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Guests Michael Hudson & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: April 21, 2021 (transcribed May 3, 2021):

Jim Vrettos:
So, Michael, Jonathan. Thank you so very, very much for being here. Jonathan, you’re from… We’re looking at you from North Carolina there and Michael is in Queens. You’ve both had tremendous influence in your respective fields. Spiritual economic activist and so on. What do you make of the contradictory statements in the news, particularly… particularly… Let’s start with the idea of the movement by the Biden administration given parameters of its neoliberal roots. Do you believe that they have the commitment and vision commensurate to Roosevelt’s build of economic whites in 1944 and the attempt to broaden the conception of social justice and democracy [inaudible 00:08:36] In other words, what do you make of the first 100 days or so? Let’s start with Jonathan. Are we moving in the right direction? Which narrative do you think is going to win out here in America? Economic-

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:
Jim, it’s good to be with you. Thanks for having us. I’m delighted for the chance to engage here with Michael. I come at the question you’re asking from the perspective of the Poor People’s Campaign. For the last three years, we’ve been organizing people across this country who were already in their communities doing grassroots work to raise an alarm about the way that the current economy isn’t working. You mentioned that 140 million people were living in poverty or were low wealth before the pandemic and the pandemic that we’ve experienced for the last year has, in many ways, exposed the fissures in the economy.

We had a huge package under the previous administration, where the vast majority of the investment from the government went to corporations and to banks. The result of that was that we saw the wealthiest people get much wealthier while unemployment on the bottom has stayed very high and the people who earn often less than a living wage are the people who have suffered the most. Incidentally, those are also the people who have been on the front lines and most vulnerable to this coronavirus. All the research that we have now says not only are African Americans three times as likely to get it as their white neighbors, but poor people are three times as likely to contract as their wealthier neighbors. And so, in many ways, I think this world altering experience that we’ve all lived through has exposed the lies of the neoliberal system and the way in which we’ve gone on believing for far too long. That if the economy is doing well, the people are doing well. Well, that’s just not true.

And so I think the Biden administration has successfully passed one piece of legislation that, at the very least, did put more of the investment in the hands of people at the bottom of the economy. And so I’ll give him credit for that. But that’s only temporary and it’s only confined to COVID relief. Frankly, we need to reimagine the whole economy. Because the Poor People’s Campaign has been saying and saying clearly, in the words of the people who experience it directly and with the support of evidence from economists and sociologists who we’ve worked closely with, that when we lift the bottom, that’s when everybody can rise. And so we need economic investment that is designed to lift from the bottom. I hope and pray we can push this administration towards more of that.

I would say, just in terms of your question about how it compares to FDR, that FDR was no radical, but there was a movement that pushed him. Part of that movement was very faith-based. Frances Perkins was a product of the Social Gospel movement. She came up in Chicago, when she was getting educated, watching the settlement houses and those great Black churches of the Black social gospel in Chicago that were committed to the message of Jesus. The good news to the poor. She was determined to implement that through the Roosevelt administration. Now, they didn’t get anywhere near everything they were trying to get, but nevertheless, we did hammer out some very real universal policies that guaranteed the basic necessities of life. Things like Social Security. That’s an, I think, incredibly important piece of our history that is widely accepted and appreciated now, but when it was proposed, it was called radical. It was called Marxist. It was called all the things that these ideas get called now. So, I think it’s important to remember that history as we push together for economic activity that lifts from the bottom.

Jim Vrettos:
Great. Michael, do you want to comment on what Jonathan just said there?

Michael Hudson:
I agree with everything Jonathan has said. I think he’s put it very clearly. One comment I had… He talks about the good thing that the Biden administration has done is provide relief for the poor, but this relief went right through their hands. The vast majority of the relief was not a stimulus. It was a relief, as he pointed out, and it’s temporary. Most of this money was simply paid to the banks and to the landlords. It was paid for the rent arrears, especially by people who were unemployed and it was paid to write down credit card debt. In many cases, the relief was paid directly into the bank accounts or the other accounts of the poor. The poorest people didn’t get any of the relief because they don’t have bank accounts and they don’t have addresses because they’re already joining the homeless. Here in New York. Of course, the problem is that there’s going to be a huge wave of homelessness when the freeze on evictions of families behind in their rent expires. Landlords have already begun to illegally evict many of people who’ve been unable to pay their rents. They don’t have enough money to draw on their bank accounts to do this. So, that is very unfortunate.

Jonathan mentioned Frances Perkins and the gospel. The word gospel meant, literally, the good news, but wherever it was used in the Bible, as Sharon Ringe, a Lutheran historian has pointed out, it always was used as a code word for the Jubilee year. For the clean slate. The only way that you can really liberate the people who’ve been pushed way behind the eight ball by the virus is to say, okay, the economy is taking a pause. You don’t have to pay the rents that have accrued when you’re unable to do that. You don’t have to pay the debts that have accrued when you’re unable to do this. Because, otherwise, there’s not going to be a recovery. How on earth can you recover if most of the people have to now, all of a sudden, pay up all the arrears that they’ve been accumulating during the pandemic and, not to mention that, long before? It can’t be done.

The other comment I have… Jonathan said the economy hasn’t been working. What has been a bonanza for the five percent! And even more of a bonanza for the one percent. The top one percent of the population has made more money since the pandemic began… as much money as than they made since 1980. Economic crises are always a bonanza for the wealthy because they get to profit from the distress of others. What you call distress is for them a wonderful marketing opportunity. Wall Street has been incorporating all sorts of private capital funds to make a killing once the arrears come due. They’re planning on residential property at a discount as they did after 2008. Buying commercial property at a discount. They’re looking to make a killing, which is what usually happens in the aftermath of a crisis. So, the Biden administration has given a palliative. The palliative has helped mainly the creditors and the landlords so far with not much being used by the people and the economic activity that’s picked up is mainly by people who can afford it, which is not the constituency that Jonathan and I are talking about.

Jim Vrettos:

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banks, Debt, Joe Biden, Poverty, Wall Street 

Transcript

Jussi: Welcome Michael. I just give a brief overview of the agenda and then I get back to you with a few questions.

I just show you this picture, what we want to do today is this: Today we will get a long-term view on money debt and the economy, including the different power struggles over the ages. We start from 2400 B.C. until today. It goes through Babylonia and Sumerian time to biblical times, Roman and medieval banking, to today. That’s a quite big thing to cover but we have the right man with us: Michael. I just say a few words first.

Michael has been an advisor to governments, he is an expert on financial and real estate markets and actually history too of debt and money and the economy, which is the reason why he is here today. He predicted the Latin American debt crash in the 1980s and the crisis of 2008.

Today’s topic: 40 years of research into the origins of money, debt and how the economy was organized way, way back. This kind of research is not like reading a book, because those were written in clay tablets, so Michael’s research has been a very big thing.

Michael, could you please introduce yourself, let’s take three of your defining moments that you like to share in your career. If we start with the first one with the Chase?

Michael: Well, my first major job on Wall Street was becoming the balance of payments economist for Chase Manhattan, and the very first task they gave me, in late 1964, was to look at the balance of payments of their three major Latin American creditors: Argentina, Brazil and Chile, to see how much they can afford to borrow. My job was to say: here is how much of an export surplus they can raise for and exchange for.

The idea of the New York banks, was that all of the economic surplus would be paid for debt service, so that everything that they could export to create a trade surplus, an investment surplus, a tourism surplus, etc., if you put this all together, they’re generating say two billion dollars a year, all of that can be paid as interest. You calculate: how much will two billion dollars pay in interest, how much of a loan can that support, and say: that’ll be maybe a 20-billion-dollar loan.

I did my forecasts: here is the trade balance, the tourism balance, the investment balance and they weren’t generating any surplus. So, I said: wait a minute, how are they going to repay more interest if they’re not generating an economic surplus to pay in the first place.

You can imagine that this did not make me popular with the international division within the bank, because bank officers get paid according to how many loans they can make because that’s what the bank’s business is: making loans. If I said: wait a minute, they can’t afford to repay, I was called doctor doom, already in the 1960s.

We had one meeting with the federal reserve at a later point and they said: Mr. Hudson, according to your analysis, Britain can’t pay any additional loans? And I said: that’s pretty obvious, I think that the pound is going to be devalued. They said: but we’re always going to lend Britain the money to pay, aren’t we? And I said: that’s right, if the federal reserve and the US government lends Britain the money to pay the interest to keep itself, then they can do it. And the fed guy said: then we can lend the Latin American governments if they’re friendly governments.

In other words: we will lend the dictators and the client oligarchies money to pay, but if they were to vote for somebody we don’t like, then we’ll call in all the loans, strangle the economy, block them from importing, devalue the currency, create a crisis, to say: that’s what you get for not voting for our guys.

You want to try democracy? This is the free market where we get to bankrupt you if you don’t like it.

They said: it’s not a bad thing that the government makes loans, because we can control them, we can make sure that if they elect anyone we don’t like, anyone who wants land reform, anyone who wants independence, anyone who won’t privatize their oil and their natural resources, you can just absolutely destroy them.

I said: Okay, I get it, if you lend them the money, then they can pay.This is like a Ponzi scheme: you lend the investors enough to pay the interest and keep current. That was my introduction to how the balance of payments worked between the United States and the third world and how political the whole credit problem was.

David Rockefeller had taken over the bank from George Champion, who had said around 1963-64 that the Vietnam war was fiscally irresponsible because it was ultimately going to force us off goal.

My boss at Chase, John Deaver, said: “That’s the merchants of death argument in reverse, you’re saying we can only vote for a war that we can afford. That’s wrong: we have to do what’s right; we have to fight communism everywhere! What is communism? Communism is nationalism, the opposite of democracy, communism is voting for somebody we don’t like. Even if we can’t afford it, we’ve got to do it!”

So, now the rest of us at the economic research department dealt with what the war meant. Every Thursday evening the Federal Reserve came out with a balance sheet of currency money, currency and gold. Under the gold exchange standard, Every dollar of paper currency, every green bill in your pocket had to be backed 25% for gold.

We were watching the balance of payments deficit was draining, and draining, and draining foreign exchange that was cashed in for gold by general de Gaulle in France, by Germany etc. At a certain point the dollar was going to have to stop gold convertibility.

That was the other thing that we were watching: monetary theory is supposed to be all about money being spent on goods and services. But the entire balance of payments deficit of the United states since 1950, was to pay for the war in southeast Asia and for the 800 military bases that America had around the world.

The key to the balance of payments was the military. It didn’t have anything to do with America’s prices and wages and all the things that academics talked about. It was what the academic theorists leave out: we are the gun votes. That was my first experience.

Jussi: What you’re saying is that the US had to get out of the gold standard because it made itself to be a Latin American country with US dollar loans?

Michael: That was what their worry was. But my book Super Imperialism showed just the opposite: The gold actually became a key to American dominance. But at the time they were very worried about going off gold.

There was a Columbia university group at that time of three people: my mentor Terence McCarthy, Seymour Melman, critic of the pentagon, and myself. We were the three warning that the balance of payments of the war was going to force the government off gold.

I had to leave the bank to finish my dissertation, because they kept giving me more and more work, which is what economists would have. And I got my PhD as a union card.

Then I developed a whole balance of payments accounting format at Chase. I went to Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm. Before they were closed down for fraud, they were a major accounting firm. I said I want to do my analysis for the whole US of its balance of payments. I worked for a whole year putting the US balance of payments together. That’s when I found the entire deficit was all military.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Debt 

Nearly half a millennium ago Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince described three options for how a conquering power might treat states that it defeated in war but that “have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom: … the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you.”[1]

Machiavelli preferred the first option, citing Rome’s destruction of Carthage. That is what the United States did to Iraq and Libya after 2001. But in today’s New Cold War the mode of destruction is largely economic, via trade and financial sanctions such as the United States has imposed on China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and other designated adversaries. The idea is to deny them key inputs, above all in essential technology and information processing, raw materials, and access to bank and financial connections, such as U.S. threats to expel Russia from the SWIFT bank-clearing system.

The second option is to occupy rivals. This is done only partially by the troops in America’s 800 military bases abroad. But the usual, more efficient occupation is by U.S. corporate takeovers of their basic infrastructure, owning their most lucrative assets and remitting their revenue back to the imperial core.

President Trump said that he wanted to seize Iraq’s and Syria’s oil as reparations for the cost of destroying their society. His successor, Joe Biden, sought in 2021 to appoint Hillary Clinton’s loyalist Neera Tanden to head the government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). She had urged that America should make Libya turn over its vast oil reserves as reparations for the cost of destroying its society. “We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil. Most Americans would choose not to engage in the world because of that deficit. If we want to continue to engage in the world, gestures like having oil rich countries partially pay us back doesn’t seem crazy to me.”[2]

U.S. strategists have preferred Machiavelli’s third option: To leave the defeated adversary nominally independent but to rule via client oligarchies. President Jimmy Carter’s national-security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski referred to them as “vassals,” in the classical medieval meaning of demanding loyalty to their American patrons, with a common interest in seeing the subject economy privatized, financialized, taxed and passed on to the United States for its patronage and support, based on a mutuality of interest against local democratic assertion of nationalistic self-reliance and keeping the economic surplus at home to promote domestic prosperity instead of being sent abroad.

