Saturday, April 21, 2012

Michael Hudson: How Financialization Makes You Poorer

This is a blog about what is wrong with economics, not what is wrong with the economy, but the reason what is wrong with economics matters is because what is wrong with the economy can be traced, in many ways, to what is wrong with economics. Economics and economists ought to help us to understand how the economy -- our decentralized decentralized system of production and trade and investment -- works, and macroeconomics ought to help us understand what choices we are making collectively. In that sense, it ought to inform government, especially democratic government. But, mostly, it doesn't. It confuses, and talks up a lot of rot. But, there are a few people out there, who are zeroing in on the essence of the choices we are making. Michael Hudson is one. Michael Hudson: Productivity, The Miracle of Compound Interest, and Poverty « naked capitalism:
"After World War II many women stayed home and raised families. But since the 1950s they have been forced increasingly into the labour force for what are called two-job families – and now, three-job families (with only two family members). If you project labor participation rates, by the year 2020 every woman will have to work 18 hours a day or economic trends will falter. What was applauded as a post-industrial economy has turned into a financialized economy. The reason you have to work so much harder than before, even when wages rise, is to carry your debt overhead. You’re unable to buy the goods you produce because you need to pay your bankers. And the only way that you can barely maintain your living standards is to borrow even more. This means having to pay back even more in years to come. That is the Eurozone plan in a nutshell for its economic future. It is a financial plan that is replacing industrial capitalism – with finance capitalism. Industrial capitalism was based on increasing production and expanding markets. Industrialists were supposed to use their profits to build more factories, buy more machinery and hire more labor. But this is not what happens under finance capitalism. Banks lend out their receipt of interest, fees and penalties (which now yield credit card companies as much as interest) in new loans. The problem is that income used to pay debts cannot simultaneously be used to buy the goods and services that labor produces. So when wages and living standards do not rise, how are producers to sell – unless they find new markets abroad? The gains have been siphoned off by finance. And the financial dynamic ends up in austerity. And to make matters worse, it is not the fat that is cut. The fat is the financial sector. What is cut is the bone: the industrial sector. So when writers refer to a post-industrial economy led by the banks, they imply deindustrialization. And for you it means unemployment and lower wages."
This is so important to understand. In 2008, the finance sector, after failing spectacularly, demanded that government take emergency measures to preserve the financial sector, alleging that any other course would destroy the global economy. Those emergency measures have destroyed the global economy. And, yet, we -- the general, voting public and the politicians, who represent us and the centrist busybodies, who decide what is wise and "serious" policy -- are apparently paralyzed, like deer in the headlights, unable to understand and move forward on a sensible rational policy And, why? Well, one critically important reason is that economics -- particularly macroeconomics -- has never bothered to figure out what money and finance is all about. What is the function of money? What is the function of finance? These are basic questions. The answers are not exactly rocket science. And, yet the essentially predatory nature of financialization is ignored, except by a few, articulate scholars, like Michael Hudson, who are marginalized for their trouble.

1 comment:

  1. I came over here from Crookedtimber, having found your comments there interesting. I like what I see here, as well. Anyway: I have a couple questions: (i) In this post, you quote Hudson: "The problem is that income used to pay debts cannot simultaneously be used to buy the goods and services that labor produces." I have heard this line of thought before and always wonder: But won't this money get spent anyway on goods and services labor produces -- if not by the debtor, then either by the creditor or those to whom the creditor loans the newly repaid money? Does the macro-economic situation depend on *who* spends? (ii) Can you recommend some particularly useful readings on the function of money?