Goodbye Regulations, Hello Impending Global Financial Crisis

Prof.dr. Gerald Epstein

Ten years after the last financial crisis, Republicans — with backing from many Democrats — have made sure that Wall Street can return to its old ways of doing business by repealing the Dodd-Frank Act, which acted up to now as a very mild regulatory regime to rein in the predatory nature of financial capital. The decision to repeal Dodd-Frank was justified on the grounds that it put a break on economic growth. Gerald Epstein, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, argues that this is not true at all. In this exclusive Truthout interview, Epstein notes that it is now very likely that the “toxic, speculative activities” of the Wall Street crowd will return with a menace, thereby preparing the groundwork for the next global financial crisis.

C.J. Polychroniou: Following the financial crisis of 2008, a bill was passed in 2010 under the Obama administration that sought to contain risks in the US financial system. The bill, which was sponsored by US Sen. Christopher Dodd and US Rep. Barney Frank, was rather weak as a regulatory regime. Nonetheless, it was severely criticized by conservatives. Donald Trump delivered a mixed message in running for president, railing against the big banks and Hillary Clinton’s connections to Wall Street, while at the same time promising more deregulation. Now, Congress has passed and President Trump has signed into law a comprehensive financial deregulation law, “The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act.” In addition, Trump-appointed financial regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have implemented policies to loosen regulations further on a variety of financial institutions and activities. The backers of rolling back Dodd-Frank have claimed that financial deregulation will increase economic growth and provide more credit to households and business. First, what were the weaknesses of the Dodd-Frank Act, and did it actually contribute to anemic economic growth, as its Republican critics like Paul Ryan and others are arguing?

Gerald Epstein: The main weakness of the Dodd-Frank Act is that it did not break up the “too big to fail” financial institutions. As a result, these large financial institutions retained the power to blackmail the public to bail them out the next time there is a financial meltdown and, as we have seen since Trump was elected, to buy off enough politicians to roll back the weak financial regulations that were passed. More generally, Dodd-Frank had way too many loopholes that resulted from financial sector lobbying so that it could never be implemented in its strongest form.

No, Dodd-Frank did not contribute to anemic growth. There is no evidence of this. Anemic growth was largely due to the legacy of the financial crisis itself, in which a great deal of household wealth was decimated, and to the continuing austerity policies that the Republicans were able to force on a weak-kneed and Wall Street-bedazzled Obama administration. On top of these factors are the long-term structural problems of the US economy related to the high level of inequality — itself largely due to the oversized power of Wall Street — and to the widespread disinvestment of US multinational corporations from the US economy, among other factors. If anything, Dodd-Frank worked against some of these tendencies, and thereby helped to sustain the long economic recovery that the Trump administration is now benefiting politically from. Read more

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EU’s Debt Deal Is “Kiss of Death” For Greece

After eight long and extremely painful years of austerity due to gigantic rescue packages that were accompanied by brutal neoliberal measures, in Athens, the “leftist” government of Alexis Tsipras has announced that the era of austerity is now over thanks to the conclusion of a debt agreement with European creditors.

In the early hours of June 22, a so-called “historic” deal on debt relief was reached at a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers after it was assessed that Greece had successfully completed its European Stability Mechanism program, and that there was no need for a follow-up program.

The idea that Greece’s bailout programs can be considered a success adds a new twist to the government’s Orwellian doublespeak, given the fact that the country has experienced the biggest economic crisis in postwar Europe, with its gross domestic product (GDP) having shrunk by about a quarter, and reporting the highest unemployment rate (currently standing at 20.1 percent) of all European Union (EU) states.

On top of that, the ratio of the country’s public debt to gross GDP has risen from 127 percent in 2009 to about 180 percent, a development which has essentially turned Greece into a debt colony, leading to pressing demands that all valuable public assets be sold — including airports, railways, ports, sewerage systems, and gas and energy resources. Indeed, since the start of the bailout programs, Greek governments have been trying hard to outdo one another on the privatization front in order to satisfy the demands of the official creditors, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Still, the current pseudo-leftist Syriza government has proven to be the most servile of Greek governments to creditors.

Arguments for privatization aside, the deadly combination of higher debt and declining GDP had most economists convinced quite early on that austerity was killing Greece’s economy, and that a debt write-off would be at some point absolutely necessary for medium- and long-term recovery. However, Germany and its northern European allies had diametrically opposed this idea, insisting on even stronger doses of austerity, while balking at the prospect of a debt write-off. Read more

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