil of millions of deaths in the U.S. alone from COVID-19. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump, who had been planning on running on “prosperity and full employment” as shown by the Labor Department’s U-3 unemployment rate, is leading the charge to “open America for business.”

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The Crisis (Pt 5)

May 17, 2020

U.S. infection rates rise as states move to reopen

More and more U.S. states are moving to reopen non-essential businesses though there is no sign the COVID-19 epidemic is dying down. “Take the New York metropolitan area’s progress against the coronavirus out of the equation, Nicky Forster, Carla K. Johnson, and Mike Stobbe wrote May 4 in an Associated Press article, “and the numbers show the rest of the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction, with the known infection rate rising even as states move to lift their lockdowns. … ”

According to a leaked CDC document that appeared in The New York Times and Washington Post, the government projects that new COVID-19 cases will increase 225,000 a day by June, with deaths climbing to 3,000 per day. In early May, when this is being written, new cases are only 25,000 with deaths a mere 2,000. This despite all the social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

With President Trump leading the charge to reopen America for business, state and local governments are competing with one another for which one can lift the social distancing and stay-in-place orders the fastest. So far, these are the only policies that have slowed the pandemic in some areas.

In reality, the pandemic is still gaining momentum nationwide. Thanks to Trump and various state and local governments, the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. could very well accelerate further in the coming months. A similar pattern is emerging in other capitalist countries. Of course, the growth of the pandemic in one country, particularly one as large as the U.S., is a threat to people of all other countries, since the virus does not respect national boundaries.

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The Crisis (Pt 4)

May 10, 2020

May Day strikes

On May 1, International Workers’ Day, a wave of worker and renter strikes swept the United States. Workers protested the dangerous conditions in which they are forced to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the companies struck were Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, Target, Instacart, Shipt, and Whole Foods. The May Day strikes show the increasing influence the internationalist traditions of the world workers’ movement is having on the U.S. working class, especially among the lowest paid and most exploited workers. The current medical-biological-economic-employment crisis has only deepened this tendency.

Also, and this should be noted, the internationalist implications of the global May Day holiday stand in complete opposition to the traditional AFL-CIO union leaders, Bernie Sanders, and many progressives and newly minted “democratic socialists” going down the disastrous road of economic nationalism and China bashing. Trump and the other economic nationalists, both Democrats and Republicans, are trying to divert attention from the disastrous mishandling of the pandemic by the U.S. government — both federal and state — to China. More on this in the coming weeks.

‘Party of Order’ versus Sanders

As we saw last week, Bernie Sanders has for many years operated well within the limits of capitalist, or — to use traditional Marxist language — bourgeois, politics. He has done nothing to organize an independent workers’ party or an independent workers’ media, either print, radio-TV or Internet. Nor is he internationalist like the working-class leaders of the past, such as Sanders’ personal hero Eugene Debs. Rather, Sanders is an economic nationalist and an imperialist dove.

Why then is the Party of Order so hostile to Sanders? As its leaders know full well, capitalism has in many countries survived presidents and prime ministers far more radical than Bernie Sanders. No knowledgeable person believes that U.S. capitalism would be in danger of being abolished under a Sanders administration.

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The Crisis (Pt 3)

May 3, 2020

The king of commodities

On April 20 (2020), the May futures contract for the delivery of oil fell to a negative $37 per barrel. Since the 1970s, some have suggested that oil has replaced gold as the money commodity, reflected in the term petrodollars. We can now see that this idea is based on a misunderstanding. Oil as the commodity that stores energy as well as serving as a raw material is perhaps the king of commodities as far as its use value is concerned. However, this doesn’t mean that oil is the money commodity, which in terms of its use value measures the value of all other commodities.

What would happen if global production and circulation suddenly became paralyzed? We are now finding out. With production and transportation sharply curtailed around the globe, what is the use value of oil now? Marx explained in Chapter 3, Volume I of “Capital”: “Whenever there is a general and extensive disturbance of this mechanism [credit — SW], no matter what its cause, money becomes suddenly and immediately transformed, from its merely ideal shape of money of account, into hard cash. Profane commodities [such as oil — SW] can no longer replace it. The use-value of commodities becomes valueless, and their value vanishes in the presence of its own independent form. On the eve of the crisis, the bourgeois, with the self-sufficiency that springs from intoxicating prosperity, declares money to be a vain imagination. Commodities alone are money.”