That policy of privatization by a client oligarchy with its own source of wealth based on the U.S. orbit is what American neoliberal diplomacy accomplished in the former Soviet economies after 1991 to secure its Cold War victory over Soviet Communism. The way in which client oligarchies were created was a grabitization that utterly disrupted the economic interconnections integrating the economies. “To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires,” Brzezinski explained, “the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected and to keep the barbarians from coming together.”[3]

After reducing Germany and Japan to vassalage after defeating them in World War II, U.S. diplomacy quickly reduced the Britain and its imperial sterling area to vassalage by 1946, followed in due course by the rest of Western Europe and its former colonies. The next step was to isolate Russia and China, while keeping “the barbarians from coming together.” If they were to join up, warned Mr. Brzezinski, “the United States may have to determine how to cope with regional coalitions that seek to push America out of Eurasia, thereby threatening America’s status as a global power.”[4]

By 2016, Brzezinski saw Pax Americana unravelling from its failure to achieve these aims. He acknowledged that the United States “is no longer the globally imperial power.”[5] That is what has motivated its increasing antagonism toward China and Russia, along with Iran and Venezuela.

 

The problem was not Russia, whose Communist nomenklatura let their country be ruled by a Western-oriented kleptocracy, but China. The U.S.-China confrontation is not simply a national rivalry, but a conflict of economic and social systems. The reason why today’s world is being plunged into an economic and near-military Cold War 2.0 is to be found in the prospect of socialist control of what Western economies since classical antiquity have treated as privately owned rent-yielding assets: money and banking (along with the rules governing debt and foreclosure), land and natural resources, and infrastructure monopolies.

This contrast in whether money and credit, land and natural monopolies will be privatized and duly concentrated in the hands of a rentier oligarchy or used to promote general prosperity and growth has basically become one of finance capitalism and socialism. Yet in its broadest terms this conflict existed already 2500 years ago. in the contrast between Near Eastern kingship and the Greek and Roman oligarchies. These oligarchies, ostensibly democratic in superficial political form and sanctimonious ideology, fought against the concept of kingship. The source of that opposition was that royal power – or that of domestic “tyrants” – might sponsor what Greek and Roman democratic reformers were advocating: cancellation of debts to save populations from being reduced to debt bondage and dependency (and ultimately to serfdom), and redistribution of lands to prevent its ownership from becoming polarized and concentrated in the hands of creditors and-landlords.

From today’s U.S. vantage point, that polarization is the basic dynamic of today’s U.S.-sponsored neoliberalism. China and Russia are existential threats to the global expansion of financialized rentier wealth. Today’s Cold War 2.0 aims to deter China and potentially other counties from socializing their financial systems, land and natural resources, and keeping infrastructure utilities public to prevent their being monopolized in private hands to siphon off economic rents at the expense of productive investment in economic growth.

The United States hoped that China might be as gullible as the Soviet Union and adopt neoliberal policy permitting its wealth to be privatized and turned into rent-extracting privileges, to be sold off to Americans. “What the free world expected when it welcomed China into the free trade body [the World Trade Organization] in 2001,” explained Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr, trade advisor in the Reagan administration, was that, “from the time of Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of some market methods in 1979 and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 … increased trade with and investment in China would inevitably lead to the marketization of its economy, the demise of its state-owned enterprises.”[6]

But instead of adopting market-based neoliberalism, Mr. Prestowitz complained, China’s government supported industrial investment and kept money and debt control in its own hands. This government control was “at odds with the liberal, rules-based global system” along the neoliberal lines that had been imposed on the former Soviet economies after 1991. “More fundamentally,” Prestowitz summed up:

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: American Military, China, Neoliberalism, Russia 

TRANSCRIPT

Ibrahima: [00:00:00] Good morning or good evening, depending on where you are located and welcome to the Henry George School. My name is Ibrahima Drame and I’m the director of education. It’s a great honor to have you with us today for another joint webinar co-organized with the International Union for Land Value Taxation with two great thinkers, Professor Michael Hudson and Pepe Escobar to discuss the emerging economic world order.

I’d like to, thank Michael and Pepe for accepting to share their ideas with us my friend Alanna Hartzok co-founder of Earth Rights Institute, who will be moderating the session this morning. So, before I hand it over to Alana, I’d like to ask all attendees to keep muted until we open the Q&A session. And of course, in the meantime, you are free to use the chat and, please do so responsibly. So, Alanna, please go ahead and introduce our speakers.

Alanna: [00:00:55] Yes. Happy to do so I’m also an administrator for the International Union for Land Value Taxation, and we are on the web@theiu.org. I’m so delighted to have Michael Hudson and Pepe Escobar join us once again for “In Quest of a Multipolar World Order”.

Michael Hudson is an American economist and professor of economics at the university of Missouri, Kansas City and a researcher at the Levi Economics Institute at Bard college. He’s a former Wall Street analyst, political consultant, commentator, and journalist.

He’s also teaching at the University for Sustainability in Hong Kong. Michael was the author of J is for Junk Economics, Killing the Host, The Bubble and Beyond, Super Imperialism: the Economic Strategy of American Empire. And he has a new edition of that coming up now. Also, Trade Development and Foreign Debt ,and The Myth of Aid, and others.

Those books have been translated into Japanese, Chinese, German, Spanish, and Russian, and they are very popular in China right now, I might add.

Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is a correspondent editor at large at Asia times and columnist for Consortium News and Strategic Culture, Moscow. He has extensively covered Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, Iran, Iraq and the wider Middle East Pepe is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War, Red Zone Blues: a Snap of Bagdad during the Surge. He was contributing editor to the Empire and the Crescent. His last two books are Empire of Chaos and T he Raging Twenties: Great Power Rivalry Meets Techno Feudalism. Pepe is also associated with the Paris based European Academy of geopolitics.

He does have a new book out, The Raging Twenties, which is a collection of his excellent essays and articles for the several publications, for which he writes. So, when he’s not on the road and covering the New Silk Road, he is living in Sao Paulo, Paris, and most recently in Bangkok. So welcome both of you.

I must say that, for the chat, if you have questions, viewers, listeners, please ask your questions in the chat. And then we will ask them at the end of the conversation between Pepe and Michael. Thank you. Go right ahead.

Pepe Escobar: [00:03:38] Michael you want to start?

Michael Hudson: [00:03:41] Oh no, I don’t know what to talk about.

Pepe Escobar: [00:03:44] Come on now you should start. OK, why don’t you start with your last revised chapter for Super Imperialism.

Michael Hudson: [00:03:51] All right. 50 years ago, I wrote Super Imperialism about how America dominates the world financially, and gets a free ride.

I wrote it, right after America went off gold in 1971, when the Vietnam war – which was responsible for the entire balance-of-payments deficit – forced the country to go off gold. And everybody at that time worried the dollar was going to go down. There’d be hyperinflation. But what happened was something entirely different.

Once there was no gold to settle U.S. balance-of-payments deficits, America’s strong armed its allies to invest in US Treasury bonds, because central banks don’t buy companies. They don’t buy raw materials. All they could buy is other government bonds. So, all of a sudden, the only thing that other people could buy with all the dollars coming in were US Treasury securities. The securities they bought essentially were to finance yet more war making and the balance-of-payments deficit from war and the 800 military bases America has around the world.

