The Looming Revolt
posted by Keito
posted by Keito
2012-09-29 17:43:35'I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.'
We can't grow ourselves out of debt, no matter what the Federal Reserve does
posted by Keito
2012-09-04 21:34:32'Let's replace our fixation on growth with a steady-state economy focusing on lower consumption, leisure and ecological health.
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's pledge at Jackson Hole last Friday to "promote a stronger economic recovery" through "additional policy accommodation" has drawn criticism from economists, liberal and conservative, who question whether the Fed has the wherewithal to stimulate economic growth. What we actually need is more spending, say the liberals. No, less spending, say the conservatives. But underneath these disagreements lies an unexamined agreement, a common assumption that no mainstream economist or policy-maker ever questions: that the purpose of economic policy is to stimulate growth.
So ubiquitous is the equation of growth with prosperity that few people ever pause to consider it. What does economic growth actually mean? It means more consumption – and consumption of a specific kind: more consumption of goods and services that are exchanged for money. That means that if people stop caring for their own children and instead pay for childcare, the economy grows. The same if people stop cooking for themselves and purchase restaurant takeaways instead.
Economists say this is a good thing. After all, you wouldn't pay for childcare or takeaway food if it weren't of benefit to you, right? So, the more things people are paying for, the more benefits are being had. Besides, it is more efficient for one daycare centre to handle 30 children than for each family to do it themselves. That's why we are all so much richer, happier and less busy than we were a generation ago. Right?
Obviously, it isn't true that the more we buy, the happier we are. Endless growth means endlessly increasing production and endlessly increasing consumption. Social critics have for a long time pointed out the resulting hollowness carried by that thesis. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. Why, then, are liberals and conservatives alike so fervent in their pursuit of growth?
The reason is that our present money system can only function in a growing economy. Money is created as interest-bearing debt: it only comes into being when someone promises to pay back even more of it. Therefore, there is always more debt than there is money. In a growth economy that is not a problem, because new money (and new debt) is constantly lent into existence so that existing debt can be repaid. But when growth slows, good lending opportunities become scarce. Indebtedness rises faster than income, debt service becomes more difficult, bankruptcies and layoffs rise.
Central banks used to have a solution for that. When growth slowed, they would simply buy securities (usually government bonds) on the open market, driving down interest rates. Investors who wouldn't lend into the economy if they could get 8% on a risk-free bond might change their minds if the rate were only 5%, or 2%. Rates that low would stimulate a flood of credit, jumpstarting the economy. Today that tool isn't working, but central banks are still trying it nonetheless. With risk-free interest rates near zero, they continue creating money through the same means as before, now calling it "quantitative easing". The thinking seems to be: "If you have more money than you know what to do with and are afraid to lend it, how about giving you even more money?" It is like giving a miser an extra bag of gold in hopes that he'll start sharing it.
Most commentators interpret Bernanke's remarks as signalling the possibility of a new round of quantitative easing. If so, the results will likely be the same as before – a brief churning of equities and commodities markets, but little leakage of the new money into the real economy. In all fairness, we cannot blame the banks for their reluctance to lend. Why would they lend to maxed-out borrowers in the face of economic stagnation? It would be convenient to blame banker greed; unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper than that.
The problem that we are seemingly unable to countenance is the end of growth. Today's system is predicated on the progressive conversion of nature into products, people into consumers, cultures into markets and time into money. We could perhaps extend that growth for a few more years by fracking, deep-sea oil drilling, deforestation, land grabs from indigenous people and so on, but only at a higher and higher cost to future generations. Sooner or later – hopefully sooner – we will have to transition towards a steady-state or degrowth economy.
Does that sound scary? Today it is: degrowth means recession, with its unemployment, inequality and desperation. But it need not be that way. Unemployment could translate into greater leisure for all. Lower consumption could translate into reclaiming life from money, reskilling, reconnecting, sharing.
Central banks could play a role in this transition. For example, what if quantitative easing were combined with debt forgiveness? The banks get bailout after bailout – what about the rest of us? The Fed could purchase student loans, mortgages or consumer debt and, by fiat, reduce interest rates on those loans to zero, or even reduce principal. That would liberate millions from the debt chase, while freeing up purchasing power for those who are truly underconsuming.
More radically, central banks should be allowed to breach the "zero lower bound" that has rendered monetary policy impotent today. If investors are unwilling to lend even when risk-free return on investment is 0%, why not reduce that to -2%, even -5%? Implemented as a liquidity tax on bank reserves, it would allow credit to circulate in the absence of economic growth, forming the monetary foundation of a steady-state economy where leisure and ecological health grow instead of consumption.
One thing is clear: we are at the end of an era. No one seriously believes that we will grow ourselves out of debt again. There is an alternative. It is time to begin the transition to a steady-state economy.'
