Trapped by Finance Capital: Business as Usual While Planet Burns. Part II: Chaos

The role of Exxon in delaying climate action over the past three decades since its executives were made aware of the consequences of global warming by its own engineers was huge. But it was made possible by the great power that the largest fossil-fuel corporation has had on the society because of its integration with finance capital. Also, the corporate state is totally dependent on fossil-fuel energy for its ability to pursue its projects of social control. The consolidation of power in the central elites of finance, corporate, and political institutions has continued as long as the resources it requires have been exploitable. But we have reached a tipping point. It is more and more difficult for it to continue as resource depletion draws near.[1] The result is also growing economic, social and ecological chaos.

CO2 in Atmosphere, 1985-2015

CO2 in Atmosphere, 1985-2015

The confluence of societal control by finance capital, multinational manufacturing and trade, and corporate propaganda has given these giant institutions the ability to continue to extract huge financial profits. But it cannot last much longer. With no serious counter-force, these institutions will drive the world into a state of unprecedented economic, social, and ecological chaos.[2] Finance capital will not be exempt from the turmoil, but more-profit-now is a stronger motive for the executives who deploy it today; their incentives are all short-term. With a few minor exceptions, they will pursue the business of finance as usual – for them it is all about the next quarterly report.

Many signs of impending economic chaos are already apparent. The Great Recession of 2008 has yet to be resolved. Massive government bailouts of the Too Big financial institutions suspended their otherwise inevitable Failure. The risks of failure were thereby handed off to government in the form of massive new public debt. Result: the institutions of Finance Capital grow ever bigger and more dangerous. But the next collapse will not be salvaged by government bailouts. These same institutions have pressured Congress to structure the latest faint efforts to manage national finance capital in such a way that again the people will be left holding the bag. But any efforts by the Fed to stem the chaos next time will not be enough. The real economy and the people are still reeling from the last hit. The financial markets will not accept the next level of extreme debt. The monetary system will likely collapse and economic chaos will follow.

At the same time world financial stability falters, diverse climate disruptions are accelerating in frequency and intensity. The economic consequences of the next few super storms, droughts and floods will be that much more chaotic and of magnitudes beyond societal ability to manage or adapt to the destruction. The confluence of these destabilizing trends will lead to economic, social, and ecological chaos. To be effective, the societal response to this prospect must come from humanity itself; it will not come from the institutions that have caused and continue to cause the catastrophic convergence of destabilizing trends. And, it will not come from the political elites they control. Only we can resist these destructive institutional trends, replace the financial mega-institutions with local and regional public banking, and achieve a level of resilience capable of countering the level of chaos that is already inevitable.

Part III of this 3-part series will deal with the necessity of creating a massive social transformation to counter the destructive force of finance capital on people and planet, inevitably involving a new form of “creative destruction.”
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[1] Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (New York: Picador, 2013) enumerates the key resources, from oil and gas to rare earths and other critical minerals, to agricultural lands, that are fast depleting and subject to shortages, leading to armed conflicts around the world.
[2] As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Christian Parenti gives us a detailed glimpse into the emerging chaos in various ‘at-risk’ nations around the world as extreme weather events, aggravated armed conflicts, and crises of poverty and political-military instability converge, leading to catastrophic conditions for human populations, in his book, Tropic of chaos: climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. (New York: Nation Books, 2011).

Global Capital, Illusions of Wealth, and the Walking Dead

Any genuine scientific analysis of the trajectory of global capital is hard to find. Economic history is rife with ideological stories of “wealth creation,” “capital formation,” and the mythical “invisible hand.” What is capital? What is wealth? What is money? Well, they are all pretty much taken for granted in most economic thinking – conveniently so for the financial elite. On top of that, economics itself has been dominated by the ideology of the power elites that dominate society. Little room is left for science. International finance and the ‘wealth of nations’ are managed in very strange ways – I describe them below in a highly condensed sketch.

