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Libor and the rotten heart of capitalism

Written By: - Date published: 11:09 am, August 8th, 2012 - 30 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war - Tags: , ,

Back in June I wrote a quick sarcastic piece about what I thought (at the time) was an unfolding banking scandal in England. Since then Libor has grown like a cancer, into a full fledged international crisis. Here’s a sample of coverage.

The Dark Heart of the Libor Scandal

Though, for most, the London Inter-Bank Offer Rate (Libor) interest rate fixing scandal appears to be distant and far too complex to understand, its potential consequences may be as economically devastating as a world war.

The Libor is used to set payments on $800 trillion worth of financial instruments. It sets the prices that people and corporations pay for loans and receive for savings. Given that the fraud impacted $10 trillion in consumer loans, the Libor scandal will likely leave a long list of previous financial scandals that contributed to the Great Recession look like child’s play.

It also pulls back the curtain on the mechanisms behind the world economy, its anti-social priorities, its willingness to gamble away the future of billions of people, and the government’s collusion in these operations. The Libor scandal reveals that the “invisible hand” Adam Smith spoke of in explaining how a capitalist economy regulates itself has been transformed into the trained hand of a swindler.

The Fed, Ben Bernanke and the rotten Libor

The case of the rigged Libor turns out to be the scandal that just keeps on giving. It reveals a great deal about the behaviour of the Federal Reserve Board and central banks more generally.

Last month, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave testimony before Congress in which he said that he had become aware of evidence that banks in the UK were rigging the Libor – the inter-bank lending rate and one of the primary benchmarks for short-term interest rates – in the autumn of 2008. According to Bernanke, he called this to the attention of Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Apparently Mervyn King did nothing, since the rigging continued, but Bernanke told Congress there was nothing more that he could do.

The implications of Bernanke’s claim are incredible. There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor. There are also huge derivative contracts whose value depends on the Libor at a moment in time. People were winning or losing on these deals not based on the market, but rather on the rigged Libor rate being set by the big banks.

Libor, Naked and Exposed

AMERICANS who save for the future, use credit cards or borrow money for tuition, cars and homes deserve assurance that the interest rates on their savings and loans are set in a reliable and honest way.

That’s why the revelation that the British bank Barclays attempted to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor — one of the benchmark rates used to determine the cost of borrowing around the world — is so disturbing. But the Barclays case isn’t only about misconduct by large financial institutions. It also raises questions about the reliability and accuracy of these key interest rates, which are largely determined by the private sector, without significant government oversight.

As Libor Fault-Finding Grows, It Is Now Every Bank for Itself

Major banks, which often band together when facing government scrutiny, are now turning on one another as an international investigation into the manipulation of interest rates gains momentum.

With billions of dollars and their reputations on the line, financial institutions have been spreading the blame in recent meetings with authorities, according to government and bank officials with knowledge of the matter. While acknowledging their own wrongdoing, institutions are pointing out actions at other banks that they believe are worse — and in some cases, extend to top executives.

For all the details see the excellent coverage at The Guardian. This is just another example of the rot at the heart of capitalism. Here’s pointers to a few more resources.

There have been plenty of high profile exposés:
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Inside Job
The Corporation

Some of the most powerful evidence comes from insider accounts:
Departing IMF Economist Blasts Fund
Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Other general reading:
Too big to jail: The Size of the Big Banks Is – Literally – Destroying the Rule of Law
Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor
Global banks are the financial services wing of the drug cartels
Are Big Banks Criminal Enterprises?
After Five Years: Report Card on Crisis Capitalism
£13tn hoard hidden from taxman by global elite

What it means for you and me:
Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
Income inequality and poverty rising in most OECD countries
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

And here’s how they get away with it:
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism
The Supreme Court Just Handed Anyone, Including bin Laden or the Chinese Government, Control of Our Democracy
Koch brothers aren’t just buying elections — they’re investing big in anti-science think tanks (video)

Happy reading! Please add links to your own resources in comments.


30 comments on “Libor and the rotten heart of capitalism”

  1. Thanks for all links. Great resource.

  2. Carol 2

    The whole bankster situation is outrageous, but unfortunately, given the way capitalism works, it is not surprising.

    I am also personally disgusted at my UK bank – I’ve had an account there for decades. In the time when they were laundering money for criminal syndicates, they put me through a tedious and laborious process to verify my account in order to do some transactions from NZ. This involved a pretty meagre amount of money, especially compared with the million$ transaction being carried out by wealthy criminals. Among other time-consuming things, I had to pay for several international phone calls in the early hours of the morning to sort things out.

    One rule for the rich, another for us honest savers with modest amounts of money earned from honest labour.

  3. Johnm 3

    The banks are still robbing us


    Libor: rig the rate and cash in on the margin you have rigged! Fraud!

  4. prism 4

    Cripes – no excuse for not getting a broad knowledge of what’s going on in the banking system.
    Thanks for the links – makes it possible to haul oneself up to the pavement level of a basic knowledge – reducing the don’t knows that I don’t know I don’t know.

  5. bad12 5

    On one level all of this is one giant laugh in that right now we all are having front row seats in real time watching the movie, ‘The Death of Capitalism’,

    On the other tho it’s a complex horror story and no small wonder the average head doesn’t want to understand the complexity of the ongoing criminality of the organizations of banking and finance,

    What is obvious from ‘too big to fail’ and ‘too big to jail’ is that it is not simply a matter of a few at the head of the banking system world-wide engaging in criminal behavior,

    It is instead a culture of systematic criminality in the structure of international banking organizations and sacking or jailing ‘scapegoats’ from within that criminally organized institutional structure will only serve to have the criminally organized structure become ‘better’ and harder to detect in it’s criminal endeavors,

    The short version of the above is that they are simply a criminal organization with a straight front of providing personal banking, no different really then yer average P dealing gang,

    As a criminal organization reliant upon the proceeds of crime Governments will have to seize all those organizations shown to have participated in the various frauds,

    To do otherwise is simply to invite criminality on a far grander scale…

  6. AAMC 6

    I thought this interview by Max Keiser of Michael Hudson summed it all up pretty brilliantly..

  7. DH 7

    What I’d like to see from the media & Govts is calls for these bankers to pay back their bonuses from previous years. They received massive bonuses based on the profits they made for their bank, profits which are now revealed as not only fraudulent but a fraud they were active participants in.

    Seems to me that shareholders & the taxpayer will pick up the tab for the fines & losses that go on the present-day books and the crooks will get to keep their ill-gotten gains. Who said crime doesn’t pay.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Who said crime doesn’t pay.

      Probably someone engaging in similar crimes to what’s been discovered at the average bank while watching someone sentenced for stealing a few quid because they were starving.

  8. Bored 8

    The sick bit is that we the people are now expected to guarantee and secure these digits as real trad-able cash as belonging to the banksters who created it out of thin air.

    My next move is to stroll down to Parliament, corner Key and announce myself as the Bank of Bored. I will tell him (and as a bankster he will understand) that I have created $1 billion and that he has to guarantee it and recognise its newly tangible reality. Nothing I will do should astound him, it is after all the newly established orthodoxy. And you guys in Standardista land can suffer the bill.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      The sick bit is that we the people are now expected to guarantee and secure these digits as real trad-able cash as belonging to the banksters who created it out of thin air.

      And yet what the governments should be doing is declaring all bank loans fraudulent and thus null and void.

  9. Tom Gould 9

    Anthony, the Libor issue is not proof of rot at the heart of capitalism, it is capitalism working as intended. It’s the meddlers with their pesky regulations that are the rot in the system, according to them.

    • jack 9.1

      It is because of lack of regulations that allowed banks to use their customers money to invest in rediculous investments on top of that the derivative trade (Key’s speciality) caused the melt down in the first place. And of course, the bank ceo’s gave themselves bonuses. Ronald Reagan would be rolling over in his grave if he saw the results of his anti-regulation legislation. Banks have always been the culprits. They’ve been trying to take control for 100’s of years. Then deregulation gave them the green light to screw everyone. Best way to oppose this is get completely out of debt and don’t use those credit cards!

      • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1

        Best way to oppose this is get completely out of debt and don’t use those credit cards!

        That’s not the best way as, unfortunately, people actually need to use the credit system. The best way is to take the monetary system off the banks and nationalise it. This will remove the banks power.

