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Posts Tagged ‘debt

Greece checkmates the European Union

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Syriza has said Greece will continue to make payments on the country's massive debt, but will also negotiate relief. Most important, the Syriza programme is unmistakably left wing and will lead to a head-on collision with the EU institutions and big business. Image: Cartoon Movement / Gatis Sluka (Latvia, Riga)

Syriza has said Greece will continue to make payments on the country’s massive debt, but will also negotiate relief. Most important, the Syriza programme is unmistakably left wing and will lead to a head-on collision with the EU institutions and big business. Image: Cartoon Movement / Gatis Sluka (Latvia, Riga)

The victory of Syriza in the 25 January 2015 general election in Greece has triggered off genuine hope in Europe that changes for the better are possible. There was, for the world to witness through television cameras and to read via social media channels, an outpouring of joy on the streets of Athens when the Coalition of the Radical Left (which is what the acronym ‘syriza’ stands for) won 37.5% of the votes polled and 146 seats in the parliament.

The Syriza that has now formed the new government brings together a group of 13 radical and left-wing political groups and factions ranging from democratic socialist and green-oriented to communist, trotskyist and maoist leftists and even some anti-European groups. Regardless of their often divergent political trajectories, their joint solidarity is a remarkable achievement, not only for Greece but for Europe.

Greece_syrizaAlready, the new Greek government is stamping upon Euro-politics a new voice. Syriza has spoken out against the EU partners over the statement that blames Russia for the recent attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol (Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria had voiced similar objections earlier). The new government, headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said bluntly that “… it is underlined that Greece does not consent to this statement”. The decisive ‘no’ from Syriza could inspire other countries to follow suit and oppose Brussels’ policies towards Russia on the Ukrainian crisis. Before the remarkable result in Greece, it was considered difficult in the EU to break ranks but now it is not unlikely that Hungary, Slovakia and Cyprus will find the courage to also say ‘no’ to the diktat from Brussels.

And that is one reason why Europe’s parties — conservative or socialist or some muddled admixture thereof – have become anxious at the electoral success of a genuine leftist party in one of the countries of the European Union. They see the success of Syriza as encouraging and emboldening growing leftist movements in larger countries, including Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and elsewhere, all countries whose citizens have been hurt by the iron heel of selective ‘austerity’ imposed by the European Parliament (in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund and Europe’s central banks). As does Syriza, these new movements in Europe reject the jaded and morally compromised parties that have been taking turns running European countries as adjuncts to the dictates of trans-national capital and the networks of global financiers.

The resounding victory in Greece has halted in its tracks the prevailing neo-liberal consensus in Europe that the way to ‘reform’ economies is to impose ‘austerity’, slash social programmes, hammer down wages, boost unemployment, and privatise functions that have long been public like transit, education, roads and and health care. This is after all a coalition whose manifesto stated, “The national debt is first and foremost a product of class relations, and is inhumane in its very essence. It is produced by the tax evasion of the wealthy, the looting of public funds, and the exorbitant procurement of military weapons and equipment.” Greece has spoken and all of Europe is changed.

Written by makanaka

January 29, 2015 at 20:28

Six out of 10 are farm households in rural India

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An agricultural year begins at the beginning of July and ends on the last day of June the following year. What we know now, thanks to the data provided by the Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households, carried out by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) is that in the agricultural year 2012-13, rural India had an estimated total of 90.2 million agricultural households.

RG_NSSO_agri_households_201412_1These agricultural households were about 57.8% of the total estimated rural households. Uttar Pradesh, with an estimate of 18.05 million agricultural households, accounted for about 20% of all agricultural households in the country. Among the major states, Rajasthan had the highest percentage of agricultural households (78.4%) among its rural households followed by Uttar Pradesh (74.8%) and Madhya Pradesh (70.8%). Kerala had the least percentage share of agricultural households (27.3%) in its rural households preceded by other southern states like Tamil Nadu (34.7%) and Andhra Pradesh (41.5%).

The NSSO’s previous such survey (the ‘Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers’) was conducted in 2003. The differences between the two, a decade apart, have been explained by the NSSO. First, such surveys aim to gather an assessment of the situation of our farmers and farming households.

RG_NSSO_agri_households_201412_2This assessment determines a standard of living as measured by consumer expenditure, income and productive assets, the indebtedness of farmers and farming households, farming practices and preferences, what resources are available to them, their awareness of technological developments and access to such technologies. The survey for the 2012-13 agricultural year also collected information on crop loss, crop insurance and awareness about the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Second, the big difference between the two surveys is that the new survey has dropped the criterion of land possession for considering a household agricultural. “Recognising the fact that significant agricultural activity can be conducted without possessing any land, the definition of ‘farmer’ and ‘farmer household’ followed in NSS 59th Round was critically reviewed and the land possession as an eligibility criterion was dispensed with, replacing it with the concept of ‘agricultural production unit’ as one which produces field crops, horticultural crops, livestock and the products of any of the other specified agricultural activities,” is how the new survey (called the 70th Round) has explained its decision.

