The Five Stages of Money (and why we’re stuck at stage 4)

By J.D. ALT

Like everything else, money has evolved. It began in a primitive form and morphed into something more sophisticated, more successful. Then, probing and testing for an even better form, it morphed again. A simplified history of money’s evolution can be outlined in five stages:

STAGE 1: Money is a tangible thing of value—e.g. a gold coin.

At some point in the pre-history of humankind, the “invention” of money solved a time-gap problem in cooperative trade: I’ll give you my baby goat in exchange for your flint-knife—but you have not yet made the knife, so the exchange is stymied. To solve the impasse, you give me a token of gold to temporarily stand in place of the flint-knife, so you can take my baby goat. The gold token is a promise that the knife will be delivered, and that promise is secured by the fact that the gold itself is deemed equally valuable as the knife. In the meantime, I may find someone else with a flint-knife already made who will exchange it for the gold, thus completing the trade. The invention of this place-holder transformed the cooperative trade interactions of human society.

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Defiant Trump Ignites Trade War with Canada and G-7 Allies

Citing national security issues to get around WTO rules, Trump ordered tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports from Canada and EU countries. NEP’s William Black and Gerald Epstein discusses the implications of these tariffs on the different economies. You can view transcript here.

Democrats Should Reject Bernanke’s ‘Wily E. Coyote’ Criticism of Trump’s Deficits

By William K. Black
June 11, 2018     Kansas City, MO

Ben Bernanke recently gave a speech predicting that President Trump’s deficits will cause the economy to “go off a cliff in 2020.”  Many Democratic Party politicians, of course, will rush to embrace the criticism and prove that they are the true party of fiscal responsibility.  They can then get back to pushing for increased taxation and cuts to the safety net “to save it” from collapse – and feeling virtuous.  These Democrats will glory in their supposed virtue and gravitas as they oppose ‘excessive’ stimulus, cut the safety net to ‘save it,’ oh-so-judiciously cut funding for social programs, and push for higher taxes.  They know this is bad politics, but that adds to their faith that the more bitter the medicine the greater the curative properties.  Faith-based federal deficit phobia, however, is terrible economics and terrible politics.

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Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled

By J.D. ALT

We now stand where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

Rachael Carson, Silent Spring 

What’s important to keep in mind in this quote from Rachael Carson’s 56-year-old warning shot over the bow of corporate civilization is that there are two roads being traveled now. We are no longer at a fork. The fork is half-a-century behind us. The goal is not to get the superhighway to somehow re-route itself and follow the path less traveled. It can’t. The superhighway will, and must, continue accelerating in its inevitable direction, simply because the greed and power of the people driving that highway will not allow them to alter course. But if there is any truth to Rachael Carson’s warning (and there seems to be growing evidence of it) the other path—the Road Less Traveled—will become the surviving branch of our evolutionary diagram. The present goal, therefore, should be to create as many exits from the superhighway as possible—and to encourage and enable as many people as possible to take those exits to explore and follow the other path.

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The New York Times Editorial Board’s Incoherence on Italian Austerity and the Euro

William K. Black
June 2, 2018     Bloomington, MN

(Third in a series of articles on Italy, Austerity, and the euro)

The New York Times’ editorial board published a May 29, 2018 editorial about Italy’s ongoing political and financial issues that praised austerity in Italy.  The board cheered the anti-democratic appointment of “Carlo Cottarelli, a solidly pro-Europe and pro-austerity economist and former official of the International Monetary Fund, to form a nonelected government.”  In particular, the board expressed its horror that Italy (which continues to have unemployment levels one expects to find in a severe recession) would have adopted “grandiose spending plans” (fiscal stimulus) if the Italian establishment had not sought to block the results of the recent Italian election.

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The EU Commission’s In-House Bigot Invites Financiers to Extort Italian Voters

By William K. Black
May 30, 2018     Bloomington, MN

The European Union’s (EU) leadership continues to prove our family rule that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody.  “EU leadership” is an oxymoron, largely composed of regular morons.  Consider only two examples — European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner and Budget and Human Resources Minister (one of the EC’s most powerful leadership positions) Günther Oettinger.

Juncker heads the EC because he led the most infamous EU tax giveaway to wealthy corporations as Luxembourg’s finance minister and then prime minister.  Whistleblowers and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) eventually exposed the fact that for over a decade the wealthiest companies in the world created front companies in Luxembourg and met secretly with the finance minister to negotiate secret sweetheart deals allowing the companies to pretend to earn their income in Luxembourg – and to pay obscenely low tax rates.  The secret deals “allowed some of them to pay effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on profits shuffled into Luxembourg.”  Luxembourg is so tiny that even at these ridiculously low tax rates the covert deals made the country wealthy (at the direct expense of the public sectors of other EU nations and the United States).  Juncker’s eagerness to aid plutocrats made him the EU’s longest-serving leader as Luxembourg’s PM until a different scandal brought him down.  These sweetheart tax scandals led, not prevented, Juncker’s elevation to run the EC.  In response to the exposure of the scandal, Luxembourg: greatly increased the number of sweetheart deals, prosecuted the whistleblowers and the investigative journalists, and took no action against Luxembourg’s “let’s make a deal” leaders or the plutocrats (which included Koch Industries).

