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In the City of God St. Augustine narrates an anecdote,( which in all probability was drawn from Cicero-de republica)), where Alexander the Great confronts a pirate. When that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.’ Augustine’s argument is that, in fact, the existence of justice is the only qualitative difference between legitimate and illegitimate coercive power: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?”

Isn’t this anecdote relevant even these days?

Have you noticed how law is weighted in favor of majority than small in numbers? Let me give an example: the President of a nation with his superior numbers may invade a country and in the ensuing war the casualties mount. Is he hauled before the law of the land and tried as a warmonger? On the other hand a man gets into a brawl after drinking one too many and kills one. Do you think he shall escape the law because of he was drunk? The President whose rhetorics led to a war situation and after so many provocations ratcheting between the two states, shall become all the more laudable despite the deaths of some 20, 000 deaths. He may even win a second term for the many advantages of war being added to the Treasury of the State. He may retire with the aura of a statesman. Not so with the individual who killed another one in a drunken stupor. Certainly he shall be squeezed dry in the rigmarole of legalities that face him and its trauma haunt him for the rest of his life.

Now we see similar situation in the world of finance. One of the few things not in dispute in the criminal case against Abacus Federal Savings Bank is that it began with a mortgage closing on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, for a two-family home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.

On May 31 of 2012, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced criminal charges against the bank and 19 former employees, some facing up to 25 years in prison. “Mortgage fraud became institutionalized at Abacus Bank,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said at a news conference. Abacus, like many banks, had sold its loans to Fannie Mae (FNMA), taking the proceeds and lending them back out to earn more interest. The huge government-backed company in turn bundled those mortgages into securities it sold to investors. Abacus lied about applicants, Vance charged, because otherwise its loans wouldn’t have met Fannie Mae’s income requirements, and the bank depended on Fannie’s money for a significant chunk of its profit.(bloomberg businessweek of Jan 31,2013/drake bennet)

But why was that bank prosecuted and why was Goldman Sachs or Chase not prosecuted? Legal authorities consider it not feasible to go after companies of a certain size, while Abacus is a small fry and easier to succeed if they threw the book at them. While it may be more satisfying to go after the bigger companies, to quote a SEC commissioner who talked about “shot selection,” like in basketball, bureaucracies go for the baskets with the greatest chance of scoring.

It’s not just about poor people. The agencies hesitate before they decide to proceed against a well-heeled, well-defended company [against which] they’re going to have to fight for years and years and years just to get the case in court.

This situation isn’t anything new. It goes back to the Clinton years: Clinton signs on to welfare reform, Clinton and the Democrats begin to court the financial services sector and begin to adopt deregulatory policies.

So now you have political consensus in both parties on both issues; both have the same approach to poverty, to people at the bottom, and they have the same approach to enforcement. And so what begins as deregulation of Wall Street concludes, ultimately, in potentially non-enforcement of crime; and what begins as being “tougher” on welfare cheats in the ’90s, and being tougher on the whole process of giving out benefits, devolves into something pretty close to the criminalization of poverty itself … And that’s just something that happens naturally when you have a political consensus, which is what we have now.

Holder, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton years, outlined what was actually sort of a “get tough on crime” document. He gave prosecutors all these tools to go after big corporations. But, at the bottom [of the memo], he outlined this policy called “collateral consequences,” which was — all it really said was, if you’re a prosecutor and you’re going after a big corporation that employs a lot of people, and you’re worried about innocent victims, you can seek other remedies. Instead of criminally prosecuting, you can do a deferred prosecution agreement, a non-prosecution agreement or, especially, you can levy fines.

When he wrote that, it was nearly a decade before the too-big-to-fail era, but when he came back to office [as Obama’s attorney general], this idea, which initially had been completely ignored becomes the law of the land now, insofar as these systemically important institutions are concerned.

Consequently the agencies think about collateral consequences before they go against companies like HSBC and UBS because they’re worried about what the impact might be on the world economy.

