5). Underlying Processes within Global Capitalism

The process of ‘neoliberal restructuring’ for the benefit of multinational invasion across the world, through South America, Asia and Africa, as well as post-cold war Eastern Europe, has been executed through the simultaneous fulfilment of a combination of inter-related factors.

(i). Corporate colonisation, the Free-Trade mandate & the global food system:
An alternative, more accurate definition of “Free-Trade: ‘The sanctioning of market concentration for monopoly capitalist multinationals & finance capital’.

The template for the whole process of neoliberalism is the global so-called “free trade” architecture of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade) and other area-specific trade agreements such as FTAA (the Free Trade Area of the Americas), which have broken down the barriers-to-entry to financial speculation and the free movement of goods and services across the world. Robert Griffiths, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain: “Globalisation is not being driven primarily by an abstract ideological commitment to ‘free markets’ or to the free movement of goods, capital or labour. The US, EU and Japan all operate trade barriers of one sort or another; none operate an open-door policy to migrants. Rather, so-called globalisation is driven by the economic necessity of TNCs and other capitalist monopolies to maximise profit through exporting goods, services and capital with as few barriers as possible – except ones which suit their competing interests. These necessities are not new, and have featured prominently in the evolution of imperialism over the past century and more.” (quotation from Robert Griffiths article entitled: “Globalisation: a new emerging phase of Imperialism”).

Powerful trading blocks such as the United States and the European Union make a nonsense of the assumption that “freetrade” is what constitutes the world trading system, as they have instilled a degree of protection in the face of rigorously applied world trade rules which are fully applied to nations in the South (such as the farming sectors in the US and EU through a widely-acknowledged ‘bending of the rules’ on agricultural subsidies which has led to the dumping of agricultural produce on world markets, driving down world prices to the detriment of farming sectors in the South, quite apart from the political use of food-aid by the USA). “Subsidies are basically a transfer of money from the pockets of taxpayers to large corporate farmers, so that they can stay in business despite low prices, and to the ones who benefit the most – the Cargills and ADMs of the world who have all this grain that they’re giving away at giveaway prices and using to capture markets around the world and drive small farmers out of business in Mexico, India , Africa, Asia and South America”, (quote by Peter Rosset, who was executive director of the Oakland, California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy). Transnational corporations such as Cargill – the largest grain transnational corporation in the world – hold structural control of the global food system in terms of integration up and down the food chain in that it has mill, storage and port facilities all over the world for it’s massive trading in grain supplies and processing (and so, holds the world-price of grain within it’s grasp).

World market distortions are also caused by high tariffs for processed products originating from countries of the south being exported into developed world markets/trade blocks.

Distortions caused by the subsidy regime can be observed to have negatively affected the agricultural trade of countries in the south, particularly in the sugar trade where EU farmers are paid 3 times the world price and the US support-regime valued at a similar extent, affecting developing country exporters who sell at prices which barely cover the variable costs of growing and processing. However, there also exist the market distortions caused by the high level of concentration in the input and distribution side of the agri-food system, with the domination of a few large firms both upstream and downstream of the farming sector. In the sugar trade, the 3 main companies who trade across the globe are: Cargill, Tate & Lyle and Louis Dreyfus.

Within the global food system, the gap between producer prices and retail prices has grown over time, with the price-index of commodities falling by 47% between 1982 and 2001. According to the UN Commission on Trade & Development (UNCTAD), annual export earnings of coffee-producing countries in the early 1990s were US$10-12 billion, whilst the value of global retail sales were £30 billion. However, by 2002, while retail sales exceeded £70 billion, coffee-producing countries received only £5.5 billion, as global oversupply reduced prices. Coffee producers are involved in a global market where 3 TNCs (Nestle, Kraft and Proctor & Gamble) account for 45% of roasting activities, whilst 4 companies account for 40% of cocoa grinding, while in soy and livestock, 3 of the same companies have the lion’s share of crushing and feed production in South America and Europe. (Vorley).

The global food system is crucial to the livelihoods of the majority of the world’s population, being as it is the case that half of the population of the developing world is rural, with 1.3 billion working in agriculture (2003 figures – Vorley). Family-scale producers worldwide are finding themselves excluded from high-value markets. While across the industrialised world, farm incomes have dramatically fallen over time, in the developing world, the rural peasantry have been further pushed into poverty, migration and loss of livelihood. With 90% of total cocoa production estimated to come from smallholdings of less than 5 hectares, the developing country contribution to the value-added element of the retail product cocoa fell to 28% in 1998-2000 from around 60% in 1970/72 (Vorley).

Long term downward trend in the price of agricultural commodities can also be observed to have been managed on a worldwide systematic basis as well. Over the course of several decades, the World Bank and IMF encouraged scores of nations in the south to gear their agricultural export sectors to the production of a narrow range of primary commodities, resulting in the long-term trend of a wide range reduction in prices of primary commodities over time. For instance, between 1980 and 2000, the price of raw sugar fell by 71%, coffee by 64% and cotton by 41%. (Corbyn).

The food system is characterised as one which involves a large number of competitive, relatively powerless suppliers (producers) and a few large buyers (TNCs), and has evolved to one whereby production is buyer-driven, as the customer and producer components of the system are brought into a more direct relationship for the benefit of consumers in the north. For some products of large-supply to the global market, uniformity and high-quality standards are important factors for further processing and branding by the northern retail market (supermarkets). There has also been an increasing trend towards direct contracting between input suppliers (eg. of feed, seed), industrial-scale processors/suppliers and retailers, as production chains are shortened across the entire agri-food sector, driven by the need for traceability, product consistency and assurance of supply. So, whilst vertical integration characterises livestock in the north (farm to fork), for producers in the south, the situation is characterised as ‘vertical disintergration’, as farmers increasingly supply at lower cost, favouring large-scale producers at the expense of small farmers, with farmers locked into an ‘expand or die’ cycle. It is a precise continuation of colonial expropriation which swept through the African continent in the 19th century, albeit in a more subtle way, as the monopolising conduct of a few dominating TNCs hide behind the veil of ‘market forces’ – an abstract concept which justifies market trends in terms of what is accepted to be the competitive equilibrium state of the world market of a particular product.

In countries of the South, export-orientated farmers are increasingly engaged in contracts with the latter-day “colonial landlords”, while now, the US government bribes countries in Africa to have their farming sectors accept GM technology in return for aid for HIV, armlocking farmers into chemical dependency and facilitating market share for biotech companies as farmers pay corporate royalties.

Cross-sector mergers are an increasing phenomenon, with amalgamation creating larger concentrations of corporate power. For example, this has been particularly the case in the ‘holy trinity’ of the pharmaceutical, seed and agrochemical industry, a combination that has served the interests of seed companies in particular respect of controversial GM technology – a technology perceived as a new frontier in market development.

In the late 1990’s Monsanto spent over $8 billion buying up the worlds seed companies. In 1999 Du Pont chemicals paid $7.7 Billion to acquire the world’s largest seed company, Pioneer Hybrid. Not to be outdone Aventis bought the largest seed companies in the third world in India and Brazil. The corporate gene giants also control two thirds of the worlds pesticide/herbicide market (Their aim has been simple- to genetically engineer the worlds food crops to be resistant to their own brand herbicides. These seeds are then sold as a patented package – their use boosts herbicide sales).

The ‘Trade In-Related Intellectual Property Rights’ (TRIPs) – signed in 1995 which were extended to less developed countries in an attempt by the North create a uniform and global intellectual property regime – has inadvertently compromised domestic sovereignty issues such as the right of a country to protect health or food security. In terms of GM food and seed, the consolidation of the seed sector by multinationals such as Monsanto has meant that in many remote areas of the rural South where only one seed company supplies everyone, the result is a reduction in the range of seed diversity and the free choice of seed. In Argentina, for example, Monsanto controls over half of the maize seed market. Ratification of the Biodiversity Protocol in 2003 largely allayed the threat to sovereignty worldwide in regard to a domestic government’s right to refuse genetically-modified material. However, the immense market domination of these multinational seed and agrochemical conglomerates (for e.g. AgrEvo bought Cargill’s North American seed business for $650 million in 1998) with their huge marketing budgets which allow them to have a highly influential effect on small farmers, enabling them to persuade them of the supposed high-yield benefits of GM crops, ensures that the market consolidation of these big players will be sustained in the medium term at-least.

For TNCs in general, their power-base (involving exchange between them or between their subsidiaries) allows Multinationals to trade-off labour and environmental standards with the need for more profitability. They have the flexibility to move anywhere in the world, holding countries to ransom whose neoliberal economic-policy prescription relies upon foreign investment, as dictated by the imperialism of the IMF who in turn execute their will through conditionality of loan payments and the subsequent debt. Regional trade blocks such as the EU are also central to this process, since it is clear that trade agreements in the World Trade Organisation (geared in the interests of corporations by lobbying through groups such as the ‘European Roundtable of Industrialists’) are facilitating the supremacy of multinational capital over national sovereignty and the encroachment of financial capital.

Privatisation of state sectors
Whilst privatisation of national assets in the south is a process essential to ensuring that this process continues, privatisation is a process also underway in the North – an indication that a new era of corporate enclosure is well under way. The latest manifestation of the drive for greater and greater corporate enclosure is the proposed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) which is being negotiated in the WTO – legislation which contains policy frameworks that will eliminate any government policy “interference” where liberalisation of a particular sector has gone ahead (for e.g. a multinational will have full discretion as to whether it enacts for instance, environmental legislation, or subsidy options for the poor as provider of water provision). A template of GATS in action was observed in the privatisation of the water industry in Bolivia in 1998, where those earning the minimum wage spent half of their income on water bills, while people were even charged for collecting rainwater! Re-connection costs in the country were said to be up to half a person’s annual salary, for lower income Bolivians. In Trinidad and Tobago where British company Severn-Trent have sought to privatise their water supply, the local newspaper – the Trinidad Guardian – described how, “like Christopher Columbus they came bearing small gifts and big promises. And like Columbus, their allegiance is not to the people of Trinidad & Tobago, but to their backers and shareholders” (Article in “WDM in Action”, World Development Movement, Dec 2000). The preparation of this agreement was lobbied with massive support by several US finance corporations such as American Express & Citicorp (WDM, December, 2000).

(ii). Dollar Imperialism, and the long-term effects of international financialisation

White man’s economics is proving itself far more ruthless than white man’s colonial rule” (quote from Mike Rowbotham in his book ‘The Grip of Death’ [1998], p-257).

Economic growth since the turn of the millennium has been identified as having been increasingly sustained by increased facilities for debt. This observation can even be seen to be relevant throughout history, in how the capitalist system relies upon the banking system to create finance for speculative wealth creation, by creating new money by lending it into existence through fractional reserve banking, which sustains economic growth for the part of the economic system it is widely acknowledged creates wealth – the private sector.

At the heart of money creation by banks is the process referred to as ‘Fractional Reserve Banking’, which is where many times the amount of money is loaned out than actually exists in deposits (‘reserve requirements’) – a system based on usury (interest) which is largely accepted by most economists as the necessary means of providing the means for speculative investment to generate wealth creation and spread economic activity.
*{variations to this within the world capitalist system entail a form of Keynesiasm embedded within the money system whereby greater levels of government-created public money substitute private bank credit as the private banking system’s ability to loan money is curtailed through increasing private banks’ reserve ratios – a practice traditionally deemed inappropriate by the domination of the Milton Friedman neoliberal school of thought since the early 1970s because, it was perhaps overstated, it led to the ‘crowding-out’ of private investment}. In step with increased economic growth (GDP), the money supply logically expands over time (for e.g. the UK money supply has increased from £14.1 billion in 1963, to £680 billion in 1996). With most economic growth concentrated in the private sector, the long-term trend is towards the increasing privatisation of credit in western societies, emphasised by the case of the UK money supply whereby, while in 1946, the total money stock was comprised of 46% notes and coins printed into circulation, by 2006 it was less than 3%. [El Diwany].

This is why the wealthiest nations and corporations are actually the most indebted (the United States is the most indebted nation on Earth: its combined national, private and commercial debt to the banking institutions is around $22 trillion – many times all the dollars in it’s economy – as compared to the total of US GDP – which was $14.2 trillion in 2008 [Pittman, Mark & Ivry, Bob (2009)]). Compare this to the total amount of debt sloshing around the world financial sector – colossal in size as compared to any one national economy; by the end of 2008, the level of total derivative debt in the world economy was estimated to be $700 trillion [Kostigen, 2009]. Allied to these ever-widening distortions, there prevails the hypocrisy of the USA who has allowed it’s national debt to increase from $235 billion in 1960 to it’s current level of over $10 trillion (US spending on arms was a staggering $472 billion in 2001 – 70% of the world total of $678 billion), whilst at the same time, the “truly indebted” countries of the South are frogmarched through the macroeconomic straightjacket of restrictive fiscal (deficit) policy through Structural Adjustment Programmes by the Bretton Woods institutions. This extent of enduring a high national debt is also a trend similarly replicated in other leading industrialised economies such as Germany and Japan. Rather like the hypocrisy of the supposed free trade regime, which opens developing country, markets which the rich nations resist adherence to themselves, all-in-all this amounts to a fully-evolved stage of imperialism.

However, long term trends in the banking system worldwide have seen reserve ratios on bank deposits increasingly set at arbitrary levels over time to ease the freedom of international finance capital, where levels of debt have become very large in comparison to the GDP of national economies, with regulatory reform under Basel I and II incorporating greater financial complexity within the financial system such as moving some liabilities off-balance sheet (securitisation).

Within the US banking sector itself, some of the best-known names in American and European finance have been estimated to have liabilities of 40, 60 or even 100 times the amount of their capital. In the UK, by 1981, new monetary arrangements directed by the Bank of England meant the commercial banks were required to hold 0.5% of their eligible liabilities with the Bank of England in non-interest-bearing accounts, and additionally maintain an average of 6% of their eligible liabilities as liquidity reserves in the form of short-term money market instruments. By the time the Bank of England Act was passed in June 1998 the non-interest-bearing balance had been reduced to a ratio of 0.15% (the intermediate steps being 1986: 0.45%; 1991: 0.4%; 1992: 0.35%; and April 1998: 0.25%). [Elliot, & Atkinson, (2008)].

In the United States, the reserve ratios set by the Federal Reserve have been relaxed over time, such as the Garn-St Germain Act of 1982 which exempted the first $2 million of reservable liabilities from reserve requirements, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (“GLB Act”) which removed all remaining legal barriers to affiliations among banks, securities firms and life insurers. Relaxation of minimum capital requirements was lobbied for around this time in particular by leading US banks as they came under pressure from competition from off-shore banks. The relaxation in a 1980 administrative ruling led to a reinterpretation of minimum capital requirements which meant that reserve requirements only applied to a narrower range of deposits, as well as greater flexibility in the regulatory framework to allow commercial banks to affiliate with firms engaged in investment banking [Tarullo, Daniel K. (2008]. In recent years, a credit boom was fuelled by a shift away from the traditional “originate to hold” banking model towards an “originate to distribute” (securitisation) model by major US and European banks – meaning greater lending capacity and so greater opportunity to raise total capital return with more loans issued.

In the UK, the extent of how much total debt – public and private – has increased over the last ten years is shown by economists Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson who write in their book ‘The Gods that Failed’ that in October 2007 there was: “£1,200 billion outstanding on mortgage debt and £222 billion outstanding on unsecured consumer credit, giving a grand total, in round numbers, of £1.4 trillion. In other words, using an admittedly imperfect statistic of 46 million for the adult population in the UK gives an average mortgage debt per adult of £26,086 and average consumer credit debt of just under £5,000. Seven years earlier, in Oct 2000, the figures looked like this: on mortgages, £525 billion was outstanding (£11,413 per head) and on consumer credit £125 billion (£2,717 per head), giving a grand total, in round figures, of £650 billion. The increase, in other words, has been of the order of 115% in 7 years. During these same 7 years, earnings rose on average less than 30% “. [Elliot & Atkinson, (2008)].

Average household debt has reached 141% of disposable income in the United States and 177% in Britain. [Elliot & Atkinson, (2008)].

Over recent years, the US and UK economies in particular have been sustained by a prolonged debt-fuelled consumer boom, with both balance of payment deficits and the government’s budget deficits largely financed by borrowing abroad. The US trade deficit, which now stands at $600 billion per year, is effectively financed by the holding of dollar reserves in banks across the world, by persuading the rest of the world to keep buying U.S. Treasury bonds, and through investment income from investments in the newly emerging market economies of Asia (particularly the mega-growth region of China), Eastern Europe and South America, or inward capital investment into America (by late 2002, foreigners had total claims on the US economy of $2,600 billion net of US claims on the rest of the world – equal to 25% of US GDP in 2002). However, it is the US deficit which is sustaining the world economy. If US consumers stopped spending for whatever reason, then the world economy would slow down considerably.

