- Assessing the Illusion of Recovery
Understanding the Nature of the Global Economic Crisis
The people have been lulled into a false sense of safety under the ruse of a perceived “economic recovery.” Unfortunately, what the majority of people think does not make it so, especially when the people making the key decisions think and act to the contrary. The sovereign debt crises that have been unfolding in the past couple years and more recently in Greece, are canaries in the coal mine for the rest of Western “civilization.” The crisis threatens to spread to Spain, Portugal and Ireland; like dominoes, one country after another will collapse into a debt and currency crisis, all the way to America.
In October 2008, the mainstream media and politicians of the Western world were warning of an impending depression if actions were not taken to quickly prevent this. The problem was that this crisis had been a long-time coming, and what’s worse, is that the actions governments took did not address any of the core, systemic issues and problems with the global economy; they merely set out to save the banking industry from collapse. To do this, governments around the world implemented massive “stimulus” and “bailout” packages, plunging their countries deeper into debt to save the banks from themselves, while charging it to people of the world.
Then an uproar of stock market speculation followed, as money was pumped into the stocks, but not the real economy. This recovery has been nothing but a complete and utter illusion, and within the next two years, the illusion will likely come to a complete collapse.
The governments gave the banks a blank check, charged it to the public, and now it’s time to pay; through drastic tax increases, social spending cuts, privatization of state industries and services, dismantling of any protective tariffs and trade regulations, and raising interest rates. The effect that this will have is to rapidly accelerate, both in the speed and volume, the unemployment rate, globally. The stock market would crash to record lows, where governments would be forced to freeze them altogether.
When the crisis is over, the middle classes of the western world will have been liquidated of their economic, political and social status. The global economy will have gone through the greatest consolidation of industry and banking in world history leading to a system in which only a few corporations and banks control the global economy and its resources; governments will have lost that right. The people of the western world will be treated by the financial oligarchs as they have treated the ‘global South’ and in particular, Africa; they will remove our social structures and foundations so that we become entirely subservient to their dominance over the economic and political structures of our society.
This is where we stand today, and is the road on which we travel.
The western world has been plundered into poverty, a process long underway, but with the unfolding of the crisis, will be rapidly accelerated. As our societies collapse in on themselves, the governments will protect the banks and multinationals. When the people go out into the streets, as they invariably do and will, the government will not come to their aid, but will come with police and military forces to crush the protests and oppress the people. The social foundations will collapse with the economy, and the state will clamp down to prevent the people from constructing a new one.
The road to recovery is far from here. When the crisis has come to an end, the world we know will have changed dramatically. No one ever grows up in the world they were born into; everything is always changing. Now is no exception. The only difference is, that we are about to go through the most rapid changes the world has seen thus far.
Assessing the Illusion of Recovery
In August of 2009, I wrote an article, Entering the Greatest Depression in History, in which I analyzed how there is a deep systemic crisis in the Capitalist system in which we have gone through merely one burst bubble thus far, the housing bubble, but there remains a great many others.
There remains as a significantly larger threat than the housing collapse, a commercial real estate bubble. As the Deutsche Bank CEO said in May of 2009, “It's either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.”
Of even greater significance is what has been termed the “bailout bubble” in which governments have superficially inflated the economies through massive debt-inducing bailout packages. As of July of 2009, the government watchdog and investigator of the US bailout program stated that the U.S. may have put itself at risk of up to $23.7 trillion dollars.
In October of 2009, approximately one year following the “great panic” of 2008, I wrote an article titled, The Economic Recovery is an Illusion, in which I analyzed what the most prestigious and powerful financial institution in the world, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), had to say about the crisis and “recovery.”
The BIS, as well as its former chief economist, who had both correctly predicted the crisis that unfolded in 2008, were warning of a future crisis in the global economy, citing the fact that none of the key issues and structural problems with the economy had been changed, and that government bailouts may do more harm than good in the long run.
William White, former Chief Economist of the BIS, warned:
The world has not tackled the problems at the heart of the economic downturn and is likely to slip back into recession. [He] warned that government actions to help the economy in the short run may be sowing the seeds for future crises.
Crying Wolf or Castigating Cassandra?
While people were being lulled into a false sense of security, prominent voices warning of the harsh bite of reality to come were, instead of being listened to, berated and pushed aside by the mainstream media. Gerald Celente, who accurately predicted the economic crisis of 2008 and who had been warning of a much larger crisis to come, had been accused by the mainstream media of pushing “pessimism porn.” Celente’s response has been that he isn’t pushing “pessimism porn,” but that he refuses to push “optimism opium” of which the mainstream media does so outstandingly.
So, are these voices of criticism merely “crying wolf” or is it that the media is out to “castigate Cassandra”? Cassandra, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who was granted by the God Apollo the gift of prophecy. She prophesied and warned the Trojans of the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon and the destruction of Troy. When she warned the Trojans, they simply cast her aside as “mad” and did not heed her warnings.
While those who warn of a future economic crisis may not have been granted the gift of prophecy from Apollo, they certainly have the ability of comprehension.
So what do the Cassandras of the world have to say today? Should we listen?
Empire and Economics
To understand the global economic crisis, we must understand the global causes of the economic crisis. We must first determine how we got to the initial crisis, from there, we can critically assess how governments responded to the outbreak of the crisis, and thus, we can determine where we currently stand, and where we are likely headed.
Africa and much of the developing world was released from the socio-political-economic restraints of the European empires throughout the 1950s and into the 60s. Africans began to try to take their nations into their own hands. At the end of World War II, the United States was the greatest power in the world. It had command of the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF, as well as setting up the NATO military alliance. The US dollar reigned supreme, and its value was tied to gold.
In 1954, Western European elites worked together to form an international think tank called the Bilderberg Group, which would seek to link the political economies of Western Europe and North America. Every year, roughly 130 of the most powerful people in academia, media, military, industry, banking, and politics would meet to debate and discuss key issues related to the expansion of Western hegemony over the world and the re-shaping of world order. They undertook, as one of their key agendas, the formation of the European Union and the Euro currency unit.
In 1971, Nixon abandoned the dollar’s link to gold, which meant that the dollar no longer had a fixed exchange rate, but would change according to the whims and choices of the Federal Reserve (the central bank of the United States). One key individual that was responsible for this choice was the third highest official in the U.S. Treasury Department at the time, Paul Volcker.
Volcker got his start as a staff economist at the New York Federal Reserve Bank in the early 50s. After five years there, “David Rockefeller’s Chase Bank lured him away.” So in 1957, Volcker went to work at Chase, where Rockefeller “recruited him as his special assistant on a congressional commission on money and credit in America and for help, later, on an advisory commission to the Treasury Department.” In the early 60s, Volcker went to work in the Treasury Department, and returned to Chase in 1965 “as an aide to Rockefeller, this time as vice president dealing with international business.” With Nixon entering the White House, Volcker got the third highest job in the Treasury Department. This put him at the center of the decision making process behind the dissolution of the Bretton Woods agreement by abandoning the dollar’s link to gold in 1971.
In 1973, David Rockefeller, the then-Chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and President of the Council on Foreign Relations, created the Trilateral Commission, which sought to expand upon the Bilderberg Group. It was an international think tank, which would include elites from Western Europe, North America, and Japan, and was to align a “trilateral” political economic partnership between these regions. It was to further the interests and hegemony of the Western controlled world order.
That same year, the Petri-dish experiment of neoliberalism was undertaken in Chile. While a leftist government was coming to power in Chile, threatening the economic interests of not only David Rockefeller’s bank, but a number of American corporations, David Rockefeller set up meetings between Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Adviser, and a number of leading corporate industrialists. Kissinger in turn, set up meetings between these individuals and the CIA chief and Nixon himself. Within a short while, the CIA had begun an operation to topple the government of Chile.
On September 11, 1973, a Chilean General, with the help of the CIA, overthrew the government of Chile and installed a military dictatorship that killed thousands. The day following the coup, a plan for an economic restructuring of Chile was on the president’s desk. The economic advisers from the University of Chicago, where the ideas of Milton Freidman poured out, designed the restructuring of Chile along neoliberal lines.
Neoliberalism was thus born in violence.
In 1973, a global oil crisis hit the world. This was the result of the Yom Kippur War, which took place in the Middle East in 1973. However, much more covertly, it was an American strategem. Right when the US dropped the dollar’s peg to gold, the State Department had quietly begun pressuring Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations to increase the price of oil. At the 1973 Bilderberg meeting, held six months before the oil price rises, a 400% increase in the price of oil was discussed. The discussion was over what to do with the large influx of what would come to be called “petrodollars,” the oil revenues of the OPEC nations.
Henry Kissinger worked behind the scenes in 1973 to ensure a war would take place in the Middle East, which happened in October. Then, the OPEC nations drastically increased the price of oil. Many newly industrializing nations of the developing world, free from the shackles of overt political and economic imperialism, suddenly faced a problem: oil is the lifeblood of an industrial society and it is imperative in the process of development and industrialization. If they were to continue to develop and industrialize, they would need the money to afford to do so.
Concurrently, the oil producing nations of the world were awash with petrodollars, bringing in record surpluses. However, to make a profit, the money would need to be invested. This is where the Western banking system came to the scene. With the loss of the dollar’s link to cold, the US currency could flow around the world at a much faster rate. The price of oil was tied to the price of the US dollar, and so oil was traded in US dollars. OPEC nations thus invested their oil money into Western banks, which in turn, would “recycle” that money by loaning it to the developing nations of the world in need of financing industrialization. It seemed like a win-win situation: the oil nations make money, invest it in the West, which loans it to the South, to be able to develop and build “western” societies.
However, all things do not end as fairy tales, especially when those in power are threatened. An industrialized and developed ‘Global South’ (Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia) would not be a good thing for the established Western elites. If they wanted to maintain their hegemony over the world, they must prevent the rise of potential rivals, especially in regions so rich in natural resources and the global supplies of energy.
It was at this time that the United States initiated talks with China. The “opening” of China was to be a Western project of expanding Western capital into China. China will be allowed to rise only so much as the West allows it. The Chinese elite were happy to oblige with the prospect of their own growth in political and economic power. India and Brazil also followed suit, but to a smaller degree than that of China. China and India were to brought within the framework of the Trilateral partnership, and in time, both China and India would have officials attending meetings of the Trilateral Commission.
So money flowed around the world, primarily in the form of the US dollar. Foreign central banks would buy US Treasuries (debts) as an investment, which would also show faith in the strength of the US dollar and economy. The hegemony of the US dollar reached around the world.
The Hegemony of Neoliberalism
In 1977, however, a new US administration came to power under the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, who was himself a member of the Trilateral Commission. With his administration, came another roughly two-dozen members of the Trilateral Commission to fill key positions within his government. In 1973, Paul Volcker, the rising star through Chase Manhattan and the Treasury Department became a member of the Trilateral Commission. In 1975, he was made President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the most powerful of the 12 regional Fed banks. In 1979, Jimmy Carter gave the job of Treasury Secretary to the former Governor of the Federal Reserve System, and in turn, David Rockefeller recommended Jimmy Carter appoint Paul Volcker as Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, which Carter quickly did.
In 1979, the price of oil skyrocketed again. This time, Paul Volcker at the Fed was to take a different approach. His response was to drastically increase interest rates. Interest rates went from 2% in the late 70s to 18% in the early 1980s. The effect this had was that the US economy went into recession, and greatly reduced its imports from developing nations. A the same time, developing nations, who had taken on heavy debt burdens to finance industrialization, suddenly found themselves having to pay 18% interest payments on their loans. The idea that they could borrow heavily to build an industrial society, which would in turn pay off their loans, had suddenly come to a halt. As the US dollar had spread around the world in the forms of petrodollars and loans, the decisions that the Fed made would affect the entire world. In 1982, Mexico announced that it could no longer service its debt, and defaulted on its loans. This marked the spread of the 1980s debt crisis, which spread throughout Latin America and across the continent of Africa.
