By Michael Hudson with permission and supplied to the Saker Blog
“Taken from an interview with the newly founded German magazine “ViER” which will be published in August 2022.” ViER (FOUR), stands for the media as fourth power in checks and balances.
(1.) Prof. Hudson, your new book “The Destiny of Civilization” is out now. This lecture series on finance capitalism and the New Cold War presents an overview of your unique geo-political perspective.
You talk about an ongoing ideological and material conflict between financialized and de-industrialized countries like United States against the mixed-economies of China and Russia. What is this conflict about and why is the world right now at a unique “point of fracture” as your book states?
Today’s global fracture is dividing the world between two different economic philosophies: In the US/NATO West, finance capitalism is de-industrializing economies and has shifted manufacturing to Eurasian leadership, above all China, India and other Asian countries in conjunction with Russia providing basic raw materials and arms.
These countries are a basic extension of industrial capitalism evolving into socialism, that is, into a mixed economy with strong government infrastructure investment to provide education, health care, transportation and other basic needs by treating them as public utilities with subsidized or free services for these needs.
In the neoliberal US/NATO West, by contrast, this basic infrastructure is privatized as a rent-extracting natural monopoly.
The result is that the US/NATO West is left as a high-cost economy, with its housing, education and medical expenses increasingly debt financed, leaving less and less personal and business income to be invested in new means of production (capital formation). This poses an existential problem for Western finance capitalism: How can it maintain living standards in the face of de-industrialization, debt deflation and financialized rent-seeking impoverishing the 99% to enrich the One Percent?
The first U.S. aim is to deter Europe and Japan from seeking a more prosperous future to lie in closer trade and investment ties with Eurasia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, a more helpful way of thinking about the global fracture from the BRICS). To keep Europe and Japan as satellite economies, U.S. diplomats are insisting on a new economic Berlin Wall of sanctions to block trade between East and West.
For many decades U.S. diplomacy has meddled in European and Japanese internal politics, sponsoring pro-neoliberal officials into government leadership. These officials feel that their destiny (and also their personal political fortunes) is closely allied with U.S. leadership. Meanwhile, European politics has now become basically NATO politics run from the United States.
The problem is how to hold the Global South – Latin America, Africa and many Asian countries – in the US/NATO orbit. Sanctions against Russia have the effect of hurting the trade balance of these countries by sharply raising oil, gas and food prices (as well as prices for many metals) that they must import. Meanwhile, rising U.S. interest rates are drawing financial savings and bank credit into U.S.-dollar-denominated securities. This has raised the dollar’s exchange rate, making it much harder for SCO and Global South countries to pay their dollarized debt service falling due this year.
This forces a choice on these countries: either go without energy and food in order to pay foreign creditors – thereby putting international financial interests before their domestic economic survival – or defaulting on their debts, as occurred in the 1980s after Mexico announced in 1982 that it could not pay foreign bondholders
(2.) How do you see the ongoing war/special military operation in Ukraine? Which economic consequences do you foresee?
Russia has secured the Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine and its southern Black Sea coastline. NATO will continue to “poke the bear” by sabotage and new ongoing attacks, especially by Polish fighters.
NATO countries have dumped their old and obsolete weapons into Ukraine, and now must spend immense sums modernizing their military hardware. The outflow of payments to the U.S. military-industrial complex will put downward pressure on the euro and British sterling – all coming on topo of their own rising energy and food deficits. So the euro and sterling are headed down toward parity with the U.S. dollar. The euro is almost there now (about $1.07). This means sharply rising price inflation for Europe.
I read and hear conflicting information on the new sanctions. Some experts in the East and West believe this will harm the national economy of the Russian Federation tremendously. Other experts tend to believe this will backfire or have a huge boomerang-effect on the Western countries indeed.
The overriding U.S. policy is to fight against China, hoping to break of the Western Uighur regions and divide China into smaller states. To do that, it is necessary to break away Russian military and raw-materials support for China – and in due course to break it up into a number of smaller states (the Western large cities, northern Siberia, a southern flank, etc.).
