Category Archives: Economics

Posts related to the theory and practice of economics, the global financial crisis, banking and international finance, etc.

Sweden Wants Your Trash

One of Many Trash Piles_4467c

Sweden Wants Your Trash : Move over Abba, Sweden has found new fame. The small Nordic country is breaking records — in waste. Sweden’s program of generating energy from garbage is wildly successful, but recently its success has also generated a surprising issue: There is simply not enough trash.

Only 4 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in a landfill, according to Swedish Waste Management. Due to its efficiency in converting waste to renewable energy, Sweden has recently begun importing around 800,000 tons of trash annually from other countries. (via NPR.)

This is nice. Awesome even.  But only for now, as a kind of stopgap.  There is simply no way that the energy which Sweden gets from the waste comes anywhere close to the energy used in making that trash (and transporting it to Sweden).

Sweden’s trash importing only makes sense in a world where too much trash is produced, and countries are running out of landfill and other disposal options.

There are – or should be – concerns about pollution and toxics, though Sweden being Sweden I’m sure they’ve addressed this fairly adequately.

But even so, no one should be lulled into thinking this is anything other than an emergency measure for a crazy, unsustainable time.

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Greek Elections – and photos of the protests that drove the change

With the Greek election results heralding a massive rejection of the current EU/ECB/IMF austerity plans for that country, and of the two parties that have run Greece for the last two decades, I figured I’d post some photos of the clashes that contributed to this result.

The downside of the election results is a massive surge in popularity for the far-right, anti-immigrant, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.  The upside is that the dominant parties to emerge from the election are all progressive and leftist.

Back in  February, Greeks battled police in central Athens to protest harsh austerity measures. Parliament members had approved an austerity plan in an effort to get $170 billion in bailout money from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund as part of a deal in which private creditors will take loses of up to 70 percent on the debt they hold.

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For info and background…

Free e-book: Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality

Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality
BENJAMIN I. PAGE AND LAWRENCE R. JACOBS
Published April 2009

“Class War? is the right question, and Page and Jacobs provide the right answer: Americans are more concerned about inequality and less divided over what should be done about it than the pundits presume. Everyone interested in America’s widening income gap—and everyone, including our leaders, should be—needs to read this book.”—Jacob S. Hacker

Get this e-book free from the University of Chicago Press – though you’ll have to use Adobe’s Digital Editions software to read it.

It’s not just a company—it’s a community.

Except it’s not, and can’t be. At least, not with the way things are.

Reporting on the closure of Boeing’s Wichita factory, CBS Evening News interviewed a former Boeing engineer who criticized the company’s decision, and the way that decision was announced, saying “It’s not just a company—it’s a community.”

It’s a community if you’re a worker, but if you’re the company, it’s not; it is just a company.  If the company tried to take care of the community rather than do whatever was best for its bottom line, regardless of cost to that company, it would open itself to shareholder lawsuits, among other things.

That engineer was naive to think otherwise, to expect Boeing to have any loyalty to the “community” where it had built planes since the 1920s.

So too was the congressman naive who complained about the huge amount of money spent providing Boeing with tax breaks and other incentives for their plant in Wichita.  Boeing took the money when it could, and left when it wanted; I can’t believe he expected anything different.

Corporations are not persons, whatever Republicans say. And companies are not communities, and have no loyalty to communities. They are not part of the web of society.  As Wichita has found out to its cost, big companies like Boeing are often more like parasites, or predators. #occupy

Actual vs. Estimated U.S. Wealth Distribution

Actual vs. Estimated U.S. Wealth Distribution: an interesting graph that compares the actual distribution of wealth in the U.S. compared to what different groups estimate the distribution to be (via Sociological Images):

It’s striking that everyone underestimates the percentage of wealth controlled by the top, and overestimates everyone else’s. And, as Sociological Images points out, particularly the amount of wealth, the financial resources, of the poor – which doesn’t even register visible on the “actual” graph line.

Paul Krugman, That Sexy Beast, on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Op-Ed Columnist – Bush Tax Cuts – Now That’s Rich – NYTimes.com:

We need to pinch pennies these days. Don’t you know we have a budget deficit? For months that has been the word from Republicans and conservative Democrats, who have rejected every suggestion that we do more to avoid deep cuts in public services and help the ailing economy.

But these same politicians are eager to cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.

Read the rest here.

Seven more US banks collapse

Seven more US banks collapse on day of Europe’s stress tests: More than 100 banks in the US have now collapsed so far this year after another seven were taken over by regulators late on Friday – the same day that seven European banks failed a financial health check… (via The Observer.)