Randolph & Mortimer - The Markets [Explicit Mix]
posted by Keito
IMF Says Bailouts Iceland-Style Hold Lessons in Crisis Times
posted by Keito
2012-08-24 18:22:17'Iceland holds some key lessons for nations trying to survive bailouts after the island’s approach to its rescue led to a “surprisingly” strong recovery, the International Monetary Fund’s mission chief to the country said.
Iceland’s commitment to its program, a decision to push losses on to bondholders instead of taxpayers and the safeguarding of a welfare system that shielded the unemployed from penury helped propel the nation from collapse toward recovery, according to the Washington-based fund.
“Iceland has made significant achievements since the crisis,” Daria V. Zakharova, IMF mission chief to the island, said in an interview. “We have a very positive outlook on growth, especially for this year and next year because it appears to us that the growth is broad based.”
Iceland refused to protect creditors in its banks, which failed in 2008 after their debts bloated to 10 times the size of the economy. The island’s subsequent decision to shield itself from a capital outflow by restricting currency movements allowed the government to ward off a speculative attack, cauterizing the economy’s hemorrhaging. That helped the authorities focus on supporting households and businesses.
“The fact that Iceland managed to preserve the social welfare system in the face of a very sizeable fiscal consolidation is one of the major achievements under the program and of the Icelandic government,” Zakharova said. The program benefited from “strong implementation, reflecting ownership on the part of the authorities,” she said.
As of March this year, the IMF had program arrangements with 11 European countries, representing about 65 percent of its funds, according to its website. Governments inside the euro zone have struggled to comply with the austerity terms prescribed in joint aid packages provided by the IMF and the European Union, leading to revised terms and extended deadlines for nations such as Greece.
At the same time, bond markets have reflected a lack of confidence in recovery programs, sending debt yields higher and adding to pressure on government finances. Countries inside the euro area or with pegged currencies such as Latvia have relied on wage cuts and reduced welfare services as a means toward delivering on bailout goals.
In Iceland, the krona’s 80 percent plunge against the euro offshore in 2008 helped turn a trade deficit into a surplus by the end of the same year. Unemployment, which jumped nine-fold between 2007 and 2010, eased to 4.8 percent in June from a peak of 9.3 percent two years ago.
“Each program is different and responds to a different situation so one cannot compare them directly,” Zakharova said. “Of course, considering the depth of the crisis in late 2008, Iceland’s recovery has been impressive.”
Iceland, which the IMF estimates was the world’s third- richest nation per capita in 2005 before slumping to rank 20th by 2010, ended its 33-month program in August last year. The $13 billion economy will expand 2.4 percent this year, the IMF said April 17. That compares with an estimated 0.3 percent contraction in the 17-member euro area.
Iceland’s growth “is driven by private consumption, investment has picked up strongly and even though, when you look at net exports, those have a negative contribution to growth, it is mainly because imports have been strong, reflecting strong consumption and an increase in income and the healthy expectations of households,” Zakharova said. “Still, exports have been increasing very strongly. Last year was a banner year for tourism. These are all really positive things.”
Iceland, which started EU membership talks in 2010 with euro-area membership an ultimate goal, is starting to question whether accession to the trade and currency bloc is the right way forward as the region’s debt crisis deepens. Thirty-nine of the Reykjavik-based parliament’s 63 lawmakers oppose continuing EU membership talks and may push to have the process shelved before elections next year, newspaper Morgunbladid said today.
The island still needs to show it can unwind its capital controls successfully, Zakharova said. About $8 billion in offshore kronur are locked behind the restrictions. The central bank has said the plan to ease controls is likely to be completed by the end of 2015. The law allowing the government to maintain the controls expires next year, requiring a parliamentary extension. Former Economy Minister Arni Pall Arnason said in a September interview that Iceland has no plans to return to a free floating currency before entering the euro.
The krona has gained about 15 percent against the euro since a March 28 low and was trading little changed at 147.27 per single currency as of 12 noon in Reykjavik today.
“The lifting of the capital controls is a key challenge for Iceland and it’s not an easy task,” she said. At the same time, “the government has regained access to international capital markets; the cleaning up of the balance sheet of banks has been proceeding at good speed. So going forward it’s important that the gains are sustained and consolidated,” she said.
As the central bank prepares to ease capital controls, policy makers are also raising interest rates in part to protect the krona from any weakening that might ensue. The bank increased its benchmark rate a quarter or a percentage point on June 13, bringing it to 5.75 percent. It was the fifth interest- rate increase since August last year.
“Further monetary tightening is needed, over the next few quarters, in order for Iceland to get to the target,” Zakharova said. “But we’ve also seen that the central bank has made strong statements about a hawkish monetary policy stance, indicating that the monetary policy will be tightened over time. So we think that the stance is appropriate at this point.”'