Guest Post: The Dark Age Of Money
Authored by James C. Kennedy, originally posted at CounterPunch,
[It's Thursday; The World Series is on - so is Football; Grab a drink, we know it's long - and read this - at least skim the bolded segments and the last section - will open your mind a little]
If you often wonder why ‘free market capitalism’ feels like it is failing despite universal assurances from economists and political pundits that it is working as intended, your intuition is correct. Free market capitalism has become a thing of the past. In truth free market capitalism has been replaced by something that is truly anti-free market and anti-capitalistic. The diversion operates in plain sight.
Beginning sometime around 1970 the U.S. and most of the ‘free world’ have diverged from traditional “free market capitalism” to something different. Today the U.S. and much of the world’s economies are operating under what I call Monetary Fascism: a system where financial interests control the State for the advancement of the financial class. This is markedly different from traditional Fascism: a system where State and industry work together for the advancement of the State.
Monetary Fascism was created and propagated through the Chicago School of Economics. Milton Friedman’s collective works constitute the foundation of Monetary Fascism. Knowing that the term ’Fascism’ was universally unpopular; Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics masquerade these works as ‘Capitalism’ and ’Free Market’ economics.
The foundation of Friedman’s corrupting principle is that the investor (money to be more precise) has no duty, obligation or covenant to anyone or anything. Friedman’s ‘Market’ is not subject to ‘any’ human standard of morality, political limitations or national interests. Money is free to act without bounds or conventions. Nothing is prohibited as long as the market can provide a “clearing price”.
The fundamental difference between Adam Smith’s free market capitalism and Friedman’s ‘free market capitalism’ is that Friedman’s is a hyper extractive model, the kind that creates and maintains Third-World-Countries and Banana-Republics, without geo-political borders.
If you say that this is nothing new, you miss the point. Friedman does not differentiate between some third world country and his own. The ultimate difference is that Friedman has created a model that sanctions and promotes the exploitation of his own country, in fact every country, for the benefit of the investor, money the uber-wealthy. He dressed up this noxious ideology as ‘free market capitalism’ and then convinced most of the world to embrace it as their economic salvation.
As improbable as it sounds, this ideology has the near-universal support of most economists, the media, universities, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury, nearly every member of The U.S. Congress and most everyone you know. Today Friedman’s ideology is accepted, to some degree, by nearly every country in the world. But ultimately this exploitive model is not sustainable at any level, or for anyone or any nation.
The ultimate difference between Friedman’s ideology and Smith is simply this: Smith was in fact a Mercantilist. True, he opposed the custom of hording gold and other Mercantilist practices, but ultimately he was a Mercantilist. Smith promoted “free trade” with the goal of improving the English merchant’s advantage, and thus the State’s. Nothing expresses this more clearly that the title of his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Mercantilism is based on the relative wealth of one Nation State over the other, not the plunder of the State and it’s peoples for the benefit of the individual.
Smith believed in the power of the State and recognized that it was only by the power of the State that free enterprise could succeed and thrive. In a world without the State, he sided with Lock, “life was brutish and short”. Consequently one had obligations to the State and the people who make up the state: the working man.
According to Smith every butcher, baker, craftsman and merchant would seek out his own self-interest and that economic advantage would ultimately benefit his fellow Englishman and the Crown. Smith’s arguments against some precepts of Mercantilism were intended to give the English tradesman a greater advantage, nothing more. The intended effect was to enrich one’s State above all others as an alternative to the primitive act of war, the traditional means to National enrichment. Smith viewed things as a zero sum game. And as England was the undisputed master of global exploitation at this time, exploitation of other Nations was fair game.
However, according to Economist David Ricardo trade between nations of relative economic parity result in what he termed “Comparative Advantage”. Comparative Advantage is based on specialization: Germany builds machine equipment, Italy does leather goods, France produces cheese, wine and literature. When these nations trade with each other all parties enjoyed a net gain as a result of specialization and non-duplication of resources.
Of course this does not work when first world nations off-shore factories and jobs into subsistence-based economies (the term “comparative” is no longer germane). Off-shoring into non-comparative economies is purely extractive because all of the gains are ‘privatized and are no longer correlated to national interests. Non-Comparative off-shoring undermines both the host and source/flagship nation.
