Archive for the ‘Golden prices’ Category

A return to austerity

July 25, 2021




On June 23, President Joseph Biden announced a bi-partisan deal between the Democrats and “moderate” Senate Republicans to pass a $953 billion infrastructure plan, which includes only $559 billion in new spending. This was a small fraction of Biden’s original promise to push for a $4 trillion infrastructure plan. Biden claims he still seeks to pass his original plan. But considering the GOP’s virtual veto power in the U.S. Congress, the plan seems as good as dead. It is worth noting that the $953 billion compromise contains none of the “green energy” proposals that were part of the original plan.

What the bipartisan deal does include is “asset-recycling,” which had also been central to Trump’s infrastructure plans. Under “asset-recycling,” the federal government borrows money at high interest rates from private for-profit companies that the federal government depends on to build infrastructure projects. As collateral on the loans, the companies take possession of roads, bridges, and other public works for the life of the loan — about 30 years.

The private companies then set up toll booths on previously public roads and bridges that the federal government has leased to them as collateral, in effect treating them as their private property until the loans are repaid with interest. The public is skinned twice, once through paying off the loans and the interest on the loans as taxpayers, and second through paying tolls on previously public roads and bridges. The government then uses the borrowed money to carry out other parts of the infrastructure plan.

The proposed “compromise” with the GOP on infrastructure is typical of Joseph Biden’s 50-year-long political career in the service of U.S. capital. The “compromise” is so reactionary that members of the “progressive” Justice Democrat faction of the Democratic Party in Congress threaten to vote against it.

Earlier this year, it was widely believed in progressive circles that the Biden administration was breaking with decades of neoliberal austerity policies and returning to full-blooded “Keynesianism” of the “golden years” of the 1950s and 1960s. The $4 trillion infrastructure plan was supposed to mark the definitive end of the neo-liberal policies that have dominated Washington’s policies since the “Volcker shock” under Carter and then the election of Ronald Reagan some 40 years ago.

Progressives were hoping that a massive “Keynesian” public works program would bring about a return of the kind of full-blooded capitalist prosperity not seen in decades. True, the Biden administration did restore half of the $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits the U.S. government under Donald Trump instituted in the spring (northern hemisphere) of 2020 but then allowed to run out after a few months. And this spring, the Biden administration mailed out $1,400 checks to all “legal” adult working-class and lower-middle-class U.S. residents. It also granted temporary tax relief to families raising young children.

Since it took office on Jan. 20, the Biden administration has been running down the U.S. government’s swollen checking account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This has allowed the U.S. government to slow the rate at which it has been borrowing money, allowing long-term interest rates to dip in recent months.

Hence, a huge amount of purchasing power has been pumped into the U.S. and world capitalist economy in the opening months of the Biden administration. As a result, according to the U.S. Labor Department, total employment rose 850,000 in June. For the first time in months, this number met the expectation of economic pundits. But maintaining this economic momentum long enough to set off a sustained rise in the industrial cycle capable of restoring old-time capitalist prosperity is another matter entirely.

The U.S. capitalists claim they are facing a huge labor shortage even as employment remains millions below the level that prevailed in February 2020 just before COVID-19 hit with full force. However, the capitalists’ complaints about the “labor shortage” are having their effect on government policy in the U.S., at both the federal and state levels.

Republican state governments have already ended the expanded unemployment benefits, while the Democrat-run government of California has announced that people must now give evidence that they are actively seeking employment or lose benefits. This occurs even as COVID-19 cases are once again rising, especially among the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. In September, the extended unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out entirely. There is virtually no chance in light of the alleged “labor shortage” being trumpeted by the media that the extra benefits will be extended.

Nor is there much chance in light of the “labor shortage” of any more stimulus checks. The mailing out of additional stimulus checks would encourage workers to hold out for wages and working conditions higher than the bosses are offering. The capitalists are therefore using their control over both the Democrats and the Republicans to make sure there are no more stimulus checks.

In addition, the U.S. Treasury is nearing the end of the rundown of its checking account at the New York Fed. As the account balance shrinks, either U.S. government borrowing will have to rise once again, which will renew upward pressure on interest rates, or government spending will have to fall, or some combination of the above. This means that U.S. fiscal policy will be a great deal less expansionary beginning in the second half of 2021 and beyond than it was in the first half of the year.

