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Rule by rentiers

Written By: - Date published: 8:44 pm, June 24th, 2011 - 31 comments
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Fascinating column by Paul Krugman in the NYT. America’s growth is slowing, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernancke has just anounced that he doesn’t understand why the recession is going on so long. Krugman’s focus is on employment, and he says:

The latest economic data have dashed any hope of a quick end to America’s job drought, which has already gone on so long that the average unemployed American has been out of work for almost 40 weeks. Yet there is no political will to do anything about the situation. Far from being ready to spend more on job creation, both parties agree that it’s time to slash spending — destroying jobs in the process — with the only difference being one of degree.

Krugman’s analysis of the problem:

Consciously or not, policy makers are catering almost exclusively to the interests of rentiers — those who derive lots of income from assets, who lent large sums of money in the past, often unwisely, but are now being protected from loss at everyone else’s expense.

Ask for a coherent theory behind the abandonment of the unemployed and you won’t get an answer. Instead, members of the Pain Caucus seem to be making it up as they go along, inventing ever-changing rationales for their never-changing policy prescriptions.

While the ostensible reasons for inflicting pain keep changing, however, the policy prescriptions of the Pain Caucus all have one thing in common: They protect the interests of creditors, no matter the cost.

Sound familiar? Tax cuts and asset sales, for example?

31 comments on “Rule by rentiers”

  1. dupdedo 1

    Nope. America needs to slash. I think they have already gone over tipping point though.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Yes, save the people by slashing and scrapping the people.

      Makes perfect sense.

  2. Adolf Fiinkensein 2

    Krugman to economics is like Ghadafi to human rights.

    • Bored 2.1

      Adolf, you may be right or wrong about Krugman: I neither know nor care. The message however is another piece of the puzzle that neo lib economists have been keen to hide from. Adam Smith way back went on about the nature of rentier behavoir and how damaging it was to economies. Its one of those big fat elephants in the room that the establshment pretend is not there whilst they indulge themselves in the loathsome activity of acting as rentiers.

    • KJT 2.2

      Didn’t you mean Freidman and Stalin..

      Krugman, along with Keynes, are one of the few economists whose ideas have some correlation with what actually happens.

      • Colonial Viper 2.2.1

        Rentier capitalism – a term used in Marxism. This is we increasingly have in NZ now.


        Rentier capitalism is a term used in Marxism and sociology which refers to a type of capitalism where a large amount of profit-income generated takes the form of property income, received as interest, intellectual property rights, rents, dividends, fees or capital gains.

        The beneficiaries of this income are a property-owning social class who, it is argued, play no productive role in the economy themselves but who monopolise the access to physical assets, financial assets and technologies.

        • RedLogix

          Worth noting CV that Krugman is very clear by how he is using the term ‘rentier’ in this context:

          Who are these creditors I’m talking about? Not hard-working, thrifty small business owners and workers, although it serves the interests of the big players to pretend that it’s all about protecting little guys who play by the rules. The reality is that both small businesses and workers are hurt far more by the weak economy than they would be by, say, modest inflation that helps promote recovery.

          No, the only real beneficiaries of Pain Caucus policies (aside from the Chinese government) are the rentiers: bankers and wealthy individuals with lots of bonds in their portfolios.

          Krugman is referring to a much narrower class of uber-wealthy than the now rather dated concept that Marx had in mind.

          • Colonial Viper

            Thanks RL. In my interpretation bonds remain a class of asset which falls perfectly into the definition of rentier capitalism, its just that in the US even the top 5% of the wealthy are falling way way behind the top 0.1% uber-wealthy.

            In other words, the top tiers of the US plutocracy are becoming ever more noticeably stratified within themselves.

      • Rusty Shackleford 2.2.2

        How did the bail outs go? Can you give one example of Keynesian econ working as it was prescribed? It didn’t work during the great depression. The opposite worked during the depression of 1920. Harding slashed the govt budget and refused to stimulate. No long depression.

        • KJT

          More alternative reality from Rusty.

          RWNJ’s really do live in a parallel universe.

          The opposite to what really happened.

          Investment in infrastructure got the economy going, then the austerity types got back in and killed it.