The financial entity is able to extract environmental, capital, tax and infrastructure concessions from the host nation. If the host nation ever seeks to renegotiate its position with the financial entity the entity can enlist the powers of its flagship nation (i.e. State Department). This type of intervention can be very costly to the flagship nation and end very tragically for the host nation. Under Monetary Fascism the financial entity maintains out-sized rents from the host nation by utilizing the state as its enforcement agent, while maximizing tax avoidance via off-shore corporations (and other gimmicks).
Free market capitalism, as conceived by Smith, was Nationalistic in nature and as the Nation State became wealthier, so did its people and industry. This relationship required shared obligations and shared rewards between the State and its people.
Traditional Fascism, as conceived by Mussolini or Hitler, had an aggressive Nationalistic disposition where the State promoted Industry above all others in order to strengthen the State relative to its perceived rivals. Hitler and Mussolini believed that as the State lifted industry, industry lifted the people – dignity and pride in one’s nation were foundational principles.
Monetary Fascism, as conceived by Friedman, uses the powers of the state to put the interest of money and the financial class above and beyond all other forms of industry (and other stake holders) and the state itself.
In democracies and first world nations this is achieved through lobbying, campaign donations, financial incentives, revolving door regulators and through other means. As such, the state is coopted into altering regulations / legislation, diverting investigations / prosecutions or creating tax loopholes for the benefit of the financial class/ industry. Ultimately these actions undermine states sovereignty.
For the rest of the world state interests and sovereignty are undermined through the IMF, The World Bank and other global monetary agencies.
Monetary Fascism has a strong preference for political rather than capital investments. These investments are designed to sustain and support the preferences and activities of the financial class as it manipulates and create ever larger out-sized rent opportunities or constructs risk-diverting transactions that aggregate a ‘risk-arbitrage premium’ to one side of a transaction and transfers all future losses to the other.
On a global basis Friedman’s ideas heavily influence international treaties on taxation and capital flows with the single minded goal of freeing capital from any obligation to the host or origin country. These agreements have essentially created a virtual nation, or non-nation, of money that is ultimately beyond the reach of the conventional Nation State. Friedman’s ‘invisible hand’ is free to extract the wealth of any corporation or Nation without any reciprocal obligations.
The Serene Insurrection of Money
All economic theories are devised to fill a need; to justify public and / or private actions. With the rapidly growing profits to the financial class during the divestment era, beginning in the early 1970s and continuing today, they needed some ideological justification for what they were doing (selling out America’s future and destroying corporations and jobs for quick profits) so they found and embraced Monetary Fascism. In fact, they found each other: Friedman was just ‘fulfilling a need in the market place’. Friedman simply created a new ideology that justified what the financial class was doing.
Rationalizing the divestment of an entire economy is morally deplorable, but it also offered “out-sized” profit opportunities on a massive scale. Seeking relevance in this sweeping tide of economic-cannibalism other academics rushed into the water. None bothered to consider the long term consequences that would result from the wholesale dismemberment of our industrial economy. Instead academics suddenly ‘discovered’ an implausible utopian future that would be sustained by the creative powers of finance and trading our industrial heritage for a service economy.
Shocking? – no, the academic promotion of concepts, theories, historical narratives and the state of ‘fact’ and ‘science’ are increasingly available to the highest bidder. Custom realities are also made-to-order ad nausea from within our Nation’s many tax exempt ‘think tanks’ that attempt to define public debate and guide public policy for the benefit of their patrons.
Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of economics claimed to have refined and developed modern, scientific tools of ‘free market capitalism’, capable of unlocking ever greater rewards from Adam Smith’s simple, primitive concept of free markets. Monetary Fascism was rapidly adopted because western culture recognizes the tremendous historical contributions of traditional free market capitalism and wanted to participate in the promise of these enhanced rewards.
In truth, it was nothing more than a cloak of deception – providing cover for the unscrupulous behavior of investment bankers, corporate raiders, speculators, off-shore corporation, debt mongers and bubble pushers (typically one and the same). The enhanced rewards came from the pilfering of capital investments and technology from generations past, the liquidation of employees and off-shoring of production, the pilfering of pension accounts and the termination or spin-out of R&D departments and option packages to executives and directors that focused on short term stock price targets.
