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Limited posting

I’m still working on an extended project so my posting will continue to be light to non-existent for a while.  Thanks for stopping by.

More on housing finance – class status

I want to add another aspect to yesterday’s post concerning ways to make housing finance easier and cheaper that goes beyond just interest rates or down payments or unearned rentier income.  It’s the issue of class status.

A high cost of housing is a form of red-lining that very efficiently separates economic classes and allows for clear displays of status.  While segregation is no longer allowed based on race, there’s an obvious link as any visit to an American city will attest.  But even if class today is completely based on “merit”, it’s undeniable that we still live in a hierarchical society.

A meritocracy simply means that jobs are filled based on qualifications; it doesn’t at all speak to what degree, if any, income should vary.  Meritocratic socialist egalitarianism and a vastly unequal hierarchy based on “merit” are both internally consistent forms, although it’s nearly impossible to square the latter with democracy.

So, any significant leveling of inequality, especially in something as status related as housing, represents a direct confrontation with the existing system of meritocratic hierarchy.  Lifestyles and neighborhoods that were once affordable only to a certain “meritocratic” income class would suddenly become available to lower, less “merit-worthy” workers.

I wonder how many liberals there are out there who often speak against inequality in the abstract but would oppose ideas such as discussed yesterday because they would directly confront the usefulness of housing as status.

There can be little doubt that the housing interest rate extraction industry based on Wall Street serves functional purposes beyond the simple channeling of rentier income.  And that the status quo has very deep roots.

A radical housing finance proposal

The world of finance is widely seen as little more than a casino seemingly custom designed to wreak havoc and destruction throughout the world.  As portrayed endlessly in movies and books, though, it seems to have a high degree of panache; it’s exciting, gets a great deal of attention, and our focus is directed on ways to dampen the speculative excess.  But there’s another face of finance that’s not speculative at all and has absolutely no sexiness attached to it.  It’s the steady grueling daily parasitic extraction of rentier finance.  While it gets little attention, though, it’s arguably more damaging over the long term than the casino.  No industry illustrates this better than residential real estate.

A home, of course, isn’t just another consumer commodity; it’s a fundamental requirement to civilized life, ranking right up there with food, clothing, and healthcare.  On the economic front, residential real estate is the critical backbone of the US economy and a collapse in values, as we’ve seen, can easily lead to depression.  A sharp rise in prices, on the other hand, can be equally bad; not only because it could then collapse, but also because it’s a sharp tax on future generations who must buy at the inflated prices.

The United States has developed elaborate institutions to encourage home ownership and prop up housing values, but it turns out every one of them is centered on and directly benefits finance.  Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHA provide 100% guarantees against losses to mortgage financiers while the homeowner is essentially unprotected.  What a deal!  Mortgage financiers take absolutely zero risk yet are institutionally enabled to extract high rents from homeowners in the form of interest charges.

The average mortgage rate in the US today for a 30 year mortgage is 3.98%, plus an average additional upfront fee of 0.7% plus many other charges and aggravations.  Financing a home turns out to be a very costly and grueling experience.  For a $300,000 home financed at 90%, for example, the annual interest charge at today’s rate is a whopping $10,746, about 21% of median household income.  This significant transfer of income, we must not forget, is for a loan that’s fully guaranteed by the government and has no risk.

We live in a hierarchical society structured like a great pyramid and the gigantic wealth and power at the top is largely sustained through these kinds of riskless rentier extractions.  The only way to really improve conditions lower down is to put an end to the upward flows.  The relationship between rentier finance and the population is a direct conflict of interest and there’s no way forward without facing up to it.  In that light then, I humbly offer a straightforward proposal.

