Fireside on the Great Theft

August 3, 2012
By

Michael Hudson’s new book The Bubble and Beyond can be purchased here.

A recent interview in Frankfurt’s FAZ newspaper:

Dr. Schirrmacher: And then, just to find a starting point, maybe we can start with the personal, and then at least I would ask you both. Maybe that is a good starting point, very basic: What is the future of Europe? So, what do you conceive what will happen, and what is going to happen? Sie können sich auch gegenseitig … Now, Michael Hudson, you are in Germany and you are known to our readers, and Sahra Wagenknecht, of course, as well. Just very briefly your background. In your DNA, in your genetic code, you have traces of Indian roots.

Prof. Hudson: Well, I am one-eighth (Chippewa) Indian, so I’m half Irish, a quarter Swiss, one eighth English. I grew up in Minneapolis, which was the center of America’s labor movement in the 1930s. The general strike in 1936 shaped the American labor scene.

Minnesota had a governor, Floyd B. Olson, who said that he hoped capitalism run right to hell. The Trotskyists were the main opponents of the Stalinists at that time. The irony is that you had the right wing ganging up with the Stalinists, all against the Trotskyist leadership because the Stalinists feared that a non-communist socialist leadership would build up the labor unions, as Minnesota was building up the Teamsters. So in 1941 my father became one of the Minneapolis 17, the first people committed under the Smith Act. This was ostensibly against advocating the overthrow of the government by force and violence, defined so loosely that in the presentation before the jury, it meant simply having the works of Marx and Lenin on your bookshelf.

I later was asked, when I went to work for Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute, whether there was any reason why I could not get a top secret security clearance. I mentioned that my father was a Trotskyist leader, and he said: Oh, they know about that, that Stalin and Roosevelt made a deal around 1941 that if Roosevelt would prosecute the Trotskyists, the Communist Party promised not to pull out any of its Labor unions on strike during the balance of the war. The U.S. Attorney General later wrote in his autobiography that it was the only thing that was ashamed of doing, because by no stretch of the imagination could the Trotskyists have been any threat to the country.

In fact, it was the Trotskyists that called in the National Guard to protect the workers and the strikers against the police force that was working on behalf of the large companies. The lawyer for the Trotskyists in the trial was Al Goldman, who had been a colleague of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. As I was growing up, most of the radicals who were still living throughout the world and from the United States would come to my house, and tell me their stories and their experiences.

Dr. Schirrmacher: What could they say about Luxemburg and Liebknecht?

Prof. Hudson: Al Goldman was still trying to find out who was responsible for killing them. But we decided that it really does not matter who the individuals are. They are usually killed by their bodyguards. The key is people behind them that order the killing.

Dr. Schirrmacher: But you don’t have a memory of an anecdote or whatsoever, an anecdote about Luxemburg or Liebknecht, what they …

Prof. Hudson: No. Mainly, they talked about revolutionary theory. I wanted to grow up and go to jail like all of the people that my family admired, and their colleagues admired. So now I’m ashamed that I’ve never been able to go to the University of the Revolution.

Dr. Schirrmacher: But you worked with Kahn, and I remember that Kahn was the person who proclaimed golden ages ahead of us. And he was the futurist who always said we will be so happy and so lucky. Am I right?

Prof. Hudson: Yes, he was basically a military theorist who wrote a very good book on atomic warfare, saying that some people would survive. He was the model for “Dr. Strangelove”. And he felt so bad from being attacked for his military theory – and he was indeed a brilliant military theorist – that he decided to form the Corporate Environment study. But he was wrong in almost everything economic he said, so he brought me on to disagree with him on everything, as a foil. We liked each other. He was a very nice guy. In fact, we liked each other so much that we could not believe that the other person actually believed what they were saying publicly.

Herman Kahn weighed 400 pounds. I remember once in Paris, we were leaving the hotel to go to the airport, and I tried to hand him his pants. As far as my hands would stretch, they still weren’t long enough for the waist. He also had narcolepsy. When he was not speaking at a public lecture, he would fall asleep – usually in his food. He would rise from the table with the food flowing down his necktie, talking about the world economy an expanding pie, and in another generation, the whole world could live just like him. And everybody would go on diet, over a long time.