Bell Labs, once part of AT&T, laid the foundation for all modern telecommunication and electronics technology today was morphed into Lucent Technology. Lucent quickly looted the legacy portfolio of Bell Laboratories to enrich themselves and shareholders, leaving a worthless shell that was eventually merged with Alcatel.
Wall Street Investment Bankers, leveraged buyout firms and hedge funds became the Paladin Knights of the ’free market’ whose allegiance was to the ‘noble shareholder’, markets and liquidity. In truth the shareholder was/is nothing more than a nameless, faceless transient in an endless pursuit of ever larger ‘outsized returns’. Traditional capital formation was replaced with financial schemes designed to acquire existing asset for liquidation, management and directors traded long term management discipline for short term performance and accounting gimmicks tied to stock and option pricing. With most of the IPO capital used to pay for the exit of early investors, the stock market has become nothing more than a series of game theory type exit strategies. The equity markets are a failed forum for the creation of productive or capital intensive projects.
However, the larger system failure at the nation and global level stems from the perversion of the public and private debt market. This was made possible through massive decade’s long deregulation and the post 2008 financial crisis.
The entire 2008 financial crisis lies at the feet of The U.S. Congress. When The U.S. Congress repealed the Glass Steagall Act, passed in response to the Great Depression, they eliminated any meaningful financial oversight within the Banking and Investment Banking industry.
Why did the U.S. Congress change the law that protects our economy from a second 1930s type depression? Simple, it was campaign contributions (shit-loads of cash, considered bribes or worse in the private sector), filling the top post in the Fed, Treasury and the Administration with top level executives from Goldman and the like and the prospects of private sector jobs in the financial industry for pliable regulators, retired Members of The U.S. Congress and former Presidents.
It was from the decades-long cash infused orgy of conflicted interest that Congress finally entrusted the financial industry with “self-regulation.” If you believe the rhetorical record, deregulation was intended to unleash the ‘wealth creating powers’ of these new financial instruments created through the pure genius of the investment bankers.
Alan Greenspan and others saw no limits to the potential economic contributions of the financial markets – if they could only be freed of unnecessary and burdensome regulations.
This wanton deregulation allowed the financial industry to create trillions of dollars in unregulated CMOs and CDSs (CMO: Collateralized Mortgage Obligations – packages of high risk mortgages that were rated AAA & CDS: Credit Default Swaps – bogus insurance on junk paper like CMOs) and other complex derivatives, hypothecated derivatives, synthetic derivatives, even hypothecated synthetic derivatives and the ‘black pools’ of unregulated capital that created and priced these complex financial instruments.
This resulted in the unprecedented and unsustainable accumulation of debt and related derivative instruments, literally in the hundreds of trillions of dollars, dwarfing global GDP by a number of factors, controlled by unregulated and uninhibited bankers. Ultimately it has cost most nations their sovereignty.
Monetary Sovereignty and the Death of Nations
Friedman’s model of wealth extraction has been in conflict with the traditional Nation State and the concept of State sovereignty from inception.
Great, you say! The state is evil and must be replaced with something new. Beware of this thinking. The evils of the state are nothing when compared to the money-counter. The State must answer to the public, or at least the mob. The money-counter only answers to his insatiable desire for more and more money.
Friedman’s ideology undermines State sovereignty by initially delinking the aggregation of wealth from the interest of the state. As wealth accumulates it is then used to alter political outcomes, tax avoidance and financial regulations for the benefit of the wealthy. Throughout history the State has always jealously protected its sovereignty. So how did this ideology survive and eventually overtake the State.
Easy, they co-opt everyone. First the academics and think tanks then one political party after the other. The media was consumed and consolidated by large corporate conglomerates who quickly enforced their own interest’s at the editor and programmer’s desk. Then they locked in the entire public through 401(k)s and savings plans. Even the unemployed and the unemployable qualified for credit cards, new cars and even homes. At the national and global level they expanded public and private debt everywhere. They made everyone feel richer for a short time. At the same time the financial industry off-shored, liquidated, crowded out and displaced the traditional industry of our economy.
With the introduction of Monetary Fascism financial activities as a percentage of GDP grew from less than 5% in 1969 to more than 22% of GDP by 2008. Over the same period U.S. manufacturing as a percentage of GDP declined from more than 26% to just 12%. Using historical measures 2008 GDP for the manufacturing sector would be considerably less than 10%. Only the federal government was consuming a larger portion of GDP at 35%.
Taking the number one spot in the U.S. economy, the finance industry has become the most influential player in government. But the real power behind the finance industry is much deeper than just the political access that campaign donations buy, the financial industry has wide and deep influence throughout government policy via the Federal Reserve, Treasury, Fannie May, Freddie Mac, the FDIC, key advisory rolls in the Administration, Members of Congress, political appointments within the SEC, CFTC, and membership on The Council on Foreign Relations and participation in global organizations like the G8, G20, Basil Accords, IMF and World Bank.
Through their unparalleled influence over the Administration, Congressional Finance Committees and the Federal Reserve they gained full control over the regulators. In fact, it was the Allen Greenspan, Tim Geithner (Federal Reserve) Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers (the Administration) and others who silence ‘Rouge Regulators’ who attempted to alert The U.S. Congress to the potential risks of deregulation, dark pools and derivatives. Greenspan, Summers, Rubin and others essentially staged a soviet era show trial against Brooksley Born and others, designed to send the message to any would-be-regulators that the rules no longer apply to the financial class. It worked.
Once they controlled the regulators and the key members of the Congressional Finance Committee they were free to alter accounting standards, create complex financial vehicles, and leverage risk in derivatives while real losses accumulated to staggering and globally disruptive levels. They hypothecated CMOs and even synthetic CMOs to unsupportable levels, papering over any potentially observable warning signs with zero-collateral CDSs.
The real risks to global finance were hidden in the derivative instruments related to the massive debt portfolios controlled by the “Too Big To Fail” banks with unprecedented political power. These banks were not subject to any measurable regulatory restriction. Point of fact, Goldman Sachs and others were able to morph into traditional Prime-Banks overnight, with the blessing of their regulators, instantaneously gaining unlimited access to the Discount Window. The act is so egregious that the public is incapable of cognition, while the media, academics and think tanks collectively remain silent.
Unlimited access to the Discount Window was not enough. Investment Banks and the overall financial industry enjoy unlimited government largess in the form of Quantitative Easing, immunity from prosecution, as it relates to fraudulent financial instruments such as CMOs, CDSs & assorted derivatives, front running client accounts, pilfering of client accounts, wholesale asset sweeps from failed banks to failing banks and even the wholesale world-wide manipulation of LIBOR.
The final act of treachery was delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court who imbued ‘money’ with a voice and electoral powers. This decision treated each and every single dollar in circulation as a prospective voter. In the hands of an ordinary citizen the dollar’s ultimate voice is limited to $2,500 per person per candidate. But in the hands of a corporate controlled Super-PAC the dollar’s voice is virtually unlimited.
The Financial Sector invested more than $5 billion in campaign contributions and lobbyists from 1998 to 2008. As if $5 billion was not sufficient, the new Supreme Court Ruling and the creation of Super PACs will create a financial Tsunami Effect on politics.
Super PACs may raise and spend unlimited sums of money from individuals, corporations, associations, and other interest groups to “overtly” advocate for political candidates. A recent example of how disruptive this is demonstrated by Sheldon Adelson and his wife’s $10 million contribution to Newt Gingrich. The Aelson’s ‘legal’ Super PAC contributions were able to keep ‘their candidate’ in the Republican Primary single handedly. Gingrich had no meaningful support beyond this single patron. Democracy? Representative government?
This decision effectively abolished our representative form of government. Again, this act of treachery did not spark any meaningful discussions from academics, constitutional scholars, think tanks, civil rights groups or the media. Why? They have all been co-opted.
Today the power of the State blindly serves the interest of these banks at the expense of all others. I am not claiming that this needs to be a preconceived conspiracy. To the contrary, the outcome was inevitable. Without any restraints most growth oriented systems, such as a virus, tend towards uninhibited growth. With no means of restraint, equilibrium becomes impossible. The single-minded focus on the growth of money compromises all other systems in the economy.