The largest customer – I think we discussed this before – was the Defense Department and the CIA. They looked at it as a how-to-do-it book. That was 50 years ago. What I’ve done is not only re-edit the book and add more information that’s come out, but I’ve summarized how the last 50 years has transformed the world. It’s a new kind of imperialism. There was still a view, 50 years ago, that imperialism was purely economic, in the sense that there’s still a rivalry, for instance, between America and China, or America and Europe and other countries. But I think the world has changed so much in the last 50 years that what we have now is not really so much a conflict between America and China, or America and Russia, but between a financialized economy, run by financial planners allocating resources and government spending and money creation, and an economy run by governments democratic or less democratic, but certainly a mixed economy.

Everything that made industrial capitalism rich, everything that made America so strong on the 19th century, through its protective tariffs, through its public infrastructure investment all the way down through world war two and the aftermath, was that we had a mixed economy in America. Europe also had a mixed economy, and in fact, every economy since Babylon has had a mixed economy.

But in America you’ve had something entirely different since 1980. Something that was not foreseen by anybody, because it seemed to be so disruptive: namely, the financial sector saying, “We need liberty – for ourselves, from government.” By “liberty” they meant taking planning and subsidy, economic and tax policy, out of the hands of government and put into the hands of Wall Street. The result was libertarianism as a “free market.” In the form of a centralized economy that is concentrated in the hands of the financial centers – Wall Street, the City of London, the Paris Bourse. What you’re having today is an attempt by the financial sector to take on the role that the landlord class had in Europe, from feudal times through the 19th century. It’s a kind of resurgence of feudalism.

If you look at the last 200 years of economic theory from Adam Smith and Marx, onward, everybody expected a mixed economy to become more and more productive, and to free itself from the landlords – and also to free itself from banking. The expectation was to make land a public utility, the tax base, and to make finance basically something public. Government would decide who gets the funding. hus, the idea of finance in the public sector was going to be pretty much what it is in China: You create a bank credit in order to finance capital investment in factories. It means the production of machinery, agricultural modernization, transport infrastructure of high-speed trains, ports and all of that.

But in the United States and England, you have finance becoming something completely different. Banks don’t lend money to build factories. They don’t create money to make means of production. They make money to take over existing assets. Some 80% of bank loans are mortgage loans to transfer the ownership of real estate.

 

Out of habit, American economists worry about federal debt. But federal debt can be redeemed by the Federal Reserve printing the money with which to retire the bonds. The debt problem rests with individuals, companies, and state and local governments. They have no printing press.

We have explained that the indebtedness of the population means there is little discretionary income with which to drive the economy. The offshoring of middle class jobs lowered incomes, and after paying debt service—mortgage interest, car payments, credit card interest, student loan debt—Americans’ pockets are empty.

This situation has been worsened by Covid lockdowns. In the US the federal government has sent out a few Covid payments to help keep people’s heads above water as they face expenses without income. The financial press refers to these Covid checks as “fiscal stimulus,” but there is no stimulus. The Covid checks do not come close to replacing the missing wages, salaries and business profits from lockdowns.

Corporations have indebted themselves and impaired their capitalization by borrowing money with which to repurchase their stock. This has built up their debt in the face of stagnant or declining consumer discretionary income.

We propose to deal with the debt crisis by forgiving debts as was done in ancient times. Our basic premise is that debts that cannot be paid won’t be. Widespread foreclosures and evictions would further worsen the distribution of income and wealth and further contrain the ability of the economy to grow. Writing debt down to levels that can be serviced would clear the decks tor a real recovery. Income that would be siphoned off in debt service would instead be available to purchase new goods and services.

A few economists muttered that we were overlooking the “moral hazzard” of absolving people of their debts. But leaving the economy stagnated in debt is also a moral hazzard.

Policymakers did not endorse our proposal, but, in effect, policymakers adopted our policy. However, instead of forgiving the debt itself, they forgave payment of the debt service. Individuals and businesses who cannot pay their landlords or lenders cannot be evicted or foreclosed until June. This doesn’t hurt the lenders or banks, because the loans are not in default, and their balance sheet is not impaired. The banks add the unpaid payments to their assets, and their balance sheets remain sound.

When June arrives, the prohibition against eviction and foreclosure will have to be extended as the accrued debt service cannot be paid. Extending the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions will just build up arrears. Is the implication a perpetual moratorium?

The question is: If policymakers are willing to forgive debt service, why not just forgive the debt. The latter is neater and clears the decks for an economic renewal.

The US economy has been financialized. Debt has been built up without a corresponding gain in productive capital investment in order to carry the mounting debt.

In financialized capitalism, the main purpose of bank loans is to refinance existing investments, not to expand productive capacity with which to service the debt. It is not possible to grow out of debt in a financialized economy, because too much income is used for debt service. The way to deal with this problem is to write down debts.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Debt, Debt Jubilee, Government Debt 

Vrettos: 1. We’re waiting to see how the rhetoric of the new Biden administration will play out in actual policies.

Hudson: Biden’s long political career has been right-wing. He’s the senator from Delaware, the country’s most pro-corporate state – which is why most U.S. corporations are incorporated there. As such, he represents the banking and credit-card industry. He sponsored the regressive bankruptcy “reform” written and put into his hands by the credit-card companies. As a budget hawk, he’s rejected MMT, and also “Medicare for all” as if it is too expensive for the government to afford – thereby making the private sector afford to pay 18% of US GDP for health-insurance monopolies.

Hardly by surprise, Biden has chosen cabinet members as corporate lobbyists, including the new Secretary of Defense. And on February 9 he invited Jamie Dimon and other business leaders to the White House and asked them what they recommended. These billionaires said that they didn’t need $1.400, so why should anyone else? They pretended that spending money might cause inflation – yet we are in the midst of debt deflation and falling disposable income for most families.

Biden’s prejudices are why the Democratic National Committee pushed him as their candidate over Sanders, and why Rep. Jim Clyburn made his pharmaceutical industry backers happy by pushing Biden over the top in South Carolina, delivering the black vote in that state’s big primary.

What amazes me is the ability to attract this vote despite the degree to which Biden has sponsored legislation that hurts blacks and other minorities: his cutbacks in welfare spending, his anti-crime laws falling mainly on the black community, his bankruptcy laws, and of course his denial of universal public medical care to that part of the population with the highest death rates, shortest lifespans and worst medical care.

He has tried to cover up this history by appointing Neera Tanden as head of the budget, claiming that she’s a progressive presumably simply because she’s non-white. Yet she’s a leading opponent of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposals.

In our polarized economy, wages have stagnated since 1971 – home ownership rates have fallen as foreclosures, evictions and homelessness have jumped dramatically during the 2020-2021 Covid pandemic.

The big decline in home ownership was the result of Obama’s double-crossing his campaign promises by bailing out the banks and leaving all the junk-mortgage debts and other fraudulent loans on the books. This led to foreclosures and evictions of about 9 million American families, most of them Hispanic and black. Home ownership rates plunged from 68 to 61 percent of the population (an enormous and rapid 10% drop).

