Sunday, November 7, 2010

Michael Hudson Gets It

Here's the latest from Michael Hudson, an interview on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez:

You can find the full transcript here.  One aspect that I had not fully appreciated is that the debt-fueled financial speculation is not just in staple commodities but also in foreign currencies (i.e., currency wars).

I found this exchange starting at the 11:40 mark to be quite insightful:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, and meanwhile, the impact, because obviously this decision was made the day after the elections at the Fed meeting, they saw what the political landscape was. There wasn’t going to be any kind of stimulus coming from Congress, so they had to come up with a stimulus for Wall Street the day after the elections. But the impact on the American people of maintaining these historically low interest rates—you know, as we were talking earlier before the show, if you have a little bit of money in a savings account right now, you’re getting virtually no interest. So you’re, in essence, being pressured to end up going into the stock market to be able to get any kind of return on your money—those who still have savings. The same thing with the pension funds. What’s happening to the American people as a result of this same kind of policy?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, if they have money to put in pension funds or savings, they’re only able to get about one percent, if they keep it safe. Otherwise, they’re taking a risk in the stock market. But the key is not simply lowering interest rates. The idea is to flood the economy with credit so the banks will lend out more debt. And if the Fed’s policy works, then housing prices are going to go back up so high that most consumers are going to have to pay 40 percent of their income for housing. They’re going to have to pay more money for credit card debt. The purpose is to help the banks make money at the expense of the economy. It’s not to help the economy at all. That’s the really important thing. When they say the economy, they mean—the Fed means its constituency: the banks. And the banks’ product is debt. And that’s what they’re trying to produce.
 AMY GOODMAN: Is this inflationary?
MICHAEL HUDSON: It will inflate asset prices. It won’t inflate consumer prices. It’s actually deflationary for consumer prices, because if you’re an American consumer and you spend 40 percent of your income for housing, 15 percent for debt service to the bank, 11 percent goes out in your FICA wage withholding, and about ten to 15 percent in actual income taxes, that means that the average American has maybe one-third or a quarter of their salary to actually spend on goods and services. So they have to spend so much on debt service and finance and insurance and real estate that there’s no money to buy goods and services, so that’s why so many stores are closing throughout the cities on the big shopping streets. It’s deflationary for the economy, inflationary for the people who have wealth, inflationary for the banks. And it’s the banks really at the expense of the economy.
I agree that the endgame is deflationary for the reasons Hudson describes, but there will be short term spikes in consumer staples due to commodity speculation (i.e., screwflation).