Any U.S. political leader who puts forward a Nationalist agenda is pillared as an opponent of ‘free trade’ and a danger to ‘free markets’. A perfect example is the U.S. Congressional and Administrative reaction to traditional Industrial Policy initiatives. The universal reaction is to characterize any U.S. Industrial Policy initiatives as “anti-free trade” and un-American. This is wrong on both counts: Adam Smith’s entire argument about free trade was intended to enhance England’s Industrial Policy. It is also a fact that the U.S.’s industrial greatness was rooted in 200 years of government directed, supported or sponsored Industrial Policy.
The press and pundits also contribute to this reversal of reality when they recently questioned Obama’s commitment to capitalism and free trade because he criticized Mitt Romney’s “Off-Shoring” of U.S. jobs as the head of Bain Capital. According to the press and pundits off-shoring is a foundational principle of ‘free markets’, but off-shoring has no basis whatsoever in Smith’s free markets. Off-shoring as we now employ it technically does not fit with Riccardo either, as Riccardo’s arguments of Comparative Advantage pre-suppose reciprocation of trade between relatively equal partners.
Historically governments would use tariffs or other measures to balance out large deviations between un-equal or undesirable trading partners. Today corporations and the financial industry pocket these out-sized ‘comparative disparities’. Eventually this results in wide spread unemployment and dislocation inside the flagship/host-country and all of these accumulated costs simply become a burden of the state.
This is nothing more than arbitraging disparity and transferring the resulting collateral costs to the state. As the unemployment and dislocation costs to the state threaten the asymmetric relationship between the state and the financial class, the financial class promotes austerity through its various think tanks, financially sponsored academics and loyalist inside Congress and the Administration.
Outside the U.S. it is the IMF, the World Bank and various international trade and financial trade and monetary agencies including the EU that promote austerity.
Today the financial and banking class enforces this ideology through the media and government with the same ruthlessness of the Church during the Dark Ages: to question is to be a heretic. It is a much more sinister form of excommunication for any public figure who does not accept or property articulate his allegiance to Friedman’s poisoned ideology.
Consequently, it is a sad fact that both Democrats and Republican Members of Congress wear Monetary Fascism on their sleeves – out of conviction or fear. Both parties have become slaves to this deadly ideology.
Challenging Monetary Fascism is much more dangerous for political leaders representing countries outside the G-20. Populist leaders who put forward Nationalist policies are automatically in violation of one or more international ‘free trade’ agreements. Non-conformity with these agreements ultimately results in trade sanctions, IMF or World Bank imposed austerity, or worse…
Friedman’s ideology is global and his rules of ‘free trade’ are deeply integrated into the laws of international trade. All of our Nation’s international treaties on trade and banking are a series of interlocking agreements that force all nations to subvert their sovereignty and conform to Monetary Fascism. It is a global pandemic built on a world-wide transmission system with universal powers of enforcement. Sovereign Nations comply or they lose their credit rating. Considering the world wide mass escalation of debt to GDP for most western nations, a small increase in the cost of borrowing would easily result in default and bankruptcy.
Today, Nation States face nothing less than financial Armageddon – the Sampson Option, if they do not comply with the demands of the global banking industry. And it is with this weapon that the Financial Class has come to dominate the State.
Forget Al Qaeda, the only legitimate threat to U.S. and international security is the financial class. They have created Weapons of Mass Financial Destruction (Financial WMDs) and they stand ready to take down the world economy. They are more dangerous than any ‘terrorist group’, or even all of the ‘terrorist groups combined.
Exaggeration – consider what Friedman’s ‘free market’ banking system has done to Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Estonia, etc. How many western nations has Islam overthrown? Not one, and by comparison that should scare you.
Money has become the state and the traditional state is forced to serve money’s interests. Everywhere the Financial Class is openly lording over sovereign nations. Ireland, Greece and Spain are subject to ultimatums and remember Hank Paulson’s $700 billion extortion from the U.S. Congress. The $700 billion was just the wedge. Thanks to unlimited access to the Discount Window, Quantitative Easing and other taxpayer funded debt-swap bailouts the total transfers to the financial industry exceeded $16 trillion as of July 2010 according to a Federal Reserve Audit. All of this was dumped on the taxpayer and it is still growing.
