Videoconference: Austrian Perspective on the Great Recession and its Aftermath (Socratic Seminar)

Gene Epstein
Gene Epstein is Barron’s economics editor and author of the column “Economic Beat”. Previously, he was senior economist at the New York Stock Exchange, and has taught at the City University of New York and St. John’s University. Epstein holds a MA in economics from the New School and a BA in history from Brandeis University. He is author of the book Econospinning: How to Read between the Lines when the Media Manipulate the Numbers.
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Occupy the Mind with Economics

Video: Occupy Wall Street & Capitalism: A Professor’s Response

Karl Marx was an intellectual radical.  What that means is that he sought to get at the root cause of social ills with his analysis.  Despite my extreme disagreement with Marx on his diagnosis, I have always been attracted to intellectual radicalism.  Not the fashionable radical chic of rock stars, etc., but the nerdy radicalism of scholars and public intellectuals.  Not a radicalism evident where the cool-kids party while skipping school, but a radicalism born in the library and in reading dusty old books and studying long and hard to try and figure things out.  Think hard, read widely, think even harder, then attempt to write clearly — that is the intellectual radicalism that I find exciting.”

Continue reading via: Occupy the Mind with Economics

Corporatism (a.k.a. Neo-Patrimonialism) is not Capitalism

JP Morgan Chase Tower in Dallas, Texas.

Right now, there is a lot of talk about the evils of “capitalism”.  But it is not really accurate to say that we live in a capitalist system.  Rather, what we have in the United States today, and what most of the world is living under, is much more accurately described as “corporatism”.  Under corporatism, most wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of giant corporations and big government is used as a tool by these corporations to consolidate wealth and power even further.  In a corporatist system, the wealth and power of individuals and small businesses is dwarfed by the overwhelming dominance of the corporations.  Eventually, the corporations end up owning almost everything and they end up dominating nearly every aspect of society.  As you will see below, this very accurately describes the United States of America today.  Corporatism is killing this country, and it is not what our founding fathers intended.

The following is the definition of “corporatism” from the Merriam-Webster dictionary….

the organization of a society into industrial and professional corporations serving as organs of political representation and exercising control over persons and activities within their jurisdiction

Corporatism is actually not too different from socialism or communism.  They are all “collectivist” economic systems.  Under corporatism, wealth and power are even more highly concentrated than they are under socialism or communism, and the truth is that none of them are “egalitarian” economic systems.  Under all collectivist systems, a small elite almost always enjoys most of the benefits while most of the rest of the population suffers.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters realize that our economic system is fundamentally unjust in many ways, but the problem is that most of them want to trade one form of collectivism for another.

But our founding fathers never intended for us to have a collectivist system.

Instead, they intended for us to enjoy a capitalist system where true competition and the free enterprise system would allow individuals and small businesses to thrive.

In an article that was posted earlier this year on Addicting Info, Stephen D. Foster Jr. detailed how our founding fathers actually felt about corporations….

The East India Company was the largest corporation of its day and its dominance of trade angered the colonists so much, that they dumped the tea products it had on a ship into Boston Harbor which today is universally known as the Boston Tea Party. At the time, in Britain, large corporations funded elections generously and its stock was owned by nearly everyone in parliament. The founding fathers did not think much of these corporations that had great wealth and great influence in government. And that is precisely why they put restrictions upon them after the government was organized under the Constitution.

After the nation’s founding, corporations were granted charters by the state as they are today. Unlike today, however, corporations were only permitted to exist 20 or 30 years and could only deal in one commodity, could not hold stock in other companies, and their property holdings were limited to what they needed to accomplish their business goals. And perhaps the most important facet of all this is that most states in the early days of the nation had laws on the books that made any political contribution by corporations a criminal offense.

Our founding fathers would have never approved of any form of collectivism.  They understood that all great concentrations of wealth and power represent a significant threat to the freedoms and liberties of average citizens.

Are you not convinced that we live in a corporatist system?

Well, keep reading.

The following are 7 things about the monolithic predator corporations that dominate our economy that every American should know….

#1 Corporations not only completely dominate the U.S. economy, they also completely dominate the global economy as well.  A newly released University of Zurich study examined more than 43,000 major multinational corporations.  The study discovered a vast web of interlocking ownerships that is controlled by a “core” of 1,318 giant corporations.