Sanctions were imposed in hopes of making living conditions so unpleasant for Russians that they would press for regime change. The NATO attack in Ukraine was designed to drain Russia militarily – by having the bodies of Ukrainians deplete Russia’s supply of bullets and bombs by giving their lives simply to absorb Russian arms.
The effect has been to increase Russian support for Putin – just the opposite of what was intended. There is a growing disillusion with the West, after seeing what the Harvard Boys did to Russia when the United States backed Yeltsin to create a domestic kleptocrat class that tried to “cash out” its privatizations by selling shares in oil, nickel and public utilities to the West, and then spurring military attacks from Georgia and Chechnya. There is a general agreement that Russia is making a long-term turn Eastward instead of Westward.
So the effect of U.S. sanctions and military opposition to Russia has been to impose a political and economic Iron Curtain locking in Europe to dependency on the United States, while driving Russia together with China instead of prying them apart. Meanwhile, the cost of European sanctions against Russian oil and food – much to the benefit of U.S. LNG gas suppliers and agricultural exporters – threatens to create long-term European opposition to U.S. unipolar global strategy. A new “Ami go home” movement is likely to develop.
But for Europe, the damage already has been done, and neither Russia nor China are likely to trust that European government officials can withstand the bribery and personal pressure brought to bear by U.S. interference.
Here in Germany I’m listening to the new Minister for Economy, Mr Robert Habeck from the Green Party, who talks about activating the federal “emergency gas” and asks the Emirates for resources (this “deal” seems to be failed already, news say). We see the end of North Stream II and huge dependency for Berlin and Brussels on Russian resources. How this will all sum up?
In effect, U.S. officials have asked Germany to commit economic suicide and bring on a depression, higher consumer prices and lower living standards. German chemical companies have already begun to shut down their fertilizer production, given Germany’s acceptance of trade and financial sanctions that prevent it from buying Russian gas (the raw material for most fertilizer). And German car companies are suffering from supply cut-offs.
These European economic shortages are a huge benefit to the United States, which is making enormous profits on more expensive oil (which is controlled largely by U.S. companies, followed by British and French oil companies). Europe’s replenishment of the arms that it donated to Ukraine also is a boon to the U.S. military-industrial complex, whose profits are soaring.
But the United States is not recycling these economic gains to Europe, which is looking like the big loser.
Arab oil producers already have rejected U.S. demands that they charge less for their oil. They look to be windfall gainers from the NATO attack on the Ukraine proxy battlefield.
It seems unlikely that Germany can simply give back to Russia Nord Stream 2 and the Gazprom affiliates that have conducted trade with Germany. Trust has been broken. And Russia is afraid to accept payments by European banks since the theft of $300 billion of its foreign reserves. Europe is no longer economically safe for Russia.
The question is just how soon Russia will simply stop supplying Europe altogether.
It looks like Europe is becoming an appendage of the U.S. economy, in effect bearing the fiscal burden of America’s Cold War 2.0, with no political representation in the United States. The logical solution is for Europe to join the United States politically, giving up its governments but at least getting a few Europeans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
(3.) Which role does the a) New Cold War and the b) neoliberal finance capitalism play in the current war between Russia and Ukraine? According to your recent research.
The US/NATO war in Ukraine is the first battle in what looks like a 20-year attempt to isolate the Dollar Area West from Eurasia and the Global South. U.S. politicians promise to keep the Ukraine war going indefinitely, hoping that this may become Russia’s “new Afghanistan.” But this tactic now looks like it may threaten to be America’s own Afghanistan. It is a proxy war, whose effect is to lock in Europe’s dependency on the United States as a client oligarchy with the euro as a satellite currency to the dollar.
U.S. diplomacy tried to disable Russia in three major ways. First, isolating it financially by blocking it from SWIFT bank clearing, system. Russia responded by smoothly moving over to China’s bank-clearing system.
The second tactic was to seizing Russian deposits in U.S. banks and holdings of U.S. financial securities. Russia responded by picking up U.S. and European investments in Russia on the cheap as the West dumped them.