RG_NSSO_agri_households_201412_3I find this puzzling and an aspect that needs careful probing. We know, from a close scrutiny of the Census 2011 data at the district level, that the number of people and households engaged in cultivation and farming has dropped when compared to the last census, in 2001, and the previous census, in 1991 (as a percentage of the rural working population but in several cases as absolute population numbers too).

What reason could the NSSO have had to amend the definition it used ten years earlier? “With a view to keep the large number of households with insignificant agricultural activities out of survey coverage, it was decided to have a minimum value of agricultural produce for a household to qualify as an ‘agricultural production unit’,” the NSSO has explained. I cannot follow this reasoning. Are urban households which make negligible contributions to the local gross domestic product to be kept out of surveys that ought to assess their conditions – such as those with pensioners and informally employed people who get by on job work?

RG_NSSO_agri_households_201412_4If this is the basis for exclusion, what qualifies a household for inclusion in the survey? The NSSO has considered average Monthly Household Consumer Expenditure (MHCE) for “home grown consumption of some specific items” and adopted a cut-off value amount of 3,000 rupees worth of annual agricultural produce. The activities which provided such value are given as “cultivation of field crops, horticultural crops, fodder crops, plantation, animal husbandry, poultry, fishery, piggery, bee-keeping, vermiculture, sericulture etc” with such a household “having at least one member self-employed in agriculture either in the principal status or in subsidiary status during last 365 days”.

This cut-off value amount needs investigation. So does the idea of an ‘agricultural production unit’. And the NSSO for this survey has also excluded households which are entirely agricultural labour households, those households receiving income entirely from coastal fishing, as also the activity of “rural artisans and agricultural services”. Nonetheless, these data are important and useful for our understanding of the changes that have taken place in the food and agriculture domain.

Written by makanaka

December 22, 2014 at 16:16

An inequality chasm is fracturing Europe, warns the OECD

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April in Berlin, Germany. A homeless man sat begging for euros or food in the entrance of an S-Bahn station.

April in Berlin, Germany. A homeless man sat begging for euros or food in the entrance of an S-Bahn station.

Deepening inequalities in income between the richer and poorer families, greater relative income poverty in recent years compared with earlier, a greater burden borne by children and young people than before because of their being relatively poor – these are some of the stark conclusions contained in the OECD briefing, ‘New Results from the OECD Income Distribution Database’.

This is the picture of Europe today (and of the non-European members of the OECD). “Looking at the 17 OECD countries for which data are available over a long time period, market income inequality increased by more over the last three years than what was observed in the previous 12 years,” observed the new briefing, which is sub-titled ‘Crisis squeezes income and puts pressure on inequality and poverty’.

Annual percentage changes in household market income between 2007 and 2010, by income component. Chart: OECD

Annual percentage changes in household market income between 2007 and 2010, by income component. Chart: OECD

The figures and data show that many of the countries recording the most dramatic increases in inequality are European countries which have been subjected to punitive austerity measures by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The OECD report singles out Spain and Italy, where the income of “the poorest 10 percent was much lower in 2010 than in 2007”.

Five percent falls in income (per year) amongst the poorest 10 percent were also recorded in Greece, Ireland, Estonia, and Iceland. The only non-European nation with a comparable level of income decline was Mexico. The report also stated that over the same period, poor families in the United States, Italy, France, Austria and Sweden all recorded income losses in excess of the OECD average.

Indeed the ‘New Results’ briefing has showed that across OECD countries, real household disposable income stagnated. Likewise, the average income of the top 10% in 2010 was similar to that in 2007. Meanwhile, the income of the bottom 10% in 2010 was lower than that in 2007 by 2% per year. Out of the 33 countries where data are available, the top 10% has done better than the poorest 10% in 21 countries.

This is the OECD picture till 2010. Since then, recession has been the companion of inequality. With an average growth of -0.2 per cent in the first quarter (against -0.1 per cent in the EU as a whole) and hardly better prospects for the whole rest of the year (-0.7 per cent), according to Eurostat, the dreaded “double dip” has become a reality. The press attributes the result largely to the austerity policies.

Gini coefficient of household disposable income and gap between richest and poorest 10%, 2010: Chart: OECD

Gini coefficient of household disposable income and gap between richest and poorest 10%, 2010: Chart: OECD

“Eurozone sets bleak record of longest term in recession,” reported the Financial Times. The daily noted that “this latest dismal record came after unemployment hit 12.1 per cent in the bloc, its highest level,” and that this data “is likely to add to pressure on the European Central Bank to take further action after cutting interest rates this month, and to revise down its economic forecast predicting a recovery later in the year.”

