Are Gilets Jaunes the new guillotine?

8 12 2018

POPULAR UNREST IN AN AGE OF FALLING PROSPERITY

Between my French origins and the opinions expressed within this little blog, I have taken more than a passing interest in the events happening in France, especially when it’s fuelled by passionate and restless wwoofers who come from there too! As you will or should know, I believe the real economy runs on energy, not money, and surplus energy in particular…… as a result, I have been following Tim Morgan’s Surplus Energy Economics blog for a while, which I would encourage you all to follow too. This is Tim’s latest gem, which proves that when you do the math…….  the truth comes out!

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This weekend, the authorities plan to field 89,000 police officers across France in response to anticipated further mass protests by the ‘gilets jaunes’. In the capital, the Eiffel Tower will be closed and armoured cars deployed, whilst restaurateurs and shopkeepers are being urged to close their businesses at one of the most important times of their trading year.

Though the government has climbed down on the original cause célèbre – the rises in fuel taxes planned for next year – there seems to be no reduction in the worst protests experienced in the country since the 1960s. Reports suggest that as many as 70% of French citizens support the protestors, and that the movement may be spreading to Belgium and the Netherlands.

For the outside observer, the most striking features of the protests in France have been the anger clearly on display, and the rapid broadening of the campaign from fuel prices to a wider range of issues including wages, the cost of living and taxation.

The disturbances in France should be seen in a larger context. In France itself, Emmanuel Macron was elected president only after voters had repudiated all established political parties. Italians have entrusted their government to an insurgent coalition which is on a clear collision-course with the European Union over budgetary matters. The British have voted to leave the EU, and Americans have elected to the White House a man dismissed by ‘experts’ as a “joke candidate” throughout his campaign.

Obviously, something very important is going on – why?

Does economics explain popular anger?

There are, essentially, two different ways in which the events in France and beyond can be interpreted, and how you look at them depends a great deal on how you see the economic situation.

If you subscribe to the conventional and consensus interpretation, economic issues would seem to play only a supporting role in the wave of popular unrest sweeping much of the West. You would concede that the seemingly preferential treatment of a tiny minority of the very rich has angered the majority, and that some economic tendencies – amongst them, diminishing security of employment – have helped fuel popular unrest.

Beyond this, though, you would note that economies are continuing to grow, and this would force you to look for explanations outside the purely economic sphere. From this, you might conclude that ‘agitators’, from the right or left of the political spectrum, might be playing a part analogous to the role of “populist” politicians in fomenting public dissatisfaction with the status quo.

If, on the other hand, you subscribe to the surplus energy interpretation of the economy professed here, your view of the situation would concentrate firmly on economic issues.

Though GDP per capita may be continuing to improve, the same cannot be said of prosperity. According to SEEDS (the Surplus Energy Economics Data System), personal prosperity in France has deteriorated by 7% since 2000, a trend starkly at variance with the growth (of 12%) in reported GDP over the same period.

Not only is the average French person poorer now than he or she was back in 2000, but each person’s share of the aggregate of household, business and government debt has increased by almost 70% since 2000. These findings are summarised in the following table, sourced from SEEDS.

France prosperity snapshot

Two main factors explain the divergence between the conventional and the surplus energy interpretations of the economy. One of these is the pouring of enormous quantities of cheap debt and cheap money into the system, a process which boosts recorded GDP without improving prosperity (for the obvious reason that you can’t become more prosperous just by spending borrowed money). The other is the exponential rise in the energy cost of energy (ECoE), a process which impacts prosperity by reducing the share of output which can be used for all purposes other than the supply of energy itself.

In France, and with all sums expressed in euros at constant 2017 values, GDP grew by 23% between 2000 and 2017. But this growth, whilst adding €433bn to GDP, was accompanied by a €3.07tn increase in aggregate debt. This means that each €1 of reported growth in the French economy has come at a cost of more than €7 in net new debt. Put another way, whilst French GDP is growing at between 1.5% and 2.0%, annual borrowing is running at about 9.5% of GDP.

Cutting to the chase here, SEEDS concludes that very little (about €100bn) of the reported €433bn rise in GDP since 2000 has been sustainable and organic, with the rest being a simple function of the spending of borrowed money. Shorn of this credit effect, underlying or clean GDP per capita is lower now (at €29,550) than it was in 2000 (€30,777).

Meanwhile, trend ECoE in France is put at 7.8%. Though by no means the worst amongst comparable economies, this nevertheless represents a relentless increase, rising from 4.6% back in 2000. At the individual or household level, rising ECoE is experienced primarily in higher costs of household essentials. In the aggregate, ECoE acts as an economic rentdeduction from clean GDP.

Between 2000 and 2017, clean GDP itself increased by only 5.7%, and the rise in ECoE left French aggregate prosperity only marginally (2.2%) higher in 2017 than it was back in 2000. Over that same period, population numbers increased by 10%, meaning that prosperity per person is 7.1% lowernow than it was at the millennium.

In France, as elsewhere, the use of credit and monetary adventurism in an effort to deliver “growth” has added markedly to the aggregate debt burden, which is €3.1tn (86%) higher now than it was in 2000. The per capita equivalent has climbed by 69%, making the average person €41,800 (69%) more indebted than he or she was back in 2000.

The prosperity powder-keg

Gilets Jaunes Acte 3 – Samedi 1er Décembre – Perpignan

To summarise, then, we can state the economic circumstances of the average French citizen as follows.

First, and despite a rise in official GDP per capita, his or her personal prosperity is 7.1% (€2,095) lower now than it was as long ago as 2000.

Second, he or she has per capita debt of €102,200, up from €60,400 back in 2000.

Third, the deterioration in prosperity has been experienced most obviously in costs of household essentials, which have outpaced both wages and headline CPI inflation over an extended period.

This is the context in which we need to place changes in the workplace, and a perceived widening in inequality.

On this latter point, part of the explanation for the anger manifested in France can be grasped from this chart, published by the Institut des Politiques Publiques.

In the current budget, policy changes hurt the disposable incomes of the poorest 10% or so (on the left of the scale), but ought to be welcomed by most of the rest – and perhaps might be, were it not for the huge handouts seemingly being given to the very wealthiest. Moreover, these benefits aren’t being conferred on a large swathe of “the rich”, but accrue only to the wealthiest percentile.

French budget 2

This is part of a pattern visible throughout much of the West. Unfortunately, perceptions of hand-outs to a tiny minority of the super-rich have arisen in tandem with a deteriorating sense of security. Security is a multi-faceted concept, which extends beyond security of employment to embrace prosperity, wages, living costs and public services.

Even in the euphoric period immediately following his election, it seemed surprising that French voters would back as president a man committed to ‘reform’ of French labour laws, a process likely to reduce workers’ security of employment. Add in further deterioration in prosperity, and an apparent favouring of the super-rich, and the ingredients for disaffection become pretty obvious.

Where next?

The interpretation set out here strongly indicates that protests are unlikely to die down just because the government has made some concessions over fuel taxes – the ‘gilet jaunes’ movement might have found its catalyst in diesel prices, but now embraces much wider sources of discontent.

Given the context of deteriorating prosperity, it’s hard to see how the government can respond effectively. Even the imposition of swingeing new taxes on the super-rich – a wildly unlikely initiative in any case – might not suffice to assuage popular anger. It seems likelier that the authorities will ramp up law enforcement efforts in a bid to portray the demonstrators as extremists. The scale of apparent support for the movement – if not for some of its wilder excesses – suggests that such an approach is unlikely to succeed.

Of course, it cannot be stressed too strongly that the French predicament is by no means unique. Deteriorating prosperity, a sense of reduced security and resentment about the perceived favouring of the super-rich are pan-European trends.

In the longer term, trends both in prosperity and in politics suggest that the West’s incumbent elites are fighting a rear-guard action. The credibility of their market economics mantra suffered severe damage in 2008, when market forces were not allowed to run to their logical conclusions, the result being a widespread perception that the authorities responded to the global financial crisis with rescues for “the rich” and “austerity” for everyone else.

This problem is exacerbated by the quirks of the euro system. In times past, a country like Italy would have responded to hardship by devaluation, which would have protected employment at the cost of gradual increases in the cost of living. Denied this option, weaker Euro Area countries – meaning most of them – have been forced into a process of internal devaluation, which in practice means reducing costs (and, principally, wages) in a way popularly labelled “austerity”. The combination of a single monetary policy with a multiplicity of sovereign budget processes was always an exercise in economic illiteracy, and the lack of automatic stabilisers within the euro system is a further grave disadvantage.