Global Capital and Central Banks
Put as succinctly as I can, during the industrial age finance (the management of capital) has gradually become globalized. But it was not international trade that spurred the emergence of a global financial network of banks. It was more a matter of the most powerful banks forging a network of control over the monetary systems of nations. In fact, industrial development and the human misery that has accompanied unprecedented wealth have always involved a struggle between public and private control of money and banking.

Each historical example of public banking and sovereign control of national currencies has been accompanies by prosperity and stable prices, then followed by an assault on public authority by private banking. Usually, this has led to the “privatization” of what is in its essence a public utility: money and banking. Benjamin Franklin explained to the British parliament how the Pennsylvania and other colonies were funding their economies by issuing credit in the form of paper script not “backed” by gold or silver to stimulate commerce, leading to unexpected colonial prosperity. Soon King George banned colonial script, and Parliament passed a Currency Act, requiring all taxes to be paid in gold or silver, forcing them to borrow from the Bank of England at usurious rates. That put an end to colonial prosperity based on public credit and gave a strong impetus to revolution.

Numerous other examples, from Canada to New Zealand, Lincoln’s “Greenbacks,” etc., eventually let to a cartel composed of the central banks of each nation, each privately owned and coordinated by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Geneva, itself owned by the central banks. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) impose financial requirements and lend to ‘developing countries’ in support of the interests of global capital in dominating national economies.

So, the currencies and banking requirements of nations are controlled by the private international banking cartel. The control of national economies in the interests of central banks, causes booms and busts in their pursuit of bank profits and control of national economies. Today, each central bank is largely controlled by its relationships to the cartel. Governments take a back seat to the whole of global finance, and their economic and monitary policies are subordinate to the global capital markets controlled by the BIS, the IMF, and the WB, all operated in the interests of the banks, not nations.

Illusions of Wealth
Most of the ‘highest values’ of modern economic ideology are buzzwords for the mechanisms by which the Big Banks control national economies and extract vast amounts of “wealth” from them.

“Free Trade,” for example, is actually the freedom of giant corporations and the giant banks that finance them to exploit labor internationally and avoid any responsibility for environmental damage they do in the nations in which they operate. “Financial innovation” is actually the various schemes of the Big Banks to extract phantom wealth out of the banking system by ‘packaging’ debt into complex derivative instruments from which additional fees and profits are squeezed, and risk externalized.

It is all built on a system of debt-based money, that is, money created out of debt through double-entry electronic bookkeeping when a bank makes a loan. Banks are allowed to lend much more money than they have ‘on reserve.’ The money they lend is thereby created “out of thin air.” They can borrow even more from the central bank – the Federal Reserve in the U.S. – at very low rates and lend it to their customers at much higher rates. Remember, the Fed is owned by its member banks.

It’s a great big illusion. Why? Because the creation of money is not related to actual economic activity in the real world. Of course, lending does occur for actual production of goods and services for the economy, but the money and banking system I am describing here operates independently and in addition to the real world of investment in the economy itself. In the past couple of decades the phantom-wealth ‘economy’ has expanded to the point where it accounts for a much larger share of the GDP than before. Yet, it contributes nothing to the real economy. Despite massive “quantitative easing,” little of the vast funds released to the Big Banks have reached down into the real economy. Contrary to the dominant ideology, you could do away with these “too big to fail” banks and nothing much in the real world would be missed.

The Walking Dead
The unbridled global capitalist system has no natural constraints, except the finite supply of energy and other resources. It is in the early but rapidly accelerating stage of near-death. Unless it is radically transformed, quickly, the extinction of the human species from which it emanates, will be its final constraint. That will depends upon whether or not the illusions of global finance capital continue beyond the tipping point of ecological and societal collapse. In either case, it is already the walking dead.

The National Debt and Deficit Scam

Ever wonder why the richest nation in the world, the U.S., has become a “debtor nation”?  Oh, but they’ve already told you.  It’s those politicians, especially the ‘liberal’ ones who just spend too much.  You know, those “tax and spend” liberals.  Well, I’m no apologist for the liberals.  I agree with Chris Hedges that the liberal class of politicos is essentially dead.  They still talk some about their concerns for the “middle class” and “working people,” but their actions reflect the same servility to the rich and powerful as do the ‘conservative’ — the misuse of that term is a whole other story — Republicans who have been cutting taxes on the rich and shifting the costs of plutocracy to the poor for decades.  So, we sure have a clue as to why we are in so much debt.

The Banksters’ Coup

The history of money and banking is far more interesting than any economics course on the topic.  It is long and complicated, but the essence of how current economies have become debt-based can be condensed to some key elements in the struggle between the public purposes of money and credit, and money-lenders’ efforts to control the issuing of money and renting that money for profit.  A nice summary of the key historical events can be read in Ellen Brown’s latest book, The Public Bank Solution: From Austerity to Prosperity.  In that book she also explains effectively why we — both people and government — are all in such debt, but need not be.

The international private banking cartel was started with the Bank of England around the time of the American Revolution.  Ultimately, the Federal Reserve was formed in the U.S. as a private banking cartel, owned by its member private banks.  The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was passed under great pressure from the major private banks in the U.S.  It ceded sovereign authority for creating money to the Big Banks we know so well today.  That raises important questions that are rarely discussed in public.  What is money if not a public utility for making the exchange of goods and services effective?  Why should a public utility be controlled by a private cartel?

Money, Sovereignty, and the Public Interest

Numerous examples of public banking throughout history demonstrate that for achieving public purposes, public banks are more effective than private banks.  But rather than argue the details of why — Ellen Brown’s book does that quite well — let’s look at purpose and principle.  Banks are a necessary part of any economy.  An economy is a crucial component of any operating society.  The public has an inherent interest in banks being operated to serve public purposes, primarily the management of the creation and circulation of money as the means for making economic exchange work and facilitating public projects.

Money is a public good; indeed, it is a public service.  Contrary to the mythology foisted on the people, the value of money exists in its movement.  Furthermore, it is a process, not a thing — its value is in what it represents, not what it is [paper, wooden tallies, gold, etc.].  And what it represents is credit.  Stored in a vault it means nothing… except in the illusions of whoever controls the vault.  Banking has become the epitome of the illusory game of acquisition of wealth.  From the perspective of the citizen, however, the circulation of money is the means by which the people are able to sustain themselves over time.  If “we the people” are sovereign, then why is not the monetary system owned by the public?  But on to the main point.

The Debt and Deficit Scam

Simply put, because it gave up its sovereignty over the creation of money to the private banking cartel, the government borrows money from the Federal Reserve (central bank), which it created and gave the power to create money.  Where does the Fed get the money it loans to the government?  Why, out of thin air of course!  An entry is made on an electronic ledger and money is created and loaned to the very entity — the government — that allowed that ledger [of the private banking cartel] to exist.  A federal debt is created.  How counter-productive — stupid — is that?  The only interest this proess serves is that of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the banksters.

Well, it’s very productive for the banksters.  After all, its free money to be lent out and for interest to be collected upon.  Wow!  We could all use some of that kind of deal.  Free money to loan out and make more money on.  Now, project that process into the whole economy and think of the result.

The underlying absurdity is that by structuring debt in that way, it can never be repaid.  Only by continuing to expand the economy to allow more loans can the principle and interest on existing loans continue to be paid.  With the recent financial collapse due to uncontrolled speculative manipulation of mortgage lending, the system was exposed for the Ponzi scheme that it is.

Is There a Way Out?

The Banksters are just too powerful to stop directly.  The financial elite virtually runs the federal government.  But, as they said in the 1960s, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”  Several lines of action are possible.  The Bank of North Dakota — the only public bank in the nation — is a model of what states might accomplish.  But municipal and county owned banks can also be formed.  Local movements for local public banking are developing.  Meanwhile, take your money out of those Big Banks and put it into your local credit union.  Divestiture worked to stop apartheid in South Africa.  It is starting to work to turn around the carbon economy.  It can be a big part of the great transformation of banking from a private extractive industry to a set of public institutions serving the public interest.