Posts Tagged ‘central banker Ben Bernanke’

The Current Industrial Cycle (Pt 3)

October 25, 2020

A deepening political crisis

On Aug. 23, African-American Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake is expected to survive but is paralyzed from the waist down. This latest police outrage triggered a wave of demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement in Kenosha and elsewhere. Two days later, a Trump supporter and police wannabe named Kyle Rittenhouse shot to death two Black Lives Matter protesters with a rifle he was carrying. Rittenhouse, who lives in Illinois, is a member of a fascist militia group that came to Kenosha for the announced purpose of defending the property of business owners from Black Lives Matter protesters.

The cops were seen thanking the fascists and offering them water. After Rittenhouse killed the two protesters, he walked up to the cops with his hands up. However, the guardians of “law and order” refused to arrest him. He was finally arrested and charged with murder only after he returned to Illinois. U.S. President Donald Trump then weighed in. Trump defended the young fascist killer claiming that Rittenhouse faced certain death if he had not acted to defend himself. Trump also attacked the alleged violence of “left-wing” — Black Lives Matter — protesters but defended the violence of Rittenhouse and other murderous right-wing counter-protesters.

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The Crisis (Pt 9)

June 15, 2020

After police murder of George Floyd, demonstrations and uprisings sweep U.S.

On June 1, a combined force of military police, park police, and Secret Service brutally cleared an area around the White House of peaceful demonstrators who had been protesting the May 25 murder by Minneapolis police officers of African-American George Floyd. To clear the crowd, these military-police forces used a low-flying helicopter, tear gas, and stun grenades. This was so that President Donald Trump could appear in front of a nearby church Bible in hand.

Trump, who had earlier been sheltering in a special bunker beneath the White House, threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which would permit him to order the military to suppress the massive wave of demonstrations and uprisings that have been sweeping the U.S. since the police murder of Floyd. Trump’s threat to use the military, if carried out, would be a major step towards a military-Bonapartist dictatorship.

Trump’s threats led to a wave of complaints by mostly Democratic politicians and warnings of some retired generals, including Trump’s former Secretary of “Defense” General James “Maddog” Mattis, not to use the military against peaceful demonstrators. Republican leaders, with a few exceptions, either supported Trump or maintained an icy silence.

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The Crisis (Pt 8)

June 7, 2020

The dollar system, gold and the U.S. empire

The current international monetary system is a system of “fiat currency” centered on the U.S. dollar. It is bound up with the financial, political, and military system unofficially called the U.S. empire. To maintain the empire, the U.S. spends about 10 times more on its annual “defense” budget than any other country. Therefore, when it comes to raw military power, especially firepower and the ability to project it around the globe, the U.S. is a military power second to none. Unlike in the pre-1945 world, no other imperialist power can even think of challenging the U.S. militarily.

The U.S. empire in its modern form — in contrast to the North American U.S. proper and the relatively small but growing colonial empire that the U.S. had been building since the Spanish-American War of 1898 — dates to the lopsided victory of the U.S. over Nazi Germany (1) and Imperial Japan in 1945. Thereafter, and this was confirmed in the Suez Crisis of 1956, [link to posts which discuss this] no other imperialist power can undertake a major military operation without U.S. approval.

This emerging situation enabled the U.S. at the Bretton Woods Conference — held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944 — to establish the U.S. dollar as the world currency and the U.S. Federal Reserve System as the world central bank. The dollar remains the world currency even though the U.S. dollar since 1971 has not been convertible into gold.

Originally, the U.S. built up a huge gold hoard by running balance of trade surpluses that were the result of the superior productivity of its industrial, extractive and agricultural enterprises. The size of the U.S. gold hoard was further increased in the 1930s when with a new European war looming, European capitalists moved much of their gold to the U.S. in exchange for U.S. dollars. Some European governments moved their gold reserves to the U.S. for safekeeping as well.

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The Crisis (Pt 7)

June 3, 2020

An unprecedented crisis

The current economic crisis has many unprecedented features. Most importantly, it was triggered by a pandemic and the resulting business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. This led to a sharp decline in the sale of commodities. The result has been a collapse of industrial production, world trade, and employment over a period of a few weeks that is unparalleled in the history of capitalism. Because nothing like this had ever happened before, it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen next.

For example, we don’t know the future course of the pandemic as capitalist governments move, even as the pandemic continues, to lift the shutdowns of nonessential businesses and stay-at-home orders. Will these moves to “reopen the economy for business” cause the pandemic to accelerate? Or will the pandemic decline in the Northern Hemisphere, where the largest capitalist economies are located, as summer conditions set in? Many virus-caused diseases decline in the summer months and accelerate in the fall and winter. Will COVID-19 follow a similar pattern?

Even if we assume the pandemic peters out over the (Northern Hemisphere) summer and doesn’t come back this fall/winter, an extremely optimistic and experts say unwarranted assumption, will the U.S. and world economy revive rapidly in a so-called V-shaped recovery? Or will the recovery be slow and torturous, with Depression levels of unemployment lingering on for years? Or will it be something in between?

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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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Some Observations on the Democratic and Republican Conventions

August 12, 2016

These observations are not meant to be exhaustive. To write an exhaustive analysis of the just-held conventions of the two ruling parties of U.S. capitalism would take up far too much space and take us too far afield from the main subject of the blog, the theory of capitalist crises. In this post, however, I will make some observations on how the economic decline of U.S. capitalism was reflected in the recently held conventions and provide some historical perspective.

Donald Trump becomes official GOP nominee

There were last-ditch attempts by anti-Trump neo-liberal right-wingers to deny Trump the nomination by freeing up the Republican delegates so they could “vote their conscience” and nominate a more acceptable—to Wall Street—Republican. Among those widely mentioned as alternatives were the union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Tea Party supporter Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But pro-Trump forces handily defeated the “anybody but Trump” movement at the convention, and the New York billionaire racist and reality TV star was duly nominated to run for president of the United States.

Trump chose as his running mate Indiana Governor and Tea Party darling John Pence. This was seen as a gesture to the more traditional neo-liberal right wing of the party. The Tea Party faction strongly supports neo-liberal economics and is thus far more acceptable to Wall Street than is Trump with his pseudo-populist and protectionist demagoguery. The high point—if it can be called that—of the Republican convention was when Senator Ted Cruz addressed the convention delegates but failed to endorse Trump. When it became clear that Cruz was not going to endorse Trump, he was loudly booed.

Media polls taken after the Republican convention showed Trump for the first time with a modest but very real lead over Hillary Clinton. Though it is normal for the Republican and Democratic candidates to have a lead right after their respective conventions, Trump has been increasingly ridiculed in the media ever since it became likely that he would be the Republican nominee. After the Democratic convention, new polls showed Clinton had regained the lead, which indeed is in line with the normal pattern. But Clinton’s lead is not a commanding one, despite the non-stop and escalating anti-Trump propaganda campaign in the media.

One of the reasons Trump is doing as well as he is, despite the opposition of the traditional media, is his use of social media, especially Twitter. The polls show that a Trump upset victory is not yet beyond the range of possibility in November, especially if new scandals hit Hillary Clinton or there is a surprise financial crisis and recession.

As a result, the media campaign against Trump escalated, with articles appearing that suggest that Trump may actually be clinically insane. This goes far beyond the normal mudslinging that occurs during U.S. presidential elections. The Washington Post, one of the leading organs of U.S. imperialism, even ran a special editorial declaring that Trump is a threat to the republic and completely unacceptable as U.S. president.

Cruz is not the only leading Republican to refuse to endorse Trump. A significant section of the Republican leadership has as well, including both George Bush senior and junior. The failure of two ex-President Bushes to endorse Trump, considering the realities of the U.S. two-party system, is in effect a backhanded endorsement of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The Koch brothers’ family of industrial capitalists, staunch Republicans with extreme right-wing neo-liberal views, have also refused to endorse Trump. This also amounts to a backhanded endorsement of Clinton.

The former billionaire Republican Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who owns Bloomberg News, which covers the stock market and other financial markets, has not only endorsed Hillary Clinton but went so far as to speak at the Democratic convention. Even the ghosts of ultra-right Senator Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were summoned up from the nether world to denounce Trump. Both Goldwater’s widow and Ronald Reagan’s son claimed that neither Goldwater nor Reagan would have supported Trump if they were alive.

The Democratic convention that officially nominated Hillary Clinton was held appropriately in a hall named after the giant Wells Fargo Bank, one of the most powerful banks in the U.S. Considering the large numbers of Republicans who are either openly endorsing her or giving her bi-partisan support if she wins in November, Clinton will not only be the first female president—itself a sign of social progress—but the most “bipartisan president” since George Washington.

It was also revealed just before the convention that William Kristol and George Wills, major Republican intellectuals, have dropped their registration in the Republican Party and have re-registered “independent.” This indicates that these major figures, not themselves “electoral politicians” but rather “opinion makers” and right-wing political thinkers for the U.S. ruling class, foresee a major reshuffling of the two-party system in the very near future. They are keeping their options open on which party they will identify with in coming years. Will they return to a “post-Trump” Republican Party, become supporters of the Democratic Party, or participate in creating a new right-wing party based on the neo-liberal” principles so dear to them?

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Germany and the U.S. Empire (Pt. 1)

October 11, 2015

The Volkswagen scandal

It has recently been revealed that the Volkswagen Corporation, the world’s largest automobile producer in terms of revenue in 2014, had installed software in its diesel vehicles designed to circumvent U.S. emissions standards.

Motor vehicles of all types are increasingly controlled by computer software. Volkswagen engineers wrote subroutines in Volkswagen’s control software able to detect whether the vehicle was going through an emissions test or was in normal operation. If the software detected a test situation, the engines would strictly comply with the U.S. government’s Environmental Projection Agency guidelines and the vehicle would pass the test with flying colors. If the software determined the vehicle was in normal operation, the emissions restrictions would be ignored. In this way, buyers of the vehicle could enjoy the benefits of a more powerful vehicle apparently complying with the U.S. government’s emission standards while in practice ignoring them.

This was not a question of some accidental damage done by dangerous cost-cutting that is so common throughout capitalist production. The subroutines were not written “by mistake.” Even more than is the case in the U.S., the automotive industry is important for Germany’s industry-centered, export-oriented economy. Unlike the U.S. and Britain, Germany has largely avoided the process of “de-industrialization.” German automobiles are considered among the best in the world. The scandal is therefore a major blow not only to Volkswagen but to the German economy as a whole.

However, what is a loss for Germany is a boon for Germany’s competitors. If the Volkswagen “brand name” should be discredited, or if Volkswagen is forced to reduce its research and development expenditures on the next generation of automobiles because it has to pay costly fines, it could be permanently damaged. In the worst case, it might even go out of business. Rival automobile manufacturers, both present and aspiring ones, including those headquartered in Detroit—and Silicon Valley—are among those who would happily fill the market space vacated by Volkswagen’s demise.

What was the motive of the EPA, an arm of the U.S. government? As far as I know—and I won’t make any allegations I cannot prove—it was the best. Perhaps it wanted to protect the environment from the effects of releasing nitrous oxide, which causes acid rain, threatening countless lifeforms, both plant and animal, on the land and in the sea. Still, an attack on Germany’s export-oriented auto industry, whatever the motive, has the objective effect of undermining Germany’s economy as a whole. And it is also quite in line with Silicon Valley’s plans to invade the auto industry.

Above all, it is quite in accordance with the nature of competition between capitalist nation-states. An important function of a capitalist nation-state is to put its own capitalists in the best possible position relative to rivals headquartered in rival nation-states. A little less than 70 years ago—within the lifetime of many people still living—the efforts of the U.S. to curb Germany’s competitive threat to U.S. industry took the form of open shooting warfare that ended with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Germany. That occupation has never really ended.

Is it possible the U.S. government is using selective enforcement of the law to curb the same economic threat today? In order to explore this question, we should first start with the policies of the U.S. government that made Volkswagen’s crime possible in the first place.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’ (Pt 2)

June 21, 2015

Recently, I have been looking at Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Piketty, a French bourgeois economist, created a sensation by pointing out that over the last 45 years a growing proportion of national income—wages plus surplus value in Marxist terms—has been going to profit at the expense of wages. Piketty is alarmed that if this trend isn’t reversed capitalism will be seriously destabilized.

The title of his book is, of course, inspired by Marx’s great work “Capital,” though it predictably rejects Marx’s anti-capitalist revolutionary conclusions. Naturally, I was interested in what Piketty had to say about Marx.

What I found striking was that Piketty did not understand Marx at all. The reason is that he views Marx through marginalist lenses. Essentially, Piketty treats Marx as a fellow marginalist. Marx’s theory of value and surplus value, so completely at odds with the marginalist theory of value and surplus value, is literally beyond Piketty’s comprehension.

In examining the current debate about “secular stagnation” among economists like Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, we must never forget how deep the gulf between their economic theories and Marxism really is. This is true even when their terminology is similar. This month, I will contrast the theories of two economists of the 20th century, Joseph Schumpeter and John Maynard Keynes, regarding capitalist growth and stagnation. Both men were marginalists, even if not the most “orthodox” ones, and therefore had much more in common with each other than with Marx.

Next month, I will begin to contrast their views with Marx and the views I have been developing in this blog. (1) But before we reach the “Marxist mountains” we will have to slog through the plains of modern bourgeois economics. Only when we begin to ascend into the Marxist mountains will we be able to explore whether any of the ideas of Schumpeter can be integrated into Marxism. I have already dealt with Keynes quite extensively in this blog. (See, for example, six-part series beginning here.)

Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) was the most famous marginalist economist to deal with the question of technological changes, or “innovation,” under capitalism. Schumpeter was an Austrian economist in the sense he came from Austria, though he spent his last years in the United States as a professor at Harvard University. He was certainly influenced by the “Austrian economists” as well as other schools of post-classical bourgeois economics current in his day. Like the Austrian economists proper, Schumpeter preferred to communicate his ideas in natural language as opposed to mathematics.

Also like the Austrians, he was a hardcore supporter of capitalism, disliked “socialism”—proposals to reform capitalism in the interest of the workers—and was an opponent of the “Keynesian revolution” in bourgeois economic theory of the 1930s. He was what would be called today a “neo-liberal.” Like the Austrian economists proper, Schumpeter took a dim view of democracy, which he was convinced would inevitably lead to socialism. Yet he was a friend of Paul Sweezy and therefore had a certain influence on the Monthly Review school.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’

May 24, 2015

A debate has broken out between economist Larry Summers (1954- ), who fears that the U.S. and world capitalist economies are stuck in an era of “secular stagnation” with no end in sight, and blogger Ben Bernanke (1953- ). Blogger Bernanke is, no less, the Ben Bernanke who headed the U.S. Federal Reserve Board between 2006 and 2014. Bernanke claims that the U.S. and world economies are simply dealing with lingering aftereffects of the 2007-2009 “Great Recession,” which broke out while he was head of the Federal Reserve System.

In effect, Bernanke is saying that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism and that healthy growth and “low unemployment and inflation” will return once the lingering aftereffects of the crisis are fully shaken off. Bernanke is, however, alarmed by the rapid growth of German exports and the growing share of the world market going to German industry.

Last year, we “celebrated” the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Bernanke’s concerns show that the economic fault lines that led to both World War I and II have not disappeared. Instead, they have been joined by new ones as more countries have become industrialized. And the prolonged period of slow growth—and in some countries virtually no growth—that has followed the Great Recession is once again sharpening them. Competition both among individual capitalists and between capitalist countries is much sharper when world markets are growing slowly. World War I itself broke out when the early 20th-century “boom” was running out of steam, while World War II broke out after a decade of the Depression.

The debate between Summers and Bernanke on secular stagnation has been joined by other eminent U.S. economists such as Joseph Stiglitz (1943- ) and Brad DeLong (1960- ). Summers, Stiglitz and DeLong are Keynesian-leaning economists, while Bernanke, a Republican, leans more in the direction of “neoliberalism,” though like most U.S. policymakers, he is thoroughly pragmatic.

The debate began with Summers’ speech to the IMF’s Fourteenth Annual Research Conference in Honor of Stanley Fisher. Summers noted that the panic of 2008 was “an event that in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 … appeared, by most of the statistics—GDP, industrial production, employment, world trade, the stock market—worse than the fall of 1929 and the winter of 1930. …”

At the very least, this was a major defeat for “stabilization policies” that were supposed to iron out the capitalist industrial cycle and abolish panics. But the problem extends far beyond the 2008 panic itself.

“… in the four years since financial normalization,” Summers observed, “the share of adults who are working has not increased at all and GDP has fallen further and further behind potential, as we would have defined it in the fall of 2009.”

The highly misleading unemployment rate calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor notwithstanding, there has been a massive growth in long-term unemployment in the U.S. in the wake of the crisis, as shown by the declining percentage of the U.S. population actually working.

In the days before the “Keynesian revolution” in the 1930s, the “classical” neoclassical marginalist economists, whose theories still form the bedrock of the economics taught in U.S. universities, were willing to concede that some “outside shock” to the economic system (for example, a major policy blunder by the central bank or a major harvest failure) might occasionally create a severe recession and considerable amount of “involuntary unemployment.” But these learned economists insisted that since a “free market economy” naturally tends toward an equilibrium with full employment of both workers and machines, the capitalist system should quickly return to “full employment” if a severe recession occurs.

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