Finally, the challenge posed by deteriorating prosperity is made much worse by governments’ lack of understanding of what is really happening to the economy. If you were to believe that rising GDP per capita equates to improving prosperity – and if you further believed that ultra-low rates mean that elevated debt is nothing to worry about – you might really fail to understand what millions of ordinary people are so upset about.

After all, as somebody might once have said, they can always eat brioche.





The Receding Horizons of Renewable Energy

15 07 2018

Another excellent article by Nicole Foss…  also known as Stoneleigh.

Renewable energy is best used in situ, adjacent to demand. It is best used in conjunction with a storage component which would insulate consumers from supply disruption, but FIT programmes typically prohibit this explicitly. Generators are expected to sell all their production to the grid and buy back their own demand. This leaves them every bit as vulnerable to supply disruption as anyone who does not have their own generation capacity. This turns renewable generation into a personal money generating machine with critical vulnerabilities. It is no longer about the energy, which should be the focus of any publicly funded energy programme.

nicolefoss

Nicole Foss

Stoneleigh: Renewable energy has become a topic of increasing interest in recent years, as fossil fuel prices have been volatile and the focus on climate change has sharpened. Governments in many jurisdictions have been instituting policies to increase the installation of renewable energy capacity, as the techologies involved are not generally able to compete on price with conventional generation.

The reason this is necessary, as we have pointed out before, is that the inherent fossil-fuel dependence of renewable generation leads to a case of receding horizons. We do not make wind turbines with wind power or solar panels with solar power. As the cost of fossil fuel rises, the production cost of renewable energy infrastructure also rises, so that renewables remain just out of reach.

Renewable energy is most often in the form of electricity, hence subsidies have typically been provided through the power system. Capital grants are available in some locations, but it is more common for generators to be offered a higher than market price for the electricity they produce over the life of the project. Some jurisdictions have introduced a bidding system for a set amount of capacity, where the quantity requested is fixed (RFP) and the lowest bids chosen.

Others have introduced Feed-In Tariff (FIT) programmes, where a long-term fixed price is offered essentially to any project willing to accept it. Tariffs vary with technology and project size (and sometimes inversely with resource intensity) with the intention of providing the same rate of return to all projects. FIT programmes have been much more successful in bringing capacity online, especially small-scale capacity, as the rate of return is higher and the participation process much less burdensome than the RFP alternative. Under an RFP system accepted bids often do not lead to construction as the margin is too low.

The FIT approach has been quite widely adopted in Europe and elsewhere over the last decade, and has led to a great deal of capacity construction in early-adopter countries such as Germany, Spain and Denmark. In Canada, Ontario was the first north American jurisdiction to introduce a similar programme in 2009. (I was involved in negotiating its parameters at the time.)

Renewable energy subsidies are becoming increasingly controversial, however, especially where they are very large. The most controversial are those for solar photovoltaics, which are typically very much higher than for any other technology. In a number of countries, solar tariffs are high enough to have produced a bubble, with a great deal of investment being poured into infrastructure production and capacity installation. Many of the countries that had introduced FIT regimes are now backing away from them for fear of the cost the subsidies could add to power prices if large amounts of capacity are added.

As Tara Patel wrote recently for Bloomberg:

EDF’s Solar ‘Time Bomb’ Will Tick On After France Pops Bubble:

To end what it has called a “speculative bubble,” France on Dec. 10 imposed a three-month freeze on solar projects to devise rules that could include caps on development and lowering the so-called feed-in tariffs that pay the higher rate for renewable power. The tariffs were cut twice in 2010. “We just didn’t see it coming,” French lawmaker Francois- Michel Gonnot said of the boom. “What’s in the pipeline this year is unimaginable. Farmers were being told they could put panels on hangars and get rid of their cows.”…. ….EDF received 3,000 applications a day to connect panels to the grid at the end of last year, compared with about 7,100 connections in all of 2008, according to the government and EDF.

Stoneleigh: The policy of generous FIT subsidies seems to be coming to an end, with cuts proposed in many places, including where the programmes had been most successful. The optimism that FIT programmes would drive a wholesale conversion to renewable energy is taking a significant hit in many places, leaving the future of renewable energy penetration in doubt in the new era of austerity:

Germany:

Half of the 13 billion euro ($17.54 billion) reallocation charges pursuant to Germany’s renewable energy act was put into solar PV last year. The sector produced about 7 GW of electricity, surpassing the 5-GW estimate. The government deemed the industry boom as counterproductive, pushing it to reduce subsidies and narrow the market.

The Czech Republic:

In an attempt to get hold of what could be a runaway solar subsidy market, the Senate approved an amendment April 21 that will allow the Energy Regulatory Office (ERÚ) to lower solar energy prices well below the current annual limit of 5 percent cuts. At the start of 2011, the state will now be able to decrease solar energy prices up to 25 percent – if President Klaus signs the amendment into law. Even with a quarter cut, the government’s subsidies for feed-in tariffs remain so high that solar energy remains an attractive investment.

France:

The Ministry of Sustainable Development is expected to cut the country’s generous feed-in tariffs by 12 percent beginning September 1 in an effort to rein in demand and curb spending, according to analysts and news reports from France.

Italy:

Incentives for big photovoltaic (PV) installations with a capacity of more than 5 megawatts (MW) will be slashed every four months by a total of up to 30 percent next year, said Gianni Chianetta, chairman of the Assosolare industry body. Incentives for smaller PV installations will be gradually cut by up to 20 percent next year. One-off 6 percent annual cuts are set for 2012 and 2013 under the new plan, the industry source said.

The UK:

The U.K. government signaled it may cut the prices paid for electricity from renewable energy sources, saying it began a “comprehensive review” of feed-in tariffs introduced last year. Evidence that larger-scale solar farms may “soak up” money meant for roof-top solar panels, small wind turbines and smaller hydropower facilities prompted the study, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said today in an statement. A review was originally planned to start next year.

The move will allow the government to change the above- market prices paid for wind and solar electricity by more than already planned when the new prices come into force in April 2012. The department said it will speed up an analysis of solar projects bigger than 50 kilowatts and that new tariffs may be mandated “as soon as practical.” “This is going to put the jitters into some market segments,” Dave Sowden, chief executive officer of the Solihull, England-based trade group Micropower Council, said today in a phone interview.

Portugal:

The Portuguese government has announced that it will review the existing feed-in tariff mechanism following calls that the subsidies are excessive and contribute to the increase of electricity prices to final consumers.

Ontario

Initial enthusiasm among ratepayers for the scheme is flagging in the wake of perceived links between the FiT and increased energy prices. The FiT passed into law in May 2009 as part of the Green Energy Act, which aims to promote the development of wind and solar generation in the province. With provincial elections slated for 6 October next year, the opposition Progressive Conservative Party is threatening to substantially revise and possibly even scrap the FiT should it win. Even if it the subsidy scheme were to be revoked, the legal implications of rescinding the over 1500MW in existing FiT contracts would be highly problematic.

Stoneleigh: Spain is the example everyone wishes to avoid. The rapid growth in the renewable energy sector paralleled the bubble-era growth of the rest of Spain’s economy. The tariffs offered under their FIT programme now come under the heading of ‘promises that cannot be kept’, like so many other government commitments made in an era of unbridled optimism. Those tariffs are now being cut, and not just for new projects, but for older ones with an existing contract. People typically believe that promises already made are sacrosanct, and that legal committments will not be broken, but we are moving into a time when rules can, and will, be changed retroactively when the money runs out. Legal niceties will have little meaning when reality dictates a new paradigm.

Spain:

Spain’s struggling solar-power sector has announced it will sue the government over two royal decrees that will reduce tariffs retroactively, claiming they will cause huge losses for the industry. In a statement, leading trade body ASIF said its 500 members endorsed filing the suit before the Spanish high court and the European Commission. They will allege that royal decrees 156/10 and RD-L 14/10 run against Spanish and European law. The former prevents solar producers from receiving subsidized tariffs after a project’s 28th year while the latter slashes the entire industry’s subsidized tariffs by 10% and 30% for existing projects until 2014. Both bills are “retroactive, discriminatory and very damaging” to the sector. They will dent the profits of those companies that invested under the previous Spanish regulatory framework, ASIF argued.

Austerity bites:

The government announced soon after that it would introduce retroactive cuts in the feed-in tariff program for the photovoltaic (PV) industry in the context of the austerity measures the country is currently undergoing. According to this plan, existing photovoltaic plants would have their subsidies cut by 30%, a figure that would go up to 45% for any new large scale plants. Smaller scale roof installations would lose 25% of their existing subsidy, while installations with a generating capacity of less than 20 KW would have 5% taken from their tariff.

