The US Occupation: Japan’s Post War Miracle

Princes of the Yen: Central Banks and the Transformation of the Economy

Directed by Michael Oswald (2014)

Film Review

Based on Richard Werner’s book by the same name, this film examines the economic forces responsible for the Japan’s post war economic miracle. The US occupation of Japan (1945-1952) was characterized by heavy censorship and US control of all political appointments, including central bank governors.

Mindful of the peasant uprising that led to revolution in China, US occupiers immediately implemented major land reform, breaking up large estates to hand the land over to their tenants. In 1951, under US oversight, Japan declared an amnesty for all war criminals. Thus while Nazi war criminals were being tried and hung at Nuremberg (or secretly smuggled into the US or Latin America), Japanese war criminals were forming (with major CIA support) the Liberal Democratic Party, which would rule Japan continuously until 1993.

Because they mainly held war bonds or loans to industries that had been destroyed, private Japanese banks had collapsed. Under US supervision, the Japanese central bank purchased these worthless assets in exchange for bank reserve (a process that would come to be known as quantitative easing).

They then set up a system known as “window guidance” to guarantee the rapid credit creation necessary for economic recovery. Under window guidance, the Bank of Japan issued quarterly directives to each bank on the amount of credit they needed to create for specific industries. The goal was to maintain a war economy with a focus on consumer goods instead of weapons. Growth skyrocketed, producing rapid income recovery with reasonable income equality for Japanese citizens.

By the 1970s, Japan was the world’s second largest economy and held major investments in the US and other western countries. In addition to owning 75% of US treasury bonds, in 1986 Japanese investors owned Columbia Pictures, Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach Golf Course near Monterey, California.

All this changed in the 1990s, when the Bank of Japan colluded with the IMF, World Bank and Goldman Sachs for the right to be independent of the Japanese government like western central banks. As part of this scheme, which would hand Japan’s central bank over to  western speculators, the BOJ deliberately (according to Werner) created a massive asset bubble which collapsed in the mid-1990s. Between 1991 and 1996, 212,000 Japanese companies went bankrupt, stocks and land lost 80% of their value and over 5 million Japanese became unemployed.

The Japanese economy continues to be in recession to the present day.

The New Women’s Movement to Reclaim the Commons

Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons

by Sylvia Federici

PM Press (2019)

Book Review

This book is a collection of essays about capitalism’s continuing seizure and privatization of the “commons” and growing women’s movements in Africa, Latin America and Asia to resist enclosure and reclaim privatized land.

Federici divides her book into two parts. The Part One (“On the New Enclosures”) essays describe the original 15-17th century enclosure laws that drove my European ancestors off common lands they had farmed communally for more than 1,000 years. This process (which Marx refers to as “primitive accumulation”) laid the groundwork for capitalism in two important ways: 1) it allowed the accumulation of capital (ie land) to finance the industrial revolution and 2) it forced landless peasants into factories.

Part One goes on to explore how the World Bank and IMF continues to expel drive third world peoples from their communal lands, creating the largest mass migration of refugees in history. I was quite surprised to learn that communal land ownership survives intact throughout much of Africa and that women produce 80% of the continent’s food via subsistence farming.

This section also features excellent essays on the role the Chinese government has played in driving their peasant population off their communal lands – and the role of microcredit in inflicting debt on rural populations that were previously immune to the forces of globalization.

In Part Two “On the Commons,” Federici details numerous examples of third world women’s movements that are reclaiming the commons via such strategies as squatting on privatized land, urban gardening (growing crops on privatized land), time banks, savings pools, and programs to collectively undertake shopping, cooking and care of street children.

This section also offers an excellent critique of Marx’s failure to acknowledge the essential role under capitalism of the unpaid work of women and colonized peoples – nor of the degradation of the “commons” known as the environment.

The book’s final essay warns of the seductive nature of Internet technology and role it plays in distracting people from genuine face-to-face interaction that brings about real change.

How Economic Growth is Destroying the Environment

Growing Pains: The Ecological Costs of an Insatiable Economy

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This film begins by linking the new concept of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) introduced after World War II) with the popular myth that ever increasing GDP is a magic formula for preventing recessions and depressions and the mass unemployment and misery that accompany them.

Following the second world war, western countries experienced three decades of 8% GDP growth, resulting in near full employment and massive expansion of their middle class.

Unfortunately by the 1970s, most of western society had acquired all the cars, TVS, fridges and washing machines they could ever use; growth stalled and unemployment started to rise again. It was around this time the elite round table group Club of Rome* first questioned whether unlimited growth was possible on a finite planet.

In the 1980s, Wall Street’s answer to stalled growth was monetarism, a belief they could stimulate growth and prevent recessions by deregulating the the financial industry and simply controlling the money supply.

Instead of relying on the production of goods and services to increase growth, western economies began relying on the creation and trading of financial products (credit cards, mortgages, currency exchange, commodities futures, debt-based bonds, options and other derivatives) to keep the economy ticking over.

This seems to to work pretty well until 2008. Global growth collapsed that year and never really recovered.

The film directly challenges, from several perspectives, the pro-growth hype put out by various financial gurus. First they look at the heart breaking ecological damage wreaked by skyrocketing growth in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest. Next they examine evidence that the creation and trading of financial instruments is actually glorified gambling and speculation (in which winners have become fabulously wealthy at the expense of most of the middle class). And finally they talk to psychologists who challenge Wall Street’s claim that human beings have an endless desire to accumulate more useless stuff.

In my view the film’s major weakness is its failure to link the pressure for perpetual growth to our debt-based monetary system. At present, contrary to popular belief**, private banks create 97% of our money out of thin air when they issue loans (see An IMF Proposal to Ban Banks from Creating Money). This results in an ever increasing debt spiral, which can only be repaid via continuously increasing economic growth.


*See The Steady State Economy Movement

**When polled, most people in western countries express the belief that all money is issued by government.

The film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at the Al Jazeera website Growing Pains

How Nestle and Unilever Profit Off Third World Poverty

The Business of Poverty and Food Companies

DW (2018)

Film Review

With the growing rejection of processed food by the industrial North, corporate food producers are aggressively targeting the third world. It’s a cynical strategy they learned from tobacco companies, after the anti-smoking movement significantly reduced cigarette purchases in developed countries. The result: a massive increase in obesity and diabetes in the countries targeted.

The filmmakers offer the example of Nestle’s campaign in Sao Paolo favelas to sell sugar-laden dairy products and Unilever’s campaign to sell white bread, margarine and “stock cubes” in Nairobi. In both cities, these processed foods are promoted as “status” and “health foods.” The consumers targeted often have no formal education and no access to health information other than TV ads. As slum dwellers, they also have virtually no access to natural or traditional foods.

In Sao Paolo, Nestle recruits poor women to sell their products door-to-door. The company compels them to sign binding contracts that force them to take all the financial risk. In addition to pre-purchasing the product (whether they sell it or not), they’re also required to give customers one month free credit. Many never pay for their purchases.

Unilever has also trained dozens of Nairobi women to become door-to-door vendors but has yet to follow through with full implementation. In Kenyan slums, families rely on convenience stores for small packages of junk food – which is all they can afford on their limited wages.

Nutritionists and other health workers in both cities are fighting an uphill battle to persuade the urban poor to return to more healthy traditional foods. An extremely difficult task, owing to the wholesale displacement (forced on developing countries by the IMF and “free trade” treaties) of domestic agriculture with export crops. Activists’ preferred tactic is to involve low income slum dwellers in urban garden projects that produce traditional foods.

Looting Africa

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth

Tom Burgis

Harper Collins (2017)

Book Review

This book centers around something global economists refer to as the “Dutch curse.” In 1959, the discovery of oil in the Netherlands led to massive unemployment outside the oil industry. A big increase in dollars generated by oil exports caused major inflation in the local currency. This made imports cheaper than locally produced goods, shutting down hundreds of Dutch businesses and putting thousands out of work.

It’s typical of mineral and oil/gas mining everywhere (including here in New Plymouth) that these industries require vast capital investment but employ only small numbers of workers. According to Burgis, it was the “Dutch curse” that resulted in Russian’s oil-fueled criminal oligarchy prior to the rise of Putin. As the continent richest in natural resources, Africa, which has been ruthlessly exploited by multinational corporations, has a severe case of the “Dutch curse.”

Although multinationals pay far less than market value for oil, gas and precious minerals, they pay corrupt puppet dictators enough that they don’t need to tax their citizens. Burgis maintains this absence of taxation results in a lack of accountability to their citizenry. Instead of holding leaders to account for their failure to provide basic infrastructure, citizens of “resource states” are far more likely to angle for their share of the loot. Retaining power becomes a simple matter of maintain elaborate patronage (payoff) systems and harsh military/security networks.

Burgis also refutes the myth that Africa’s multiple civil wars stem from tribal and religious conflict. Most African wars are pure resource wars (often triggered by CIA and French and British intelligence), with the conflict used as a cover for resource smuggling and even lower net cost to multinationals.

The US government has attempted to crack down on its own corporations via stricter enforcement (since 2000) of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and a section of the 2010 Dodd Frank Act that prohibits the the purchase of Coltan* from armed rebel groups. The new law, which has done little to reduce Coltan smuggling, has opened the door to a Chinese monopoly on the Coltan market.

The Looting Machine presents a detailed country by country analysis, as well as an examination of the Chinese company responsible for most private investment in Africa (there’s less publicly available information about investment by state-owned Chinese companies). Both engage in far more infrastructure development than Western agents do.

  • Angola – principle export oil, with 70% of oil ventures owned by Hong Kong billionaire Sam Pa, operating as Queensway Group or Chinese International Fund. Half of Angolan residents get by on less than $1.25/day.
  • Congo – second most important produce of Coltan outside of Australia, also gold, tin, tungsten and diamonds. Residents live on less than $1.00/day.
  • Nigeria – oil and gas. Cotton/textile industry that flourished in 1980s shut down (causing mass unemployment) by continuous flood of smuggled Chinese counterfeit textiles. Sam Pa and the French oil company Total have teamed up to challenge Shell’s longstanding monopoly on Nigerian oil.
  • South Africa – rich gold, diamond and platinum exports financed the creation of the apartheid state, in which a tiny white minority controlled the entire economy. Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, this minority has been joined by a handful of Black entrepreneurs.
  • Botswana – diamonds. Somewhat protected from “Dutch curse” by the creation of value added industries that cut and polish their diamonds prior to export.
  • Guinea – among world’s richest reserves of iron and aluminum. Bought out by Sam Pa as a result of Western sanctions.
  • Niger – rich in uranium and the world’s poorest country. France previously held monopoly on Niger’s uranium industry, being replaced by Queensway group based on agreement to invest in infrastructure development and employ local labor. (In most countries, Chinese investors import Chinese labor.)
  • Ghana – gold. Financed by Chinese Investment Fund after IMF tried to impose structural adjustment conditions** to refinance a World Bank Loan.
  • Zimbabwe – diamonds, platinum, nickel, gold. Mugabe used revenues from export industries to finance particularly brutal security force. Diamond industry bought out by Queensway as direct result of Western sanctions.

*Coltan is a rare precious metal in high demand for cellphones and laptops.

**IMF structural adjustment conditions typically require debtor companies to privatize state owned industries, legislate deep cuts in social services and accept extensive foreign investment as a condition of receiving World Bank loans.

 

 

 

 

How Neoliberalism Gave Us Brexit and Trump

Revenge of the Rich: The Neoliberal Revolution in Britain and New Zealand

by Austin Mitchell

Canterbury University Press (2017)

Book Review

Revenge of the Rich, by British economist Austin Mitchell, describes how the neoliberal revolutions of Margaret Thatcher and New Zealand finance minister Roger Douglas virtually gutted the economies of the UK and New Zealand. The result has been years of declining or negative growth rates, virtual destruction of manufacturing, massive job loss, wage stagnation and higher deficits and overseas borrowing.*

As an article of faith, neoliberals maintain that mass layoffs of public service workers will reduce government deficits. The reality, as Mitchell ably demonstrates, is the exact opposite. When you lay off 400,000 public servants (as David Cameron did between 2010 and 2016), they quit paying taxes and increase government costs by claiming unemployment and other benefits.

Britain’s EU Membership: Setting the Stage

According to Mitchell, Britain’s decision to join the EU in 1973 set the stage for the neoliberal revolution that subsequently occurred in both countries. EU membership forced Britain to end their special trading relationship with New Zealand (an other Commonwealth countries), resulting in significant economic decline in both countries. Neoliberal trade liberalization was meant to stem these losses. Instead the loss of tariff and other import protections quickly destroyed manufacturing in both countries.

New Zealand, which was fortunate in having agricultural exports to fall back on, succeeded in developing alternative trade relationships with Australia, China and other Asian countries. Nonetheless, thanks to their 1980s neoliberal experiment, New Zealand has one of the highest levels of foreign ownership (of land, homes and companies) in the developed world. It also has the highest house prices, the second highest prison population and extremely high child poverty levels (1/3 of Kiwi children grow up in poverty). Meanwhile it’s failure to provide jobs for young adults means a sizeable proportion leave New Zealand permanently for other developed countries.

Brexit and Trump: The People Rebel

Mitchell describes the rise of left and right wing extremist groups in Europe, the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as a direct popular reaction to the immense human misery caused by neoliberal policies. In New Zealand the 1996 citizens referendum adopting proportional representation was a direct reaction against both major parties (Labour and National) advancing neoliberal policies.

At this point, the traditionally pro-corporate International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have both come out against austerity and similar “deflationary” neoliberal policies. Instead they argue strongly for increased stimulus (public) spending to stabilize the world’s developed economies.


*Similar effects under American neoliberals Reagan, Bush Sr and Jr, Clinton and Obama inflicted similar damage on the US.

Suez: Britain’s Illegal 1956 War Against Egypt

A Very British Crisis

BBC (2006)

Film Review

In 1956 Britain, France and Israel launched an illegal war of aggression against Egypt after President Gamal Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. As in the more recent US invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s real goal was regime change – the removal of Nasser as president. Eden, like Bush and Obama believed the local population would welcome the foreign invasion – that they would use it to rise up and topple their leader.

The humiliation Britain faced over the Suez Crisis would spell the end of their role as the world’s foremost super power.

Part 1 covers Egypt’s war of independence, which began as a mass popular uprising against British military occupation. In 1952, a secret group of Egyptian military officers, led by Nasser, took advantage of the civil unrest to topple King Farouk, establish a revolutionary council and demand the withdrawal of British troops. When Britain and the US tried to isolate Nassar by blocking a World Bank loan for Egypt’s Aswan Dam, Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal Company (jointly owned by Britain and France). His intention was to use canal profits to pay for the dam.

Part 2 concerns the secret conspiracy hatched by Britain, France and and Israel to invade Egypt, reclaim the Suez Canal and remove Nasser from power.

Part 3 covers the brutal invasion and the armed civilian resistance that fought back against the invaders. It also reveals the humiliating circumstances that forced Britain to withdraw their troops before they ever reached the canal. Because both France and Britain hold vetoes on the UN Security Council, Eisenhower used economic warfare to force Britain to agree to a ceasefire. A coordinated attack on the British pound by Wall Street banks* forced Eden to request Eisenhower’s support for an IMF loan. The latter demanded an immediate ceasefire as a condition of the loan.


*The filmmakers are a bit fuzzy about the coordinated sell-off of the British pound that caused its value to plummet. Based on what Willim Engdahl has written about US economic warfare (see How the US Uses War to Protect the Dollar), I suspect it was instigated by the Economy Warfare division of US Treasury.