From Gold Standard to Dollar Domination
Since the US economy’s departure from the Gold Standard in 1971 to flexible interest rates and exchange rates, the Dollar has remained the international medium of exchange used by foreign business. In order for investors to buy American stocks or bonds, they exchange their currency for U.S. dollars and so, these countries have to hold more U.S. dollars in reserves to accommodate all the exchanges. Nations around the world keep high reserves of dollars to facilitate their own export trade to America and to ensuring there are enough reserves to withstand currency market fluctuations. The volatile nature of capital flows has exacerbated the liquidity shortage and forced other countries (particularly developing countries) to keep far higher reserves of foreign exchange than used to be necessary, as a protection against sudden market feelings. During the same time as the dollar proportion of global reserves has increased, so has the sensitivity of other countries to its value. Because of the US trade deficit, international liquidity has risen very speedily since 1998. In 2001, total world foreign reserves also rose to $1.53 trillion, a rise of 11% of which 68% was in dollars. (P.Bowring, “From Poor to Rich: Capital is flowing in the wrong direction”, International Herald Tribune, 12/12/2001).

This flow of dollars generated by the US economy is the collateral treadmill that feeds financial credit markets across the world, benefiting the entire world economy. It’s been the oil that has lubricated world trade. The American dollar has been the currency that has made globalisation a reality. Without the outflow of capital from America, many nations would not have been able to develop their economies as they have over the last 30 years (development concentrated in corporate-driven investment, with much of it’s expropriated value siphoned-off to feed the pension and investment income of the wealthy sections of the populations in the North).

Without the extraordinary power of money creation by international and large commercial banks, financial markets would not operate to such a massive extent. It is obvious that as the amount of debt that can be recycled into loans increases, this generates greater and greater capital for speculative investment. Due to the volatile nature of the stock exchange – effectively gambling shops or dens of predatory speculation – the value of companies ride on the crest of the wave of the market. What is at the centrepiece of this ‘roulette-table of stock and shares’, where the chips are peoples’ lives and livelihoods, is the power of international finance – banks, pension and trust funds, investment houses and ”hedge” funds – which is simply colossal and dwarfs even the power of multinationals. Companies can even use this ‘easy credit’ to buy their own stock which drives the price up, making fortunes for the stockholders. From 2014: “Last year, the corporations in the Russell 3000, a broad U.S. stock index, repurchased $567.6 billion worth of their own shares—a 21% increase over 2012, calculates Rob Leiphart, an analyst at Birinyi Associates, a research firm in Westport, Conn. That brings total buybacks since the beginning of 2005 to $4.21 trillion—or nearly one-fifth of the total value of all U.S. stocks today.” (Zweig, “Will Stock Buybacks Bite Back?“, Wall Street Journal, Mar 21, 2014).

As greater financial liberalisation has further deepened over the years, further increasing the phenomenon of speculative flows across international financial markets, financial capital and the interests of shareholders are ordained a predominance of extraordinary weight, to the extent that whilst in 1970, 90% of total world financial flows were specifically trade related (trade in actual goods or services), by 1990, 90% of these financial flows were purely speculative. Data from the IMF suggests that the year 2001 was the second year in a row when capital flowed from developing countries to support consumption in the west (P.Bowring).

The volatile nature of capital flows experienced in 1997 with the Asian financial crisis in Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea increased awareness of the risk of liquidity shortage. Thereafter, central banks across the world involved in international financial markets and trading with the US ensured they had a buffer of currency in the form of mainly US dollars to insulate the economy, as a protection against sudden economic shocks, because of the dollar’s importance as the world’s main currency on account of the international oil trade being denominated in the dollar.

In short, then, the extent of the American Empire is such that other national economies’ export markets hugely depend on the buying power of American consumers. Meanwhile, the US trade deficit increases over time, as America’s “waistline of consumption” has no bounds (the American population constitute 10% of the world population, but consume a third of total world consumption – Total World GDP). With China now the major epicentre of capital accumulation in the world, with the burgeoning level of China’s export trade, many surplus dollars are coming into the Chinese Central Bank and have been used to buy US government treasury bills – effectively granting the US short-term loans.

High rates of saving in Japan, China and the Far East have also long been said to be funding the US economy, because these countries’ large flows of money from their savings end up being invested in the US, such as in asset-investment portfolios, to the extent that at the end of 2006, foreigners held 44% of federal debt held by the public, with about 66% of that 44% held by the central banks of other countries, in particular the central banks of Japan and China. [Office of Management & Budget, Executive Office of the President of the United States (2008)].

The trend towards financialisation – the banking systems’ ever-increasing pressure for ‘yield’:
Over recent years, as debt has expanded as an impetus for growth (the credit-fuelled booms of the early 21st century), particularly in the US and UK, further reliance on the growth of international finance for domestic wealth generation has created a constant pressure for ‘yield’.