What’s interesting about it is that this idea suddenly matches this thing that happened with our economy where we have the collapse of the economy in 2008, [and] instead of breaking up these bad companies, we merged them together and made them bigger and more dangerous. Now they’re even more unprosecutable than before, now this collateral consequences idea is even more applicable. And that’s the reality we live in now; it’s just this world where if you can commit an offense within the auspices of a company like that, the resolution won’t be a criminal resolution, it will be something else.(‘It’s total moral surrender’/Matt Talibbi from his book The Divide/interview with Salon/Elias Isquith)

benny

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Global economy is not run by sheer ingenuity of some intrepid souls whose motto is not excellence but profits. Their dynamic leadership as some segments of capitalistic society make out, does not take finance of nations still higher. Gordon Gekko of Wall Street is a pathetic lost soul who represents a part of global consciousness to enrich themselves. Isn’t it a good thing? The answer depends on the state of our existence. We have chosen to be materialistic at the risk of losing our keen eye and ears for finer things in life. We have become crass  and arrogant in the many number of weaker people we have pushed to the gutter in order to prop up consumer market. It is like the curate’s egg which is good in parts and rotten in the other.

“Crime works

The economic value of crime and its profits are not confined to global finance. It also makes a difference on the ground. Take jobs and living standards. From the 1980s onwards, real wages in OECD countries have declined for those in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations, that is, a good majority of the labour market. If wage stagnation was the order of the day in the West, you can imagine that developing states were hardly lands of milk and honey for ordinary workers.

Take Mexico following the signing of the NAFTA agreement in 1994; this ushered in privatisation by the back, front and side doors. By 1996, if you were not one of Mexico’s 8m unemployed, you worked legitimately in the maquiladoras sweatshop assembly plants or in the informal economy. Poverty became endemic. Fast-forward to 2012 and a banner appears above a highway in Monterey, placed there by one of the countries “big four” cartels:

Operating Group ‘Los Zetas’ wants you … We offer a good salary, food, and we care for your family. Do not suffer bad treatment … We will not feed you Maruchan (noodle) soups. Do not hesitate to call 8671687423.

To Mexico’s legion of economically disenfranchised, Los Zetos are really making an offer they cannot refuse. And the available figures prove as such: the drug industry employs around half a million people – the fifth largest employer in Mexico. Those employed in the drug trade are required to possess a unique skillset – the ability to variously murder, torture, kidnap, mutilate and rape. But this is not the whole story.

The illicit narco economy creates a virtuous commercial circle of sorts. The narcoeconomy not only employs directly but sustains a network of existing or new support industries and business ventures: banking and finance, IT, logistics, farming and transportation, pharmaceuticals, industries which have transformed backwater towns.

Mainstreaming crime

Britain maybe some way from being a fully-fledged narcoeconomy but we should not underestimate the economic contribution of illicit markets and their criminal agents. Take the City of London, international citadel of high finance and favoured port of call for international criminals and organisations looking to wash their dirty or corrupt cash.

According to David Clarke, City of London’s police fraud investigator, London is attractive haven for crime money as checks and balances on those setting up businesses or investing are flexible. Possibly this is why London remains an island of prosperity whilst the rest of the UK economy is in a state of austerity stagnation.

Further down the laundering food chain, there are betting shops and high volume fixed odds betting terminals widely used by drug dealers and gangs to wash their profits. In fact, these digital betting terminals now account for half the profits of bookmakers’ profits. However, the chancellor plans to plunder a good deal of this revenue by raising the duty on betting terminals. William Hill, the UK’s largest high street bookmaker, responded by announcing the closure of 109 betting shops at a projected cost of 420 jobs.

To consider the possible macro-economic benefits of illicit markets is not in any way to justify or celebrate crime. Far from it. The intention has been to consider the growing interdependence between crime and the legitimate economy. In fact, a growing body of research evidence suggests that criminal organisations and illicit markets increasingly form part of the mainstream economy. The boundary between the wider legitimate economy and the illicit economy is increasingly blurred.

A recent scandal when horsemeat was discovered in many “beef” burgers sold in UK supermarkets is case in point. A government commissioned review “clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain”; a process aided and abetted by the aggressive pursuit by supermarkets of margins in a cutthroat commercial environment. The problem, it seems, is not so much organised crime but a crime-organised economy.”

(quote from The Conversation- article: When crooks get rich the whole economy benefits- Mike Marinetto, Lecturer in Business Ethics at Cardiff university/20 May,2014)

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Emphasis on wealth in terms of money than people with character has brought home one harsh truth which however shall not make any change to the march of progress. What man has begun must draw to its inexorable conclusion. Truth that must make us shudder is in this: crime pays.
Since we have opted for pragmatism than utility and making wealth above everything else we may as well accept our foolishness before we show our hypocrisy as well. After all money does not make a distinction between crook or a decent hard worker.
“Take how the global financial system works: In 2009, the Italian economist at the helm of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime dropped something of bombshell: Antonio-Maria Costa claimed that organised crime helped to bail out a global banking system on the verge of fiscal Armageddon in 2008. The banking system at the time was starved of liquid capital. The wise guys offered a lifeline. Monies from criminal activities – something to the tune of US$352 billion of drug profits according to Costa – provided a number of banks with much needed capital to prevent them going over the cliff into oblivion, a situation brought about by the casino of mortgage backed securities.
Costa refused to name the names of institutions bailed out by the cosa nostras and camorras of this world. That said, HSBC – and this is a matter of public record – between 2006 and 2010 helped the Mexican Sinaloa cartel and the Colombian Nortre del Valle cartel launder close to US$1 billion.”
If we see what is wrong with the world where no nation can live in amity with another or balance their books right and feel impoverished despite hogging up the wealth common to mankind, the answer is simple: morality has been abdicated by those who make a show of it and put material affluence first than the well-being of people. Without feeding the inner resources of people, without putting to work resilience, moral sense,imagination, fortitude, fairness work ethics and above all justice no one can be called civilized. Civilization without man being civilized shall lead to such a set up where we shall throw the book at crooks which shall be for public consumption since we borrow their money to balance the book.
(quote from The Conversation- article: When crooks get rich the whole economy benefits- Mike Marinetto, Lecturer in Business Ethics at Cardiff university/20 May,2014)
benny

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It was Goldman Sach’s paper “Dreaming With BRICs” predicted that China’s gross domestic product would overtake the U.S.’s sometime in the 2020s. Now the World Bank study in April,2014 said this for certain by end of this year. Such predictions however coming from knowledgable circles ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Take the magic Three P’s: Purchase Power Parity
This yardstick takes into account that a dollar buys a lot more in Beijing than in Bethesda, Maryland. According to the Big Mac index for instance, the McDonald’s hamburger costs 40 percent more stateside than in the Middle Kingdom. Labor is cheap in China. Hire and Fire in Beijing under one party rule is same as in America but no American labor will waste on such low pay. Or take a haircut in Palo Alto, California, sets you back $25; the average in Shanghai is five bucks. An American customer may want to have a crewcut with some graffiti thrown in. Or a pancake style. Whereas in Hunan it may be a peasant hair cut would only need a rice-bowl to keep the line and anyone with a pair of scissors snip away the superflous hair and call himself a barber.
So the three P’s don’t reflect real power.
One dollar is a giant in comparison with yuan. When China imports technology from the U.S. or high-tech weaponry from Israel, it has to pay in dollars. Ditto when it gobbles up African mines or buys the loyalty of developing countries with foreign aid. Tuition for Chinese students at Stanford University is also billed in dollars. What little we do not see between the lines is dollar’s clout as International currency has a drawback when US batch of peanut butter sold through retail throws a scare of botulism at home. Compensation is paid in dollars not to mention the killing legal costs. In China melamine laced milk products are paid in yuan and at the worst is the fellows responsible for negligence are shot to appease the irate public.
As early as 1984, China’s growth peaked at 15 percent. Now, the rate is down to one-half that. The sluggish world economy plays a part, but the underlying reasons are structural. There is housing market bubble in the big cities in China. It will break just as it did in the USA in 2008. When it happens all those villagers who were thrown out of their ancestral homes and those who have been made paupers in land speculation can put themselves into the labor pool. Ample low-wage labor will not cut any ice by shipping them to Europe or the US. They have their own unemployment to grapple with.
Spectacular growth is always easy when on paper. It was thus credit agencies gave Greece Cyprus, Iceland such high reports. China has her own problems and growing threats from ethnic minorities and any race for a global economic power do not carry prosperity with it.(ack: Josef Joffe/bloomberg.net)

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Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)

If impact of any one is based on influence he had over shaping the thoughts of number of people (who are movers and shakers in their own time,) Malthus deserves a pre-eminent position as the shaper of modern world. Where would be  VI Lenin if there was no Karl Marx to begin with? Karl Marx certainly owes much to this unassuming English cleric. So do Charles Darwin and Arthur Russell Wallace.