Spain is too big to fail and too big to bail out:

Spain has been forced to cut back on solar subsidies because of the impact on ratepayers. But Spain’s overall economy is in much worse shape and the subsidies for feed in tariff are threatening to push the country into bailout territory or, at lease, worsen the situation should a bailout be needed.

FIT and Debt:

The strain on government revenue is in part due to the way Spain has designed its feed-in tariff system. Usually, this type of subsidy is paid for by utilities charging more for the electricity they sell to consumers, to cover the cost of buying renewable energy at above-market prices. Therefore no money is actually paid out of government revenues: consumers bear the cost directly by paying higher electricity bills.

In Spain, however, the price of electricity has been kept artificially low since 2000. The burden has been shouldered by utilities, which have been operating at a loss on the basis of a government guarantee to eventually pay them back. The sum of this so-called ‘tariff deficit’ has accumulated to over €16 billion (US$ 20 billion) since 2000. For comparison, Spain’s deficit in 2009 was around €90 billion (US$ 116 billion) in 2009 and its accumulated debt around €508 billion (US$ 653 billion).

Stoneleigh: Ontario threatens to take the Spanish route by instituting retroactive measures after the next election. For a province with a long history of political interference in energy markets, further regulatory uncertainty constitutes a major risk of frightening off any kind of investment in the energy sector. Considering that 85% of Ontario’s generation capacity reaches the end of its design life within 15 years, and that Ontario has a huge public debt problem, alienating investment is arguably a risky decision. FIT programmes clearly sow the seeds of their own destruction. They are an artifact of good economic times that do not transition to hard times when promises are broken.

Ontario

The outcome of an autumn election in Ontario could stunt a budding renewable energy industry in the Canadian province just as it is becoming one of the world’s hot investment destinations. If the opposition Progressive Conservatives win power on Oct. 6, the party has promised to scrap generous rates for renewable energy producers just two years after their launch by the Liberal government. That could threaten a program that has lured billions of dollars in investment and created thousands of jobs.

The Conservatives, who are leading in the polls, have yet to release an official energy manifesto. Even so, the industry is privately voicing concern, especially after the party said it would scrutinize contracts already awarded under Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program. “They are going to go through the economic viability of the energies and review all of the past contracts … I think that is going to cause a lot of delays, a lot of problems and a lot of risk to Ontario,” said Marin Katusa, chief energy analyst at Casey Research, an investor research service.

George Monbiot, writing for The Guardian in the UK, provides an insightful critique of FIT programmes in general:

The real net cost of the solar PV installed in Germany between 2000 and 2008 was €35bn. The paper estimates a further real cost of €18bn in 2009 and 2010: a total of €53bn in ten years. These investments make wonderful sense for the lucky householders who could afford to install the panels, as lucrative returns are guaranteed by taxing the rest of Germany’s electricity users. But what has this astonishing spending achieved? By 2008 solar PV was producing a grand total of 0.6% of Germany’s electricity. 0.6% for €35bn. Hands up all those who think this is a good investment…. .

As for stimulating innovation, which is the main argument Jeremy [Leggett] makes in their favour, the report shows that Germany’s feed-in tariffs have done just the opposite. Like the UK’s scheme, Germany’s is degressive – it goes down in steps over time. What this means is that the earlier you adopt the technology, the higher the tariff you receive. If you waited until 2009 to install your solar panel, you’ll be paid 43c/kWh (or its inflation-proofed equivalent) for 20 years, rather than the 51c you get if you installed in 2000.

This encourages people to buy existing technology and deploy it right away, rather than to hold out for something better. In fact, the paper shows the scheme has stimulated massive demand for old, clunky solar cells at the expense of better models beginning to come onto the market. It argues that a far swifter means of stimulating innovation is for governments to invest in research and development. But the money has gone in the wrong direction: while Germany has spent some €53bn on deploying old technologies over ten years, in 2007 the government spent only €211m on renewables R&D.

In principle, tens of thousands of jobs have been created in the German PV industry, but this is gross jobs, not net jobs: had the money been used for other purposes, it could have employed far more people. The paper estimates that the subsidy for every solar PV job in Germany is €175,000: in other words the subsidy is far higher than the money the workers are likely to earn. This is a wildly perverse outcome. Moreover, most of these people are medium or highly skilled workers, who are in short supply there. They have simply been drawn out of other industries.

Stoneleigh: Widespread installed renewable electricity capacity would be a very good resource to have available in an era of financial austerity at the peak of global oil production, but the mechanisms that have been chosen to achieve this are clearly problematic. They plug into, and depend on, a growth model that no longer functions. If we are going to work towards a future with greater reliance on renewable energy, there are a number of factors we must consider. These are not typically addressed in the simplistic subsidy programmes that are now running into trouble worldwide.

We have power systems built on a central station model, which assumes that we should build large power station distant from demand, on the grounds of economic efficiency, which favours large-scale installations. This really does not fit with the potential that renewable power offers. The central station model introduces a grid-dependence that renewable power should be able to avoid, revealing an often acute disparity between resource intensity, demand and grid capacity. Renewable power (used in the small-scale decentralized manner it is best suited for) should decrease grid dependence, but we employ it in such a way as to increase our vulnerability to socioeconomic complexity.

Renewable energy is best used in situ, adjacent to demand. It is best used in conjunction with a storage component which would insulate consumers from supply disruption, but FIT programmes typically prohibit this explicitly. Generators are expected to sell all their production to the grid and buy back their own demand. This leaves them every bit as vulnerable to supply disruption as anyone who does not have their own generation capacity. This turns renewable generation into a personal money generating machine with critical vulnerabilities. It is no longer about the energy, which should be the focus of any publicly funded energy programme.

FIT programmes typically remunerate a wealthy few who install renewables in private applications for their own benefit, and who may well have done so in the absence of public subsidies. If renewables are to do anything at all to help run our societies in the future, we need to move from publicly-funded private applications towards public applications benefitting the collective. We do not have an established model for this at present, and we do not have time to waste. Maximizing renewable energy penetration takes a lot of time and a lot of money, both of which will be in short supply in the near future. The inevitable global austerity measures are not going to make this task any easier.

We also need to consider counter-cyclical investment. In Ontario, for instance, power prices have been falling on falling demand and increased conventional supply, and are now very low. In fact, the pool price for power is often negative at night, as demand is less than baseload capacity. Under such circumstances it is difficult to develop a political mandate for constructing additional generation, when the spending commitment would have to be born by the current regime and the political benefits would accrue to another, due to the long construction time for large plants.

Politicians are allergic to situations like that, but if they do not make investments in additional generation capacity soon, most of Ontario’s capacity could end up being retired unreplaced. Large, non-intermittent, plants capable of load following are necessary to run a modern power system. These cannot be built overnight.

Many jurisdictions are going to have to build capacity (in the face of falling prices in an era of deflation) if they are to avoid a supply crunch down the line. Given how dependent our societies are on our electrified life-support systems, this could be a make or break decision. The risk is that we wait too long, lose all freedom of action and are then forced to take a much larger step backwards than might other wise have been the case.

Europe’s existing installed renewable capacity should stand it in good stead when push comes to shove, even though it was bought at a high price. Other locations, such as Ontario, really came too late to the party for their FIT initiatives to do any good. Those who have not built replacement capacity, especially load-following plants and renewables with no fuel cost going forward, could be very vulnerable in the future. They will be buffeted first by financial crisis and then by energy crisis, and there may be precious little they can do about either one.





The Party’s Over…..

17 10 2016

I almost republished Raul Ilargi Meijer’s excellent article titled “Why There is Trump”, but I was too busy, or ran out of data or some other poor excuse.  Anyhow, this new article quotes Raul’s writing so much, I no longer feel the need to. This item was lifted straight from the Automatic Earth, and because it’s written by someone with an important past, and the subject matter is critical, it needs to be shared around.

The farcical US presidential election as far as I am concerned is proof positive that America is in an utter state of collapse. Let’s face it, what intelligent person would want to be in charge right now, when nobody will be willing to implement any of the solutions I at least believe are necessary?

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Alastair Crooke: ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent

Raul Ilargi Meijer, the long-standing economics commentator, has written both succinctly – and provocatively: “It’s over! The entire model our societies have been based on for at least as long as we ourselves have lived, is over! That’s why there’s Trump.

“There is no growth. There hasn’t been any real growth for years. All there is left are empty hollow sunshiny S&P stock market numbers propped up with ultra-cheap debt and buybacks, and employment figures that hide untold millions hiding from the labor force. And most of all there’s debt, public as well as private, that has served to keep an illusion of growth alive and now increasingly no longer can.

“These false growth numbers have one purpose only: for the public to keep the incumbent powers that be in their plush seats. But they could always ever only pull the curtain of Oz [Wizard of Oz] over people’s eyes for so long, and it’s no longer so long.

“That’s what the ascent of Trump means, and Brexit, Le Pen, and all the others. It’s over. What has driven us for all our lives has lost both its direction and its energy.”

Meijer continues: “We are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades, in some respects arguably even in centuries, a veritable revolution, which will continue to be the most important factor to shape the world for years to come, and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled.

“The development in question is the end of global economic growth, which will lead inexorably to the end of centralization (including globalization). It will also mean the end of the existence of most, and especially the most powerful, international institutions.

“In the same way it will be the end of -almost- all traditional political parties, which have ruled their countries for decades and are already today at or near record low support levels (if you’re not clear on what’s going on, look there, look at Europe!)

“This is not a matter of what anyone, or any group of people, might want or prefer, it’s a matter of ‘forces’ that are beyond our control, that are bigger and more far-reaching than our mere opinions, even though they may be man-made.

“Tons of smart and less smart folks are breaking their heads over where Trump and Brexit and Le Pen and all these ‘new’ and scary things and people and parties originate, and they come up with little but shaky theories about how it’s all about older people, and poorer and racist and bigoted people, stupid people, people who never voted, you name it.

“But nobody seems to really know or understand. Which is odd, because it’s not that hard. That is, this all happens because growth is over. And if growth is over, so are expansion and centralization in all the myriad of shapes and forms they come in.”

Further, Meijer writes: “Global is gone as a main driving force, pan-European is gone, and whether the United States will stay united is far from a done deal. We are moving towards a mass movement of dozens of separate countries and states and societies looking inward. All of which are in some form of -impending- trouble or another.

“What makes the entire situation so hard to grasp for everyone is that nobody wants to acknowledge any of this. Even though tales of often bitter poverty emanate from all the exact same places that Trump and Brexit and Le Pen come from too.

“That the politico-econo-media machine churns out positive growth messages 24/7 goes some way towards explaining the lack of acknowledgement and self-reflection, but only some way. The rest is due to who we ourselves are. We think we deserve eternal growth.”

The End of ‘Growth’

Well, is global “growth over”? Of course Raul Ilargi is talking “aggregate” (and there will be instances of growth within any contraction). But what is clear is that debt-driven investment and low-interest-rate policies are having less and less effect – or no effect at all – in producing growth – either in terms of domestic or trade growth, as Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge writes:

 

“After almost two years of the quantitative easing program in the Euro Area, economic figures have remained very weak. As GEFIRA details, inflation is still fluctuating near zero, while GDP growth in the region has started to slow down instead of accelerating. According to the ECB data, to generate €1.0 of GDP growth, €18.5 had to be printed in the QE, … This year, the ECB printed nearly €600 billion within the frame of asset purchase programme (QE).”

Central Banks can and do create money, but that is not the same as creating wealth or purchasing power. By channelling their credit creation through the intermediary of banks granting loans to their favored clients, Central Banks grant to one set of entities purchasing power – a purchasing power that must necessarily have been transferred from another set of entities within Europe (i.e. transferred from ordinary Europeans in the case of the ECB), who, of course will have less purchasing power, less discretionary spending income.

The devaluation of purchasing power is not so obvious (no runaway inflation), because all major currencies are devaluing more or less pari passu – and because the authorities periodically steam hammer down the price of gold, so that there is no evident standard by which people can “see” for themselves the extent of their currencies’ joint downward float.

And world trade is grinding down too, as Lambert Strether of Corrente rather elegantly explains: “Back to shipping: I started following shipping … partly because it’s fun, but more because shipping is about stuff, and tracking stuff seemed like a far more attractive way of getting a handle on ‘the economy’ than economics statistics, let alone whatever books the Wall Streeters were talking on any given day. And don’t get me started on Larry Summers.

“So what I noticed was decline, and not downward blips followed by rebounds, but decline, for months and then a year. Decline in rail, even when you back out coal and grain, and decline in demand for freight cars. Decline in trucking, and decline in the demand for trucks. Air freight wobbly. No Christmas bounce at the Pacific ports. And now we have the Hanjin debacle — all that capital tied up in stranded ships, though granted only $12 billion or so — and the universal admission that somehow “we” invested w-a-a-a-a-a-y too much money in big ships and boats, implying (I suppose) that we need to ship a lot less stuff than we thought, at least across the oceans.

“Meanwhile, and in seeming contradiction not only to a slow collapse of global trade, but to the opposition to ‘trade deals,’ warehousing is one of the few real estate bright spots, and supply chain management is an exciting field. It’s disproportionately full of sociopaths, and therefore growing and dynamic!

“And the economics statistics seem to say nothing is wrong. Consumers are the engine of the economy and they are confident. But at the end of the day, people need stuff; life is lived in the material world, even if you think you live it on your device. It’s an enigma! So what I’m seeing is a contradiction: Less stuff is moving, but the numbers say ‘this is fine.’ Am I right, here? So in what follows, I’m going to assume that numbers don’t matter, but stuff does.”

Fake Elixir

Or, to be more faux-empirical: as Bloomberg notes in A Weaker Currency is no longer the Elixir, It Once Was:“global central banks have cut policy rates 667 times since 2008, according to Bank of America. During that period, the dollar’s 10 main peers have fallen 14%, yet Group-of-Eight economies have grown an average of just 1%. Since the late 1990s, a 10% inflation-adjusted depreciation in currencies of 23 advanced economies boosted net exports by just 0.6% of GDP, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with 1.3% of GDP in the two decades prior. U.S. trade with all nations slipped to $3.7 trillion in 2015, from $3.9 trillion in 2014.”

 

With “growth over,” so too is globalization: Even the Financial Times agrees, as its commentator Martin Wolf writes in his comment, The Tide of Globalisation is Turning: “Globalisation has at best stalled. Could it even go into reverse? Yes. It requires peace among the great powers … Does globalisation’s stalling matter? Yes.”

Globalization is stalling – not because of political tensions (a useful “scapegoat”), but because growth is flaccid as a result of a veritable concatenation of factors causing its arrest – and because we have entered into debt deflation that is squeezing what’s left of discretionary, consumption-available, income. But Wolf is right. Ratcheting tensions with Russia and China will not somehow solve America’s weakening command over the global financial system – even if capital flight to the dollar might give the U.S. financial system a transient “high.”

So what might the “turning tide” of globalization actually mean? Does it mean the end of the neo-liberalist, financialized world? That is hard to say. But expect no rapid “u-turn” – and no apologies. The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 – at the time – was thought by many to mark the end to neo-liberalism. But it never happened – instead, a period of fiscal retrenchment and austerity was imposed that contributed to a deepening distrust of the status quo, and a crisis rooted in a widespread, popular sense that “their societies” were headed in the wrong direction.

Neo-liberalism is deeply entrenched – not least in Europe’s Troika and in the Eurogroup that oversees creditor interests, and which, under European Union rules, has come to dominate E.U. financial and tax policy.

It is too early to say from whence the economic challenge to prevailing orthodoxy will come, but in Russia there is a group of prominent economists gathered together as the Stolypin Club, who are evincing a renewed interest in that old adversary of Adam Smith, Friedrich List (d. 1846), who evolved a “national system of political economy.” List upheld the (differing interests) of the nation to that of the individual. He gave prominence to the national idea, and insisted on the special requirements of each nation according to its circumstances, and especially to the degree of its development. He famously doubted the sincerity of calls to free trade from developed nations, in particular those by Britain. He was, as it were, the arch anti-globalist.

A Post-Globalism

One can see that this might well fit the current post-globalist mood. List’s acceptance of the need for a national industrial strategy and the reassertion of the role of the state as the final guarantor of social cohesion is not some whimsy pursued by a few Russian economists. It is entering the mainstream. The May government in the U.K. precisely is breaking with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s – and is breaking towards a List-ian approach.

 

Be that as it may (whether this approach swims more widely back into fashion), the very contemporary British professor and political philosopher, John Gray has suggested the key point is: “The resurgence of the state is one of the ways in which the present time differs from the ‘new times’ diagnosed by Martin Jacques and other commentators in the 1980s. Then, it seemed national boundaries were melting away and a global free market was coming into being. It’s a prospect I never found credible.

“A globalised economy existed before 1914, but it rested on a lack of democracy. Unchecked mobility of capital and labour may raise productivity and create wealth on an unprecedented scale, but it is also highly disruptive in its impact on the lives of working people – particularly when capitalism hits one of its periodic crises. When the global market gets into grave trouble, neoliberalism is junked in order to meet a popular demand for security. That is what is happening today.

“If the tension between global capitalism and the nation state was one of the contradictions of Thatcherism, the conflict between globalization and democracy has undone the left. From Bill Clinton and Tony Blair onwards, the center-left embraced the project of a global free market with an enthusiasm as ardent as any on the right. If globalisation was at odds with social cohesion, society had to be re-engineered to become an adjunct of the market. The result was that large sections of the population were left to moulder in stagnation or poverty, some without any prospect of finding a productive place in society.”

If Gray is correct that when globalized economics strikes trouble, people will demand that the state must pay attention to their own parochial, national economic situation (and not to the utopian concerns of the centralizing élite), it suggests that just as globalization is over – so too is centralization (in all its many manifestations).

The E.U., of course, as an icon of introverted centralization, should sit up, and pay attention. Jason Cowley, the editor of the (Leftist) New Statesman says: “In any event … however you define it, [the onset of ‘New Times’] will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.”

The Problem of Self-Delusion

So, to return to Ilargi’s point, that “we are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades … and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled” and to which he answers that ultimately, the “silence” is due to ourselves: “We think we deserve eternal growth.”

 

He is surely right that it somehow answers to the Christian meme of linear progress (material here, rather than spiritual); but more pragmatically, doesn’t “growth” underpin the whole Western financialized, global system: “it was about lifting the ‘others’ out of their poverty”?

Recall, Stephen Hadley, the former U.S. National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush,warning plainly that foreign-policy experts rather should pay careful attention to the growing public anger: that “globalization was a mistake” and that “the elites have sleep-walked the [U.S.] into danger.”

“This election isn’t just about Donald Trump,” Hadley argued. “It’s about the discontents of our democracy, and how we are going to address them … whoever is elected, will have to deal with these discontents.”

In short, if globalization is giving way to discontent, the lack of growth can undermine the whole financialized global project. Stiglitz tells us that this has been evident for the past 15 years — last month he noted that he had warned then of: “growing opposition in the developing world to globalizing reforms: It seemed a mystery: people in developing countries had been told that globalization would increase overall wellbeing. So why had so many people become so hostile to it? How can something that our political leaders – and many an economist – said would make everyone better off, be so reviled? One answer occasionally heard from the neoliberal economists who advocated for these policies is that people are better off. They just don’t know it. Their discontent is a matter for psychiatrists, not economists.”

This “new” discontent, Stiglitz now says, is extended into advanced economies. Perhaps this is what Hadley means when he says, “globalization was a mistaalastair-crooke-photoke.” It is now threatening American financial hegemony, and therefore its political hegemony too.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British
intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.





The Fertile Ground of Bewilderment

9 07 2016

Excellent article by Charles Eisenstein….. originally published at his own site.
The Fertile Ground of Bewilderment 

The other day I was speaking to a small audience at a music festival and thought to allude to Brexit to make a point. Some in the circle looked a bit mystified, so I asked, “Everyone knows what Brexit is, right?” It turned out that quite a few of them did not.

“Congratulations!” I said. “You have ignored what the media has been offering to you as important. Maybe that is because you recognize that the whole thing was a diversionary spectacle.” Apathy about “the issues” is only a bad thing if those issues are what is actually important.

When I was growing up, a responsible citizen was one who read the newspapers, held positions on the political issues in currency, and fully participated in the dominant modes of civic and political life. Today (although it may have been true then too) the choices we are offered take the rules and premises of the game for granted, and it is these, about which we are never offered a choice, that are driving the fatal decline of our society.

Beneath the frenzy, many of us sense a vacuousness in the choice of Stay or Remain, the same one that sucks the meaning out of electoral politics as well. Democrat or Republican, Christian Democrat or Socialist, even Marxist parties like Syriza – when they take office they enact the same policies as before. Their differences, while not entirely inconsequential, are mostly minute compared to the range of what is possible. Moreover, public referendum votes against establishment policies are often ignored anyway, as was the case in Greece and as may well happen in Britain too.

So it is with Brexit – almost. Something is different this time. It is significant, although not for the reasons some people (though not my festival audience) think it is.

On the left, Brexit has been framed either as a blow against neoliberalism or a victory for xenophobic right-wing nationalism. Both framings are problematic: the first is over-optimistic, and the second is invidious.

On a practical level, Brexit needn’t be more than a minor hiccup on the onward march of neoliberal globalism. Even if Britain abides by the vote and does leave the EU, perhaps after much delay, the political and financial authorities will probably cobble together a plan that preserves the freedom of capital while continuing the erosion of wages, social services, and the public sphere. Perhaps they will ride the wave of right-wing populism to enact pro-business policies and further dismantle the social welfare system by associating it with the coddling of immigrants, turning the working class against itself. Alternatively or additionally, they can ride the counter-reaction to the vote, associating opposition to free trade policies with xenophobia and racism. They can also exploit the chaos resulting from Brexit as an object-lesson in the consequences of disobeying the elites. The vote will be called “irresponsible,” and responsibility will be associated with complying with the program of the technocrats and functionaries who administer the present system.

As for the xenophobic nationalism frame, to attribute Brexit to xenophobia is to disregard the deep economic and social stressors that fuel both anti-EU sentiment and resentment toward immigrants. If you buy into that narrative, you have to believe that Britain is home to 17 million bigots, ignoramuses, and nutjobs who foolishly sabotage their own economic wellbeing for the sake of exercising their bigoted opinions. (The same, of course, applies to the X million Trump supporters, about whom the same narrative is applied.) Please take note of the tone of this narrative: patronizing and contemptuous, embodying the same rage, dehumanization, and hatred that it attributes to its enemies.

There are in fact very sound reasons to be hostile to the EU, transnational economic and political institutions, and the authorities who ordain them in the name of progress for civilization. True, the average “Leave” voter is not consciously aware of these critiques; nonetheless the critiques identify a wellspring of discontent that, while perhaps channeled through xenophobic narratives, cannot be reduced to them. How much more convenient it is to the system’s guardians, to dismiss any rejection of their plans as xenophobia and bigotry. It’s the responsible, educated people versus the yahoos.

The European Union was from the outset a deliberate instrument of globalization, deregulated markets, and transnational financial capital. It is a profoundly undemocratic institution that has accelerated trends toward centralization of power and homogenization of culture. It has been an enthusiastic partner with NATO and with US militarism in the Middle East (which, ironically enough, has generated the tsunami of immigrants that has intensified anti-EU sentiment). It has also, especially in the Eurozone, promoted austerity policies that have impoverished whole countries in order to keep debt payments flowing to international bondholders. While the EU cannot be directly blamed for Britain’s own tilt toward austerity and neoliberal economics, which dates back to the Thatcher years, both participate in the same global trend driven by the financial system. The result is familiar to everyone: rising inequality, a frayed social net, and weakening community ties as economies have become delocalized. Britain is no stranger to these trends, afflicted as it is by rising income inequality, youth unemployment, and housing costs, falling wages, falling life expectancies, and one of the highest misery indexes in the developed world.

In other words, the middle-aged white Brexit or Trump supporter has legitimate grievances that cannot be dismissed as white entitlement just because things are even worse for people of color. If they feel betrayed by the system, it is because they have been. Look around at the world. We can do much better than this. Everybody knows it. We don’t agree on what to do, but more and more of us have lost faith in the system and its stewards. When right-wing populists blame our problems on dark-skinned people or immigrants, the response they arouse draws its power from real and justifiable dissatisfaction. Racism is its symptom, not its cause.

The Brexit vote was an expression of anti-elitism, pure and simple. Leaders of the mainstream parties, business leaders, entertainment figures, J.K. Rowling, President Obama, rock stars and literati… everyone urged the public to vote Remain, to uphold the status quo. Does defiance of authority mean the defiant need to be reprimanded and put in their place, or does it mean that authority has abused its position?

The Brexit vote was supposed to be one of those inconsequential exercises that legitimize the system by lending it the appearance of real democracy. Something went wrong though – the public voted no when they were supposed to vote yes. While not quite as unexpected as a victory for Donald Trump would be, it still came as a shock to the elites, not because the damage to neoliberalism can’t be easily fixed on a technical level, but because it shows the fragility of their legitimacy. As such, it evokes a panic far beyond what technical considerations would justify.

