Tag Archives: capitalism

Open democracy on the financial crisis – the end of American capitalism?

openDemocracy on the global financial crisis of 2007-08:

Saskia Sassen, Globalisation, the state and the democratic deficit” (18 July 2007)

Tony Curzon Price, “The end of gentlemanly capitalism” (13 August 2007)

Robert Wade, “The financial crisis: burst bubble, frayed model” (1 October 2007)

Avinash D Persaud, “The dollar standard: (only the) beginning of the end” (5 December 2007)

Fred Halliday, “Sovereign Wealth Funds: power vs principle” (5 March 2008)

Willem Buiter, “The end of American capitalism (as we knew it)” (17 September 2008)

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Filed under Capital markets, capitalism, finance, Multilateral Institutions

US congressman: “If we don’t pass this bill, we’re going to have martial law in the United States”

By Tom Eley writing at WSS

(3 October 2008)

In the wake of Monday’s vote in the US House of Representatives rejecting the $700 billion bailout package for the American financial industry, prominent voices in the US and international media have responded by denouncing the lower house of Congress and complaining that the American political system is too susceptible to popular opinion and insufficiently obedient to the will of the corporate and political elite.

The yearning for more authoritarian forms of rule was expressed by, among others, Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush. In a column in the Washington Post, he complained, “[I]t is now clear that American political elites have lost the ability to quickly respond to a national challenge by imposing their collective will.” The Times of London, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, was even more blunt, headlining a column, “Congress is the Best Advert for Dictatorship.” Continue reading

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Food crisis demonstrates the limits of globalization

FOOD CRISIS
Food Is Different
Globalization has made more food available worldwide to more people at lower prices. But the current crisis demonstrates the limits of globalization and that the market for food may not be the same as for other products.

by Bruce Stokes
Globalization’s Pluses and Minuses

The world has become more dependent on imported grain in the past 40 years, but failing global grain stocks make it harder to ease shortages and high prices.
Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, warns that the unfolding food crisis could force 100 million people deeper into destitution and set back efforts to reduce world poverty by seven years.

In the midst of this crisis, the immediate humanitarian challenge is to feed the hungry. But the suddenness and breadth of the emergency has raised fundamental questions about the future of agricultural policy that will drive debates in Washington and other world capitals for years to come. The questions being posed about agricultural policies are complex and hard to answer.

Was it a mistake over the past generation to increasingly trust market forces to feed the world? Or are the problems that bedevil farmers today the residue of continued government interference in agricultural markets? Are current food prices a problem or the ultimate solution to future food needs? Does the world food system suffer from too much globalization or not enough?

In the search for answers to these questions, Washington is a Tower of Babel. Partisans of all stripes have seized on the crisis to justify their long-standing ideological positions on agriculture. Free-market proponents support a swift completion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations, which would cut American and European farm subsidies and allow developing countries to increase their food exports to rich countries. “The solution is to break the Doha Development Agenda impasse in 2008,” Zoellick said in April. Continue reading

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The world food crisis and the capitalist market – Part Three

By Alex Lantier
10 June 2008

This is the last part of a series of articles on the world food crisis also posted here. The original versions of Part one and  Part two can be found here.

The current food crisis reflects not only financial events of recent years, but longer-term policies of world imperialism. Instead of allowing for a planned improvement of infrastructure and farming techniques, globalization on a capitalist basis has resulted in a restriction in many parts of the world of farm production. This has been carried out in order to lessen competition and prevent market gluts from harming the profit interests of the major powers.

One major aspect of imperialist policy was to limit farm production in the so-called “First World” to prevent sudden falls in world prices. In the US, this policy took the form of the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program, first passed as part of the 1985 Food Security Act.

The program allows farmers to apply for payments of $50 per acre of land on which they do not plant crops. A nationwide limit of 180,000 square kilometers (about 10 percent of US arable land) was imposed on the program, later decreased to 130,000 square kilometers in 2007.

Though the bill was presented as a means of limiting soil erosion due to overplanting of ecologically vulnerable land, much of the fallow land registered under the project was not, in fact, vulnerable to erosion, but rather chosen by farmers on the basis of the price of the crops that could be grown on it. This was in line with the law’s stated objectives, which were “acreage reduction” and the maintenance of “target prices and price-support loans.”