But that “core” itself is controlled by a “super-entity” of 147 monolithic corporations that are very, very tightly knit.  As a recent article in NewScientist noted, these 147 corporations control approximately 40 percent of all the wealth in the entire network….

When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 percent of the total wealth in the network. “In effect, less than 1 percent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network,” says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.

Unsurprisingly, the “super-entity” of 147 corporations is dominated by international banks and large financial institutions.  For example, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America are all in the top 25.

#2 This dominance of the global economy by corporations has allowed global wealth to become concentrated to a very frightening degree.

According to Credit Suisse, those with a household net worth of a million dollars or more control 38.5% of all the wealth in the world.  Last year, that figure was at 35.6%.  As you can see, it is rapidly moving in the wrong direction.

For a group of people that represents less than 0.5% of the global population to control almost 40 percent of all the wealth is insane.

The dominance of corporations is also one of the primary reasons why we are witnessing income inequality grow so rapidly in the United States.  The following comes from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times….

An economic snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows that inflation-adjusted incomes of the top 1% of households increased 224% from 1979 to 2007, while incomes for the bottom 90% grew just 5% in the same time period. Those in the top 0.1% of income fared even better, with incomes growing 390% over that time period.

You can see a chart that displays these shocking numbers right here.

#3 Since wealth has become concentrated in very few hands, that means that there are a whole lot of poor people out there.

At a time when technology should be making it possible to lift standards of living all over the globe, poverty just continues to spread.  According to the same Credit Suisse study referenced above, the bottom two-thirds of the global population controls just 3.3% of all the wealth.

Not only that, more than 3 billion people currently live on less than 2 dollar a day.

While the ultra-wealthy live the high life, unimaginable tragedies play out all over the globe every single day.  Every 3.6 seconds someone starves to death and three-quarters of them are children under the age of 5.

#4 Giant corporations have become so dominant that it has become very hard for small businesses to compete and survive in the United States.

Today, even though our population is increasing, the number of small businesses continues to decrease.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.6 million Americans were self-employed back in December 2006.  Today, that number has shrunk to 14.5 million.

This is the exact opposite of what should be happening under a capitalist system.

#5 Big corporations completely dominate the media.  Almost all of the news that you get and almost all of the entertainment that you enjoy is fed to you by giant corporations.

Back in 1983, somewhere around 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the United States.

Today, control of the news media is concentrated in the hands of just six incredibly powerful media corporations.

#6 Big corporations completely dominate our financial system.  Yes, there are hundreds of choices in the financial world, but just a handful control the vast majority of the assets.

Back in 2002, the top 10 banks controlled 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets.  Today, the top 10 banks control 77 percent of all U.S. banking assets.

The “too big to fail” banks just keep getting more and more powerful.  For example, the “big six” U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) now possess assets equivalent to approximately 60 percent of America’s gross national product.

#7 Big corporations completely dominate our political system.  Because they have so much wealth and power, corporations can exert an overwhelming amount of influence over our elections.  Studies have shown that in federal elections the candidate that raises the most money wins about 90 percent of the time.

Politics in America is not about winning over hearts and minds.

It is about who can raise the most cash.

Sometimes this truth leaks out a bit in the mainstream media.  For example, during a recent show on MSNBC, Dylan Ratigan made the following statement….

“The biggest contributor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is Goldman Sachs. The primary activities of this president relative to banking have been to protect the most lucrative aspect of that business, which is the dark market for credit default swaps and the like. That has been the explicit agenda of his Treasury Secretary. This president is advocating trade agreements that allow enhanced bank secrecy in Panama, enhanced murdering of union members in Colombia, and the refunding of North Korean slaves.”

Later on, Ratigan followed up by accusing both political parties of working for the bad guys….

“But I guess where I take issue is, this president is working for the bad guys. The Democrats are working for the bad guys. So are the Republicans. The Democrats get away with it by saying, ‘Look at how crazy the Republicans are; at the Democrats pretend to care about people.’ BUT THE FACT IS THE 2-PARTY POLITICAL SYSTEM IS UTTERLY BOGUS.”

Wow – nobody is actually supposed to say that on television.

Today, most of our politicians are bought, and most of them actively help the monolithic predator corporations accumulate even more wealth and even more power.

In fact, as I wrote about recently, the big Wall Street banks are already trying to buy the election in 2012.

Fortunately, it looks like the American people are starting to wake up.  According to one recent survey, only 23 percent of all Americans now trust the financial system, and 60 percent of all Americans are either “angry” or “very angry” about the economy.