One of the big problems we had was when he wanted me to project the gross national product and hence living standards at 6 % or 4 % per year, which economists were doing at that time. He thought that all the technology and power somehow would make all countries rich. I refused to make that calculation, even though when I joined the Institute I insisted that the one perk that I wanted was an HP 75 calculator that could calculate exponential growth. I told Herman that the only growth that is exponential is financial – the magic of compound interest. And the more compound interest grows, the more it slows the economy, like driving a car with the brake on.

So that is where we differed. It turned out that most of his clients ended up hiring me instead of him, and I ended up getting a collection of Tibetan art as a result, and buying enough real estate, so, I’ve never had to work ever since and could spend all of my time writing.

Prof. Hudson: You talked about rescuing the banks, and that is really a phrase for trying to rescue a whole financial growth function to somehow save debts that can’t be paid. The question is: Who is going to take the loss? It really is trying to keep the debt overhead in place, by making the public sector absorb all the losses of the banks that have made the bad loan. And beyond this, it is really an ideology – an ideology that somehow the debts can all be paid. And beyond that, there is something else. Saving the banks is a slogan …

Dr. Schirrmacher: Sahra Wagenknecht, did I get you right that you say they can be paid?

Wagenknecht: They can’t. Also vorläufig können sie immer wieder, aber irgendwann …

Dr. Schirrmacher: Wegen der oberen 1 %.

Wagenknecht: … The upper class has to take the losses.

Prof. Hudson: The bailout is not saving the banks. The banks could function very well the next day after a debt cancellation. You are saving the bank stockholders and the bondholders and the rich counterparties to the banks. You are saving the gamblers who have accounts with the banks, not saving the banks.

But there is something even worse. The slogan “saving the banks” means a program for the governments to be financially responsible, which means financially self-destructive. The bailout is forcing Greece to sell its public domain, its water and sewer systems, its land, its real estate, its buildings, to sell to private buyers who are going to borrow money at interest from the bank to buy these public assets, and to treat them like a toll road.

So in the broadest sense of the term, saving the banks means to achieve by financial terms what it took an army militarily to counter a thousand years ago. Saving the banks thus is destroying society. Is that worth the payment?

Dr. Schirrmacher: Very good and very understandable, but a question again. We can’t be too economic but … You say, you don’t save the banks. But what is, let’s say, my life insurance. What they say to me is that my bank has Staatsanleihen from …, at a normal average term too, so I would lose as an average person … I mean, by saving the banks, don’t they save me as well?

Prof. Hudson: No, that’s the trick that they are playing. For instance, in the United States the largest bank is Citibank. That was insolvent as a result of being one of the most abusive fraudulent banks with junk mortgages and similar gambles. The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Sheila Bair, said that she argued with the Obama administration saying that she could close down Citibank and save all of the insured depositors. She could have saved all of the basic banking functions.

The only people who would not have been saved would have been the gamblers at the top, on whom Citibank had written derivative gambles. It is as if in a horse race somebody goes to the casino and gambles, and then can’t pay their debt. The casinos say: We can’t operate at all, if the losers can’t pay what they owe. So, you – the government – have to levy a tax, to enable the losers to pay the winners.

It’s true that not everybody’s savings would have been saved under this plan. But normal operations would have been. And it’s the same with AIG, the Insurance conglomerate that was bailed out with $184 billion dollars. All this loss went through the London office making financial gambles, losing bets as to which way interest rates and junk mortgages would move. The government could simply have closed down AIG, taking it over and said: We are saving all of your normal insurance policies, we are saving all of your normal business, but the gamblers we are just not paying.

But in that case, Goldman Sachs would not have been paid $18 billion dollars. And Goldman Sachs had its representative Hank Paulson as Secretary of the Treasury. The Treasury was paying its private colleagues on Wall Street, instead of saving the normal depositors. The intention of this bank bailout is to wipe out the normal depositors and only save the rich of the top. Pretending to save the poor, the working class,and the middle class, they want to save everything for the top 1%. That is what they did with Citibank, and that is what they did with AIG. Citibank makes money by lending to people like Sam Zell, who would buy a company, look at the pension funds or Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), and empty them out to pay his creditors. So, what the government is saving are the parasitic functions of the banks.

Dr. Schirrmacher: To make it clear, and ask Frau Wagenknecht too: It could be possible not to save the banks, und würde trotzdem nicht diese Lebensversicherungen und Alters … das kann man trennen?

