by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker blog (cross-posted with PressTV by permission)
(Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea, and elsewhere. He is the author of “I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China.”)
Christine Lagarde just quit her top post at the International Monetary Fund in order to run the European Central Bank. This shows just far the euro has come (and central bankers), and represents either a historic step backwards or a leap of faith forward in the fight against the global domination of the US dollar.
The dollar’s dominance is what allows Washington to impose murderous, illegal sanctions on countries like Iran, Cuba, Korea and elsewhere, which is why many are so keen to end it.
The dollar’s imposition began after World War II, when the war-ravaged powers were forced to accept equating US paper with (but actually above) gold, a move which Charles de Gaulle bitterly referred to as the “exorbitant privilege” of the United States. The logic is simple: a $100 dollar bill cost Washington only the price of a piece of paper, whereas everyone else still had to mine, barter, earn or steal $100 worth of gold (or its equivalent in goods) to acquire that banknote.
The expensive US failure in Vietnam caused Richard Nixon to end this policy in 1971, but QE – printing money out of thin air – was opposed back then, so a replacement tool had to be quickly found in order to maintain US empire. The solution to effectively maintain the Bretton Woods system was found with the “petrodollar” agreement of 1973: every barrel of Saudi oil sold to anyone had to be purchased in dollars, and surplus Saudi profit would be invested in US banks and in US debt securities (“petrodollar recycling”, per Henry Kissinger).
Washington had no qualms about propping up the ruthless, reactionary House of Saud to maintain US economic hegemony. The system expanded to other oil producers to the point where: no dollars? No oil.
The petrodollar keeps money flowing into the US and allows the US to “print gold” – it finances their huge budget deficits, high demand for the dollar fights off their inflation, it gives their banks a source of income for which they do zero genuine work, and the US themselves can buy “as much oil as they can print” from the Saudis. This is obviously a tremendous bargain for the US – the only reason the Saudis accept it is because they know they have absolutely zero legitimacy and would be deposed instantly without US arms and military support.
But the great deal is only for some in the US, as they are rabid neoliberal capitalists: from 1980 onwards the US elite funnelled these huge monies into Wall Street and other asset classes which only their fellow elite can touch, as opposed to intelligently and patriotically using the income to improve the overall conditions of their own nation, or even just raising wages (neoliberals call these concepts “socialism”).
Pick your poison: the US or the IMF?
The IMF, which is always led by a European, has long-pushed something to end this scam that weakens everyone for the US’ benefit, via the concept of the SDR (special drawing rights): a basket of international currencies which could replace the dollar as the world’s backing currency. Who needs the Fed when the SDR can provide international liquidity and financial stability? It wasn’t a great system, but it was closer to the IMF’s original aim of having an international monetary system, instead of the current US empire system of (petrodollar) tribute, which is no different from the Roman era.
The Great Recession pushed the superiority of the SDR to the fore – in 2009 China publicly supported, for the first time, that an international reserve currency be based on the SDR and be run by the IMF. The immorality and business failures of US bankers caused the Great Recession – it was only logical that the Americans lose their banking primacy.
The IMF was thus poised to become top banker, and one of their own was even about to be democratically elected.
In 2011 then-current IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a major backer of the SDR basket, was outpolling Nicolas Sarkozy 2 to 1 to head the world’s 5th-largest economy and the neo-imperialist master of North and West Africa. He was certain to win, but on American soil he was accused of attempted rape of a hotel maid, dooming his presidency. The charges were dropped, but Strauss-Kahn admitted the liaison. People screamed “conspiracy” – I always found it highly coincidental that Strauss-Kahn found a maid whose native language was French in a country where seemingly all the cleaning women are Latinas? Conspiracy theorists assumed Sarkozy was behind it, with few noting how the IMF, the SDR and Strauss-Kahn threatened US economic hegemony.
QE means the US’ 1% never have to pay for their crimes
The US pushed back the IMF with one arm while the other arranged the current global financial regime – Quantitative Easing.
QE has been a total failure for the average person worldwide, but nowhere more so than in Europe. Incredibly, 1.5 years after it became official, PressTV and I remain one of the very few people to write about the statistical reality of Europe’s “Lost Decade”. I saw it happening in painful slow-motion, being PressTV’s chief correspondent in Paris.
The reason the Mainstream Media doesn’t want to talk about the failure of QE to provide broad economic growth is because their pro-capitalist media are owned by the same billionaires who get all the profit from QE.
The printing of trillions of paper money (which are certainly not backed by trillions in newly-mined gold) has, just like the oil-produced fruits of the petrodollar, gone to remake the same asset bubbles which sparked the Great Recession.
Once again, only the wealthy are profiting from shady capitalist practices: Housing Bubble II, new stock market records despite the endemic failure of the “real-economy” (evidenced by the Lost Decade), and absurd records in the prices of absurd luxury goods like MBS’ purchase of a da Vinci painting – this has all been paid for by the neoliberal-neoimperialist policy of QE which has failed the average Western citizen and continued the economic misery of the developing world.
But QE has proven one thing: governments are the most powerful forces in society, not bankers. This is something which socialist-inspired democracies are based on, but which only the 1% appear to take advantage of in Western liberal democracies.