Unfortunately, many of them are joining protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street which are calling for one form of collectivism to replace another.

The American people are being given a false choice.

We don’t have to choose between corporatism and socialism.

We don’t have to choose between big corporations and big government.

Our founding fathers actually intended for corporations and government to both be greatly limited.

The following is a famous quote from Thomas Jefferson….

“I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Unfortunately, things did not turn out how Jefferson wanted.  Instead of us controlling the corporations, they now control us.

This next quote is from John Adams….

“Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.”

But who dominates our economy today?

The big banks.

Perhaps we should have listened to founding fathers such as John Adams.

Lastly, here is another quote from Thomas Jefferson….

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them (around the banks), will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

How prescient was that quote?

Last year, over a million American families were booted out of their homes by the big banks.  The financial institutions actually now have more total equity in our homes than we do.

Unemployment is rampant, but corporate profits are soaring.  The number of Americans on food stamps has increased by more than 70 percent since 2007, and yet the incomes of those at the top of the food chain continue to increase.

We need a system that allows all Americans to start small businesses, compete fairly and have a chance at success.

Instead, what we have is a corporatist system where the big corporations have most of the wealth, most of the power and most of the advantages.

We need to get the American people to understand that corporatism is not capitalism.

Corporatism is a collectivist system that allows the elite to accumulate gigantic amounts of wealth and power.

The answer to such a system is not to go to a different collectivist system.

Rather, we need to return as much power as possible to individuals and small businesses.

Our founding fathers intended for us to live in a country where power was highly decentralized.

Why didn’t we listen to them?

Source of the article: Corporatism Is Not Capitalism: 7 Things About The Monolithic Predator Corporations That Dominate Our Economy That Every American Should Know

Stephen Colbert Takes on Occupy Wall Street

I just returned after spending a wonderful evening with a German Socialist Activist. It was a wonderful evening because I got to understand many of his arguments and we started discussing them openly; without never aiming at a consensus.  I just got back home and saw the following video: Stephen Colbert Takes on Occupy Wall Street

Now, I just can’t stop laughing! “Ethically” Colbert is just Great!

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert takes on Occupy Wall Street in a hilarious yet actual segment with protest representatives of “the consensus within the press group” Justin (“a male-bodied person”) and “Ketchup” (“a female-bodied person”) in a “Co-Optportunity” with what Colbert calls a cult, oh sorry, I mean “movement”. via | Tuesday November 1, 2011 at 11:59 PM PDT

Video: A History of Economic Booms and Busts

When an economy falls into a recession, we typically observe a cluster of people making similar investment mistakes.  According to historian Stephen Davies, these investment errors occur because governments or central banks manipulate the supply of money. These manipulations place artificial downward pleasure on interest rates, creating false signals that entice individuals to invest in what end up being unprofitable ventures. Booms and busts are not a new phenomenon of this century, but rather, have occurred throughout history both in America and around the globe.

via:

What is Capitalism?

Before defining what is Capitalism I have decided to provide you with five videos that explain the philosophical foundations of Capitalism as a social system. By listening to these videos, you’ll get a wonderfully elaborated explanation of What Capitalism is and of what it consists of.

Video – What Is Capitalism (1/5)

“Capitalism is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships.”1

Published in 1966 this abstract from Ayn Rand‘s work on Capitalism explains in a clear and unequivocal way the true concept and definition of a system based on reason and in the recognition of the rights of free and responsible men.

Capitalism in the previous quote means a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated social system known as “Capitalism Laissez-faire“. It is a system that works as a set of interacting or interdependent moral, political and economical principles that are incorporated into legal systems, institutions and governments. This moral, economical and political principles are contingent to the identification that the members of the system do in order to understand the nature of man and are applied to the rational understanding of man’s psycho-epistemology (man’s mode of functioning in acquiring knowledge).

In human history there hasn’t yet existed a capitalist laissez-faire social system that fulfills the previous requirements; and only glimpses of its potentiality have been achieved through history. However, since the 15th Century “economies organizing themselves on capitalist lines have experienced greater economic dynamism: increasing productivity, increasing employment, and generating more rapid advances in economic wealth, living standards, and improved health of the population.”2  It is because of many of the principles of Capitalism Laissez-faire that Globalization and all the different forms of Capitalism have managed to benefit humanity and achieved our current conditions. Unfortunately, it has been because of the philosophical contradictions and irrational actions of man that also many adverse results have come into being from these mixed forms of capitalism and economic crisis, inequalities in the distribution of wealth and environmental degradation are still existing.