Dr. Schirrmacher: Nein, that is very important for you to understand that people like me, I take me as a durchschnittliche …, believe in a kind of empirical or scientific rationality and all this stuff. And if I am told by Hans Werner Sinn or other people, der frühere Regierungssprecher, Ulrich Wilhelm, you have to save the banks because then you save your life assurance, for example, then I believe it, and everybody believes it, because you say: Well, they are mathematicians or whatsoever.

Prof. Hudson: What if I say: You have to make me rich in order to give me an incentive not to wreck society. What the banks are really saying is that: We will wreck the payment system, and we will stop paying, and we will cause a crisis if you don’t give us what we want. We are holding you hostage.

But all you really have to do is take them over and replace them with other people. You save the basic banking and insurance functions. There are plenty of good assets in there. Even junk mortgages are worth something. They are worth enough to save all of the normal activities for 90 % of the population. The losers in this case would only be the 10 % at the top … And all these gains for the last 20 years have been to the top 10 %. They would lose their gains – but there is enough to pay everybody else.

Dr. Schirrmacher: Normal understanding is, politicians need majorities, and not the 10 % of the top.

Prof. Hudson: You talk about empirical studies. If the statistics were publicized to show what I am talking about, everybody would see in chart form that there is enough money there. The Federal Reserve has them. There are many statistics available, but the newspapers don’t publish them. They find it politically incorrect to do so.

What they call “class war” is simply society trying to protect itself from the 1 %.

Dr. Minkmar: One key argument in your system of thinking is the role of central banks. And now today we think that central banks are there to supervise things and see that everything runs smoothly. But what would you advice central banks to do?

Prof. Hudson: Central banks began to be created in 1694 with the Bank of England, and down to the Federal Reserve in the United States in 1913 their function was to finance government budget deficits by printing money. All governments over time run deficits – at least, most of the time – because that is how they supply the economy with the purchasing power and the money it needs to grow. The role of a central bank is to create money to finance the deficit.

If it does not do this, then the commercial banks end up performing this function. However, the commercial banks creating credit on their own computer keyboards have a different role from that of the central bank. When the central bank finances government spending, this is supposed to promote growth, full employment and industrialization. But that is not the object of a commercial bank. Banks, in the first instance, make loans against property already in place – mainly real estate and also the buyout of entire corporations. So they provide credit that bids up the price of housing, making it more expensive for workers. They also loan to buyers of commercial buildings, making it more expensive to do business, Takeover loans enable corporate raiders to bid up the price of stocks and bonds, making them yield less, so it costs more to buy a retirement income. And now, commercial banks are moving from finance capitalism to casino capitalism to make big gambles. They are essentially financing gambling. That’s what derivatives and “hedge fund” trading are.

None of this funds industrial investment. From the United States to Germany, almost all industrial capital formation is now funded by the retained earnings of corporations, not by bank borrowing. Even the stock market does not fund new direct investments. It has become a vehicle for corporate raiders to go to the banks to borrow the money, to buy a corporation on credit with junk bonds, retire the stock, and use the corporate profits to repay the banks – and then try to steal for themselves the pension funds, or sell off the assets, or just work the labor force more intensively; longer hours, outsource labor and move to the un-unionized labor. So the banks are no longer part of the industrialization process; they are part of the de-industrialization process. This is applauded as the post-industrial economy.

Dr. Minkmar: You were talking about Europe as being the new third world as a model for politics …

Prof. Hudson: In the 1970s and 80s, the International Monetary Fund imposed austerity on indebted countries. The conditions were that if the countries did not pay their foreign debts, they would be treated like Cuba or Iran, and made into pariahs in the international community. So, they were forced to sell off and privatize.

When I worked for Chase Manhattan Bank in 1964, my first job was to analyze the economies of Argentina, Brazil and Chile. My job was to calculate estimate how much potential they could export and raise, one way or another.

In Latin America it could only be imposed at gunpoint, as you saw in Chile. So the first privatization, the first free-market model, was imposed at gunpoint in Chile under general Pinochet, under the direction of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon administration, and the University of Chicago Economics Department under Harberger and other operatives down there.

