All posts filed under: Economics

Russian Stalemate

Frank Lee The brewing conflict between the Russian Oligarchy and the Russian people is reaching a crisis point. The side that prevails will determine the future of Russia and perhaps the world. On 17 March 1991 a referendum was held in the Soviet Union on whether or not the USSR should continue to exist. There was an 80% turnout (some 185,647,355.00 of registered voters). The upshot of this election was that 113,512,812.00 voted to preserve the USSR. That’s 71.92%. Their wishes were disregarded, however. The entrenched bureaucracies and business interests, collectively the nomenklatura, decided that this was too good an opportunity to pass up; there was money to be made in this once in a lifetime situation. Which sounds eerily rather like EU referenda practise. The sunny interlude of Gorbachov was to give way to the beginning of the Yeltsin catastrophe – a catastrophe not equalled since WW2. The emergence of the cosmopolitan business oligarchy and its political hangers-on was to consolidate its power and create a new kind of political, economic and social structure. …

Four Little Words

It was Sir John Templeton, the American-born British investor, banker, fund manager, and philanthropist, who sardonically observed that in business and finance the expression ‘this time it’s different’ represented the four most expensive words in the business lexicon. Today’s market fundamentalists seem fixated with the quasi-religious belief that (a) bubbles can go on inflating forever, or (b) I will take my profit just when the market tops out. But how many times have the investing herd had their collective snouts rubbed into the reality that there is no such thing as a free lunch? Unless of course you are on the inside. Whenever a market is oversold and seems to offer something for nothing, market participants behave like wildebeest herds on the plains of the Serengeti stampeding in precisely the wrong direction to the refrain of – ‘this time it’s different.’

A Taxing Question: Re-reading Piketty

Frank Lee reviews Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty This book by Thomas Piketty was first published in 2014 and became an instant best seller. It had taken the author some 15 years to research and complete, and deserves a detailed attention and analysis rather than the usual one-off, production-line tracts which are read and instantly forgotten. Piketty describes the end of an old epoch, the rise of the new – the golden age of welfare-capitalism, Le Trente Glorieuses, the Keynes/Beveridge consensus, call it what you will, circa 1945-1975 – and the re-emergence of a second rentier capitalism regime which began the early 1980s. Using apposite literary references to writers of the first gilded age he quotes: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice An immortal sentence which says a thousand words. Such was the moral zeitgeist in Europe during the 19th century; Piketty then drives home the point by adding …

Oil, Agriculture and Imperialism: Averting the Fast-Track to Armageddon?

US global hegemony depends on Washington maintaining the dollar’s leading role. Engaging in petrodollar recycling and treasury-bond ‘super-imperialism’ are joined at the hip and have enabled the US to run up a huge balance of payments deficit (a free ride courtesy of the rest of the world) by using the (oil-backed) paper dollar as security in itself.

The Real Left, Phony Left and What’s Left

Philip Farruggio Cutting to the chase, if you consider yourself to be ‘On the Left’ then you have to be a Socialist. Period! Now, there are many different levels under the banner of Socialism. Some may be Marxist, Trotskyite, Syndicalism etc. Yet, the unifying denominator is that all believe in the common ownership of the means of production and services. Many socialists do honor the existence of Mom and Pop private ownership of small business. Under a truly socialist system banking, energy, health & dental care, housing and all necessary services would be owned and operated by the community, whether it be local, state or federal. Imagine if you would if we had real community owned and run mortgage banks, where the only interest charges would be for overhead. Translated: Even in these so-called ‘low rates’ times, where a mortgage rate is around 4 or 5%, with non-profit community banks the rate would be perhaps 1%. Plus, the mortgage paper would remain with that bank. Today’s renters would be tomorrow’s owners of their own abode. …

Geopolitics of Europe and the Iron Law of Evolutionary Biology

Europe after the Brexit, NATO 70 summit and Turkish geopolitical vertigo Professor Anis H. Bajrektarević A freshly released IMF’s World Economic Outlook brings no comforting picture to anyone within the G-7, especially in the US and EU: The WTO Round is dead, trade wars are alive, GCC is rapidly Pakistanising while the Asia’s core and its Far East slows down. No comfort either comes from the newest Oxfam Report – Are 26 billionaires worth more than half the planet?, which the ongoing Davos Vanity Fair known as the WEF tries to ignore (as much as this gathering of capital sustains in ignoring labor). The Brexit after-shock is still to reverberate around. In one other EXIT, Sartre’s Garcin famously says: ‘Hell is other people’. Indeed, the business of othering remains lucrative: The NATO 70 summit will desperately look for enemies. Escalation, the best way to preserve eroded unity, requires the confrontational nostalgia dictatum. Will the passionately US-pushed cross-Atlantic Free Trade Area (substituting the abandoned TIPP and compensating for the Sino-US trade war) save the day? Or, …

Neoliberalism and its Discontents

Frank Lee Pure economics is not a theory of real-world economics, of actually-existing capitalism, but of an imaginary capitalism.” Samir Amin, The Liberal Virus (2004) According to orthodox economic trade theory, free movement of labour, capital and commodities, will result in flows into the most optimal investment and growth areas. In doing so this process will be seen to maximise social welfare in terms of growth of income and output. At the level of theory this may seem disarmingly plausible; in practise, however, the theory begs a number of key questions and is not necessarily always the case. Like much orthodox economic theory, the free-trade paradigm is a one-size fits all prescriptive model; always and everywhere it is thought to be the policy of choice. Free-up the markets and they will deliver the goods. This is, to say the least, a questionable view. The quasi-religious belief in the efficacy of free trade and factor input movement is the cornerstone of trade agreements such as free-trade areas like NAFTA and trading blocs like the EU and …

Main Street, Brexitland

Tony Sutton People in England’s northern towns and cities are scared. Their fears stoked by xenophobic right-wing media, they hate Europe, and they hate migrants. But, most of all, they hate the way they are being squeezed into poverty by a post-industrial society that has turned dreams into nightmares and replaced hope with despair. Tony Sutton returns to South Shields, a place he once called home. British Prime Minister Theresa May has committed herself to a scheme to arrest the economic decline of the north of England. However, the plan, originally proposed by George Osborne, who was axed as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the exit of David Cameron as PM following June 2016’s Brexit vote, is still in a state of incoherence, doubletalk and indecision. Nothing has yet been agreed, other than the setting up of a think tank – the Northern Powerhouse Partnership – by Osborne, who raised few hopes for speedy action when he said at its mid-September launch: “Trying to turn around 100 years of relative economic decline is not going …

Capitalist Agriculture: Putting Soil on a Diet of Snake Oil and Doughnuts

Colin Todhunter In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate-inspired PR, many government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. The premise is that under capitalism water, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful and wholly corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity. These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible. Concerns about what is in the public interest or what is best for the environment lies beyond the scope of hard-headed commercial interests and should ideally be the remit of elected governments and civil organisations. However, the best-case scenario for private corporations is to have supine, co-opted agencies or governments. And if …

The Stomach-Churning Violence of the Agrochemical Oligopoly

Colin Todhunter As humans, we have evolved with the natural environment over millennia. We have learned what to eat and what not to eat, what to grow and how to grow it and our diets have developed accordingly. We have hunted, gathered, planted and harvested. Our overall survival as a species has been based on gradual, emerging relationships with the seasons, insects, soil, animals, trees and seeds. And out of these relationships, we have seen the development of communities whose rituals and bonds have a deep connection with food production and the natural environment. However, over the last couple generations, agriculture and food production has changed more than it had done over previous millennia. These changes have involved massive social upheaval as communities and traditions have been uprooted and have entailed modifying what we eat, how we grow our food and what we apply to it. All of this has been driven by geopolitical concerns and powerful commercial interests with their proprietary chemicals and patented seeds. The process of neoliberal globalisation is accelerating the process …

GM Cotton – Reckless Gamble

The Profit Driven Move that Placed Indian Cotton Farmers in Corporate Noose Colin Todhunter The dubious performance (failure) of genetically engineered Bt cotton, officially India’s only GM crop, should serve as a warning as the push within the country to adopt GM across a wide range of food crops continues. This article provides an outline of some key reports and papers that have appeared in the last few years on Bt cotton in India. In a paper that appeared in December 2018 in the journal Current Science, P.C. Kesavan and M.S. Swaminathan cited research findings to support the view that Bt insecticidal cotton has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers. This paper was not just important because of its content but also because M.S. Swaminathan is considered to be the father of the Green Revolution in India. The two authors provided evidence that indicates Bt crops are unsustainable and have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM …

The GMO Issue Reaches Boiling Point in India

Interview with Aruna Rodrigues In a recent article published on the India-based News18 site (CNN), prominent US biologist Nina Federoff was reported as saying it is time for India to grant farmers access to genetically modified (GM) crops. In an interview with the site, she says there is no evidence that GM crops are dangerous when consumed either by people in food or by animals in feed. Federoff says that the commercial release of various GM crops in India has been halted by the Indian government due to opposition from environmental activists. She adds that we are rapidly moving out of the climate regime in which our primary crops were domesticated, arguing that that they do increasingly worse and will yield less as temperature extremes become common and pest and pathogen populations change. She says GM will become more or less essential in an era of climate change. In recent weeks, aside from Federoff’s intervention, GM has been a hot topic in India. In late November, a paper appeared in the journal Current Science which …

Paradigm shifts: The Great crash of 2008 revisited

Frank Lee Some years ago, I reviewed a book – State Building – by Francis Fukuyama. This was one of his lesser known works, he is more famous for being the theorist of the ‘end of history’ – a view fashionable during the days of neo-liberal triumphalism circa the 1980s. But the views espoused are much the same in both works. After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and social-democracy effectively throwing in the towel in Western Europe, Mr Fukuyama postulated that liberal, deregulated, market capitalism was now the historical norm, and if countries had not arrived at this terminal point in their history then in the fullness of time they surely would. This teleology became the received wisdom in official circles, and I would argue still is, at least among the political, financial and media elites. Paradoxically, this consensus – let’s call it the Thatcher/Reagan settlement – represented almost a theoretical mirror image of the cruder types of Marxist historical materialism. The term ‘cruder’ is used sparingly, since it is questionable whether Marx …

Happy ThanksGetting Day

Philip Farruggio Yes, we need to finally absolve ourselves, as Amerikans, from the con-job concerning Thanksgiving Day. All the ‘pomp and circumstance’ revolving around this holiday is just that, to quote Ebenezer Scrooge (one month early): Humbug! Of course, even the southern Colonial slaves and Northern ‘indentured servants’ of that era would be thankful to just have a roof over their heads and enough to eat each day. Yet, it was only the slave masters and owners of property and capital who could kneel in their churches or bow in reflected prayer at their lavish dinner tables in true thanksgiving. Amerika 2018 consists of well over 100 million of our citizens who are lucky just to stay head above water financially…perhaps a few paychecks from being out on the street…literally! How many families who live next door to me and to YOU (or maybe YOU yourself the reader) who have to have two (or more?) wage earners full time to just be able to function? How many single parents of even just one child need …

GMO Propaganda and Neoliberalism vs Localisation and Agroecology

Colin Todhunter What people communicate is a matter of choice. But what can be more revealing are the issues they choose to avoid. There are certain prominent pro-GMO activists who describe themselves as ‘science communicators’. They hit out at those who question their views or who have valid criticisms of GM technology and then play the role of persecuted victim, believing that, as the self-appointed arbiters of righteousness, they are beyond reproach, although given their duplicity nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of being open to questioning, they attempt to close down debate to push a flawed technology they have a vested (financial-career) interest in, while all the time appealing to their self-perceived authority, usually based on holding a PhD in molecular biology or a related discipline. They relentlessly promote GM and industrial agriculture and unjustifiably cast critics as zealots who are in cahoots with Greenpeace or some other group they have a built-in dislike of. And they cynically raise or lower the bar of ‘credibility’ by ad hominem and misrepresentation so that …

India’s Farmers Plan Mass March to the Nation’s Parliament as Agrarian Crisis Reaches “Civilization Proportions”

Colin Todhunter With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet. And yet it is also one of the most neglected in terms of both investment and media coverage. Veteran journalist and founder of the People’s Archive of Rural India P. Sainath argues that the majority of Indians do not count to the nation’s media, which renders up to 75 percent of the population ‘extinct’. According to the Centre for Media Studies in Delhi, the five-year average of agriculture reporting in an Indian national daily newspaper equals 0.61 percent of news coverage, while village-level stories account for 0.17 percent. For much of the media, whether print or TV, celebrity, IT, movements on the stock exchange and the daily concerns of elite and urban middle class dwellers are what count. Unlike the corporate media, the digital journalism platform the People’s Archive of Rural India has not only documented the complexity and beauty of rural India but also its hardships and the all too often heartbreaking personal stories …

Food, Justice, Violence and Capitalism

Colin Todhunter In 2015, India’s internal intelligence agency wrote a report that depicted various campaigners and groups as working against the national interest. The report singled out environmental activists and NGOs that had been protesting against state-corporate policies. Those largely undemocratic and unconstitutional policies were endangering rivers, forests and local ecologies, destroying and oppressing marginalised communities, entrenching the corporatisation of agriculture and usurping land rights. These issues are not unique to India. Resistance against similar practices and injustices is happening across the world. And for their efforts, campaigners are being abused, incarcerated and murdered. Whether people are campaigning for the land rights of tribal communities in India or for the rights of peasant farmers in Latin America or are campaigning against the fracking industry in the UK or against pipelines in the US, there is a common thread: non-violent protest to help bring about a more just and environmentally sustainable world. What is ultimately fuelling the push towards the relentless plunder of land, peoples and the environment is a strident globalised capitalism, euphemistically termed ‘globalisation’, …

Economics: Class War by Another Name

Frank Lee The terrible case which … socialists are able to make out against the present economic order of society demands a full consideration of all means by which the ownership of property may be … made to work in a manner beneficial to that large portion of society which at present enjoys the least share of its direct benefits.(John Stuart Mill – Essays on Economics – 1824 I recall an old anarchist cartoon which was in the form of a pyramid. The top stratum consisted of Kings and Queens, millionaires, billionaires, high-ranking politicians, the military, ministers and statesmen and various other high-falutin’ members of the ruling elite: the adjacent caption read – “We rule you.” The next tier down, consisted of the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, priests and other members of the clergy: the caption read – “We fool you.” Beneath that there were soldiers and militia and police: the caption read – “We shoot you.” And the lowest, broader and most populous layer was – us, the ordinary folk, the caption read: – “we …

Pope Francis and the Battle over Cultural Terrain

by Gary Olson, September 14, 2018, via CounterPunch “… [W]e should not be fooled: Much of the organized opposition to Francis has nothing to do with how we care for the divorced and remarried. It is this, his trenchant critique of modern capitalism that keeps money flowing to conservative outlets intent on marginalizing what the pope says.’ — Michael Sean Williams, The National Catholic Reporter, 10/29/17. So far, we have the still unsubstantiated allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that Pope Francis covered up sex abuses by the now disgraced Theodore McCarrick, the Cardinal who oversaw Washington, D.C. churches from 2001-2006.  Vigano named 32 other senior clerics, all allies of Pope Francis and called for the pontiff’s resignation. Although I remain highly skeptical of Vigano’s charges, I’m reluctant to draw any hard conclusion at this juncture. And being neither a Catholic nor a believer, I don’t have an ecclesiastical dog collar in this fight. However, my sense is that this matter is far more serious than a civil war within the Church — and that …

India Mortgaged? Forced-Fed Illness and the Neoliberal Food Regime

Colin Todhunter Like many countries, India’s food system was essentially clean just a generation or two ago but is now being comprehensively contaminated with sugar, bad fats, synthetic additives, GMOs and pesticides under the country’s neoliberal ‘great leap forward’. The result has been a surge in obesity, diabetes and cancer incidence, while there has been no let-up in the under-nutrition of those too poor to join in the over-consumption. Indian government data indicates that cancer showed a 5% increase in prevalence between 2012 and 2014 with the number of new cases doubling between 1990 and 2013. The incidence of cancer for some major organs in India is the highest in the world. The increase in prevalence of diabetes is also worrying. By 2030, the number of diabetes patients in India is likely to rise to 101 million (World Health Organization estimate). The figure doubled to 63 million in 2013 from 32 million in 2000. Over 8% of the adult male population in India has diabetes. The figure is 7% for women. Almost 76,000 men and 52,000 women in the 30-69 …