Sunday, October 4, 2015

NEW LAW REVIEW ARTICLE: Toward a Critical Corporate Law Pedagogy and Scholarship

Image result for wash u law reviewCheryl Wade, dre cummings and I have just posted a new law review article on SSRN that challenges mainstream corporate law scholars and teachers to think more deeply about the role of the modern public corporation in America and beyond. More specifically, we show that corporate law and regulation permits the corporation to operate as a key mechanism of: 1) racial and economic inequality, 2) the devolution of our political system towards a corporatocracy, 3) the continuation of mass incarceration, 4) the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, and 5) even the creeping privatization of education. The article just came out in the Washington University Law Review
Here is the abstract:
In recent years, the publicly held corporation has assumed a central position in both the economic and political spheres of American life. Economically, the public corporation has long acted as the key institution within American capitalism. Politically, the public corporation now can use its economic might to sway electoral outcomes as never before. Indeed, individuals who control public firms wield more economic might and political power today than ever before. These truths profoundly shape American society. The power, control, and role of the public corporation under law and regulation, therefore, hold more importance than at any other time period.  
Even though corporate law and regulation define all aspects of this central economic and political institution within the American system, the development of corporate law is impeded by a deficient pedagogy — and thus, to a certain degree, scholarship — that scarcely mentions the power and influence corporations hold. Critical voices, in particular, are excluded from virtually all corporate law textbooks. Many corporate law texts taught in law school classrooms treat the social role of the public corporation as a black box of corporate law pedagogy and, by extension, mainstream legal scholarship. Indeed, a relentless stream of legal scholarship challenging the law and regulation of the public firm from the perspective of its broader social and economic implications receives little to no mention in the key textbooks adopted and taught from in law schools today. This Article challenges the dominant corporate law master narrative perpetuated in all of the major business law textbooks. This master narrative prevents students of the law and legal scholars from fully understanding and analyzing the changing nature and evolution of law and power in the United States. 
This article forms the basic template of our forthcoming textbook, Business Organizations: A Critical Perspective. The article is available in full for free download, here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wealth Inequality Gap Widens Across Racial and Ethnic Lines

The Pew Research Center reports that the wealth inequality gap has widened since the Great Recession.  According to Pew:  "The Great Recession, fueled by the crises in the housing and financial markets, was universally hard on the net worth of American families. But even as the economic recovery has begun to mend asset prices, not all households have benefited alike, and wealth inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines.  The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with nine times the wealth in 2010."  The median net worth of white families at the end of 2013 was $141,900, while the median net worth of black families at the end of 2013 was $11,000, while the net worth of Hispanic familes was $13,700 as shown in the chart above.  Essentially then, white family net worth is 13x greater than that for black families and 10x greater than that for Hispanic families.

Since 2010, white household wealth has increased by about 2.5% while black and Hispanic household wealth has fallen by 33.7% for black families and fallen by 14.3% for Hispanic families.  Why?  Stock markets have rebounded since the crash in 2008 and generally while households own more stock in retirement accounts than black or Hispanic households, according to Pew.  Further, all households have reduced asset ownership since the Great Recession, but black and Hispanic households have shed assets at greater rates than white households, including lesser homeownership.

Inequality in the United States continues unabated and the trend is that the gap is getting worse, not better.  Again, according to Pew:  "[T]he racial and ethnic wealth gaps in 2013 are at or about their highest levels observed in the 30 years for which we have data."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rupturing the School-to-Prison Pipeline

On Friday, September 25, 2015, the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University Indianapolis will host a timely symposium on Rupturing the School-to-Prison Pipeline: State Government Efforts Toward Expungement Reform.  This conference will focus on one of the leading issues in the country: the relationship between the juvenile justice system and the education system.  From the conference description: "Starting a few decades ago, we witnessed school districts across the nation adopt and adhere strictly to zero-tolerance policies in relation to students behavior.  As a result, hundreds if not thousands, of youth are funneled into the criminal justice system for grievances that, in prior years, would have warranted grade penalties, detention, or in-school suspension, but now carry with them a possible juvenile criminal conviction.  Since many state governments do not see the utility in expunging these adjudications, many young people are hampered in their efforts to advance their education, gain employment, or obtain housing because of existing juvenile adjudications.  State governments can act to make minor indiscretions a learning experience and not a life-altering label." 

The symposium will focus on juvenile record keeping, confidentiality and expungement, and will introduce best practices for state governments, local law enforcement agencies and school districts.  The agenda for the program can be accessed here:  Agenda

One constant refrain at the Corporate Justice Blog is how to best enhance the human economic potential of all our nation's citizens.  Often the CJB focuses on policies or practices that act to destroy the human potential and capacity of our citizens to reach their highest capabilities due to short-circuiting entanglements with the criminal justice system in the U.S.  It is difficult to imagine a greater disrupter of human potential than the criminalization of typical adolescent behavior that is trending in the ongoing school-to-prison pipeline.  This program at IUPUI McKinney aims to debate and resolve these problems and tensions.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

NEW LAW REVIEW ARTICLE: New Guiding Principles for ERM

Kristin Johnson and I just posted a new article addressing the new standards for enterprise risk management (ERM) imposed by Congress and regulators in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. The article is entitled: "New Guiding Principles: Macroprudential Solutions to Risk Management Oversight and Systemic Risk Concerns."   

The article is the first to comprehensively assess the entire legal and regulatory response to the financial crisis in terms of enterprise risk management in the financial sector. It is also the first analysis to express skepticism of the new risk management regime due to flaws in general corporate governance law and regulation. Professor Johnson and I pioneered legal scholarship in the ERM arena, with prior works like thisthis, and this, and this piece extends our research into this key area of growing importance in financial regulation and corporate governance. Many of our prior works argued for improvements in ERM that ultimately became law. 

Here is the abstract for our most recent publication on ERM:

The financial crisis of 2008 revealed massive failures in risk management throughout the financial sector. Congress and federal regulators responded to these manifest failures with initiatives to reconstruct risk management structures within large financial institutions and public firms. Nevertheless, these initiatives rely upon proper corporate governance frameworks creating proper incentives for senior managers and directors to attend to risk management. As such, these initiatives are unlikely to succeed and expose our economy to continued macroprudential risks and resulting financial instability. In sum, these corporate governance-oriented reforms are too weak to stem the tidal wave of enterprise risk and systemic risk that risk management failures at financial firms engender. Continued reliance on these types of reforms is not inherently problematic. The failure to recognize the limits of this approach, however, may well lead to even more devastating risk management failures, market disruptions, and the realization of irreversible systemic risks.

The article was part of a symposium on financial regulation sponsored by the St. Thomas Law Journal, and is available for free download here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

NEW LAW REVIEW ARTICLE: Capitalism, Inequality, and Reform

Richard Delgado is one of the nation's foremost legal scholars. So, it is with great hesitation that I disagree with him. Nevertheless in the course of debating my book, Lawless Capitalism, we reached a fundamental impasse regarding the nature of capitalism and its adaptability to egalitarian reform under law.

I argue that because of its fundamental values of meritocratic competition, broad-based economic opportunity, and economic growth, capitalism can achieve durable egalitarian reforms under conditions of low economic inequality. On the other hand, high economic inequality means that powerful elites control sufficient resources to subvert law and regulation in their favor while short-circuiting any semblance of meritocracy and real economic opportunity for the mass of fellow citizens. Naturally, such behavior leads to retarded economic growth. Of equal importance, I argue that high inequality corrodes the rule of law, as economic elites wield more resources to free themselves from the constraints of law and regulation in ways that others cannot. With very high inequality the rule of law ceases to exist and instead elites use law as an instrument of oppression. Rule by law displaces the rule of law.

Professor Delgado is skeptical that capitalism can ever achieve durable reform under law. His disagreement is stated far better than I could summarize, here and here.

Lawless Capitalism constitutes a legal and regulatory case-study in how financial elites subverted law and regulation before and during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. As such, it builds upon the work of Mancur Olson and the work of other high-profile economists that shows how high inequality subverts the rule of law. Essentially, elites gain control of the law rather than operating under the rule of law. Nowhere is this dynamic more evident that with respect to Wall Street megabanks today, as this blog has chronicled, here and here. Indeed, it is fair to say that this blog leads the world in cataloguing the abuse of the rule of law by those holding concentrated economic resources.

American capitalism can rightly be criticized for failing to reform itself in any meaningful way following the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Yet, this is not an inherent flaw of capitalism as some, such as Richard Delgado, suggest. Historically, such as during the Great Depression, American capitalism did achieve egalitarian reforms. In other nations, such as Denmark and Japan, more egalitarian forms of capitalism have taken root. These more egalitarian forms of capitalism occurred within systems featuring much lower economic inequality than that which prevails in the US in recent years. This suggests that capitalism can devolve into lawless capitalism under conditions of high economic inequality, whereby economic elites can dominate law and regulation to entrench themselves in ways that retard general macroeconomic growth. This is consistent with theoretical and empirical work from economics. The article concludes that high economic inequality (not capitalism per se) presents a unique danger to core values of capitalism, such as meritocratic competition, sustainable economic growth, and a broad distribution of economic opportunity. This is all consistent with the thesis of Lawless Capitalism which posits that high economic inequality led to legal and regulatory subversion for great profit for small bands of financial elites and great cost to the entire global economy during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Further, the US now faces the prospect of an entrenched elite with massive economic power and the incentive to sabotage economic growth for profit.
The full article just came out in the Wake Forest Law Review and is available on SSRN for free download, here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Hip Hop and the Law" Just Published

Dear Readers,

I am excited to share with you that the Carolina Academic Press has just published HIP HOP AND THE LAW, an innovative scholarly collaboration and textbook edited by our colleagues andré douglas pond cummings, Donald F. Tibbs, and the late Pamela Bridgewater.  

The book is dedicated to Pamela Bridgewater in recognition of her work in editing this book, her final scholarly effort, and in honor of the lasting contributions she made to our community.

The book features MANY of the members of the minority professor listserv (and I am proud to be a contributor).  Its chapters explore the varied ways hip hop music and culture interact with and comment on American law. These essays speak to a multitude of substantive issues, including the content of a hip hop and the law perspective and the interaction between the hip hop consciousness and 21st century legal activism. These chapters also provide incisive hip-hop driven accounts of various doctrinal issues ranging from intellectual property to mass incarceration.  

This volume is available now from Carolina Academic Press.  It is not only a substantive contribution to this growing area of scholarship, but it also provides a substantial text for classroom use for those interested in offering a Hip Hop and the Law course.

Please join me in congratulating dré and Tibbs and the many contributors to this volume for this accomplishment.


Atiba R. Ellis
Professor of Law
West Virginia University College of Law
101 Law Center Drive | P.O. Box 6130 | Morgantown, WV  26505-6130
Office:  304.293.4810 | Fax:  304.293.8102 |

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reveal, Restore and Resurrect: The Truth About Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System

On August 28-29th, 2015, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law will host a critically important conference "Reveal, Restore and Resurrect: The Truth About Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System."  This conference, based on the newly completed report  generated by the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project which found fairly stark racial disparities in Arkansas's policing and prison outcomes, will seek to uncover the reasons that racial disparities exist in Arkansas's criminal justice system and develop strategies to overcome and equalize criminal punishment in The Natural State.

The slate includes several keynote speakers, panels that include activists, scholars, judges, and formerly incarcerated persons, and scheduled time to brainstorm on strategies and proposals to end criminal justice racial disparities in Arkansas and across the nation.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

One Ugly Week in Global Finance (Deflation 2015 Update)

Nevertheless, that was probably not the worst news of the week. In fact, the US stock market is late to the real horror show--which is a deflationary vortex that is rapidly spreading throughout the global economy, particularly in Asia and emerging markets. Consider the following news from last week:

1) On Monday morning the WSJ reported: "Japan’s economy contracted in the second quarter as overseas demand for Japanese goods slumped and households spent less, raising the possibility the government will act to bolster an anemic recovery. Japan’s gross domestic product shrank 1.6% on an annualized basis in the April-June quarter, according to data released Monday by the Cabinet Office." Japan teeters toward recession.