It is not only the legitimacy of the elites that is fragile, nor just Britain’s economy; it is also the entire financial system: an overleveraged agglomeration of bubbles that will all pop when one pops. Maybe the Brexit vote induces panic because it reminds the financial markets and their administrators that they cannot hold it together much longer. They can’t even buy public allegiance in one of the world’s richest countries. Who knows, perhaps Brexit will start the bubbles popping.

The Brexit vote marks a rare moment of discontinuity, when the usual normalizing narratives falter and a society experiences a fertile and frightening moment of bewilderment. Brexit, though, is a mere foreshadowing of the vertigo that will ensue with the next economic crisis, which will dwarf that of 2008.

To prepare for it, we have to operate on a level much deeper than current politics offers. It is the tacitly assumed narratives lurking beneath conventional political discourse that need our attention. By this I do not mean merely addressing the neoliberal and imperial motives cloaked in the pro-EU language of internationalism, tolerance, and cosmopolitanism.

To illustrate, let me return to the observation I made above: that the blaming of the Leave vote (and Trump, and all the xenophobic know-nothing parties) on ignorance and unenlightened attitudes is “patronizing and contemptuous, embodying the same rage, dehumanization, and hatred that it attributes to its enemies.” Next time you read the news, especially articles enjoining us to take a conventional political position, pay attention for the subtext of “Here is whom you should hate.” The right-wing populists incite hatred and anger at the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, the gays, the transgender, the “libtards,” etc. The mainstream liberals stir up outrage against the bigots, the nationalists, the contemptible narrow-minded over-entitled “crazy” (a common adjective) climate-change-denying Bible-thumpers. Further left, the critics of neoliberal imperialism follow the same formula by invoking images of heartless corporate executives, greedy bankers, cowardly political elites, and drone-like bureaucrats and technocrats who should surely know better.

Herein lies a near-universal political formula: identify the enemy, arouse anger and hatred against that enemy, and then defeat the enemy. It is based on this analysis: Cause: bad people. Solution: defeat the bad people. Problem solved. The media, whether news or entertainment, has immersed us in that outlook, which informs everything from action films to the War on Terror. But I am afraid we cannot blame the media either, because it is part of a mindset that is integral to modernity and has roots going back to the first mass societies. It is fundamentally the mindset of war, in which progress consists in defeating the enemy: weeds or locusts, barbarians or communists; germs or cholesterol; gun nuts or traitors. And that mindset rests on a foundation more basic still: the Story of Separation that holds us as discrete, separate individuals in a world of other, in opposition to random forces and arbitrary events of nature, and in competition with the rest of life. Well-being comes, in this story, through domination and control: glyphosate, antibiotics, GMOs, SSRIs, surveillance systems, border fences, kill lists, prisons, curfews…

It is from this story too that neoliberal capitalism sources its power. It depends on the idealization of competition, encoded in “free markets,” as a law of nature and primary driver of progress; on the sanctity of private property (which is a primal form of domination) and, most of all, on exercising control over others through the creation and enforcement of debt. It finds a natural home within the Story of Separation; it is, perhaps, Separation’s culminating expression, threatening as it does the ecological basis of human existence. We cannot change it without letting go of that story in all its dimensions. Part of that is to let go of war mentality in politics, and replace it with compassion.

This doesn’t mean sitting in a room thinking nice thoughts about race-baiters and vulture fund managers, retreating from political engagement into a safe realm of inner work. It is to enact politics from a different place. Our political reflexes are conditioned by a story that is deeper than politics. If we want to produce something other than endless variations of the same result, we have to transcend the customary terms of discourse and examine the false truisms that become transparent only when things fall apart. I am not sure what strategies, tactics, and narratives will come from a compassion-oriented worldview, from a story that holds us as interdependent, interconnected, even inter-existent with all. Various forms of nonviolent direct action, narrative change, and solidarity movements foretell what they might look like, but I think future politics is largely unknowable at the present time when most of us are still deeply conditioned by the Story of Separation. Whatever it is, it will spring from a basic inquiry – the essence of compassion – that must be sincere: “What is it like to be you?”

The bewildering glitch in the matrix that is Brexit has prompted many in Britain to ask, perhaps with some anguish, “Who are we?” It is time to ask that in earnest, which requires stepping outside the usual polarizing discourses in which both sides play the game of find-the-enemy. To my English friends, I would ask, “What kind of England do you want?” Is it one where the forces of racism are suppressed and politically defeated? Or is it one in which the source of racism has been healed? If we want the latter, we have to recognize the conditions that cause it. What is it like to be a racist?

Ordinarily in politics, everyone pretends that they know what to do. Politicians pretend that to voters, who then inhabit and perpetuate that pretense by voting. When do you ever hear a politician, when asked about an issue, say, “I have no idea what to do about it”? Well, I don’t have any idea what to do about Brexit either, but if I have any advice to Brits (and this will apply to all of us even more when the next normal-destroying crisis hits) it would be not to rush too quickly to a position. Instead, abide for a while in a state of openness and curiosity, pursuing the question, “What is it like to be you?” The kind of socioeconomic analysis (neoliberalism etc.) I offered above might help answer that question in a general, theoretical way, but it is no substitute for actually listening to one another’s stories, temporarily free of the pressure of having to find a solution. If the Prime Minister asked my opinion (I’m still waiting for the phone call), I’d say to declare a national month of listening, in which the immigrants, the angry rural pensioners, the bureaucrats, the financial industry workers, listen to each other in small forums, and in which media publications print unslanted stories of the people they have demonized. The goal of that month would not be to figure out what to do. It would be to understand each other better. The goal of the storytelling would not be to make a point. It would be to be heard and to be known. To hear another’s story is to expand oneself. It is an act of intimacy, of connection, and it subverts the ideology that holds us separate. When we take in new stories, we change and grow.

Of course it is unrealistic to expect people to drop their hidden agendas and listen with open ears. Normally our ears are shut, because we think we know. That is why Brexit and the bigger breakdowns it foreshadows are so potent. It shows us that maybe we don’t know, after all. That moment of stumbling, of humility, is precious. It may be that the Brexit vote isn’t a big enough shock to interrupt the onrush of normative political discourse that seeks to make sense of things in familiar terms. Rest assured: bigger shocks are coming.

 

Image Credit: Flickr, Creative Commons. Copyright CMYK.





Monbiot at his best……..

29 01 2015

With the sudden collapse of the neoliberal consensus, it’s time to ditch tactical voting and start choosing what we want.


By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th January 2015

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse(1). And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want, rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Fein, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000(2); a year ago it was less than 15,000. A survey by the website voteforpolicies.org.uk reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green Party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they want, the Greens would be the party of government.

There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members(3), they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s.

Let me give you a flavour of the political transformation the Green Party seeks. There would be no prime minister of the kind we have today, no secretaries of state. Instead, Parliament would elect policy committees which in turn appoint convenors(4). It would also elect a First Minister, to chair the convenors’ committee. Parliament, in other words, would be sovereign rather than subject to the royal prerogative prime ministers abuse, leaders would be elected by the whole body and its various parties would be obliged to work together, rather than engage in perennial willy-waving.

Local authorities would set the taxes they chose. Local currencies, which have proved elsewhere to have transformative effects in depressed areas (see Bernard Lietaer’s book The Future of Money(5)) would become legal tender(6). Private banks would no longer be permitted to create money(7) (at the moment they issue 97% of our money supply, in the form of debt). Workers in limited companies would have the legal right, following a successful ballot, to buy them out and create cooperatives(8), with funding from a national investment bank.

The hideously unfair council tax system would be replaced by land value taxation(9), through which everyone would benefit from the speculative gains now monopolised by a few. All citizens would receive, unconditionally, a basic income(10), putting an end to insecurity and fear and to the punitive conditions attached to benefits, which have reduced recipients almost to the status of slaves.

Compare this vision of hope to Labour’s politics of fear. Compare it to a party so mesmerised by the City and the Daily Mail that it has promised to sustain the Tory cuts for “decades ahead”(11) and to “finish that task on which [the Chancellor] has failed”: eradicating the deficit.

Far too late, a former Labour minister, Peter Hain, now recognises that, inasmuch as the books need balancing, it can be done through measures like a financial transaction tax and a reform of national insurance(12), rather than through endless cuts. These opportunities have been dangling in front of Labour’s nose since 2008(13), but because appeasing the banks and the corporate press was deemed more important than preventing pain and suffering for millions, they have not been taken. Hain appears belatedly to have realised that austerity is a con, a deliberate rewriting of the social contract to divert our common wealth to the elite. There’s no evidence that the frontbench is listening.