The covid epidemic is leading to enormous arrears mounting up – for renters and for mortgage debtors. Evictions have been suspended by moratoriums that expire in March or April, and unpaid mortgages have been added onto later due dates (with appropriate penalties making this remunerative for the banks).

So the question is whether Biden can outdo Obama in reducing U.S. home ownership rates by another 10% — say, to just 56% of the population.

Let’s look at what could be done – today and a decade ago. Obama and Biden COULD have written down the junk mortgages to realistic market prices (and thrown the mortgage brokers and bankers in jail for fraud). Instead, they supported the fraudsters against the voters who had been promised “hope and change.” Most of the millions of foreclosed homes were bought by absentee owners and turned into rental property. Companies such as Blackstone were major players. The evicted families entered the rent market – and U.S. rent charges have soared. So consumer income has been spent much more on real estate, finance and insurance than for goods and services.

It’s most severe and unstable at the bottom of the housing market where tenants who have lost jobs have amassed $11 billion in rental arrears — a broader measure which includes all delinquent renters puts the number at $53 billion.

There are two kinds of results. The first will be an enormous accrual of back-rent debts and mortgage arrears to be paid off. For commercial businesses such as restaurants, these arrears are so large that they probably will choose to go out of business rather than paying all the profits for the next few years to their landlords.

Unless these debts are written down, most of the population is too debt-strapped to buy goods and services. So corporate profits can come only from rising prices, or getting government subsidy,

A second result is going to be a rise in homelessness in many cities. Entire camps of evictees will be forming in tents, perhaps in the major parks – or on the subways as in the past.

Many properties will be sold – yet housing prices are still rising.

What are some of the specific racial effects of this housing and job crisis, what’s been the Bidden administration’s response so far and how does this relate to your own work on racial reparations measures?

The low rates of black home ownership reflect a vicious history of red-lining. Limiting the areas where non-whites can buy has gone together with charging much higher interest rates than white buyers receive.

Housing is the basic criterion for joining the middle class. And for a century, blacks were excluded, not only by banks but from the government mortgage-insurance programs dating from FDR’s reforms in the 1930s. That’s what made black buyers “more risky” and hence charged higher interest rates.

I grew up in Hyde Park, in Chicago. The University of Chicago and its property management companies were among the worst abusers. For them, a “free market” meant a market free of blacks. But in the late 1950s they saw that they could do “block busting,” that is, selling a home in a white neighborhood to a black buyer. This panicked the neighboring owners, who sold their homes. The buyers were largely the speculators, who flipped them to black buyers at marked-up prices.

That happened on my block, on 48th and Dorchester, a block from where Obama has bought his home. Once a few houses had changed hands, Mayor Daley condemned the block. My house was torn down, as were others, and the land is not gentrified.

To put the issue in perspective, think of the situation in 1945. That is when the great increase in middle-class wealth – today’s middle-class net worth – took off. It was limited to white people, because they were the only people who qualified for the great increase in net worth created by the house-price boom over the past 75 years.

The norm was that banks limited their mortgages to a level that would absorb up to 25% of a buyer’s salary. The buyer would get a self-amortizing mortgage, to be paid off in 30 years free and clear. This limit on debt leveraging kept housing affordable.

You and I have spoken about the issue of black reparations before. It’s very hard to pay reparations for slavery, because the enslaved families have died long ago. The reparations need to be paid to the living – and after all, it’s the living blacks who remain injured.

There is one way to make the black population economically as resilient as the white population has been. That is to give it the same deal that created most white middle-class wealth. The government should buy or build homes – private homes, just like white neighborhoods, not public housing. They should offer buyers the same deal that was given in 1945. Any black family would be given a home, with a mortgage of 25% of the household head’s income, to be amortized over 30 years.

 
• Category: Economics, Ideology • Tags: Banking Industry, Coronavirus, Joe Biden 
Presentation at the Oxford Economics Society

Oscar Brisset:

Welcome to the first event of the Oxford Economics Society for this academic year. I’m Oscar, the Co-President of our society, and I’m glad to welcome you back for another term of exciting discussions. Although we were hoping last term to be back in-person by January, due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in the UK our events this term are going to remain online, so that everyone at home can still participate.

A new year calls for new resolutions, and our society’s resolution for 2021 is to increase the diversity of economic topics discussed. To give you an idea, we’ll be hosting a presentation on Decolonising Economics and its role in Emerging Markets by Dr. Ingrid Kvangraven, the executive board member of Diversifying and Decolonising Economics. We’ll be hosting Prof. Randall Wray, a strong proponent of the much-discussed modern monetary theory, who was also as I just discovered, professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, like our guest today. We’ll also be hosting a presentation on the Young Scholars Initiative run by the Institute of New Economic Thinking at Oxford, a community some of you will definitely be interested in joining that brings together more than 15,000 young economists from around the world. Finally, we’ll be organizing a moderated discussion with the FT’s Chief Economics commentator Martin Wolf, and many other events of course.

To start us off, we are proud to host Michael Hudson, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, former balance-of-payments economist at Chase Manhattan, and an economic advisor to governments worldwide, including Iceland, Latvia and China, on finance and tax law. Now, nearly 50 years after the original publication of “Super Imperialism“, Professor Hudson will be discussing “Changes in Super Imperialism: The position of the USA & China in our Global Economic System”. How has the rise of China and the Covid-19 pandemic affected the USA’s capacity to control financial flows? How will the USA modify its behaviour as a result?

The talk will last 45 minutes, with 15 minutes of questions at the end. Make sure to send in your questions throughout the talk through our Pigeonhole page. The link should be in the description of this event. If you would like to re-watch our events, they’ll be posted to our YouTube channel afterwards.

Thank you for joining us, Professor Hudson…

Prof Hudson:

It’s good to be here. Thank you for inviting me, especially since you mentioned people that I’ve known for a long time. Randall Wray, both of us are now at the Levy Institute and working in other places, and Martin Wolf I’ve been friends with.

The reason that I’m writing a new version of Super Imperialism is that I was asked to by China, and I thought, “As long as they want to bring out a new translation and basically an update of the book, I might as well do it in English too.” I bought the rights back from Pluto and in about two or three months I will be reissuing the English language edition. The context for de-dollarization today by China, Russia and other countries is basically “How do you make an alternative to an international financial order that really was designed from the beginning to benefit the United States in its own self-interest?”

This issue was discussed after WWI when the intergovernmental debt system broke down into Allied debts and German reparations. It was discussed again at the 1930s when the United States sort of scuttled the London Economic Conference of 1933, and it was especially discussed in 1945 in December, in parliament. In the House of Commons, the British parliamentarians were discussing, “Do we want to accept the terms of the British loan?” which ended up being 3.75 billion USD, written down from what Keynes had wanted, or “Do we want to go it alone?”

