Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Gold Final Warning: Here Are the Stunning Implications of Plunging Gold Price - P_Radomski_CFA
2.Fed Balance Sheet QE4EVER - Stock Market Trend Forecast Analysis - Nadeem_Walayat
3.UK House Prices, Immigration, and Population Growth Mega Trend Forecast - Part1 - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Gold and Silver Precious Metals Pot Pourri - Rambus_Chartology
5.The Exponential Stocks Bull Market - Nadeem_Walayat
6.Yield Curve Inversion and the Stock Market 2019 - Nadeem_Walayat
7.America's 30 Blocks of Holes - James_Quinn
8.US Presidential Cycle and Stock Market Trend 2019 - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Dear Stocks Bull Market: Happy 10 Year Anniversary! - Troy_Bombardia
10.Britain's Demographic Time Bomb Has Gone Off! - Nadeem_Walayat
Last 7 days
Stock Market Crash Edition - 26th Mar 19
Handy Ways to Boost Your Home Income - 26th Mar 19
US Treasury Bond Yield Inversion and Political Fed Cycles - 26th Mar 19
Golan Heights Oil all about the Shekels - 26th Mar 19
Falling Yields a Catalyst for The Gold Catalyst - 26th Mar 19
Can We Lock Up Rachel Maddow Now? - 25th Mar 19
Real US National Debt Might Be $230 Trillion - 25th Mar 19
Friday's Stock Market Sell-Off - New Downtrend or Just Correction? - 25th Mar 19
20 Days Left to Find Buying Opportunities In Gold - 25th Mar 19
Will the Historic Imbalance in Gold Stocks to Gold Price Resolve ? - 25th Mar 19
EasySMX Wireless Games Controllers Review - 25th Mar 19
Stock Market Short-term Top - 25th Mar 19
UK Population Growth - Latest ONS Immigration Statistics and Consequences - 24th Mar 19
The Fed Follows Trump's Tweets, And Does The Right Thing - 24th Mar 19
Yield Curves, 2yr Yield, SPX Stocks and a Crack Up Boom? - 24th Mar 19
Risk/Reward in Silver Favors Buying Now, Not Waiting for Big Moves - 23rd Mar 19
Similarities Between Stock Market Today and Previous Bull Market Tops - 23rd Mar 19
Stock Market DOW Seasonal Trend Analysis - 23rd Mar 19
US Dollar Breakdown on Fed Was Much Worse Than It Looks - 23rd Mar 19
Gold Mid-Tier GDXJ Stocks Fundamentals - 23rd Mar 19
Which Currency Pairs Stand to Benefit from Prevailing Risk Aversion? - 23rd Mar 19
If You Get These 3 Things Right, You’ll Never Have to Worry About Money - 22nd Mar 19
March 2019 Cryptocurrency Technical Analysis - 22nd Mar 19
Turkey Tourist Fakes Market Bargains Haggling Top Tips - 22nd Mar 19
Next Recession: Finding A 48% Yield Amid The Ruins - 22nd Mar 19
Your Future Stock Returns Might Unpleasantly Surprise You - 22nd Mar 19
Fed Acknowledges “Recession Risks”. Run for the Hills! - 22nd Mar 19
Will Bridging Loans Grow in Demand and Usage in 2019? - 22nd Mar 19
Does Fed Know Something Gold Investors Do Not Know? - 21st Mar 19
Gold …Some Confirmations to Watch For - 21st Mar 19
UKIP No Longer About BrExit, Becomes BNP 2.0, Muslim Hate Party - 21st Mar 19
A Message to the Gold Bulls: Relying on the CoT Gives You A False Sense of Security - 20th Mar 19
The Secret to Funding a Green New Deal - 20th Mar 19
Vietnam, Part I: Colonialism and National Liberation - 20th Mar 19
Will the Fed Cut its Interest Rate Forecast, Pushing Gold Higher? - 20th Mar 19
Dow Jones Stock Market Topping Pattern - 20th Mar 19
Gold Stocks Outperform Gold but Not Stocks - 20th Mar 19
Here’s What You’re Not Hearing About the US - China Trade War - 20th Mar 19
US Overdosing on Debt - 19th Mar 19
Looking at the Economic Winter Season Ahead - 19th Mar 19
Will the Stock Market Crash Like 1937? - 19th Mar 19
Stock Market VIX Volaility Analysis - 19th Mar 19
FREE Access to Stock and Finanacial Markets Trading Analysis Worth $1229! - 19th Mar 19
US Stock Markets Price Anomaly Setup Continues - 19th Mar 19

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Stock Market Trend Forecast March to September 2019

European Union Sinking into Economic Depression, The Coming Debt Wars

Economics / Great Depression II Apr 09, 2010 - 01:48 AM GMT

By: Michael_Hudson

Economics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleGovernment debt in Greece is just the first in a series of European debt bombs that are set to explode. The mortgage debts in post-Soviet economies and Iceland are more explosive.  Although these countries are not in the Eurozone, most of their debts are denominated in euros. Some 87% of Latvia’s debts are in euros or other foreign currencies, and are owed mainly to Swedish banks, while Hungary and Romania owe euro-debts mainly to Austrian banks. So their government borrowing by non-euro members has been to support exchange rates to pay these private-sector debts to foreign banks, not to finance a domestic budget deficit as in Greece.


All these debts are unpayably high because most of these countries are running deepening trade deficits and are sinking into depression. Now that real estate prices are plunging, trade deficits are no longer financed by an inflow of foreign-currency mortgage lending and property buyouts. There is no visible means of support to stabilize currencies (e.g., healthy economies). For the past year these countries have supported their exchange rates by borrowing from the EU and IMF. The terms of this borrowing are politically unsustainable: sharp public sector budget cuts, higher tax rates on already over-taxed labor, and austerity plans that shrink economies and drive more labor to emigrate.

Bankers in Sweden and Austria, Germany and Britain are about to discover that extending credit to nations that can’t (or won’t) pay may be their problem, not that of their debtors. No one wants to accept the fact that debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. Someone must bear the cost as debts go into default or are written down, to be paid in sharply depreciated currencies, but many legal experts find debt agreements calling for repayment in euros unenforceable. Every sovereign nation has the right to legislate its own debt terms, and the coming currency re-alignments and debt write-downs will be much more than mere “haircuts.”

There is no point in devaluing, unless “to excess” – that is, by enough to actually change trade and production patterns. That is why Franklin Roosevelt devalued the US dollar by 75% against gold in 1933, raising its official price from $20 to $35 an ounce. And to avoid raising the U.S. debt burden proportionally, he annulled the “gold clause” indexing payment of bank loans to the price of gold. This is where the political fight will occur today – over the payment of debt in currencies that are devalued.

Another byproduct of the Great Depression in the United States and Canada was to free mortgage debtors from personal liability, making it possible to recover from bankruptcy. Foreclosing banks can take possession of collateral real estate, but do not have any further claim on the mortgagees. This practice – grounded in common law – shows how North America has freed itself from the legacy of feudal-style creditor power and the debtors’ prisons that made earlier European debt laws so harsh.

The question is, who will bear the loss? Keeping debts denominated in euros would bankrupt much local business and real estate. Conversely, re-denominating these debts in local depreciated currency will wipe out the capital of many euro-based banks. But these banks are foreigners, after all – and in the end, governments must represent their own home electorates. Foreign banks do not vote.

Foreign dollar holders have lost 29/30th of the gold value of their holdings since the United States stopped settling its balance-of-payments deficits in gold in 1971. They now receive less than a thirtieth of this, as the price has risen to $1,100 an ounce. If the world can take that, why shouldn’t it take the coming European debt write-downs in stride?

There is growing recognition that the post-Soviet economies were structured from the start to benefit foreign interests, not local economies. For example, Latvian labor is taxed at over 50% (labor, employer, and social tax) – so high as to make it noncompetitive, while property taxes are less than 1%, providing an incentive toward rampant speculation. This skewed tax philosophy made the “Baltic Tigers” and central Europe prime loan markets for Swedish and Austrian banks, but their labor could not find well-paying work at home. Nothing like this (or their abysmal workplace protection laws) is found in the Western European, North American or Asian economies.

It seems unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that large sectors of the New European population can be made subject to salary garnishment throughout their lives, reducing them to a lifetime of debt peonage. Future relations between Old and New Europe will depend on the Eurozone’s willingness to re-design the post-Soviet economies on more solvent lines – with more productive credit and a less rentier-biased tax system that promotes employment rather than asset-price inflation that drives labor to emigrate. In addition to currency realignments to deal with unaffordable debt, the indicated line of solution for these countries is a major shift of taxes off labor onto land, making them more like Western Europe. There is no just alternative. Otherwise, the age-old conflict-of-interest between creditors and debtors threatens to split Europe into opposing political camps, with Iceland the dress rehearsal.

Until this debt problem is resolved – and the only way to resolve it is to negotiate a debt write-off – European expansion (the absorption of New Europe into Old Europe) seems over. But the transition to this future solution will not be easy. Financial interests still wield dominant power over the EU, and will resist the inevitable. Gordon Brown already has shown his colors in his threats against Iceland to illegally and improperly use the IMF as a collection agent for debts that Iceland doesn’t legally owe, and to blackball Icelandic membership in the EU.

Confronted with Mr. Brown’s bullying – and that of Britain’s Dutch poodles – 97% of Icelandic voters opposed the debt settlement that Britain and the Netherlands sought to force down the throat of Allthing members last month. This high a vote has not been seen in the world since the old Stalinist era.

It is only a foretaste. The choice that Europe ends up making will likely drive millions into the streets. Political and economic alliances will shift, currencies will crumble and governments will fall. The European Union and indeed, the international financial system will change in ways yet to be seen. This will be especially the case if nations adopt the Argentina model and refuse to make payment until steep discounts are made.

Paying in euros – for real estate and personal income streams in negative equity, where the debts exceed the current value of income flows available to pay mortgages or for that matter, personal debts – is impossible for nations that hope to maintain a modicum of civil society. “Austerity plans” IMF and EU style is an antiseptic, technocratic jargon for life-shortening and killing impact of gutting income, social services, spending on health on hospitals, education and other basic needs, and selling off public infrastructure for buyers to turn nations into “tollbooth economies” where everyone is obliged to pay access prices for roads, education, medical care and other costs of living and doing business that have long been subsidized by progressive taxation in North America and Western Europe.

The battle lines are being drawn regarding how private and public debts are to be repaid. For nations that balk at repayment in euros, the creditor nations have their “muscle” waiting in the wings: the credit rating agencies. At the first sign a nation is balking in paying in hard currency, or even at the first hint of it questioning a foreign debt as improper, the agencies will move in to reduce a nation’s credit rating. This will increase the cost of borrowing and threaten to paralyze the economy by starving it for credit.

The most recent shot was fired n April 6 when Moody’s downgraded Iceland’s debt from stable to negative. “Moody’s acknowledged that Iceland might still achieve a better deal in renewed negotiations, but said the current uncertainty was hurting the country’s short-term economic and financial prospects.”[1]

The fight is on. It should be an interesting decade.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist and now a Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), and president of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET). He is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World Economy. He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

Michael Hudson is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by Michael Hudson

© Copyright Michael Hudson, Global Research, 2010

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). The Centre for Research on Globalization will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules