Tuesday, November 10, 2009
True Unemployment: 20% and Still Rising Send Geithner Home to Wall Street! His Legacy: 30+ MM Underemployed, Failed Stimulus, No Bank Reform, Soaring Deficits, Sinking $$ James S. Henry
With official US unemployment now at 10.2 percent, the third highest among the 29 OECD countries, and unofficial unemployment at least two times higher, more than 30 million American workers and their families are now being forcefully reminded every day that "the reserve army of the unemployed" is not just pure Marxist rhetoric.
While China and most developing countries are already recovering nicely from this First World-made debt crisis, all indications are that US unemployment is still rising, and that we will soon see a new postwar record -- -- two years after the "Great Recession," the longest and deepest since the 1930s, began in December 2007.
UNEMPLOYMENT: GET REAL
To get the real unemployment picture, we need to adjust the official statistics upwards. First, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' own data shows, the "official" rate leaves out many workers who are (a) underemployed, working only part time when they'd prefer full time jobs (9.3 million now); (b) fully unemployed, and desirous of jobs, but not counted in the official statistics because they've given up look (2.3 to 5.6 million). Allowing for these two adjustments already boosts "underemployment" to the 17.5% figure cited in some recent press reports.
But even that figure is too low. First, it omits the country's 20 million "self-employed" (incorporated and unincorporated), a growing share of the labor force. All are counted as "employed" in the official statistics, no matter how underutilized they are. Yet other surveys report that this group is also experiencing serious underemployment.
Furthermore, the official statistics also leave out about 1.6 million who are now serving in the military, plus the record 2.33 million US prison inmate population. Both populations are heavily young, male, and undereducated, and would therefore experience relatively high unemployment. This is especially important for the sake of historical comparability -- say, for comparisons with the 1930s, when the US military and the prison populations were both tiny.
In addition, of course, when the Great Recession started there were at least 8 to 10 million undocumented workers in the US, none of whom appear in the official statistics. Whatever we think of illegal immigration, the fact is that most of these workers have not been able to return to their homelands, and are still here, quietly suffering through this recession. Indeed, to the extent that they are unable to draw on unemployment benefits and other social programs to cushion the blow, they are being forced to compete with the rest of us more fiercely than ever.
All told, therefore, as shown in the adjacent chart (click to pop up), this makes the "real" US unemployment in October 2009 at least 20 percent or more -- twice the official rate.
TO WHOM DO WE TURN?
One might have expected this historic jobs crisis to have provoked a quick, decisive response from Washington Unfortunately, American workers have also recently been reminded that, disturbingly, the Democratic Party can simply no longer be counted on to put labor's interests ahead of capital's.
This was evident to some of us when Obama's first stimulus package was being designed -- given that it was loaded up with so many Christmas goodies for special interests and so many regressive tax cuts.
But by now it should be clear to anyone but the most bullet-headed diehard party ideologues.
Whatever else Obama's February 2009 stimulus package has accomplished, it simply hasn't created nearly enough new jobs, fast enough.
Nor has it provided nearly enough aid to debt-ridden homeowners -- as the continued record-setting pace of home foreclosures and bankruptcies testifies.
These basic policy shortcomings are not due to some Herbert Hoover or Ronald Reagan. While Obama obviously inherited a mess, by now enough time has passed that his administration has become responsible for its continuation.
How high does unemployment have to go for the Obama Administration to actually want to do something more about it?
When FDR took office in March 1933, unemployment stood at nearly 25 percent of the labor force, and he immediately took decisive action to make sure that unemployment was reduced, by establishing targeted federal job creation programs, attacking anti-competitive practices by large banks and corporations, and making sure debt relief got through to small businesses, farmers, and homeowners.
What is it about the character of the Obama Administration that has made its response so different?
THE FIFTH COLUMN
As we've argued for some time (See "The Pseudo Stimulus," The Nation, February 3, 2009, and "Too Big Not to Fail," The Nation, February 23, 2009), one basic problem seems to be that Obama's Administration, unlike FDR's, has been overly dependent from the get-go on pro-Wall Street insider/ fifth columnists, captained by the Supreme "Jimmy Do-little"/ Andrew Mellon of the period, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Not only has Geithner been far too slow to recognize that the first stimulus was woefully inadequate.
- ☛Opposed serious restrictions on executive compensation and perks for senior bank staff that are unrelated to performance;
- ☛Opposed clawbacks or windfall profits taxes on the hundreds of millions in stock options granted by bailed-out banks last spring;
☛Opposed the establishment of a new independent consumer protection agency for financial products;
☛Opposed forcing banks that have accepted US aid to accelerate lending to small business and homeowners;
☛Opposed proposals for a "Tobin tax" on financial transactions, as suggested by the UK and France, as a way of financing climate change aid;
☛Opposed G20 proposals to clean up a wide variety of tax haven abuses by major bank and companies around the globe;
☛Failed to achieve any serious reforms whatsoever of financial regulation, more than a year after the crisis;
☛Failed to get anywhere with the vaunted "toxic asset buyback" program;
☛Insisted that any reforms leave the ultimate regulatory authority in the hands of the US Federal Reserve -- an anti-democratic, pro-Wall Street institution if ever there was one, whose policy errors have contributed significantly to this costly crisis.
Of course at this stage, with US budget deficits at a postwar high, and controversial measures like health care reform, climate change, Afghanistan, and immigration still in stuck in traffic, plus a mid-term Congressional election fast approaching, it may well be too late for the Obama Administration to propose a second stimulus. If this were going to happen, it would have needed Treasury and White House leadership already.
Secretary Geithner, I'm told, already has multiple job offers from at least a half a dozen leading banks and hedge funds, so he will only profit from this exit -- which he probably anticipated all along.
By clearing the decks and bringing in a fresh team with some new, more progressive ideas, more daring-do, and independence, this could help prevent Obama from repeating Jimmy Carter's sad, rapid one-term involution.
In any case, when the history of the Obama Administration is written, it is worth remembering that at least a few progressives warned about all this very early -- the risks of adopting a "pseudo-stimulus," failing to aid small debtors and businesses, and failing to exert strong control over the banks.
Ultimately, that may be one of the biggest costs of this crisis -- the lost opportunity to show that Democrats really are still capable of providing the country with outstanding, disinterested economic leadership in times of crisis.
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2009
Monday, November 02, 2009
"WHO KNEW?": WILMINGTON NAMED WORLD'S WORST HAVEN
Wild Protests in Geneva, Vaduz, and Guernsey James S. Henry
"WHO KNEW?": WILMINGTON NAMED WORLD'S WORST HAVEN
(Geneva) Thousands of angry private bankers from Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Channel Islands have taken to the streets to denounce Delaware's official designation as the world's worst "financial secrecy center" by the heretofore-renowned international critic of tax havens, TJN International.
"Surely this is one contest that we deserved to win," said a leading Geneva private banker. "We feel like Chicago after the Olympics selection."
A Guernsey banker echoed his sentiments. "I smell a rat. Just because the US VP is from Delaware, the fix must have been in. Our assets have been flowing out since 2005. Now we know where they've gone."
"Wilmington. Who'd' a thunk it?"
For the past few years jurisdictions like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Channel Islands have indeed been competing vigorously for the prize of the "world's worst haven."
According to Dubios Pictet von Hentsch, another long-time Swiss banker, "I don't know what they want from us. We have tried everything -- including having many senior bankers from our largest banks get indicted and convicted for helping thousands of wealthy foreigners evade taxes!
"This was supposed to be OUR YEAR!"
"We've also been laundering all those smarmy Euros for decades! This is the thanks we get? Meh! "
"What's happened to "pay-for-performance" in financial services?"
A Vaduz-based private banker from BIL, the legendary Liechtenstein private money-laundering bank owned by the Crown Prince's family, also expressed shock and dismay.
"We're just a tiny developing country (even if we do happen to have the world's highest per capita income.) How's our Crown Prince supposed to feel after this? After all our efforts to help wealthy foreigners all over the planet evade taxes over the last decade, we lose to...Wilmington? Meh!"
"All the really dirty money has been flowing to an even tinier, more obscure place than we are: this place called Wilmington. And we didn't even know about it. We are obviously a little embarrassed."
A Singapore banker commented, "Wilmington? Uh, where is that, exactly? Surely If its number one, it must be packed with non-doms, wealthy sheiks, fancy hotels and shops, and of course lots and lots of ultra-ancient, ultra-discrete private banks, law firms, and accounting firms."
"How is the skiing and the diving, by the way? Not good? Meh!"
Other sources confirm that until it was disclosed by TJN, Wilmington's role in global financial chicanery was one of the world's best kept secrets.
"Apparently all the truly sophisticated dirty money goes there," said a Panama lawyer.
"It's a facade-- purposefully understated, if you will."
"I tell you, you Americans are something else. For years you have been pointing the fingers at the rest of us, while secretly preparing this bid.
Now it turns out to be you who are the real winners. Meh!"
THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS
The Luxembourg private banker agreed to expand a bit on why he thinks the first prize for Wilmington is just so unfair.
"Ok, sure, yeah, everybody has known for some time that First World countries like the US, the UK, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg are the world's largest ultimate havens -- at least since that book Banqueros Y Lavadolares (1996) laid out the whole story. Foreign money has been flowing out of higher-tax places and developing countries for decades.
"Part of it is just natural risk-diversification. For example, what moron wants to keep all his hard-earned shekels in a place like Mexico? The place is a cesspool of corruption, on the front lines of the drug wars, with lots of kidnappings, and the courts for sale to the highest bidder. You wanna keep all your money there or pay taxes to a government like that? Knock yourself out."
"But it isn't just a question of diversifying away from country risk, because that doesn't explain why all the money gets invested in FIRST WORLD banks.
We First World havens also worked really hard to become the world's top laundromats, so the money would come here."
THE BEST TAX CODE THAT MONEY CAN BUY.......
"First of all, we got the tax laws right, hiring the best lawyers on the planet to design them to attract capital flight and tax evasion, as well as any criminal proceeds that happen to come along for the ride.
None of these rich countries wealthy foreign investors on, say, the interest income they get from, say, bank deposits at UBS or HSBC or Citigroup, or our 200 offshore banks in Luxembourg. And sure we'll respond if the US Department of Justice comes a callin'."
"But we sure as hell don't report this income to, say, the Mexican IRS.
"So all the wealthy foreigners from developing countries investing in First World banks?"
"There are no big customers secrets! The banks know who they are!
"We have to. They are all our private banking clients!"
"So Angel Gurria can keep his lousy foreign accounts in New York and Geneva, we ain't gonna tell nobody."
You see -- even if the US IRS knew the "beneficial owners" of every offshore account in Luxembourg, and New York, and London, and Wilmington, the income these owners earn isn't taxable here. And under the rules we've set, no First World government is going to turn over this information to some no-count Third World country Hey, there's big bucks at stake! "
"It isn't about "secrecy," my friend. It's about tax laws and the people who write them. Or at least that's what we always thought -- until now!"
....WRITTEN BY PRIVATE BANKERS
Number two, we build a vast global pirate banking industry. We put together top fifty most powerful First World Banks, law firms, and accounting firms in the world, and unleashed them on the developing world, where most of this
"Who do you think made all these tax and banking laws, Elwin? Did they just sorta pop up?"
"Naw, this haven stuff is a big business.
"So our lobbyists went to work and designed all these tax laws, plus the banking laws that accomodated them. If we don't get it done with lobbyists, we get a Treasury Secretary or two -- like Robert Rubin, who came from Goldman Sachs and went back to work at Citigroup, or former US Senator Phil Gramm, who was Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee for five years before he left the Senate to become Vice Chairman of UBS.
"Understand one thing: the City of London, Geneva, Zurich, and New York City would barely exist without this offshore banking/ investments businesses. Naturally Singapore and Hong Kong and Dubai now want a piece of action."
THE IRRELEVANCE OF "SECRECY" TO TAX JUSTICE
"You see, my friend -- that's why we're so troubled by Wilmington's victory here.
We don't understand how all the pure "corporate secrecy" in the world has anything necessarily at all to do with being an outstanding tax haven -- or the flip side, with taking money out of poor countries and keeping it outside, tax free. Or with "tax justice."
"We always thought: we take care of the tax laws and have an aggressive private banking industry, then we will win."
On the other hand, you could have all the most perfect information on beneficial owners in the world, and if you can't get First World governments to either (a) tax foreigners on their investments or (b) share the information with developing countries, it won't matter. "
REDOMICILIATION - WAH?
"But now, according to this index, it isn't enough for us havens not to tax foreigners. It isn't enough for us to have the world's most aggressive private bankers."
"Now we gotta get down and compete with Wilmington Delaware on all the 14 technical/legal factors in this stupid index! You look closely at this fancy index, which took two years to complete.
"You find, for example, that Luxembourg lost first place to Delaware just because Delaware corporate law allows redomiciliation and ours doesn't?
"What private banking client ever heard of redomiciliation in Delaware? Of redomiciliation anywhere? Tax rates? Sure. Information exchange? Sure. Great private banking services? Absolutely. Redomiciliation??
Are you shitting me?"
"Any corporate lawyer worth his salt knows you can accomplish the same thing in lots of other ways."But now that CNN is talking about it, you're gonna have every two bit crook in the world running around saying "Redom....redom....Nah nah nah-nah nah...You ain't got it, we're heading to Wilmington!"
Who are they working for, the Delaware Secretary of State?"
A NEW DAY DAWNS IN WILMINGTON
Meanwhile, in Wilmington, the town's 72,000 residents woke up this morning to discover that the world had literally shifted under their feet.
"Our cover has finally been blown," said one local banker. "I'm not sure this is a prize we wanted to win. Certainly it comes as a huge surprise to most of our community -- except for the tiny, carefully selected group that have been in on the secret. "
"The VP was not one of them, so we think he's in the clear. Hopefully."
"TJN really knows their stuff. I think they even sent a small squad of undercover investigators here last summer -- a group of Brits, mainly.
"We immediately suspected them of being up to something, but we didn't know until now just how much sleuthing they were doing. We thought they were here for the nightlife, the boys and girls. It never pays to try and fool those folks."
"After all, after having had a hand in the design of offshore havens in Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Belize, Bermuda, BVI, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, Cyprus, Gilbraltar, Guernsey, Hong Kong, the Isle of Man, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nauru, Niue, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Singapore, the Turks and Caicos, and the UAE, they really know a good haven when they see one."
"Naturally our heart goes out to all the other secretive financial centers in the world. It's never fun to go to bed one night thinking you were number one, and discover that some tiny town that no one has heard of has beaten you to a pulp."
"The downside? Well, it'll probably be much harder to be a secretive financial center, obviously. And now we'll have all those smarmy Euros, plus a lot of Florida cosmetic surgeons coming here with their bags of cash. Meh!"
"Personally I'm already thinking about moving to Wyoming."
(c) JSH 2009