Similar payments to farmers for farmland kept out of cultivation were adopted on a country-by-country basis, after the 1992 reform of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy. Continue reading

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The world food crisis and the capitalist market – Part Two

By Alex Lantier published here on  9 June 2008

This is the second part of a three-part series of articles on the world food crisis. Part one was posted earlier

The central problem underlying the current food crisis is not a physical lack of food, but rather its unaffordability for masses of people due to rapidly increasing prices. Among the immediate factors driving the rapid worsening of the food crisis, a major role is played by the explosion of speculative investment in basic commodities such as oil and grain, itself bound up with the difficulties facing US and world financial markets and the decline in the US dollar. Rampant speculation by hedge funds and other big market players has increased costs, encouraging private firms to further bid up prices in a competitive drive to amass as much profit as possible.

Official statistics disprove the assertion that there is not enough food for everyone. According to 2008 US Department of Agriculture figures, the average per capita consumption is 2,618 calories per day in developing countries and 3,348 in developed countries, compared with a recommended minimum of 2,100 calories. However, profound disparities in access to this food, stemming from poverty and social inequality, condemn many millions to hunger.

Time magazine quoted United Nations World Food Program official Josette Sheeran as saying, “We are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it.”

Commodity speculation
World market prices for agricultural commodities have surged precisely as big investors have pulled out of traditional investment and credit markets, largely as a result of the bursting of the US housing and credit bubbles in 2007. Speculative capital has gone in search of other profitable investments.
A major avenue for such speculative capital is commodity futures. This essentially involves financial bets that prices of basic goods such as oil, grains and metals will continue to rise. Since these futures are used as benchmarks for actual trading in the physical commodities, their heady rise has helped sharply pull up market prices for the commodities themselves.

Recent congressional testimony by a US hedge fund manager, Michael Masters, sheds an interesting light on commodity futures speculation. He told Congress:
“In the early part of this decade, some institutional investors who suffered as a result of the severe equity bear market of 2000-2002 began to look to the commodity futures market as a potential new ‘asset class’ suitable for institutional investment. While the commodities markets have always had some speculators, never before had major investment institutions seriously considered the commodities futures markets as viable for larger-scale investment programs. Commodities looked attractive because they have historically been ‘uncorrelated,’ meaning they trade inversely to fixed income and equity portfolios [i.e., they do not necessarily fall, and instead tend to rise, when the bond or stock markets decline].”
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The world food crisis and the capitalist market

This is the first part of a three-part series of articles found here on the world food crisis.

By Alex Lantier

As the June 3-5 Conference on World Food Security of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) began in Rome, FAO Director Jacques Diouf said of the explosion of food prices: “It is touching every country in the world. We have not only seen riots and people dying, but also a government toppled [in Haiti], and we know that many countries…could tilt to one way or the other depending on the discontent or satisfaction of their population.”

With these words, Diouf expressed the growing concern of governments and ruling elites internationally over the potentially revolutionary implications of the upward spiral of prices for basic food staples, which has already sparked a social and economic crisis of global dimensions. In recent months, strikes and demonstrations against rising food prices have occurred in many parts of the world. These initial struggles have exposed the contradiction between the elementary demand of the world’s masses for affordable food and the workings of the capitalist market.

Diouf called for donations of US$30 billion to be invested in world agriculture. Even were this sum to be allocated, it would not begin to address the sources of the current crisis, which lie in economic and political processes of privatization and price speculation that have unfolded over the past three decades and are bound up with the globalization of capitalist agriculture. Continue reading

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Global survey reveals growing anger over social inequality

By Bill Van Auken
20 May 2008

The unprecedented accumulation of wealth by a narrow financial elite under conditions of declining real incomes for the vast majority of the world’s population is creating mounting discontent and anger.

This is the significance of a poll conducted across Europe, Asia and the United States by the Financial Times of London and the Harris polling firm.

“Income inequality has emerged as a highly contentious political issue in many countries as the latest wave of globalization has created a ‘superclass’ of rich people,” the Financial Times commented in relation to the poll results, which were published Monday.

The FT/Harris poll found overwhelming majorities throughout Europe expressing the view that the social chasm between the financial elite and the rest of the population has grown too large. In Spain, for example, 76 percent said that social inequality had grown too great, while in Germany the figure was 87 percent.

In China, which has become the low-wage manufacturing center of the world, subjecting millions of workers to exploitation while producing a new class of billionaires and multi-millionaires, 80 percent said that inequality in income was too great. Continue reading

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