The third tactic was to block NATO members from trading with Russia. The effect has been that Russian imports from the West have declined, while its exports of oil, gas and food are soaring. That has raised the ruble’s exchange rate instead of hurting it. And as sanctions block Russia’s imports from the West, President Putin has announced that his government will invest heavily in import substitution. The effect will be a permanent loss of Russian markets for European suppliers and exporters.
Meanwhile, the Trump tariffs against European exports to the United States remain in place, leaving European industry with shrinking business opportunities. The European Central Bank may continue to buy European stocks and bonds to protect the wealth of the One Percent, but if anything will cut back on domestic social spending so as to comply with the 3% limit of budget deficits that the eurozone has imposed on itself.
In the medium and long run, the US/NATO sanctions are therefore aimed mainly against Europe. And Europeans don’t even seem to see that they are the primary victims of this new U.S. economic war for self-serving energy, food and financial dominance.
(4.) In Germany the stopped energy project Nord Stream II is still a big political issue. In your recent online article “The Dollar Devours the Euro” you wrote: “It is now clear that today’s escalation of the New Cold War was planned over a year ago. America’s plan to block Nord Stream 2 was really part of its strategy to block Western Europe (“NATO”) from seeking prosperity by mutual trade and investment with China and Russia.” Could you explain this to our readers? source: https://michael-hudson.com/2022/04/the-dollar-devours-the-euro/
What you characterize as “blocking Nord Stream 2” is really a Buy-American policy. The United States has persuaded Europe not to buy in the lowest-price market, but to pay as much as seven times more for its gas from U.S. LGN suppliers, and to spend a reported $5 billion on expanding port capacity – that will not even be available for a year years.
This threatens a very uncomfortable interregnum for Germany and other European countries following U.S. dictates. Basically, national parliaments are now subservient to NATO, whose policies are run from Washington.
One price that Europe will pay, as noted above, is declining exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. European investors are likely to move their savings and investments out of Europe to the United States in order maximize their capital gains and simply avoid price declines for their stocks and bonds as measured in dollars.
(5.) Prof. Hudson, let’s take a look at further developments in Germany. In May the German parliament – Bundestag – passed a new bill: German lawmakers approved possible expropriation of energy companies. This could enable the Berlin government to put energy companies under trusteeship if they can no longer fulfil their tasks and if the security of supply is at risk. According to REUTERS, the renewed law – which still needs to pass the upper house of parliament – could be applied for the first time if no solution is found on the ownership of the PCK Refinery oil refinery in Schwedt/Oder (East Germany), which is majority-owned by Russian state-owned Rosneft.
It looks like Europe and America will confiscate Russian investments in their countries, and sell off (or have Russia confiscate) NATO-country investments in Russia. This means a de-linking of the Russian economy from the West, and a closer linking with China – which looks like the next economy to be sanctioned by NATO as it becomes an Eastern Pacific Treaty Organization involving Europe in tis confrontation in the China Sea.
I would be surprised if Russia resumes selling oil and gas to Europe without being reimbursed for what Europe (and also the United States) has seized. This demand would help bring European pressure on the United States to give back the $300 billion in foreign reserves that it has grabbed.
But even after such a give-back and reparations settlement, trade seems unlikely to be resumed. A phase change has occurred, a change in consciousness as to how the world is splitting up under U.S. diplomatic attacks on allies and adversaries alike.
My question would be: Socialism is a big topic in your new book. What’s your view on those “socialist” measures taken now by a capitalist country like Germany?
A century ago, the “final stage” of industrial capitalism was expected to be socialism. There were many different kinds of socialism: State socialism, Marxian socialism, Christian socialism, anarchist socialism, libertarian socialism. But what occurred after World War I was the antithesis of socialism. It was finance capitalism and a militarized Finance capitalism.
The common denominator of all socialist movements, from the right to the left of the political spectrum, was stronger government infrastructure spending. The transition to socialism was being led (in the United States and Germany) by industrial capitalism itself, seeking to minimize the cost of living (and hence the basic living wage) and the cost of doing business by government investment in basic infrastructure, whose services were to be provided freely, or at least at subsidized prices.
