Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quantitative Easing and World War

Absolutely the best report I have read on the topic of Quantitative Easing is linked here -
Why the U.S. has Launched a New Financial World War -- And How the the Rest of the World Will Fight Back - By MICHAEL HUDSON
Printed out, this report is 8 pages long (first cut and paste to a word processor - printed directly off the counterpunch site it's 18 pages). Below, I have attached many of the key sections of the report:

Finance is the new form of warfare – without the expense of a military overhead and an occupation against unwilling hosts.

“Quantitative easing” is a euphemism for flooding economies with credit, that is, debt on the other side of the balance sheet.

The problem is that U.S. quantitative easing is driving the dollar downward and other currencies up, much to the applause of currency speculators enjoying a quick and easy free lunch.

The world is seeing a competition in credit creation to buy foreign resources, real estate, public and privatized infrastructure, bonds and corporate stock ownership. This financial grab is occurring without an army to seize the land or take over the government. Finance is the new form of warfare – without the expense of a military overhead and an occupation against unwilling hosts. Indeed, this “currency war” so far has been voluntary among individual buyers and the sellers who receive surplus dollars for their assets. It is foreign economies that lose, as their central banks recycle this tidal wave of dollar “keyboard credit” back into low-yielding U.S. Treasury securities of declining international value.

For thousands of years tribute was extracted by conquering land and looting silver and gold, as in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, or Incan Peru and Aztec Mexico three centuries later. But who needs a military war when the same objective can be won financially? Today’s preferred mode of warfare is financial. Victory in today’s monetary warfare promises to go to whatever economy’s banking system can create the most credit. Computer keyboards are today’s army appropriating the world’s resources.

“We are in a different time today.” On the eve of the Washington IMF meetings he added: “The idea that there is an absolute need in a globalised world to work together may lose some steam.”

The great question in global finance today is thus how long other nations will continue to succumb as the cumulative costs rise into the financial stratosphere? The world is being forced to choose between financial anarchy and subordination to a new U.S. economic nationalism. This is what is prompting nations to create an alternative financial system altogether.

Quantitative easing subsidizes U.S. capital flight, pushing up non-dollar currency exchange rates

Bernanke created $2 trillion in new Federal Reserve credit. And now (October 2010) the Fed is proposing to increase the Fed’s money creation by another $1 trillion over the coming year. This is what has led gold prices to surge and investors to move out of weakening “paper currencies” since early September – and prompted other nations to protect their own economies accordingly.

This capital outflow from the United States has indeed helped domestic banks rebuild their balance sheets, as the Fed intended. But in the process the international financial system has been victimized as collateral damage. This prompted Chinese officials to counter U.S. attempts to blame it for running a trade surplus by retorting that U.S. financial aggression “risked bringing mutual destruction upon the great economic powers.

From the gold-exchange standard to the Treasury-bill standard to “free credit” anarchy

Indeed, the standoff between the United States and other countries at the IMF meetings in Washington this weekend threatens to cause the most serious rupture since the breakdown of the London Monetary Conference in 1933. The global financial system threatens once again to break apart, deranging the world’s trade and investment relationships – or to take a new form that will leave the United States isolated in the face of its structural long-term balance-of-payments deficit.

This crisis provides an opportunity – indeed, a need – to step back and review the longue durĂ©e of international financial evolution to see where past trends are leading and what paths need to be re-tracked. For many centuries prior to 1971, nations settled their balance of payments in gold or silver. This “money of the world,” as Sir James Steuart called gold in 1767, formed the basis of domestic currency as well. Until 1971 each U.S. Federal Reserve note was backed 25 per cent by gold, valued at $35 an ounce. Countries had to obtain gold by running trade and payments surpluses in order to increase their money supply to facilitate general economic expansion. And when they ran trade deficits or undertook military campaigns, central banks restricted the supply of domestic credit to raise interest rates and attract foreign financial inflows.

As long as this behavioral condition remained in place, the international financial system operated fairly smoothly under checks and balances, albeit under “stop-go” policies when business expansions led to trade and payments deficits. Countries running such deficits raised their interest rates to attract foreign capital, while slashing government spending, raising taxes on consumers and slowing the domestic economy so as to reduce the purchase of imports.

What destabilized this system was war spending. War-related transactions spanning World Wars I and II enabled the United States to accumulate some 80 per cent of the world’s monetary gold by 1950. This made the dollar a virtual proxy for gold. But after the Korean War broke out, U.S. overseas military spending accounted for the entire payments deficit during the 1950s and ‘60s and early ‘70s. Private-sector trade and investment was exactly in balance.