The drift back to the fiscal austerity typical of post-Volcker shock neo-liberalism almost certainly means that the rate of economic growth and with it the rise in employment will soon be slowing down.

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The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee Meets

June 27, 2021

On June 16, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee concluded its two-day meeting and announced its decisions. The FOMC consists of the seven members of the Board of Governors, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and (on a rotating basis) the heads of four of the 11 other Federal Reserve Banks that make up the Federal Reserve System. The four Federal Reserve Bank presidents serve one-year terms.

The only concrete decision announced was a rise in the interest rate Federal Reserve Banks pay on the deposits commercial banks keep with them, from 0.10% to 0.15% per year. This represents a very slight “tightening move.” However, as is usually the case, more attention was paid to the tone of the FOMC report than on any concrete decisions made.

Speculators in the gold market, commodities markets, bond market, and stock market hang on every phrase of Federal Reserve statements. The general reaction was that the FOMC indicated that it would move to “tighten” its stance sooner than had been expected. As a result, the price of stocks fell while the U.S. dollar rose sharply against gold.

The Fed’s leadership is nervous about the dollar’s recent weakness against gold and a surge in primary commodity as well as wholesale and consumer prices. Though the FOMC repeated its belief that the current surge in inflation will soon taper off, it no longer seems so sure. As I explained last month, Fed leaders cannot ignore the very real danger that dollar weakness and rising inflation could signal a return to “stagflation” over the next several years and the sharp rise in interest rates and deep recession that inevitably follow.

The Federal Reserve System’s leaders hope to guide the U.S. and world capitalist economies onto a path of a sustained rise in the global industrial cycle, which would normally be expected to last about nine years. They hope that the cyclical upturn will be stronger than the one that followed the Great Recession. But they have to reckon with the very real danger that the current apparent upturn in the worldwide industrial cycle will abort if the Fed allows the dollar to plunge against gold causing inflation and interest rates to rise.

This would make a deep global recession with soaring unemployment inevitable, perhaps before the end of Biden’s four-year term. Far worse from the viewpoint of U.S. imperialism, it would endanger the dollar system, which forms the foundation of the U.S. global empire.

Ultimately, the decisions of the Federal Reserve and its Open Market Committee are constrained by the economic laws that govern the circulation of money. This is why Pichit Likitkijsomboon’s article in Monthly Review critiquing what he calls the “anti-quantity theory of money” takes on special importance. Before we continue our examination of his critique, let’s take a brief look at the current economic situation.

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Commodity Money Versus Non-Commodity Money

April 4, 2021

On March 11, President Joseph Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion package called the Coronavirus Relief bill. It provides for $300-a-week extra in unemployment insurance payments — only half the original $600 provided by the CARES Act passed last year — and only until Sept. 6. It also provides $25 billion for rental relief and utility assistance and $350 billion relief for hard-pressed state and local and Native American tribal governments.

The bill includes a one-time $1,400 payment for low- and middle-income Americans. Also, $20 billion will be spent on COVID-19 vaccinations. Democrats are especially proud of a provision that extends for a year a child tax credit that was part of the CARES Act. They claim this will reduce child poverty in the richest nation in the world by one-half. This tells you a lot about the nature of the U.S. tax system, which pushes many children of working-class families below the official federal poverty line while allowing billionaires like former President Trump as well as giant corporations like Apple to get away with paying virtually no taxes.

Progressives were hoping that the stimulus bill would have a provision raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current $7.25. This was important because the bizarre and undemocratic rules that govern the U.S. Senate mean only a few bills can be passed through a process known as “budgetary reconciliation” with a simple majority vote. All other bills need the support of 60 senators. This means that given the composition of the current Senate, 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, the GOP has veto power over most other proposed legislation coming up this session.

For the minimum wage hike to have had any chance of passing in the current session, it would have been necessary to include it in the stimulus bill. President Biden gave lip service to the proposed minimum wage hike but failed to push it. This gave the green light to conservative Democrats to ally with the GOP to exclude the $15-an-hour minimum wage from the bill — effectively killing it. This is the exact outcome the capitalists wanted. Once again, the Democrats and Republicans working together delivered the goods for capital.