          Keynes was describing what actually happened.

        • RedLogix

          I guess history is easy Rusty if you just re-write it all the time to suit yourself.

          You may have forgotten that Keynes wrote his seminal works in response to the disaster of the Great Depression

          From Keynes wikipedia page:

          Keynes had begun a theoretical work to examine the relationship between unemployment, money and prices back in the 1920s.[24] The work, ‘Treatise on Money’, was published in 1930 in two volumes. A central idea of the work was that if the amount of money being saved exceeds the amount being invested – which can happen if interest rates are too high – then unemployment will rise. This is in part a result of people not wanting to spend too high a proportion of what employers pay out, making it difficult, in aggregate, for employers to make a profit.

          At the height of the Great Depression, in 1933, Keynes published ‘The Means to Prosperity’, which contained specific policy recommendations for tackling unemployment in a global recession, chiefly counter cyclical public spending. The Means to Prosperity contains one of the first mentions of the multiplier effect. While it was addressed chiefly to the British Government, it also contained advice for other nations affected by the global recession. A copy was sent to the newly elected President Roosevelt and other world leaders. The work was taken seriously by both the American and British governments, and according to Skidelsky, helped pave the way for the later acceptance of Keynesian ideas, though it had little immediate practical influence.

          In the 1933 London Economic Conference opinions remained too diverse for a unified course of action to be agreed upon.[25]

          • Draco T Bastard

            A central idea of the work was that if the amount of money being saved exceeds the amount being invested – which can happen if interest rates are too high – then unemployment will rise.

            Actually, there’s a problem there that Keynes doesn’t address and that is that savings earn interest. Doesn’t matter what the value of interest is it will always result in ever more money being taken out of the economy resulting in the economy dropping back into recession and, eventually, depression. This is especially true if it’s the government borrowing the money as the government is expected to always pay their debts and so government bonds become a risk free strategy to increase personal wealth at everybody else’s expense.

            The government should never borrow money but should print it and balance the amount printed by levying taxes – especially taxes on savings. One way that’s been suggested is that money decreases in value by a set amount per time period that it stays one persons/legal entities hands. Oh, and the fractional reserve banking system needs to be dropped as well to stop private banks from printing money.

        • Colonial Viper

          How did the bail outs go? Can you give one example of Keynesian econ working as it was prescribed?

          The “bail outs” were used to offset massive banking paper losses; not used to create real jobs for ordinary workers in the real economy (unlike the WPA program in the 1930’s which directly created several million American jobs).

          So what we saw in 2008/2009 was not a Keynesian bail out, it was a transfer of public wealth to the financial elite.

          But you knew this already.

          • georgecom

            or put another way, the bailouts were about keeping the monetary systems functioning, credit circulating and to restore some confidence the world of finance. To use a local example, along the lines of the financial guarantee scheme put in place by Cullen and on which SCF has drawn. The guarantee scheme was not about creating jobs for those left unemployed when globalsied neo-liberal capitalism blew apart, it was about trying to keep money markets and finance functioning.

            A keep people in work scheme may be the home insulation project.

  3. mikesh 3

    I don’t think they need to slash, but they do need to put money into real production rather than simply bail out the banks.

    • Bored 3.1

      The banks should never have been bailed out by the taxpayers worldwide without taking total ownership. In effect the banks have been allowed to take their debt from dubious practices, give it to the public and charge interest for it. Its like me charging the bank for my mortgage…total larceny.

    • KJT 3.2

      If they had put the stimulus directly into bailing out mortgagees and small business, instead of giving it to the banks to continue their betting games with, they may have done some good.

      • Colonial Viper 3.2.1

        The US has a $2T infrastructure deficit.


        Tens of billions in printed new money could have gone to projects building and repairing bridges, rail, power systems, water.

        The Federal Govt under Obama could have directly employed six million or seven million Americans to meet dire US infrastructure needs at both the Federal and State level.

        But it wasn’t even discussed as something to consider.

        • georgecom

          An excellent reminder of what needed to happen in the US, invest in infrastructure. Rather than more neo-liberal myopia of tax cuts – tax cuts – tax cuts the US should have diverted a substantial amount of money into public works and green keynesian projects. They put some in as I remember however it seems clear that the need remains.

          If the US state has a debt crisis, one simple answer, let the Bush tax cuts cancel out. Those on super high incomes actually have to face a new reality, paying taxes. That’ll be a novel experience for them. Some of that money can be used for the deficit maybe, some of it can be diverted to infrastructure fix ups along with a focus on energy efficiancy & green power production etc.

          Seems there is a lesson for NZ in this as well. I’ll put aside the actual fact that Englishes ‘tax switch’ has nicely lined the pockets of his & Brashes support base, as well as required the government to borrow several billion per year to pay for it. The ‘tax switch’ itself was a fairly weak attempt at altering our tax base.English knows what he should have done with the tax system, or should have known if he bothered to have a look. A capital gains tax, financial services tax and make a start on implementing pollution taxes. His ‘switch’ should have been based on a broad fairness criteria with cuts spread far more evenly across the population – greater cuts to the bottom rate(s) and less on the high rate(s). The extra revenue generated by the new taxes would help alleviate the debt (which itself would be significantly smaller if English hasn’t botched the tax cuts) & allowed tax cuts for the many, not just the few.

          The government doesn’t so much have a debt problem as an income crisis, exacerbated significantly by Englishs botched cuts.

          Along with real and meaningful changes to the tax system, English should have focused on ‘green new deal’ type projects. – to benefit the economy, employment and the environment. Long term I don’t think GND projects alone are enough to save us from climate change or energy deficits. They would however make a start and pave the way for better changes. The home insulation project was a good idea, some credit to the government for seeing the benefit of that. Rail fix ups should have been part of any package along with other public transport projects that can be identified. By now the rail tunnel should be on the books and some of the RoNS rubbish bined for good. Another glaring issue must be waste water systems in smaller communities. The Labour government put in place part funding to facilitate waste water upgrades. National should have increased the funding into that.

          In the meantime the US and NZ has been wasting time on making a start on reforming finance & taxation, keeping people in work and laying some of the foundations for a more sustainable society.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    And the first two comments go to delusional RWNJs advocating the policies that obviously aren’t working.

    They protect the interests of creditors, no matter the cost.

    And that was exactly what the SCF bailout was about. SCF shouldn’t have been in the RDGS as it was crumbling before hand and couldn’t meet the strict criteria and yet it was brought in and then bailed out when it crashed as expected. There’s only one reason for that – to cover the risk takers with everyone else’s money.

  5. Afewknowthetruth 5

    Mistake #1. Allowing money-lenders to set up fractional reserve banking in England.

    Mistake #2. Allowing the bankers to establish fractional reserve banking throughout the world.

    Mistake #3. Constructing an economy predicated on the use of coal.

    Mistake #4. Constructing an economy predicated on the use of oil.

    Mistake #5. Promoting population overshoot.

    Mistake #6. Allowing the trading of financial derivatives.

    So now all the chickens are starting to come home to roost: peak oil, peak coal, out-of-control debt levels that will led to unravelling of fractional reserve banking and derivatives, more people chasing declining resources ….and all of that before we even mention environmental collapse.

    Anyone who thinks there is a solution to the mess [that has been building for 400 years] which not involve extreme hardship for most people is delude or insane.

    However, we can be sure that politicians (and the mainstream media) will continue to stay well clear of all the fundamental reasons for what is happening, and continue to pretend they can steer the Titanic, even after it has hit the iceberg and is starting to sink.

    We live in such interesting times.

    (Krugman and his commentary are irrelevant, of course)

  6. (Krugman and his commentary are irrelevant, of course)

    From your analysis I presume you think that all commentary is irrelevant – including your own?

    Have you ever thought that there might be more to life than survival – i.e., not how long you live, but how you live?

    I believe primarily in the latter so, for me, even if I know for sure that the world will explode tomorrow, there’s still a job for me to do today – to live correctly, to rail against injustice, to help those who need help, to provide comfort, to try to understand this event we call ‘life’, etc..

    All of us will die and one day our planet will be no longer. So?