Bruce Sterling on our terroristic financial system

Augmented Cities: A Q&A with Bruce Sterling: You’re a thousand times more likely to die because of what some urban banker did in 2008 than from what some Afghan-based terrorist did in 2001. Financiers live in small, panicky urban cloisters, severely detached from the rest of mankind. They are living today in rich-guy ghetto cults. They are truly dangerous to our well-being, and they are getting worse and more extremist, not better and more reasonable. You’re not gonna realize this havoc till you see your elderly Mom coughing in an emergency ward, but she’s going there for a reason… (via Shareable.)

BP Oil Spill: Real Cause and Culprits Revealed

After extensive investigation, and with the help of a courageous whistleblower, we can now reveal the true cause and real culprits behind the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil spill: right-wing extremists.

Home-grown terrorists with connections to neo-Nazi survivalists in Idaho and eastern Oregon and militia groups in Michigan and Texas deliberately sabotaged the oil rig, leading to the explosion and subsequent spill that is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The sabotage was planned by an Alaskan sympathizer, a devotee of Sarah Palin with a background working in the oil industry, and was carried out by a member of the group from Texas who managed to get a job on the rig. It is not known at this time whether this individual is among the survivors, or if in fact he perished in the explosion he himself caused.

Originally, the act of sabotage was planned for April 19 – a day of great significance among American right-wing extremists, as the day of the fiery end of the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City bombing (see, eg, here for some background). However, the group feared that this might make it too obvious not only that it was a deliberate act of sabotage, but also who was responsible – which would have interfered with their overall aims. The sabotage was therefore moved to April 20 – as Hitler’s birthday still a significant date, but it was felt the connection would not be made.

Their primary aim was to discredit President Obama with a Hurricane Katrina-scale disaster on his watch. To that end, members of the group infiltrated a number of disaster management organizations in the region, including FEMA, the Coast Guard and the Red Cross – planning to subtly disrupt and sabotage the emergency response to create a more widespread and damaging situation that would reflect badly on the Federal government in general, and the Obama administration in particular.

Another motive behind the attack, and the factor that determined the specific choice of targets, was concern about foreign control of what the group had come to see as a crucial component of national security: oil, and energy supplies more generally. The hope was that the spill would reflect so badly on BP – British Petroleum – that both they and Shell would be blocked from further oil extraction activities in America’s strategic energy reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

For these reasons, it was crucial that the true cause of the spill – deliberate sabotage – and the identity of those responsible be kept hidden. The Alaskan sympathizer’s study of the Deepwater Horizon facility made it clear that the safety systems in place were woefully inadequate, with a major lack of redundancy and backups; it seemed likely that only minor and almost certainly detectable sabotage would lead to an explosion and a major spill, as in fact proved to be the case…

Now…

As you may have guessed, this is a complete fabrication, a work of fiction. Nothing I’ve written here – beyond the issue of the inadequacy of the safety systems on the rig – has any basis in fact (as far as I know).

What I find interesting is that it is not really any less plausible than the conspiracy nonsense being spewed by people like Rush Limbaugh – who reportedly suggested that environmental extremists might have deliberately caused one of the worst environmental disasters in years.

In fact – stripped of the thriller aspects – my conspiracy theory actually seems a bit more plausible: that right-wing extremists might be behind it as an attempt to discredit Obama and/or foreign control of American oil, and that the date of the explosion was chosen deliberately.

Greece Now and Then, and the Euro Crisis

Another round up of posts, links and ledes on Greece – responses to the bank deaths, some history of Greek protests, and a few items on the crisis with the euro, which is being fueled by the situation in Greece…

Bruce Cockburn, “Call It Democracy” (lyrics)- from the album World of Wonders (1986) – a music attack on the IMF

Greece Now – with particular attention to the bank deaths

Who knew the European Union had so much power over its member states?: “For the time being, the markets have been pacified. For the moment, the riots in Athens have subsided. Only ‘hundreds’ of demonstrators came out over the weekend, fewer than the 50,000 who killed three people during a violent petrol-bomb attack on a bank last week. But this temporary truce in Greece has been bought at a high price—by which I don’t just mean that it was expensive….”

(via Slate Magazine.)

The welfare state’s death spiral: “Washington Post – By Robert J. Samuelson – May. 10 (Opinion) – What we’re seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn’t Greece’s problem alone, and that’s why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven’t fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies….”

(via NewsTrust.)

Austerity measures approved in Greece, protests continue: “The new measures have been voted in the Greek Parliament yesterday by a majority of 172 votes out of a total 300, these including the votes of the ruling Socialist Party (PASOK) and the extreme-right party of junta nostalgic creeps, LAOS.