It was the Conservative pro-empire Members of Parliament that wanted to reject the loan. Churchill wanted at least to abstain, but there was no alternative. In 1945 and again in 1971 when America moved off gold, in every case the alternative seemed to be anarchy. The U.S. strategy was to say, either you accept U.S. rules that favored the United States – in the beginning creditor rules, but debtor rules after 1971, and essentially gave it control of the world economy – or you go it alone and risk anarchy.

Britain was not able to go it alone in 1945. I did not include the parliamentary discussion in the first version of Super Imperialism, but I’ve included that discussion in the new version, because Britain said very clearly: “The United States basically wants to absorb the British Empire and the Sterling area into the Dollar area on its own terms and leave us almost broke. What can we do about it?” Both parties said: “We see that the United States is treating us, its ally in WWII, as a defeated party.” They came right out and said that. “But we don’t have an alternative because we can’t go alone. We have to rely on the United States.”

Let me review what the U.S. strategy is, and what’s led to major changes over time. Dollar supremacy was established after World War I by America’s creditor position. Something very novel happened after. In every previous war, for instance the Napoleonic wars and the earlier wars England had been involved with, the allies had forgiven all of their mutual debts at the end of the war. There was something that the British called “shared sacrifice”, and the idea was “We’re going to have a clean slate after the war.”

Tis idea goes all the way back to Babylonia in the second millennium BC. Throughout history there was a debt cancellation. There was no carryover of war debts after victory was achieved, because the idea was that if you leave war debts in place, that’s going to bankrupt the allies that you had during the war. It’s also going to bankrupt the defeated countries, and leave them no choice except to fight back.

The laws of Hammurabi showed this. His whole dynasty showed this. My book on Forgive Them Their Debts is a whole history of debt cancellations. But the United States broke this practice after WWI and said: “The debts have to be paid.” The amazing thing is that Europe went along with it. It had a pro-creditor ideology. It believed in the sanctity of debt, and was not going to question that because there was a guiding assumption – which is erroneous – that all debts somehow can be paid if only countries will either devalue or transform their economy, or impose austerity.

Keynes had a long debate with the anti-German Jacques Rueff of France and the American-Swede Bertil Ohlin. Keynes explained that there was no way that debtor countries like the allies or Germany could pay their debts to the creditor unless the creditor is willing to buy their exports, to provide them with the foreign exchange to pay. That debate obviously he won in reality, but that assumption was rejected by the United States, and continues to be rejected by the International Monetary Fund today. The junk economics that was brought in after World War One to consolidate the American position was: “Of course you can pay: simply destroy your economy and let us take you over, and sell out all of your industry and raw materials out to us, and that will enable you to pay.” That’s what the American demanded. It’s what the creditor demand has always been. Essentially you have to be willing to destroy your economy in order to pay your debts.

Keynes said this was crazy and he was right, but Europe went along with it and said, “Yes, we are willing to destroy our economies; we are willing to create the resentment for World War II rather than question the assumption that all the debts have to be paid.”

 
The rentier resurgence and takeover

Summary[1a]

Marx and many of his less radical contemporary reformers saw the historical role of industrial capitalism as being to clear away the legacy of feudalism – the landlords, bankers and monopolists extracting economic rent without producing real value. But that reform movement failed. Today, the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector has regained control of government, creating neo-rentier economies.

The aim of this post-industrial finance capitalism is the opposite of that of industrial capitalism as known to 19th-century economists: It seeks wealth primarily through the extraction of economic rent not industrial capital formation. Tax favoritism for real estate, privatization of oil and mineral extraction, banking and infrastructure monopolies add to the cost of living and doing business. Labor is being exploited increasingly by bank debt, student debt, credit-card debt, while housing and other prices are inflated on credit, leaving less income to spend on goods and services as economies suffer debt deflation.

Today’s New Cold War is a fight to internationalize this rentier capitalism by globally privatizing and financializing transportation, education, health care, prisons and policing, the post office and communications, and other sectors that formerly were kept in the public domain of European and American economies so as to keep their costs low and minimize their cost structure.

In the Western economies such privatizations have reversed the drive of industrial capitalism to minimize socially unnecessary costs of production and distribution. In addition to monopoly prices for privatized services, financial managers are cannibalizing industry by debt leveraging and high dividend payouts to increase stock prices.

• • •

Today’s neo-rentier economies obtain wealth mainly by rent seeking, while financialization capitalizes real estate and monopoly rent into bank loans, stocks and bonds. Debt leveraging to bid up prices and create capital gains on credit for this “virtual wealth” has been fueled by central bank Quantitative Easing since 2009.

Financial engineering is replacing industrial engineering. Over 90 percent of recent U.S. corporate income has been earmarked to raise the companies’ stock prices by being paid out as dividends to stockholders or spent on stock buyback programs. Many companies even borrow to buy up their own shares, raising their debt/equity ratios.

Households and industry are becoming debt-strapped, owing rent and debt service to the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector. This rentier overhead leaves less wage and profit income available to spend on goods and services, bringing to a close the 75-year U.S. and European expansion since World War II ended in 1945.

These rentier dynamics are the opposite of what Marx described as industrial capitalism’s laws of motion. German banking was indeed financing heavy industry under Bismarck, in association with the Reichsbank and military. But elsewhere, bank lending rarely has financed new tangible means of production. What promised to be a democratic and ultimately socialist dynamic has relapsed back toward feudalism and debt peonage, with the financial class today playing the role that the landlord class did in post-medieval times.

Marx’s view of the historical destiny of capitalism: to free economies from feudalism

The industrial capitalism that Marx described in Volume I of Capital is being dismantled. He saw the historical destiny of capitalism to be to free economies from the legacy of feudalism: a hereditary warlord class imposing tributary land rent, and usurious banking. He thought that as industrial capitalism evolved toward more enlightened management, and indeed toward socialism, it would replace predatory “usurious” finance, cutting away the economically and socially unnecessary rentier income, land rent and financial interest and related fees for unproductive credit. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Joseph Proudhon and their fellow classical economists had analyzed these phenomena, and Marx summarized their discussion in Volumes II and III of Capital and his parallel Theories of Surplus Value dealing with economic rent and the mathematics of compound interest, which causes debt to grow exponentially at a higher rate than the rest of the economy.

However, Marx devoted Volume I of Capital to industrial capitalism’s most obvious characteristic: the drive to make profits by investing in means of production to employ wage labor to produce goods and services to sell at a markup over what labor was paid. Analyzing surplus value by adjusting profit rates to take account of outlays for plant, equipment and materials (the “organic composition of capital”), Marx described a circular flow in which capitalist employers pay wages to their workers and invest their profits in plant and equipment with the surplus not paid to employees.

Finance capitalism has eroded this core circulation between labor and industrial capital. Much of the midwestern United States has been turning into a rust belt. Instead of the financial sector evolving to fund capital investment in manufacturing, industry is being financialized. Making economic gains financially, primarily by debt leverage, far outstrips making profits by hiring employees to produce goods and services.

