The game is up: the age of liberal finance over. The Left's Plan B?

By Ann Pettifor. An edited version of this piece was published on Left Foot Forward, 14 September, 2011. This original, longer version posted 19 September, 2011. 

The game is up. The 2007-9 private banking crisis that started with the unpayable debts of the US sub-prime sector, was never over. The crisis has now moved on to include the unpayable debts of sovereigns owed to private European bankers. It is increasingly clear that there is declining political and institutional support for further private bank bailouts. The dramatic resignation on Friday 9th September of Jürgen Stark, architect of Europe’s equivalent of the Gold Standard – the Growth and Stability Pact – marks an important step in the resistance to bailouts by the ECB; in the inevitable collapse of the Maastricht Pact, and with it, the utopian vision of the neoliberal Euro.

And so the age of liberalised, de-regulated finance appears to be over – at least in Europe. That is the conclusion of investors in both Wall St and the City of London and explains the collapse of confidence in banks and the volatility of stock markets as investors rush for the exits, transferring speculative gains into the safety of government bonds.

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Eight fallacies in the LSE Keynes/Hayek debate

Tonight, Wednesday 3 August 2011 at 08.00pm BST (GMT +1), BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a debate which took place at the London School of Economics (LSE) on 26 July.  This broadcast will be repeated on Saturday, 6 August, at 10.15 p.m BST (GMT +1).

Along with my colleagues Prof. Victoria Chick and Douglas Coe at PRIME  we have written the following response to the debate:

Debaters considered whether Keynes or Hayek had the solution to the present financial crisis. The economist George Selgin and philosopher Jamie Whyte spoke for Hayek; Keynes’s biographer Robert Skidelsky and the economist Duncan Weldon spoke for Keynes.

On the one hand we are pleased that the BBC and the LSE now acknowledge rival positions to the present austerity policies of Western governments. On the other  we are concerned that the debate might have served mainly to reinforce existing prejudices, rather than to clarify the substance of the matters under discussion, matters which – there can be no doubt – are of the most profound importance.

Lord Skidelsky provocatively but justly reminded the audience that in the early 1930s, the same orthodoxy driving western austerity policies directed the actions of Germany’s 1931 Bruning government and paved the way for the rise of Nazism. These actions – vigorously opposed by Keynes – were the final straw for a Germany crushed by defeat and the disastrous boom-bust cycle that followed their return to the gold standard. Reparations were easily circumvented by wildly excessive borrowing from financial interests around the world, in a manner that even Keynes did not anticipate. It was these financial and fiscal policies that brought Hitler to power.

With financial interests still firmly in the ascendency and reactionary right-wing forces increasing their grip in the United States and much of the Western world, we must not forget these lessons from history, which formed the background to the original debate between Keynes and Hayek themselves. The stakes are high indeed.

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An open letter to the people of Greece: restore the Drachma


Unemployment poster ‘jobless men keep going, we can’t take care of our own’, 1931.

We write to encourage you – to urge you on in your resistance.

In your defiance, you understand Greece is slave to the interests of private wealth.

You must understand too that it is private wealth that needs Greece. Greece does not need private wealth.

As is obvious to you – if not to EU finance ministers – Greek and other EU taxpayers are asked to shore up the immense wealth and reckless lending of private French, German, British and American banks.

Without your taxes, your sacrifices, the privatisation of your government’s assets, these bankers once again face Armageddon – as they did in autumn of 2008.

Just as then, so now they have rushed behind the ‘skirts’ of their defenders at the IMF and the EU. On their behalf, these unelected officials and some elected politicians demand that Greek and EU taxpayers shield private sector risk-takers from the consequences of their risks. The very antipathy of market principles.

In the process, the European Union is torn apart. Politicians, backed by officials, now defy the founding goals of the Community and, in the interests of private wealth, set the peoples of Europe against each other.

On 20 June, 2011 the acting Head of the IMF called for “immediate and far-reaching structural reforms, privatization, and the opening of markets to foreign ownership and competition.”

Which proves our point: private wealth needs Greece. Greece does not need private wealth.

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Austerity: OECD economists show clear signs of ‘cold feet’ for austerity

(Photo: REUTERS / Yiorgos Karahalis )
A Greek riot policeman stands in front of graffiti written on the wall of a bank during violent demonstrations over austerity measures in Athens, May 5, 2010. Greece faced a day of violent protests and a nationwide strike by civil servants outraged by the announcement of draconian austeristy measures.

Dear readers….Recovering from ‘flu and a trip down to Hay on Wye…Thought you might be interested in this piece I have written for Prime.

“We should note recent developments in political economy, that – while understated – are, we hope, of significance. Last week, the OECD published their latest World Economic Outlook, which features chapters on each developed economy as well as an assessment of the world economy as a whole.

The report is schizophrenic. It clumsily offers an outlook of excessive optimism; makes a selective assessment of ‘risks’; but continues adherence to an economic policy doctrine that is clearly making OECD economists very uncomfortable.

While the OECD report contains the expected justifications and support for the ‘austerity’ approach, nevertheless the organisation’s ‘cold feet’ are becoming apparent, even before the full extent of austerity programmes has begun to impact. There is no better example of this unease than their approach to the UK.

The report commends UK policymakers for their “current fiscal consolidation (which) strikes the right balance and should continue.”  At the same time, OECD economists hedge their bets by urging the UK government to embark on “higher infrastructure spending (that) would lower the short-term negative growth effects of consolidation without affecting its pace.”   At a press conference last week, the OECD chief economist warned that the UK should be prepared to cool austerity in the wake of weaker growth.

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'Debtonation' - why it's still relevant

Welcome readers, to my newly refreshed blog, and thanks to Georgia Lee and Maz Kessler for making it look so good, and work so well. I had thought that the title needed refreshing too. After all, I am fond of defining 9th August, 2007 as ‘debtonation day’, and that is now long past.

To refresh your memory: it was on that day that the world’s banks woke up to the scale of their debts, and to the simple truth that they may not all be repaid. On that day, the French investment bank BNP Paribas suspended three investment funds due to a “complete evaporation of liquidity” in the market. BNP’s announcement compelled the intervention of the US’s Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, which both pumped $90billion into the global banking system. As Larry Elliott notes, 9 August, 2007 ” has all the resonance of August 4 1914. It marks the cut-off point between “an Edwardian summer” of prosperity and tranquillity and the trench warfare of the credit crunch – the failed banks, the petrified markets, the property markets blown to pieces by a shortage of credit. ”

So ‘debtonation’ stands as a reminder of that day. However, we also know that the private debts of the individuals, households but also more importantly the corporate sector have not ‘debtonated’. They are still on the books, and in the case of the private sector in the UK, but also wider Europe, look set to rise further. As Douglas Coe and I have pointed out in a paper we have written for PRIME, “Private debt has risen relentlessly since the early 1980s. Most commentators focus on the extent of household debt, which rose from around 40 per cent of GDP before the 1980s to a peak of 110 per cent in 2009. But corporate debt is even more elevated, rising from 50-60 per cent to a peak of 130 per cent in 2009. The latest National Accounts show that both measures fell back in 2010, but only by a very small margin: households to 105 per cent of GDP and corporates to 125 per cent.”

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Bankers must be made to serve the economy.....

21 February, 2010

Once again apologies for a longish absence. This is down in part, to smashing (literally) building works, to a little grandchild-minding, and to other writing commitments. But have been itching to comment on a) Greece and the EU b) Iceland (it seems the UK is easing up on the pressure); c) the progress of the global recession; and d) China-US relations…..so posts on a, b, c and d are on their way….promise.

In the meantime this is the text of a letter I signed and helped draft, published in today’s Observer, and yesterday (20 Feb 2010) in the Times. It is a response to the letter written to the Sunday Times last week by 20 conservative economists, including Ken Rogoff of Harvard, Lord Megnad Desai, previously a Labour peer, and Bridget Rosewell, who was Mayor Ken Livingstone’s economic adviser.

Our letter has a number of distinguished economists as signatories, as well as my pals in the Green New Deal group – all of whom I am proud to be associated with.    See below.

Sir,

We urge the UK government not to heed the siren song of the 20 economists who, having failed to predict the crisis, now seek to advise on its resolution. The world economy is in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. In the UK, output has collapsed by £70bn on an annual basis. Under such conditions, common sense tells us that the government must compensate for the collapse in private investment and address the high level of unemployment.

The only way to restore the public finances to health is to restore the economy to health.

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A rant about the latest US jobs data

6th February 2010

There’s a lot of rigging of jobs data, so it’s easy for any new announcement to get my adrenalin pumping. Add to that the way journalists and economists talk about these numbers – and it’s enough to get a girl blogging.

The particular article raising my ire today is James Politi’s in the FT: “US data send out mixed message as 1m more jobs lost”.

In it Politi writes: “Yesterday’s data included revisions to figures from a year ago showing 8.4m jobs were lost since the crisis started, nearly 1m more than earlier estimates, offering a stark (a touch of empathy inserted here) reminder” “of the trouble the labour market finds itself in.” Continue reading… ›

Why I want to be a Labour candidate

17th January, 2009.

This was posted on the Compass site on the 16th January.

I am shortlisted for the North West Durham Parliamentary Selection. A less likely candidate you would be hard pressed to find. I am not a local big wig and did not grow up in the constituency. I don’t have the backing of big hitters – either in the party, or in the unions. Nor am I a youthful 25-year-old, ambitious for power. No, I am far more ambitious than that.

I want the people (especially the young people) of North West Durham to have a sound and stable future. I want Britain to learn from the catastrophic debacle of the financial crisis, and ensure it never happens again. The hopes, aspirations, health, jobs, businesses and climate of Britain must not be sacrificed to pay for economic failure engineered by a small elite in the City of London.

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Osborne's puppet-masters: Société Générale.

15th January, 2009.

Patient readers this blog is triggered by Jeff Randall’s column in the Daily Telegraph today.

In it he inadvertently discloses the identity of the puppet-masters dictating the Tory political agenda around public spending cuts.

In a somewhat histrionic column in which he describes the public deficit as a ‘disaster’ ( he should mind his language: Haiti’s earthquake is a disaster) Randall quotes a piece of ‘research’ by the French bank, Société Générale.  The paper is titled “Popular Delusions” and its authors explain some simple facts about government spending cuts to Telegraph readers:

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The pre-budget report: bullies in the playground

9th December, 2009

It has been an extraordinary day this day, and something to witness: this frenzy of pre-election fisticuffs.

Extraordinary because Conservatives, like mindless bullies, are fighting a phoney war against the victims of this crisis.

The fact is the Tories are spineless scaredy cats, too timid to take on the perpetrators, who have successfully bribed them with various inducements, including the playground’s shiniest marbles.

As a result they have turned away from the perpetrators, and   are picking on nurses, policemen, teachers, civil servants, Alzheimer-carers, school cooks, hospital cleaners and psychiatrists – to categorise but a few.

All these victims of the financial crisis now stand accused – by the Tories and their friends –  of pillaging Treasury coffers of £250 billion  – the rise in government debt since this crisis started in 2007.

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