Moreover, relative income poverty – the share of people having less income than half the national median income – affects around 11% of the population on average across OECD countries. Poverty rates range between 6% of the population in Denmark and the Czech Republic to between 18% and 21% in Chile, Turkey, Mexico and Israel. Over the two decades up to 2007, relative income poverty increased in most OECD countries, particularly in countries that had low levels of income poverty in the mid-1990s.

In Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, the income poverty rate increased by 2 percentage points or more. In Sweden, the poverty rate in 2010 (9%) was more than twice what it was in 1995 (4%). Relative poverty also increased in some countries, such as Australia, Japan, Turkey and Israel, with middle and high levels of poverty.

The OECD briefing has stated bluntly: “Households with children were hit hard during the crisis. Since 2007, child poverty increased in 16 OECD countries, with increases exceeding 2 points in Turkey, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Hungary.” The ‘New Results’ briefing added: “Since 2007, youth poverty increased considerably in 19 OECD countries. In Estonia, Spain and Turkey, an additional 5% of young adults fell into poverty between 2007 and 2010. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the increase was 4%, and in the Netherlands 3%.”

Annual percentage changes in household disposable income between 2007 and 2010, by income group. Chart: OECD

Annual percentage changes in household disposable income between 2007 and 2010, by income group. Chart: OECD

Between 2007 and 2010, average relative income poverty in the OECD countries rose from 12.8 to 13.4% among children and from 12.2 to 13.8% among youth. Meanwhile, relative income poverty fell from 15.1 to 12.5% among the elderly. This pattern confirms the trends described in previous OECD studies, with youth and children replacing the elderly as the group at greater risk of income poverty across the OECD countries.

These results only tell the beginning of the story about the consequences of austerity, growing unemployment, the burden on children and youth, and burden on immigrant wage labour. The OECD data describes the evolution of income inequality and relative poverty up to 2010. But “the economic recovery has been anaemic in a number of OECD countries and some have recently moved back into recession”, said the briefing.

Worse, since 2010, many people exhausted their rights to unemployment benefits. In such a situation, the briefing has warned, “the ability of the tax-benefit system to alleviate the high (and potentially increasing) levels of inequality and poverty of income from work and capital might be challenged”. These are unusually blunt words from the OECD and their use reflects the depth and persistence of the crisis of modern, reckless, destructive capitalism in Europe.

Occupy the EU, and merry christmas

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TNI-map-of-EU-resistance-2012Let’s look at a few, very few, trifling almost, pieces of evidence. As austerity cuts swept Europe, the numbers of the wealthy in Europe with more than US$1 million (€772,000) in cash rose from 2.6 million in 2008 to 3.2 million people in 2011. Together they were worth US$10.1 trillion (€7.8 trillion) in 2011.

Don’t look away yet. The five biggest banks in Europe made profits of €34 billion in 2011. Executive pay for the CEOs of the 100 largest companies on the London stock exchange rose by 49% in 2010, compared with 2.7% for the average employee.

Yes, I’m coming to the Occupy anthem, but first: there are between 15,000 and 30,000 estimated lobbyists in Brussels – more than in Washington. Some operate as “professional consultants” and under other titles and relatively few have registered with the EC voluntary lobbyist register. 68% of European lobby groups represent business interests. Trade unions make up 1-2%.

This is courtesy the very excellent and incendiary update to the EU Crisis Pocket Guide, first brought out by the Transnational Institute. [The update is in English, and the pocket guide is also available in Italian and in Spanish.)

TNI-EU-banks_bailout-2012TNI’s EU Crisis Pocket Guide tells us: how a private debt crisis was turned into a public debt crisis and an excuse for austerity; the way the rich and bankers benefited while the vast majority lost out; the devastating social consequences of austerity; the European Union’s response to the crisis: more austerity, more privatisation, less democracy; and contains ten alternatives put forward by civil society groups to put people and the environment before corporate greed.

Indeed, as Triple Crisis has warned, the GDP figures published in the Eurostat press release on the 15th of November 2012 for the Economic and Monetary Union (euro area) marked the confirmation of a double-dipped recession (with negative growth in quarters 2 and 3 of 2012). Gross domestic product was 0.6 per cent lower in the third quarter of 2012 compared with 12 months earlier. The return of recession is symbolic of the failure of the austerity programmes, which have been striking down economic activity throughout the EU and EMU. It should give rise to some thoughts as to why the austerity programmes are not working to bring down budget deficits without damaging economic activity.