2) On Monday the FT reported that: "Russia, Turkey, Malaysia and Taiwan headed a lengthening list of emerging market countries seeing their currencies pummelled by markets’ continued fixation with China’s slowdown and an imminent US rate rise." Emerging market currency devaluations means more exported deflation worldwide.

3) On Tuesday USA Today reported that China's main stock index "plunged more than 6% . . . and other Asian markets also declined as investors appeared to show a delayed reaction to news that China's market regulator would allow market forces to play a greater role in determining stock prices.The mainland China stock benchmark's 6.2% drop to 3,748.16 was its biggest decline in three weeks. The index fell 8.5% in late July as worries about China's ability to maintain high economic growth levels undermined investor confidence." China's stock market crash now mirrors the Crash of 1929.

4) On Wednesday USA Today reported that: "The stock market closed lower Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting showed the central bank was 'approaching' its first rate hike in nearly a decade. . . .The Dow Jones industrial average ended down 162 points" and "[t]he energy sector was the hardest hit as oil prices tumbled about 4% after a government report showed that U.S. crude stockpiles rose. U.S. benchmark crude fell $1.82 to $40.80 a barrel." Oil prices now stand at a six year low threatening a huge part of the global economy with an oil depression.

5) On Thursday CNBC reported that "China, which is at the heart of the region's deflation challenge, has seen 41 consecutive months of falling producer - or wholesale - prices. In July, the country's producer prices index (PPI) fell 5.4 percent from a year earlier, the worst reading since late 2009, during the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Over the past nine months, PPI deflation pressures have reached nine out of ten economies in the region." Virtually all of Asia is now in a "deflationary funk."

6) Yesterday Bloomberg reported that: "The Bloomberg Commodity Index of 22 raw materials dropped Wednesday to its lowest since 2002, paced this year by declines in nickel, sugar, and crude oil" and that "[s]lumping prices for raw materials have wiped out $2.05 trillion from the shares of mining and oil companies since the middle of last year." Emerging markets now face a "death spiral" of falling commodity prices and falling currencies.

7) Yesterday the WSJ reported that: "[t]he Caixin China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index . . . fell to a 77-month low in August." This private survey contradicts official sources and proves China is in much worse shape than previously thought.

All of this highlights that serious deflation haunts the global economy with China, Japan and other emerging markets suffering serious economic slowdowns accompanied by severe crashes in the market price of almost all commodities. Now, these nations are exporting deflation through falling currencies which effectively slash prices on everything they produce. This constitutes a serious threat to the global economy.  On top of those problems, Greece and the Eurozone are still a mess.

This blog first discussed this "perfect storm" of financial threats on December 12, 2014 and again on December 14, 2014. At that time I bemoaned the lack of any effective mechanism for sound fiscal and monetary stimulus for the global economy. I have made the same point with respect to the Eurozone. I wrote a law review article (a book review of Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz) on this point in 2003, and I addressed this flaw in global financial architecture in Lawless Capitalism. I have also blogged on pro-growth reforms that would help lift the global economy out of its structural deflationary malaise, such as empowering people to move freely to their highest and best use or banking currency reserves.

The other major problem with all these extreme market moves relates to the world's unregulated and opaque derivatives markets. Here, the question of the day relates to the exposure of the megabanks to the oil patch, the emerging market sector and China. My bet is that the megabanks booked big profits on all that soon-to-be distressed debt and now face the losses from those derivatives deals. If so, this meltdowm in Asia and the energy sector is about to hit home on Wall Street and our dysfunctional financial sector. Think MF Global or the London Whale.

Right now, the US economy does not face any Doomsday threat; but, that can change quickly if it turns out our oil sector collapses or the megabanks must book huge losses on derivatives transactions involving commodities, Asia or emerging markets.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

High Inequality and Deflation 2015: Rigged Globalization

The above chart shows the massive cash hoarding undertaken in order to influence the price of exports from developing countries. While the crash of 2008 momentarily slowed the growth of world currency reserves, they promptly soared after mid-2009 as nations desperately sought to grow through exports at the expense of the price-competitiveness of other nations.

Of course, the best nation for consumption and imports is by far the USA so it is only natural that exporting nations seek to accumulate dollars to make their manufacturing sector more price competitive in dollar terms, as depicted above, showing about 2/3 of all reserves are held in dollar denominated instruments.

Today currency reserves amount to about $12 trillion--and thus represent a substantial use of the world's total capital. Essentially, developing nations face incentives to buy dollars in order to weaken their currency and strengthen the dollar because reserves subsidize the export sector of their economies. The US dollar is the ideal reserve currency because the market for dollar assets is deep and liquid.

In theory, and to some degree in practice, currency reserves serve a legitimate purpose for developing countries. Countries accumulating foreign currency reserves can use them to defend the value of their currency in the event their currency is subject to speculative attack or any financial crisis causes currency disruptions. By selling foreign currency reserves, such as dollars, they can restrict the supply of their own national currency and cause it increase in value relative to the dollar. It can be very important to defend the value of a national currency because the vast majority of international debt is denominated in dollars. This means that if a currency dives in value relative to the dollar debt burdens can increase often dramatically. As a result nations cannot allow the value of their currency to dive or public and private debt burdens can spiral out of control and a financial crisis may ensue.

Fine. But, economists have shown again and again that the degree of reserve accumulation cannot be explained by the need to defend  a currency's value in time of crisis. Instead, they have identified 20 nations that clearly accumulate currency reserves to lower the cost of their exports to the US and other developed nations. This currency manipulation through constant accumulation of dollar reserves is highly costly to the global economy.

According to Maurice Obstfeld and Kenneth Rogoff the accumulation of currency reserves was "intimately connected" to the financial crisis because it allowed the US "to borrow cheaply abroad and thereby finance its unsustainable housing bubble." The stronger dollar meant lower cost exports, lower inflation and thus lower interest rates. The constant purchase of dollar denominated assets (no country holds actual currency as currency reserves opting instead for the safest and most liquid dollar-denominated assets) also lower interest rates in the US as well as the developed world. I explained this dynamic in detail in chapter 4 of Lawless Capitalism.

Today, this festering problem with our global economy appears to be spawning global deflation throughout emerging markets and even into China and Japan. Basically, by accumulating reserves central banks in exporting countries divert investment from their own economies in order to purchase low-yielding debt of developing countries. Over the long term this suppressed investments hobbles their growth.

Meanwhile, in the developed world, currency reserves mean more debt and fewer jobs as is evident (see chart above demonstrating the role of the Euro in reserves). In the US and the Eurozone, economists estimate that the entire output gap experienced since the financial crisis can be attributed to currency reserves. Experts estimate that the US alone has lost up to 5.8 million jobs.

Thus growing currency reserves are a powerful deflationary force.

As Nobel laureate Joesph Stiglitz stated in 2010: "the UN Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System highlighted the ways in which the dollar reserve system contributed to global financial instability and a weak global economy. While many of its arguments were already well known—Triffin had noted that the reserve currency country got increasingly in debt as others’ held more of its IOU’s as part of their reserves,and Keynes had noted that the build-up of reserves by surplus countries led to weaknesses in global aggregate demand—the crisis gave them increased salience." Stiglitz also argues there is a remarkably "simple" solution to this issue--to expand the use of special drawing rights issued by the IMF. This would serve as a mechanism for broadening the burden of the reserve currency.

I extended this concept to argue in favor of a more aggressive investment approach for these reserves by creating a global development bank for currency reserves to fund infrastructure projects like schools, universities, water supplies, green energy platforms, and to actualize economic human rights.

Nevertheless, such common sense solutions have gained no traction in the wake of the financial crisis. Instead, as is evident in the chart above reserve accumulation has proceeded apace. Why?

High Inequality. When a small group controls massive wealth they can dictate law for their profit regardless of costs to society as a whole. This irrational model of globalization fattens transnational corporate profits--and by extension executive compensation. They produce cheap in China and sell cheap in the US because the dollar is the reserve currency. I formalized this basic point in American Corporate Governance Law and Globalization.

In sum, globalization has been hijacked and sabotaged by powerful interests in the US that profit from the deflationary forces unleashed by the constant accumulation of massive currency reserves.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

High Inequality and Deflation 2015: The Problem of Too Much Savings

Today, China devalued its currency, effectively cutting the price on everything it produces. It was the largest devaluation out of China in 21 years. It is just the latest sign of spreading deflationary pressures. It will probably get much worse from here.

A potentially historic deflationary vortex threatens to engulf the world. In fact, a recent survey of financial experts found that an overwhelming majority think that deflation is a much larger worry than inflation. Worse, the Fed seems determined to raise interest rates notwithstanding the deepening slowdown behind falling prices. The Fed seems oblivious to the fact that despite massive monetary stimulus, a deflationary spiral simply cannot be discounted.

This blog has long covered the deflationary forces gripping the global economy on a step by step basis. That vortex is manifestly forming today as evidenced by the oil and commodities crash, the apparent crash in China, the increasing deflationary pressure emanating from the Eurozone and Japan, negative interest rates worldwide, collapsing emerging market exchange rates, and a world awash in debt and debt defaults. Today, it is fair to say that world economy hangs by a thread above a vortext of deflationary forces. What are the roots of this deflationary threat?

Perhaps the most deflationary force in the world today is very high economic inequality in the US. I will support and defend this proposition in a series of blog posts, starting with this one.

The first problem with high economic inequality is that the marginal propensity to consume is much higher for the middle class and lower classes than for the very wealthy. High inequality therefore leads to too much savings.

The very wealthy save much more of their income. This means that as the very wealthy control more of the nation's GDP, and today they control a historically high amount of GDP (as demonstrated in the chart at right), the more national income than diverted from growth stimulating consumption and toward savings. Too much savings leads to savings gluts and bubbles because massive income is diverted from consumption to savings but too many consumers are deprived of the ability to pursue growth-enhancing innovation. That leads to too much savings and not enough productive investment opportunities.

At the same time, more global GDP has been diverted from consumption to savings by the continuing growth of globalization and China as the world's manufacturer. The savings rate in China is about 50 percent, compared to 18 percent for the US. India saves nearly twice as much as the US. So every time jobs move from the US in search of cheaper labor it leads to higher corporate profits for the top income earners here who enjoy dividends and incentive bonus compensation as well as more savings in developing economies such as China or India. The net result is a massive transfer of global demand to less stimulative savings. This point is more fully documented in Chapter 4 of my book Lawless Capitalism, entitled "Rigged Globalization."

In a forthcoming post, I will discuss the highly dysfunctional global financial system that is supposed to channel savings to productive investment but does not. The point here is simply that massive money is drained from the economy to fund a highly sub-optimal global economic system and distribution of income, and that is highly deflationary.

ADDENDUM (AUG. 12, 2015):

“As investors realise yet another recession beckons, without any normalisation of either interest rates or fiscal imbalances in this cycle, expect a financial market rout every bit as large as 2008.” China's currency devaluation could spark "tidal wave of deflation," Guardian (quoting Société Générale economist Albert Edwards).

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Law For Black Lives Matter

On July 31st and August 1st, 2015 in Harlem, NY, the Black Lives Matter movement is moving aggressively into the legal arena at the Law For Black Lives conference.  Sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bertha Foundation, "#Law4BlackLives is a national gathering of lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers who are committed to building a world where #BlackLivesMatter.  More than a meeting or a conference, this gathering is a call to action for legal advocates from diverse parts of the country to join together and spend a day dreaming about how we can support the growing Movement For Black Lives.  This space will prioritize the voices and leadership of people of color, most importantly Black lawyers and legal advocates."

Events on Thursday, July 30 - Friday, July 31 will be held at the Riverside Church in Harlem (490 Riverside Dr, New York, NY 10027).

Events on Saturday, August 1 will be held at Columbia University (Lerner Hall - 2920 Broadway, New York, NY 10027).

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Historic "No" to Austerity in Greece

The decisive Greek vote today to reject the depression economics of the IMF and its Eurozone partners may well prove to be an important watershed in history. One needs only passing familiarity with European history to understand why.

Before 1945, the entire continent seemed locked in an endless spiral of wars that continually and increasingly wrecked havoc on the people and economies of Europe. From Waterloo and Verdun to Stalingrad and Auschwitz, Europe seemed destined to find new ways to kill more people and seemed ready to march off to bloodbath after bloodbath.

After World War II, a new order emerged that found open war in Europe to simply be too costly to consider. Instead of risking being dragged into more European conflicts, the USA helped transform Western Europe into a capitalist powerhouse through the Marshall Plan, named after World War II General and Secretary of State George C. Marshall, pictured at right.

When the Soviet Union and communism fell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the United States remained as the sole superpower. Under the umbrella of that power and NATO, European wars vanished and progressive European integration led to economic prosperity and stability. Most of Eastern Europe joined NATO and the western capitalist order. The Euro was introduced in 1999 in 11 Eurozone nations. All was well in Europe through 2008.

When the US allowed its financial sector to engage in an orgy of senseless mortgage lending and to peddle these loans fraudulently across the world in the cause of massive short term compensation payments to a handful of financial elites, credit markets ultimately collapsed in spectacular fashion in 2008. Suddenly, newly risk-averse credit markets realized that not all Eurozone debt carried the same risk of default, and that Greece was not in fact Germany when it came to credit risk. Interest rates in Greece, and other Southern European nations soared, leading to a new credit crisis in Europe and economic downturns throughout the Eurozone. For example, here is a comparison between Greek interest rates and German interest rates from before the introduction of the Euro through today:

In 2010, it became clear that Greece and other nations needed help in managing their debt burden and the IMF, the European Central Bank and Eurozone nations bailed-out Eurozone members flirting with default. Unfortunately, the bailouts suffered from two major problems.

First, rather than following standard economic teaching about how to address an economic crisis through fiscal and monetary expansion the bailouts imposed severe, even ridiculous austerity upon the nations in crisis. Predictably, unemployment soared and depressions struck the entire Southern periphery of the Eurozone. Debt burdens increased rather than decreased in response. How bad was the economic contraction arising from the austerity? Consider the graph below which shows unemployment in Greece soaring under austerity, to unprecedented highs:

Second, the bailout money never really helped the Greek people (or other people in the Eurozone), but instead was used to protect the largest German and French banks from losses as a result of the unsustainable nature of the Greek Debt. About 77 percent of all of the bailout money ended up in the pockets of the European megabanks.

The vote today to reject any further austerity measures was nothing short of a democracy rejecting further economic oppression at the hands of foreign bureaucrats that they did not elect. It was a predictable political backlash that was first discussed on this blog over six months ago. When given a choice people will vote against depression economics and loss of sovereignty to unelected foreign bureaucrats every time.

Yet this creates new risks for Europe. First, the more Greece is alienated from the Europe the more likely it is that will fall into a closer relationship with Russia, undermining NATO. Second, if the EU and IMF cannot save Greece and offers only ill-founded measures sure to exacerbate any financial crisis for any Eurozone member, then Italy, Spain and Portugal will certainly come under economic and financial pressure as the next dominoes to potentially fall. Third, the political risks of the Eurozone crisis now threaten to spiral out of control as the increasing pain inflicted upon the Greek people seems likely to backfire on the Eurozone and cause deep skepticism throughout the voting public from Britain to France to Spain.

