Rolling Back the Progressive Era

ilene's picture

This is another excellent article by Michael Hudson, who has written many insightful and educational articles recently.  I've learned a great deal from Michael and highly recommend reading his material - whether you agree or disagree with him. - Ilene at Phil's Stock World

Rolling Back the Progressive Era

Syntagma squareCourtesy of Michael Hudson

How Bankers are using the Debt Crisis to welcome in the Financial Road to Serfdom

Financial strategists do not intend to let today’s debt crisis go to waste. Foreclosure time has arrived. That means revolution – or more accurately, a counter-revolution to roll back the 20th century’s gains made by social democracy: pensions and social security, public health care and other infrastructure providing essential services at subsidized prices or for free. The basic model follows the former Soviet Union’s post-1991 neoliberal reforms: privatization of public enterprises, a high flat tax on labor but only nominal taxes on real estate and finance, and deregulation of the economy’s prices, working conditions and credit terms.

What is to be reversed is the “modern” agenda. The aim a century ago was to mobilize the Industrial Revolution’s soaring productivity and technology to raise living standards and use progressive taxation, public regulation, central banking and financial reform to distribute wealth fairly and make societies more equal. Today’s financial aim is the opposite: to concentrate wealth at the top of the economic pyramid and lower labor’s returns. High finance loves low wages.

The political lever to achieve this program is financial. The European Union (EU) constitution prevents central banks from financing government deficits, leaving this role to commercial banks, paying interest to them for creating credit that central banks monetize for governments in Britain and the United States. Governments are to go into debt to bail out banks for loans gone bad – as do more and more loans as finance impoverishes the economy, stifling its ability to pay. Yet as long as we live in democracies, voters must agree to pay. Governments are sovereign and debt is ultimately a creature of the law and courts.

But first, voters need to understand what is happening. From the bankers’ perspective, the economic surplus is what they themselves end up with. Rising consumption standards and even public investment in infrastructure are seen as deadweight. Bankers and bondholders aim to increase the surplus not so much by tangible capital investment increasing the overall surplus, but by more predatory means, headed by rolling back labor’s gains and stiffening working conditions while gaining public subsidy. Banks “create wealth” by providing more credit (that is, debt leverage) to bid up asset prices for real estate and enterprises already in place – assets that either are being foreclosed on or sold off under debt pressure by private owners or governments. One commentator recently characterized the latter strategy of privatization as “tantamount to selling the family silver only to have to rent it back in order to eat dinner.”[1]

Fought in the name of free markets, this counter-revolution rejects the classical ideal of markets free of unearned income paid to special interests. The financial objective is to squeeze out a surplus by maximizing the margin of prices over costs. Opposing government enterprise and infrastructure as the road to serfdom, high finance is seeking to turn public infrastructure into rent-extracting tollbooths to extract economic rent (the “free lunch economy”), while replacing labor unions with non-union labor so as to work it more intensively.

This road to neoserfdom is an asset grab. But to achieve it, the financial sector needs a political grab to replace democracy with financial technocrats. Their job is to pretend that there is no revolution at all, merely an increase in “efficiency,” “creating wealth” by debt-leveraging the economy to the point where the entire surplus is paid out as interest to the financial managers who are emerging as Western civilization’s new central planners.

Frederick Hayek’s Road to Serfdom portrayed a dystopia of public officials seeking to regulate the economy. In attacking government so one-sidedly, his ideological extremism sought to replace the checks and balances of mixed economies with a private sector “free” of regulation and consumer protection. His vision was of a post-modern economy “free” of the classical reforms to bring market prices into line with cost value. Instead of purifying industrial capitalism from the special rent extraction privileges bequeathed from the feudal epoch, Hayek’s ideology opened the way for unchecked financial power to make a travesty of “free markets.”

The European Union’s financial planners claim that Greece and other debtor countries have a problem that is easy to cure by imposing austerity. Pension savings, Social Security and medical insurance are to be downsized so as to “free” more debt service to be paid to creditors. Insisting that Greece only has a “liquidity problem,” European Central Bank (ECB) extremists deem an economy “solvent” as long as it has assets to privatize. ECB executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi explained the plan in a Financial Times interview:

FT: Otmar Issing, your former colleague, says Greece is insolvent and it “will not be physically possible” for it to repay its debts. Is he right?
LBS: He is wrong because Greece is solvent if it applies the programme. They have assets that they can sell and reduce their debt and they have the instruments to change their tax and expenditure systems to reduce the debt. This is the assessment of the IMF, it is the assessment of the European Commission.

Poor developing countries have no assets, their income is low, and so they become insolvent easily. If you look at the balance sheet of Greece, it is not insolvent.

The key problem is political will on the part of the government and parliament. Privatisation proceeds of €50bn, which is being talked about – some mention more – would reduce the peak debt to GDP ratio from 160 per cent to about 140 per cent or 135 per cent and this could be reduced further.[2]

A week later Mr. Bini Smaghi insisted that the public sector “had marketable assets worth 300 billion euros and was not bankrupt. ‘Greece should be considered solvent and should be asked to service its debts,’ … signaling that the bank remained firmly opposed to any plan to allow Greece to stretch out its debt payments or oblige investors to accept less than full repayment, a so-called haircut.”[3]Speaking from Berlin, he said that Greece “was not insolvent.” It could pay off its bonds owed to German bankers ($22.7 billion), French bankers ($15 billion) and the ECB (reported to be on the hook for $190 billion) by selling off public land and ports, water and sewer rights, ownership of the telephone system and other basic infrastructure. In addition to getting paid in full and receiving high interest rates reflecting “market” expectations of non-payment, the banks would enjoy a new credit market financing privatization buy-outs.