By August 1971, war spending in Vietnam and other foreign countries forced the United States to suspend gold convertibility of the dollar through sales via the London Gold Pool. But largely by inertia, central banks continued to settle their payments balances in U.S. Treasury securities. After all, there was no other asset in sufficient supply to form the basis for central bank monetary reserves. But replacing gold – a pure asset – with dollar-denominated U.S. Treasury debt transformed the global financial system. It became debt-based, not asset-based. And geopolitically, the Treasury-bill standard made the United States immune from the traditional balance-of-payments and financial constraints, enabling its capital markets to become more highly debt-leveraged and “innovative.” It also enabled the U.S. Government to wage foreign policy and military campaigns without much regard for the balance of payments.

The problem is that the supply of dollar credit has become potentially infinite.

Contrary to most public media posturing, the U.S. payments deficit – and hence, other countries’ payments surpluses – is not primarily a trade deficit. Foreign military spending has accelerated despite the Cold War ending with (perceived) dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

U.S. “quantitative easing” is coming to be perceived as a euphemism for a predatory financial attack on the rest of the world. Trade and currency stability are part of the “collateral damage” being caused by the Federal Reserve and Treasury flooding the economy with liquidity in their attempt to re-inflate U.S. asset prices. Faced with U.S. quantitative easing flooding the economy with reserves to “save the banks” from negative equity, all countries are obliged to act as “currency manipulators.” So much money is made by purely financial speculation that “real” economies are being destroyed.

The coming capital controls

The global financial system is being broken up as U.S. monetary officials change the rules they laid down nearly half a century ago. Prior to the United States going off gold in 1971, nobody dreamed that an economy – especially the United States – would create unlimited credit on computer keyboards and not see its currency plunge.

Malaysia successfully used capital controls during the 1997 Asian Crisis to prevent short-sellers from covering their bets. This confronted speculators with a short squeeze that George Soros says made him lose money on the attempted raid. Other countries are now reviewing how to impose capital controls to protect themselves from the tsunami of credit from flowing into their currencies and buying up their assets – along with gold and other commodities that are turning into vehicles for speculation rather than actual use in production. Brazil took a modest step along this path by using tax policy rather than outright capital controls when it taxed foreign buyers of its bonds last week.

If other nations take this route, it will reverse the policy of open and unprotected capital markets adopted after World War II. This trend threatens to lead to the kind of international monetary practice found from the 1930s into the ‘50s: dual exchange rates, one for financial movements and another for trade. It probably would mean replacing the IMF, World Bank and WTO with a new set of institutions, isolating U.S., British and Eurozone representation.

To defend itself, the IMF is proposing to act as a “central bank” creating what was called “paper gold” in the late 1960s – artificial credit in the form of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).

The BRIC countries are simply creating their own parallel system. In September, China supported a Russian proposal to start direct trading between the yuan and the ruble. It has brokered a similar deal with Brazil. And on the eve of the IMF meetings in Washington on Friday, October 8, Chinese Premier Wen stopped off in Istanbul to reach agreement with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to use their own currencies in tripling Turkish-Chinese trade to $50 billion over the next five years, effectively excluding the U.S. dollar. “We are forming an economic strategic partnership … In all of our relations, we have agreed to use the lira and yuan,” Mr. Erdogan said.

On the deepest economic lane, the present global financial breakdown is part of the price to be paid for the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury refusing to accept a prime axiom of banking: Debts that cannot be paid, won’t be. They tried to “save” the banking system from debt write-downs in 2008 by keeping the debt overhead in place. The resulting repayment burden continues to shrink the U.S. economy, while the Fed’s way to help the banks “earn their way out of negative equity” has been to fuel a flood of international financial speculation. Faced with normalizing world trade or providing opportunities for predatory finance, the U.S. and Britain have thrown their weigh behind the latter. Targeted economies understandably seeking alternative arrangements.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World Economy. He can be reached via his website,

Photo Credits:, Justin Ruckman, Marion Doss and dbking

1 comment:

Parag said...

Most Americans have absolutely no idea how fragile the world financial system is right now. Once the rest of the world loses faith in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. Treasuries this entire thing could completely unravel very quickly.

The Federal Reserve is playing a very dangerous game. They are openly threatening the delicate balance of the world financial system.
Quantitative easing in US