Posts Tagged ‘government’

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The other day, in a conversation with a friend (who happens to be an avid reader of this blog), I was asked why I don’t write more about events in Brazil, especially the most recent coup. I explained that, while I have been following events there pretty closely, I simply didn’t have the time to do what I considered the appropriate amount of research to offer an analysis that offered something different from what I’ve been reading.

I did, however, suggest to them that, given the class nature of the coup, the first thing the new government would do would be to set about undoing the legacy of the Workers Party.

Well, as Jonathan Watts reports, that’s exactly what’s happening:

It is just a week since Michel Temer became interim president of Brazil, but his new centre-right administration already has begun scaling back many of the social policies put in place by Workers’ party governments over the previous 13 years.

Moves are under way to soften the definition of slavery, roll back the demarcation of indigenous land, trim housebuilding programs and sell off state assets in airports, utilities and the post office. Newly appointed ministers also are talking of cutting healthcare spending and reducing the cost of the bolsa familia poverty relief system. Four thousand government jobs have been cut. The culture ministry has been subsumed into education.

For the interim government and its supporters, these austerity measures represent sound fiscal management as they attempt to rein in the government’s budget deficit and restore market confidence in Brazil, which has seen its sovereign debt rating downgraded to junk status over the past year.

For critics, however, they represent a shift toward a neoliberal economic policy by the old elite that ousted elected president Dilma Rousseff, who is suspended pending her impeachment trial in the senate.

That, in the end, is what the coup was about: not eliminating corruption (which is how it’s been covered here in the United States) but changing the class content of the policies of the Brazilian government.

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Donald Trump is right—and his critics are wrong. (I’ll bet you never thought you’d read that on this blog.)

This one actually comes from a reader (ht: db) who wanted to know what I thought of the recent article by Ellen Brown on the debate concerning Trump’s “reckless” proposal to “print the money.”

First, though, a couple of key corrections: First, modern money takes the form of both bank deposits and currency (bills and coins).* Second, while sovereign governments (like the United States) can create money, they don’t print it (at least most of it). Instead, they create it electronically by purchasing financial assets or lending money to financial institutions (as with the various rounds of so-called quantitative easing, which increased the Fed’s holdings of mortgage-backed securities and other forms of bank debt and were purchased by new money that simply appeared on the banks’ computers).

Aside from that, Trump is right (as Brown explains), both historically and theoretically.**

The United States has long created money—to finance war, to purchase private and public debt, and so on—stretching back to Abraham Lincoln’s $450-million greenback program on up to the total of $4.2 trillion across three rounds of quantitative easing. In every case, it was money created by the government from nothing.

And, theoretically, that’s exactly how government money creation works. The only real distinction that needs to be made is between using the newly created money to purchase private debt and thus to create bank reserves (as was the case with quantitative easing) and using it to directly finance government deficits or to pay off government debt (otherwise known as monetizing the debt). The latter usually falls under the rubric of “helicopter money,” a term coined by Milton Friedman in his now-famous paper “The Optimum Quantity of Money”(pdf):

Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.

The effects are, of course, different in those two different uses of government-created money but the basic idea—that a sovereign government can create money for many different purposes—remains the same. It’s simply not controversial—or at least it shouldn’t be.

The only real issues from the government creation of money are (1) timing and (2) who benefits. Obviously, creating more money under conditions at or close to full employment has implications that are very different from a situation characterized by less than full employment (as has been the case for the past eight years). If resources are not being fully utilized, more money (helicopter or otherwise) does not lead to hyper-inflation. So, the critics who claim that, under current conditions (with millions of people who are unemployed or underemployed), creating more money is inflationary are simply wrong.

As for who benefits, that’s the real controversy—and the issue that is rarely discussed. Creating money to finance purchases of private debt from banks obviously improves bank balance sheets (and the incomes of their owners and the power wielded by the boards of directors) but it doesn’t necessarily stimulate economic growth (if banks are unwilling to lend, because for them it’s not profitable), and it doesn’t help homeowners and others who are drowning in debt. In fact, one can argue, as former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Narayana Kocherlakota recently did, that Federal Reserve’s policies after the Great Recession actually contributed to increasing wealth inequality in the United States.

That’s the real issue, as it is with all forms of government financing. Who benefits? Think about increasing taxes versus running deficits. Would wealthy individuals prefer to be taxed to finance government expenditures or, instead, do they want to be paid (via interest payments) for the privilege of lending money to the government? The answer is obvious.

Continually raising the specter of deficits and debt keeps the debate within their purview. Their real opposition to creating money is based on the fact that they’d have less control over the amount and kind of government expenditures that might be made. Things might get out of control—not the price level (that’s just a scare tactic, which too many people fall for), but the mass of ordinary people. They’re the ones who could demand and who would benefit from new schools and better-paid teachers, clean drinking water and more drug clinics, programs that offer jobs as well as assistance in forming worker-owned enterprises, and so much more through the expenditure of government-created money.

That, of course, is not what Trump (or, for that matter, Clinton) is proposing. But it’s the issue that really should be at the center of economic and political debate in the United States.

 

*When a bank makes a loan, a deposit is created in the borrower’s bank account. Thus, new money is created as a bookkeeping entry, with the loan representing an asset and the deposit a liability on the bank’s balance sheet. Thus, for example, the total amount of U.S. money (defined in terms of M1) at the end of April 2016 was $3,184.9 billion, the major components of which were currency ($1,365.9 billion) and bank demand deposits ($1,298.4 billion). Currency is an even smaller proportion of “near money” (defined as M2), which totaled $12,659.3 billion at the end of April.

**At least right now, unless and until Trump changes his mind and announces a very different approach.

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For more than a week, vast nocturnal protest gatherings that are rising in number—from parents with babies to students, workers, artists, and pensioners—have spread across France [ht: jf] in a citizen-led movement that has rattled the government.

Called Nuit debout, which loosely means “rise up at night”, the protest movement is increasingly being likened to the Occupy initiative that mobilised hundreds of thousands of people in 2011 or Spain’s Indignados.

Despite France’s long history of youth protest movements – from May 1968 to vast rallies against pension changes – Nuit debout, which has spread to cities such as Toulouse, Lyon and Nantes and even over the border to Brussels, is seen as a new phenomenon.

It began on 31 March with a night-time sit-in in Paris after the latest street demonstrations by students and unions critical of President François Hollande’s proposed changes to labour laws. But the movement and its radical nocturnal action had been dreamed up months earlier at a Paris meeting of leftwing activists. . .

The idea emerged among activists linked to a leftwing revue and the team behind the hit documentary film Merci Patron!, which depicts a couple taking on France’s richest man, billionaire Bernard Arnault. But the movement gained its own momentum – not just because of the labour protests or in solidarity with theFrench Goodyear tyre plant workers who kidnapped their bosses in 2014. It has expanded to address a host of different grievances, including the state of emergency and security crackdown in response to last year’s terrorist attacks.

It’s an old American saying, “If you steal a loaf of bread you’ll surely go to jail, but if you steal a railroad you’ll be made a senator.”

Or, as Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) puts it, “A hungry Negro steals a chicken, he goes to jail. A rich businessman steals bonds, he goes to Congress.”

Most recently, there’s Elizabeth Warren (pdf):

If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie.

Warren and her staff have issued the first in what they promise will be an annual series on enforcement. “Rigged Justice” highlights twenty criminal and civil cases in 2015 in which the federal government failed to require meaningful accountability from either large corporations or their executives involved in wrongdoing.

The purpose of this annual report is to highlight examples of the most egregious enforcement failures from the previous year. Sometimes these weak enforcement cases are the result of laws – such as OSHA, and the federal mine safety law – that give the agencies only limited authority and allow only limited punishment.

But in most instances, these cases are a result of failure by regulators to use the tools Congress has already provided to impose meaningful accountability on corporate offenders. Whether as a result of limited resources or a lack of political will, this limp approach to corporate enforcement, particularly in response to serious misconduct that cost Americans their jobs, their homes, or, in some cases, their lives, threatens the safety and security of every American.

As the examples in this report demonstrate, federal regulators regularly let big corporations and their highly paid executives off the hook when they break the law.

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