Warning that failure to pay would create windfall gains for speculators who had bet that Greece would default, Mr. Bini Smaghi refused to acknowledge the corollary: to pay the full amount would create windfalls for those who bet that Greece would be forced to pay. He also claimed that: “Restructuring of Greek debt would … discourage Greece from modernizing its economy.” But the less debt service an economy pays, the more revenue it has to invest productively. And to “solve” the problem by throwing public assets on the market would create windfalls for distress buyers. As the Wall Street Journal put matters bluntly: “Greece is for sale – cheap – and Germany is buying. German companies are hunting for bargains in Greece as the debt-stricken government moves to sell state-owned assets to stabilize the country’s finances.”[4]

Rather than raising living standards while creating a more egalitarian and fair society, the ECB’s creditor-oriented “reforms” would roll the time clock back to oligarchy. Not the post-feudal oligarchy of landlords owning land conquered militarily, but a financial oligarchy accumulating banking claims and bonds growing inexorably and exponentially, leaving little over for the rest of the economy to invest or consume.

The distinction between illiquidity and insolvency

If a homeowner loses his job and cannot pay his mortgage, he must sell the house or see the bank foreclose. Is he insolvent, or merely “illiquid”? If he merely has a liquidity problem, a loan will help him earn the funds to pay down the debt. But if he falls into the negative equity that now plagues a quarter of U.S. real estate, taking on more loans will only deepen his net deficit. Ending this process by losing his home does not mean that he is merely illiquid. He is in distress, and is suffering from insolvency. But to the ECB this is merely a liquidity problem.

The public balance sheet includes land and infrastructure as if they are surplus assets that can be forfeited without fundamentally changing the owner’s status or social relations. In reality it is part of the means of survival in today’s world, at least survival as part of the middle class.

For starters, renegotiating his loan won’t help an insolvency situation such as the jobless homeowner above. Lending him the money to pay the bank interest (along with late fees and other financial penalties) or stretching out the loan merely will add to the debt balance, giving the foreclosing bank yet a larger claim on whatever property the debtor may have available to grab.

But the homeowner is in danger of being homeless, living on the street. At issue is whether solvency should be defined in the traditional common-sense way, in terms of the ability of income to carry one’s current obligations, or a purely balance-sheet approach taken by creditors seeking to extract payment by stripping assets. This is Greece’s position. Is it merely a liquidity problem if the government is told to sell off $50 billion in prime tourist sites, ports, water systems and other public assets in order to pay foreign creditors?

At issue is language regarding the legal rights of creditors vis-à-vis debtors. The United States has long had a body of law regarding this issue. A few years ago, for instance, the real estate speculator Sam Zell bought the Chicago Tribune in a debt-leveraged buyout. The newspaper soon went broke, wiping out the employees’ stock ownership plan (ESOP). They sued under the fraudulent conveyance law, which says that if a creditor makes a loan without knowing how the debtor can pay in the normal course of business, the loan is assumed to have been made with the intent of foreclosing on property, and is deemed fraudulent.

This law dates from colonial times, when British speculators eyed rich New York farmland. Their ploy was to extend loans to farmers, and then call in the loans when the farmer’s ability to pay was low, before the crop was harvested. This was indeed a liquidity problem – which financial opportunists turned into an asset grab. Some lenders, to be sure, created a genuine insolvency problem by making loans beyond the ability of the farmers to pay, and then would foreclose on their land. The colonies nullified such loans. Fraudulent conveyance laws have been kept on the books since the United States won its independence from Britain.

Creditors today are using debt leverage to force Greece to sell off its public domain – having extended credit beyond its ability to pay. So the question now being raised is whether the nation should be deemed “solvent” if the only way to carry its public debt (that is, roll it over by replacing bad old loans with newer and more inexorable obligations) is to forfeit its land and basic infrastructure. This would fundamentally alter the relationship between public and private sectors, replacing its mixed economy with a centrally planned one – planned by financial predators with little care that the economy is polarizing between rich and poor, creditors and debtors.

The financial road to serfdom

Financial lobbyists are turning the English language – and economic terminology throughout the world – into a battlefield. Creditors are to be permitted to take the assets of insolvent debtors – from homeowners and companies to entire nations – as if this were a normal working of “the market” and foreclosure was simply a way to restore “liquidity.” As for “solvency,” the ECB would strip Greece clean of its public sector’s assets. Bank officials have spoken of throwing potentially 150 billion euros of property onto the market.

Most people would think of this as a solvency problem, at least if one defines solvency as meaning the ability to maintain the kind of society one has, with existing public/private checks and balances and living standards. It is incompatible with scaling down pensions, Social Security and medical insurance to save bondholders and bankers from taking a loss. The latter policy is nothing less than a political revolution.

The asset stripping that Europe’s bankers are demanding of Greece looks like a dress rehearsal to prevent the “I won’t pay” movement from spreading to “Indignant Citizens” movements against financial austerity in Spain, Portugal and Italy. Bankers are trying to block governments from writing down debts, stretching out loans and reducing interest rates.

When a nation is directed to replace its mixed economy by transferring ownership of public infrastructure and enterprises to a financial class (mainly foreign), this is not merely “restoring solvency” by using long-term assets to pay short-term debts to maintain its balance-sheet net worth. It is a radical transformation to a centrally planned economy, shifting control out of the hands of elected representatives to those of financial managers whose time frame is short-term and extractive, not long-term and protective of social equity and basic needs.

Creditors are demanding a political transformation to replace democratic lawmakers with technocrats appointed by foreign bankers. When the economic surplus is pledged to bankers rather than invested at home, we are not merely dealing with “insolvency” but with an aggressive attack. Finance becomes a continuation of war, by economic means that are to be politicized. Acting on behalf of the commercial banks (from which most of its directors are drawn, and to which they intend to “descend from heaven” to take their rewards after serving their financial class), the European Central Bank insists on a political revolution to replace democratic government by a technocratic elite – not of industrial engineers, but of “financial engineers,” a polite name for asset stripping financial warriors. If Greece does not comply, they threaten to wreak domestic financial havoc by “pulling the plug” on Greek banks. This “carrot and stick” approach threatens that if Greece does not sign on, the ECB and IMF will withhold loans needed to keep its banking system solvent. The “carrot” was provided on May 31 they agreed to provide $86 billion in euros if Greece “puts off for the time being a restructuring, hard or soft,” of its public debt.[5]

It is a travesty to present this revolution simply as a financial exercise in solving the “liquidity problem” as if it were compatible with Europe’s past four centuries of political and classical economic reforms. This is why the Syntagma Square protest in front of Parliament has been growing each week, peaking at over 70,000 last Sunday, June 5.

Some protestors drew a parallel with the Wisconsin politicians who left the state to prevent a quorum from voting on the anti-labor program that Governor Walker tried to ram through. The next day, on June 6, thirty backbenchers of Prime Minister George Papandreou’s ruling Panhellenic Socialist party (Pasok) were joined by some of his own cabinet ministers threatening “to resign their parliamentary seats rather than vote through measures to cut thousands of public sector jobs, increase taxes again and dispose of €50bn of state assets, according to party insiders. ‘The biggest issue for the party is stringent cuts in the public sector … these go to the heart of Pasok’s model of social protection by providing jobs in state entities for its supporters,’ said a senior Socialist official.”[6]

Seeing the popular reluctance to commit financial suicide, Conservative Opposition leader Antonis Samaras also opposed paying the European bankers, “demanding a renegotiation of the package agreed last week with the ‘troika’ of the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank.” It was obvious that no party could gain popular support for the ECB’s demand that Greece relinquish popular rule and “appoint experienced technocrats to half a dozen essential ministries to implement the EU-IMF programme.”[7]

ECB President Trichet depicts himself as following Erasmus in bringing Europe beyond its “strict concept of nationhood.” This is to be done by replacing elected officials with a bureaucracy of cosmopolitan banker-friendly planners. The debt problem calls for new “monetary policy measures – we call them ‘non standard’ decisions, strictly separated from the ‘standard’ decisions, and aimed at restoring a better transmission of our monetary policy in these abnormal market conditions.” The task at hand is to make these conditions a new normalcy – and re-defining solvency to reflect a nation’s ability to pay debts by selling the public domain.

The ECB and EU claim that Greece is “solvent” as long as it has assets to sell off. But if populations in today’s mixed economies think of solvency as existing under existing public/private proportions, they will resist the financial sector’s attempt to proceed with buyouts and foreclosures until it possesses all the assets in the world, all the hitherto public and corporate assets and those of individuals and partnerships.

To minimize opposition to this dynamic the financial sector’s pet economists understate the debt burden, pretending that it can be paid without disrupting economic life and, in the Greek case for example, by using “mark to model” junk accounting and derivative swaps to simply conceal its magnitude. Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the IMF claims that the post-2008 debt crisis is merely a short-term “liquidity problem” and one of lack of “confidence,” not insolvency reflecting an underlying inability to pay. Banks promise that everything will be all right when the economy “returns to normal” – as if it can “borrow its way out of debt,” Bernanke-style.

This is what today’s financial warfare is about. At issue is the financial sector’s relationship to the “real” economy. From the latter’s perspective the proper role of credit – that is, debt – is to fund productive capital investment and spending, because it is out of the economic surplus that debts are paid. This requires a financial regulatory system and tax system to maximize growth. But that is precisely the fiscal policy that today’s financial sector is fighting against. It demands preferential tax-deductability for interest to encourage debt financing rather than equity. It has disabled truth-in-lending laws and regulations to keeping interest rates and fees in line with costs of production. And it blocks governments from having central banks to freely finance their own operations and provide economies with money. And to cap matters it now demands that democratic society yield to centralized authoritarian financial rule.

Finance and democracy: from mutual reinforcement to antagonism

The relationship between banking and democracy has taken many twists over the centuries. Earlier this year, democratic opposition to the ECB and IMF attempt to impose austerity and privatization selloffs succeeded when Iceland’s President Grímsson insisted on a national referendum on the Icesave debt payment that Althing leaders had negotiated with Britain and the Netherlands (if one can characterize abject capitulation as a real negotiation). To their credit, a heavy 3-to-2 majority of Icelanders voted “No,” saving their economy from being driven into the debt peonage.

Democratic action historically has been needed to enforce debt collection. Until four centuries ago royal treasuries typically were kept in the royal bedroom, and loans to rulers were in the character of personal debts. Bankers repeatedly found themselves burned, especially by Habsburg and Bourbon despots on the thrones of Spain, Austria and France. Loans to such rulers were liable to expire upon their death, unless their successors remained dependent on these same financiers rather than turning to their rivals. The numerous bankruptcies of Spain’s autocratic Habsburg ruler Charles V exhausted his credit, preventing the nation from raising funds to defeat the rebellious Low Countries to the north.

The problem facing bankers was how to make loans permanent national obligations. Solving this problem gave an advantage to parliamentary democracies. It was a major factor enabling the Low Countries to win their independence from Habsburg Spain in the 16th century. The Dutch Republic committed the entire nation to pay its public debts, binding the people themselves, through their elected representatives who earmarked taxes to their creditors. Bankers saw parliamentary democracy as a precondition for making sound loans to governments. This security for bankers could be achieved only from electorates having at least a nominal voice in government. And raising war loans was a key element in military rivalry in an epoch when the maxim for survival was “Money is the sinews of war.”

As long as governments remained despotic, they found that their ability to incur more debt was limited. At this time “the legal position of the King qua borrower was obscure, and it was still doubtful whether his creditors had any remedy against him in case of default.”[8]Earlier Dutch-English financing had not satisfied creditors on this count. When Charles I borrowed 650,000 guilders from the Dutch States-General in 1625, the two countries’ military alliance against Spain helped defer the implicit constitutional struggle over who ultimately was liable for British debts.