Lagarde moving from the IMF to ECB would have been thought of as a step down pre-QE, mainly because nobody imagined that the head of the ECB could create several trillions of dollars simply by tapping a keyboard, as her predecessor Mario Draghi did. The IMF has a lot of money, but they do not have the power to create money.
Lagarde: More bad news for Europe’s 99%
When Lagarde was announced as the new head of the ECB the Western mainstream media provided – of course – none of this background, nor any perspective which fairly criticises the record of neoliberal thought and practice. Instead, their leading media justified Lagarde on one criterion – gender. The New York Times’ article was, “In Tense Times, ‘Call in the Woman’: Lagarde Will Lead the E.C.B”.
The Times championed Lagarde’s own claim that she deserved the job because she was not a male: “As I have said many times, if it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today.”
Such a claim is preposterous and shows how little Lagarde understands the principles and practices of neoliberal economics. However, everyone can quickly see that it also denies the existence of empresses, queens, Thatchers and Clintons; it also denies that women have played any role in shaping the positive and negative aspects of our modern world; it is a justification entirely based on divisive, distracting “identity politics” instead of a class-based true feminism.
Certainly, nobody would claim that simply being a male would be all that is necessary to head the ECB. And yet, such nonsense is all it takes in 2019 – we must all cheer simply because the new boss is female. This is what works with the average American today.
But the ECB is not American – why Lagarde?
The Times repeated the same misleading claim – that Lagarde is an “antitrust lawyer by training” : she worked for the world’s biggest law firm, based in Chicago (the Qom of neoliberal capitalist thought), meaning that she likely worked to manipulate the law in order to maintain trusts, not to dismantle trusts. The Times was forced to acknowledge that she has no experience as a central banker and will thus have a “steep learning curve”.
The West continues to put people in power based on the most absurd pretences of qualification for public service, even when such posts are unelected.
Investopedia had the same assessment as The Times: “However, the absence of an economics background or a discernible opinion on monetary policy means she would have to rely on financial technocrats a fair amount. Lagarde, who says she faced sexism and discrimination in her professional life….”
Lagarde clearly does not have the background required – just like The Times, Investopedia ignores this to assert her “gender qualifications”.
Pity the poor European Mainstream Media reader: Largarde is only a shiny tool whose ascension will do nothing but put an unqualified person in charge of the QE money-printing scheme. She will obviously kowtow to “technocrats” who insist that QE will eventually, one day stop creating Lost Decades.
Lagarde thus got the job not her qualifications but her ideology: it is not Islamic, nor socialist, nor moral – she believes in phony technocratism, because for Lagarde and her ilk “technocrats” are synonymous with “the 1%”. I know Lagarde well from covering the “Tapie Affair” in France: she was found guilty of negligence and misuse of public funds in a case where she got Sarkozy’s friend Bernard Tapie a hugely controversial 400-million euro payout from the French public coffers.
She only doesn’t have a criminal record and didn’t go to jail, which would seemingly have disqualified her for the ECB Post because…because France’s judicial system is not independent but totally corrupted by 1% influence – the judge simply decided to let her go scot-free, despite her guilt.
Negligence, misuse of public funds, payouts for millionaires – now we understand why Lagarde is considered to be “qualified” to run the ECB, and their QE scam, and to continue the phony “the 99% must work their nation out of debt” justification for austerity policies. More “Western-style leadership”…..
The leap of faith forward I mentioned at the start is this: the ECB runs the world’s largest macro-economy – it is possible they could decouple themselves from the dollar’s decades of exorbitant privilege, and the Chicago school of (neoliberal) capitalism, and start pursuing policies which do not flood the 1% with cheap credit to buy cheaply the lives of people across Europe.
However, the legal structures of the EU and the Eurozone are written in post-1989 language which is even more typically American than what underpins the system of the US itself. Therefore we can have little basis for faith that the cabal of bankers and public-into-private national finance minsters which is the Eurogroup, which runs the Eurozone with zero democratic accountability or even transparency, is going to start caring about the 99% in any of their respective nations.
The selection of the French Lagarde illustrate that Europe is no longer sovereign, but content to be a tool of US economic hegemony.
The BRICS countries hold out hopes for ending the petrodollar-fuelled US global finance domination, but they have effectively lost Brazil via the US-orchestrated coup against Dilma Roussef, and they have foolishly not offered to make it BRIICS, with the second ‘I’ standing for Iran. No need, really: China, Russia and Iran continue to make the most headway against the dollar, via the Belt and Road Initiative but especially the unstoppable petroyuan.
Cryptocurrency is another unstoppable way for countries to oppose US control over the global financial system, which is why The New York Times and the US treasury secretary just screamed, “Cryptocurrencies Pose National Security Threat, Mnuchin Says”. Cryptocurrency was indeed created in order to end the US petrodollar and QE schemes, which is why they are so wonderful and why they must be supported.
Lagarde leaving the IMF for the ECB is definitely a historic shift in the (Western) priority rankings. It is simply tragic for the West’s billion of innocents that unaccountable, unelected central bankers and their ineffective, corrupt cronies have become their political elite. This, of course, has equally lamentable consequences for those nations suffering under neoimperialism, illegal sanctions and other Washington-based policies.