But back to TNI and the Pocket Guide, which has said that in spite of the crippling costs of bailing out the banks, the EU still has not agreed, let alone put into operation, any major bank reforms. Four years on, only a few new rules to reduce some particularly risky practices by banks and financial markets, exposed by the financial crisis, have become operational.

TNI-occupy_the_EU-2012What’s the remedy? There are a goodly number and here are but a few, as offered by the TNI’s very competent heads: (1) Bring the financial sector back under public control and do this by banning speculative financial instruments like Credit Default Swaps and food speculation, reintroduce rules that separate retail/utility banking from investment banking, impose size limits on banks so none can become “too big to fail”, stop new financial products unless proved safe and socially useful, ban hedge funds and other risky speculators who only make money from money, re-introduce controls on capital flows. (2) Tax the rich, the speculators and the polluters, impose tax on international financial transactions, increase taxes on the rich to at least the same as pre-1980 levels, end subsidies for fossil fuel industries, close down tax havens, establish a maximum pay ceiling and ban bonuses, introduce a Basic Income available to all.

Verso-Crisis_Eurozone_smFor more background, there is the book, ‘Crisis in the Eurozone’ (Verso), and this has described the credit crunch, which led (coaxed or demanded) that governments around the world step in to bail out the banks. “The sequel to that debacle is the sovereign debt crisis, which has hit the eurozone hard. The hour has come to pay the piper, and ordinary citizens across Europe are growing to realize that socialism for the wealthy means punching a few new holes in their already-tightened belts.”

In this book, a leading member of the Research on Money and Finance group, Costas Lapavitsas argues that European austerity is counterproductive. The book shows that cutbacks in public spending will mean a longer, deeper recession, worsen the burden of debt, further imperil banks, and may soon spell the end of monetary union itself.

Come July, could an African or Asian head the World Bank?

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UN Millennium Development Goals 1 to 4

Who will head the World Bank after 2012 June? A global coalition of development activists and non-governmental organisations is calling on the World Bank’s governors to ensure that Bank President Robert Zoellick’s successor is chosen in an “open and merit-based process” that will give borrowing countries a major say in the selection.

In an open letter released shortly after the Bank’s announcement this week that Zoellick will step down at the end of his five-year term in June, some 60 groups and activists from around the world said any candidate should gain the “open support” of at least the majority of World Bank member countries and of the majority of low- and middle-income countries that make up most of its borrowers.

IPS News has reported that the arrangement which currently exists is absurdly called an informal “gentlemen’s agreement” (there are no gentlemen in this matter, now 68 years old, of leading poor countries into irredeemable debt and condemning their citizens to hardship and poverty). This agreement of exploitation, for that is what it is, exists between the USA and the countries of western Europe – specifically Britain, France and Germany – and provides that a national of USA will hold the top position at the World Bank Group, and that a national of Europe will hold the managing directorship of its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“It’s a World Bank, not a US Bank. It needs the best candidate to get the job with support of wide Bank membership, not just the US,” IPS reported Collins Magalasi as having said. Magalasi is executive director of Afrodad, one of the lead NGOs which released the open letter calling for a change in the way the World Bank Group’s leader is chosen. The coalition includes Oxfam International, Civicus, and the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad).

The open letter has said: “The candidate must gain the open support from at least the majority of World Bank member countries, and from the majority of low and middle-income countries. As the Bank only operates in developing countries, and has most impact in low-income countries, any candidate that was not supported by these countries would seriously lack legitimacy. In addition to encouraging developing countries to nominate their own candidates, the best way to ensure that developing countries play a central role throughout the selection process is for the successful candidate to be required to gain the support of a majority of both voting shares and member countries.”

UN Millennium Development Goals 5 to 8

“This need not require any formal changes to the Bank’s articles of agreement, but could simply be agreed by the Board, to build on the limited proposals agreed in April 2011. To make this work, countries would need to vote independently, not through their constituencies, and declare their support publicly. It is time for the US to publicly announce that it will no longer seek to monopolise the Presidential position.” You can read the full letter at the website of the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad).

Bloomberg Businessweek has reported that China has called for the next World Bank chief to be picked based on merit. The next leader should be selected “based on the merit principle and open competition,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a briefing in Beijing. Liu was apparently responding to a question on whether the next head should be from a developing nation. Since according to the US Treasury, the largest foreign holder of US debt is China, which owns about US$1.2 trillion in bills, notes and bonds, that sounds like an ungentle nudge from across the Pacific that it’s time the old order was scrapped.