I propose that the government end its loan insurance program for finance and start financing the homeowner directly.  There’s nothing inherent in the laws of the universe which decrees a home must be expensive, risky, and difficult to acquire.  So, how about  this?  Anyone who wishes to buy a home simply makes a down payment, perhaps 5%, and the remainder is automatically financed by the government at 0% interest.  No principal payment would be required either, so there would be no monthly payment, no underwriting requirements, and no additional hassles.  The effect would be to render home ownership far cheaper, sharply increase disposable income, and virtually eliminate home ownership risk.  Homelessness would be vastly reduced.  Not only would we eliminate the unjust unearned income going to the top, we would also put an end to the vast waste of human effort devoted to producing, servicing, and analyzing mortgage securities, the collection and foreclosure industry, and much else.  We of course need to assure these workers find new sources of income, but that’s a separate story for another day.

Here’s some obvious objections and comments:

1) Where does the government get the money?  Anyone who reads this blog knows the dollar is a fiat currency and can be created at will.  Interest rates are controlled by the Fed and it can and should keep them at zero.  There’s never a just cause for a riskless rate of return for wealth.  Risks of inflation are controllable through assuring that the economy never attempts to spend beyond its real resources, coupled with oversight over the oligopolies to assure they maintain “reasonably” low profit margins.  Existing home sales are now on about a 5,000,000 unit per year pace with the median price being $192,800.  At this level, the program would require annual financing of about $867 billion per year or $72 billion per month.  While this may sound high, it’s lower than current QE purchases which could then be reduced or discontinued.  Also, we must remember that the government need only finance a home once since all future sales would be a net wash given that the new government loan would simply pay off the old one.

2) Should it be available for investment properties and very high priced homes as well?  I think not. I think it should be directed toward the vast majority of the population and centered on owner occupied homes.  Of course the cost of home ownership would sharply decline and rents would certainly decline as well.

3) Wouldn’t it just lead to sharply higher housing prices?  Without some reasonable controls, it probably would.  But the controls wouldn’t be that difficult and would serve important societal purposes.  Housing price increases could be limited by an index tied to inflation or median income.  The controls could even be optional in the sense that a homeowner could decide whether or not to opt into the program.  Once a home is entered into the program though, it’s future value would then be linked to the index.  We may lose some possible benefits dealing with price signals from an unstructured housing market, but they would be greatly offset by the elimination of the risk of future housing collapses or bubbles and the vast advancement in disposable income.

4) This is way too radical and would never be implemented.  Probably true, but no reason to attack it.

This post clearly hasn’t addressed the many issues involved, but they’d all surely be resolvable with a bit of effort.  It isn’t exactly rocket science.  The important thing, I think, is that our views on finance need to be sharply radicalized if we’re to make true progress.  We can’t endlessly send rentier income upward if we seek to live prosperously, and that will clearly involve radical challenges to existing power.  Every day we hear radical proposals emanating from the top demanding ever greater cuts in wages, security, benefits, and living conditions.  We have, it seems, just three possible ways to respond: we can accept the elite theory of the universe as true and, serf-like, humbly accept their endless cuts; OR we can seek to avoid the cuts and maintain the status quo; OR we can throw right back at them our very own democratically based proposals that fully match theirs in the level of radicalism.  Why not go for the third?

Update 6/14: I think the class status aspect of housing is very relevant here and I touch on it in today’s post.

Joe Biden tours a middle class Colombian flower farm

It’s truly inspiring to witness the historic flowering of the global middle class and I think it’s way past time we all stand up and thank the wise political leadership in the European Union, the United States, and throughout the world for their fine dedicated efforts.  These experts, educated through years of advanced study, have learned the essential formula for creating a prosperous middle class world and we are the beneficiaries.  And here it is, the end result of centuries of human thought, the brilliant formula for middle class prosperity:

Unrestricted free trade, low taxes, free capital mobility, competitively low wages, balanced budgets, repressed unions, police discipline, high interest rates, strong business confidence, strictly enforced property rights, and a limited constitutional democracy under the ‘rule of law’.

The great fruits of this formula are, of course, self evident in the “developed” world as throngs everywhere are gathering on the streets to celebrate the gleaming 21st century utopian world.  What’s even more exciting is the phenomenal achievement in Latin America!  To mark this beautiful spring awakening for the Latino middle class, Joe Biden recently made a triumphant visit to that true bastion of Latin American middle-classdom, Colombia, and toured one of the great middle class industries of our new 21st century, the flower farm.

Colombia has long practiced the middle class formula and is rightly seen as a noble role model.  It maintains a competitive wage structure through its innovative high poverty program which consistently secures poverty rates well above 30%.  It has free trade agreements with the US, has high interest rates, currently a whopping 3.25%, and its investors are surely bursting with confidence, having achieved a remarkably high gini coefficient of .548.  Perhaps Colombia’s most effective competitive advantage is its truly ground-breaking policy on unions, which, through the efficient murdering of union leaders, has kept union enrollment to less than 4%!

Biden was so impressed with his visit, he even wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about it, entitled “Joe Biden – The Americas Ascendant: The Spread of Free Trade and Democracy has been a Boom to the Hemisphere”.  “What I saw on the flower farm”, he gushed, “was just one sign of the economic blossoming in the year since a U.S. free-trade agreement with Colombia went into force.”… “Today, I believe we can credibly envision an Americas that is solidly middle-class, secure and democratic”.

Joe’s right, the flower farming industry in Colombia is truly inspiring, being one of the world leaders in maximizing profitability through the clever strategy of paying employees a wage of less than $2 per day.  Equally helpful is the hands off regulatory environment which permits high output, an obvious key to maintaining middle class standards, without getting bogged down in petty grievances like the silly fact that two-thirds of the flower workers suffer sickness from pesticide exposure.

Because flower farming is such a critical industry for the 21st century middle class, Biden even produced a two minute video of his tour.  Be sure to watch it as it’s quite exciting.

Walking through the farm amidst the clearly happy $2 per day middle class workers, he just can’t help but marvel at “the progress in the decent good paying jobs”.  “We see a future for not just Colombia but for the hemisphere, all of us of middle class societies that are in fact democracies like Colombia that are growing and prosperous; and that’s the future and that’s not been anything more than a dream for the last century.  In this next decade or so we can make tremendous progress”.

It’s really so exciting.  Thank you Joe Biden and Barack Obama!  And the other deserving leaders throughout the world!

Democratic Capitalism or Capitalist Democracy

Prior to the 16th century, most of Christendom fervently believed the Earth was the center of the Solar System and that the Sun revolved around it.  It became obvious to the Renaissance scientists and pretty much all future observers (American Creationists excluded) that the empirical facts didn’t give much support to the geocentric view and it was far simpler to think of the Sun as the center around which orbited the Earth.  The Theory of Relativity tells us, though, that there’s no such thing as absolute motion and so any object in the universe can make equal claim to being considered the stationary center.  It’s therefore not empirically proven that the Earth does in fact orbit the Sun; it’s just vastly simpler and in accordance with all our physical theories to view it that way.

We see something similar, I think, in the realm of political economy.  Does Democracy revolve around Money or is it vice versa?  Which has the better claim to being the stationary center?  Is our system better considered Democratic Capitalism or Capitalist Democracy (with the second word having the implied greater importance)?

I won’t try to untangle that question here but I think it’s interesting to see how the framing of the current crisis helps in arriving at an answer.  Writing about Europe today, Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens gives us a typical example (paywall) of the orthodox perspective.

“Put a bunch of European leaders in a room and it is a fair bet that the conversation turns to the rise of populist parties across the continent.  A year or so ago, the same politicians would have been obsessed with the markets’ threat to the euro.  Now they worry about whether European democracy can survive the shock of saving the single currency.”

We have massive unemployment and suffering throughout Europe and elsewhere and the system is highly unpopular.  It’s a crisis for sure, but what type?  Is it a crisis of the socio-economic system that’s enforcing this misery, i.e. Capitalism?  Or is it a crisis of the people’s supposed sovereign right to change it, i.e. Democracy?

Except for a brief instant at the very beginning of the crisis when it appeared the entire financial system was about to go supernovae, we hardly ever see the crisis reported as one of capitalism.  It’s almost universally framed as a crisis of democracy.  I think that’s pretty interesting.

The standard framing of articles like Stephens’s should leave us in no doubt that the most basic socio-economic theory of our human universe, as concocted by those in true power, firmly places Democracy in orbit around that brightest and most glorious of stars, Money.  We know this to be true because if Democracy were truly considered the center, then we’d be told we’re living in a crisis of Capitalism.  And the very idea of that; that Democracy could really truly be at the center of it all is, to our elites, laughable, “populist” lunacy; as ridiculously absurd as that old silly dogma of the medieval geocentrists.

Scandinavians: a bunch of cuddly free riders

The New York Times  presents us today with some friendly coverage of a recent paper written by  Daron Acemoglu, economist at MIT, James Robinson of the Harvard Department of Government, and Thierry Vierdier, economist at the Paris School of Economics.  The paper, “Can’t we all be Scandinavians?”, is one of the more outlandish propaganda pieces I’ve seen of late, and the fact that such nonsense can be produced in such prestigious universities and further broadcast to the wider world via the “paper of record”, is just one more reminder of the great institutional power of neoliberal capitalism.

The essential argument is that global technological progress requires at least one country, currently the United States, have a “cutthroat” socio-economic system of very lucrative rewards for entrepreneurs coupled with high poverty, inequality, and few social benefits for the average worker.   

Without pointing to any developed theory of human motivation or the actual history of inventions and discoveries, the authors grandly assert that technological innovations require a “cutthroat reward structure with high-powered incentives for success” which “implies greater inequality and greater poverty (and a weaker safety net)”.  In short, progress can only be achieved through greed.

It’s the “cutthroat American society that makes possible the more cuddly Scandinavian societies”.  The richer developed world is living off of the “technology frontier” enabled and advanced through the cutthroat reward system of the Americans.  Those with more equal societies are parasites who “free-ride on this frontier economy and choose a more egalitarian, cuddly, reward structure”.  

We can’t all be Scandinavians they conclude because the world’s growth rate would decline without at least one country structured around cutthroat incentives.  “(O)ne may claim (with all the usual caveats of course) that the more harmonious and egalitarian Scandinavian societies are made possible because they are able to benefit from and free ride on the knowledge externalities created by the cutthroat American equilibrium.”

Progress and prosperity require poverty and inequality.  This has been the elite religion since the very beginnings of human civilization; there’s absolutely nothing original here.  What’s a bit more recent though, is the couple hundred year history of trying to couple the defense of aristocracy with the allure and prestige of science.  The authors, with the weighty institutional credentials of MIT, Harvard, and the Paris School of Economics, and with an absurd use of advanced mathematics, outlandishly expect the public to accept their piece of silly, simplistic propaganda as a hard scientific theory.   In a just world, they’d receive a prompt cutthroat firing for writing such trash.

The disgrace of the “Keynesian left” alternative

The oligarchy surely has no better friend than Paul Krugman, today’s intellectual leader of an ever so slightly moderated version of neo-liberalism that’s neatly packaged to the public as the “Keynesian left” alternative.  Forget that there’s no resemblance to the views of the real John Maynard Keynes, himself no radical, or that the sole claim of expertise is rooted in an utterly disgraced profession, Krugman has nevertheless been anointed the critical role of sowing hope for alternatives while remaining firmly bounded within a socio-economic system in which there can be none.  Ignoring the rhetoric, we find nothing truly antagonistic to Thatcher’s TINA.

This is the disgrace and hypocrisy of the so called “center-left”, an outrageously false designation given how very far it is from any reasonable notion of that true moral center we find rooted in almost all philosophical and religious traditions.  We need look no further than the recent speeches of Pope Francis, who has offered views on our socio-economic system that are truly central in the moral sense and, needless to say, far to the left of today’s so-called “Keynesian center-leftists”,

Let’s look at Krugman today in a post entitled “Europe’s Keynesian Problem”.  “Everyone with a bit of sense”, he informs us, knows the central problem in Europe.  It has nothing to do with extreme inequality or the fact that just a handful of oligopolistic firms and banks control virtually the entire economic structure; no, it’s a far simpler case of accounting valuations.  “(T)here was a sharp rise in relative costs and prices in the periphery during the boom years, and the process of correcting that overvaluation through “internal devaluation” is extremely difficult and painful.”  The Krugmanian / “Keynesian” solution is for nothing beyond continued austerity in the “periphery” albeit not as extreme as today.  Direct action to advance prosperity is simply not in the cards.  “(N)obody is suggesting stimulus for, say, Portugal”, he asserts, bearing his neo-liberal teeth.  Portugal has an unemployment rate of 17.5%, and an average wage half that of Germany coupled with longer work hours; yet while the so called “private sector” can’t come close to providing anywhere near the living standards our productive capacity clearly permits, Krugman cannot bring himself to support “stimulus”.

And what of the term “peripheral”, used here and throughout the neo-liberal world as if it were a basic, morally unobjectionable feature of nature?  Should not any system of thought which accepts the notion that a group of people can be “peripheral”, i.e. not central, be branded as sitting on the extreme outer periphery of any true moral center?

Krugman then regurgitates a 21st century version of “trickle down”: “on any kind of rational pan-European basis, we should be seeing austerity in the periphery at least partly offset by stimulus in the core.”  This is Krugman’s central dogma for Europe: austerity for the periphery, although less than today, coupled with inflationary spending in Germany.  German spending will then trickle down to the peripheral Portuguese through the magic of the market. Yes, and we see the same market magic trickling between the United States and Mexico, do we not?  The answer to the problems of the Mexicans then should be little more than a bit of stimulus in America!  I wrote a post the other day on Krugman and Mexico, in fact, and his views are rooted in the same pitiful neo-liberalism as his ideas for Europe.  Mexico, to Krugman, merely needs better child nutrition and education and should then wait a few decades for the medicine to work.  TINA personified!

Our center-left intellectuals, almost all “economists”, are truly a disgrace.  And it’s demonstrated almost daily.  We need look no further today than Brad DeLong, who Krugman refers to in his post.  It’s the standard left neo-liberalism that requires no further comment.  What’s notable is that DeLong admits (correctly) of his own intellectual impotence, concluding that the disgraced right wing economist Kenneth Rogoff “is one of those people whose judgment is significantly more likely than not to be better than my own.”

It’s all one big joke, right?

The immoral orthodoxy of the trade deficit

Few orthodoxies are more harmful, I think, than the very old Ricardian principle enforcing a trade balance.  The essential idea is that the market mechanism will automatically bring trade between countries into balance through the appreciation of the currency of the surplus nation and a corresponding depreciation of the deficit one.  The ability to import or export will then be “naturally” checked, leaving the two nations in a roughly balanced position which for some odd reason is considered inherently good.

But why, in a world of specialized mass production, is balanced trade considered desirable?  A great many people in poorer nations remain stuck in substandard living conditions because of the inability to import advanced goods while, at the very same time, the very workers producing them in the more technologically advanced countries suffer from high un/under employment.  The prime mission, in fact, of governments and businesses throughout the world is to increase exports, yet we have an army of accountants enforcing the harshest of penalties on nations whose imports happen to be higher than their exports.

Paul Krugman, like all mainstream economists, kneels in reverence to this warped accounting logic and we see it today in his support for the idea that wages in Portugal are too high versus Germany and that the way out of the crisis for the European “peripheral” countries is through the devaluation of their wages against Germany via a wage boost in Germany.  The goal is to reduce the ability of Portugal and the “peripherals” to import from both Germany and the rest of the world by reducing their relative wages and through a likely decline in the value of the euro versus the dollar and other currencies as German wages rise.  But wait!  Portugal is already a poor society having an average wage less than half that of the Germans coupled with much longer working hours.  Krugman’s orthodoxy will only worsen living standards by forcing an increase in the cost of imports and a reorientation of the economy toward exports.  This, despite the fact that the entire German economy is centered around mass production for export, the German worker is highly efficient at it, and he/she wishes nothing more than to maintain his/her employment doing precisely that.

One obvious objection would be that it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect the Germans to forever export to deficit countries without getting something in return.  But that logic doesn’t apply to the average German worker who would be unemployed without the exports.  We must remember it’s not the German worker who’s exporting; it’s the German based multinational firm.  And if a re-alignment of the entire economy away from exports is actually desired, then why not bring in workers from the importing countries or outsource there to cover the difference?  Regardless, what strange logic indeed that we should seek to cut German production and enforce substandard conditions on “peripheral” nations against the wishes of the German worker, all for the sake of maintaining an accounting balance.

The short term moral solution is to develop an international currency that would permit unrestricted imports with the goal being to guarantee expanded sustainable prosperity for all.  How value-less and fundamentally immoral it is to proclaim that a poor country’s living standards are too high and a rich country’s too low!  As with so much of the capitalist system, it’s way past time we move past the hugely harmful finance-based notions of balance.

“Recession” is an Orwellian term

The European Union’s statistical agency reported yesterday that the eurozone continues in “recession” for the sixth consecutive quarter and it’s top news throughout the mainstream and business press.  That so many on the continent live increasingly insecure lives and that the officially measured unemployment rate has reached a stratospheric 12.1% is, of course, horrible news.  But what importance should the average person place on the fact of “recession”?  I think absolutely none, for the word has become an Orwellian term that serves to shift our focus away from reality and toward “solutions” that are in fact the problem.  War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and now, Growth is Austerity and Competition. 

“Recession”, in official use, means that the total monetary value of goods and services sold in a period has declined.  It tells us nothing about what types of goods and services these may have been or what group or class may have suffered as a result.  But this is critical information we need to know in order to judge the significance of “recession”.  What’s important to the vast majority is the widespread availability of such critical goods and services as housing, healthcare, quality food, decent clothes, leisure time for friends and family, clean environment, security, retirement, and so on.  The only important meaning of “recession”, one would think, would be a decline in the availability of these truly important things.  And it’s perfectly reasonable to think that, with our amazing level of productive capacity, we should have long ago conquered “recessions” so defined.

The sad and incredible fact of the matter, though, is that we have lived in a recession of the important kind for quite some time.  Real wages have been down throughout Europe and the “developed” world for decades now, as has been the various collective benefits of education, retirement, health care, income security, and so on.  We find everywhere that worker shares of what’s produced are at record lows.

The full power of the orthodox meaning of “recession” is exposed when we hear the orthodox solutions.  The straightforward honest solution would logically be to simply devote more resources and technology toward the things we want.  But not so in our Orwellian universe – we find in fact the exact opposite!  The solution to the problem of reduced living standards is to reduce them even more!  The solution to recession is recession.

The story that’s told in support of this fantastical idea is necessarily nonsensical for the goal is the maintenance of power, not the improvement of general living standards.  The central character in the tale is “competition”, an interesting fiction given our world of oligopoly.  Competition doesn’t apply to oligopolistic firms though; it applies solely to workers and nations and requires of them an unending downward spiral in wages and collective welfare.  It’s the very nature of the capitalist system and, as European Commission head Barroso told French President Hollande yesterday, “To be against globalization is like spitting in the wind”.  Now spitting in the wind is never a very wise idea, but isn’t it an incredible feature of our world that the wind always seems to blow towards the general population?  And that supposedly democratically elected leaders are so ready, willing, and able to spit on them?

So the downward spiral of true recession continues with no end in sight.  Hollande, not one to spit in the wind, continues on the recessionary path with no helpful ideas in sight, proposing just today to increase the retirement age.  “People live longer, they should work longer”, he says.  While this may on its surface seem reasonable, it neglects our vast growth in productivity and technology, the reality of huge numbers of unemployed people both in France and globally that could be brought online, and the huge misallocation of resources towards purposes having no bearing on general well being.  We see this very well reflected in OECD statistics.   While life expectancy in France has risen 6.2% since 1990, labor productivity has climbed 35.9%, offset by a 10.2% decline in average hours worked.  These improvements in overall productive output, though, aren’t being shared as median household income growth has been just 52.9% of per capita GDP growth during this period.  To even suggest that living standards should decline in the face of these facts is truly outrageous.

The world’s population has been in a real recession for decades and the mainstream economists and politicians tell us the answer to recession is nothing but more recession.  The real solution, however, is quite straightforward; we simply need to assure that sufficient resources for the quality things we want are always employed.  A recession in luxury yachts, mansions, or military spending is fully acceptable, even desirable.  But a recession in general prosperity is not.  By getting specific about the meaning of recession, we can more easily differentiate between real and phony solutions and begin to see the gaping chasm that exists between capitalism and true prosperity.

Roger Altman reminds us we don’t live in a democracy

Wall Street financier and former Clinton Treasury official Roger Altman steps forth today to yet again inform us that we’re ruled by the bond market and not democratically elected leaders.  Few with a reasonably sound grasp of events would disagree with his assessment, but it’s always grating hearing it from one who so clearly glories in it all.  He penned a similar article a year and a half ago in which he praisingly identified the “markets” as the second most powerful force on earth behind nuclear weapons.  I was motivated then to write a post comparing this adulation of power to that of Wagner’s gods as they entered Valhalla in Das Rheingold.

In the current article, he now tells us quite rightly that “It was not Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, or other political leaders who pushed austerity on to Italy, Spain, Greece and others”, “it was private lenders”.  “Markets triggered the Eurozone crisis, not politicians” and “21st century markets are much more powerful than any government leader”.

The terms he uses here, “private lenders” and especially “markets” need to be quickly branded as mere euphemisms, though, for the harsh underlying reality that hovers over us.  National governments are mere small town functionaries compared to this larger force; real power isn’t in their hands, and it’s not in the hands of a neutered faceless invisible creature of implied fairness called “markets”.  True power rests with an extraordinarily tiny gang having immense power assembled through their tight grip on corporate ownership, wealth, and banking.  In short, they rule by the concentrated ownership of money.  The traditional term for this form of rule, going all the way back to Aristotle, is oligarchy.

Altman is telling us nothing less than that we don’t have agency over our lives, that we don’t live in democracies, and that we live instead under the tyrannical rule of an oligarchy, albeit he understandably prefers the term “markets”.  It’s not necessarily too smart for the oligarchs and assorted mercenaries to emphasize this hard political fact as it risks waking up a confused and dozing population who still tend to see their real rulers as elected through some type of however imperfect democratic process.

Altman’s a bit too confident for his own good it seems; he’s dazzled by the radiance of his gods, and assumes way too easily that the “political” can forever be safely segregated from material well being, i.e. the “economic” and that “markets” will always be identified with the fairness of, say, the local farmer’s market.  He tells us that “History is not likely to view these austerity trends in political or moral terms.  Rather, the context will probably be a financial one”.  As if overruling popularly elected governments and forcing hundreds of millions into destitution isn’t the very purest example of what politics and morality actually are; and as if “finance” somehow exists in some strange dimension of the universe completely disconnected from politics and morality.

The immoral, fully political system for which Altman speaks is a brutal tyranny that will begin its final collapse when majorities start realizing its true nature; when they stop blaming the Merkels of the world and see the oligarchy for what it truly is.  We should thank Altman for aiding in this great educational process.


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