Monday, September 01, 2008

Signs of the Economic Apocalypse, 9-1-08


Gold closed at 835.20 dollars an ounce Friday, up 0.9% from $828.10 for the week. The dollar closed at 0.6815 euros Friday, up 0.7% from 0.6769 at the close of the previous week. That put the euro at 1.4674 dollars compared to 1.4774 the week before. Gold in euros would be 569.17 euros an ounce, up 1.5% from 560.51 at the close of the previous Friday. Oil closed at 115.46 dollars a barrel Friday, up 0.8% from $114.57 at the end of the week before. Oil in euros would be 78.68, up 1.5% from 77.55 for the week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 7.23 Friday, unchanged. In U.S. stocks, the Dow closed at 11,543.55 Friday, down 0.7% from 11,628.06 at the close of the previous Friday. The NASDAQ closed at 2,367.52 Friday, down 2.0% from 2414.71 at the close of the week before. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 3.81%, down six basis points from 3.87 for the week.

Gold continued its steady rise from the recent lows below $800 an ounce. The dollar also resumed its rise against the euro. The recent rise of the dollar has been attributed to evidence that the rest of the world is entering a recession and that the downturn will not be limited to the United States. It has also been fueled by an export-based mini-recovery in the United States. A recent revision of U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) number showing a 3.5% annualized growth rate in the second quarter of 2008 shows the results of both the growth in exports from the United States and the effects of the tax rebate checks being spent in the economy. Both, however, cannot last, as the checks has already been spent and the dollar is now rising (it was the low dollar that fueled exports).

Eyes Off the Target

Max Wolff

August 29, 2008

On August 28, 2008 the Bureau of Economic Analysis [BEA] released two very widely followed and important reports. Both are backward looking and detail national macro conditions and corporate profits. Gross Domestic Product and Corporate Profits Second Quarter 2008 (Preliminary) are the reports in question. Markets have surged on the good headline news regarding 2Q2008 GDP growth. Indeed the 3.3% reported growth was well ahead of expectations- mine included. The upward revision from the advance estimate was also huge, going from 1.9% to 3.3%. This is an increase of 73%- not too shabby. Of course there was that second report as well, you know corporate profits. There are even a few folks who believe that corporate profits have some relation to where share prices ought to be.

On that first report on GDP, the sources of the quarter over quarter growth are a little troubling. About 90% of the quarterly growth came from falling imports and rising exports. All measures are in falling dollars and rising foreign currencies converted to the dollar. Thus, a very large share of the good news boils down to our declining greenbacks- during the second quarter- and the newfound poverty of American consumers. What do I mean? Our smashed dollar makes our goods cheaper- more exports- and theirs more expensive-fewer imports. Our smashed consumers are buying less- falling imports. More than a little of yesterday's celebration is excitement over our weak currency- which has been strengthening- and our broke consumers- 70% of the US GDP. Export driven GDP gain is ominous given increasing fear of a Euro Zone slowdown and further difficulties in Japan. Import reduction and export growth may not be helped by the recent strengthening of the dollar?

Real exports of goods and services increased 13.2 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 5.1 percent in the first. Real imports of goods and services decreased 7.6 percent, compared with a decrease of 0.8 percent.

· GDP and Corporate Release 28, August 2008- BEA
Beyond celebrating tax rebate checks, local and state government spending, our tanking currency and the poverty of our citizens, there is little to be happy about in the GDP number other than the great headline. The other report from yesterday sheds more and different light on the present situation for assets. Why? Well the corporate profits report speaks to the earnings, growth, dividends and health of the firms who issue and report numbers. Humor me as I assume this is of some passing import to asset valuation and trajectory.

Corporate Profits

Profits from current production (corporate profits with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments) decreased $37.8 billion in the second quarter, compared with a decrease of $17.6 billion in the first quarter.
Current-production cash flow (net cash flow with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments) -- the internal funds available to corporations for investment -- decreased $41.3 billion in the second quarter, in contrast to an increase of $10.1 billion in the first.

· 28 August 2008- BEA
Thus, the BEA measure of corporate profits was less robust than the surging GDP headlines might suggest. The relatively weak performance of broadly measured corporate profits indicates the economic weakness many fear. Ironically, the same report banishing recession concerns across trading floors and around water coolers contains warning level indicators about corporate profit and cash flow.

While the GDP revisions are positive, the corporate profit news is not. In addition, the large role for falling dollars has reversed - at least over recent weeks. The pain in consumer wallets looks likely to increase- now that the tax rebates are behind us. Thus, we must conclude that the sources of the growth are fleeting or disturbing. Meanwhile, the last quarter showed accelerating weakness in corporate earnings- particularly non-financials.

It is hard not to think that yesterday's rally has its eyes off the target?

So, while a little good news is always welcome, we’re not out of danger, by any means. The drop in the price of gold this summer has made all currencies seem stronger, but what is really behind it? Market manipulation? Of course! All markets are always manipulated. Only a naïve believer in market fundamentalism should be shocked by that. The question is how effective the manipulations will be, for how long and for whom.

The Building Storm: Gold, the Dollar and Inflation

David Galland

August 24, 2008

One could hardly fail to notice that gold investors have suffered a little more than a “bit of pain” over the past month. More like a good kicking as gold moved down by about 20% from its recent high of $986 on July 15.

Making assumptions is often a bad idea, but I am going to go out on a limb here and make the assumption that those of you with an interest in gold are concerned over the latest setback, the depth of which has surprised even us.

Don’t be.

The evidence to support that statement would fill a telephone book at this point. Starting with the latest U.S. inflation numbers which, even using the government’s own crooked calculations, rang in the last reporting period at 5.6%. Quoting John Williams of from a recent email I received from that organization…

Reported consumer inflation continued to surge on both a monthly and annual basis, once again topping consensus expectations. The July CPI-U jumped to a 17-year high of 5.6% in July, while annual inflation for the narrower CPI-W — targeted at the wage-earners category where gasoline takes a bigger proportionate bite out of spending — annual inflation jumped to 6.2%. The CPI-W is used for making the annual cost of living adjustments to Social Security payments. The 2009 adjustment — based on the July to September 2008 period — remains a good bet to top 5%, more than double last year’s 2.3% adjustment for 2008. Such is not good news for federal budget deficit projections.

Based on William’s calculations, which use the same CPI formula used by the Fed prior to the jiggering of the Clinton years, the actual inflation rate is now running at 13.64%.

And on August 19, we learned that the U.S. Producer Price Index rang in at a month-over-month increase of 1.2%, the third month in a row where that leading indicator has topped the 1% mark. Meanwhile, in Europe, the latest numbers put inflation at a 16 year high. And these are not anomalies, but the norm as the inflation tide continues to rise literally around the world.

Dark Clouds

A good analogy to the global currency devaluation is a slow-moving hurricane that, once over warm water, gains energy.

Right now the global inflation is a huge storm, slowly circling off the proverbial coast where it is gathering strength from the hundreds of billions of dollars being fed into it by governments desperate to avoid economic collapse… and from pricing decisions being made by everyone from manufacturers to local shopkeepers looking to cover rising costs.

At this point the skies are dark, the wind is rising, and the torrential rains are beginning to sweep in. The radio is broadcasting warnings to move to higher ground, but the hurricane has yet to hit the shore.

But when it does, it will be a Category 5 and maybe worse.

That’s because, in addition to the straight-up consequences of the government monetary prolificacy and businesses raising prices to try and stay afloat, there is something else feeding power to the storm… something we have been warning about for years now: the rising odds that the global fiat currency system will fail.

Let me add some nuance to that remark.

In recent years, the global financial community, reflexively looking for an alternative to the obviously damaged U.S. dollar, has settled on the euro. But the euro is equally flawed, and maybe even more so, than the U.S. dollar. Now that the trading herd has also come to that conclusion, they are rushing back toward the dollar.

They are doing so not because the U.S. dollar is healthy, but rather because that is all that they know… a heads-or-tails continuum running something along the lines of “If the ‘it’s-not-the-dollar’ play is over, then it must be time to go back into the dollar.”

The euro sinks, the dollar goes up.

And so gold, viewed by these same traders only in terms of its inverse relationship to the dollar, gets hammered.

What they are missing, but not for much longer, is that rushing back into the dollar is akin to heading for the vulnerable coast, and not to the higher ground now proscribed. They are also missing the point that gold’s monetary value is not limited to protecting only against a failure in the U.S. dollar, but against any faltering fiat currency… a moniker that the euro deserves in spades. Not only is it backed by nothing, but it is also backed by no one…

The long-term weakening of currencies won’t end, because the financial crisis hasn’t ended. The only way for governments to prevent the financial crisis from becoming a complete collapse is by pumping money into the system. It now looks like it’s commercial banks’ turn to be bailed out.

When sorrows come

The Economist

Aug 28th 2008

Commercial banks prepare, reluctantly, to take centre stage

Every episode in the credit crunch has had its dramatic flourish. There were the defenestrations at Citigroup and Merrill Lynch late last year; then, in March, the Bear Stearns fiasco; the humbling of UBS; and now Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a tale of hubris that might impress Shakespeare himself. What next?

With the tragedy of the mortgage giants still unfolding, another dark drama is entering its second act, and it has rather a lot of players. It concerns America’s commercial banks. “Pretty dismal” was the frank description of their recent performance offered on August 26th by Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). That was just after announcing a rise in the number of banks on its danger list, from 90 to 117.

Nine banks have failed so far this year, felled by shoddy lending to homeowners and developers—six more than in the previous three years combined. The trajectory is steep: Institutional Risk Analytics, which monitors the health of banks, expects more than 100 lenders—most, but by no means all, tiddlers—to fold over the next year alone. Alarmingly, the ratio of loan-loss provisions to duff credit is at its lowest level in 15 years.

The FDIC will soon have to replenish its deposit-insurance fund, which collects premiums from banks and stood at around $53 billion before the downturn. One of this year’s failures, IndyMac, has alone depleted the fund’s coffers by one-sixth—and it was no giant. This has pushed the fund’s holdings below a trigger point that requires the FDIC to craft a “restoration” plan within 90 days.

Ms Bair has indicated that banks with risky profiles—which already pay up to ten times more than the typical five cents per $100 insured—will be asked to “step up to the plate” with even higher premiums. This would ensure that safer banks are not unfairly burdened. But it will heap yet more financial pressure on strugglers. Bankers’ groups have already started to protest loudly.

How much will be needed? Possibly far more than the FDIC is letting on, reckons Joseph Mason of Louisiana State University. Extrapolating from the savings and loan crisis of the early 1990s, and allowing for the growth in bank assets, he puts the possible cost at $143 billion.

That would force the FDIC to go cap-in-hand to the Treasury. The need to do so could become even more pressing if nervous savers began to move even insured deposits (those under $100,000) away from banks they perceived to be at risk—which no longer looks fanciful given the squeeze on the fund. Ms Bair’s admission, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that the FDIC might have to tap the public purse, albeit only for “short-term liquidity purposes”, will have done little to calm nerves.

It is also sure to reinforce a growing sense that the financial-market crisis has a lot further to run. Risk-aversion, measured by spreads on corporate debt, fell sharply after the sale of Bear Stearns in March but has leapt back in recent weeks as the spectre of systemic meltdown resurfaced. Sentiment towards spicier assets is astonishingly grim: prices of junk bonds and home-equity loans imply a default rate consistent with unemployment of around 20%, points out Torsten Slok, an economist at Deutsche Bank.

Measure for measure

Banks continue to tighten credit, and their own belts—Citigroup has even restricted colour photocopying. What liquidity they have is being jealously hoarded, partly out of distrust of one another, but mostly in anticipation of refinancing requirements on bonds that they issued with abandon in the credit boom. The spread over expected central-bank rates that they charge one another for short-term cash has risen to three times the level that it was in January. Worse, derivatives markets point to a further increase. Another measure of trust, or lack of it, the index of the “counterparty” risk that derivatives dealers pose, is creeping back towards its March peak.

Nor have investors grown any more confident about their ability to price the banks’ toxic mortgage-backed assets: Merrill Lynch’s cut-price sale of collateralised-debt obligations in July has had few imitators. Lehman Brothers has tried unsuccessfully to sell a pile of iffy securities backed by commercial mortgages all summer.

The woes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac weigh on these efforts. Bankers feel obliged to advise clients against snapping up distressed securitised assets until the mortgage giants are put on a firmer footing, says one. And banks themselves are exposed: paper issued by the mortgage agencies accounts for roughly half of their total securities portfolios, estimates CreditSights, a research firm. American banks own much of the preferred stock (a hybrid of debt and equity) that the two firms issued. They were attracted by the preference shares’ combination of a low risk weighting and decent yield, says Ira Jersey of Credit Suisse, but have seen their prices tumble on fears that they will be wiped out if the government moves to prop the agencies up. Although only a few regional lenders would be seriously hurt by this, it would add to the pain of many. JPMorgan Chase has just become the first bank to write down its holdings, saying it may lose $600m, or half the value it had put on them. That may start a trend.

Worse, banks have come to rely on issuing their own preference shares to raise capital, and will find that harder if holders of Fannie’s and Freddie’s paper suffer losses. Banks have raised a total of $265 billion of capital since last summer, says UBS. With much of that issuance underwater, investors are understandably wary of throwing good money after bad.

Contagion also spreads through the market for credit-default swaps. Banks have busily written such insurance contracts on Fannie’s and Freddie’s $20 billion of subordinated debt, which sits below senior debt in their capital structures. If the debt’s holders suffer losses in a bail-out, triggering a “credit event”, banks that had sold the swaps would face huge payouts. The amounts involved are “impossible to calculate but far from trivial”, says one sombre analyst. As the bard wrote: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seem to be the linchpins. A bailout of them would destroy lots of commercial banks, according to The Economist. Max Fraad Wolf has an easy to understand description of what they are and why they are important:

Foreign spigot off for US consumers

Max Fraad Wolff

28/08/08 "ICH" -- - As US public attention shifts from the Olympics to running mates and the celebrity "news" de jour, the infrastructure beneath your house is termite-infested. Just beneath the nicely painted exterior and behind all the new appliances, doubt is boring through the beams, gnawing at the studs.

Alongside falling prices, rising mortgage rates, stricter credit conditions and general malaise, the structure that supports American home ownership is being condemned by market valuation. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have nose dived and been downgraded toward a smaller future - and these are more important names for your future than Joe, Sam, Kathy, Mitt, Meg ...

Fannie Mae was created in the depths of the Great Depression to decrease foreclosure and increase home ownership. In 1968, it was re-chartered as a public company, removed from within official government agency status. Freddie Mac, since its inception in 1970, has financed 50 million homes.

Fannie and Freddie mission statements make clear, they exist to facilitate, ease and cheapen home ownership. They do this by acting as liaisons between international capital markets and mortgage seekers. They borrow at preferential rates - based on the implicit/explicit - assurance of the US government. Borrowed funds are used to buy mortgages and bundles of mortgages. They provide credit guidelines and purchase mortgage issued by banks. This reduces banks' risk and provides banks with more cash, more quickly to make more loans at lower costs. These firms, then, exist to facilitate, ease and accelerate bank lending for home purchase.

Fannie and Freddie form a central hub between lenders and investors. After they buy American mortgages, they bundle sell and guarantee repayment. This transforms mortgages into investments for banks, corporations and governments all over the world. Your home mortgage, bundled with many other folks' mortgages, is sold, repackaged and assured by Fannie and Freddie. This reduces risk and assures global savings flow in to support American purchases of homes. International investment is the foundation on which our home ownership was built.

Well over US$1 trillion of our mortgages have been sold to foreign investors this way in the recent past. As you sit down and read this, your mortgage may well be "owned" by a firm, individual or central bank thousands of miles away. This relationship is neither healthy nor sustainable in its present form. Rising defaults, falling dollars and the sheer size of past borrowing are turning people off to American mortgages. The foundation below our houses is shifting.

What we are witnessing is the breakdown of the link between middle-class America and the global financial markets it has over-tapped across the last several decades. Fannie and Freddie were the support infrastructure connecting houses to capital market access. They have been caught with weak financials, swollen balance sheets and escalating default, just like the home owners they assist. The size of their retained mortgage portfolios is truly gigantic.

The extent of the firms' guarantee commitments is global in scope. Sixty-six global central banks buy loans bundled and or backed with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae involvement. As of June 30, 2007 foreign entities and individuals held over $1.4 trillion in securities of US agencies such as Freddie and Fannie.

Fannie Mae's June 2008 statement declares a gross mortgage portfolio of $750 billion and guarantees of mortgage backed securities and loans of $2.6 trillion. Freddie Mac's June statement details a retained portfolio balance of $792 billion and a total mortgage portfolio balance of $2.2 trillion. These two giants have retained interest in over $1.5 trillion and guaranteed over $4.5 trillion in mortgages, mortgage backed securities and loans. There are $11 trillion in outstanding mortgage liabilities in the US.

The US housing market continues to melt down with dire consequence. In the seven years from 2001 through late 2007, household real estate value increased by $8.873 trillion to $22.495 trillion. It has since fallen by $426 billion. Many claim we are at or a near a bottom. These claims should be viewed with extreme weariness. The housing downturn is not over and it will take a while after it is over to judge the damage.