Since oil has storage costs, the owners of May 2020 oil futures contracts were for a day willing to pay buyers to take it off their hands to free themselves of those costs. This shows that not oil but money is the king of commodities. In the words of Marx, the value of oil has vanished in the presence of its independent value form. Even Trump’s move to buy all the oil that the U.S. government can physically store has not prevented the oil price collapse.

When the value of a commodity as important as oil vanishes — though it isn’t only oil that is being affected — in the presence of its own value form, the credit system is thrown into crisis. Credit is based on the assumption of a given price structure. When commodities become unsalable or at least unsalable at the expected price, the credit system begins to break at a thousand and one places. For example, banks lend money to oil companies. If the oil companies can’t sell their oil at profitable prices, they will not be able to pay the banks. How will the banks pay their creditors, which include their depositors? And what about the pension funds loaded up with oil and bank stocks?

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The Crisis (Pt 1)

April 19, 2020

A personal note

In February, I was hit by a staph infection that had spread to the blood. This was the first serious illness of my adult life. Before this infection, I had been free of any illness more serious than the occasional cold or seasonal flu. I was really knocked off my feet and had to be hospitalized.

This was no fun. But no evil is without positive features. I got to see the medical system for the first time in my adult life from the inside. At least here on the West Coast, the medical system is staffed by a mix of many nationalities with a bias toward the Far East — the very group that President Trump with his racist attacks on the “Chinese virus” has made a target of his demagoguery. I was served by medical workers from France, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations.

Then as fate would have it in one those bizarre coincidences that life occasionally brings, the whole world was swept by the ghastly COVID-19 pandemic. Financial markets crashed and then much of the global economy was shut down including industrial production and world trade. Most importantly, employment entered a downward spiral. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have been forced to apply for unemployment insurance within two weeks, implying double-digit Depression levels of unemployment.

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Political and Economic Crises (Pt 11)

September 15, 2019

Trump versus the Fed

On Sept. 3, the U.S. Institute of Supply Management reported that its widely watched index, based on a survey of industrial purchasing managers, had dropped to 49.1 percent. Any number below 50 indicates a declining trend in U.S. industrial production. The index has not been so low since September 2009, when the U.S. industrial economy was near the trough of the Great Recession.

The ISM reports: “Falling orders among foreign clients dragged on overall new business growth and producer confidence. The degree of optimism about the year ahead hit a fresh seven-year series low amid growing business uncertainty. As such, employment was broadly unchanged and spare capacity was used to clear backlogs of work.”

This is just the latest in a series of reports indicating that the U.S. and world capitalist economies are on the brink of recession. The Trump White House and the electoral wing of the Republican Party fear that Trump will face the reelection in November 2020 amidst full-scale recession conditions, dramatically reducing Trump’s chances of winning a second term.

Trump has responded by stepping up his public attacks on Jerome Powell, the conservative Republican banker Trump himself nominated to head the Federal Reserve System. In the wake of the annual August meeting of bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Trump declared Jerome Powell to be worse for the U.S. economy than even Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump is pursuing two aims here. First, he hopes that the Federal Reserve and its Open Market Committee will lower its target for federal funds and flood the banking system with newly created U.S. dollar reserves that will at least postpone the arrival of a full recession and mass cyclical unemployment until after November 2020. If this happens, Trump will be able to run as a “prosperity president.” Experience shows that U.S. presidents have a tough time winning second terms when they have to run for reelection near the low point of the industrial cycle.

Secondly, if a recession does arrive by election day, Trump wants to be able to point to a scapegoat — in this case, the Federal Reserve Board and the “international financial elites” out to destroy his nationalist “Make American Great Again” policies.

Jerome Powell, for his part, has promised that he will act “as appropriate” to keep the expansion going. The key words here are “as appropriate.” Powell is indicating to the markets that he will not jeopardize the dollar and the dollar system in an attempt to “keep the expansion going” like Trump is demanding. Somewhat reassured, investors caused the dollar price of gold to fall after Powell’s remarks, while interest rates on government bonds have rebounded.

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Political and Economic Crises (Pt 7)

May 26, 2019

April 30 Venezuela coup fails as trade war with China intensifies

On April 30, the Trump administration backed by the “Party of Order” launched a major new attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Juan Guaidó, claiming he had major military support, announced that “Operation Freedom” – the coup – had entered its final stage. The hope of Trump, Mike Pence, John Bolton, and Eliot Abrams, supported by Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, was that the Maduro government would be overthrown by May Day – the international workers’ holiday.