The structure of the U.S. financial services industry (and that of world financial services) were transformed during the past 30 years, with the combined forces of new technologies, deregulation and increased competition removing legal and market barriers that separated banks from securities firms and insurance companies. From the late 1980s onwards, the nature of international private capital investments underwent a change …with a new form of equity and debt financing through the issue of standardised bonds which could be traded on the exchange markets but which remained unregulated unlike bank lending (in terms of reserve ratios), and so, had a tendency to get out of control, (as happened across Asia during the 1990s, culminating in the Asian financial crisis of 1997). New computer systems and new financial instruments (e.g. commercial paper, junk bonds and asset-backed securities) made it possible to “securitise” many types of business and consumer debt, allowing many business firms and consumers who previously relied on bank loans to gain access to credit from nonblank sources, including finance companies, mortgage companies and the markets. Securities brokers, credit card banks and mutual fund companies offered low-cost cash management and investment management services to the general public. As a result of these innovations, consumers moved a greater and greater share of their investment funds from traditional bank deposits and life insurance policies into investment vehicles linked to capital markets, including high-risk activities closely tied to the capital markets involving underwriting and dealing in securities and derivatives.

The importance of the growth of China to the future growth of US and world capital is wrapped up with the predominance of financial expansion and the liberalisation of international investment flow. However, it has been the extent of this liberalisation process which was the cause of the banking crisis of 2008 and the resulting worldwide downturn.

During 2001 and the first half of 2002, a general slump in the world’s equity markets caused sharp drops in investment banking revenues at the five largest global banks – J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Amro – as well as the “big three” securities firms (Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley). Ever increasing pressure to create quick profit due to the pressure to sustain liquidity and cash flow for bank reserves, where liabilities were increasingly extended in an environment of low interest rates worldwide, put pressure on the banks and financial institutions to constantly find innovative ways of raising profit through greater consolidation within the industry including cross-mergers, but also new conventions in financial liberalisation (‘securitisation’) which involved the use of new high-risk market assets with greater opportunities for short-term profits, but which carried with them much greater risk of default (‘Mortgage-Backed Securities’ or ‘Collateralized Debt Obligations’). These new financial inventions in international banking also included “Credit Default Swaps’, joining other financial instruments such as derivatives and hedge funds. Mortgage-Backed Securities’ and “Credit Default Swaps’ in particular achieved massive growth in short-term profits through vast expansion of leverage and increased risk exposure, doing so at the expense of long-term risk-management strategy as regulators didn’t understand these new complex securities and the bank managers themselves gambled upon these new conventions of ‘securitisation’.

Mortgage-Backed Securities were themselves related to the sub-prime mortgage market in the US, a market that had grown in importance having first started in 1993. The deregulation in the housing market involved the dismantling of previously-defined underwriting standards for home mortgages to allow mortgages to be sold to borrowers with lower income, who previously wouldn’t have qualified to be offered a mortgage under the previously stricter set of guidelines, usually in the form of a adjustable-rate mortgage (initially fixed, then adjustable as determined by the market interest rate).

With the growth of the sub-prime mortgage market and associated securitisation came a housing bubble in the US caused by a precise combination of low interest rates, a constant escalation of this securitisation and the deregulation in the housing market. This escalation occurred because as mortgage-backed securities paid dividends, the return was so profitable in the short-term that the demand for these types of investments grew and grew. As a result, investment banks such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were encouraged to find more mortgages to re-finance into MBSs. Mortgage companies were, in turn, happy to sell on mortgages to investment banks dealing in MBSs who had unlimited incentive to supply this product. However, the investment banks themselves also borrowed money to purchase mortgages which they then transferred into MBS. The result was a house-price spiral. Agencies approved the new securities on a continuous basis. However, it emerged only later that “the mortgage-default model that the rating agencies used predated the MBS-fuelled housing market” [Eastland, (2009)]. Furthermore, in the US, the investment banks insured MBS assets against default by insurance companies such as AIG under the agreement that if the MBS no longer yielded a dividend because of default, the insurer would provide the Special Purpose Vehicles (securitisied assets) with money to pay the dividend, for which SPVs had to pay the insurance company insurance premiums, which in effect, was payment for holding amounts of debt.

This further put at risk of default the whole financial sector in the US and worldwide over time since the sub-prime mortgages in themselves were susceptible to large levels of default with approximately 80% of U.S. mortgages issued in recent years to subprime borrowers being adjustable-rate mortgages, therefore leaving these low income mortgage holders in danger of being unable to maintain repayments as interest rates went up.

As the sub-prime market itself was causing the house-price spiral, the demand for yield in the market for MBSs was escalating the demand for sub-prime property, a self-perpetuating positive-feedback loop which was getting out of control, where as profits were made in the short-term at greater and greater speed, the risk of massive default was building-up until such a time as the housing market may stop growing. By mid-2007, financial institutions investing in mortgage backed securities started suffering large losses from mortgage payment defaults. With the rise in interest rates in the US, the amount of people defaulting on their sub-prime mortgages began a steady rise after these sub-prime adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) began to reset at higher rates. This trend intensified as the U.S. house price bubble burst in 2006-07, with these sub-prime mortgage holders suddenly then going into negative equity – a particular problem for some of these people who were victims of irresponsible lending practices, since many were on low incomes which didn’t justify their mortgage in normal circumstances (their financial interest was depending on a continuous rise in house prices, which in hindsight was a nonsense). As a result, the steep rise in the rate of subprime mortgage defaults and foreclosures has caused more than 100 subprime mortgage lenders to fail or file for bankruptcy, most prominently New Century Financial Corporation, previously the nation’s second biggest subprime lender. [Morgenson, Gretchen (2007)].