Why must the people of Ireland or Iceland accept the losses of the private banking sector as a public obligation? Why must Greece accept austerity because its politician’s entered into a series of deals structured by Goldman Sachs specifically designed to deceive its EU partners? If Goldman Sachs authored documents with the intent of fraud then Goldman Sachs is required to bear the losses and prosecution. The taxpayer had no hand in this.
It is breathtaking. Within the last 40 years ‘money’ has gained total control of each and every one of us. Generations to come will enter this world burdened with the debts of their fathers. It is inescapable and ubiquitous. More than just a spider’s web, or a money-sucking vampire squid, it is a global pandemic that infects our very DNA. It is the Original Sin of money – subject to compound interest, converted into a derivative, hypothecated and rolled into a CMO and then leveraged through CDSs.
The uber-wealthy will continue to aggregate wealth. The banking system will continue to make ‘risk free bets,’ booking gains and shifting the losses to the public. As these losses accumulate on the public balance sheet the state will be forced to seek austerity measures from the public. As austerity and debt levels increase the global economy will continue ‘circling of the bowl’ with increasing speed until we suddenly plunge into the vortex.
All Bow to the Welfare Queen
Total governmental transfers and assumed liabilities related to U.S. financial institutions since 2008 exceed the entire history of all social welfare programs for all free world economies collectively since Bismarck (do the numbers, its true).
So, how is it that history’s biggest welfare queen can demand that the rest of human society be forced to take responsibility for its prolific reproduction of trillions of dollars in derivatives and other financial abominations in the name of ‘free markets’? Easy, your government has surrendered its National Sovereignty. Representative government has ended. The public’s misconception and blind acceptance of Friedman’s ideology as a legitimate form of capitalism is precisely what makes Monetary Fascism immune from any true political recourse.
It is the classic case of failing to properly identify the true nature and source of a contagious epidemic. This is the hidden strength of Monetary Fascism. Failure to identify the source of the disease or its mode of transmission assures continued contagion, misdiagnosis and mistreatment.
The public’s support for Friedman’s poisoned system is based on the past success of true capitalism and free markets as surmised by Smith. Most U.S. Citizens desperately want to regain our Nation’s former prestige. Because they cannot differentiate Smith’s system from Friedman’s they see government restrictions on business, taxes and capital flows as the obstacle to achieving our previous economic greatness. The public can be counted on to demand even greater deregulation, undermining their relevance in the system and our Nation’s economy and sovereignty.
Whole industries have long ago disappeared. Friedman’s Monetary Fascism has burnt through most of what remains of the middle class. Seeking fuel, the fire has spread to the upper middle class and the lower middle class. Small businesses and Unions are consumed in the flame. Even the ranks of the finance industry were offered up to the god of money. Tens of thousands of recently dispossessed upper middle class and the lower ranks of the wealthy find themselves without meaningful work and dark prospects. All of these people have passed through the bowels of Monetary Fascism, yet they stand up and defend ‘free markets’ so that they can be consumed once again as this raging fire seeks new fuel.
The only rational defense is for people everywhere to denounce Friedman’s ideology in all public policy debates and academia, and to articulate the true principles of Adam Smith.
Ending the tyranny of Monetary Fascism begins with the wide spread recognition that it is the anti-theses of capitalism, free markets, individual self-determination and national sovereignty. However, it is truly unstoppable as long as the world continues to view it as the embodiment of Adam Smith’s “free market capitalism”.
Until then, the plunder will continue, lives will be discarded the angry mob will continues to grow. As we approach critical mass the fear is setting in. The remaining upper middle class and middle class fear losing what they have, while the recently disenfranchised desperately cling to their faith in Friedman’s ‘free markets’ in the hopes of redemption. The faithful double down on their own demise, while the ranks of the dispossessed swell. Every one of us has become a bit player in our own tragedy.
We are at the end of human evolution, we have become chattel. We are conditioned to the service of those with money, who only seek to enlarge their store of money, to beget money, for money’s sake and nothing more. The future is grim.
The predictable long term outcome is a steep decline into a very dark Monetary Feudalism.
When asked in an interview what humanities’ future looked like, Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, said “Imagine a boot smashing a human face forever.”
Welcome to the Dark Age of Money.
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