Europe’s Transition From Social Democracy to Oligarchy

As first published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung The easiest way to understand Europe’s financial crisis is to look at the solutions being proposed to resolve it. They are a banker’s dream, a grab bag of giveaways that few voters would be likely to approve in a democratic referendum. Bank strategists learned not to risk submitting their plans to democratic vote after Icelanders twice refused in 2010-11 to approve their government’s capitulation to pay Britain and the Netherlands for losses run up by badly regulated Icelandic banks operating abroad. Lacking such a referendum, mass demonstrations were the only way for Greek voters to register their opposition to the €50 billion in privatization sell-offs demanded by the European Central Bank (ECB) in autumn 2011. The problem is that Greece lacks the ready money to ...

Democracy and Debt

Has the Link been Broken? *This article appeared in the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung on December 5, 2011. Book V of Aristotle’s Politics describes the eternal transition of oligarchies making themselves into hereditary aristocracies – which end up being overthrown by tyrants or develop internal rivalries as some families decide to “take the multitude into their camp” and usher in democracy, within which an oligarchy emerges once again, followed by aristocracy, democracy, and so on throughout history. Debt has been the main dynamic driving these shifts – always with new twists and turns. It polarizes wealth to create a creditor class, whose oligarchic rule is ended as new leaders (“tyrants” to Aristotle) win popular support by cancelling the debts and redistributing property or taking its usufruct for the state. Since the Renaissance, however, bankers have ...

Australia’s Needless Foreign Borrowing

Michael Hudson and Shann Turnbull* (First published via Prosper Australia, written during Michael's recent Oz tour.) Confronted by the global financial crisis that is burying foreign economies deeper in debt deflation each month, Australia needs to protect itself – indeed, to liberate itself from as many costs and risks as it can. Fortunately, many of its costs and risks are unnecessary, merely a result of the inertia of old ways of thinking. 
Australia has the means to protect its growth and to keep more of its income at home. But if it is to remain immune to the GFC meltdown, it must escape from the risky environment of foreign financial dependency. This requires new arrangements to take account of the rapidly changing character of credit. 
Foreign credit is the most obvious yet also most ...

Saving, Asset-Price Inflation, and Debt-Induced Deflation

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Post-Keynesian Conference Kansas City Summary The exponential growth of savings and debt takes the form mainly of loans to finance the purchase of real estate, stocks and bonds. These loans extract interest and amortization charges that divert revenue away from being spent on goods and services. The payment of debt service by the economy’s non-financial sectors interrupts the circular flow that Say’s Law postulates to exist between producers and consumers. Financial institutions re-lend their interest and other financial inflows as new loans to finance asset purchases. The result is that net savings do not increase for the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, lending out savings helps bid up asset prices, but does not necessarily promote new tangible investment and employment or increase real wages and commodity prices. In fact, new tangible investment and employment ...

The Mathematical Economics of Compound Rates of Interest: A Four-Thousand Year Overview Part I

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“Whoever enters here must know mathematics.” That was the motto of Plato’s Academy. Emphasizing such abstract ratios as the Pythagorean proportions of musical temperament and the calendrical regularities of the sun, moon and planets, its philosophy used the mathematics of nature to reveal an underlying harmony and order in the universe and hence, in an ideal society. But there was little quantitative analysis of economic relations. Although the Greek and Roman economies were increasingly wracked by debt, there was no measurement of this phenomenon, or of overall production, distribution and other macroeconomic measures. The education of modern economists still consists largely of higher mathematics whose use remains more metaphysical than empirically measuring the most important trends. Over a century ago John Shield Nicholson (1893:122) remarked that “The traditional method of English ...

The New Economic Archaeology of Debt

Introduction to Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East (ed. with Marc Van De Mieroop) (CDL Press, Baltimore, 2002) Economists, anthropologists and assyriologists have discussed the origins of debt and the setting of interest rates from such different perspectives that there has been remarkably little overlap or mutual discussion. Indeed, when economic theorists have ventured to speculate on the origins of debt, they usually have based their reasoning on a priori market-oriented principles rather than looking at the historical record. One of the aims of this colloquium is therefore to establish a more historically grounded basis for tracing the course of commercial and agrarian debt in Bronze Age Mesopotamia, and the logic that underlay the Clean Slates that annulled agrarian and personal debts (while leaving commercial debts intact). Economists are ...

I Meet the Leading Authority on the Babylonian and Near East Tradition of Debt Cancellation

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Copy of a regular newsletter by Boudewijn Wegerif, Sweden WHAT MATTERS-77 Dear list members, Yesterday I was with an American economist who says of himself that he is a Marxist, whose godfather was Leon Trotsky, whose father was thrown in prison in the US in 1941 for advocating the overthrow of the government, who has worked for the Chase Manhattan Bank as their balance of payments expert, and who is now an authority on the Babylonian and Near East tradition of debt cancellation. I was with someone who in another guise, as musician, once auditioned to conduct the orchestra of the Stockholm Opera Company: - someone whom I had been told I would find extremely rude, with a verbal bite as sharp as his bark, and who I found, in fact, to be ...

The Mathematical Economics of Compound Rates of Interest: A Four-Thousand Year Overview Part II

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2. Why Economies Develop Debt Crises: The Mathematics of Compound Interest The past century’s economic schoolbooks have described a universe running down from entropy. Production is assumed to be plagued by diminishing returns, so that each additional unit of input produces less and less output. Even if technology were recognized to raise the productivity of labor, capital and land over time, neoclassical models hold that each additional unit of consumption or wealth yields diminishing psychological utility. Not only will economies grow less rapidly, they will feel poorer. Large parts of the population in many countries are indeed becoming poorer and forced into debt, but the pessimistic assumptions cited above make no reference to debt. Their seeming independence from finance – and from social policies to deal with debt problems and wealth distribution ...