    It is actually that prediction (whatever the time scale) that is truly irrelevant to the task of life.

    BTW, I agree with most of your propositions/Mistakes. I also think that social collapse is far more likely to ‘get us’ before complete environmental collapse (though, of course, they usually go in tandem to some degree).

    In that sense, I’m probably a tad more pessimistic than you.

  7. Afewknowthetruth 7

    ‘ I presume you think that all commentary is irrelevant’

    That is a very strange presumption.

    What I am saying is that all commentary and analysis which ignore the fundamentals -energy, the nature of money, the environment etc,- is irrelevant. In other words anything presented by mainstream media or connected with mainstream culture is usually irrelevant to our prdicament (or totally misleading).

    On the other hand, there is plenty of very worthwhile commentary elsewhere -such as on Nature Bats Last. However, since the bulk of society is caught in the web of deceit spun by mainstream culture, few people make the effort to look elsewhere.

    Yes, how you live is extremely important. Most people have abandoned all the basics taught by such people as Jesus. However, if you don’t survive the rest of today, you cannot discuss how to live tomorrow. 🙂

    We have reached the point of at least 30,000 people a day being ‘murdered’ by the economic system Bernanke and Krugman advocate. And the number will increase as the oil supply decreases and climate instability take their toll.

    The trouble is, most people in western societies seem to think that morality is a brand of energy drink.

    • I’m genuinely pleased to hear that.

      I think we’re pretty much in agreement on many points. There are fundamental problems with the entire way we organise our human world today – even, or especially, those things people take as givens but which are very recent ‘inventions’ (money, modern economies).

      I was reacting to what I sensed was a fatalism that implied there was nothing to be done or said because we’re all doomed.

      It’s always seemed to me that the very time to really ‘do something’ was in the context of actual doom. Not necessarily to avoid the doom (though that might be a nice unintended consequence), but to do the best with what time and experience we have left. Part of that might simply involve making ‘the end’ a better experience for as many people as possible – sort of like palliative care.  That’s why I will often support standard social democratic policies.

      if you don’t survive the rest of today, you cannot discuss how to live tomorrow.

      Indeed. I’m no fan of folly.

  8. Colonial Viper 8

    Obama’s economic team of Geithner, Summers, Bernanke et al have been a neoliberal Goldman Sachs disaster.

    Volcker and others who could have made a positive difference to the real economy were too much of a threat to the big banks and were all sidelined.

    • Afewknowthetruth 8.1

      What exactly do you mean by ‘could have made a positive difference to the real economy’, in view of the fact that economy is at the heart of our predicament? (The economy is what is consuming finite resources, inflating the debt bubble, polluting the environment etc.)

      ‘Obama’s economic team of Geithner, Summers, Bernanke et al have been a neoliberal Goldman Sachs disaster.’ Yes a disaster for most people, but not a disaster for them. They are all a lot wealthier than they were before Obaman arrived on the scene. And that’s what the game is all about: transferring wealth from the ‘commons’ to the elites. It has been since the dawn of civilisation.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        And that’s what the game is all about: transferring wealth from the ‘commons’ to the elites. It has been since the dawn of civilisation.

        Yep, we call it capitalism. Other times it was called other things (feudalism, aristocracy, etc) but it’s still the same system and it always results in poverty for the many and, finally, collapse of the civilisation.

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Corporatism is a better term. Are Geitner, Obama, Bernake, Summers etc capital holders? Most capital holders produce something. What do those guys produce?

          • Colonial Viper

            Most capital holders produce something.

            Workers applying their brain and their muscle produce things, not capital holders. So your bullshit assertion makes the rest of your post meaningless.

          • Afewknowthetruth

            All original capital was either discovered e.g. lumps of gold, or was stolen., e.g. the Norman conquest of England, British conquest of NZ..

            In more recent times capital has been generated out of thin air via loans, usually on the basis of capital that had already been discovered or stolen.

            The prime agendas of corporations since the early 1600s has been trading for profit (buying something and selling it to someone at a higher price) or outright looting.

            Now that corporations are in control of most western governments it is easy to see why we are in such deep sh*t.

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