Suddenly, much of the developing world was plunged into crisis. Thus, the IMF and World Bank entered the scene with their newly developed “Structural Adjustment Programs” (SAPs), which would encompass a country in need signing an agreement, the SAP, which would provide the country with a loan from the IMF, as well as “development” projects by the World Bank. In turn, the country would have to undergo a neoliberal restructuring of its country.
Neoliberalism spread out of America and Britain in the 1980s; through their financial empires and instruments – including the World Bank and IMF – they spread the neoliberal ideology around the globe. Countries that resisted neoliberalism were subjected to “regime change”. This would occur through financial manipulation, via currency speculation or the hegemonic monetary policies of the Western nations, primarily the United States; economic sanctions, via the United Nations or simply done on a bilateral basis; covert regime change, through “colour revolutions” or coups, assassinations; and sometimes overt military campaigns and war.
The neoliberal ideology consisted in what has often been termed “free market fundamentalism.” This would entail a massive wave of privatization, in which state assets and industries are privatized in order to become economically “more productive and efficient.” This would have the social effect of leading to the firing of entire areas of the public sector, especially health and education as well as any specially protected national industries, which for many poor nations meant vital natural resources.
Then, the market would be “liberalized” which meant that restrictions and impediments to foreign investments in the nation would diminish by reducing or eliminating trade barriers and tariffs (taxes), and thus foreign capital (Western corporations and banks) would be able to invest in the country easily, while national industries that grow and “compete” would be able to more easily invest in other nations and industries around the world. The Central Bank of the nation would then keep interest rates artificially low, to allow for the easier movement of money in and out of the country. The effect of this would be that foreign multinational corporations and international banks would be able to easily buy up the privatized industries, and thus, buy up the national economy. Simultaneously major national industries may be allowed to grow and work with the global banks and corporations. This would essentially oligopolize the national economy, and bring it within the sphere of influence of the “global economy” controlled by and for the Western elites.
The European empires had imposed upon Africa and many other colonized peoples around the world a system of ‘indirect rule’, in which local governance structures were restructured and reorganized into a system where the local population is governed by locals, but for the western colonial powers. Thus, a local elite is created, and they enrich themselves through the colonial system, so they have no interest in challenging the colonial powers, but instead seek to protect their own interests, which happen to be the interests of the empire.
In the era of globalization, the leaders of the ‘Third World’ have been co-opted and their societies reorganized by and for the interests of the globalized elites. This is a system of indirect rule, and the local elites becoming ‘indirect globalists’; they have been brought within the global system and structures of empire.
Following a Structural Adjustment Program, masses of people would be left unemployed; the prices of essential commodities such as food and fuel would increase, sometimes by hundreds of percentiles, while the currency lost its value. Poverty would spread and entire sectors of the economy would be shut down. In the “developing” world of Asia, Latin America and Africa, these policies were especially damaging. With no social safety nets to fall into, the people would go hungry; the public state was dismantled.
When it came to Africa, the continent so rapidly de-industrialized throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s that poverty increased by incredible degrees. With that, conflict would spread. In the 1990s, as the harsh effects of neoliberal policies were easily and quickly seen on the African continent, the main notion pushed through academia, the media, and policy circles was that the state of Africa was due to the “mismanagement” by Africans. The blame was put solely on the national governments. While national political and economic elites did become complicit in the problems, the problems were imposed from beyond the continent, not from within.
Thus, in the 1990s, the notion of “good governance” became prominent. This was the idea that in return for loans and “help” from the IMF and World Bank, nations would need to undertake reforms not only of the economic sector, but also to create the conditions of what the west perceived as “good governance.” However, in neoliberal parlance, “good governance” implies “minimal governance”, and governments still had to dismantle their public sectors. They simply had to begin applying the illusion of democracy, through the holding of elections and allowing for the formation of a civil society. “Freedom” however, was still to maintain simply an economic concept, in that the nation would be “free” for Western capital to enter into.
While massive poverty and violence spread across the continent, people were given the “gift” of elections. They would elect one leader, who would then be locked into an already pre-determined economic and political structure. The political leaders would enrich themselves at the expense of others, and then be thrown out at the next election, or simply fix the elections. This would continue, back and forth, all the while no real change would be allowed to take place. Western imposed “democracy” had thus failed.