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The Putsch of January 6, 2021

January 10, 2021

Normally, after my draft returns from the editors, I make a few last-minute changes, sometimes correct factual errors, and then send it back for final editing and posting. In this post, my deadline for the initial draft was Jan. 4. I considered updating the draft to cover the events of Jan. 6 but it was clear that would involve changes way beyond the usual last-minute updates I sometimes have to make. I therefore decided to leave the post as is, minus some minor editorial changes, but add this special section. The following post should be read as a description of the U.S. political situation on the eve of the attempted putsch of Jan. 6. There will be more on this subject in next month’s post.

After the the Electoral College elected Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris to the presidency and vice presidency of the United States on Dec. 14, Trump appeared to be out of legal options in his attempt to cling to office. But there was one more legal hurdle to clear before the presidential election was formally complete. This was the counting of the electoral vote and announcement of the results to a special joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate by the president of Senate, which was Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence.

At this point, if a member of the House mounts a challenge to the electors of a given state and is backed by a member of the Senate, both houses of Congress have to vote on the challenge. If the challenge is approved by both chambers, the electoral vote of that state is declared invalid. This year, a number of extreme right-wing Republican congressman and some senators announced that they would indeed mount such challenges in a series of swing states that were carried by electors pledged to the Harris-Biden ticket.

Such challenges, though they have occurred occasionally, have always been overwhelmingly voted down. This year, it was clear that the challenges would also be defeated. First, because as far as the Senate is concerned, they did not have support of Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and second, because the Democrats have a majority of the House of Representatives. Trump not only would have had to overcome McConnell’s resistance but split off some Democrats in the House to have any chance of prevailing.

But Trump hoped that the Electoral College vote could be nullified on Jan. 6, which would then move the election to the House of Representatives where Trump would be “elected” to a second four-year term. Or perhaps Trump hoped Vice President Mike Pence could simply announce that not Biden-Harris but Trump-Pence had carried the Electoral College.

When Pence tried to explain to him that the vice president has no such power under the U.S. Constitution, Trump was reportedly enraged and came to view Pence, who had hoped before the Nov. 3 election to become Trump’s anointed successor in four years, as a traitor just as Trump views so many other high officials who have come and gone over the last four years.

With time rapidly running out, Trump decided to play one final card. In the preceding weeks, thousands of MAGA supporters had arrived in Washington waiting to act on the president’s command. On Jan. 6, the command came. As the two houses of Congress were convening in the Capitol to carry out their ceremonial function of certifying the presidential election, Trump addressed a crowd of assembled fascists, some armed with guns, in front of the White House. He announced that they would march to the Capitol. Trump, however, instead of joining them retreated to the White House to watch the show on TV. The fascist mob not only marched to the Capitol, it stormed the Capitol.

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The Crisis (Pt 11)

June 28, 2020

Is capitalism approaching its limits?

In the first years of the 20th century, Rosa Luxemburg expressed great alarm when she discovered that Marx’s formulas of expanded reproduction in Volume II of “Capital” suggested that capitalism can in principle go on forever. These formulas appeared to contradict Marx’s famous Preface in “A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy.” There Marx wrote: “No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed [my emphasis — SW] and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.”

If, however, capitalism can engage in expanded reproduction without limit, how can capitalism ever develop all the productive forces “for which it has room”? Didn’t Marx himself mathematically demonstrate that capitalism can develop the productive forces without limit? However, a closer look reveals this apparent contradiction to be an illusion.

In the Volume II formula, the productive forces expanded only quantitatively but not qualitatively. There is no growth in labor productivity or what Marx called the organic composition of capital — the ratio of constant capital, which does not produce surplus value but merely transfers its value to the commodities it helps produce, and variable capital, the sold labor power of the workers, which replaces its value and produces additional surplus value.

It is also assumed that the correct proportions of production, including the correct proportions between Department I, which produces the means of production, and Department II, which produces the means of consumption, are maintained without explaining how they are maintained. And — almost always overlooked — among the correct proportions between the various branches of production that must be maintained is that between the production of money material and all other branches of commodity production.

In reality, the concrete history of capitalism has been marked by growth in labor productivity. The rate at which productivity grows is largely regulated by the competition between the industrial capitalists and the workers. To maximize their profits, the industrial capitalists as the buyers of labor power try to pay the workers the lowest possible wage. The workers as the sellers of labor attempt to get the highest possible wage right up to the mathematical limit where surplus value — and therefore its monetary form, profit — disappears altogether.