Capitalism’s alliance of banks with industry to promote democratic political reform

The capitalism of Marx’s day still contained many survivals from feudalism, most notably a hereditary landlord class living off the land rents, most of which were spent unproductively on servants and luxuries, not to make a profit. These rents had originated in a tax. Twenty years after the Norman Conquest, William the Conquer had ordered compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086 to calculate the yield that could be extracted as taxes from the English land that he and his companions had seized. As a result of King John’s overbearing fiscal demands, the Revolt of the Barons (1215-17) and their Magna Carta enabled the leading warlords to obtain much of this rent for themselves. Marx explained that industrial capitalism was politically radical in seeking to free itself from the burden of having to support this privileged landlord class, receiving income with no basis in cost value or enterprise of its own.

Industrialists sought to win markets by cutting costs below those of their competitors. That aim required freeing the entire economy from the “faux frais” of production, socially unnecessary charges built into the cost of living and doing business. Classical economic rent was defined as the excess of price above intrinsic cost-value, the latter being ultimately reducible to labor costs. Productive labor was defined as that employed to create a profit, in contrast to the servants and retainers (coachmen, butlers, cooks, et al.) on whom landlords spent much of their rent.

The paradigmatic form of economic rent was the ground rent paid to Europe’s hereditary aristocracy. As John Stuart Mill explained, landlords reaped rents (and rising land prices) “in their sleep.” Ricardo had pointed out (in Chapter 2 of his 1817 Principles of Political Economy and Taxation) a kindred form of differential rent in natural-resource rent stemming from the ability of mines with high-quality orebodies to sell their lower-cost mineral output at prices set by high-cost mines. Finally, there was monopoly rent paid to owners at choke points in the economy where they could extract rents without a basis in any cost outlay. Such rents logically included financial interest, fees and penalties.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banking Industry, Finance, Wall Street 

Michael Hudson and Pepe Escobar last month took a hard look at rent and rent-seeking at the Henry George School of Social Science.

Michael Hudson: Well, I’m honored to be here on the same show with Pepe and discuss our mutual concern. And I think you have to frame the whole issue that China is thriving, and the West has reached the end of the whole 75-year expansion it had since 1945.

So, there was an illusion that America is de-industrializing because of competition from China. And the reality is there is no way that America can re-industrialize and regain its export markets with the way that it’s organized today, financialized and privatized and if China didn’t exist. You’d still have the Rust Belt rusting out. You’d still have American industry not being able to compete abroad simply because the cost structure is so high in the United States.

Michael Hudson. (Wikimedia Commons)
Michael Hudson. (Wikimedia Commons)

The wealth is no longer made here by industrializing. It’s made financially, mainly by making capital gains. Rising prices for real estate or for stocks and for bonds. In the last nine months, since the coronavirus came here, the top 1 percent of the U.S. economy grew by $1 trillion. It’s been a windfall for the 1 percent. The stock market is way up, the bond market is up, the real estate market is up while the rest of the economy is going down. Despite the tariffs that Trump put on, Chinese imports, trade with China is going up because we’re just not producing materials.

America doesn’t make its own shoes. It doesn’t make some nuts and bolts or fasteners, it doesn’t make industrial things anymore because if money is to be made off an industrial company it’s to buy and sell the company, not to make loans to increase the company’s production. New York City, where I live, used to be an industrial city and, the industrial buildings, the mercantile buildings have all been gentrified into high-priced real estate and the result is that Americans have to pay so much money on education, rent, medical care that if they got all of their physical needs, their food, their clothing, all the goods and services for nothing, they still couldn’t compete with foreign labor because of all of the costs that they have to pay that are essentially called rent-seeking.

Housing in the United States now absorbs about 40 percent of the average worker’s paycheck. There’s 15 percent taken off the top of paychecks for pensions, Social Security and for Medicare. Further medical insurance adds more to the paycheck, income taxes and sales taxes add about another 10 percent. Then you have student loans and bank debt. So basically, the American worker can only spend about one third of his or her income on buying the goods and services they produce. All the rest goes into the FIRE sector — the finance, insurance and real estate sector — and other monopolies.

And essentially, we became what’s called a rent-seeking economy, not a productive economy. So, when people in Washington talk about American capitalism versus Chinese socialism this is confusing the issue. What kind of capitalism are we talking about?

America used to have industrial capitalism in the 19th century. That’s how it got richer originally but now it’s moved away from industrial capitalism towards finance capitalism. And what that means is that essentially the mixed economy that made America rich — where the government would invest in education and infrastructure and transportation and provide these at low costs so that the employers didn’t have to pay labor to afford high costs — all of this has been transformed over the last hundred years.

And we’ve moved away from the whole ethic of what was industrial capitalism. Before, the idea of capitalism in the 19th century from Adam Smith to Ricardo, to John Stuart Mill to Marx was very clear and Marx stated it quite clearly; capitalism was revolutionary. It was to get rid of the landlord class. It was to get rid of the rentier class. It was to get rid of the banking class essentially, and just bear all the costs that were unnecessary for production, because how did England and America and Germany gain their markets?

“We’ve moved away from the whole ethic of what was industrial capitalism.”

They gained their markets basically by the government picking up a lot of the costs of the economy. The government in America provided low-cost education, not student debt. It provided transportation at subsidized prices. It provided basic infrastructure at low cost. And so, government infrastructure was considered a fourth factor of production.

And if you read what the business schools in the late 19th century taught like Simon Patten at the Wharton School, it’s very much like socialism. In fact, it’s very much like what China is doing. And in fact, China is following in the last 30 or 40 years pretty much the same way of getting rich that America followed.

It had its government fund basic infrastructure. It provides low-cost education. It invests in high-speed railroads and airports, in the building of cities. So, the government bears most of the costs and, that means that employers don’t have to pay workers enough to pay a student loan debt. They don’t have to pay workers enough to pay enormous rent such as you have in the United States. They don’t have to pay workers to save for a pension fund, to pay the pension later on. And most of all the Chinese economy doesn’t really have to pay a banking class because banking is the most important public utility of all. Banking is what China has kept in the hands of government and Chinese banks don’t lend for the same reasons that American banks lend.

Shanghai’s Pudong district from The Bund. (CC0, Wikimedia Commons)
Shanghai’s Pudong district from The Bund. (CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

(When I said that China can pay lower wages than the U.S., what I meant was that China provides as public services many things that American workers have to pay out of their own pockets – such as health care, free education, subsidized education, and above all, much lower debt service.

When workers have to go into debt in order to live, they need much higher wages to keep solvent. When they have to pay for their own health insurance, they have to earn more. The same is true of education and student debt. So much of what Americans seem to be earning — more than workers in other countries — goes right through their hands to the FIRE sector. So, what seems to be “low wages” in China go a lot further than higher wages in the United States.)

Eighty percent of American bank loans are mortgage loans to real estate and the effect of loosening loan standards and increasing the market for real estate is to push up the cost of living, push up the cost of housing. So, Americans have to pay more and more money for their housing whether they’re renters or they’re buyers, in which case the rent is for paying mortgage interest.

So, all of this cost structure has been built into the economy. China’s been able pretty much, to avoid all of this, because its objective in banking is not to make a profit and interest, not to make capital gains and speculation. It creates money to fund actual means of production to build factories, to build research and development, to build transportation facilities, to build infrastructure. Banks in America don’t lend for that kind of thing.

“So, you have a diametric opposite philosophy of how to develop between the United States and China.”

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banking Industry, Rentier, Wall Street 

Ross Welcome to Renegade Inc. However you look at it, 2020 was a train wreck. So as we look forward to 2021, we wanted to get political and economic insight from two friends of the show. Chris Williamson and Michael Hudson share their views on what we can look out for in the new year.

Ross Michael Hudson, fantastic to have you back at Renegade Inc.

Michael Hudson Good to be back, Ross.

Ross Michael, describe 2020 in one word.

Michael Hudson In one word? The pandemic, setting the stage for homelessness.

Ross Wow! what is the one thing? Because we focused hard on the negative throughout the year. What’s the one thing you think has been positive or been something that’s transpired from this pandemic which actually we should look at and think, you know what, that’s quite a good bit of advancement?

Michael Hudson Well, the pandemic’s been a bonanza for the stock market and for the wealthiest one percent. They’ve gained a trillion dollars since the start of the pandemic. Amazon stock is going through the roof. And with 70 percent of restaurants in New York City going bankrupt, this is made Doordash and other Internet firms make a fortune by essentially wiping out the restaurants, taking 30 percent of the receipts and the charge for the restaurant menu. Essentially, this puts most restaurants in America out of business.

That means that it’s a bonanza for the really big companies to pick up all the slack now that you’re wiping out the middle class. It’s a great prospect for private capital real estate companies like Blackstone, because they can buy a huge number of foreclosed properties and empty properties that can’t be rented out and Blackstone can pick up these homes that are defaulted on, buy them out, turn them into rental property and make a fortune by raising the cost of housing in the United States, all increasing the rent by the people who have lost the jobs. And it’s great prospects for the big restaurant chains, McDonald’s and the others. The big chains can survive, whereas the small individual restaurants have basically been driven out of business. So if you’re a billionaire, it’s been just a wonderful year.

Ross So we’re talking about the One Percent here as the late, great David Graeber termed?

Michael Hudson But if you look at Donald Trump, that is the economy. When he says the economy’s getting better, he means the One Percent is getting better. Is that what you’re talking about?

Ross But isn’t it the case in the US, your president and lots of others confuse the stock market and the real economy. We’re not in an industrial capitalist society in the US and the UK anymore. It’s a rentier financial capitalist society. And that confusion between the stock market doing well and the real economy, doing well. Actually, those two things are starkly different, aren’t they?

Michael Hudson Yes, of course. So if you say what’s been good, all the good is indeed for the rentier economy. All the good is for the stock market, for the absentee property owners, for the big chains, but not good for the 99 percent. They’re pretty much left behind.

Ross Is there going to be a lot of what is called jingle mail in the US, which is basically owner occupiers sending keys back, saying it is totally economically unviable for us to even consider reopening this restaurant, small business, whatever it might be?

Michael Hudson The only people who are going to voluntarily walk away from buildings are basically absentee owners of commercial buildings. There’s going to be a great shortage, a great downsizing, of our commercial properties, especially because so many businesses have gone out of business. Jingle mail was basically on private homeowners whose mortgage was far above the actual market value. The mortgages were not written down and so these were voluntarily walking away. But housing prices have gone up in the United States. So nobody’s going to want to voluntarily walk away from their home. If you’ve been unemployed, haven’t got a pay cheque and are not able to pay your mortgage, you’re going to want to stay there and put off eviction for just as long as you can. But if you’ve invested in a small office building that had a restaurant on the ground floor and its offices have now decided that everybody can work from home, we don’t need so much office space anymore. In that case the heavily mortgaged commercial owner may walk away. That’s going to affect primarily the smaller banks, the community banks that have made most of these small loans to small business owners. The big absentee owners have gone to the big banks, Chase and Citigroup etc. So you’re going to have a weakening of the small banks and the community banks and they’ll probably be absorbed into the larger banks as a result.

Ross What do you think was revealed in 2020 that we all intuitively knew but couldn’t actually see because it hadn’t crystallized?

Michael Hudson Well, it’s obvious that the economy never recovered from the Obama depression after he bailed out the banks, not the economy. So the question is, how long can the economy limp along without recovery?

Well, it’s obvious now that the debts can’t be paid, but the coronavirus only catalyzed that. It’s made it even clearer. So in a sense, the Biden administration is going to be picking up just where the Obama administration left off, namely with huge evictions. Obama evicted about 10 million families. Most of them were black and Hispanic, lower income families who were the victims of the chump mortgages. Biden’s going to start his administration by kicking out probably another five million families. Again, black and Hispanic families are going to be the big losers because they were the people who had the highest coronavirus or were the first to be laid off. So it’s going to begin with a large eviction.

This reverses the trend in homeownership going up to 2008. It’s been going down, and this is going to continue now. People somehow imagined that there was going to be a recovery, that somehow we could recover from the post 2008 breakdown. But now it’s obvious we can’t recover. You’re going to have the polarization of the economy that has been occurring for the last 12 years. It will simply accelerate.

Ross What do you think are the megatrends that we should be looking at in 2021? What do you think is the direction of travel, if you like, for so-called developed economies?

Michael Hudson Well, the big trend in any economy is the growth of debt, because the debt grows exponentially. The economy has painted itself into a debt corner. We can see that in real estate. We can see that for small business. There’s also almost no way to recover. The Federal Reserve has been printing quantitative easing to keep stock and bonds high. But for the real economy, the trend is polarization and lower employment.

The trend also is that state and local finances are broke, especially in the biggest cities, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’re not getting income tax revenue from the unemployed or closed businesses. They’re not getting the real estate tax with so many defaults and mortgage arrears. In New York City there’s talk of cutting back the subways by 70 percent. People will be afraid to take the subways when they’re overcrowded with people with the virus. So you’re having a breakdown not only in state and local finances, but of public services that are state run – public transportation services, health services, education is being downsized. Everything that is funded out of state and local budgets is going to suffer.

And living standards are going to be very sharply downward as people realize how many services they got are dependent on public infrastructure.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banking Industry, Coronavirus, Wall Street 
Michael Hudson
About Michael Hudson

Michael Hudson is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of The Bubble and Beyond (2012), Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1968 & 2003), Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (1992 & 2009) and of The Myth of Aid (1971).

ISLET engages in research regarding domestic and international finance, national income and balance-sheet accounting with regard to real estate, and the economic history of the ancient Near East.

Michael acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and tax law.