The search for parallels with today yields little. The closest one finds is the interesting decline in home ownership across the period 1905-1920 followed by a surging rise across the '20s and then collapse across the 1930s. Fannie was born of this collapse, the ideology of The New Deal and sense that government-driven market interventions could broaden home ownership in America. This was a success. Home ownership did grow spectacularly across the period from 1938-2007. It is falling now as Fannie and Freddie flounder.

In 1940, US home ownership stood just below 44%. At the start of 2008 68% of Americans owned their home. Over the decades, Fannie and Freddie changed, middle-class America changed and the global financial realm underwent several revolutions. The last and most transformative revolution involved the rise of securitization and integration of global financial markets.

Securitization involves transforming assets and promises of future payment into financial products for sale to investors. International financial integration tears down the walls between national banking systems and allows savings, loans and payments to be gathered and transferred across international boundaries.

A world of wealth poured into US real estate through securitization and deregulation. This flow was channeled and molded by the actions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The decline of these firms will have dramatic and long-lasting implications for home mortgage finance. This will impact the price of American homes, the cost and ease of borrowing for home ownership.

Housing prices have further to fall and global savings will likely never be lent to American consumers at recent percentage levels. Across the past few years America has been borrowing over 50% of the world's internationally available savings. The diminishing role of Fannie and Freddie will impact more people, for far longer than presidential running-mate selections. Policy makers and managements in Fannie and Freddie are stuck. Today's consumer strength, their missions and international financial realities no longer align.

We face a housing finance future different from the recent past. Fannie and Freddie will not be able to function in the same way, or to the same extent. The debates about and plans for these firms will touch millions of families through housing prices, finance terms and cost. Fannie and Freddie are much more important than Joe, Sam, Kathy, Mitt, Meg ...

Average people will see the economic troubles as a failure of the system. Not everyone shares that view. For some, things are going right according to plan.

The Ranks of the Ultrawealthy Grow

Tom Herman

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One of the most exclusive clubs in the U.S. has picked up more members.
About 47,000 people had a net worth of $20 million or more in 2004, the latest available year, according to new estimates by the Internal Revenue Service. While that was up only slightly from 46,000 in 2001, it was up 62% from 29,000 in 1998.

The IRS also reported increases in the number of people with a net worth between $10 million and $20 million: 79,000 people qualified for this group in 2004, up from 77,000 in 2001 and 51,000 in 1998.

California had the largest number of residents with a net worth of $1.5 million or more, with 428,000 in 2004. Florida came in second, with 199,000, followed by New York (168,000), Texas (108,000), Illinois (101,000), Pennsylvania (86,000) and Massachusetts (83,000).

This new peek inside the nation's upper crust comes from IRS data posted recently on the agency's Web site. While nobody knows precisely how many millionaires or multimillionaires there are, the IRS figures are considered an important indicator since they're based on federal estate-tax returns, which include extensive details on assets and debts of wealthy people who have died. IRS analysts use data on these returns to estimate the wealth of the living.

The IRS numbers also provide additional insights into wealth in the U.S. beyond what has already been reported in several other studies. Among them was a Federal Reserve Board survey of consumer finances, which focuses on households and was published in 2006. The Fed and IRS data are helpful when read together, says James Poterba, professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the nonprofit research organization best known for tracking the U.S. business cycle. Both sets of data "provide important information," Mr. Poterba says. "They appear to track broadly similar trends in wealth distribution -- but they provide somewhat different perspectives."

Separate IRS data, released earlier this year, showed the nation's top 400 taxpayers by income reported total income of $85.6 billion on their federal income-tax returns for 2005 -- an average of nearly $214 million apiece. Just to make the cutoff to be eligible for this group of 400 required income of at least $100.3 million, up from $74.5 million for 2004. Joel Slemrod, professor of economics at the Ross School of Business of the University of Michigan, dubbed this group "the Fortunate 400."

Some of the IRS's new personal-wealth numbers aren't directly comparable with those in its previous studies because analysts used different net-worth ranges at the lower end. But the top three groups -- starting with a net worth of $5 million -- are the same in these and several previous IRS reports by the Statistics of Income Division. Among the findings in the latest report, which isn't adjusted for inflation:

The total net worth of the 47,000 people in the $20 million-or-more category totaled $2.591 trillion in 2004. That was down from $2.756 trillion held by the top group in 2001 but up sharply from the approximately $1.5 trillion held by those in the top group in 1998.

About 231,000 people had a net worth between $5 million and $10 million in 2004. That was down slightly from 243,000 in 2001.

Of the total income for the $20 million or more group, the biggest single asset category by far was publicly traded stock ($719.28 billion). In second place was closely held stock.

