Michael Hudson

Are Students an Economic Class?

Students usually don’t think of themselves as a class. They seem “pre-class,” because they have not yet entered the labor force. They can only hope to become part of the middle class after they graduate. And that means becoming a wage earner – what impolitely is called the working class.

Keep reading... Show less

Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan

While protestors and police were clashing on the inaugural parade route in Washington, D.C., the newly sworn-in president of the United States was lunching with the establishment in Washington—some of the very people he called out in his inaugural address.

Keep reading... Show less

My Education as an Economist: How I Learned to Reject the Market Dogma That Dominates the Profession

I did not set out to be an economist. In college at the University of Chicago I never took a course in economics or went anywhere near its business school. My interest lay in music and the history of culture. When I left for New York City in 1961, it was to work in publishing along these lines. I had worked served as an assistant to Jerry Kaplan at the Free Press in Chicago, and thought of setting out on my own when the Hungarian literary critic George Lukacs assigned me the English-language rights to his writings. Then, in 1962 when Leon Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova died, Max Shachtman, executor of her estate, assigned me the rights to Trotsky’s writings and archive. But I was unable to interest any house in backing their publication. My future turned out not to lie in publishing other peoples’ work.

Keep reading... Show less

How the IMF Has Helped to Crush Greece

This autumn may see anti-austerity coalitions gain power in Portugal, Spain and Italy, while Marine le Pen’s National Front in France presses for outright withdrawal from the eurozone. These countries face a common problem: how to resist the economic devastation that the European Central Bank (ECB), European Council and International Monetary Fund (IMF) “troika” has inflicted on Greece and is now intending to do the same to southern Europe.

Keep reading... Show less

Greece Called the Bluff of Europe's Biggest Bankers - A Big No to Austerity

Just after 7 PM Greek time on Sunday, I was told that the “No” vote (Gk. Oxi) was winning approximately 60/40. The “opinion polls” showing a dead heat evidently were wrong. Bookies across Europe are reported to be losing their shirts for betting that the financial right wing could fool most Greeks into voting against their self-interest. The margin of victory shows that Greek voters were immune to the mainstream media’s misrepresentation during the week-long run-up as to whether to accept the troika’s demand for austerity to be conducted on anti-labor lines. (James Galbraith summarizes the misrepresentation in “9 Myths About the Greek Crisis,” Politico.)

Keep reading... Show less

The Greek Debt Crisis and Crashing Markets

Back in January upon coming into office, Syriza probably could not have won a referendum on whether to pay or not to pay. It didn’t have a full parliamentary majority, and had to rely on a nationalist party for Tsipras to become prime minister. (That party balked at cutting back Greek military spending, which was 3% of GDP, and which the troika had helpfully urged to be cut back in order to balance the government’s budget.)

Keep reading... Show less

If You Think Ukraine's Border War with Russia Is Bad, Check Out Its Fight with International Lenders

The fate of Ukraine is now shifting from the military battlefield back to the arena that counts most: that of international finance. Kiev is broke, having depleted its foreign reserves on waging war that has destroyed its industrial export and coal mining capacity in the Donbass (especially vis-à-vis Russia, which normally has bought 38 percent of Ukraine’s exports). Deeply in debt (with €3 billion falling due on December 20 to Russia), Ukraine faces insolvency if the IMF and Europe do not release new loans next month to pay for new imports as well as Russian and foreign bondholders.

Keep reading... Show less

How Wall Street and Its Democratic Allies Are Waging War Against Pension Funds

On the Senate’s last day in session in December, it approved the government’s $1.1 trillion budget for coming fiscal year.

Keep reading... Show less

Western Media Trashed Russia at Every Opportunity During the Olympics, Distracting from a Big Success Story

The Sochi Olympics were the great success Russia hoped for. The opening ceremonies proved a radiant display drawing on Russia’s most compelling cultural assets.  This artful look back to Russia’s past greatness proved both a reminder and challenge to its own people to reprise their historical greatness going forward. Meanwhile, its closing ceremonies reprised these themes, reminding the viewer of Russia’s continued vibrancy in the arts.

Keep reading... Show less

Inside the Fight to Prevent Billions in International Money Laundering and Tax Shelters

In June 2000, international groups rolled out blacklists targeting offshore refuges that shelter tax dodging and money laundering. Some observers predicted “the death of tax havens.” 

Keep reading... Show less

Oligarchs of the New Feudal Order Have Big Plans for You: Buy the Pavement and Charge You to Walk

The Federal Reserve’s QE3 has flooded the stock and bond markets with low-interest liquidity that makes it profitable for speculators to borrow cheap and make arbitrage gains buying stocks and bonds yielding higher dividends or interest. In principle, one could borrow at 0.15 percent (one sixth of one percent) and buy up stocks, bonds and real estate throughout the world, collecting the yield differential as arbitrage. Nearly all the $800 billion of QE2 went abroad, mainly to the BRICS for high-yielding bonds (headed by Brazil’s 11% and Australia’s 5+%), with the currency inflow for this carry trade providing a foreign-exchange bonus as well.

This financial engineering is not your typical bubble. The key to the post-2000 bubble was real estate. It is true that the past year and a half has seen some recovery in property prices for residential and commercial property. But something remarkable has occurred. So in this new debt-strapped low-interest environment, Hedge funds and buyout funds are doing something that has not been seen in nearly a century: They are buying up property for all cash, starting with the inventory of foreclosed properties that banks are selling off at distress prices.

Ever since World War II, the operating principle of real estate investors is never to use their own money – or at least, to use as little of their own as possible. Debt leveraging leaves the rental income paid to the banks as interest. The absentee owner is after the capital gain at the end of the bubble’s rainbow. That is what a bubble economy is all about. But the only way that investors can obtain current returns above today’s miniscule rates is to buy assets directly for cash.

In a bubble economy, falling interest rates (e.g., from 1980 to today) almost guarantee capital gains. But today’s near-zero interest rates cannot fall any further. They can only rise, threatening capital losses. That is what is panicking today’s bond and stock markets as the Fed talks about ending QE3’s near-zero interest rate regime. So there is little incentive for bond buying. Once interest rates rise, we are in an “anti-bubble” economy. Instead of capital gains driving “wealth creation” Alan Greenspan style, we have asset-price deflation.

In the bubble economy, families became convinced that the way to build up their wealth was to borrow as much as they could to buy the most expensive home they could, and ride the wave of asset-price inflation. But since 2008, consumers have paid down about $5 trillion of personal debt. This has meant using their wages and other income to pay down mortgages, student debt, auto debt, credit-card debt and other bank loans. This leaves only about a quarter of the typical family’s paychecks to spend on goods and services after paying the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector and the taxes shifted onto wage earners and consumers. The outlook looks dim for corporate sales and hence earnings. So instead of debt-leveraged inflation of asset prices, we have debt deflation of the overall economy.

To put this in perspective, from 1945 until interest rates rose to their peak in 1980, there was an almost steady 35-year downturn in bond prices. The Bubble Economy was fueled by interest rates being rolled back down to their 1945 levels and even lower. Credit flowed into the financial markets to buy stocks, peaking in the dot.com bubble in 2000, and then to inflate the 2001-2008 real estate bubble.

So we are now in is the Bubble Economy’s legacy. We can think of this as Phase 2: repayment time, along with foreclosure time. That is what happens in debt deflation. The Obama Administration has broken its 2008 campaign promises to Congress and to voters to write down mortgage debt to the ability to pay or to market prices reflecting realistic rental values. The debt legacy has been kept in place, not written down.

Carrying this debt overhead has caused a fiscal crisis. The financial and real estate bubble helped keep state and local finances solvent by providing capital gains taxes. These are now gone – and properties in default or foreclosure are not paying taxes. And whereas public pension funds assumed an 8+% rate of return, they now are making less than 1%. This has left pensions underfunded, and prompted some municipalities to engage in desperate gambles on derivatives. But the Wall Street casino always wins, and most cities have lost heavily to the investment banking sharpies advising them.

In place of a new bubble, financial elites are demanding privatization sell-offs from debt-strapped governments. Pressure is being brought to bear on Detroit to sell off its most valuable paintings and statues from its art museums. The idea is to sell their artworks for tycoons to buy as trophies, with the money being used to pay bondholders.

The same dynamic is occurring in Europe. The European Union and European Central Bank are demanding that Greece sell off its prime tourist land, ports, transport systems and other assets in the public domain – perhaps even the Parthenon. So we are seeing a neo-rentier grab for basic infrastructure as part of the overall asset stripping.

This is a different kind of inflation than one finds from strictly financial bubbles. It is creating a new neo-feudal rentier class eager to buy roads to turn into toll roads, to buy parking-meter rights (as in Chicago’s notorious deal), to buy prisons, schools and other basic infrastructure. The aim is to build financial charges and tollbooth rents into the prices charged for access to these essential, hitherto public services. Prices are rising not because costs and wages are rising, but because of monopoly rents and other rent-extraction activities.

This post-bubble environment of debt-strapped austerity is empowering the financial sector to become an oligarchy much like landlords in the 19th century. It is making its gains not by lending money – as the economy is now “loaned up” – but by direct ownership and charging economic rent. So we are in the “economic collapse” stage of the financialized bubble economy. Coping with this legacy and financial power grab will be the great political fight for the remainder of the 21st century.

*Michael Hudson’s book summarizing his economic theories, “The Bubble and Beyond,” is available on Amazon. His latest book is Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

This article was originally published by World Economic Association.

Big Banks Are Knee-Deep in the Dirty Money-Laundering Business

Money-laundering issues at U.S. and UK financial firms shed light on role of rich nations and elite banks in the offshore world.

Keep reading... Show less

Margaret Thatcher Was a Privatization Pioneer, and This Is the Story of How Her Agenda Did Nothing But Make Life Worse for Millions of People

As in Chile, privatization in Britain was a victory for Chicago monetarism. This time it was implemented democratically. In fact, voters endorsed Margaret Thatcher’s selloff of public industries so strongly that by 1991, when she was replaced as prime minister by her own party’s John Major, only 35 percent of Britain’s voters supported the Labour Party – half the proportion registered in 1945. The Conservatives sold off public monopolies, used the proceeds to cut taxes, and put the privatized firms on a profit-making basis. Their stock prices rose sharply, making capital gains for investors whose ranks included millions of Britons who had been employees and/or customers of these enterprises.

Keep reading... Show less

Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze

A cache of 2.5 million files has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over.

Keep reading... Show less

The Big Threat to the Economy Is Private Debt and Interest Owed on It, Not Government Debt

Editor's Note: These remarks were made by by Prof. Michael Hudson at The Atlantic’s Economy Summit, Washington DC, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Public Can Win the New Financial War

When World War I broke out in August 1914, economists on both sides forecast that hostilities could not last more than about six months. Wars had grown so expensive that governments quickly would run out of money. It seemed that if Germany could not defeat France by springtime, the Allied and Central Powers would run out of savings and reach what today is called a fiscal cliff and be forced to negotiate a peace agreement.

Keep reading... Show less

The Finance Industry Has Pried into Every Sector of the Economy, and Has Ended Up Running the Whole Show

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Keep reading... Show less

Will the Democrats Continue Their Rightward Turn or Start Working for the 99%?

The Democrats could not have won so handily without the Citizens United ruling. That is what enabled the Koch Brothers to spend their billions to support right-wing candidates that barked and growled like sheep dogs to give voters little civilized option but to vote for “the lesser evil.” This will be President Obama’s epitaph for future historians. Orchestrating the election like a World Wrestling Federation melodrama, the Tea Party’s sponsors threw billions of dollars into the campaign to cast the President’s party in the role of “good cop” against stereotyped opponents attacking women’s rights, Hispanics and nearly every other hyphenated-American interest group.

Keep reading... Show less

Wall St.'s Next Profit Scheme -- Buying Up Every Piece of Your Home Town

The pace of Wall Street’s war against the 99% is quickening in preparation for the kill. Having demonized public employees for being scheduled to receive pensions on their lifetime employment service, bondholders are insisting on getting the money instead. It is the same austerity philosophy that has been forced on Greece and Spain – and the same that is prompting President Obama and Mitt Romney to urge scaling back Social Security and Medicare.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES