THE LOST DEBATESubmitted by GREEDisBAD on Tue, 06/17/2008 - 23:44
Michael Rowbotham is the author of THE GRIP OF DEATH A study of modern money, debt slavery and destructive economics.
Below are excerpts from Goodbye America! Globalisation, debt and the dollar empire also by Michael Rowbotham.
The lost debate
At the time of the depression, critics of the monetary system claimed that an economy based upon banking found itself in a position of perpetual instability. It was inherently vulnerable to slumps and booms, driven or depressed by the rate of borrowing. It would surge, then crash as businesses and consumer confidence waxed and waned, and as banks’ lending policy altered. However, the monetary reformers’ arguments went far deeper than the issue of ‘boom-slump-boom’. Monetary reformers mounted a wholesale attack on the adequacy of the financial system.
The most provocative and hotly contested claim by monetary reformers was that, with the use of bank credit as the dominant form of money, the economy was not self-liquidating. In other words, the economy suffered from a recurrent ‘lack of effective demand’ and was unable to sell all the goods it was capable of producing.
This was clearly a radical and disturbing concept. For an economy to be capable of producing goods and services, yet incapable of selling them to its consumers, would indeed be a bizarre circumstance. The monetary reformers pointed to the ‘poverty amidst plenty’ of the depression, when food was left to rot in the fields or burnt as fuel, whilst people starved and industry collapsed for want of sales to a population with no way to express its ‘real demand’ for the abundant goods and services of their own economy. The lack of effective demand, or ‘lack of purchasing power’, from which the economy suffered was blatant for all to see. But the criticism of monetary reformers went yet further. They argued that even outside a recession, when the economy did appear to be functioning properly, this was only because of perpetual investment and growth. There was still an underlying ‘lack of effective demand’ from the established economy. This was only being compensated for by growth, since the investment injected essential fresh bank credit into the economy.
The underlying ‘lack of effective demand’ made the economy reliant upon this constant investment. Economic stability was impossible. Simply to continue functioning, the economy had become dependent upon constant development, constant borrowing, and constant growth involving the speculative production of additional goods. This pursuit of economic change was directed neither by genuine demand nor sensible purpose.
People were caught up in this pattern of growth, ever more firmly tied to fulltime wage-earning by debt and lack of purchasing power. Those displaced from employment by new technology would find themselves recycled into new jobs, producing new goods which were not necessarily needed or wanted, but for which markets would have to be created. An age of perpetual growth, speculative production and reliance of the economy on ‘marketing strategies’ was prophesied. Work, employment and production were becoming an end in themselves, justified by little more than being a route for distributing incomes to a population increasingly wage-dependent as their debt grew.
The lack of effective demand and pointless over-production forced nations to search for overseas markets, both as outlets for their unsold goods, and in pursuit of revenues to bolster their illiquid economies. Since all nations were under such pressure, they became locked into an impossible and irreconcilable economic conflict - export warfare - where each nation attempted to become a net exporter. But since for every net exporter there must be a net importer, in aggregate, nations were searching for markets that didn’t exist.
It was further argued that a bank-based money supply had a dramatic impact on government revenue and the nature of taxation. The perpetual scarcity of money in a debt economy let to a shortfall of taxation revenues and annual government borrowing. Meanwhile, the cumulative backlog of an interest-bearing national debt resulted in taxation becoming ever more predatory and oppressive.
There were micro-economic effects too. Monetary shortage not only drove people and businesses further into debt, but this gave a pronounced advantage to cheap, low-cost products. Thus, the financial system was accused of being responsible for the many ‘jerry-built’ products of the inter-war depression years.
So unbalanced was the financial system that banking - which ought to reflect economic activity rather than dominate it - had actually become a focus of policy, exerting growing centralized control over both the economy and individuals. Ultimately, this was because banks administered the debt bondage in which all were held, and banks were the source of fresh debt upon which the economy was becoming increasingly dependent.
In summary, the monetary reformers claimed that the monetary economy had come to dominate and distort the real, productive economy. Conflicts, pressures and a cycle of development were being fostered by a financial system that did not reflect reality. Banking had secured a ‘monopoly of credit creation’ and government, by refusing to create and circulate a sufficient medium of exchange free from debt, was neglecting its primary fiscal responsibility. Governments had thereby abandoned their peoples to perpetual economic slavery in a dysfunctional, out-of-control economy.
From these assertions, it is clear that this was not just an economic critique, but a highly charged socio-political debate. The significance of these arguments is further emphasized when they are placed in a broader historical context.
The drive behind globalisation
As discussed in the opening chapter, the dominance of the international market and the recent upsurge in international trade is seen as one of the most damaging features of globalisation. Of curse, it is not trade per se that is the focus of concern, but that involving
(a) the international exchange of near-identical products, and
(b) the importing of goods and services that could be produced locally.
As a related, geographical example, why is it profitable to grow vegetables in the southern hemisphere and air-lift them to Europe? This is a vastly inefficient use of resources. Apart from the gross wastage of the transport involved, the misuse of land is glaringly apparent. Land desperately needed in southern Africa to feed indigenous populations is directed to producing foodstuffs for export, whilst in Europe 10% of land is currently out of production under set-aside and Europe’s farmers are struggling to survive.
Under-consumption does not mean that consumers are buying too little, but that they are unable to buy all of the goods that their economy is producing.
Extensive marketing and globalisation
Overproduction, under-consumption and intense competition for scarce consumer purchasing power all have a critical effect on commerce, particularly on marketing. These factors constitute the main drive behind globalisation by creating an ubiquitous pressure towards extensive marketing. This involves the use of transport as a competitive strategy - a device for securing adequate sales in a cut-throat market.
This is most easily outlined as the international level. If an economy suffers from a lack of effective demand, and difficulty in selling the goods and services it produces, the obvious solution is to try to sell some of its products to another economy - i.e. to export. Another economy offers an increased customer base and additional consumer purchasing power.
Of course, this instantly creates a problem. Commerce attempting to export in search of additional sales will come into conflict with domestic commerce in another country. That nation’s domestic commerce, already suffering from the lack of purchasing power within its own economy, will find its sales reduced by foreign goods. Commerce in that nation will have to respond, and one of the strategies it will use will be to attempt to find its own export outlets. But if all economies suffer from debt and under-consumption, and their commerce is seeking overseas sales, commerce is still, in aggregate, seeking sales that do not exist.
This analysis explains two phenomena. First, the conflict that is all too evident in the constant effort to ‘capture’ foreign markets whilst ‘defending’ domestic markets in a global economy dominated by surpluses and inadequate sales. Second, it explains the cross-border exchange of near-identical goods and services, since to the extent that each firm is successful in its export drive, this will inevitably lead to an exchange of customers.
This pressure to export is more accurately described, not in terms of international trade, but in geographical terms, since the export imperative also operates within a national economy. Globalisation is an extension into the international domain of trends that have dominated domestic economies for many years - released by the free trade ethic that has progressively removed protectionist barriers.
The intense competition for sales in a debt economy places pressure on firms to supply goods and services to a wide geographical area, since this will offer them a wide potential customer base. If a firm initially serves a local market, the lack of purchasing power within the local area will pressure it to seek a wider regional market. If a firm has a regional market, there is pressure it to seek the additional purchasing power of a national market. If a firm cannot obtain sufficient sales from within its national market, it will be obliged to seek a foreign market for its products. Firms in all localities, regions and nations are under the same pressure - driven by the lack of effective demand within their existing market range, and in response to invasion by competitor firms from further afield.
This offers us a powerful explanation for the intense conflict over trade in the world as a whole and the trend towards the increasing ’overlap’ of markets. With all firms using transport as a competitive device to seek further markets, the final result is a thin spread of national or international supply by firms, with massive transport costs incurred and shared, and near-identical goods from many different manufacturing sources available in most areas.