The IRS figures underscore the importance of stock and other business assets for those in the highest echelons of the super rich, says Mr. Poterba of MIT and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Michael Hudson, in a recent interview by Mike Whitney, agrees that for the super-rich, recent economic policies have not been disastrous at all:
MW: The housing market is freefalling, setting new records every day for foreclosures, inventory, and declining prices. The banking system is in even worse shape; undercapitalized and buried under a mountain of downgraded assets. There seems to be growing consensus that these problems are not just part of a normal economic downturn, but the direct result of the Fed's monetary policies. Are we seeing the collapse of the Central banking model as a way of regulating the markets? Do you think the present crisis will strengthen the existing system or make it easier for the American people to assert greater control over monetary policy?

Michael Hudson: What do you mean “failure”? Your perspective is from the bottom looking up. But the financial model has been a great success from the vantage point of the top of the economic pyramid looking down? The economy has polarized to the point where the wealthiest 10% now own 85% of the nation’s wealth. Never before have the bottom 90% been so highly indebted, so dependent on the wealthy. From their point of view, their power has exceeded that of any time in which economic statistics have been kept.

You have to realize that what they’re trying to do is to roll back the Enlightenment, roll back the moral philosophy and social values of classical political economy and its culmination in Progressive Era legislation, as well as the New Deal institutions. They’re not trying to make the economy more equal, and they’re not trying to share power. Their greed is (as Aristotle noted) infinite. So what you find to be a violation of traditional values is a re-assertion of pre-industrial, feudal values. The economy is being set back on the road to debt peonage. The Road to Serfdom is not government sponsorship of economic progress and rising living standards; it’s the dismantling of government, the dissolution of regulatory agencies, to create a new feudal-type elite.

The former Soviet Union provides a model of what the neoliberals would like to create. Not only in Russia but also in the Baltic States and other former Soviet republics, they created local kleptocracies, Pinochet-style. In Russia, the kleptocrats founded an explicitly Pinochetista party, the Party of Right Forces (“Right” as in right-wing).

In order for the American people or any other people to assert greater control over monetary policy, they need to have a doctrine of just what a good monetary policy would be. Early in the 19th century the followers of St. Simon in France began to develop such a policy. By the end of that century, Central Europe implemented this policy, mobilizing the banking and financial system to promote industrialization, in consultation with the government (and catalyzed by military and naval spending, to be sure). But all this has disappeared from the history of economic thought, which no longer is even taught to economics students. The Chicago Boys have succeeded in censoring any alternative to their free-market rationalization of asset stripping and economic polarization.

My own model would be to make central banks part of the Treasury, not simply the board of directors of the rapacious commercial banking system. You mentioned Henry Liu’s writings earlier, and I think he has come to the same conclusion in his Asia Times articles.

MW:Do you see the Federal Reserve as an economic organization designed primarily to maintain order in the markets via interest rates and regulation or a political institution whose objectives are to impose an American-dominated model of capitalism on the rest of the world?

Michael Hudson: Surely, you jest! The Fed has turned “maintaining order” into a euphemism for consolidating power by the financial sector and the FIRE sector generally (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) over the “real” economy of production and consumption. Its leaders see their job as being to act on behalf of the commercial banking system to enable it to make money off the rest of the economy. It acts as the Board of Directors to fight regulation, to support Wall Street, to block any revival of anti-usury laws, to promote “free markets” almost indistinguishable from outright financial fraud, to decriminalize bad behavior – and most of all to inflate the price of property relative to the wages of labor and even relative to the profits of industry.

The Fed’s job is not really to impose the Washington Consensus on the rest of the world. That’s the job of the World Bank and IMF, coordinated via the Treasury (viz. Robert Rubin under Clinton most notoriously) and AID, along with the covert actions of the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy. You don’t need monetary policy to do this – only massive bribery. Only call it “lobbying” and the promotion of democratic values – values to fight government power to regulate or control finance across the world. Financial power is inherently cosmopolitan and, as such, antagonistic to the power of national governments.

The Fed and other government agencies, Wall Street and the rest of the economy form part of an overall system. Each agency must be viewed in the context of this system and its dynamics – and these dynamics are polarizing, above all from financial causes. So we are back to the “magic of compound interest,” now expanded to include “free” credit creation and arbitraging.

The problem is that none of this appears in the academic curriculum. And the silence of the major media to address it or even to acknowledge it means that it is invisible except to the beneficiaries who are running the system.

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