The hope of Trump and the Democrats was that Trump-appointed Juan Guaidó – perhaps on May Day itself – would be installed as the puppet “interim president.” The counterrevolutionary victory would then be ratified in a hastily organized election in which the overthrown Chavistas would be banned from participating, thus guaranteeing a victory for the pro-imperialist reactionaries.

Instead, the coup never got off the ground, and the Chavistas staged one of the largest May Day demonstrations in years, completely dwarfing the small, dispirited actions held by the Guaidó forces. Of course, the events of April 30-May 1 were only a battle – but an important one. A battle has been won but the war continues. The Trump administration still indicates that if all else fails it reserves the right to pass from economic and political war to a full-scale military invasion.

If the coup had succeeded, Trump, who has promised to banish socialism forever, would have celebrated what to him – and his class – would have been a major victory. When Trump uses the term socialism – a term of many meanings – he is not using it in the sense Lenin used it in his classic work “State and Revolution.”

In that work, Lenin defined socialism as the first stage of the future communist society. In this stage, private ownership of the means of production and with it the division of society into classes, along with commodity-money relations of production, have already died out.

But Lenin explained that socialism, while a form of communism, is an imperfect communism because people will still be paid, at least in part, according to their work rather than according to their needs, as would be the case in the higher form of communist society.

Trump, in contrast to Lenin, means by “socialism” the policies advocated by modern European social-democratic parties. These parties advocate a capitalist society with laws that limit the workday to 40 hours or less so workers have time to participate in politics; the right of workers to organize into unions and political parties and establish a mass workers’ press; and recognition of housing and education as rights along with social guarantees such as unemployment insurance, social security, and the right to medical care regardless of income and the ability to pay.

These things, even when taken together and fully realized, are still very far from Lenin’s definition of socialism. Under social-democratic “socialism,” society remains divided into a class of capitalist buyers of labor power and workers who sell their labor power and through their unpaid or surplus labor produce surplus value. The U.S. has achieved less of the elements of “socialism” in the modern social-democratic sense than virtually any other advanced capitalist country.

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Political and Economic Crises (Pt 6)

April 21, 2019

Storm over the Federal Reserve System

U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated that he will nominate right-wing economic commentator Stephen Moore and businessman Herman Cain to fill two vacancies on the
Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors – called the Federal Reserve Board for short. If confirmed, both Moore and Cain would serve for 14 years. While Trump’s other nominees to the “Fed” have been conventional conservative Republicans, Moore and especially Cain have been strongly attacked in the media and by economists and some Republicans for being completely unqualified.

Of the two, Cain has drawn the most opposition from within the Republican Party. As of this writing, his confirmation by the U.S. Senate looks unlikely. Republican Senators Mitt Romney (who ran against Obama for president in 2012), Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner, and Kevin Cramer have all indicated that they are leaning against voting to confirm Cain. If all them vote no, Cain’s nomination will fail unless he can win over some Democratic senators.

Cain – one of the few African-Americans Trump has nominated for high office – throughout his business career has expressed opposition to even elementary labor rights. In 2016, he briefly ran for president as a Republican on a platform of reforming the federal tax system in an extremely regressive way going beyond Trump’s own tax cut for the rich. Cain was then forced to withdraw from the presidential campaign when several women came forward alleging that he had sexually assaulted them. For Donald Trump, this was not a disqualification but it might be for some U.S. senators who have to face re-election.

Cain has not indicated that he supports inflationary monetary policies. On the contrary, he has said that he would like to see a return to the gold standard. For taking this stand, he has been ridiculed by liberals and progressives as well as mainstream economists. However, Cain does have actual central bank experience having served as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, one of 12 regional banks that make up the Federal Reserve System.

Capitalist opponents of Cain’s nomination – Cain has been a strong supporter of Trump – fear that Cain would do Donald Trump’s bidding on the Fed’s Open Market Committee (1). With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it is widely suspected that Cain would push for an “easy” monetary policy and cuts to the Fed’s target for the federal funds rate in a bid to stave off the looming recession until after the November 2020 election. Not only would such a policy put the dollar-centered international monetary system in danger in the short run, it would also erode the Federal Reserve System’s independence over the long run.

Trump’s other prospective nominee, Stephen Moore, has drawn much criticism from mainstream media and professional economists but so far less from Senate Republicans. Like most of Trump’s nominees for high positions, Moore is white. He is not even a professional economist. Although majoring in economics in college, he does not hold a PhD. Unlike Cain, Moore has never directed either a business enterprise – Cain in addition to serving as head the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was also head of the Godfather Pizza Chain. However, like Cain, Moore has been accused of mistreating women. This raises the question whether Cain’s race could be a factor in the apparent lack of opposition to Moore on the part of Senate Republicans.

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Political and Economic Crises (Pt 2)

December 23, 2018

As boom slows, political instability rises in the imperialist countries

As 2018 winds down, political instability is sweeping the Western imperialist countries – both the United States and Western Europe. In the United States, as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” pleaded guilty to violating with “Individual 1” U.S. campaign finance laws. Cohen faces three years in prison.

It is no secret that “Individual 1” is one Donald J. Trump, the current president of the United States. According to Cohen’s plea, Trump directed Cohen to break U.S. campaign finance laws in order to pay “hush money” to porn star Stormy Daniels and “Playboy playmate” Karen McDougall. Trump paid the hush money because he didn’t want the headlines of his extramarital affairs to dominate the news in the weeks leading up to the U.S. presidential election.

Since these payments violated federal election law, it is clear that Trump committed felonies. These felonies, it should be pointed out, are not connected with the so-called Mueller probe into whether Trump, other members of the Trump family, or other associates violated U.S. laws as part of their alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 elections. That is a separate matter. So far, Mueller and his prosecutors have not presented concrete evidence of law-breaking on the part of Trump in this matter, though there continues to be much speculation about this possibility in the media.

Theoretically, Trump can now be impeached because he committed felonies, which meets the U.S. constitutional standard for impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Some Democrats have suggested that in light of these facts impeachment proceedings against Trump in the House of Representatives should now commence. However, there is also a general feeling that crimes centered on sexual affairs are not sufficient grounds to remove a president from office. After all, who in Washington has not had an affair or two or more? While the Democrats will have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in January, they would need a large number of Republican votes in the Senate to reach the two-thirds’ majority necessary to remove Trump from office.

The Republicans are reluctant to remove Trump on impeachment charges. If they do vote to remove him, they will likely lose Trump’s white racist “base,” which continues to adore him. The “Trump base” will be furious if their adored leader is removed over what is essentially a sex scandal. Can Trump – and this is a concern for those ruling-class circles of the “Party of Order” who do not like Trump – be removed from office without splitting the Republican Party in such a way that its continued existence as one of the two “major parties” in the two-party system would be in question?

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Modern Money (Pt 3)

August 26, 2018

In this post, I contrast the analysis of foreign trade found in Professor L. Randall Wray’s book “Modern Money Theory” to the analysis of foreign trade that logically emerges from Marx’s theory of commodities, money and capital.

From trade war to war?

The August 10 on-line edition of the British rag The Express has a headline blaring, “China Fires SIX WARNINGS to US Navy in South China Sea.” When Chinese air force planes demanded the U.S. aircraft leave the area, the U.S. pilots arrogantly answered, according to The Express, “I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state.” Notice, this occurred in the South China Sea near China and not anywhere near the U.S.

Now, if this was an isolated incident, it might not mean much. But the incident occurred against the background of the growing trade war between the U.S. and China. The Trump administration has made it clear that it is determined to reduce China’s share of the world market, especially but not only the U.S. part. If Trump’s policies are successful, it will bring China’s era of rapid development of capitalism to an end. Though China has made amazing progress and now has the highest level of industrial production in the world, it has about four times the population of the U.S. To reach a level of development equivalent to the U.S., China would need to have about four times the industrial and agricultural production of the U.S.

Another weakness of Chinese industry is that Chinese factories are dependent on high-tech components manufactured in South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. In addition, patents for these components are owned by Silicon Valley and British companies. Recent sanctions imposed by the Trump White House against the Chinese mobile phone manufacturer ZTE for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea threatened to destroy the company because its phones depend on high-tech components that are not manufactured in China. Later, the Trump administration backed down amidst rumors that ZTE had to pay a bribe to Trump personally. The fact that a major Chinese company can be shut down at will by a U.S. president shows just how vulnerable Chinese industry is.

The productivity of labor in China, whether in industry or agriculture, is still far lower than that of the U.S. While wages have been rising in China, they are still far lower than the wages of U.S. workers or workers in the other imperialist countries. This means that industrial capitalists in China are far more likely to choose “labor-intensive” as opposed to “capital-intensive” methods of production. Or to use the more precise terminology of Marx, the organic composition of capital of Chinese industrial enterprises is much lower than those in the United States and other imperialist countries.

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