Stockholm Syndrome in the Baltics

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Latvia’s Neoliberal War Against Labor and Industry Published in The Contradictions of Austerity: The socio-economic costs of the neoliberal Baltic model Edited by Jeffrey Sommers & Charles Woolfson This article examines how neoliberal policymakers trained in the United States captured Latvia’s economic policy to impose pro-rentier, pro-bank, anti-labor tax and financial policies. Latvia’s national interests were subordinated to those of the banks, which were mainly Swedish. These banks made real estate loans far in excess of Latvians’ ability to pay, and also lent recklessly to Latvia’s private capital market prior to the autumn 2008 economic crash.  Latvians suffered a ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ imposing austerity and internal devaluation policies that pauperized the economy while identifying their national interest with Swedish economic views and banking ...

Latvia’s Economic Disaster as a Neoliberal Success Story: A Model for Europe and the US?

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by Jeffrey Sommers and Michael Hudson A generation ago the Chicago Boys and their financial supporters applauded General Pinochet’s anti-labor Chile as a success story, thanks mainly to its transformation of their Social Security into Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) that almost universally were looted by the employer grupos by the end of the 1970s. In the last decade, the Bush Administration, seeking a Trojan Horse to privatize Social Security in the United States, applauded Chile’s disastrous privatization of pension accounts (turning many over to US financial institutions) even as that nation’s voters rejected the Pinochetistas largely out of anger at the vast pension rip-off by high finance. ...

Latvia No Austerity Success

Jeffrey Sommers & Michael Hudson Cross posted from the Financial Times by permission of the authors Michael Hudson and Jeffery Sommers: a distinguished professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee respectively, who have both advised members of Latvia’s government on alternatives to austerity. They are also contributors to the forthcoming book by Routledge Press: The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-Economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model. Austerity’s advocates depict Latvia as a plucky country that can show Europe the way out of its financial dilemma – by “internal devaluation”, or slashing wages. Yet few of the enthusiastic commentators have spent enough time in the country to understand what happened. Its government has chosen austerity, its ...

Norway's Sovereign Wealth Risk Vortex

What does Norway get out of its Oil Fund, if not More Strategic Infrastructure Investment? For the past generation Norway has supplied Europe and other regions with oil, taking payment in euros or dollars. It then sends nearly all this foreign exchange abroad, sequestering its oil-export receipts – which are in foreign currency – in the Oil Fund, to invest mainly in European and U.S. stocks and bonds. The fund now exceeds $500+ billion, second in the world to that of Abu Dhabi. What do Norwegians get out of these financial savings, besides a modest interest and dividend yield? The export surplus is said to be too large to spend more than a small fraction (a Procrustean 4 percent) at home without ...

Bankers: Go The 'Latvian' Option

The "Latvian option" is the buzzword of the moment among European bankers and financial journalists. In October, the Latvian people voted in a coalition headed by the incumbent prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, whose government had savaged social benefits, cut pay and inflated unemployment in 2009. Was this proof that austerity measures could not only work, but actually be popular? Was Latvia the model that Greece, Ireland and Spain should emulate? The Wall Street Journal, for one, has published several articles promoting this view. Most recently, Charles Doxbury advocated Latvia's internal devaluation and austerity strategy as the model for Europe's crisis nations to follow. The view commonly argued is that Latvia's economic freefall (the deepest of any nation from the 2008 crisis) ...

Financial Interests Dictate Sovereign Policy

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Interview with Michael Hudson, Eleftherotypia, Sunday December 12, 2010. 1. A recent article of yours, “Schemes of the Rich and Greedy,” cites the bailouts in Europe among such schemes. What are the main faults with bailouts, and for whom are they designed? The financial sector is trying to get politicians to siphon off money from labor and industry to pay bankers. This will impede capital formation and living standards. The banks misrepresented the real value of balance sheet and hence what they really were owed under actual market conditions. Now that they have taken the money and run, the «real» economy is being told to pay the off their bad loans. The arrogance of this demand prompted Angela Merkel to ask why governments ...

Latvia’s Third Option

Neither Devaluation nor Austerity, but Tax Restructuring A shortened version was published in today's Financial Times. As Europe’s banking crisis deepens, Greece’s and Spain’s fiscal crisis spreads throughout Europe and the US economy stalls, most discussions of how to stabilize national finances assume that only two options are available: “internal devaluation” – shrinking the economy by cutting public spending; or outright devaluation of the currency (for countries that have not yet joined the euro, such as Eastern Europe). The Baltics and other countries have rejected currency depreciation on the ground that it would delay EU membership. But as most debts are denominated in euros – and owed mainly to foreign banks or their local branches – devaluation would cause a sharp jump in ...