The key financial achievement of parliamentary government was thus to establish nations as political bodies whose debts were not merely the personal obligations of rulers, but truly public and binding regardless of who occupied the throne. This is why the first two democratic nations – the Netherlands and Britain after its 1688 dynastic linkage between Holland and Britain in the person of William I, and the emergence of Parliamentary authority over public financing – developed the most active capital markets and became Europe’s leading military powers. “A funded debt could not be formed so long as the King and Parliament were fighting for the mastery,” concludes the financial historian Richard Ehrenberg. “It was only after the [1688] revolution that the English State became what the Dutch Republic had long been – a real corporation of individuals firmly associated together, a permanent organism.”[9]

In sum, nations emerged in their modern form by adopting the financial characteristics of democratic city states. The financial imperatives of 17th-century warfare helped make these democracies victorious, for the new national financial systems facilitated military spending on a vastly extended scale. Conversely, the more despotic Spain, Austria and France became, the greater the difficulty they found in financing their military adventures. Austria was left “without credit, and consequently without much debt” by the end of the 18th century, the least credit-worthy and worst armed country in Europe, as Sir James Steuart noted in 1767.[10] It became fully dependent on British subsidies and loan guarantees by the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

The modern epoch of war financing therefore went hand in hand with the spread of parliamentary democracy. The situation was similar to that enjoyed by plebeian tribunes in Rome in the early centuries of its Republic. They were able to veto all military funding until the patricians made political concessions. The lesson was not lost on 18th-century Protestant parliaments. For war debts and other national obligations to become binding, the people’s elected representatives had to pledge taxes. This could be achieved only by giving the electorate a voice in government.

It thus was the desire to be repaid that turned the preference of creditors away from autocracies toward democracies. In the end it was only from democracies that they were able to collect. This of course did not necessarily reflect liberal political convictions on the part of creditors. They simply wanted to be paid.

Europe’s sovereign commercial cities developed the best credit ratings, and hence were best able to employ mercenaries. Access to credit was “their most powerful weapon in the struggle for their freedom,” notes Ehrenberg, in an age whose “growth in the use of firearms had forced them to surround themselves with stronger fortifications.”[11] The problem was that “Anyone who gave credit to a prince knew that the repayment of the debt depended only on his debtor’s capacity and will to pay. The case was very different for the cities, who had power as overlords, but were also corporations, associations of individuals held in common bond. According to the generally accepted law each individual burgher was liable for the debts of the city both with his person and his property.”

But the tables are now turning, from Icelandic voters to the large crowds gathering in Syntagma Square and elsewhere throughout Greece to oppose the terms on which Prime Minister Papandreou has been negotiating an EU bailout loan for the government – to bail out German and French banks. Now that nations are not raising money for war but to subsidize reckless predatory bankers, Jean-Claude Trichet of the ECB recently suggested taking financial policy out of the hands of democracy:

But if a country is still not delivering, I think all would agree that the second stage has to be different. Would it go too far if we envisaged, at this second stage, giving euro area authorities a much deeper and authoritative say in the formation of the country’s economic policies if these go harmfully astray? A direct influence, well over and above the reinforced surveillance that is presently envisaged? …

At issue is sovereignty itself. In this respect, the war being waged against Greece by the European Central Bank (ECB) may best be seen as a dress rehearsal not only for the rest of Europe, but for what financial lobbyists would like to bring about globally.


[1] Yves Smith, “Wisconsin’s Walker Joins Government Asset Giveaway Club Naked Capitalism, February 22, 2011.

[2] Ralph Atkins, “Transcript: Lorenzo Bini Smaghi,” Financial Times, May 30, 2011.

[3] Jack Ewing, “In Asset Sale, Greece to Give Up 10% Stake in Telecom Company,” The New York Times, June 7, 2011.

[4] Christopher Lawton and Laura Stevens, “Deutsche Telekom, Others Look to Grab State-Owned Assets at Fire-Sale Prices,” Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2011.

[5] Landon Thomas Jr., “New Rescue Package for Greece Takes Shape,” The New York Times, June 1, 2011.

[6] Kerin Hope, “Rift widens on Greek reform plan,” Financial Times, June 7, 2011.

[7] Ibid. See also Kerin Hope, “Thousands protest against Greek austerity,” Financial Times, June 6, 2011: “‘Thieves, thieves … Where did our money go?’ the protesters shouted, blowing whistles and waving Greek flags as riot police thickened ranks around the parliament building on Syntagma square in the centre of the capital. … Banners draped nearby read ‘Take back the new measures’ and ‘Greece is not for sale’ – a reference to the government’s plans to include state property and real estate for tourist development in the privatisation scheme.”

[8] Charles Wilson, England’s Apprenticeship: 1603-1763 (London: 1965), p. 89.

[9] Richard Ehrenberg, Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance (1928), p. 354.

[10] James Steuart, Principles of Political Economy (1767), p. 353.

[11] Ehrenberg, op. cit., pp. 44f., 33. 

Photo credit: AP (Demonstrators gather during a peaceful rally outside the Greek Parliament in Athens, on Sunday, June 5, 2011. Thousands of protesters have gathered for a 12th consecutive day to protest at fiscal austerity measures and demand that Greece stop paying its debtors. They have also denounced politicians of all stripes as incompetent and corrupt. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)) 

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wombats's picture

It might not be so bad.  The world needs more serfs.

cramers_tears's picture

Fraudulent Conveyance.  The new catch-phrase for 2011-12...  just keep repeating it over and over...  say it five times fast... fraudulent conveyance - fraudulent conveyance... tell your friends and family - fraudulent conveyance... use it in a sentence, "I'd really like to give you that toy daughter, but we can't get any payment on our loans-receivable because of their fraudulent conveyance."

Fraudulent Conveyance - it just rolls off the tongue so willingly.

falak pema's picture

fraudulent the brown shirts in 1933... but that was ideologic. Here it is transactional. But its a means to an end. Which is the same...hegemony. 

gwar5's picture

Milton Friedman:

"In virtually all movements or ideologies, it seems, there are the do-gooders, and then the special interests behind them who have the real agenda. And always, the real agenda is to profit from the do-gooders."

"Throughout the long course of human history there are only a few small slivers of time when most men were not living under brutal oppression and tyranny. We are now living in one of those times. But, that window, I fear, may be closing."

Tea Party speaker, 2010:

"Every crackpot idea that has ever come down the turnpike of history has found a welcome home in the  democrat/progressive party. Let's mention some of them to remind ourselves who they really are: Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, racism and the KKK, anarchism, anti-suffrage, lynchings, marxism, communism, fascism, euthanasia, eugenics, malthusianism, socialism, the Federal Reserve, gold confiscation, income taxes, abolition of alcohol, and, now they're promoting illegal immigration and defending Shariah Law. Is it any wonder they have to change their name every 20 years to make people forget how creepy they really are?"  


AnAnonymous's picture

It is funny how US citizens think they are different one from another.


Only US citizenism quoted in the behaviours listed above.

Urban Redneck's picture


That means revolution – or more accurately, a counter-revolution to roll back the 20th century’s gains made by social democracy: pensions and social security, public health care and other infrastructure providing essential services at subsidized prices or for free.


20th century’s gains made by social democracy were financed bankers devaluing fiat currency.  The entire article is starts with a faulty understanding of critical relationships.


Catullus's picture

Socialist, conspiratorial drivel.  You're not worth reading.  I'm sorry I clicked on the link.

Frederick Hayek’s Road to Serfdom portrayed a dystopia of public officials seeking to regulate the economy. In attacking government so one-sidedly, his ideological extremism sought to replace the checks and balances of mixed economies with a private sector “free” of regulation and consumer protection. His vision was of a post-modern economy “free” of the classical reforms to bring market prices into line with cost value. Instead of purifying industrial capitalism from the special rent extraction privileges bequeathed from the feudal epoch, Hayek’s ideology opened the way for unchecked financial power to make a travesty of “free markets.”

"Classical reforms"? Special rent extraction privileges bequeathed from the feudal epoch? You're garbage.  Your thinking is garbage.  Your history is garbage. You either didn't read the Road to Serfdom or you didn't get it.  The point was that you're "classical reforms" in a "mixed economy" that "rolled back the special rent privileges from the feudal epoch" were the road to slavery.  That government would magnificently fail at attempting to direct even just a portion of the economy and that it would be forced to take over more and more of it and their failures would get larger and larger.There's been deregulation in the US.  All the institutions that were supposed to "protect" against the financial crisis not only failed, caused it (Federal Reserve, FDIC, SEC, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, SPIC, etc)

The rest of your article is a mish-mash of unrelated non-sequiturs and discredited thinking for a century that proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that your "public infrastructure/assets" Welfare State thesis is broken beyond all repair.  You fail to comprehend that your "public assets" were just the feudalistic system reincarnate.  Kings viewed their subjects and the kingdoms in the same way.

divide_by_zero's picture

+1 Far from rolling back the progressive era, this is the end game of the progressives.

SamuelMaverick's picture

+1 Catullus.  Just do not get upset when the lefty socialist progressive thieves junk the hell out of you.

dcb's picture

lots of losers posting today, it matters little if the little details are correct, but the overall theme and conclusion. for all of the people who have attacked the author, I have not seen one dispute or debate the central conclusion which in my view is valid. predatory lending to people who knowingly can't pay back is illegal, and sovereign states should have the ability to refute such debt without being forced to sell off state assets.


Folks, my language here is poor, but take lehman. induce a crisis to the point of collapse so you are given state support and made rich. then continue to do so until you own all. after all the threat of crisis is why greece can't default. But if the system had been reformed after the last crisis then default wouldn't cause a crisis. fight regulation, to make sure you always have the threat of mutual assured destruction to use against the populace.


If the ecb says the threat of crisis is why greece can't default, then they should be in public much much more pushing for much a much much stronger system. the fact that a greece default can still lead to crisis shows the worlds central banks/ central bankers haven't done their job and should be replaced. But nothing will change as the next player will be taken from the same limited candidate pool that rigs the game for the bankers. It is the most perverse system ever designed where people make themselves richer by inducing instability and trample sovereign rights. what ever the cost, it is worth destroying the current world financial system to end this financial tyranny


the people we bailed out, are blackmailing us with MAD. that is insane

Catullus's picture

There's no such thing a predatory lending to the government.  They were and are very much willing to take on that debt and have someone else later worry about paying it off.  The only thing that is predatory about it is that lending money to government assumes that the government will pay you back with stolen [tax] money.

Fiat Money's picture

Pt. II   when you say, "Rolling Back the Progressive Era" you can just go ahead a paint a picture of LARRY SUMMERS... and RAHM EMANUEL... and Summer's career mentor, FORMER Goddamn-Sachs co-CHAIRMAN, BOB RUBIN, and other members of obama's so-called "liberal Democrat" econ team.     

  Don't take MY word for it:  See Prof. Hudson's excellent  "Bernanke's RE-APPOINTMENT [BY OBAMA, to be Fed Reserve Chairman] BE AFRAID, Be Very Afraid"  and listen to his 1 hr. audio, "Obama's REPUBLICAN [style] CLASS WAR PRESIDENCY" both at DandelionSalad   

Mr. Hudson clearly explains what anyone with more neurons than a garden slug should understand:  That the LARRY SUMMERS, timmy geithner,  MARY SCHAPIRO as SEC Chair,  and (full Goddamn-Sachs MADE MAN... FULL PARTNER!)  gary gensler, RUNNING the CTFC  **GROUND ZERO for the TRILLIONS of dollars of "DERIVATIVES" overhang killing the economy**  are all INTENTIONALLY  "rolling back the progressive era" so they - and their mega-banking hyper-wealthy backers - can  TREAT AMERICANS like terrorized, SEGREGATED, subsistence wage  sharecroppers,  or DISPOSABALE mine-workers.   (Yes, that is a MACHINE GUN armored car that  the (rotchilds supported) Rockefellers hired from Baldwin-Felts 'security' to SHOOT UP striking miners and their families during the "Colorado Mining Wars"   LUDLOW MASSACRE.

  FAR from being a "Liberal Democrat"  Barack Obama is IN BED with GODDAMN-SACH, the Fed, and Wall St. (which is to say "the rotchilds)  - he is INTENTIONALLY WRECKING the economy, just as  then British Prime Minister Tony Blair INTENTIONALLY LIED Great Britain into the Iraq war invasion, so he, Blair, could get his present job on the Board of Directors of JP Morgan.   

 (JP Morgan was/is the 100 year American FRONT COMPANY for the London rotchilds cabal, JP Morgan the hired protege and successor to George Peabody, the American banker Nathan Rothschild set up as the London "host with the most"  JP Morgan bank would effectively be the American arm of the rotchilds banking clan, along with other rotchilds allies including the SCHIFFS who shared the r's original Hamburg home,  the OPPENHEIMER bank where clan founder Mayer Amschel worked before moving back to Hamburg;  the Kuhn-Loeb bank, and the more familiar 'American' banking names like Salomon bros.; Lehman bros. (South Carolina SLAVE OWNERS before & during the Civil War); Bear, Stearns, Goldman, & Sachs families, etc.)

      THESE WERE THE FAMILIES BEHIND the creation of the so-called 'Federal' Reserve Act in 1913 (after rotchilds & JP Morgan first INCITED the BANKING PANIC of 1907); and  the FED was BEHIND the credit-bubble BOOM > stock market CRASH > credit CONTRACTION > WIDESPREAD POVERTY and ECONOMIC CONTRACTION of the GREAT DEPRESSION.

  Today, they - and their HIRED FRONT MEN like BOB RUBIN, HANK PAULSON (both GS chairmen), larry summers, jamie dimon, timmy geithner, rahm emanuel, mary shapiro, gary gensler, peter orszag, jared bernstein, dave axelrod, elena kagan (now ussc!), gene sperling, mona sutphen, and the ENTIRE  aipac owned "U.S."  112 Con-gress,     are all BEHIND & fomenting the ECONOMIC SABOTAGE of "rolling back the Progressive, HIGH WAGES & CIVIL RIGHTS era" so the hyper-wealthy bankers can live like feudal lords, extorting and terrorizing the peasants & serfs who toil in poverty on the great estates that surround their robber-baron castle-mansions.  


Fiat Money's picture

Thanks for re-posting Mr. Hudson's excellent commentary here, Ilene. 

  IF the treacherous Barack Obama had REALLY delivered the "CHANGE!"  (that he PROMISED millions of American voters he would deliver  all through the summers & fall of his 2008 presidential campaign) he would have put Mr. Hudson in charge of (Secretary of) Treasury - and WE WOULD NOT BE in this economic crisis today.

    Obama's  "OF, BY, and FOR Goddamn-Sachs" 'economics team'     are an ON-GOING CRIME SCENE  AGAINST the American people.    When you are talking about "Rolling Back the Progressive Era"  you are talking about the post-WWI  1920s... also known as the LYNCH-MOB era  (quasi-state (state sanctioned)   APPLIED TERRORISM, in DEFIANCE of 15th Amendment to U.S. Constitution); you are talking about the ROARING TWENTIES, a repeat of the GILDED AGE of grotesque wealthy, surrounded by the ABJECT MISERY & POVERTY of overcrowded deadly (disease) tenement slums and impoverished farmers.    Indeed, the Great Depression,  far from starting with the Market Crash of Oct. 1929 as we so often read & hear, actually started with the FARM DEPRESSION of the early 1920s - - and with America being a largely AGRICULTURAL society at the time, probably over 50% of Americans were feeling (in some way) the pinch of Depression, even as our history books & "mainstream media" report that the cities were living in boom times and soaring stock prices.   


silverscouseparis's picture

greece is a tiny economy compared to the united states,bernankes press conference to not hessitate to raise the debt ceiling,is the START of a a junkie..asking for more..and whats coming is a long period of cold turkey..its a battle for the end of the fiat currencys dollar vs euro..who blinks first?sorry for the dollar centric zero hedgers but it aint europe..look at the money going into german treasuries..they make things/sell things the worlds second biggest europe we have germany in america you have....DETROIT?!!

Coldfire's picture

Get thee behind me, Statan.

Miles Kendig's picture

The idea that sovereign debt is backed by a nations physical assets is the greatest sham of the age.  NOWHERE on a sovereign bond, bill or note does it say it's backed by anything but full faith & credit.  Attempting to change the discussion so that it seems sov debt is asset backed is the height of either stupidity or sedition.  Next thing you know GMAC will be taking your home rather than simply repo the car

Trundle's picture

Sham?  Fraud?  Absolutely!

But it is exactly the context within which they create fiat currency (create made up money to which they are paid royalty bearing interest for the issuance of that currency), lend it to the criminals and stooges in government (of course, setting up private offshore accounts for many of these scumbags all along the way) and then when the government  default (after having given the madeup money to people who are actual producers and are ultimately left with nothing and inherent to the debt based system), they seize the assets (all the hard assets such as mineral rights, oil drilling rights, national park land etc., etc.) from the same treasonous scumbags who sign over all the rights (thus, making their private accounts even larger along the way).  

It is the absolutely height of tyranny, fraud and the consummate form of treason. 

If and when a certain percentage of the population figures this out and creates sufficient inertia, the avalanche will occur.

Under how much snow you will be buried will be a reflection of the truth of your information and the measure of critical thought process you applied to that information. 

I wish everyone the best of luck, with notable exceptions.  

Bob's picture

Well, you don't have to get all technical and shit!  It's not like we're enemies or anything--they're our banks, after all.  Surely it's the spirit of things that really matters, right?

Wait a minute, that's not the guys I know!  WTF.

Miles Kendig's picture

I should have used a better example for the folks following at home Bob. 

When Any O. Citizen prepares a mortgage application all employment and other assets are listed.  Then the mortgage is approved premised upon the data AT THE TIME OF ORIGINATION.  Then some time later circumstances arise whereby this mortgagee falls into default.  In that case the note holder (if there is a true chain of custody that is) cannot simply come in a seize the mortgagee's 401K or savings bonds to make the short note whole.  Hopefully this will shed a bit of light upon the sedition being practiced by supposedly "super sovereign's" (ECB, FED et al) and their political, business & academic fluffers at all levels.

Hows that Bob?

Good to see you brutha


css1971's picture

Re: Hayek vs Mises

Can I just point out that the ECB, as well as the BOE and the FED are government backed and indeed government backing for banks. Exactly the form of government subsidy for banks risk taking that the rest of the article goes on to talk about.

It's interesting that Hayek didn't advocate free banking in the way that Mises did.

Still... Full Reserve Banking!

sasebo's picture

I think I see a basic problem, the failure of our "leaders" to understand that they are the ones responsible for the long term viability of America.  They seem to think that someone else or some "invisible hand" is working behind the scenes to ensure the long term viability of our country including their children & grandchildren. Their only concern seems to be their own ass & reelection.

In other words our country is being run by a bunch of incompetent assholes and their greedy, psychopathic banker overseers.


AchtungAffen's picture

Hah, very good column, the best I've seen in a long time. I commend you, Mr. Hudson, for telling it how it is: Hayek was an extremist, deep seated hatred for anything "public" would just devolve into a have vs have nots feudalism with "private law" and all. But exposing ZH commentors golden calf for what it is and what it meant: financial taliban; will render you nothing but harsh comments and lots of name calling. i.e. socialist, communist, you know the drill.

css1971's picture

Can I just point out that the US just spent ~10% of it's GDP to give public money to the private banks.

If you live in the USA, that's a ~ month of your life spent working for the bankers, sucks to be a banker eh? Courtesy of the United States Government.

AchtungAffen's picture

Well of course. If the US state has been taken over by banks that's what you'll expect. But it's not something inherent for the state. It's like what Franklin said, "A Republic if you can keep it". The US population obviously couldn't. 30 years of state bashing and private glorification generates these sort of things, regulatory capture. While you were too busy with how the evil state wanted to drink your children's blood because it was so COMMIE!!11w, private forces imposed their private law on the public sphere.

Bob's picture

GDP has become a beguiling metric, imo.  What percent of GDP is the finance industry? 

Given that so many ostensibly "economic" decisions are being made in relation to this construct, it strikes me as something that bears examination.  It looks like another derivative to me.

It speaks to what Hudson is addressing, it seems to me.  Either there is such a thing as a "real" economy that will be given priority or humanity will be dying or slaving for people who don't do anything of real value.  Or, at least, what most people consider real value. 

I'm inclined to think that Mr. Market and his minions are not meaningfully qualified to make decisions on such inherently philosophical matters.  It reminds me of the TEPCO engineers deciding what is "acceptable" risk at Fukushima. 

They'll make the argument using all the "right" terms, by God, but that doesn't make it legitimate in any way whatsoever.

oldmanagain's picture

Various philosophers and religious creeds have attempted to define the "social contract", but obviously a lot of people misread the message.  The rich need the poor consumer, but the poor consumer does not need the rich.  As Austrian philosophy teaches, if you understand it, the rich can be replenished over and over.  If this was all there is, OK.  But if life is going to be more than service to the rich, or die for the rich, then there is a contract.  Even the dullest rich knows that others are needed, infrastructure, some rules.  History has shown that free market can most easily fulfil the needs of all, particularly if it is structured to allow redisstribution of some of the wealth to cater to the needs of those the rich are dependent on.  Rich cannot exist in a vacuum.  The rich are not being plundered, for needs must be met or the contract breaks down.  The less needy the populace, the more rich there are.  But this is too complex for this thread.

W.M. Worry's picture

Let me see if I understand this correctly. Are you talking about The Merely Rich or The Really Most Sincerely Rich ?

hardcleareye's picture

"But this is too complex for this thread."

No it's not, and I like were you are going with this......

Bear's picture

I'm all for regulation ... Mr. Goberment  just keep the crime out of Wall Street

Augustus's picture

The aim a century ago was to mobilize the Industrial Revolution’s soaring productivity and technology to raise living standards and use progressive taxation, public regulation, central banking and financial reform to distribute wealth fairly and make societies more equal.

When the fellow grossly mistates history as his beginning premise, it is little wonder that the rest of the article is just biased BS.  "Harnessing the industrial revolution" required that workers get harnessed to participate.  Progressive policies of subsidizing parasitic spongers have almost destroyed the concept of participation.  Why produce when the wealth can just be plundered by those expressing a "need"?

lincolnsteffens's picture

"The key problem is (lack of) political will on the part of the Parliament and Government".

That is such complete HORSE SHIT which is just a small sample of the absurdity of this article. The key problem is the Government trying to please any and everyone just to stay in power. In order to please everyone, they have to lie to large segments of the population and agree to hand out the favors and programs that can only be paid for by borrowing. The greater the amount of borrowing the more governments fudge the numbers.

No Greece is not insolvent but the citizens had little idea they were living above their productive means. Most of the Developed World suffers from the same problem as Greece. Most of us didn't realize that aside from our personal debt (  an ever growing problem), citizens of Greece did not understand the true nature of the mushrooming public debt was legally their obligation. The international banks encouraged the growing debt as a benefit to their bottom line without the fear of default since ultimately the collective population through their representatives accepted the debt. The banks also did plenty of illegal as well as immoral shenanigans for which they mostly get away with.