If Marx’s formulas show expanded capitalist reproduction running forever, it must be assumed that the quantity of auxiliary materials and the ores out of which money material is produced, and the supply of labor power that produces the means of subsistence for the workers, must be available in infinite quantities. If this is true — which it obviously is not — then the population, including the fraction of the population that consists of workers, can grow to the mathematical limit of infinity and capitalism can indeed go on forever. Otherwise, it can’t.

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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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Political and Economic Crises (Pt 12)

October 13, 2019

Political crisis engulfs the U.S. and Britain

On Sept. 24, 2019, Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi announced the opening of an impeachment inquiry directed against Donald Trump. This is not yet an actual impeachment of the U.S. president, still less his removal from office. But it is considered a major step toward impeachment, which had appeared to be a dead letter after the Mueller report failed to produce any evidence that the 2016 Trump campaign had collaborated illegally with the Russian government.

A CIA whistle-blower reported that he or she had heard from other government officials that President Trump had withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter and Joseph Biden. Joseph Biden is considered a front-runner in the race to be the Democratic presidential nominee for the 2020 election. Since the 2014 Euromaidan coup spearheaded by fascist and openly pro-Nazi elements, Ukraine has been reduced to the status of a virtual U.S. colony. The Democrats consider this colonization of Ukraine a great achievement of the Obama-Biden administration.

In the wake of the Euromaidan coup, the younger Biden was appointed to the Board of Directors of Burisma, Ukraine’s leading producer of natural gas, in an obvious move to please Ukraine’s new masters. If Trump demanded in a meeting he held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Zelensky investigate the Bidens or else the U.S. would withhold military aid, Trump would violate U.S. laws that prohibit seeking the aid of a foreign government in a U.S. election. The Democrats failed to prove that Trump received such aid from the Russian government in the 2016 election. Now they believe they are on the verge of proving it concerning Ukraine’s government.

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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 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 4)

February 24, 2019

Trump and ‘Party of Order’ unite to declare war on Bolivarian Venezuela

On Jan. 23, after conferring with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Venezuelan right-wing politician Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president” of Venezuela. The United States promptly recognized Guaidó as the “interim president.” Trump refused to rule out a military attack against Venezuela if the government of President Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan people resist the U.S. government’s appointment.

In a series of moves that included breaking diplomatic relations with the legitimate government, appointing a puppet government in its place, seizing state assets and handing them over to the puppet government, demanding that Venezuela’s military support the puppet, and threatening direct military action if the Venezuelan military refuses, “commander-in-chief” Donald Trump’s order amounts to a declaration of war against the government and people of oil-rich Venezuela.

As part of the war drive, Trump imposed a full-scale economic blockade against Venezuela. The assets of the state oil company held abroad, including its U.S branch Citgo, has been seized and handed over to the puppet Guaidó “government.” Venezuelan bank accounts have been frozen, including $1.2 billion in gold bullion held in the Bank of England.

Venezuela is one of a bloc of three large oil-producing countries, the other two being Iran and Russia, that is not under the control of the Empire. If Trump succeeds in his war against Venezuela, the pressure on Iran and Russia will increase. For the moment, the war against Venezuela is being fought with economic methods, but this could change at any moment.

Even if the war remains economic, this doesn’t change the fact that it is a war of aggression and, as such, a crime against humanity. By Feb. 6, the European countries of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK had recognized the U.S.-appointed “interim president.”

Latin American countries that resist the Empire continue to recognize the legal government of Venezuela. These include socialist Cuba – no surprise there – Bolivia Uruguay, Nicaragua, and the new nationalist government of Mexico, which came to power in January after many years of right-wing rule. On the other hand, Latin American countries ruled by right-wing governments belonging to the so-called Lima group announced that they recognize the Trump-appointed Guaidó as Venezuela’s “interim president.” Among the Latin American governments recognizing Guaidó is the new far-right government of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Beyond Latin America, Israel also announced its support for the coup government. In contrast, Syria continues to recognize the Maduro government. Russia, China and Iran also continue to recognize Maduro as the sole legitimate president of Venezuela.

There is a general pattern here. Governments that are integrated into the U.S. empire quickly recognized the coup government and joined the U.S. declaration of war against Venezuela. All other governments recognize Maduro as head of the only legitimate government of Venezuela.

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