Whether it wins or loses the general election, Labour is probably finished. It would take a generation to replace the sycophants who let Blair and Brown rip their party’s values to shreds. By then it will be history. If Labour wins in May, it is likely to destroy itself faster and more surely than if it loses, through the continued implementation of austerity. That is the lesson from Europe.

Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right. Tony Blair’s obeisance to corporate power enabled the vicious and destructive policies the Coalition now pursues(14). The same legacy silences Labour in opposition, as it pioneered most of the policies it should oppose. It is because we held our noses before that there is a greater stink today. So do we keep voting for a diluted version of Tory politics, for fear of the concentrate? Or do we start to vote for what we want? Had the people of this nation heeded the noseholders a century ago, we would still be waiting for the Liberal Party to deliver universal healthcare and the welfare state.

Society moves from the margins, not the centre. Those who wish for change must think of themselves as the sacrificial margin: the pioneering movement that might not succeed immediately, but that will eventually deliver sweeping change. We cannot create a successful alternative to the parties that have betrayed us until we start voting for it. Do we start walking, or just keep talking about the journey we might one day take?

Power at the moment is lethal. Whichever major party wins this election, it is likely to destroy itself through the pursuit of policies that almost no one wants. Yes, it might mean five more years of pain, though I suspect in these fissiparous times it won’t last so long. And then it all opens up. This is what we must strive for; this is the process that begins in May by voting, regardless of tactical considerations, for parties offering a genuine alternative. Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/09/labour-tories-vote-osborne

2. Green Party office, by email, 27th January 2015

3. http://bright-green.org/green-movement/how-the-green-party-changed-itself-to-make-the-greensurge-possible/

4. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/pa.html

5. http://www.lietaer.com/writings/books/the-future-of-money/

6. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html#EC678

7. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

8. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/in.html

9. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

10. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

11. http://press.labour.org.uk/post/87284550049/long-termism-in-public-finance-speech-by-chris

12. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/22/labour-radical-counter-greens-peter-hain

13. I was not the first to propose these alternatives to austerity Peter Hain has just discovered, but even I had got there by 2011: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/06/march-26-protest-aims-first-draft

14. http://www.monbiot.com/books/captive-state/





Solidarity, not Austerity

27 01 2015

https://damnthematrix.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/91395-tae2b25402betr.png?w=199&h=149

Raul and Nicole

I suppose it’s fair to assume that most of my readers already follow Nicole Foss’ old website, the Automatic Earth, which is now largely operated by as I can’t recall when was the last time Nicole wrote anything there, busy as she is speaking all over the place and moving to NZ etc….  If you’ve already read this, my apologies….. but Ilargi has written some sublime posts on the unfolding European catastrophe of late, and now that SYRIZA has in fact been elected, this gem had to be reproduced, because I see the current revolution in Greece as the very beginning of the end for the oligarchs, who apparently are even running scared about their future now!  Enjoy……

In what universe is it a good thing to have over half of the young people in entire countries without work, without prospects, without a future? And then when they stand up and complain, threaten them with worse? How can that possibly be the best we can do? And how much worse would you like to make it? If a flood of suicides and miscarriages, plummeting birth rates and doctors turning tricks is not bad enough yet, what would be?

If you live in Germany or Finland, and it were indeed true that maintaining your present lifestyle depends on squeezing the population of Greece into utter misery, what would your response be? F##k ‘em? You know what, even if that were so, your nations have entered into a union with Greece (and Spain, and Portugal et al), and that means you can’t only reap the riches on your side and leave them with the bitter fruit. That would make that union pointless, even toxic. You understand that, right?

Greece is still an utterly corrupt country. Brussels knows this, but it has kept supporting a government that supports the corrupt elite, tried to steer the Greeks away from voting SYRIZA. Why? How much does Brussels like corrupt elites, exactly? The EU, and its richer member nations, want Greece to cut even more, given the suicides, miscarriages, plummeting birth rates and doctors turning tricks. How blind is that? Again, how much worse does it have to get?

Does the EU have any moral values at all? And if not, why are you, if you live in the EU, part of it? Because you don’t have any, either? And if you do, where’s your voice? There are people suffering and dying who are part of a union that you are part of. That makes you an accomplice. You can’t hide from that just because your media choose to ignore your reality from you.

And it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just a lack of morals. The powers that be within the EU deliberately unleashed shock therapy on Greece – helped along by Goldman Sachs and the IMF, granted -. All supra-national organizations tend towards zero moral values. It’s inherent in their structures. We have NATO, IMF, World Bank, EU, and there’s many more. It’s about the lack of accountability, and the attraction that very lack has for certain characters. Flies and honey.

So that’s where I would tend to differ from people like Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, the man seen as SYRIZA’s new finance minister, and also the man who last night very graciously, in the midst of what must have been a wild festive night in Athens, responded to my congratulations email, saying he knows what Dr Evil Brussels is capable of. I don’t see trying to appease Brussels as a successful long term move, and I think Athens should simply say thanks, but no, thanks. But I’m a writer in a glass tower, and they have to face the music, I know.

But let’s get a proper perspective on this. And for that, first let’s get back to Steve Keen (you now he’s a personal friend of The Automatic Earth). Here’s what I think is important. His piece last week lays the foundation for SYRIZA’s negotiations with the EU better than anything could. Steve blames the EU outright for the situation Greece is in. Let’s see them break down the case he makes. And then talk.

It’s All The Greeks’ Fault

Politically paralyzed Washington talked austerity, but never actually imposed it. So who was more successful: the deliberate, policy-driven EU attempt to reduce government debt, or the “muddle through” USA? [..]muddle through was a hands-down winner: the USA’s government debt to GDP ratio has stabilized at 90% of GDP, while Spain’s has sailed past 100%. The USA’s macroeconomic performance has also been far better than Spain’s under the EU’s policy of austerity.

[..] simply on the data, the prima facie case is that all of Spain’s problems – and by inference, most of Greece’s – are due to austerity, rather than Spain’s (or Greece’s) own failings. On the data alone, the EU should “Cry Uncle”, concede Greece’s point, stop imposing austerity, and talk debt-writeoffs – especially since the Greeks can argue that at least part of its excessive public debt ratio is due to the failure of the EU’s austerity policies to reduce it.

[..] why did austerity in Europe fail to reduce the government debt ratio, while muddle-through has stabilized it in the USA? .. the key factor that I consider and mainstream economists ignore—the level and rate of change of private debt. The first clue this gives us is that the EU’s pre-crisis poster-boy, Spain, had the greatest growth in private debt of the three—far exceeding the USA’s. Its peak debt level was also much higher—225% of GDP in mid-2010 versus 170% of GDP for the USA in 2009

[..] the factor that Greece and Spain have in common is that the private sector is reducing its debt level drastically – in Spain’s case by over 20% per year. The USA, on the other hand, ended its private sector deleveraging way back in 2012. Today, Americans are increasing their private debt levels at a rate of about 5% of GDP per year—well below the peak levels prior to the crisis, but roughly in line with the rate of growth of nominal GDP.

[..] the conclusion is that Greece’s crisis is the EU’s fault, and the EU should “pay” via the debt write-offs that Syriza wants – and then some.

That’s not the attitude Berlin and Brussels go into the talks with Tsipras and Varoufakis with. They instead claim Greece owes them €240 billion, and nobody ever talks about what EU crap cost the PIIGS. But Steve is not a push-over. He made Paul Krugman look like a little girl a few years ago, when the latter chose to volunteer, and attack Steve on the issue, that – in a few words – banks have no role in credit creation.

Back to Yanis. The right wing Daily Telegraph, of all places, ran a piece today just about fully – and somewhat strangely – endorsing our left wing Greek economist. Ain’t life a party?

Yanis Varoufakis: Greece’s Future Finance Minister Is No Extremist

Syriza, a hard left party, that outrightly rejects EU-imposed austerity, has given Greek politics its greatest electoral shake-up in at least 40 years.

Hold, wait, don’t let’s ignore that 40 years ago is when Greece ended a military dictatorship. Which had been endorsed by, you know, NATO, US … So “greatest electoral shake-up” is a bit of a stretch. To say the least. There was nothing electoral about Greece pre-1975.

You might expect the frontrunner for the role of finance minister to be a radical zealot, who could throw Greece into the fire He is not. Yanis Varoufakis, the man tipped to be at the core of whatever coalition Syriza forges, is obviously a man of the left. Yet through his career, he has drawn on some of the most passionate advocates of free markets. While consulting at computer games company Valve, Mr Varoufakis cited nobel-prize winner Friedrich Hayek and classical liberal Adam Smith, in order to bring capitalism to places it had never touched.