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The New York Times Praises the Italian Establishment’s Economic Illiteracy and Assault on Democracy

By William K. Black
May 29, 2018     Bloomington, MN

Italy’s establishment has just revealed its truest beliefs and priorities.  The context was the two parties that received the most votes in the last election forming a coalition government.  The two parties seeking to form a coalition government won a majority of the seats in both houses of Italy’s parliament in the most recent election.  The New York Times reported many of the key facts, but missed the key analytics.

Italy’s populists seethed and the European Union sighed with temporary relief on Sunday night after an anti-establishment alliance poised to govern the bloc’s fourth-largest economy imploded at the last minute amid concerns that it was planning to sneak out the back door of the eurozone.

Less than a week after Italy’s populist parties, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant League, ironed out their policy differences and jubilantly received a mandate to form a government that they said would usher in a new era in Italian and European history, its designated prime minister announced on Sunday evening that he had failed to form a government.

Both paragraphs are lies.  Bizarrely, the rest of the article demonstrates both lies.  I do not support key aspects of either party’s platforms, so I am not writing as a disgruntled supporter.  I start with the NYT’s second lie, for exposing it also exposes the first lie.  Giuseppe Conte, the “designated prime minister,” did not “announce … that he had failed to form a government.”  He announced an undisputed fact – a political rival, President Sergio Mattarella, refused to allow the two parties to form a coalition government because he objected to their selection of Paolo Savona as their economics minister.

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Fair Seas and Following Wind John McCain

William K. Black
May 15, 2018     Bloomington, MN

As a savings and loan regulator, on April 9, 1987, I experienced Senator John McCain at his very worst.  He, and his four Senate colleagues, collectively, the “Keating Five,” pressured my colleagues and me to withdraw our recommendation that our agency place Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan into conservatorship.  Keating was looting Lincoln Savings and would soon defraud thousands of widows.  Lincoln Savings became the most expensive failure because the combination of the ‘Keating Five’ and Speaker of the House James Wright, Jr. successfully intimidated the new leadership of our regulatory agency.  The cowardly new leadership team refused even to consider our conservatorship recommendation and took the unprecedented action of removing our regulatory jurisdiction over Lincoln Savings.  Senator McCain and his colleagues acted badly for poor reasons and caused grave harm.  Senator McCain has said that his actions on behalf of Keating caused him greater pain than his North Vietnamese torturers.

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Why America is not a Country-Club

By J.D. ALT

Everyone knows how a country-club works: Members pay dues, and the dues are used to pay for the expenses of running the country-club—maintenance and improvements, kitchen and service staff, golf-course mowing and landscaping, etc. Sometimes a big expense comes along (like putting a new roof on the main club-house) and the cash-flow from the monthly, or annual, dues isn’t enough to cover the one-time cost. In that case, the club would take out a bank-loan to pay for the new roof and the dues would then service the loan. It might be necessary, under those circumstances, to raise the dues to ensure that while the loan is being serviced the kitchen and dining services continue and the golf-greens are manicured. There would likely be a vote by a board of club-directors to determine if a due-increase was necessary.

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Cenk and Young Turks Team: Your Deficit Hawkery is Unrealistic and Stands in the Way of Progressive Change

By Michael Hoexter, Ph.D.

[The Young Turks (TYTNetwork) is an online news network that has a wide reach among mostly progressives and independents in the United States with viewership in the hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per day and over 2 million views per day.  Cenk Uygur is its founder, CEO, and leading on-camera commentator.]

Dear Cenk, John Iadarola, Ana Kasparian, and the Young Turks Team,

I’m a Young Turks subscriber, member, and a longtime fan of your coverage of politics.  I think you have provided a consistent and detailed perspective on the failures of our political system, consistent criticism of both US major political parties as well as the alarming emergence of Trump and Trumpist/GOP neo-authoritarianism.  I think your instincts for analyzing political personalities is grounded in keen and accurate observation of people and political forces.  You also rarely shy away from criticizing both the Democratic and Republican Establishments, which distinguishes you from the “liberal” mainstream media.  You have been also very good at analyzing some of the biases of mainstream media against progressives and against change that most Americans want.  You are a consistent, principled, and very much needed independent voice that I often wish was heard more widely.

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