Once they did that, the next big test was the former Soviet Union. Unlike the West, the Soviet Union had no background in Marxism. They had no group that was familiar with Marx and Engels or classical economics. So in 1991 they immediately adopted the neo-liberal approach that said: We can promote millionaires by privatizing the property. Many friends of mine tried to go over and promote a more reasonable tax system. The post-Soviet economies after 1991 would have financed themselves by taxing natural resource wealth and real estate. But as soon as these good advisors would go over there, right-wing institutes like the Lincoln Institute or the World Bank would come and tell the mayors of a town: We’ll give you a million dollars in computers if you follow our system and give the assets to your insiders to create a new nomenklatura of vested property interests – specifically, rentier interests, who would issue stocks in their companies and sell them to U.S. and other foreign investors. The idea was to let the West buy out the key rent-yielding assets in the former Soviet Union, above all mineral rights and public utilities, as well as centrally located real estate.

The government would put a deposit in one of the banks of the nomenklatura. In the Loans-for-shares program in 1994, the banks right say: 100 million dollars to buy Yukos oil company. The government would redeposit the check in the bank, so that they got the company for nothing, that is, no cash of their own. And then, when the government did not repay the debt, the bank would get many billion dollars worth of an oil or mining company.

The Americans did this because they realized that if a kleptocrat could buy Russian resources for one cent on the dollar, they would be happy to sell it for two cents on the dollar. That made the Russian stock market the best performing market in the world from 1994 to 1997. Russia led itself be financialized.

Other parts in the Soviet Union did not have raw materials. So a more accurate dress rehearsal would be what happened in Latvia, where they imposed a neo-liberal paradise. As in Russia, the neo-liberals had a free hand as to how to design what they said would be an ideal economy. Their way of creating such an economy and its financial and fiscal system was to say: “Don’t set up your own banks. Let foreign banks create the credit on their own keyboards.” Labor in Latvia has to confront a 59% set of flat taxes on employment – taxes that together are 59%. The real estate tax is only 1%, based on the most recent appraisal of Latvian property, which was in 1917 just before the revolution. So, the result was the largest real estate bubble of all.

That is basically the neo-liberal plan for how to get rich in a post-industrial economy. A property is worth whatever a bank will lend, because without taxes the value of this economic rent became available to be paid to the banks as interest rather than as taxes. The value of the site’s location should have been the basis of public financing, as in America. It’s the basis for most localities to pay for their school systems. If you are not going to tax property, if you are not going to tax monopolies, if you are not going to tax finance, then you have to tax labor. That’s why you have a 59% tax on employment in Latvia.

The result was an economic collapse in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The result is that one third of the Latvian labor force of working age between 20 and 35 emigrated or announced its intention to emigrate. They would go to countries like Ireland which also was being financialized. So the Baltics still, even last year, were celebrated by the Institute for International Economics, the Peterson Institute, which is a bank lobbyist in the United States, and by the applauder of Russian privatization, Anders Aslund, the Swedish neoliberal lobbyist. Latvia is applauded as a model for which Europe should emulate. So you can expect your wages to be cut by 30%, you can expect people will have to go into a lifetime of debt in order to buy housing. They will have to have to inherit money if they want to get an education.

Dr. Schirrmacher: That is what you say about Europe?

Prof. Hudson: I said, if you follow the Latvian model. This is the ideal. The basic principle when I talk to bankers is: You don’t know how far wages can be pushed down until somebody pushes back. And so far, nobody has pushed back.

Dr. Schirrmacher: But what is with the unions? Normally …

Prof. Hudson: The communist countries did not have unions because they were supposed to be one big union. So the working conditions in the Baltic States have the worst accident rates, the worst workplace conditions, and their workers report the most abusive treatment by their employers. The workplace conditions in the post-communist economies are much worse than those in the capitalist economies, where there has been a symbiosis between labor and capital, a symbiosis between the private sector and the government.
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Dr. Schirrmacher: Just, I mean, off the record, but one of the advisers of chancellor Merkel is sometimes amazing, and he keeps telling this. He says: No, don’t write that. He says: It’s illegal, it’s against the treaty. I mean, that’s his last argument. So, I would like to … from scientific point of view. Frau

Wagenknecht: You are insane … What do you say as a scientist to this question?

Prof. Hudson: Let’s simply look at the empirical facts. Since 2008 you have had the largest monetary creation in the 20th century’s history. The central banks have fueled this money creation. In America alone they have added $13 trillion dollars to the federal debt by bank bailouts. Yet prices have remained quite stable. Wages actually have fallen for the last 30 years, despite the wave of asset-price inflation fueled by commercial bank credit.