An article in a 2002 edition of International Affairs, the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (the British counter-part to the Council on Foreign Relations), wrote that:
In 1960 the average income of the top 20 per cent of the world’s population was 30 times that of the bottom 20 per cent. By 1990 it was 60 times, ad by 1997, 74 times that of the lowest fifth. Today the assets of the top three billionaires are more than the combined GNP [Gross National Product] of all least developed countries and their 600 million people.
This has been the context in which there has been an explosive growth in the presence of Western as well as local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa. NGOs today form a prominent part of the ‘development machine’, a vast institutional and disciplinary nexus of official agencies, practitioners, consultants, scholars and other miscellaneous experts producing and consuming knowledge about the ‘developing world’.
[. . . ] Aid (in which NGOs have come to play a significant role) is frequently portrayed as a form of altruism, a charitable act that enables wealth to flow from rich to poor, poverty to be reduced and the poor to be empowered.
The authors then explained that NGOs have a peculiar evolution in Africa:
[T[heir role in ‘development’ represents a continuity of the work of their precursors, the missionaries and voluntary organizations that cooperated in Europe’s colonization and control of Africa. Today their work contributes marginally to the relief of poverty, but significantly to undermining the struggle of African people to emancipate themselves from economic, social and political oppression.
The authors examined how with the spread of neoliberalism, the notion of a “minimalist state” spread across the world and across Africa. Thus, they explain, the IMF and World Bank “became the new commanders of post-colonial economies.” However, these efforts were not imposed without resistance, as, “Between 1976 and 1992 there were 146 protests against IMF-supported austerity measures [SAPs] in 39 countries around the world.” Usually, however, governments responded with brute force, violently oppressing demonstrations. However, the widespread opposition to these “reforms” needed to be addressed by major organizations and “aid” agencies in re-evaluating their approach to ‘development’:
The outcome of these deliberations was the ‘good governance’ agenda in the 1990s and the decision to co-opt NGOs and other civil society organizations to a repackaged programme of welfare provision, a social initiative that could be more accurately described as a programme of social control.
The result was to implement the notion of ‘pluralism’ in the form of ‘multipartyism’, which only ended up in bringing “into the public domain the seething divisions between sections of the ruling class competing for control of the state.” As for the ‘welfare initiatives’, the bilateral and multilateral aid agencies set aside significant funds for addressing the “social dimensions of adjustment,” which would “minimize the more glaring inequalities that their policies perpetuated.” This is where the growth of NGOs in Africa rapidly accelerated.
Africa had again, become firmly enraptured in the cold grip of imperialism. Conflicts in Africa would be stirred up by imperial foreign powers, often using ethnic divides to turn the people against each other, using the political leaders of African nations as vassals submissive to Western hegemony. War and conflict would spread, and with it, so too would Western capital and the multinational corporation.
Building a ‘New’ Economy
While the developing world fell under the heavy sword of Western neoliberal hegemony, the Western industrialized societies experienced a rapid growth of their own economic strength. It was the Western banks and multinational corporations that spread into and took control of the economies of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Russia opened itself up to Western finance, and the IMF and World Bank swept in and imposed neoliberal restructuring, which led to a collapse of the Russian economy, and enrichment of a few billionaire oligarchs who own the Russian economy, and who are intricately connected with Western economic interests; again, ‘indirect globalists’.
As the Western financial and commercial sectors took control of the vast majority of the world’s resources and productive industries, amassing incredible profits, they needed new avenues in which to invest. Out of this need for a new road to capital accumulation (making money), the US Federal Reserve stepped in to help out.
The Federal Reserve in the 1990s began to ease interest rates lower and lower to again allow for the easier spread of money. This was the era of ‘globalization,’ where proclamations of a “New World Order” emerged. Regional trading blocs and “free trade” agreements spread rapidly, as world systems of political and economic structure increasingly grew out of the national structure and into a supra-national form. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in an “economic constitution for North America” as Reagan referred to it.
Regionalism had emerged as the next major phase in the construction of the New World Order, with the European Union being at the forefront. The world economy was ‘globalized’ and so too, would the political structure follow, on both regional and global levels. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was formed to maintain and enshrine global neoliberal constitution for trade. All through this time, a truly global ruling class emerged, the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC), or global elite, which constituted a singular international class.