In sum, the vote today for Greece to reject further austerity as demanded by the Eurozone and the IMF promises to rock financial markets, create economic headwinds worldwide, destabilize NATO, and put enhanced pressure on the political and economic foundations of the entire European project.

If this goes wrong, as appears almost certain now, the exit of Greece from the Eurozone may result in costs that will prove many times higher than debt relief for Greece and a massive new Marshall Plan for all of Southern Europe to create jobs for all and positive economic growth. Such investment would reduce debt burdens by spurring growth. And, the world desperately needs growth today.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Greek Default!

The Greek government will almost surely default tomorrow, Tuesday 30 June 2015. Today, the government closed the banks in Greece, imposed capital controls so that money cannot leave the system and closed the stockmarket in Athens. In short, Greece is a mess and threatens to impose a Lehman type financial crisis on the global economy, if not worse.

It is very difficult to say how great of a financial shock this will be to the global economy. But, billions and billions in market value has been lost just in the few short hours since the crisis exploded into its current phase. Eurozone banks lost $56 billion in just one trading day.  Those billions in lost wealth could have given Greece a real lifeline to economic growth.

The current approach to the Greek debt crisis is therefore a deeply negative sum game. The losses to the global economy dwarf the costs to fix Greece and the Eurozone in general. The Eurozone should have pursued powerful fiscal and monetary stimulus to repair the Eurozone, not austerity which we now know predictably led to unnecessary pain and misery for the Greek people and the entire global economy.

The IMF, ECB and Eurozone will be responsible for the greatest financial miscalculation in history if they do not act now to reverse their inexplicable and indefensible approach to excessive debt in the Eurozone periphery. They need to give Greece time to determine if there is a potential deal that can be implemented and they need to get serious about growth. Anti-growth austerity must end now. This must occur immediately.

These financial sleepwalkers risk throwing the entire global economy into chaos in a major blunder akin to World War I.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Slavery's Long Shadow

Paul Krugman
Nobel winning economist Paul Krugman provides thoughtful commentary on economic inequality in the United States and our willingness to continue to tolerate it.  In the New York Times, Krugman recently published "Slavery's Long Shadow" and argues that race plays the preeminent role in our nation's welfare policies and attitudes:

"Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens."

Krugman continues by analyzing Nixon and Reagan's "Southern strategy" in dividing the South based on cultural and racial issues and notes that of the 22 states that have refused Obamacare for its citizens since 2012, 80% are former slave states.  Why?  The answer per Krugman lies in the racialization of poverty and welfare in the U.S., as exacerbated by Nixon/Reagan/Bush racial coding.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Clinton Finds Religion (too late) on Mass Incarceration

White House file photo - public domain
Admitting that policies he championed while in the White House led to unconscionable mass incarceration in the United States, former President Bill Clinton expressed regret recently that he signed specific legislation during his Presidency.  Most onerous as identified by Clinton were the "three strikes" laws and life sentence mandates for certain crimes that were passed under his signature.  Clinton states in retrospect that "The problem is the way [the legislation] was written and implemented [a]s we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison. . . .  And we wound up . . . putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives."

Hillary Clinton, also finding enlightenment on the subject (as she supported three strikes policies as First Lady), has begun campaigning for President on the promise that mass incarceration needs to end and saner prison policies must be adopted across the country.  She states:  "Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime, but it does a lot to tear apart families . . . . Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions."  Clinton continues"I saw how families could be and were torn apart by excessive incarceration. I saw the toll on children growing up in homes shattered by poverty and prison."

Now that the Clinton's have found religion on prison policy and mass incarceration, can we expect national and state leaders to continue to legislate from a "reducing prison populations" perspective rather than the sophomoric "tough on crime" stance that led to so many wrong-headed laws and policies in the past?  This blog has long maintained that mass incarceration must be dealt with forthrightly and that carceral policy must be reformed if we are to reach our economic potential as a nation.

Hat tip to Kyle Noone, 2L, Indiana Tech Law School