Glencore and their ilk are screwing the world

The system is wrong, not the people. The financial sector is out of control and is screwing the rest of us. We know traders will trade in anything that looks like making a profit. We know they make profits out of rising prices, and falling prices, it’s just a matter of betting correctly. And we know, if they’re big enough, or close enough to one that is, they can start stories going which affect prices and then bet accordingly. Though we might have thought that was illegal. This month the Financial Times has run a series of articles on Glencore showing how they influence commodity prices for their own profit and everyone else’s loss, and how they are expected to increase their stranglehold in key areas.

Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trader, is in the news because its initial public offering of shares to the London Stock Exchange, scheduled for late May, is expected to value the company at between £60 billion and £73 billion, putting it comfortably in the FTSE100 index on its first day of trading. It may be big but the FT reports that Glencore has paid “almost no corporate taxes on its trading business for years in spite of bumper profits.” That may be no surprise since that’s how these financial sector firms are allowed to work, but the way it trades, revealed in relation to Russian wheat and corn, is more interesting.

Continue reading Glencore and their ilk are screwing the world

Why Don’t We Make the Bankers Pay?

In the United States, Goldman Sachs, hugely profitable out of the financial crisis, still rules the roost. According to Senator Carl Levin, chair of the senate permanent sub-committee on investigations, in the report on Wall Street and the Financial Crisis, it’s a “sordid story” of a “financial snake-pit, rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing.” Levin said he would be recommending Goldman executives be referred for criminal prosecution. But that’s barely news. Goldman have paid for their criminality before. In the UK this startling story is hidden away in a few short paragraphs on page 26 of today’s Guardian (15th April). It hardly qualifies as news. Because everybody knows.

Continue reading Why Don’t We Make the Bankers Pay?

Economy Life Cycles

In 1914 UK owned 45% of the world’s foreign direct investment. America’s peaked at 50% in 1967, but is now less than half that, with the UK nowhere. Today China has just 6% but growing fast. America’s manufacturing productivity gains were in decline since 1970s (2.8% pa), well behind Germany (5.4%) and Japan (8.2%). American R&D expenditures in absolute decline. In relative terms the America’s real economy is following UK into absolute decline.

In a forthcoming book – ‘The Road to Co-operation: Escaping the Bottom Line’ – these various economies are identified as on different positions of the economy life cycle: UK and US being post-industrial, Japan and Germany, industrial, and China and India, industrialising. But what does post-industrial mean?

Continue reading Economy Life Cycles

Capitalism without bankruptcy: too big to fail

Industrialisation is what fired capitalism. Prior to that most capital was held in the form of land and buildings with not a lot of spare cash lying around waiting to be invested. Nor any pressing need for it. But when industrialisation began in the eighteenth century, it required major infrastructural investment in things such as canals, turnpike roads and subsequently railways. These huge projects took years before producing any return and the sums required were way beyond the capacity of wealthy individuals. Dispersed shareholding and large scale credit finance were brought into existence to enable the massive capital investments of industrialisation.

Contributory sums from large numbers of relatively small investors were multiplied by the bankers new found capacity for lending a proportion of deposits lodged with them for safe keeping. Even Marx acknowledged the ‘capitalistic system’ worked, having ‘created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.’ That was years before joint stock companies were allowed to provide the luxury of limited liability to their shareholders. When Marx was working on the Communist Manifesto, shareholders responsibility for their companies was total. If the company went bankrupt, they were liable for its debts and would in all probability go bankrupt with it. The possibility of bankruptcy was what gave the ‘capitalistic system’ its edge. As widely asserted, capitalism without bankruptcy is like religion without hell.
Continue reading Capitalism without bankruptcy: too big to fail