Feb 25, 2009

The Language of Looting - By MICHAEL HUDSON

Must read of today, from Counterpunch, or: "What "Nationalize the Banks" and the "Free Market" Really Mean in Today's Looking-Glass World". Extracts:

"...the rhetoric of “free markets,” “nationalization” and even “socialism” (as in “socializing the losses”) has been turned into the language of deception to help the financial sector mobilize government power to support its own special privileges. Having undermined the economy at large, Wall Street’s public relations think tanks are now dismantling the language itself.

Exactly what does “a free market” mean? Is it what the classical economists advocated – a market free from monopoly power, business fraud, political insider dealing and special privileges for vested interests – a market protected by the rise in public regulation from the Sherman Anti-Trust law of 1890 to the Glass-Steagall Act and other New Deal legislation? Or is it a market free for predators to exploit victims without public regulation or economic policemen – the kind of free-for-all market that the Federal Reserve and Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) have created over the past decade or so? It seems incredible that people should accept today’s neoliberal idea of “market freedom” in the sense of neutering government watchdogs, Alan Greenspan-style, letting Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide, Hank Greenberg at AIG, Bernie Madoff, Citibank, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers loot without hindrance or sanction, plunge the economy into crisis and then use Treasury bailout money to pay the highest salaries and bonuses in U.S. history.

Terms that are the antithesis of “free market” also are being turned into the opposite of what they historically have meant. Take today’s discussions about nationalizing the banks. For over a century nationalization has meant public takeover of monopolies or other sectors to operate them in the public interest rather than leaving them so special interests. But when neoliberals use the word “nationalization” they mean a bailout, a government giveaway to the financial interests.

Doublethink and doubletalk with regard to “nationalizing” or “socializing” the banks and other sectors is a travesty of political and economic discussion from the 17th through mid-20th centuries. Society’s basic grammar of thought, the vocabulary to discuss political and economic topics, is being turned inside-out in an effort to ward off discussion of the policy solutions posed by the classical economists and political philosophers that made Western civilization “Western.”

Today’s clash of civilization is not really with the Orient; it is with our own past, with the Enlightenment itself and its evolution into classical political economy and Progressive Era social reforms aimed at freeing society from the surviving trammels of European feudalism. What we are seeing is propaganda designed to deceive, to distract attention from economic reality so as to promote the property and financial interests from whose predatory grasp classical economists set out to free the world. What is being attempted is nothing less than an attempt to destroy the intellectual and moral edifice of what took Western civilization eight centuries to develop, from the 12th century Schoolmen discussing Just Price through 19th and 20th century classical economic value theory.

Any idea of “socialism from above,” in the sense of “socializing the risk,” is old-fashioned oligarchy – kleptocratic statism from above. Real nationalization occurs when governments act in the public interest to take over private property. The 19th-century program to nationalize the land (it was the first plank of the Communist Manifesto) did not mean anything remotely like the government taking over estates, paying off their mortgages at public expense and then giving it back to the former landlords free and clear of encumbrances and taxes. It meant taking the land and its rental income into the public domain, and leasing it out at a user fee ranging from actual operating cost to a subsidized rate or even freely as in the case of streets and roads.

Nationalizing the banks along these lines would mean that the government would supply the nation’s credit needs. The Treasury would become the source of new money, replacing commercial bank credit. Presumably this credit would be lent out for economically and socially productive purposes, not merely to inflate asset prices while loading down households and business with debt as has occurred under today’s commercial bank lending policies..." Read all here

The best you can do is go where the governments are so unorganized that they can't control you effectively

Some original opinion mixed with predictions, wit and tips from an interview with Doug Casey published today on Goldnews. Extracts: "...what I describe as the Greater Depression. It's not coming; it's here. It's going to get much, much worse as far as I'm concerned and unfortunately, it's going to last a long time. It doesn't have to last a long time, but the root cause is government intervention in the economy and everything they're doing now is not just the wrong thing, it's the opposite of what they should be doing. It's almost perverse...

...Europe is going to be hurt much worse than the US Europeans are much more heavily taxed and much more heavily regulated. The average European is much more reliant upon the state psychologically as well as economically. So it's all over for Europe and this doesn't even count the problems that they're going to have in the continuing war against Islam, which are much more serious for Europe than they are for the US.
So, no, Europe is fated to be nothing but a source of houseboys and maids for the Chinese in the next generation...

...I've been to 175 countries and lived in 12. My feeling is that the best thing that you can do is set your life up so that you're not to be considered the property of any one government. You might have a passport or several passports and, therefore, that government thinks they own you. But if you don't spend time in a country, practically speaking, there's nothing they can do about it.

So no, there is no real haven for freedom in the world today. The best you can do is go where the governments are so unorganized that they can't control you effectively. That's one reason I like to spend time in Argentina. They have an incredibly stupid government, but they're also very inefficient and ineffective. So it's wonderful as a place to live.

I also spend time in Uruguay, because it's a tiny little country with no ambitions to conquer the world. The nice thing about New Zealand, where I am now, is that it's a small country, only 4 million people, lots of open land. It's got some severe problems, but it's pleasant. I think the US is going to be the epicenter of a lot of problems in the years to come...

...the most intelligent thing you can do is to own a lot of gold, including Gold Coins in your own possession. And I think speculation in Gold Mining stocks makes sense at this point, because gold stocks are about as cheap as they've ever been relative to other assets, really, in history. Now is an excellent time to do that as well. But that's in terms of speculation...

...Owning real estate in some foreign countries is a very good idea – from a lifestyle point of view, an asset diversification point of view, and a possible capital gains point of view, too. They can't make you repatriate foreign real estate. Having some US Dollar cash while we're going through this deflationary period is very wise as well, but that's not going to last. Eventually the US Dollar is going to reach its intrinsic value...

...the US should default on this debt. It's impossible to pay it back, and it won't be paid back. It's more honest to acknowledge that bankruptcy now as opposed to pretend it's going to be paid back. Defaulting even might forestall runaway inflation in the dollar, which would be a catastrophe of the first order. So it's the smart and moral thing to do, and it's going to happen eventually anyway. All the real wealth will still be here; a lot of it will just change ownership. The big losers will be those who lent to the State, thereby enabling its depredations, and they deserve to be punished.

But even a default tomorrow will do no good unless you put the US government into reverse and disband all of these ridiculous, destructive agencies that have grown like a cancer for years. Taxes should be cut 50% to start with, just out of hand. And the defense establishment – it's a misnomer; it's not defense at all but rather foments wars around the world – should be cut hugely. Not with a butcher knife; but a chain saw. But none of this is going to happen; in fact, just the opposite. That's why I'm so pessimistic now that the tipping point's finally been reached..." Read all here