Published: Thursday 15 November 2012
As the movement for that strong social safety net grows around the world, and locally here at home, the mandate is clear: Austerity is not the answer.

Amaia Engana didn’t wait to be evicted from her home. On Nov. 9, in the town of Barakaldo, a suburb of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country, officials from the local judiciary were on their way to serve her eviction papers. Amaia stood on a chair and threw herself out of her fifth-floor apartment window, dying instantly on impact on the sidewalk below. She was the second person in two weeks in Spain to commit suicide as a result of an impending foreclosure action. Her suicide has added gravity to this week’s general strike radiating from the streets of Madrid across all of Europe. As resistance to so-called austerity in Europe becomes increasingly transnational and coordinated, President Barack Obama and the House Republicans begin their debate to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The fight is over fair tax rates, budget priorities and whether we as a society will sustain the social safety net built during the past 80 years.

The general strike that swept across Europe Nov. 14 had its genesis in the deepening crisis in Spain, Portugal and Greece. As a result of the global economic collapse in 2008, Spain is in a deep financial crisis. Unemployment has surpassed 25 percent, and among young people is estimated at 50 percent. Large banks have enjoyed bailouts while they enforce mortgages that an increasing number of Spaniards are unable to meet, provoking increasing numbers of foreclosures and attempted evictions. “Attempted” because, in response to the epidemic of evictions in Spain, a direct-action movement has grown to prevent them. In city after city, individuals and groups have networked, creating rapid-response teams that flood the street outside a threatened apartment. When officials arrive to deliver the ...

Published: Thursday 4 October 2012
Republicans will blame their defeat in November on the Fed’s monetary stimulus (if not on the ineffectiveness of Mitt Romney’s blunder-filled campaign).

James Carville, Bill Clinton’s chief campaign strategist in 1992, famously expressed a bit of established insider wisdom about winning elections: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Incumbents win if the economic outlook is rosy, and are vulnerable – as George H. W. Bush was – when times are hard. Indeed, throughout Europe – in France, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom – governments have been turned out of office in the face of a crisis that they have seemed unable to address.

By this standard, President Barack Obama should now be in a hopeless situation. According to United States Census data, household income fell in 2011 for the fourth consecutive year. Unemployment remains persistently high, despite the $787 billion stimulus package in 2009, and house prices, though recovering slowly, remain far below their pre-2008 peak.

And yet Obama seems likely to be reelected in November. One reason is that there is no reliable way to render an instant judgment about ...

Published: Saturday 1 September 2012
Published: Thursday 14 June 2012
“Of all the hypocritical hype resonating through the rhetoric of these Republicans, none is more damaging than the myth of free market and the jive about private-sector job creators.”

Late this summer, August 27-30, the world will once again be treated to the spectacle of a Republic National Convention.  It's only fitting that this one will be held in Tampa, Florida, the state that made it possible for George W. Bush to steal the election in 2000.  The convention is a sure bet to be a theater of the absurd, but this year the candidate it anoints and the speeches that sing his praises will highlight the hypocrisy of the new Grand Old Party like never before.

Of all the hypocritical hype resonating through the rhetoric of these Republicans, none is more damaging than the myth of free market and the jive about private-sector job creators.  A vibrant economy operating without state intervention or regulation is one of the most pernicious, pervasive, and persistent myths in contemporary American politics.

Today even in the aftermath of the wild-assed, credit-crazed, derivative-driven, deliriously leveraged bubble economy that finally triggered the financial meltdown in 2008 – even after the near-collapse of the global economy and the Great Recession that followed (and still lingers), few Republican leaders dare to say a kind word about the need for state regulation or tax reform, and Democrats too often concede in practice what they dare not renounce in principle.  In fact, there is not a country in the world, never has been and never will be, where the economy operates in a political-administrative or legal vacuum.  Which is to say, there is no such thing as a free market or a pure market economy.

Nothing even close.  And while it's true that the state plays a smaller role in some economies than in others, the United States is in no sense exemplary except by one measure:  hypocrisy.

For proof, we can turn to no less an authority than Niall Ferguson, a self-confessed true believer in Adam Smith's "invisible hand".  Earlier this ...

Published: Sunday 8 April 2012
“On average, 25 percent of European’s youth labor force is unemployed and yet another 25 percent only has a precarious, low paid job, even though most of unemployed young people possess high educational qualifications, including university diplomas.”

According to official figures, the unemployment rate affecting people under 25 years of age has reached 50 percent in Spain, 48 percent in Greece, 35 percent in Portugal, and 31 percent in Italy. Youth unemployment is also high in Ireland (30 percent), France (23 per cent), and Britain (22 percent). 

On average, 25 percent of European's youth labor force is unemployed and yet another 25 percent only has a precarious, low paid job, even though most of unemployed young people possess high educational qualifications, including university diplomas. 

In all these countries affected by high sovereign debt and economic recession, conservative governments have imposed drastic cuts in public spending, reduced social welfare programs and pensions and increased taxes, especially those paid by consumers, among other austerity measures. 

These programs have deepened economic slumps and fiscal difficulties across Europe. 

As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced on Mar. 29 in its more recent economic assessment for the G7, the seven most industrialized countries of the world, "Our forecast for the first half of 2012 points to robust growth in the United States and Canada, but much weaker activity in Europe, where the outlook remains fragile." 

"We may have stepped back from the edge of the cliff," the OECD’s chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan cautioned, "but there’s still no room for complacency." 

Padoan also warned that the Eurozone’s three largest economies - Germany, France, and Italy – might have shrunk by an average of 0.4 percent during the first quarter of the year. 

The German economy already suffered a slowdown of 0.2 percent during the last quarter of 2011. Given the OECD ...

Published: Wednesday 18 January 2012
“Banks hoard cheap money which doesn’t help populations, exacerbating the damaging economic effects. Unfortunately, this won't end any time soon.”

The markets (read: traders with big books at mega financial firms and hedge funds) weren’t particularly shocked by last week’s wave of heavily pre-broadcast S&P sovereign debt downgrades. For months, the question wasn’t ‘if’, but ‘when.’ True to form, just as with the US downgrade, S&P’s reasons skated the surface of prevailing wisdom – governments have too much debt, and not enough income. That’s only a fraction of the story.

Nowadays, when any sovereign (including the US) gets downgraded by a rating agency, it's not just because its debt repayment ability is questionable (the publicized logic of rating agencies), but because it incurred more expensive debt to float its banking system. It chose to subsidize banks over people.

The S&P likes moving on Friday nights. It was on a Friday night that it downgraded US debt to AA+ from AAA. On Friday night, January 13, 2012,  it downgraded France and Austria from AAA to AA+, and 7 other European countries, too; Cyprus, Italy, Portugal, and Spain by two notches; Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia, by one notch. Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland and Greece are at junk status. Germany’s AAA rating is intact.

Nowhere in S&P’s statement about “global economic and financial crisis”, did it clarify that sovereigns were hit due to backing their largest national banks (and international, US ones) which engaged in half a decade of leveraged speculation. But here’s how it worked:

1) Big banks funneled speculative capital, and their own, into local areas, using real estate and other ...

Published: Sunday 15 January 2012
Short- and medium-term economic policies should aim at stimulating the economy, rather than throttling it with austerity measures.

Bolstered by Germany’s strong economy, Berlin has become the unofficial capital of the battered European monetary union.

However the German government’s proposals to solve the sovereign debt crisis, by imposing severe austerity programs to reduce state deficits and rejecting the distribution of Eurobonds, are coming up against increasing opposition across most of the 17 countries that comprise the Eurozone.

On Jan 9, French president Nicolas Sarkozy was in Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel and discuss fresh new solutions to the European sovereign debt crisis.

On Jan 11, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, in office since November, visited the German capital for the very same purpose but made no secret of his wish to modify the austerity program, which successive governments have hurled at the crisis with little to no success.

In an interview with the German daily newspaper Die Welt, Monti said that his government has imposed "severe burdens" upon the Italian citizenry by following Berlin’s austerity model, but so far "the European Union has made no concession towards Italy, by way of lower interest rates" for the country’s state bonds.

"If Italian citizens do not see (the immediate) fruits of their austerity efforts, there will be protests against the EU, against Germany, and against the European Central Bank," Monti warned. "There are already signs of these protests."

Although almost all 17 members of the Eurozone currently suffer from sovereign debt, financial markets sanction each of them differently by imposing different interest rates for new state debt bonds.

For instance, Germany, which has a sovereign debt of some 2.1 trillion Euros, pays extremely low interest rates for new debt bonds. Earlier in January, the interest rates for new German debt bonds were negative, meaning that investors were willing to pay Germany for taking out ...

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