How Capitalism by Privatization is DESTROYING EUROPE
The easiest way to understand Europe’s financial crisis is to look at the solutions being proposed to resolve it. They are a banker’s dream, a grab bag of giveaways that few voters would be likely to approve in a democratic referendum. Bank strategists learned not to risk submitting their plans to democratic vote after Icelanders twice refused in 2010-11 to approve their government’s capitulation to pay Britain and the Netherlands for losses run up by badly regulated Icelandic banks operating abroad. Lacking such a referendum, mass demonstrations were the only way for Greek voters to register their opposition to the €50 billion in privatization sell-offs demanded by the European Central Bank (ECB) in autumn 2011.
The problem is that Greece lacks the ready money to redeem its debts and pay the interest charges. The ECB is demanding that it sell off public assets – land, water and sewer systems, ports and other assets in the public domain, and also cut back pensions and other payments to its population. The “bottom 99%” understandably are angry to be informed that the wealthiest layer of the population is largely responsible for the budget shortfall by stashing away a reported €45 billion of funds stashed away in Swiss banks alone. The idea of normal wage-earners being obliged to forfeit their pensions to pay for tax evaders – and for the general un-taxing of wealth since the regime of the colonels – makes most people understandably angry. For the ECB, EU and IMF “troika” to say that whatever the wealthy take, steal or evade paying must be made up by the population at large is not a politically neutral position. It comes down hard on the side of wealth that has been unfairly taken.
A democratic tax policy would reinstate progressive taxation on income and property, and would enforce its collection – with penalties for evasion. Ever since the 19th century, democratic reformers have sought to free economies from waste, corruption and “unearned income.” But the ECB “troika” is imposing a regressive tax – one that can be imposed only by turning government policy-making over to a set of unelected “technocrats.”
To call the administrators of so anti-democratic a policy “technocrats” seems to be a cynical scientific-sounding euphemism for financial lobbyists or bureaucrats deemed suitably tunnel-visioned to act as useful idiots on behalf of their sponsors. Their ideology is the same austerity philosophy that the IMF imposed on Third World debtors from the 1960s through the 1980s. Claiming to stabilize the balance of payments while introducing free markets, these officials sold off export sectors and basic infrastructure to creditor-nation buyers. The effect was to drive austerity-ridden economies even deeper into debt – to foreign bankers and their own domestic oligarchies.
This is the treadmill on which Eurozone social democracies are now being placed. Under the political umbrella of financial emergency, wages and living standards are to be scaled back and political power shifted from elected government to technocrats governing on behalf of large banks and financial institutions. Public-sector labor is to be privatized – and de-unionized, while Social Security, pension plans and health insurance are scaled back.
This is the basic playbook that corporate raiders follow when they empty out corporate pension plans to pay their financial backers in leveraged buyouts.
This is the financiers’ business plan. But to leave tax policy and centralized planning in the hands of bankers turns out to be the opposite of what the past few centuries of free market economics have been all about. The classical objective was to minimize the debt overhead, to tax land and natural resource rents, and to keep monopoly prices in line with actual costs of production (“value”). Bankers have lent increasingly against the same revenues that free market economists believed should be the natural tax base.
So something has to give. Will it be the past few centuries of liberal free-market economic philosophy, relinquishing planning the economic surplus to bankers? Or will society re-assert classical economic philosophy and Progressive Era principles, and re-assert social shaping of financial markets to promote long-term growth with minimum costs of living and doing business?
At least in the most badly indebted countries, European voters are waking up to an oligarchic coup in which taxation and government budgetary planning and control is passing into the hands of executives nominated by the international bankers’ cartel. This result is the opposite of what the past few centuries of free market economics has been all about.