Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

The Populist Revolution: Bernie and Beyond

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Ellen Brown

CommUnity of Minds–Ellen Brown writes: The world is undergoing a populist revival. From the revolt against austerity led by the Syriza Party in Greece and the Podemos Party in Spain, to Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise victory as Labour leader in the UK, to Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican polls, to Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton – contenders with their fingers on the popular pulse are surging ahead of their establishment rivals.

Today’s populist revolt mimics an earlier one that reached its peak in the US in the 1890s. Then it was all about challenging Wall Street, reclaiming the government’s power to create money, curing rampant deflation with US Notes (Greenbacks) or silver coins (then considered the money of the people), nationalizing the banks, and establishing a central bank that actually responded to the will of the people.

Over a century later, Occupy Wall Street revived the populist challenge, armed this time with the Internet and mass media to spread the word. The Occupy movement shined a spotlight on the corrupt culture of greed unleashed by deregulating Wall Street, widening the yawning gap between the 1% and the 99% and destroying jobs, households and the economy.

Donald Trump’s populist campaign has not focused much on Wall Street; but Bernie Sanders’ has, in spades. Sanders has picked as will so will I figure up the baton where Occupy left off, and the disenfranchised Millennials who composed that movement have flocked behind him. (02/03/2016)

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Wealth of richest 1% ‘equal to other 99%’

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

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BBC  Business News — The richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, according to Oxfam. It uses data from Credit Suisse from October for the report, which urges leaders meeting in Davos this week to take action on inequality. Oxfam also calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.

It criticised the work of lobbyists and the amount of money kept in tax havens. Oxfam predicted that the 1% would overtake the rest of the world this time last year.

It takes cash and assets worth $68,800 (£48,300) to get into the top 10%, and $760,000 (£533,000) to be in the 1%. That means that if you own an average house in London without a mortgage, you are probably in the 1%.

The figures carry various caveats, for example, information about the wealth of the super-rich is hard to come by, which Credit Suisse says means its estimates of the proportion of wealth held by the 10% and the 1% is “likely to err on the low side”.

As a global report, the figures also necessarily include some estimates of levels of wealth in countries from which accurate statistics are not available. Oxfam said that the 62 richest people having as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the population is a remarkable concentration of wealth, given that it would have taken 388 individuals to have the same wealth as the bottom 50% in 2010. (01/17/2016)

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Inequality and Modernization

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Ronald Inglehart

Foreign Affairs — Ronald Inglehart writes: During the past century, economic inequality in the developed world has traced a massive U-shaped curve—starting high, curving downward, then curving sharply back up again. In 1915, the richest one percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all national income. Their share plummeted in the 1930s and remained below ten percent through the 1970s, but by 2007, it had risen to 24 percent. Looking at household wealth rather than income, the rise of inequality has been even greater, with the share owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent from nine percent three decades ago. In 2011, the top one percent of U.S. households controlled 40 percent of the nation’s entire wealth. And while the U.S. case may be extreme, it is far from unique: all but a few of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for which data are available experienced rising income inequality (before taxes and transfers) during the period from 1980 to 2009.

The French economist Thomas Piketty has famously interpreted this data by arguing that a tendency toward economic inequality is an inherent feature of capitalism. He sees the middle decades of the twentieth century, during which inequality declined, as an exception to the rule, produced by essentially random shocks—the two world wars and the Great Depression—that led governments to adopt policies that redistributed income. Now that the influence of those shocks has receded, life is returning to normal, with economic and political power concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy.

Piketty’s work has been corrected on some details, but his claim that economic inequality is rising rapidly in most developed countries is clearly accurate. What most analyses of the subject miss, however, is the extent to which both the initial fall and the subsequent rise of inequality over the past century have been related to shifts in the balance of power between elites and masses, driven by the ongoing process of modernization.

In hunting-and-gathering societies, virtually everyone possessed the skills needed for political participation. Communication was by word of mouth, referring to things one knew of firsthand, and decision-making often occurred in village councils that included every adult male. Societies were relatively egalitarian.

The invention of agriculture gave rise to sedentary communities producing enough food to support elites with specialized military and communication skills. Literate administrators made it possible to coordinate large empires governing millions of people. This much larger scale of politics required specialized skills, including the ability to read and write. Word-of-mouth communication was no longer sufficient for political participation: messages had to be sent across great distances. Human memory was incapable of recording the tax base or military manpower of large numbers of districts: written records were needed. And personal loyalties were inadequate to hold together large empires: legitimating myths had to be propagated by religious or ideological specialists. This opened up a wide gap between a relatively skilled ruling class and the population as a whole, which consisted mainly of scattered, illiterate peasants who lacked the skills needed to cope with politics at a distance. And along with that gap, economic inequality increased dramatically. (01/16/2016)

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A Flaw in the Monetary System?

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

MonNetA — The Money Network Alliance was founded in 2003, in response to the need for a professional networking entity for research, development and the support of complementary currencies and new money systems.  (08/07/2013)

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The Public Bank Solution: San Francisco

Monday, August 5th, 2013

CommUnity of Minds — Ellen Brown writes: When the Occupiers took an interest in moving San Francisco’s money into a city-owned bank in 2011, it was chiefly on principle, in sympathy with the nationwide Move Your Money campaign. But recent scandals have transformed the move from a political statement into a matter of protecting the city’s deposits and reducing its debt burden. The chief roadblock to forming a municipal bank has been the concern that it was not allowed under state law, but a legal opinion issued by Deputy City Attorney Thomas J. Owen has now overcome that obstacle.

Establishing a city-owned San Francisco Bank is not a new idea. According to City Supervisor John Avalos, speaking at the Public Banking Institute conference in San Rafael in June, it has been on the table for over a decade. Recent interest was spurred by the Occupy movement, which adopted the proposal after Avalos presented it to an enthusiastic group of over 1,000 protesters outside the Bank of America building in late 2011. David Weidner, writing in The Wall Street Journal in December of that year, called it “the boldest institutional stroke yet against banks targeted by the Occupy movement.” But Weidner conceded that:

“Creating a municipal bank won’t be easy. California law forbids using taxpayer money to make private loans. That would have to be changed. Critics also argue that San Francisco could be putting taxpayer money at risk.”

The law in question was California Government Code Section 23007, which prohibits a county from “giv[ing] or loan[ing] its credit to or in aid of any person or corporation.” The section has been interpreted as barring cities and counties from establishing municipal banks. But Deputy City Attorney Thomas J. Owen has now put that issue to rest in a written memorandum dated June 21, 2013, in which he states:

“1. A court would likely conclude that Section 23007 does not cover San Francisco because the City is a chartered city and county. Similarly, a court would likely conclude that Article XVI, section 6 of the State Constitution, which limits the power of the State Legislature to give or lend the credit of cities or counties, does not apply to the City. . . . [A] court would likely then determine that neither those laws nor the general limitations on expending City funds for a municipal purpose bar the City from establishing a municipal bank.2. A court would likely conclude that the City may own stock in a municipal bank and spend City money to support the bank’s operation, if the City appropriated funds for that purpose and the operation of the bank served a legitimate municipal purpose.”

A number of other California cities that have explored forming their own banks are also affected by this opinion. As of June 2008, 112 of California’s 478 cities are charter cities, including not only San Francisco but Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and Berkeley. A charter city is one governed by its own charter document rather than by local, state or national laws.

That leaves the question whether a publicly-owned bank would put taxpayer money at risk. The Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned bank, has posed no risk to depositors or the state’s taxpayers in nearly a century of successful operation. Further, in this latest recession it has helped the state achieve a nationwide low in unemployment (3.2 percent) and the only budget surplus in the country.

Meanwhile, the recent wave of bank scandals has shifted the focus to whether local governments can afford to risk keeping their funds in Wall Street banks. (08/05/2013)

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Winner Takes All

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Web of Debt BookWeb of Debt — Ellen Brown writes: Cyprus-style confiscation of depositor funds has been called the “new normal.”  Bail-in policies are appearing in multiple countries directing failing TBTF banks to convert the funds of “unsecured creditors” into capital; and those creditors, it turns out, include ordinary depositors. Even “secured” creditors, including state and local governments, may be at risk.  Derivatives have “super-priority” status in bankruptcy, and Dodd Frank precludes further taxpayer bailouts. In a big derivatives bust, there may be no collateral left for the creditors who are next in line.

Shock waves went around the world when the IMF, the EU, and the ECB not only approved but mandated the confiscation of depositor funds to “bail in” two bankrupt banks in Cyprus. A “bail in” is a quantum leap beyond a “bail out.” When governments are no longer willing to use taxpayer money to bail out banks that have gambled away their capital, the banks are now being instructed to “recapitalize” themselves by confiscating the funds of their creditors, turning debt into equity, or stock; and the “creditors” include the depositors who put their money in the bank thinking it was a secure place to store their savings.

The Cyprus bail-in was not a one-off emergency measure but was consistent with similar policies already in the works for the US, UK, EU, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, as detailed in my earlier articles here and here.  “Too big to fail” now trumps all.  Rather than banks being put into bankruptcy to salvage the deposits of their customers, the customers will be put into bankruptcy to save the banks.

The big risk behind all this is the massive $230 trillion derivatives boondoggle managed by US banks. Derivatives are sold as a kind of insurance for managing profits and risk; but as Satyajit Das points out in Extreme Money, they actually increase risk to the system as a whole.

In the US after the Glass-Steagall Act was implemented in 1933, a bank could not gamble with depositor funds for its own account; but in 1999, that barrier was removed. Recent congressional investigations have revealed that in the biggest derivative banks, JPMorgan and Bank of America, massive commingling has occurred between their depository arms and their unregulated and highly vulnerable derivatives arms.  (04/18/2013)

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Money for the People

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Web of Debt — Ellen Brown writes: Comedian Beppe Grillo was surprised himself when his Five Star Movement got 8.7 million votes in the Italian general election of February 24-25th. His movement is now the biggest single party in the chamber of deputies, says The Guardian, which makes him “a kingmaker in a hung parliament.”

Grillo’s is the party of “no.” In a candidacy based on satire, he organized an annual “V Day Celebration,” the “V” standing for vaffanculo (“f—k off”). He rejects the status quo—all the existing parties and their monopoly control of politics, jobs, and financing—and seeks a referendum on all international treaties, including NATO membership, free trade agreements and the Euro.

“If we get into parliament,” says Grillo, “we would bring the old system down, not because we would enjoy doing so but because the system is rotten.” Critics fear, and supporters hope, that if his party succeeds, it could break the Euro system. …

One of  Grillo’s  proposals is a guaranteed basic income, is not just an off-the-wall, utopian idea either. A national dividend has been urged by the “Social Credit” school of monetary reform for nearly a century, and the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network has held a dozen annual conferences. They feel that a guaranteed basic income is the key to keeping modern, highly productive economies humming.

In Europe, the proposal is being pursued not just by Grillo’s southern European party but by the sober Swiss of the north. An initiative to establish a new federal law for an unconditional basic income was formally introduced in Switzerland in April 2012. The idea consists of giving to all citizens a monthly income that is neither means-tested nor work-related. Under the Swiss referendum system of direct democracy, if the initiative gathers more than 100,000 signatures before October 2013, the Federal Assembly is required to look into it. …

A basic income guarantee paid for with central bank credit would not be “welfare” but would eliminate the need for welfare. It would be social security for all, replacing social security payments, unemployment insurance, and welfare taxes. It could also replace much of the consumer debt that is choking the private economy, growing exponentially at usurious compound interest rates. As Grillo points out, it is not the cost of government but the cost of money itself that has bankrupted Italy. If the country wishes to free itself from the shackles of debt and restore the prosperity it once had, it will need to take back its monetary sovereignty and issue its own money, either directly or through its own nationalized central bank. If Grillo’s party comes to power and follows through with his platform, those shackles on the Italian economy might actually be released. (04/15/2013)

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How the Fed Could Fix the Economy—and Why It Hasn’t

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

http://espacioseuropeos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ellen-brown.jpgCommUnity of Minds Ellen Brown writes: Quantitative easing (QE) is supposed to stimulate the economy by adding money to the money supply, increasing demand. But so far, it hasn’t been working. Why not? Because as practiced for the last two decades, QE does not actually increase the circulating money supply. It merely cleans up the toxic balance sheets of banks. A real “helicopter drop” that puts money into the pockets of consumers and businesses has not yet been tried. Why not?  Another good question . . .

When Ben Bernanke gave his famous helicopter money speech to the Japanese in 2002, he was not yet chairman of the Federal Reserve.  He said then that the government could easily reverse a deflation, just by printing money and dropping it from helicopters. “The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent),” he said, “that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.” Later in the speech he discussed “a money-financed tax cut,” which he said was “essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman’s famous ‘helicopter drop’ of money.” Deflation could be cured, said Professor Friedman, simply by dropping money from helicopters.

It seemed logical enough. If the money supply were insufficient for the needs of trade, the solution was to add money to it. Most of the circulating money supply consists of “bank credit” created by banks when they make loans. When old loans are paid off faster than new loans are taken out (as is happening today), the money supply shrinks. The purpose of QE is to reverse this contraction.

But if debt deflation is so easy to fix, then why have the Fed’s massive attempts to pull this maneuver off failed to revive the economy? And why is Japan still suffering from deflation after 20 years of quantitative easing? (03/16/2013)

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In Plain Sight: A Debt Solution for the People

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Common Dreams — Ellen Brown writes: The Trillion Dollar Coin: Far from being a gimmick, having the U.S. Treasury mint high-denomination coins is a solution that cuts to the root of America’s financial problems. And Benjamin Franklin would have liked it, too. …

We have forgotten the role that money issued directly by the government has played in our history. The American colonists did not think it was silly when they escaped a grinding debt to British bankers and a chronically short money supply by printing their own paper scrip, an innovative solution that allowed the colonies to thrive.

Many people believe that the U.S. government creates its own money. This is not true. Today, the Federal Reserve creates trillions of dollars on its books and lends them at near-zero interest to private banks, which then lend them back to the government and the people at market rates. We have been brainwashed into thinking that it makes more sense to do this than for the government to simply create the money itself, debt- and interest-free.

In fact, the trillion dollar coin represents one of the most important principles of popular prosperity ever conceived: nations should be free to create their own money without incurring debt. Some of our greatest leaders, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, promoted this essential strategy. They realized that the freedom to print money offers a way to break the shackles of debt and free the nation to realize its full potential. …

Everyone knows that Benjamin Franklin played an important role in the founding of the United States. Fewer know his views on the printing of money. “Experience, more prevalent than all the logic in the World,” he wrote, “has fully convinced us all, that [paper money] has been, and is now of the greatest advantages to the country.”

When the British forbade new issues of paper scrip by the colonial governments, Franklin went to London and argued that issuing their own money was responsible for the colonies’ prosperity.

The response of the king, leaned on by the Bank of England, was to ban all issues of paper scrip. Without their paper money, the money supply collapsed, and the economy sank into a deep recession. The colonists then rebelled. They won the revolution, but the bankers retained the power to create money by setting up a banking system like that dominated by the Bank of England.

Fourscore and six years later, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln boldly took back the power to create money during the Civil War. To avoid exorbitant interest rates of 24 to 36 percent, he decided to print money directly from the U.S. Treasury as U.S. Notes or “greenbacks.” The issuance of $450 million in greenbacks was the key to funding not only the North’s victory in the war but an array of pivotal infrastructure projects, including a transcontinental railway system. (01/20/13)

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Taxing the Rich to make Investments that grow the Middle Class

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Read more here. (09/23/12)