Saturday, July 11, 2020

brief overview of Michael Hudson’s political economy analysis

Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy (2015) by Michael Hudson

In these times we need to shine the light in the right place. The problem is not just the virus but the underlying economic crisis that many were predicting before the virus and which obviously is further greatly exacerbated by the virus. Who understands those underlying economic issues?

The twelve themes of this book:
1) Tangible, productive or real economy v. FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), not productive
2) Banks don’t finance tangible investments, they do finance the FIRE sector
3) Asset price inflation (prices of home, office buildings, companies increase in the growth phase)
4) Debt deflation (at the point when debts can't be paid, the economy shrinks)
5) Austerity makes things worse
6) Debts grow exponentially (compound interest)
7) Debts are not paid, individuals, companies, governments sell off or forfeit their assets
8) Bubble economy sustained for a while by easier credit but led to 2007 crash
9) Banks and bondholders oppose debt write downs to bring debt in line with earnings and historical asset valuation
10) Financial sector, the One Percent and IMF, backs creditor friendly oligarchies and military dictatorships
11) Financial sector, not governments plan the economy, since 2007 they have seized political power
12) Support the Classical economic policy of taxing and de-privatising economic rent and asset-price (“capital”) gains

I'm part way through reading this book. The above is a thumb nail sketch of the contents. I'm struck by the straightforward, relative simplicity of Michael Hudson's analysis. The non productive FIRE sector took over the American economy after the 2008 Great Recession, the One Percent seized political power. Obama went along with it and bailed out the Financial sector with trillions of dollars. Since then the real economy has continued to stagnate even though the stock market appeared to recover that was just another bubble.

Hudson argues that if the mortgages of the 10 million or so victims of the fraudulent loans (subprime mortgage crisis) had been written down and instead the perpetrators of those loans punished then the economy would be in much better shape today. He taps into the inside story of the 2008 power brokers (Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself (2012) by Sheila Bair) to illustrate that part of his argument.

Even though 2008 is a flashpoint, the book provides a historical overview of the centuries old struggle between the productive sector and financial sector for political control. I think Hudson would say that Marx volume 3 is more relevant to the current situation than Marx volume 1. It is both a relatively simple yet powerful analysis. I can't fault it.

Good review by John Repp here

Killing the Host chapter names here (scroll down)

Michael Hudson's blog

in April Roubini predicted a Greater Depression


Steve Owens said...

Hi Bill may I suggest caution when ever someone makes a division between the real and the non real economy. This is because capitalism is a whole not just the part that manufactures stuff. The USA currently manufactures just under 2 trillion dollars worth of stuff a year. Do banks not lend money to build the factories, does the insurance industry not cover these factories which without insurance would not be built. Does the real estate sector not house the workers and the consumers. Do teachers not educate the next generation of the workforce? I think as we saw in the GFC when confidence was lost in banks the system virtually stopped. Capitalism is a whole array of subsystems and to say that F.I.R.E. is superfluous is I think on the wrong track. When examining Capitalism I think its best to start with the idea that Capitalism is a social relationship rather than it containing productive and non productive sectors.
I also think that we need to address Capitalism's dominant ideas which are constantly changing for example people once believed that governments couldnt run deficits, they believed that currency needed to be backed by tangible assets, they believed that currencies needed to be pegged. All these ideas were overthrown decades ago without Capitalism missing a beat.
Also Capitalism has revised it macro ideas, once we believed in Keynesianism but once we got inflation and unemployment people started to say that the emperor has no clothes and the person who said that was Milton Friedman so everyone changed to monetarism and you might not see yourself as a monetarist but I certainly bought Miltons line that inflation is always a monetary phenomenon until about 2012 I started to say hey reality is going in the other direction. Well now some academics have put a theory to what many of us were feeling and that goes under the title of Modern Monetary Theory and as a theory it seems absurd but then so did running deficits and so did introducing a fiat currency and so did letting the dollar float. All new ideas seem ridiculous right up until they become the new orthodoxy.

Steve Owens said...

Hi Bill I just love the second chart in this article and from what you write Hudson is saying that stagnation of Capitalism is the current situation if not the future situation but what does he say about innovation because to me Capitalism always looks like its run its course but then innovation happens and a whole new field of profitability opens up. I think that we are on the verge of the next great wave of innovation. Tell me what does Hudson say about DNA sequencing, about robotics, about energy storage, about artificial intelligence and about blockchain.

Bill Kerr said...

hi Steve,
I'm still reading Michael Hudson's book but have less time now that school holidays have finished. You want to disagree with him and fish for more information about what he argues without actually reading him. That's not research. I would say this is the most important issue of our time and deserves some research. It might be a useful exercise for me to summarise his main arguments about the points you raise when I have read him in more detail. I'm not sure how long that will take.

Steve Owens said...

Hi Bill you are correct that I havent read Mr Hudsons book I have visited his blog and was taking my cue from your summary which I trust to be accurate. Its a long time ago that I read a book. Any how I suggest listening to this lady not only does she know heaps but she is excited about the future.
PS Im a bit bigoted towards books like they are so last century and there is so much to learn.
Cheers back at you.

Steve Owens said...

Sorry I feel bad about my flippant anti book position. My real position is that I like reading books but I try not to read books about current affairs because by their very nature a book is a couple of years out of date. In the internet age I prefer to go to peoples blogs as I can read about their ideas in almost if not real time better still they will talk about their ideas they will have people ask questions about their ideas. Im not saying that Mr Hudson is wrong, Im just saying that I am aware of the argument and I know that there are other sides to it. I find the Eureka report particularly helpful not just Alan Kohlers commentary but he is really active in seeking out people with interesting ideas.
Cheers again

Steve Owens said...

Bill it would be worth remembering the position of Paul Krugman on US government debt. He was encouraging the government to take on lots more debt. Why? Because the US government can issue bonds that currently attract less than one percent interest over 10 years and 1.23% over 30 years this is as close to free money as we will ever see. I think that it was Stigliz who argued that the government should borrow at these rates because he could think of lots of projects where the government could invest and expect a 6% return.
The idea that finance capital has gained a hold over capitalism in general goes back to Rudolf Hilferding in his 1910 study Finance Capital. He argued that "Whereas, until the 1860s, the demands of capital and of the bourgeoisie had been, in Hilferding's view, constitutional demands that had "affected all citizens alike," finance capital increasingly sought state intervention on behalf of the wealth-owning classes; capitalists, rather than the nobility, now dominated the state."
The idea that Finance Capital has become a super capitalism also has a right wing variation and usually involves conspiracy theories about international Jewish financiers.
Sorry about so many posts but this stuff has been of particular interest to me for a long time and I rarely get the opportunity to discuss it with people as no one else seems much interested.

Bill Kerr said...

hi Steve,
Replying to a couple points in your first comment:
Steve: "may I suggest caution when ever someone makes a division between the real and the non real economy. This is because capitalism is a whole not just the part that manufactures stuff .... Capitalism is a whole array of subsystems and to say that F.I.R.E. is superfluous is I think on the wrong track"

What I wrote was, summary of Hudson's themes point (1):
"Tangible, productive or real economy v. FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), not productive"

A better way to say it is that the financial sector is wrapped around the productive sector. If someone wants to buy a house they don't have enough money so they borrow from a Bank and then spend half their life paying back the compound interest as well as the cost of the house. Of course, Banks, in some form, are necessary.

Hudson provides both a modern and historical analysis of the interactions between the productive sector and the financial sector. At no point does he say that FIRE is superfluous. Hence my complaint that you ought to read him seriously rather than spend 5 minutes looking at his blog and then deluding yourself that you understand what he is saying. What he is saying is that after a centuries long battle that the FIRE sector has taken over, has achieved political power. This became clear during the 2008 GFC when they demanded that they must be bailed out and won.

What I wrote was, summary of Hudson's themes point (2):
"Banks don’t finance tangible investments, they do finance the FIRE sector"

Steve: "Do banks not lend money to build the factories, does the insurance industry not cover these factories which without insurance would not be built. Does the real estate sector not house the workers and the consumers. Do teachers not educate the next generation of the workforce?"

Why do you put teachers into your list of good deeds done by FIRE? Teachers are not part of finance, insurance or real estate.

What proportion of bank activity is about loans to the productive sector ("lend money to build the factories") compared with housing loans or using our super funds to play the stock market? Hudson is arguing that their major activity is in the latter category. I'm still reading Hudson and acknowledge that I have more work to do in quantifying these proportions. At one point Hudson does say, "Mortgages account for 70-80% of Bank Loans, and hence for most interest charges in the US economy" ("J is for Junk Economics", p. 127 - a companion book to "Killing the Host")

We know people who have bought and sold houses and made a profit. We know people whose Super value has risen, before 2008 and perhaps also after that crash, and are pleased, although far less confident after 2008 and now after 2020 that paper / digital values will continue upwards. Does that increase in paper or digital money represent real, underlying value or is it an illusory bubble? The bubble, Hudson point 3 Asset Price Inflation, is an illusion but there is no illusion when people can't pay their debts and lose their house (Hudson point 4 Debt Deflation).

I'm not happy with myself or my comrades because I / we never properly analysed 2008, the particularity of what really happened but rather began to analyse capitalism in general terms. At least I did discover Marx, Minsky, Steve Keene and others at that time. Who did the real analysis of 2008? Hudson, Graeber, Roubini, Sheila Bair, chair of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and author of “Bull by the Horns” (2012). I don't think we can understand 2020 without understanding 2008.

Steve Owens said...

Bill your comment about people buying a house using a mortgage from a bank is wrong. Banks do not give home buyers a bad deal. The correct comparison with a home buyer is a home renter. People who rent a home are significantly worse off in the vast majority of cases over people who buy. Everybody has to live somewhere and there are only 2 choices.
As to a proper analysis of 2008 heres a proper analysis.
The crisis of 2008 started with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty condemned Germany to pay crushing reparations to France and England. These reparations were so crushing that if Germany was to pay in gold it would have to find more gold than had ever been mined up to that time. Germany overcame this problem by borrowing money from the USA. It worked well because the 1920's were boom times and there was plenty of money to borrow. Germany paid France and England who in tern paid the USA back the money they had borrowed to finance WW1. It was a glorious house of cards the US gave money to Germany who gave money to France and England who gave money to the US who gave money to Germany. So just hold that thought for a moment and we will return.
So the roaring twenties are on us, massive borrowing massive expansion of agriculture on the great plains as the plain grasses hardy deep rooted plants were replaced with wheat. Banks were booming people borrowed to buy land and buy shares with borrowed money. America has thousands of unregulated banks.
Then the music stops Wall street crashes, in 1930 theres a drought in America that lasts 5 years, wheat farmers and the banks that lent them money go to the wall. Then the German banks crash, no more reparations no more repayment of loans. Thousands of American banks go bust and we have the Oklahoma dust bowl that was so well described by Steinbeck. If you want reading the first chapter of Grapes of Wrath is brilliant. (as is the first chapter in Log in the sea of Cortez but I digress)
Now out of all this mess the US congress comes out with the Glass Steagal Act. A banking regulation act part of the new deal where banks had to choose between being Wall Street commercial banks or Main Street mortgage banks. No longer could the wizards of Wall street get their hands on home loan money banking on main street became boring and predictable.
70 years go by and then Congress pass a bill to repeal Glass Steagal and President Clinton signs that bill November 12 1999.
So now we have Wall street financiers giving out home loans giving them to people with a poor credit history the housing market goes wild prices go up people are falling over in the rush to get people into houses.
But these Wall Street guys realise that these loans are sub prime but if you bundle them together call them a derivative then you have a brand new product. Strong arm S and P or Moodys to rate them as AAA the highest rating there is you can then sell them to pension funds because they only buy AAA rates products. Sure some loans might fail but whats the chance they all will fai? So theres a property boom in the US and Spain and Ireland funded in Europe by money in the European north seeking the higher interest rates in the European South. As councils in England send their savings to Iceland where their huge banks are offering way better interest than they can get locally, all being funneled into the massive housing boom in Spain and Ireland.
Then just like the lending boom of the 1920's ended so does the lending boom of the 2000's
Just like the 1930,s the President is reassuring and optimistic until he realises that he's looking at the possible death of Capitalism. Then its panic stations.
One of the measures taken was to resurrect Glass Steagal this time under the name Dodd Frank but Dodd Frank was only ever a pale imitation and has since been significantly watered down and the current President wants it gone completely because he stands for deregulation.


Steve Owens said...

Hi Bill this guy covers a lot of why I think that the future (for Capitalism) is exciting this and the idea that money is no more than an accounting tool. What is money other than an IOU? Say I give you an IOU I have created money and its good for as long as I can come good on the promise. If I dont come good well you still have the IOU which you could sell to Patrick for half of what its worth or employ some thugs to make me pay or alter the terms on the IOU. These IOUs are so durable that Lenin cancelled all the Czar's IOU but people kept them and collected on them almost 100 years later. I first twigged to this when John Elliot started buying up South American debt which I thought was worthless.

Steve Owens said...

Hi Bill, Well today I watched my grandson play soccer then came home cleaned the kitchen then did some gardening then its time for myself. I turn the TV on to keep an eye on the footy, place a few bets on sports bet, play a little on the war game I play and play some 5 card Omaha on a cripto currency site (because the government has banned online poker thanks Xenophon.) In the back ground I have some interviews going just in case someone says something interesting and then bingo some guy starts endorsing MMT. Well that gets my attention Im only interested in MMT happy to hear from people who understand it. Well who do you think it was well obviously it was Michael Hudson at the 20 minute mark of the interview.

Steve Owens said...

Bill I thought that you might like this its a bit too mathematical for me but it might be up your ally