Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Date Written: 05/10/2015
Year Published: 2015
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX17912
Michael Hudson discusses his new book, "Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy."
If you treat debt as a weapon, the basic idea is that finance is the new mode of warfare. That's one of my chapters in the book. In the past, in order to take over a country's land and its public domain, its basic infrastructure and its mineral resources, you had to have a military invasion. But that's very expensive. And politically, almost no modern democracy can afford a military invasion anymore.
So the objectives of the financial sector - of Wall Street, the City of London or Frankfurt in Germany - is to obtain the land. You can look at what's happening in Greece. What its creditors, the IMF and European Central Bank (ECB) want are the Greek islands, and they want the gas rights in the Aegean Sea. They want whatever buildings and property there is, including the museums.
In America, in colonial times, sharpies (especially from Britain) would lend farmers money that they knew the farmer couldn't pay, then they would foreclose just before the crops came in. Right now you have corporate raiders, who are raiding whole companies by forcing them into debt, and then smashing and grabbing. You now have the IMF, European Central Bank and Washington Consensus taking over whole countries like Ukraine. The tactic is to purposely lend them the money that clearly cannot be repaid, and say, "Oh you cannot pay? Well, we're not going to take a loss. We have a solution." The solution is to sell off public enterprises, land and natural resources. In Greece's case, 50 billion euros of its property, everything that it has in the public sector. The country is to be sold off to foreigners (including domestic oligarchs working out of their offshore accounts). Debt leverage is thus the way to achieve what it took armies to win in times past.
The first thing they did was compulsory setting aside of wages in the form of ostensible pension funds controlled by the employers. The employers could do whatever they wanted with it. Ultimately they invested their corporate pension funds in their own stocks or turned them over to the banks, around which their grupo conglomerates were organized. They then simply drove the businesses with employee pension funds under, wiping out the pension fund liabilities - after moving the assets into their captive banks. Businesses were left as empty corporate shells.
Something similar happened in America a few years ago with the Chicago Tribune. Real estate developer Sam Zell borrowed money, bought the Tribune, using the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) essentially to pay off the bondholders. He then drove/looted the Tribune into bankruptcy and wiped out the stockholders. Employees brought a fraudulent conveyance suit.
Already fifty years ago, critics noted that about half of the ESOPs are wiped out, because they're invested by the employers, often in their own stock. Managers give themselves stock options, which are given value by employee purchases. Something similar occurs with pension funds in general. Employee wages are paid into pension funds, which bid up the stock prices in general. On an economy-wide basis, employees are buying the stock that managers give themselves. That's pension fund capitalism.
The underlying problem with this kind of financialization of pensions and retirement savings is that modern American industry is being run basically for financial purposes, not for industrial purposes. The major industrial firms have been financialized. For many years General Motors made most of its profits from its financial arm, General Motors Acceptance Corporation. Likewise General Electric. When I was going to school 50 years ago, Macy's made most of its money not by selling products, but by getting customers to use its credit cards. In effect, it used its store to get people to use its credit cards.
Last year, 92% of the earnings of the Fortune 100 companies were used for stock buy-backs - corporations buying back their stock to support its price - or for dividend payouts, also to increase the stock's price (and thus management bonuses and stock options). The purpose of running a company in today's financialized world is to increase the price of the stock, not to expand the business. And who do they sell the stock to? Essentially, pension funds.
So here's the problem: How do we get the left to realize this? How do we get it to talk about economics instead of ethnic identity and sexual identity and culture alone? How do we get the left to do what they were talking about a century ago - economic reform and how to take the side of labor, consumers and debtors?