It was this crash in the sub-prime mortgage market which resulted in widespread havoc and panic across the entire world’s financial system because many of these MBSs and associated Derivatives, Hedge Funds and Credit Default Swaps were linked to this sub-prime market. The risk of default on these mortgage losses had been transferred onto the investors who purchased these assets. Turmoil was extended to other financial markets such as credit derivative markets, equity and corporate bond markets, as there was a freeze of ‘redemption’, that is to say of repayment at maturity of shares, bonds, etc. In April 2009, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported in its latest Global Financial Stability Report that losses resulting from the world financial crisis may reach $4 trillion, about two-thirds of which would be incurred by banks, with an estimate of write-down on US-originated assets (to be suffered by all holders) to be $2.7 trillion, with estimates for write-downs extended to include other mature market-originated assets. [Xinhua News Agency, (21/04/2009)]. However, the report published by the ‘Troubled Asset Relief Program’(TARP) in July 2009 of the final cost projection of the total cost of the US government bailout of the financial crisis, estimated it to be potentially as much as $23.7 trillion (£14.3tn) in a worst possible scenario, according to TARP. The report examined the cost of exposure if all parties requested maximum assistance on all aspects of the relief programme involving large capital infusions into hundreds of financial institutions, to a mortgage modification programme, to public-private partnerships using tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to purchase ‘toxic’ assets from banks. [Kopecki, Dawn and Dodge, Catherine (20/07/2009)].

Debt peonage replaced by financial liberalisation:
Meanwhile, poor countries have been relatively recently liberated from the straightjacket of bleeding debt peonage, which since the early 1980s saw countries of the south enduring greater outflows of money than inflows; it was not uncommon for countries to be borrowing at interest rates well above interest rates endured by countries in the north when their capacity to repay was less, sometimes as high as 18% (Ref: New Economics Foundation/Jubilee Research, “The US as an HIPC or ‘heavily indebted prosperous country'” April 2002).

Since the 1970’s, the ‘Third World’ debt crisis meant that in country after country across the developing world, the overbearing, unrelenting pressure to repay (since the level of spiralling debt in relation to national wealth was usually very high due to compound interest), became the driving force that forced these primary-good commodity suppliers to compete with one another, driving down the price of their goods. The debt merry-go-round comes round again where as soon as debt-relief programmes have begun to be implemented, such as by the G8 countries in their international agreements at debt cancellation in Gleneagles, July 2005, countries is locked into new debt commitments, effectively the re-mortgaging of the original debt. For those countries dependent on this international loan capital in what is naturally a risk-adverse financial system, the World Bank and IMF (and the) are complicit in continually imposing neocolonial conditionality of these countries as a condition of accepting new loans.

Since 2005, the North have been consistently pushing free trade deals which demand that developing countries follow a deregulated and liberalised banking model. Concern with the liberalisation process is attached to how foreign banks can cherry-pick richer customers, which results in an overall decline in services and credit for poorer customers and smaller businesses, because foreign banks shift credit away from investment in productive activities such as agriculture or manufacturing which boosts local economic development. The worry is that fully deregulated and liberalised banking services in less-developed countries will lead to hundreds of millions of people in developing countries lack access to affordable and sustainable banking services. Financial services liberalisation through the WTO or through Europe’s planned bilateral trade deals threatens to worsen this situation.

The European Union (EU) have been negotiating with 76 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to bring in Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – bilateral trade agreements seeking to replace longstanding preferential trade agreements between these countries for products such as sugar and bananas. “Interim EPAs” cover the liberalisation of goods (agricultural or manufactured products). “Full EPAs” include goods, services, and investment (anything from banking, water services and construction). Under EPAs, in return for wider market access, the EU is demanding these countries open up a range of their industries to international businesses, which could prevent the development of domestic businesses. Some developing countries, such as Malawi, are so concerned by this that they have refused to sign even an interim deal. Currently, just under half of the ACP countries have initialled interim trade deals following intense pressure from the EU. In June 2009, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland signed trade deal with EU, with Mozambique about to sign. The rest of the Southern African region – South Africa, Namibia and Angola – have no plans to sign the interim deal. “Negotiations for a full EPA between Europe and the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC) continue in a process that has been wracked with controversy.” [Traidcraft, June 2009].

Mike Rowbotham in “The Grip of Death”: “The failure by the Western world to grasp the validity and importance of the criticisms put forward by Douglas and the other monetary reformers must rank as a terrible missed opportunity for us to steady our own social development. But history will surely one day draw attention to the greatest missed opportunity of all time: a missed opportunity which has had the most tragic consequences for generations in the Third World. There was a chance for the imperial powers to end their imperialism with a gift; a gift which is truly beyond measure, and which would have cost the western powers absolutely nothing. The chance existed for the developing nations to learn from our history; to see us choose a different path to economic progress and themselves take a less destructive and more peaceful path to development” (p-257, [1998]).

(iii). Structural Adjustment Policies – Sapping the Poor

Quote from JUBILEE SOUTH PAN-AFRICAN DECLARATION ON PRSPs Kampala, 10-12 May 2001 (signed by 39 organizations representing several pan-African and regional networks and civil society groups in 15 African countries. It is also signed by the World Council of Churches):
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have produced their Poverty Reduction Strategy Programmes (PRSPs) within the context of corporate globalisation. This process is being driven by and for the giant transnational corporations (TNCs) and global financial forces. These utilise the economic, political and military powers of their governments, and the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation (WTO) to impose policies on the South and to restructure and run the world to serve their interests“.

The widespread imposition of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) by the IMF and World Bank have emanated from and have been intrinsically inter-connected with the debt-crisis (i.e. being as they are policies conditional upon re-negotiation of debtor nations’ loan repayment schedules). These rigid macro-economic policy prescriptions, which by the 1980s had become the accepted doctrine of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have for a long time been based upon the deregulatory, anti-inflationary austerity policies of “monetarism”- first associated with the Thatcher and Reagan era. The World Bank and IMF largely took over responsibility for most of the “bad debt” incurred by the “Third World” countries by the mid-1980’s. Much of this debt was initially owed to private banks like Barclays, Credit Lyons, Chase Manhattan etc, but the IMF and the WB moved in and ‘loaned’ money to a wide range of countries who were about to default on these loans. This saved the big “private banks” from disaster, and gave the IMF and WB a position of overwhelming power that they have never relinquished.

