FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Benefits From Austerity Politics?

With so called “technocrats” being installed in Italy and Greece to lead governments through austerity programs, the discussion of who benefits from these programs and who pays remains largely in the background. When benefits are discussed they are usually couched in terms of systemic benefits under the guise that if the “system” benefits then everyone benefits. But the austerity programs being implemented straightforwardly benefit the large banks to the detriment of the citizens of these countries.

The banks see two benefits from austerity policies: the use of state power to enforce their claims that debts be repaid and they see asset prices driven down. The first goal is intuitive enough and it well explains why even in the U.S. government policies have been designed to facilitate debt repayment rather than to dismiss debts outright. No matter how malodorous the terms under which bankers lent the money, as long as borrowers can be forced to repay it, the banks benefit. And with sovereign debt, the “borrowers” being forced to repay the debt tend to be ordinary citizens who had little to do with incurring it and who just as likely saw no benefit from it.

The second benefit to bankers is less intuitive but more insidious. After all, why would banks want to see the value of the assets that are the collateral for the loans that they’ve made fall? The reason why is that the assets that the banks own are the loans that they’ve made and not the underlying collateral. As long as borrowers are forced to repay these loans the payments that the banks receive become worth more as collateral values fall because the money received will then buy more. Expand this idea to state assets in Greece and Italy and the banks can own water systems and roads from which they can extract fat incomes in perpetuity.

Why would core EU political leaders (and leaders in the U.S.) perceive it to be in their interest to be shills for the large banks by implementing austerity policies? Simply put, if the banks can’t enforce debt repayment they will either require bailouts in excess of what is politically feasible or the global banking system will re-enter the systemic crisis from 2008 that was never adequately resolved. The European banks are materially larger relative to the size of European economies than U.S. banks are. But banking liabilities are interconnected and if European banks fail they will take the large U.S. banks down with them.

Austerity policies are catastrophic for the citizens of countries that implement them because they force repayment of debts in ever more internally valuable currencies. The persistent economic weakness that these policies create produces high unemployment, falling wages and a broadly recessionary environment that can last for decades. They are being pushed because they benefit the banks but they come at the expense of the economic wellbeing of the citizens of these countries. The bind the banks put themselves in through excess leverage makes this a fight for survival from their perspective. And their use of the European and U.S. political systems to force debt repayment puts these governments on the sides of the banks and against the interests of their own citizens. Prepare for a long fight that will certainly get uglier.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

 

More articles by:

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Justin Anderson
Don’t Count the Left Out Just Yet
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail