Economists predicted the fighting would last six months when World War I broke out in 1914. Wars were too expensive to be sustained, and the approaching fiscal cliffs would soon enough force the nations involved to negotiate a peace treaty. But they didn’t, because those governments simply printed more money, Michael Hudson writes in the first of a series at CounterPunch.
“Their economies did not buckle and there was no major inflation” says Hudson, a University of Missouri economist and president of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET). “That would happen only after the war ended, as a result of Germany trying to pay reparations in foreign currency. This is what caused its exchange rate to plunge, raising import prices and hence domestic prices. The culprit was not government spending on the war itself (much less on social programs).”
But crucial lessons from that history has gone unremembered and untold in our current fiscal debates. The influence of the financial sector has encouraged mainstream economists to tell a story of economic limitations that suits the industry’s interests.
“Holding the bottom 99 percent in debt,” Hudson continues, “the top 1 percent are now in the process of subsidizing a deceptive economic theory to persuade voters to pursue policies that benefit the financial sector at the expense of labor, industry and democratic government as we know it.”
Wall Street lobbyists blame unemployment and the loss of industrial competitiveness on government spending and budget deficits – especially on social programs – and labor’s demand to share in the economy’s rising productivity. The myth (perhaps we should call it junk economics) is that (1) governments should not run deficits (at least, not by printing their own money), because (2) public money creation and high taxes (at lest on the wealthy) cause prices to rise. The cure for economic malaise (which they themselves have caused), is said to be less public spending, along with more tax cuts for the wealthy, who euphemize themselves as “job creators.” Demanding budget surpluses, bank lobbyists promise that banks can provide the economy with enough purchasing power to grow. Then, when this ends in crisis, they insist that austerity can squeeze out enough income to enable private-sector debts to be paid.
The reality is that when banks load the economy down with debt, this leaves less to spend on domestic goods and services while driving up housing prices (and hence the cost of living) with reckless credit creation on looser lending terms. Yet on top of this debt deflation, bank lobbyists urge fiscal deflation: budget surpluses rather than pump-priming deficits. The effect is to further reduce private-sector market demand, shrinking markets and employment. Governments fall deeper into distress, and are told to sell off land and natural resources, public enterprises, and other assets. This creates a lucrative market for bank loans to finance privatization on credit. This explains why financial lobbyists back the new buyers’ right to raise the prices they charge for basic needs, creating a united front to endorse rent extraction. The effect is to enrich the financial sector owned by the 1% in ways that indebt and privatize the economy at large – individuals, business and the government itself.