Central bank economists talk about consumer price or commodity price inflation. But commercial banks fuel asset price inflation, by lending money against real estate, stocks and bonds already in existence. As they make credit terms easier, people need more access to bank credit in order to buy a house. They have to bid against other. So bank credit inflates real estate prices. The upshot is that now you have to take more years of your income to buy a home. In the United States, the average American worker now pays 40% of family income for housing, 15% of income more for other debt service on credit cards and student loans. Another 15% is for wage withholding, and about another 15 % in other taxes, including sales taxes. This means that only about a quarter of American workers’ income is available to be spent on goods and services. Bank lending has absorbed so much of the income of workers that money that is spent to pay the banks is not available to be spent on goods and services.

So the flip side of asset price inflation is debt deflation. More and more money has to be spent to carry the debt overhead. The problem is not central banks financing domestic government budget deficits. Every hyperinflation in history has come as a result of the collapse of the balance of payments. The Germans are most familiar with 1921, but they tend to forget that the Weimar inflation was a result of Germany trying to pay reparations abroad. They were ordered by the Allied powers to print Deutsche Marks not for domestic spending, not to run a domestic deficit, not to rebuild Germany, not to employ labor, but to throw reichsmarks onto the foreign exchange market to obtain the foreign currency to pay the Allies, so that the Allies could turn around and pay the arms debts for what they bought from the United States before entry into World War One. It was the collapse of the foreign exchange that caused the hyperinflation, not domestic spending. And Germany’s hyperinflation was not cured by the central bank creating less money. It was cured by setting up a triangular flow of international payments. American bondholders would lend money to German municipalities that would issue bonds. The municipalities would receive dollars, and turn them over to the Reichsbank. It then would issue German currency against this for local spending – using the dollars to pay the Allies. The Allies would pay America, and that would keep the circular flow going. But to do this, interest rates had to be held down in the United States, to make German and other European borrowing more profitable for international lenders.

The same thing happened in Chile, which is another textbook hyperinflation. Rogers wrote a book on the process of hyperinflation in France that also occurred in the 1920s. The classic study of German inflation is by Salomon Flink, The Reichsbank and Economic Germany. The book actually was printed in Germany at that time. The same thing happened in Russia in the 1990s. The Russia hyperinflation occurred as a result of the depreciation of the ruble. This was already determined in advance at the meeting in Huston, Texas, between the World Bank and the IMF and the other Russian authorities. All this was published at the time, even before break-up of the Soviet Union. So to talk about hyperinflation as if it is a domestic phenomenon is to ignore the fact that never in history has it been domestic. It always is a balance-of-payments phenomenon, associated either with war or a class war, as in Chile’s case.
Dr. Schirrmacher: Now, to leave that economical …, to go to the interpretation of what will come. So, when I get it right, what you say, and Frau Wagenknecht says it too, there will be a … Wir werden ärmer. Also der durchschnittliche Deutsche wird verarmen oder ärmer.

Prof. Hudson: Impoverishment.

Dr. Schirrmacher: Right. And not a revolution, not a moment where the society says no? That’s my question. But at the same time, what we are observing is that it is not only a change of the social standards of human beings in Europe but of the whole idea of democracy as well. This is something that strikes me most, which I would never believed. I must say, ten years ago, I would have said: conspiracy. And many like me would have said that the banks are so powerful and so on. Now, we start thinking whether “conspiracy” is the right word for it. And the same with the democracy, democratic question. I learned at school that the “Soziale Marktwirtschaft”, as we termed it, definitely requires Pluralismus, Demokratie, Partizipation, all that. But, and that is my question, are we, as Colin Crouch writes, postulating a post-democratic system? Is one of the prizes we have to pay for it, that democracy becomes weaker and weaker, and isn’t that a very dangerous development?

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Dr. Schirrmacher: Und da hätte ich eine Frage, die auch ganz aktuell ist, an Michael Hudson, vielleicht more in a theoretical way. Our new president said apparently, it is ridiculous to protest against, how did he say it, the capitalistic system, or something like that. Es ist lächerlich …

Wagenknecht: Nein, albern hat er …

Dr. Schirrmacher: Albern, ja, another word, it’s like ridiculous. And there we are, the point of question is, after the end of the communism, there was the idea, there is the triumph of capitalism. And now the people who are very social saying, I am repeating what they said in Germany: Now we can have a chance really, we don’t need the money for Rüstung anymore, and for armies, and against the Soviet Union, and so on. And now, we are in the third phase, and that’s why the (spot) that is so interesting, is the question: There is no alternative. Nobody really likes it, many people suffer. But the idea is, they managed to get the system like die beste aller möglichen Welten, there is no alternative to that all. What do you say to that, and what do you say to this quote?

Prof. Hudson: It is very interesting that the destruction of communism, or what passed for communism in 1990, made possible the destruction of industrial capitalism. What you have today is not capitalism as it was known when I grew up. It is not the capitalism that was talked about by Adam Smith, Ricardo, John Stuart Mill or even Marx. It is something that is evolved into finance capitalism, that is going through a number of stages. Pension-fund capitalism is exploiting labor, not by hiring it to produce goods and services, but to dock savings and channel them into the hands of financial managers – to bid up stock market prices.

Dr. Schirrmacher: Is it not the case, that this system did exist in the 20s?

Prof. Hudson: No, it only existed since 1950s. That is when General Motors started its pension fund. Pension funds soon became the single largest purchasers of stock, pushing up stock prices. The major sellers of stock have been management insiders, and increasingly those exercising their stock options, selling them in effect to the pension funds. So, the function of labor was to provide pension fund savings to spur stock market gains for the managers that have been financializing industrial companies – and in the process, de-industrializing them.

So, I’d like to plug this into the earlier discussion you just had. When you use the word “post-democratic society”, that is a byproduct of the post-industrial economy, which essentially means a financialized economy. It also was post-modern, if you think of “modern” as what existed in the early 20th century in the Progressive Era. That was the Modern Era. We are now in a post-modern era. The pro-financial strategy is essentially an anti-government strategy. That is because every economy is planned by someone or other. Most economies throughout history have been planned by the government, or whoever controls it, whether it’s been the landed aristocracy or bankers. If the government does not do the planning, this function is forfeited to the banks. And that is where we are today. Just like the case in which, if taxes are cut and the government does not get the revenue, it is available to be pledged to the banks and capitalized on the debt.

So the planning process passes to the banks, and they claim that they are the brains of society. They say, there is no alternative. But they are not the brain; they are something alien to industrial capitalism. This is what the Saint-Simon and his followers discussed in the 19th century. It was discussed in every country. The financial strategy now is to prevent people from studying what this body of classical economics was. It sought to free society from interest. Today’s banks are playing upon anxiety and fear, like a high-pressure salesman threatening to bring on a collapse if industrial economies try to protect themselves. They say: “You have to make up your decision in a hurry, if you don’t do this, you are going to lose your money, you are going to lose this opportunity.” They try to make it appear that this not only is the only alternative, but that it will make you rich.

Banks have been saying this for 30 years. This is the first time in history that people have believed they could get rich by borrowing money to buy assets that are increasing in price, or that they may get rich by the hyperinflation of property prices, and by the stock and bond prices that bank credit has inflated. Banks have managed to prevent the government from regulating and preventing this hyperinflation – and they even have called it “wealth creation.”

It is really debt creation. Debt is a claim on the means of production, and on labor. It is not a process of real growth. So what banks are saying is that there is no alternative but to let debts grow, at compound interest. This means reducing wages, as more and more must be spent on debt service. This eats into corporate cash flow and profits. So more and more are siphoned off to pay creditors. Debt also eats into the government revenue, so that the government does not have enough to pay for social programs and pensions. It only has enough to bail out the banks on exponentially growing debt that can never been paid, mathematically. That is the empirical fact. All you have to do is draw a statistical chart of the growth of debt, and compare it to the growth in wages. And you’ll see …

Dr. Schirrmacher: How do you explain from a business point of view … I take the example of Dresden. I was in Dresden two weeks ago, and there they explained to me, the people I met from the city and from Volksbank and all these … They explained to me that Dresden, which I didn’t know, sold parts of their Stadtwerke and so on, and bought it back now because they realized that it was a mistake. I hear this from many, many other cities. Now, in my understanding of society, someone apparently made mistake here, the people who sold this, or at least, put the pressure. And normally, you would have to pay a price for making a mistake, and society would say: How could this happen? But the contrary is true, first of all, nobody discusses this, I can’t see it in den Städten.

That’s the first. And the second is, the made a mistake but became rich, from what I see. They are not sanctioned at all. So, I always ask you for the gesellschaftlichen Folgen. Isn’t this something what really is the most frightening result of this new era that things we once learned when we were kids, are not true anymore? The question of, it’s not that you are sanctioned when you make mistakes but that you can benefit in this regard?

Prof. Hudson: This is a question that I have discussed in Russia and China with their leaders. Fortunately, there is an alternative that they are well aware of. There is a way to recover the property that has been turned over to the privatizers. The answer is very simple: a windfall gain tax or a rent tax. If the land is been privatized, as it has been in China and Russia, all you have to do is tax the land’s value – the natural value, not the building value, but just the economic rent. You will recapture for the state the free lunch of economic rent.

The same principle applies to mines and fuel resources. You will simply have a mineral depletion tax that will recapture the value of what nature has provided freely. So the alternative is for the government not to tax profits, not to tax wages, not to tax income, but to tax economic rent. Because what the national income account pretends to be empirical, pretends to be “earnings” of the banks and other rentiers, is actually a transfer function – and often, outright theft.

It’s remarkable that French novelists realize this, such as Balzac who said that behind every great family fortune is a great theft. Economists don’t rise to the level of 19th century French novelists when it comes to understanding the economy.

Dr. Schirrmacher: So to get back to your outlook again, talking about Europe, we have another debate that is quite interesting, which I think might be important to see. The one debate is, Greece is a lazy country and …, a new nationalism. The other one which I hear from bankers, by the way, sometimes, is, they say it ganz leise: It’s all America. So, it’s a huge American conspiracy. And they say: Wir wissen auch, dass das System nicht funktioniert, aber das ist ein amerikanischer Druck auf das, was jetzt mit Europa passiert usw. My question is, again, I think of Peter Hacks and Rahmentheorie. Ist das ein – das ist etwas, was ich für das Allerwichtigste halte – ein Prozess, der nicht mit einem big bang …

Dr. Schirrmacher: Das wäre Occupy. Will „Occupy“ be a revolutionary agent?

Prof. Hudson: We’re not trying to be a revolutionary agent. We are in a pre-revolutionary situation, so the aim is to raise consciousness – at this point, simply to explain how the world works. And many people want to … They sense that the economy does not work the way that textbooks say. But they can’t reinvent the rules by themselves. So most of the reason “Occupy Wall Street” is on Wall Street is because that is where the problem is. And most of the financial advisers, like myself, are lifetime workers on Wall Street, specialists in financial maneuvering and behavior. So our job is to explain to people, to popularize what used to be classical economics. Right wing interests have inverted the classical idea of free markets and captured its vocabulary, hijacking the repertory of classical, socialist and social democratic rhetoric.

Dr. Schirrmacher: Exactly that is what they did.

Prof. Hudson: I want to comment on your earlier point. It is true that the parasitic financial dynamic stems from America. But that is official policy; it is not a secret. It is not a conspiracy, it is very open. I am told that when Mr. Geithner came here to meet with the German bankers about the Greek debt, the Germans and Mrs. Merkel were in favor of a default, saying: Look, they can’t pay. But Mr. Geithner said that the German and the French banks and other banks have taken out credit default insurance with the American banks. These American banks would go under if Greece defaulted. Mrs. Merkel agreed to sacrifice the German banks and to impose losses on the German banks in order to help America. She seems to have put American interests before her own national interest, and cost the German people hundreds of billions of dollars by doing this. It is as if the leaders of Europe are hypnotized by a kind of Dr. Caligari who ends up to be running the asylum.

Dr. Schirrmacher: (…) I think, it gives sehr große Einsichten, das ist faszinierend. The idea behind is, a little bit to … first of all to show that the position Frau Wagenknecht postulates, is not a position of two people in the world, but that there is a debate about it. And the other one is to provoke the others, the economists in Germany.

Prof. Hudson: You can’t provoke them.

Wagenknecht: Provoke you can, but …

Prof. Hudson: You can only replace them with a new generation.

Dr. Schirrmacher: What I found out, what they really need to understand them is psychology. Of course, they need media power, and the consensus. The idea that you are insane if you are questioning certain aspects.

Prof. Hudson: That is what Dr. Caligari said.

Dr. Schirrmacher: Yes, that’s right. Or Dürrenmatt, “Die Physiker”, that’s exactly the same. Economists are like “Die Physiker”.

Dr. Minkmar: Once you can put a label on them, like “umstritten”, and you’ve already won.

Prof. Hudson: Why do Hollywood movies understand this better than economists and politicians?

Dr. Schirrmacher: And why does Robert Harris? Did you read the book?

Prof. Hudson: Yeah, wonderful.

Dr. Schirrmacher: „Fear“, Robert Harris

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