However, as the wealth and power of elites grew, everyone else suffered. The middle class had been subjected to a quiet dismantling. In the Western developed nations, industries and factories closed down, relocating to cheap Third World countries to exploit their labour, then sell the products in the Western world cheaply. Our living standards in the West began to fall, but because we could buy products for cheaper, no one seemed to complain. We continued to consume, and we used credit and debt to do so. The middle class existed only in theory, but was in fact, beholden to the shackles of debt.
The Clinton administration used ‘globalization’ as its grand strategy throughout the 1990s, facilitating the decline of productive capital (as in, money that flows into production of goods and services), and implemented the rise finance capital (money made on money). Thus, financial speculation became one of the key tools of economic expansion. This is what was termed the “financialization” of the economy. To allow this to occur, the Clinton administration actively worked to deregulate the banking sector. The Glass-Steagle Act, put in place by FDR in 1933 to prevent commercial banks from merging with investment banks and engaging in speculation, (which in large part caused the Great Depression), was slowly dismantled through the coordinated efforts of America’s largest banks, the Federal Reserve, and the US Treasury Department.
Thus, a massive wave of consolidation took place, as large banks ate smaller banks, corporations merged, where banks and corporations stopped being American or European and became truly global. Some of the key individuals that took part in the dismantling of Glass-Steagle and the expansion of ‘financialization’ were Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve and Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers at the Treasury Department, now key officials in Obama’s economic team.
This era saw the rise of ‘derivatives’ which are ‘complex financial instruments’ that essentially act as short-term insurance policies, betting and speculating that an asset price or commodity would go up or go down in value, allowing money to be made on whether stocks or prices go up or down. However, it wasn’t called ‘insurance’ because ‘insurance’ has to be regulated. Thus, it was referred to as derivatives trade, and organizations called Hedge Funds entered the picture in managing the global trade in derivatives.
The stock market would go up as speculation on future profits drove stocks higher and higher, inflating a massive bubble in what was termed a ‘virtual economy.’ The Federal Reserve facilitated this, as it had previously done in the lead-up to the Great Depression, by keeping interest rates artificially low, and allowing for easy-flowing money into the financial sector. The Federal Reserve thus inflated the ‘dot-com’ bubble of the technology sector. When this bubble burst, the Federal Reserve, with Allen Greenspan at the helm, created the “housing bubble.”
The Federal Reserve maintained low interest rates and actively encouraged and facilitated the flow of money into the housing sector. Banks were given free reign and actually encouraged to make loans to high-risk individuals who would never be able to pay back their debt. Again, the middle class existed only in the myth of the ‘free market’.
Concurrently, throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the role of speculation as a financial instrument of war became apparent. Within the neoliberal global economy, money could flow easily into and out of countries. Thus, when confidence weakens in the prospect of one nation’s economy, there can be a case of ‘capital flight’ where foreign investors sell their assets in that nation’s currency and remove their capital from that country. This results in an inevitable collapse of the nations economy.
This happened to Mexico in 1994, in the midst of joining NAFTA, where international investors speculated against the Mexican peso, betting that it would collapse; they cashed in their pesos for dollars, which devalued the peso and collapsed the Mexican economy. This was followed by the East Asian financial crisis in 1997, where throughout the 1990s, Western capital had penetrated East Asian economies speculating in real estate and the stock markets. However, this resulted in over-investment, as the real economy, (production, manufacturing, etc.) could not keep up with speculative capital. Thus, Western capital feared a crisis, and began speculating against the national currencies of East Asian economies, which triggered devaluation and a financial panic as capital fled from East Asia into Western banking sectors. The economies collapsed and then the IMF came in to ‘restructure’ them accordingly. The same strategy was undertaken with Russia in 1998, and Argentina in 2001.
Throughout the 2000s, the housing bubble was inflated beyond measure, and around the middle of the decade, when the indicators emerged of a crisis in the housing market a commercial real estate bubble was formed. This bubble has yet to burst.