The World Bank Group is quite top heavy. As its senior management the WB Group has: one president, three managing directors, a chief financial officer, two senior vice presidents, six vice presidents for the World Bank Group’s six operational regions, seventeen vice presidents for the Group’s divisions and departments, one director general. The IFC (International Finance Corporation) has one executive vice president and chief executive officer, nine vice presidents. The MIGA (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) has one executive vice president, one vice president and chief operating officer, five directors.

While from the three managing directors downwards it may look like the WB Group senior management is representative of the variety of countries to which it lends, this is illusory – these people are financiers first and are free-market standard-bearers and privatisation evangelists. At those positions in the World Bank, as in the IMF, there are no nationalities – there is only capitalism.

Written by makanaka

February 16, 2012 at 18:45

Four points higher, the FAO Food Price Index for 2012 January

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In the first major indication of the way food prices will move in 2012, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced that its Food Price Index rose by nearly 2% or four points from December 2011 to January 2012. This is the Index’s its first increase since July 2011. A close look at the FAO Food Price Index shows that prices of all the commodity groups in the index have risen (oils increasing the most). At its new level of 214 points, the index is about 7% lower than what it was in January 2011 (when it reached 231).

In 2010 July, the Food Price Index has begun a steep upward climb it maintained for 7 months until 2011 February, from 172 to 237. Now, this 4 point jump in a month is the sharpest since the rise from 231 in 2011 January to 2011 February. “There is no single narrative behind the food price rebound – different factors are at play in each of the commodity groups,” said FAO’s Senior Grains Economist Abdolreza Abbassian. “But the increase, despite an expected record harvest and an improved stocks situation, and after six months of falling or stable prices, highlights the unpredictability prevailing in global food markets,” he added. “I can’t see that the usual suspects – the value of the dollar and oil prices – were  much involved in January. But one reason is poor weather currently affecting key growing regions like South America and Europe. It has played a role and remains a cause for concern,” he concluded.

What FAO is seeing and saying is routinely misunderstood or deliberately miscast by the mainstream business and financial press. An example of this can be seen in a recent opinion found on Forbes, the business magazine, which links “a slowing UN FAO food price index” and “falling commodity prices” to the global economic slowdown. This, the magazine has said, is “putting further downward pressure on food inflation”. Of course this is completely untrue, as wage labour, informal sector workers and middle class residents in many cities and towns of the South know.

Thus the ‘market’ view is that global demand for agricultural products appears to be slowing. This view exists because this sort of media represents the interests of its owners – the 1% targeted by the Occupy movement. Ever since 2011 July, when the FAO Food Price Index ceased its steady upward march, organs and media representing the interests of the global money markets and the interests of the speculators have attempted to leaven their crooked discussion of the matter by saying that the global dynamic in food and commodity markets took a structural turn. Their insistence on linking “quantitative easing in the USA” and what they call “emerging market demand” (meaning mainly China and India) for food staples has been a consistent feature of this disinformation.

What we are seeing is that the FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 223 points in January, up 2.3% (5 points) from December. International prices of all major cereals with the exception of rice rose, with maize gaining most, 6%. Wheat prices also gained, though less significantly. Prices mostly reflected worries about weather conditions affecting 2012 crops in several major producing regions. Fears of decline in export supplies in the Commonwealth of Independent States also played a part.

[The FAO Food Price Index data sheet is available here (xls).] [The FAO Deflated Prices data sheet is available here (xls).]

According to FAO’s latest forecast world cereal production in 2011 is expected to be more than sufficient to cover anticipated utilization in 2011-12. Production is expected to reach 2,327 million tonnes – up 4.6 million tonnes from the last estimate in December. That would be 3.6% more than in 2010 and a new record. FAO lowered slightly from December 2011 its cereal utilization forecast for 2011-12, to nearly 2,309 million tonnes, still 1.8% higher than in 2010-11. That would put cereal ending stocks by the close of seasons in 2012 at 516 million tones, 5 million tonnes above FAO’s last forecast.

A sober note has been sounded in the Jakarta Globe. The Indonesian newspaper reported the Asian Development Bank warning that Indonesia and other nations in Southeast Asia should be prepared for a possible rise in food prices, which might stoke inflation. Changyong Rhee, chief economist at ADB, is reported by the newspaper as having said the global financial turmoil, marked by the euro zone debt crisis and a possible slowdown in the US economy, might increase the volatility of prices for food and other commodities. According to the ADB, research funding [in agriculture] is being depleted amid climate change, making it difficult for food production to keep up with growing demand. “Food price increases have become more persistent than in the past,” he said in Jakarta. “It has a major impact on food security for millions [of people].” The Jakarta Globe reported that the FAO Food Price Index has risen by 50% in the last four years, compared with a 16% increase from 1991 to 2006.

‘Germany is not head of the class of the Union’

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A 'debt meter' shows the level of Germany's debt, which is currently over 80 percent of GDP. By European standards, that is nothing to boast about. Photo: Der Spiegel / Carsten Koall

About the euro and Germany, and about Europa and the Germans, there’s not a lot that can be read on the matter that helps clear it up. We need some help from inside Europe to do that – instead of clueless yammering about ‘markets’ from American economists, or instead of smug garbage about Euro politics from barmy Brit commentators, and instead of overaged tripe about the EU from the World Bank and the IMF. Without further ado, here’s the help.

Jacques Attali, the influential former advisor to Mitterrand, has sent a blunt warning to Angela Merkel, the German Bundeskanzlerin. Writing in Slate.fr Attali has said that Merkel either must agree to the purchase of defaulted European bonds by the European Central Bank and the issuance of European bonds, or she will end up holding the smoking gun of Europe’s suicide. In a translation of Attali’s short but astringent article, helpfully provided by Sign and Sight, we are told that he rids Germans of their most cherished illusions. “Germany is not head of the class of the Union, who winds up having to pay for the sins of all the others. Its public debt is close to 82 percent of its gross domestic product, practically as bad as France. Ten of its banks, all owned by the government, which provide twenty percent of the credit outside of the financial markets, are currently in very poor condition. Germany’s energy consumption will increasingly rely on Russian gas, which today represents 37 percent of its imports. Its demographics are so catastrophic, that Germany will already have less inhabitants than France in 2060, and 44 percent of the Germans are over 65 in comparison to 35 percent of the French, which will make it particularly difficult for Germany to repay its debts.” Over to you, Angie, if you dare.

"We are deeply ashamed," the German parliament declared in a joint statement issued on Tuesday condemning the crimes committed by a neo-Nazi terror cell. Photo: Der Spiegel / Michael Gottschalk / dapd

Here is part of the French original:

Elle n’est pas le bon élève de l’Union, qui refuse de payer pour les erreurs des autres. Sa dette publique est de 82% du PIB, pratiquement égale à la dette française; dix de ses banques, toutes publiques, qui fournissent 20% des crédits au secteur non financier allemand, sont en très mauvaise situation. Sa consommation d’énergie dépendra de plus en plus du gaz russe, qui représente 37% de ses importations. Sa démographie est catastrophique au point que, en 2060, il y aura moins d’Allemands que de Français et que 44% de la population allemande aura plus de 65 ans contre seulement 35% en France, ce qui rendra particulièrement difficile le remboursement de la dette publique allemande. Enfin, l’avenir de l’industrie allemande n’est pas si prometteur qu’elle le croit: selon une récente étude anglaise, sur les 100 entreprises les plus innovantes du  monde, 11 sont françaises et seulement 4 sont allemandes.

What is it about Deutschland, Germans and the idea of Europe that invariably gets all tangled up in knots? Eurozine has presented an interview, originally carried by the magazine Esprit, with Jan-Werner Müller who talks about “German contradictions”.

This situation now has to be addressed by leaders who are clearly not great believers in moral-historical justifications for European unity, and who often obfuscate the issues: Germany’s foreign minister has just called for ‘more Europe’ while a Christian Democratic minister recently even demanded the creation of the ‘United States of Europe’ – without saying what in practice this would mean. So I fear that Germany has no real road map of how it wants to relate to Europe, other than preserving what has already been achieved in the way of economic gains and personal freedoms (e.g. travel), while at the same time minimizing the costs.

To be sure, there are also some voices who advocate a much more assertive global role for Germany in conjunction with core Europe (of course France in particular) – for instance the political theorist Herfried Münkler, who in a recent article in Der Spiegel openly expressed his concern that Europe is being destroyed by its periphery (e.g. Greece), instead of adopting a global strategy to increase its power. He explicitly called for ‘all power to the centre’ so as to re-empower European elites and for Germany to exercise more leadership, rather than hoping for some illusory democratization of the EU as it is. This is a coherent stance that may well become attractive for a German government, especially if the current approach of muddling through makes neither Germans nor other Europeans really happy – and fails to solve the Euro crisis.

Occupy Everywhere

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The Occupy Wall St movement is spreading quickly across the USA. Mother Jones magazine has put together an interactive map on where the protests are spreading to, and at last count there were over 60 locations!

An Occupy Wall Street protester yells at police officers as they make arrests in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. Protesters in suits and T-shirts with union slogans left work early to march with activists who have been camped out in Zuccotti Park for days. Photo: Seth Wenig

The ‘Occupy’ demonstrations are the blowback – long overdue – of the foreign-plus-financial policy of a great power which has for long dampened criticsm and fair a representative politics at home.

The ‘Occupy’ demonstrations express a broader public understanding that the basic source of the crisis facing millions of people lies in the social interests of the sprawling and powerful global financial system – of which Wall St is one symbol; a powerful symbol but nevertheless one amongst many similar symbols.