The Conservative party, the Communist Party and the Radical Coalition of the Left voted against the measures. The procedure was not without surprises as 3 PASOK MPs cast a blank vote, leading to their expulsion from the Party. One of them a veteran Socialist politician and Olympic Games champion Mrs Sacorafa is refusing to hand over her seat in Parliament. At the same time the ex-Foreign Affairs Minister, daughter of the ex- PM Konstantinos Mitsotakis, and defeated candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives, Mrs Bakoyanni voted for the measures leading to her immediate expulsion from the Party – a move expected to lead the Conservatives to a major crisis. The demand of the Left for a 180 vote majority for the measures to be passed (a rule applied for constitutional reform) was not accepted by the government….

(via libcom.org.)

The Fair Uprising of 120,000 Demonstrators in Athens, Greece.
From Anarchist Coil.

THE FAIR UPRISING OF 120,000 DEMONSTRATORS, THE RAID AGAINST THE PARLIAMENT BY TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ENRAGED PEOPLE HAD NOTHING AND COULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PARA-STATE GANG WHO MURDERED THREE PEOPLE IN A BANK IN STADIOU STR. AND TRIED UNSUCCESSFULLY TO DO THE SAME AT THE BOOKSTORE IANOS

“Oh sky, your mirror image can be seen on the mud also”.

At first, we want to make it clear that our anger is indescribable, for the cowardly para-state gang who is responsible for murdering three people, two women, one pregnant on the fourth month, and a man who worked at Marfin bank at Stadiou Str., as well as for the gang of politicians and journalists who rushed to associate the fair uprising of hundreds of thousands of people in Athens and other cities with this atrocious murder.

But the truth cannot be erased. An angry river of protesters surrounded the Parliament and for hours and hours attempted to invade during a ferocious battle with the forces of repression….

(via Anarchist news dot org.)

In critical and suffocating times: “The Ta Paida Tis Galarias (The Children of The Gallery) group report on the recent demonstrations in Athens against austerity measures, including the events leading to the tragic deaths of three bank workers and its implications for the movement of opposition.

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Greece – More Ledes and Links

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Another round up of recent headlines, ledes, blog posts and soundbites from around the internet on the situation in Greece…

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The Global Financial System Sucks

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Remember the “rogue trader” who wiped out Barings Bank, the oldest merchant bank in London – and hence one of the oldest banks in the world – when he lost well over $1 billion speculating on futures contracts? How about Jérôme Kerviel, who “lost” almost $7 billion playing with futures in 2008? What about the American S&L Crisis that began in the 1980s? That ended up producing losses of around $160 billion – most of which was paid for by a government bailout under President George H. W. Bush, directly contributing to the budget deficit blowout of the early 1990s.

Rogue traders, futures, options and derivatives, housing bubbles, Ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff, Bear Stearns, AIG, Washington Mutual, Goldman Sachs, the list goes on and on. In the most recent outrage from the financial sector, it looked like some schmuck said “billion” instead of “million” and sent the stock market into one of its worst nosedives in history, though now it seems like out-of-control software may have been to blame. Either way – stupid and sucky.

Stock Selloff May Have Been Triggered by Trader Error: “CNBC.com – May. 06 () – In one of the most dizzying half-hours in stock market history, the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points before paring those losses in what possibly could have been a trader error.”

(via NewsTrust.)

How many more examples of the greed, corruption and ineptitude of the global financial system and the people who run it – and on which so much now depends (know anyone who’s lost a job or a house recently?) – do we need before we decide that a root-and-branch overhaul is needed of the whole rotten setup?

And it is clear that Obama – our sexy black president – is not the man for the job. But are we surprised? He’s an American politician, a committed part of a system which is deeply enmeshed with the American and global financial system. And he is perhaps even more in thrall to Big Money than some other presidents. He’s so excited to be making the big bucks and playing with the big boys.

And now he has to worry about the mid-term elections, and after that his own re-election. He’ll be campaigning from now on, more or less continuously, and while bashing banks may have a certain populist appeal, it doesn’t seem to be doable in Congress – too many Congressmen get too much money from those guys, or are those guys or want to be those guys when they get kicked out of office – and failure of another major policy push would be very damaging.

He’ll do good things, no doubt – but to expect a real overhaul of this rotten system is unrealistic. Expect bandaid reform: something that can be sold to voters as reform, but that doesn’t really hit the megabanks and money houses where they live – in their pocketbooks, power and penis-substitutes – and does little to correct the systemic dysfunctionality.

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Greek Bailout – some people are riding higher in the boat…


© Copyright 2010 Arend van Dam – All Rights Reserved.

via PoliticalCartoons.com.

Crisis in Greece – with Statement on Bank Deaths

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Another roundup of news articles and blog posts on the situation in Greece, with particular attention to the deaths in the bank fire… Obviously, there’s a vast amount of material out there, far more than I could ever repost/link to here. I’m trying to select significant articles from mainstream, but not too bad news sources along with useful inputs from left perspectives – but basically what you are getting is what I read that I found helpful, enlightening, provocative or enraging.

Greek Protests Claim First Fatalities – Slide Show
Demonstrations against tough new austerity measures in Greece claimed their first fatalities with three people reported to have died inside a bank building set ablaze by protesters. Protesters marched in Athens on Wednesday.

(via NYTimes.com.)

Debt crisis: The EU is waterboarding Greece | Poul Nyrup Rasmussen: “The austerity measures forced on to the Greeks are not only unfair, they set a bad precedent for the rest of Europe

On the day of the eurozone leaders’ meeting in Brussels, it is essential that we look at what is really going on in the European Union. The Conservative majority in the EU has again lost sight of the big picture. Its punishment of Greece is like the nation-state equivalent of waterboarding….”

(via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

Greek Lawmakers Pass Austerity Plan: “The crucial vote stirred immediate concerns about unrest among the thousands of protesters massed in Athens.”
(via NYT > Home Page.)

It’s Not About Greece Anymore: “The Greek rescue package announced last weekend is far from enough to stabilize the euro zone, two economists write.”
(via NYT > Home Page.)

Greece Riots as Seen on Twitter, YouTube: “As riots explode in Greece, pictures and videos are flying around the social web, shared from news sources and folks on the ground. The images and videos we’re seeing are nothing short of otherworldly and terrifying. Riot police don gas masks, violent protesters take over the streets, gun shots ring out and open flames burn in the streets.

Readers should be aware that some folks may find the content below, particularly video content, shocking, disturbing or offensive. Please keep this in mind when you decide whether or not to watch these videos.”

(via Mashable!.)

“The management of the bank strictly barred the employees from leaving today … while they also forced the employees to lock up the doors” – Statements on the deaths in Athens: “Following the deaths of three workers in a fire at a bank in central Athens yesterday, we reproduce for reference the statements of a worker at the Marfin bank on the incident, and the communiques of the bank workers’ union OTOE and the Skaramanga squat in Athens. The bank workers union struck today in response to the deaths, blaming the goverment and employers for the fatalities.

The statement of an employee of the Marfin bank on the deaths:

Quote:
‘I feel an obligation toward my co-workers who have so unjustly died today to speak out and to say some objective truths. I am sending this message to all media outlets. Anyone who still bares some consciousness should publish it. The rest can continue to play the government’s game.” more

(via libcom.org.)

State terror in Exarcheia: “In an orgy of collective punishment the Greek police unleashed a brutal attack on Exarcheia, after the end of yesterday’s protest march, destroying shops and social centres, evacuating a squat at gunpoint and brutalising the locals.

The police brutality seen on the streets of Exarcheia last evening after the end of the general strike protest march in Athens has been unprecedented and casts serious doubts on the nature of the present regime in Greece which is casting away its democratic veil to expose itself as what it really is: the continuation of the colonel’s junta.”

(via libcom.org.)

What do we honestly have to say about Wednesday’s events?: “What do the events of Wednesday (5/5) honestly mean for the anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement? How do we stand in the face of the deaths of these three people – regardless of who caused them? Where do we stand as humans and as people in struggle? Us, who do not accept that there are such things as “isolated incidents” (of police or state brutality) and who point the finger, on a daily basis, at the violence exercised by the state and the capitalist system. Us, who have the courage to call things by their name; us who expose those who torture migrants in police stations or those who play around with our lives from inside glamorous offices and TV studios. So, what do we have to say now?

(via After the Greek Riots › Irregular updates and articles on the situation in Greece, in English.)

Greece at the Brink of the Abyss

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

A roundup of news articles and blog posts on the situation in Greece…

Lots of attention to the protests, but also an increasing sense that the bailout so far approved will not be enough for Greece, and that the financial problems may yet extend to other countries in the eurozone. Meanwhile, it is still difficult to find serious, indepth discussions of the austerity measures from the perspective of the average Greek.

A story has also been circulating that the country’s financial problems could be substantially ameliorated by getting tax evaders to pony up their fair share – such as 1000s of swimming pool owners in Athens. But other articles dispute the value of this as a solution.

Regarding the protests, there are the usual responses in the news media – some decrying the violence of anarchists and young people, others dismissing the protests as insignificant. But when the protesters are farmers, civil servants and school teachers, it is clear that this is not just a case of student radicals always ready to leap to the barricades, that something significant is indeed going on. Particularly when the President of the country describes it as “at the brink of the abyss.” But his abyss might be your threshold, a path to a different future.

Hopefully, we will soon see articles from more mainstream but progressive news outlets gaining traction with stories about what is really going on – both with the protests, and with the attempts to rescue the Greek economy. In the meantime…

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