The austerity programmes of governments and the IMF and World Bank have been based upon a combination of macro-economic deflationary policies of interest rates and fiscal restraint (holding down government expenditure), with holding down exchange rates (so as to encourage cheaper exports and so, improve balance of payments and national wealth). It is a rigid interelationship when one considers that countries rendered more dependent upon certain imports such as manufactured goods (after state-protection of import-substituting industries have been removed), have to withstand unnecessary deflationary pressure to hold down prices, where there is upward pressure on import prices from holding down exchange rates. Or, in other words, inflation targets are sought with the interests of financial capital in mind rather than the domestic economy who could possibly live with abit more flexibility in the policy arrangement. Together with across-the-board privatisation and the enforcement of other neoliberal policies, the crude science of relying on this policy framework as the main platform for economic growth, has been tough-going. However, in terms of the neoliberal agenda and in terms of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ way it has been executed across the globe, it has amounted to a reductionist logic that has been taken to an insane extreme. This was also the case with the way the IMF and World Bank funded more and more projects for cash-crop plantations for countries’ agricultural export sectors whose export values continued to fall as increased production of a narrow-range of agricultural products was pursued across the world and encouraged by the WB and IMF in country after country. Furthermore, the development model being promoted through the World Bank and IMF which discourages state support for protected domestic industrial sectors and land reform is contrary to the example of those countries who have developed fairly successful economies such as South Korea, which have been based on systematic state intervention in the economy.

Back in the 1980s, the World Bank had reasoned that the main obstacle to economic growth in developing countries, particularly in Africa, during the 1970s and first half of the 1980s had been interventionist governments and their tendency to set prices which discriminate against agriculture, plus excessive government expenditure (on items such as government employees, defence and state pensions). In Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank identified the cause of the poor long-term economic performance of national economies as being attributed to the gearing of resources to import-substituting industrial sectors, whose productivity levels did not justify the levels of protection they received from taxpayers and which acted as a tax on exporters, by raising the cost of local inputs. This phenomenon stemmed from bureaucratic governments from the cold-war era, lacking in technical, managerial or entrepreneurial skills. In addition to this, the World Bank also cited governments’ interventionist policies in regard to setting prices as being detrimental to the continued growth of the agricultural sector. The World Bank recommended the dismantling of parastatals in the agricultural sector (local marketing boards) which set maximum prices for staple foods and commodities. However, to examine the implications of this policy, observing the case in point of Malawi, a major contributory factor to the extent of the 2001/2002 famine in that country can be traced back to the IMF’s insistence on the privatisation of parastatals that managed national grain reserves to protect people from fluctuations in food production, whereby the new privately-owned National Food Reserve Agency formed in 1999 started out severely undercapitalised, borrowing from commercial banks to meet its running costs (Briefing Paper on the Food Crisis in Southern Africa, by Action Aid UK, 2002). This preceded a chain of events that led to the selling of the whole 175,000 metric tonnes of strategic grain reserves, a few months before the regional drought in Southern Africa kicked in and people started dying of hunger and hunger related diseases (“It’s the Banks wot done it”, by Donald Mavunduse in Red Pepper, Sept 2002). Action-Aid commissioned a report into the underlying causes of the famine in Malawi, concluding that the crisis was the result of “policy failures at the domestic and international level” (“State of Disaster: Causes, Consequences and policy Lessons from Malawi”, by Stephen Devereaux [IDS], June 2002).

Michael Lipton in the Development Policy Review (1987-88): “The World Bank has overstated the economic biases against farm product prices – not recognising that they are only one factor among many that discriminate against rural areas”. Factors such as investment in irrigation, the state of localised institutions of credit, infrastructure and research and development in rural technologies and new plant breeding for non-export cash-crop varieties are also highly important. However, in their advocacy of policies to reduce government spending, the World Bank did not recognise that reductions of expenditure per-say across the board would affect rural areas disproportionately more.

The wholesale squeeze on government spending is made worse by the seepage of debt-repayment, rendering the economic fundamentalism of neoliberalism akin to the treating of a malnourished cancer victim with chemotherapy – in that the squeeze on long-term investment is rather analogous to the killing of some of a cancer patient’s healthy functioning cells alongside the elimination of the cancer, a process which would be far more debilitating and painful for a patient whose biological immunity was not functioning as well on account of his/her not absorbing the minimum daily requirements of nutrition. Such has been this intensive implementation of free-market discipline in these debt-riddled, immaturely developed market economies. At the same time, in terms of the primary sectors which the developing world still depend upon, this wide-sweeping free-trade policy of removal of tariffs, subsidies and import controls (further deepened with WTO rules) as it has been implemented across the developing world, pursued as part of a policy that strives to achieve true competitive par-excellence of a modern neoliberal economy, has been both hypocritical and dishonest in the context of agricultural commodity world markets which are non-free trade as a result of the degree of protection afforded to European nations and the US. “In the village of Kpembe, the chief invited us for lunch. We ate chicken feet, soup and American rice. And yet the Katanga valley, just a couple of miles away, was until recently Ghana’s rice bowl. It now lies fallow. Ghana used to be self sufficient in rice. The World Bank and IMF decreed subsidies had to stop, that poor countries should concentrate their efforts only on what they can export. And yet the US rice industry receives tens of millions of dollars in support. The double standards apply to water. No state help in Ghana, but subsidy aplenty in countries like the US”.
(From The Guardian, “Cash and carry misery in Ghana“, by John Kampfner, Friday February 8th, 2002)

This export-or-die doctrine has served to render those countries in the South prone to unpredictable climatic variability to being fantastically vulnerable to catastrophic problems of food self-sufficiency. Small farmers the world over, from India to Mexico, are constantly economically forced out of farming in the face of dwindling returns on farm income due to downward pressure on prices and/or the flood of cheap imports, as economies-of-scale achieving larger farms are able to afford to stand up to this market pressure, as is the capitalist principle of market concentration which multinational control of world price only further intensifies (e.g. Cargill controls over 70% of the world market in grain supply).