Dogged by debt and haunted by ever newer forms of deprivation, the American protesters have ‘taken’ Wall St to call and end to the reign of the giant banks that dominate the US and world economy. Their politics is determined not by the popular will, but by the interests of a cunning financial aristocracy ruthlessly absorbed with defending its wealth by impoverishing the majority of their fellow citizens.

The answer – Occupy Everywhere!

Mother Jones has provided a very useful timeline of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

The New York Observer has 50 portraits of people who have been in on the action in New York City. The Nation‘s Greg Mitchell is blogging “Occupy USA” developments daily. The Guardian is also producing ongoing coverage.

How the Occupy Wall Street movement uses social media:

  • Live footage of Zuccotti Park can be found at the protest epicenter’s viral webstream, Global Revolution.
  • The #occupywallstreet hashtag (as well as #ows and #occupywallst) has been the main engine on Twitter.
  • OccupyTogether.org supplies a range of DIY downloadable posters.
  • There is an Occupy Wall Street social app called The Vibe, which allows demonstrators to communicate anonymously.
  • An Occupy Wall Street publication was launched on Kickstarter, originally asking for $12,000 in seed money to get the publication rolling. The project surpassed its funding goal and has now raised over $40,000.
  • A Tumblr account, We Are the 99%, allows users to post personal anecdotes and stories about why they consider themselves part of the economically disaffected majority.

The spread of microcredit and the global South

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Thousands of microfinance institutions serve tens of millions of the world’s poor, through massive operations in rural South Asia to fledgling enterprises in West African towns. In an excellent new series of reports, IPS News is following the spread of microcredit and its impact across the global South.

A beneficiary of the microfinance programme in Bangladesh. Photo: IPS News / Naimul Haq

This small-scale loan movement aimed at alleviating poverty can offer life-changing potential for people who would otherwise find it difficult to obtain loans from the traditional banking sector. But microcredit is not a miracle solution to ending global poverty. If high interest rates prevail, putting recipients at risk of repeat borrowing and cycles of debt, microfinance can also have unintended consequences.

IPS reportage examines the spread of microcredit and the wider debate surrounding the small-scale loan movement aimed at alleviating poverty as it has matured over time. As the 2011 November 14-17 Global Microcredit Summit approaches, sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), these reports follow this unique banking system and its impact from Bangladesh to Benin, Haiti to Honduras, and across the global South.

COLOMBIA – Microcredit Growing Steadily at 15 Percent a Year. The more than 1.2 million microenterprises operating in Colombia are responsible for around 50 percent of all employment. And many of these small businesses owe their existence to the microfinance system, according to a report by Visión Económica, a local business research group.

Street vendors are the main beneficiaries of micro-loans in Colombia. Photo: IPS News / Helda Martínez

GHANA – Guidelines for Unregulated Microfinance Sector. When Andrew Poku’s mother passed away he needed help to pay for her funeral. So the 35-year-old teacher from Accra turned to one of the country’s several loan companies for a 670-dollar loan.

CUBA – Dreams and Progress in a Rural Community. The day that electricity arrived in the Cuban village of Jova, there were shouts, laughter and tears of joy, even among the most incredulous, who had doubted it was possible. “I didn’t know what to do; it actually made me nervous,” Carmen Carvallosa confessed.

MEXICO – Microloans from Distant Lands a Mouse Click Away. Norma Isela from the city of Piedras Negras in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila needs 500 dollars to expand the merchandise inventory in her business selling shoes by catalogue and to broaden her offer of clothes and accessories. So far she has managed to raise 45 percent of that amount.

A cattle cooperative in Cuba. Photo: IPS News / Jorge Luis Baños

ARGENTINA – Worker Cooperatives Reduce “Hard-Core” Unemployment. During the social and economic collapse of 2002-2003, the Argentine state encouraged the formation of workers’ cooperatives, which helped mitigate the worst effects of the crisis, reduced hard-core unemployment, and now as independent, democratic, worker-controlled organisations are providing services to the public and private sectors.

BANGLADESH – Lessons in Microcredit Management. Phulo Rani Pal checks for loose dust around her open backyard kitchen. It’s time to prepare the sweets she supplies to vendors and it will not do for her products to be contaminated.

BANGLADESH – Women Raise Own Funds for Microfinance. Amidst despair and poverty, women in some remote villages of Bangladesh are raising money and lending it to each other through a unique microfinance programme launched by a local non-government organisation.

Written by makanaka

August 29, 2011 at 23:34

Slow and sober – what credit and debt means to the US, and to us

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Free tickets for the US debt train

Update: Here is the China view, from Xinhua:

China side-stepping U.S. financial crisis with innovative strategies – After watching Congress play politics and care not a whit about upholding the honor of United States, can the world assume that America is not about to become a deadbeat to beat all deadbeat nations in history?

Even if the United States Treasury eventually honors its obligations after undergoing the tortuous exercise between House, Senate and the White House, will the rest of the world continue to have faith and confidence in the value of the dollar? China, the country that holds more U.S. federal debt than any other foreign country, is taking action to sidestep potential future U.S. default. Full story

U.S. debt ceiling deal is double-edge sword for China – The roller-coaster debate over raising the US national debt ceiling finally concluded after the two parties made compromises. The Democratic Party-led administration removed the political restraint of debt default before the general election in 2012, and the Republican Party-led House of Representatives secured a promise to cut government spending over the next decade.

The two parties had threatened each other using the interests of global creditors, staging a preview of next year’s general election. Meanwhile, the hidden trouble in the global financial market and economic recovery has temporarily been avoided. Full story

Time to reconsider buying of US assets – While the Chinese government made it clear that it was unhappy about the possibility that the United States could default on its debt, it was also clear that China’s concerns are not a major factor in US politics. The United States has always been an incredibly insular country. The vast majority of the public has very little interest in or concern for what is going elsewhere in the world, except insofar as it directly affects the US. Full story

Earlier – Lots of outrage, vitriol and prognosis about the US credit rating downgrade. Does it affect anything in our real lives? What will it do to prices and household assets? What will it do to food inflation and the cost of living? At what point does credit rating become meaningless for an economy that’s deep in debt anyway (and exporting wars all over the planet)? Here are some signposts.

CEPR has savaged the New York Times for an article which asserted that members of the congressional panel will have to “mute ideological disagreements.” It is not clear that members of Congress have ideological disagreements. Members of Congress get elected because of their ability to appeal to powerful interest groups, said CEPR. “The differences around proposals to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare or to raise taxes on the wealthy most obviously stem from the different interest groups being represented. It is not obvious that the ideology of individual members of Congress matters, since their ability to keep their jobs will depend on the extent to which members of Congress can keep their backers satisfied.”

It also would have been useful to include the views of members of Congress who ridiculed the downgrade, pointing out that S&P had rated hundreds of billions of subprime mortgage backed securities as investment grade. It also had given top investment grade ratings to both Lehman and AIG until the day they collapsed. It also was off by $2 trillion in its calculations of U.S. indebtedness. In other words, there are very good reasons not to take S&P’s ratings seriously and there certainly many people who do not, including it seems investors in financial markets.

Take your money to new places indeed!

In Triple Crisis only a few days ago, C P Chandrashekar discussed the debt of Greece and what it means for Europe and its currency. “What is galling to most is the fact that at the end of all this, the problem remains unresolved. Greek public debt is still in excess of its gross domestic product. Servicing that even on slightly lighter terms seems near impossible in the midst of austerity that spells recession. Another bail-out is inevitable. The danger is that next time around governments across Europe and elsewhere may be overcome with bail-out fatigue and just risk wholesale default. The banks and private creditors would then get their due. But that is small comfort, since the fall-out for the rest may be too much to bear.”

In the Financial Times, Eswar Prasad and Mengjie Ding say that their analysis paints a sobering picture of worsening public debt dynamics and a sharply rising debt burden in advanced economies. These rising debt levels combined with heightened concerns about fiscal solvency now constitute a major threat to global financial stability.

It's all just a movie set, isn't it?

“Recent events in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and other economies on the periphery of the eurozone show the risks of debt buildups that are not tackled. Bond investors can quickly turn against a vulnerable country with high debt levels, leaving the country little breathing room to balance its fiscal books and precipitating a crisis. Overall, the worldwide picture of government debt is not pretty.”

Via Economists View, a veteran’s look at S&P’s competency to do anything at all:

Back when I was an in-house lawyer for an investment bank, I had extensive interactions with all three rating agencies. We needed to get a lot of deals rated, and I was almost always involved in that process in the deals I worked on. To say that S&P analysts aren’t the sharpest tools in the drawer is a massive understatement.

I’ve seen S&P make far more basic mistakes than the one they made in miscalculating the US’s debt-to-GDP ratio. I’ve seen an S&P managing director who didn’t know the order of operations, and when we pointed it out to him, stopped taking our calls. Despite impressive-sounding titles, these guys personify “amateur hour.” (And my opinion of S&P isn’t just based on a few deals; it’s based on countless deals, meetings, and phone calls over 20 years. It’s also the opinion of practically everyone else who deals with the rating agencies on a semi-regular basis.)

Written by makanaka

August 9, 2011 at 18:26