Now the national debt burdens have become unsustainable. The banks which should have used due diligence in making the loans and demanding collateral did neither. They relied on good faith and the promise to pay. The governments that borrowed more than citizens were personally willing to pay were lied to with taxes low enough and the handouts high enough to keep the political class in office. The citizens got what they wanted without being told or figuring out the danger of their rising debt obligations.

"Always save for a rainy day" was replaced by "Why put off til tomorrow what you can borrow for today". Self deception with a bit of greed makes a tasty stew most can not resist.

hardcleareye's picture

Your post is a wonderful example of Cognitive dissonance..... an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.

"No Greece is not insolvent" versus "national debt burdens have become unsustainable."

"The banks also did plenty of illegal as well as immoral shenanigans for which they mostly get away with." versus " They(the banks)  relied on good faith and the promise to pay."

I did enjoy reading your post!! <no scarsam intended>

Jasper M's picture

Author seems to be trying to make repealing Progressivism sound like a Bad thing. 

I admit that the Greek situation makes it hard to pick heroes. On ones side, banksters  desperate to keep their scheme going. But on the other, let us Never forget, is a nation of wastrels and tax dodgers, who have not only been spending their grandchildren's future (and who isn't these days?), but also dipping into the futures of every kid in Europe (courtesy of those same baksters mentioed above). 

So who's the good guy? NO ONE. BOTH sides are rotten; BOTH deserve what s coming to them. 

michigan independant's picture

Never will the Statist stop window's to be broken. As long as a slack hand reaches out they will fail just as we are. The dues to the State will never be fixed per capita as many observe as we collapse. Ideologues are satisfied in their certitudes only. The article points to a poisoned well again and again. Morality is bleach to infection's. Greece must choose the path not us or Central Planning. There is no free market as observed, only minions claiming labor. DEBT 

PulauHantu29's picture

What if The People of Greece decided to stand up for their own interests (instead of the Bankers interests) and Defaulted on all their Bonds and Debt...then proceed to return to the drachma and back it up with their Greek assets of land, islands, gold, etc....they would then have the strongest currency in Europe ......this may be the better choice then handing over all their assets to the EU Bankers leaving them with a Big Fat Nada and still lots of Debt.

Is this an option?

Dr Zaius's picture

Given the Greek governments propensity to live beyond its means, I would suggest they not borrow against their assets in land, islands and gold as collateral. It won't be a happy ending.

ebworthen's picture


Good God I need access to good credit...


Charles Wilson's picture

ZH has always had the Stalinist bloc in the background.  Every now and then they make an appearance - like now.

By COMPLETELY misrepresenting the nature of "market capitalism", notably starting the argument on post-Communist Russia, we are led down the path to the conclusion that it is democracy and bureaucratic technocracy that causes the current death sprial.

Watch out ZHers! The rabid Left NEVER learns and is always there to lend a helping hand to obfuscate a problem of, by and for the State.


Ilene, next time you want to post, just take out a copy of "Northern Neighbors" or maybe an old Walter Duranty article from the New York Times.  Then, after you've read the AgitProp, go for a walk.  I'm tired of reading about the millions who have died because they listened to the Apologists of Death.



midtowng's picture

There is always the hard-core libertarians here that see anything left of Ron Paul as Stalinists (and they have doubts about Ron Paul too). Yet they think they are somehow broad-minded and fully informed despite the fact that they won't listen to contrary opinions no matter how logical.

They can't imagine that someone would read Hudson AND Paul and agree with both.

Bob's picture

I hear that slant on the left you got going!

we are led down the path to the conclusion that it is democracy and bureaucratic technocracy that causes the current death sprial.

I think you indisputably missed Hudson's point regarding democracy, however.  He in no way blames democracy.  He's describing the opposite, actually. Perhaps the Stalinists have drained your comprehension!  I hate it when they do that . . .

Try reading this one if you can't find that essential truth in the current post:

You can never be too careful, right?

Charles Wilson's picture

Walter Duranty:

'N let's not forget Kaptain Karl's solution to the problem of Bankers and Banking:

"Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly."
-Karl Marx, 5th Plank of the Communist Manifesto (1848)

ElvisDog's picture

It's interesting. Couldn't you buy the entire country of Greece for 150B Euros? Then, just move all the annoying plebs out except for those who would service you in your Greek palaces. They could move the Davos conference there every year. Sweet.

williambanzai7's picture

They could call it Stavros Conference.

Bob's picture

Thanks for another Hudson piece, ilene.  While many in, or aligned with, the finance industry seem perversely incapable of getting it, some certainly will. 

Moe Howard's picture

Seems to me the author has confused the cause and effect. The "progressive" modern agenda and aim has reached it's goal - concentration of power in the hands of the elites. The goal was never any of the catch phrases, in fact, only fool would believe in "Heaven on Earth" or the promised "Eden". We don't have to go to far back to see what a failure that would be, just look at the east bloc pre socialism collapse. People died trying to escape that "Eden", while at the same time the "progressive movement" was working to create it in the west.

All you need to know is that the richest of the rich elites have supported socialism and progressives since they were serious movements. It truly is the road to serfdom, if it was not, they would not fund it. The author is an idiot, useful or not, or a shill. Your pick.


midtowng's picture

Which only proves that you know nothing about the Progressive Era...and aren't about to learn it.

Agent 440's picture

C'mon Moe... everyone knows that all the 'wealth' of the West was really stolen from the hard working people's republics during the Cold War and that when those countries were eventually undermined by the Western Capitalist Running Dogs, then and only then did they collapse. When the world lost the power and productivity of working Socialist states which were buoying all of the world's wealth did we come to the present crisis. Or some some crap like that....

AnAnonymous's picture

All you need to know is that the richest of the rich elites have supported socialism and progressives since they were serious movements.


With basic perception of self interest, one could say that rich support what makes them richer in a broad sense.

The Founding Fathers were not poor men for most of them.