The World Bank’s new ‘Market-Based Land Reform’ is a further policy framework that has recently been added to the structural adjustment regime. This initiative will encourage further concentration of land ownership. These market-reform programmes have also been used to undercut agrarian reform policies based on the expropriation or forfeiture of land held by large landowners.

The intricate combination of indebtedness, Structural Adjustment conditionality and privatisation, and unfavourable terms of trade between economies in the North and countries of the South, then, is structured in such a way that perpetuates the neocolonial subjugation of the majority of the world’s population. Since the 1970’s, the ‘Third World’ debt crisis meant that in country after country across the developing world, the overbearing, unrelenting pressure to repay (as the level of spiralling debt in relation to national wealth was usually very high due to compound interest) became the driving force that forced these primary-good commodity suppliers to compete with one another, driving down the price of their goods.

Naiwu Osahon of the World Pan-African Movement:
We were told too by the SAP (Structural Adjustment Policy) protagonists that we needed to increase our foreign currency earnings to be able to pay our strangulating foreign debts; SAPs, we were told, ensure increased foreign exchange earnings by liberalising trade and scandalously marginalising the (Nigerian) Naira to enhance our export capabilities. Share jargon because, the liberalising business turned out to be a one way trap. A vicious circle in effect, encouraging us to export more at low prices to import more at high prices because they dictate the prices and no matter what we do, we always end up the debtors“. (Ref: “Just Before We All Die“, by Naiwu Osahon – World Pan-African Movement, June 2001).

1). Robert Griffiths, General Secretary of the Communist-Party-of-Britain: “GLOBALISATION: A NEW EMERGING PHASE OF IMPERIALISM”, 2003
2). Bill Vorley: “FOOD, INC, CORPORATE CONCENTRATION FROM FARM TO CONSUMER”, published by the UK Food Group (2003)
3). Jeremy Corbyn, “Africa: a casualty of Empire-Building”, Morning Star, 23 March 2005
4). David Timms: Article taken from “WDM IN ACTION” by World Development Movement, Dec 2000, & Article in the ‘Morning Star’ by David Timms of the WDM, p-7, Thursday 28th December 2000
5). Mike Rowbotham: “THE GRIP OF DEATH”, 1998 [Jon Carpenter] A study of modern money, debt slavery and destructive economics
6). Tarek Elhttp://bookstore.petersoninstitute.org/book-store/4235.html Diwany: “FRACTIONAL RESERVE BANKING AND THE INTEREST-BASED MONEY SUPPLY”- A paper presented by at a meeting of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists, London School of Economics, London, October 1999.
7). Pittman, Mark & Ivry, Bob (2009) “Financial Rescue Nears GDP as Pledges Top $12.8 Trillion.” Bloomberg-Online, 31.03.2009
8). Kostigen, Thomas (Mar 6, 2009), “The $700 trillion elephant”, Market-Watch – Ref: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-700-trillion-elephant-room-theres
9). Tarullo, Daniel. K. (2008) “Banking on Basel: The Future of International Financial Regulation’’, Peterson Institute for International Economics – Ref: http://bookstore.petersoninstitute.org/book-store/4235.html
11). P.Bowring: “FROM POOR TO RICH: CAPITAL IS FLOWING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION”, International Herald Tribune, 12/12/2001
12). Jason Zweig, “Will Stock Buybacks Bite Back?“, Wall Street Journal, (Mar 21, 2014)
13). Office of Management & Budget, Executive Office of the President of the United States (2009) ‘Analytical Perspectives of the FY 2008 Budget’ – Budget of the United States Government – Fiscal Year 2008, Ref: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy08/pdf/spec.pdf
14). Craig Eastland (2009) “Understanding the Financial Crisis or How We Got In the Mess We’re In”- Compensation and benefits for Law Offices, Issue No 09-06, pp-6
15). Gretchen Morgenson (11th March 2007), “Crisis Looms in Market for Mortgages”, The New York Times, Ref: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/business/11mortgage.html?_r=1
16). Xinhua News Agency, (21/04/2009)
17). Dawn Kopecki & Catherine Dodge (20th July 2009) “U.S. Rescue May Reach $23.7 Trillion, Barofsky Says”, Ref: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aY0tX8UysIaM
18). New Economics Foundation/Jubilee Research: “The US as an HIPC or ‘heavily indebted prosperous country'”; April 2002
19). Traidcraft, June 2009. Ref: http://www.traidcraft.co.uk/get_involved/campaign/campaign_news/epas/SADC_EPA_sign.htm
22). Donald Mavunduse: “IT’S THE BANKS WOT DONE IT”, Red Pepper, Sept 2002
24). Michael Lipton in “DEVELOPMENT POLICY REVIEW 1987-88” Journal, SECTION II
25). John Kampfner, The Guardian: (Fri February 8th, 2002): “CASH AND CARRY MISERY IN GHANA”,
26). Naiwu Osahon: “JUST BEFORE WE ALL DIE”, (World Pan-African Movement, June 2001).

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