Economy

In the past week, the mood of the global financial markets has once again turned sour. The disastrous position in the Eurozone, coupled with a slow-down in China and poor figures from the United States has led to a new sell-off. All the indicators are now pointing at that we are entering into a new down-turn.

The world economic crisis has led to such a deterioration of the health of public finances worldwide that the recent World Economic Outlook (WEO) of the IMF has the apt title “Coping with High Debt and Sluggish Growth”. One chapter of the WEO is specifically dedicated to analysing examples from the past to see if there are lessons for today1. The results are quite interesting.

The latest “decisive” EU summit-to-end-all-EU-summits-and-fix-the-Eurozone-crisis-once-and-for-all has signally failed to do so – just like all the previous “decisive” and “final” summits. As in previous meetings, within days the results were declared completely unsatisfactory by the markets. These gatherings of EU heads of state are now a thoroughly debased currency. Nothing has changed except that the national contradictions are sharper and more insoluble than previously thought.

Another variation on the demand to “tax the rich” is the call for a tax on financial transactions, otherwise known as a “Financial Transactions Tax” (FTT), “Tobin Tax” (after the Nobel economics laureate, James Tobin, who first proposed the idea in 1972), or “Robin Hood Tax” (i.e. taking from the rich and giving to the poor). [Part 1]

The present economic crisis has been described in various ways by mainstream commentators. All manner of “solutions” have been posed, both by the bourgeois politicians and economists, and by the reformist leaderships of the working class. What these commentators and representatives cannot admit is that this crisis will not be solved by this or that reform. Society is living through a crisis of capitalism and the choice facing mankind is simple: socialism or barbarism.

The crisis of capitalism is accompanied by a crisis of bourgeois thought: philosophy, economics, morality – all are in a state of ferment. In place of the earlier optimism that stated confidently that capitalism had solved all its problems, there is an all-pervading mood of gloom. Not so long ago, Gordon Brown confidently proclaimed “the end of boom and bust”. After the crash of 2008 he was forced to eat his words.

The Eurozone is passing through the most serious crisis in its entire history. After Greece comes the Italian crisis. This places a big question mark over the future of the euro. We predicted long ago that in a serious crisis all the national contradictions come to the fore, as we now see with the fractious relations between Greece, France, Germany and Italy. The European Union is facing the day of reckoning.

In a scene reminiscent of the attempt to save the world by science fiction superhero Flash Gordon, the leaders of the European Union have given themselves a two-week deadline to resolve the eurozone crisis. While in the fantasy world Flash Gordon saved the world, in the real present-day crisis-ridden world the EU leaders are staring failure in the face, with all the consequences that this will mean in terms of growing political instability and, more importantly, of growing class struggle.

In an interview which shocked the BBC News presenter, “independent trader” Alessio Rastani gave a very frank appraisal of his perspectives for the world economy. "This economic crisis is like a cancer, if you just wait and wait hoping it is going to go away, just like a cancer it is going to grow and it will be too late,” he said, adding that governments would not be able to fix the economy.

Capitalism isn't working - Photo: Jeff Mcneill

Europe is standing on the edge of a precipice. This is the judgement, not just of the Marxists, but of the most serious strategists of Capital. Barely six weeks have passed since the latest Greek rescue package, and it is already unravelling. There is now a general crisis of confidence in the ranks of the bourgeoisie internationally. The panic, which is reflected in the wild gyrations of the stock exchanges, has spread rapidly from Europe to America. It is a kind of deadly contagion that has infected all the euro zone’s big countries.

Events are moving at lightening speed. Stock markets are in freefall around the world. Some days bring temporary relief only to be followed by greater convulsions. The whole situation is reminiscent of 2008, or more correctly the 1930s.

The euro zone is heading into stormy waters. The crisis that opened with the near collapse of the world banking system in 2008 has now deepened into a crisis of insolvency of entire nations. The bourgeois has no idea of how to get out of the crisis, which is sweeping like an uncontrollable tsunami from one country to another in Europe. In the words of Italy’s finance minister, “There should be no illusions about who will be saved. Like on the Titanic, the first class passengers won’t be able to save themselves.”

As I write these lines the destinies of Greece are being decided in a titanic struggle in which the Greek working class is confronting the big banks and capitalists of all Europe. The EU is subjecting Greece to the most shameless blackmail. They say: either accept draconian cuts in your living standards, or else we will refuse to hand over the next tranche of 12 billion euros.

Capitalism isn't working. Photo: Jeff McNeil

Everywhere you look there is upheaval and crisis, from Europe to Japan and to the United States. This reflects the worldwide malaise of capitalism that is struggling to emerge from the recent slump. This is a confirmation of Marxist ideas, which explains that capitalism is a crisis-ridden system.

A recent edition of The Economist (April 7, 2011) complained about “Capitalism’s waning popularity”. One does not have to be a genius to understand that thirty years or more of cuts in welfare, large scale privatizations and constant pressure on workers in the workplace was sooner or later going to end up with ordinary working people questioning the system that is responsible for these policies, i.e. capitalism.

Yesterday, the US federal reserve announced another round of so called “quantitative easing”, or “printing money” as most people know it. Another $600bn are to be injected into the US economy in order to stave off a double dip recession and to lower unemployment. The US ruling class are worried and are continuing their extraordinary measures, which will further intensify the contradictions in the world economy.

Although everyone has claimed that they have learned the lessons of the 1930s, the ruling classes are again engaging in the same policies that proved so calamitous 80 years ago. Deep tensions inside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have recently emerged over currency manipulation, as countries take action to defend their own national interests against their rivals. Like gangsters, they can divide out the loot in ‘good times’ but are at each other’s throats in times of difficulty.

Recently the world’s central bankers gathered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for their annual meeting. Having experienced the biggest banking crisis in history, there was a sense of relief at having avoided a complete collapse. The talk now was of the dust settling. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, despite saying a month earlier that the outlook was “unusually uncertain”, said he was now “confident”. But such confidence is very much misplaced. With the world economy facing at best a painful recovery, and slow anaemic growth, the world’s bankers are deeply troubled as to what steps to take next.

The recent G20 summit in Toronto brought to the surface all the contradictions of global capitalism. Every capitalist nation wants to climb out of the crisis at the expense of its competitors. Everyone is calling for demand to be kept up, while at the same time applying cuts in public spending at home. At the heart of this are the mountains of debt that have accumulated everywhere.

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