[..] while Greece’s future minister is a fan of markets in many contexts, it is apparent that he remains a leftist, and one committed to the euro project. Speaking to the BBC on Monday, he said that it would “take an eight or nine year old” to understand the constraints which had bound Greece up since it “tragically” went bankrupt in 2010. “Europe in its infinite wisdom decided to deal with this bankruptcy by loading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders, the Greek taxpayer,” he said.

“What we’ve been having ever since is a kind of fiscal waterboarding that have turned this nation into a debt colony,” he added. Greece’s public debt to GDP now stands at an eye watering 175%, largely the result of output having fallen off a cliff in the past few years. Stringent austerity measures have not helped, but instead likely contributed.

That last line, from a right wing paper? That’s the same thing Steve Keen said. Even the Telegraph says Brussels is to blame.

It will likely be Mr Varoufakis’ job to make the best of an impossible situation. The first thing he will seek to tackle is Greece’s humanitarian crisis. “It is preposterous that in 2015 we have people that had jobs, and homes, and some of them had shops until a couple of years ago, that are now sleeping rough”, he told Channel 4. The party may now go after multinationals and wealthy individuals that it believes do not pay their way.

[..]The single currency project has fallen under heavy criticism. The economies that formed it were poorly harmonised, and no amount of cobbling together could make the end result appear coherent. Michael Cembalest, of JP Morgan, calculated in 2012 that a union made up of all countries beginning with the letter “M” would have been more workable. The same would be true of all former countries of the Ottoman Empire circa 1800, or of a reconstituted Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he found.

That’s just brilliant, great comparisons. Got to love that. And again, it reinforces my idea that the EU should simply be demolished, and Greece should not try and stay within eurozone parameters. It may look useful now, but down the line the euro has no future. There’s too much debt to go around. But for SYRIZA, I know, that is not the most practical stance to take right now. The demise of the euro will come in and of itself, and their immediate attention needs to go to Greece, not to some toxic politics game. Good on ‘em. But the fact remains. The euro’s done. And SYRIZA, whether it likes it or not, is very much an early warning sign of that.

[..] A disorderly break up would almost certainly result in a merciless devaluation of whatever currency Greece launched, and in turn a default on debt obligations. The country would likely be locked out of the capital markets, unable to raise new funds. As an economy, Greece has only just begun to see output growth return. GDP still remains more than 26% below the country’s pre-crisis peak. A fresh default is not the lifeline that Greece needs.

Instead, it will be up to a Syriza-led government to negotiate some sort of debt relief, whether that be in the form of a restructuring, a deal to provide leeway on repayment timings, or all out forgiveness. It will be up to Mr Varoufakis – if he is selected as finance minister – and newly sworn in Prime Minister Alex Tspiras to ensure that this can be achieved without Greece getting pushed out of the currency bloc in the process.

And whaddaya know, Steve Keen finishes it off too. Complete with history lessons, a take-and-shake down of failed economic policies, and a condemnation of the neo-liberal politics that wrecked Greek society so much they voted SYRIZA. It’s not rocket politics…

Dawn Of A New Politics In Europe?

About 40 years ago, one of Maggie Thatcher’s chief advisors remarked that he wouldn’t be satisfied when the Conservative Party was in government: he would only be happy when there were two conservative parties vying for office. He got his wish of course. The UK Labour Party of the 1950s that espoused socialism gave way to Tony Blair’s New Labour, and the same shift occurred worldwide, as justified disillusionment about socialism as it was actually practised—as opposed to the fantasies about socialism dreamed up by 19th century revolutionaries—set in.

Parties to the left of the political centre—the Democrats in the USA, Labour in the UK, even the Socialist Party that currently governs France—followed essentially the same economic theories and policies as their conservative rivals.

Differences in economic policy, which were once sharp Left-anti-market/Right-pro-market divides, became shades of grey on the pro-market side. Both sides of politics accepted the empirical fact that market systems worked better than state-run systems. The differences came down to assertions over who was better at conducting a pro-market economic agenda, plus disputes over the extent of the government’s role in the cases where a market failure could be identified.

So how do we interpret the success of Syriza in the Greek elections on Sunday, when this avowedly anti-austerity, left-wing party toppled the left-Neoliberal Pasok and right-Neoliberal New Democracy parties that, between them, had ruled Greece for the previous 4 decades? Is it a return to the pro-market/anti-market divides of the 1950s? No—or rather, it doesn’t have to be.

It can instead be a realisation that, though an actual market economy is indeed superior to an actual centrally planned one, the model of the market that both sides of politics accepted was wrong. That model—known as Neoliberalism in political circles, and Neoclassical Economics in the economic ones in which I move—exalts capitalism for a range of characteristics it doesn’t actually have, while ignoring characteristics that it does have which are the real sources of both capitalism’s vitality and its problems.

Capitalism’s paramount virtues, as espoused by the Neoliberal model of capitalism, are stability and efficiency. But ironically, the real virtue of capitalism is its creative instability—and that necessarily involves waste rather than efficiency. This creative instability is the real reason it defeated socialism, while simultaneously one of the key reasons socialism failed was because of its emphasis upon stability and efficiency.

[..] real-world capitalism trounced real-world socialism because of its real-world strength—the creative instability of the market that means to survive, firms must innovate—and not because of the Neoliberal model that politicians of both the Left and the Right fell for after the collapse of socialism.

Neoliberalism prospered in politics for the next 40 years, not because of what it got right about the economy (which is very little), but because of what it ignored—the capacity of the finance sector to blow a bubble that expanded for almost 40 years, until it burst in 2007. The Neoliberal model’s emphasis on making the government sector as small as possible could work while an expanding finance sector generated the money needed to fuel economic prosperity. When that bubble burst, leaving a huge overhang of private debt in its wake, Neoliberalism led not to prosperity but to a second Great Depression.

The Greeks rejected that false model of capitalism on Sunday—not capitalism itself. The new Syriza-led Government will have to contend with countries where politicians are still beholden to that false model, which will make their task more difficult than it is already. But Syriza’s victory may show that the days of Neoliberalism are numbered. Until Sunday, any party espousing anything other than Neoliberalism as its core economic policy could be slaughtered in campaigning by pointing out that its policies were rejected by economic authorities like the IMF and the OECD.

Syriza’s opponents did precisely that in Greece—and Syriza’s lead over them increased. This is the real takeaway from the Greek elections: a new politics that supports capitalism but rejects Neoliberalism is possible.

All Europeans, and Americans too, must now support SYRIZA. It’s not only the only hope for Greece, it is that for the entire EU. SYRIZA breaks the mold. Greeks themselves would be terribly stupid to start taking their money out of their accounts and precipitating bank runs. That’s what the EU wants you to do, create mayhem and discredit the younger generation that took over this weekend.

It’s going to be a bitter fight. The entrenched powers, guaranteed, won’t give up without bloodshed. SYRIZA stands for defeating a model, not just a government. Most of Europe today is in the hands of technocrats and their ilk, it’s all technocrats and their little helpers. And it’s no just that, it’s that the neo-liberal Brussels crowd used Athens as a test case, in the exact same way Milton Friedman and his Chicago School used the likes of Videla and Pinochet to make their point, and tens of thousands got murdered in the process.

It’s important that we all, European or not, grasp how lacking in morality the entire system prevalent in the west, including the EU, has become. This shows in East Ukraine, where sheer propaganda has shaped opinions for at least a full year now. It’s not about what is real, it’s about what ‘leaders’ would like you to think and believe. And this same immorality has conquered Greece too; there may be no guns, but there are plenty victims.

The EU is a disgrace, a predatory beast unleashed upon all corners of Europe that resist central control and, well, debt slavery really, if you live on the wrong side of the tracks.

SYRIZA may be the last chance Europe has to right its wrongs, before fighting in the streets becomes an everyday reality. Before we get there, and I don’t know that we can prevent it, hear Steve Keen: it’s not the Greeks that screwed up, it’s the EU. But they would never ever admit to that.





Capitalism IS the Crisis….

26 04 2014

I heard this film mentioned by Derrick Jensen at the end of that podcast I mentioned in Why we are still screwed….. Thorium or no Thorium!

It’s a bit long at one hour forty minutes – why is it doco producers seem to think their films can’t be as good if they’re edited shorter?  Anyhow, I still think it’s compulsory viewing….  especially for Australians who can have the advantage of seeing where Canada’s Harper government took its people.  Remember, we are just a couple of years behind, and Abbott could easily be Harper’s clone.