        • Colonial Viper

          Banks become pure savings and loans institutions. ATM and EFTPOS networks get nationalised, as core economic infrastructure. Every citizen 18 and over gets a government issued KiwiCred low interest, capped maximum credit card, which helps the government inject money into the local economy at any time it desires.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Don’t need nor want credit cards as Darkhorse’s link points out:

            There is a cautionary tale to be extracted from all this, and it is the obvious one: that usury results in collapse. Usury—lending at interest—is only viable in an expanding economy; once economic growth stops, the burden of usurious debt causes it to implode.

            We cannot grow the economy any more and so any interest, even if it is charged by the government, will result in collapse.

            A Universal Income, on the other hand, will work fine and even with that I expect, if we get the basics of the economy right, we won’t be using money at all in a few decades.

            • Colonial Viper

              Mild interest rates debt can always be repaid by ensuring a static stock of money is moved through the economy at a sufficient velocity. Further, the use of interest allows the government to combat situations of excess money supply by sucking some of it back up using temporarily higher interest rates.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Mild interest rates debt can always be repaid by ensuring a static stock of money is moved through the economy at a sufficient velocity.

                I see no way that interest rates can induce demand. Then there’s the further point: Demand should never be induced as it results in over use of resources. (see 13)

                Further, the use of interest allows the government to combat situations of excess money supply by sucking some of it back up using temporarily higher interest rates.

                Easier just to use taxes.

                • Colonial Viper


                  Because it is not the stock of money or the absolute debt which is the only factor, but also the velocity of that money. Steve Keen’s reality based models have shown this.

                  Easier just to use taxes.

                  Sure, but I like having every single tool and combination thereof at my disposal.

  10. Vivienne 10

    More valueable reading:

    The Big Short by Michael Lewis

    End This Depression Now by Paul Krugman

    Treasue Islands-Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson.

  11. http://cluborlov.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-joy-of-national-default.html

    Orlov provides the answer

    Iceland did it and got on with life – the rest of us remain slaves

    In the long run there is no other way out other than Iceland’s way

    the sooner it happens the less the damage

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      Not brain science is it. Odious debt ie. debt which should never have been created, for purposes leading to no real benefit, and which primarily benefitted other parties, should not be recognised and should be written off.

      • jack 11.1.1

        Debt = Slavery. After watching Inside Job, I heard Iceland “gave the finger” to its creditors and now the economy is picking up. Since most of the debt has been created out of thin air, your idea is the best solution.

  12. “Enron:Smartest Guys In The Room” is a must watch.

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    Eight Fallacies about Growth

    One thing the Democrats and Republicans will agree on in the current U.S. presidential campaign is that economic growth is our number one goal and is the basic solution to all problems. The idea that growth could conceivably cost more than it is worth at the margin, and therefore become uneconomic in the literal sense, will not be considered. But, aside from political denial, why do people (frequently economists) not understand that continuous growth of the economy (measured by either real GDP or resource throughput) could in theory, and probably has in fact, become uneconomic?

  14. muzza 14

    So with one of the bankers who has played a role at the highest levels, which has been accomplice to it all, leading our country, what chance of there being any serious questions asked of him. Where is the so called opposition on this, they should be looking to give Key a thrashing over his involvement.

    So far its as it there has been a black out in the media from asking anything which might expose the banker that he is!

  15. First of all the LIBOR can not be manipulated by one, two or even four banks let alone some rogue traders. 16 banks are involved everyday. The four top and bottom estimates are instantly dismissed leaving only the 8 in the middle. The sum divided by eight is that day’s LIBOR. This means that every single of those banks must have been in the know and involved in the manipulation.

    Rumours and traders coming out as saying that as early as the early 90s the LIBOR was manipulated.

    Here is an interview I gave to Professor Jim Fetzer on his radio show the Real Deal. It is two hours long and all about LIBOR and the involvement in of the Federal Reserve of New York and of course the insider trading leading up to 9/11.

    Here is a link to a video from Trillion in which he uses a sample of John Key making a joke about never having earned and honest crust as an investment banker.

    Well, he’s not being all hot and bothered about the LIBOR scam and what it does to sovereign wealth funds such as the Cullen fund now is he?

  16. UpandComer 16

    Great post, and good reading.

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