That aim would prevent basic services from becoming opportunities for monopoly rent. The antithesis was the Thatcher-neoliberal doctrine of privatization. Governments turned over public utilities to private investors. Companies were bought on credit, adding interest and other financial charges to profits and payments to management. The result has been to turn neoliberal Europe and America into high-cost economies unable to compete in production prices with countries pursuing socialist polities instead of financialized neoliberalism.
This opposition in economic systems is the key to understanding today’s world global fracture.
(6.) Especially Russian oil and gas are in the focus right now. Moscow demands payments in Rouble only and is expanding their field of buyers filling it with China, India or Saudi-Arabia. But it seems Western buyers can still pay in Euro or US Dollar. What is your take on this ongoing war on resources? The Rouble appears to be a winner.
The rouble certainly is rising. But this does not make Russia a “winner” if its economy is disrupted by the sanctions blocking its own imports needed for its supply chains to operate smoothly.
Russia will end up the winner if it can mount an industrial import-substitution program, and re-create public infrastructure to replace what has been privatized under U.S. direction by the Harvard Boys in the 1990s.
Do we see the end of the petro-dollar and a rise of a new financial architecture in the East accompanied by a strengthening of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)?
There will still be petrodollars, but also a variety of currency-area blocs as the world de-dollarizes its international trade and investment arrangements. In late May, Foreign Secretary Lavrov said that Saudi Arabia and Argentina want to join BRICS. As Pepe Escobar recently noted, BRICS+ may expand to include MERCOSUR and the South African Development Community (SADC)
These arrangements probably will call for a non-U.S. alternative to the IMF to create credit and provide a vehicle for official foreign-exchange reserves for the non-NATO countries. The IMF will still survive to impose austerity on U.S. satellite countries while subsidizing capital flight from Global South countries and creating SDRs to finance U.S. military spending abroad.
Summer 2022 will be a testing ground as Global South countries suffer a balance-of-payments crisis from the rising oil and food deficits alongside the higher domestic-currency costs of carrying their foreign dollar debts. The IMF may offer new SDRs for them to pay US dollar bondholders to keep the illusion of solvency going. But the SCO countries can offer oil and food – IF countries give assurances of repaying credit by repudiating their dollar debts to the West.
This financial diplomacy promises to introduce “interesting times.”
(7.) In your recent interview with Michael Welch (“Accidental Crisis?”) you have a specific analysis on the current events in Ukraine/Russia:
“The war isn’t against Russia. The war isn’t against Ukraine. The war is against Europe and Germany.” Could you please elaborate on that?
As I explained above, the U.S. trade and financial sanctions are locking in Germany to dependency on U.S. exports of LNG, and purchases of US military arms to upgrade NATO into the de facto European Governing Authority.
The effect is to destroy any European hopes for mutual trade and investment gains with Russia. It is being turned into the junior partner (very junior) in its new trade an investment relations with the increasingly protectionist and nationalistic United States.
(8.) The real problem for United States seems to be this: “The only way of maintaining prosperity if you can’t create it at home is to get it from abroad.” What is Washington’s strategy in there?
My book Super Imperialism has explained how, for the past 50 years, ever since the United States went off gold in August 1971, the U.S. Treasury Bill standard has given the United States a free ride at foreign expense. Foreign central banks have recycled their dollar inflow resulting from the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit into loans to the U.S. Treasury – that is, to buy U.S. Treasury securities to hold their savings. This arrangement has enabled the United States to undertake foreign military spending for its nearly 800 military bases around Eurasia without having to depreciate the dollar or tax its own citizens. The cost has been borne by countries whose central banks have built up their dollar loans to the U.S. Treasury.
But now that it has become unsafe for countries to hold dollar-denominated U.S. bank deposits or government securities or investments if they “threaten” to defend their own economic interests or if their policies diverge from those dictated by U.S. diplomats, how can America continue to get a free ride?
In fact, how can it import basic materials from Russia to fill parts of its industrial and economic supply chain that is being broken down by the sanctions?
That is the challenge for U.S. foreign policy. One way or another, it aims to tax Europe and make other countries into economic satellites. The exploitation may not be as blatant as the U.S. grabbing of Venezuelan, Afghan and Russian official reserves. It is likely to involve undercutting foreign self-sufficiency to force other countries into economic dependency on the United States, so that the U.S. can threaten these countries with disruptive sanctions if they seek to put their own national interests over what U.S. diplomats want them to do.
(9.) How will all this affect Western Europe’s (Germany / France / Italy) balance of payments and hence the euro’s exchange rate against the dollar? And why do you think the European Union is on a path to become new “Panama, Puerto Rico and Liberia”?
The euro already is a satellite currency to the United States. Its member countries cannot run domestic budget deficits to cope with the coming inflationary depression resulting from the U.S.-sponsored sanctions and resulting Global Fracture.
The key is turning out to be military dependency. This is “cost sharing” for the U.S. sponsored Cold War 2.0. That cost sharing is what has led U.S. diplomats to realize that they need to control domestic European politics to prevent its populations and businesses from acting in their own interests. Their economic squeeze is “collateral damage” to today’s New Cold War.
(10.) A philosopher from Switzerland wrote a critical essay in mid of March for the German socialist newspaper „Neues Deutschland“, a former news outlet for the GDR government. Ms Tove Soiland criticized the international Left for current behaviours regarding Ukraine crisis and covid management. The Left, she says, is too much pro authoritarian government/state – and thereby copying methods of the traditional right-wing parties. Do you share this view? Or is it too harsh?
How would you answer this question, esp. regarding the thesis in your new book: “… the alternative path is broadly mixed-economy industrial capitalism leading to socialism …”. source: https://www.nd-aktuell.de/artikel/1162247.die-linke-und-corona-ein-postideologischer-totalitarismus.html
The State Department and CIA’s “mighty Wurlitzer” has focused on gaining control of Europe’s Social Democratic and Labour parties, anticipating that the great threat to U.S.-centered finance capitalism will be socialism. That has included the “green” parties, to the point where their pretense of opposing global warming is shown to be hypocritical in light of the vast carbon footprint and pollution of the NATO military warfare in Ukraine and related air force and naval exercises. You can’t be pro-environment and pro-war at the same time!
This has left the right-wing nationalist parties less influenced by U.S. political meddling. That is where the opposition to NATO is coming from, as in France and Hungary.
And in the United States itself, the only votes against the new $30 billion contribution to military spending against Russia came from Republicans. The entire “left wing” Democratic Party “squad” voted for the war spending.
The Social Democratic parties are basically bourgeois parties whose supporters have hopes of rising into the rentier class, or at least becoming stock and bond investors in miniature. The result is that neoliberalism has been led by Tony Blair in Britain and his counterparts in other countries. I discuss this political alignment in The Destiny of Civilization.
U.S. propagandists call governments that keep natural monopolies as public utilities “autocratic.” To be “democratic” means to let U.S. firms by control of these commanding heights, being “free” of government regulation and taxation of finance capital. So “left” and “right,” “democracy” and “autocracy,” have become an Orwellian Doublespeak vocabulary sponsored by America’s oligarchy (which it euphemizes as “democracy”).
(11.) Could the war in Ukraine be a landmark to show a new geopolitical map in the world? Or is the neoliberal New World Order on its rise? How do you see it?
As I explained in your Question #1, the world is being split into two parts. The conflict is not merely national by the West against the East, but is a conflict of economic systems: predatory finance capitalism against industrial socialism aiming at self-sufficiency for Eurasia and the SCO.
The non-aligned countries were not able to “go it alone” in the 1970s because they lacked a critical mass to produce their own food, energy and raw materials. But now that the United States has de-industrialized its own economy and outsourced its production to Asia, these countries have an option not to remain in dependency on U.S. Dollar Diplomacy.