The Board of the Center for the Study of Capitalism at Wake Forest University explains what are some of these forms of Capitalism that currently exist and also explain which are some of its capitalist characteristics,

In the 21st century capitalism exists in several forms. These include 1) free market or market-led capitalism such as we are accustomed to in the U.S.; 2) corporatist or state-led capitalism where the government exerts significant guidance, leadership, and influence over the deployment of private capital (e.g. France, Japan in the 1980s); and 3) managed capitalism, in which worker groups and broad social welfare issues exert significant influence on private corporate behavior (e.g. Sweden, Germany).3 Whereas some evidence suggests that market-led capitalist economies experience greater economic dynamism and higher rates of per capita income growth than economies with other forms of capitalism,4 other evidence points to less volatility and fewer inequities in other forms of capitalism than in market-led economies.5

This blog was created to study how and when Capitalism and its philosophical principles played a role in Global History.  It is my goal to demonstrate with a narration of past events how the roots of Wealth enabled for the interconnection of the World and how we could learn from the past to build more rational and objective societies.

Sources:

1 Rand, Ayn. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Signet; Fitst Signet Printing, 1967 edition (July 15, 1986)

2 About Capitalism. BB&T Center for The Study of Capitalism. http://capitalism.wfu.edu/about/capitalism/

3 D. Coates, 2000, Models of Capitalism, Blackwell: Malden MA.

4 R. L. Heilbroner & W. Milberg, 2006, The Making of Economic Society, Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River NJ; E. Phelps, 1999, “Lessons from the Corporatist Crisis in Some Asian Nations”, Journal of Policy Modeling, 21 (3), 331-339. E. Phelps, 2007, “The Economic Performance of Nations: Prosperity Depends on Dynamism, Dynamism on Institutions”, in E. Sheshinski, et al, ed., Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Growth Mechanism of Free Enterprise Economies, 342-356, Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ.

5 M. Walker & R. Thurow, 2009, “U.S., Europe are an Oceans Apart on Human Toll of Joblessness”, Wall Street Journal, May 7, A1.

Occupying Wall Street for the wrong reasons

The group “The 99 percenters” (also known as the 99%) assembled in Wall Street to protest against the corporations of the United States that have benefited from the privileges granted from government through lobbying. They say to be tired of the social and economic inequality in their country.  Somehow, they consider Corporations to be the one’s to blame for this inequalities.

Now, lets hold on for a second and consider what are they protesting against and who’s to blame. Then, lets try to explain what and whom should be really blamed before continuing this protests.

What they say to be protesting against:

What are the really protesting against:

  • Social inequality: Is in fact the cultural and educational differences of those who know more than others.
  • Economic inequality: Is the result of those men who earn a salary that is higher than others; or of those who own a business and make more earnings than others.
  • Lobbying: Is the act of influencing decisions made by officials in the government in favor of some industries, unions, or groups of society.
  • Corporate greed: Is not to be confused with the profit that an entrepreneur earns in his ventures.  Greed should better be understood as the result of living and satisfying one’s wants wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. Corporations that profit with the privileges granted by government are the only ones to be attacked and denounced; not those entrepreneurs who took risks and invest their savings.

These “99 percenters” are confused.  They think that Corporations are to be blamed for the economic and financial crisis that started in 2008 in the U.S.  However, it is their government and their bureaucrats that through Congress ad the FED enabled for the crisis to happen.  This protests should have been taking place in front of the White House and the Senate instead of Wall Street. (Check this video of some of the protests in Wall Street agains the FED)

It is not all the rich and wealthy who benefit from government privileges.  The ones who did are to be blamed. But more so, the one’s to be blamed and taken to justice are the the government officials who created the legislation that ensures that corruption and impunity continue without being punished.

As Fréderic Bastiat, the journalist and philosopher from the 19th. Century, once said:

The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.

How has this perversion of the law been accomplished? And what have been the results?

The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy. (…)

But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.

This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.

I invite you to continue reading Bastiat’s wonderful book “The Law” online. I am myself, have read it for dozens of times and consider it one of the most enlightening works ever written. Spanish versión: La ley por Frédéric Bastiat [PDF¨]