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Malthus became widely known for his theories about change in population. His An Essay on the Principle of Population observed that sooner or later population would be checked by famine and disease. He wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible. Naturally he had no use for Rousseau’s woolly ideas of noble savage. Nature was a battle- front where life forms marshaled their energies to get an edge over others in the ever dwindling resources. There was nothing noble but hard-nosed reality of survival.

Malthus wrote:

That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,

That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and,

That the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.

Malthus was interested in everything about populations. He accumulated figures on births, deaths, age of marriage and childbearing, and economic factors contributing to longevity. His main contribution was to highlight the relationship between food supply and population. Humans do not overpopulate to the point of starvation, he contended, only because people change their behavior in the face of economic incentives. (Perhaps the reason for fall in child births globally after the 2008 must point out to the validity of this point.b)

Noting that while food production tends to increase arithmetically, population tends to increase naturally at a (faster) geometric rate, Malthus argued that it is no surprise that people thus choose to reduce (or “check”) population growth. People can increase food production, Malthus thought, only by slow, difficult methods such as reclaiming unused land or intensive farming; but they can check population growth more effectively by marrying late, using contraceptives, emigrating and so on.

It could be argued that war is also part of Nature’s game plan*.

Trivia: Thomas Carlyle in 1849 coined economics as “dismal science.” It was to demean John Stuart Mill, and often erroneously thought to refer to Malthus’s contributions to the economics of population growth.

 

*Tailspin:

 Hitler’s lebensraum  was one way of cutting the ground off from under the feet of National Socialism. Is it not nature’s way of getting rid of evil geniuses? Nature works with chains of events that are most likely to be beneficial to maintain open societies where new technologies shall be put to use for creating health and all around well-being of  global population. Consequently ethnic cleansing of minorities, gypsies, Jews adopted by Nazi Germany as a state policy was counterproductive. Stalin would cause some 22 millions to perish under his personality cult. Where did that leave Soviet bloc? Did it not go out of business by its own immoral governance? Nature has a role if we were to follow Malthusian thought  further into the fall of empire-states. (Ack: wikipedia, Lauren F. Landsburg)

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It must be said as a proof to the political acumen of FDR after the Great Depression, the United States had 40 years of economic growth,without a single financial crisis. The financial industry was tightly regulated. Most regular banks were local businesses, and they were prohibited from speculating with depositors’ savings. Investment banks, which handled stock and bond trading, were small, private partnerships.
“In the traditional, uh, investment-banking-partnership model, the
partners put the money up. And obviously, the partners watched that money very carefully. They wanted to live well, but they didn’t want to bet the ranch on anything.”Samuel Hayes Prof.emeritus of investment banking Harvard Business School.
ii
In the 1980s, the financial industry exploded. The investment banks went
public, giving them huge amounts of stockholder money. People on Wall Street started getting rich. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan chose as Treasury secretary the CEO
of the investment bank Merrill Lynch, Donald Regan (1981-85).
The Reagan administration, supported by economists and financial lobbyists, started a 30-year period of financial deregulation.
In 1982, the Reagan administration deregulated savings and loan companies, allowing them to make risky investments with their depositors’ money. By the end of the decade, hundreds of savings and loan companies had failed.
(This crisis cost taxpayers 124 billion dollars, and cost many people their life savings. Perhaps one of the biggest bank heist in our history came out of the nexus between Reagan and Donald Regan (not related). You see the entire Wall Street was behind the Presidnt to a man. This was a dry run for the economic downturn of 2008 and would affect globally millions as a result.( Only the villains and fools had to strut on the stage and do their pieces.)

Law catches up with crooks sooner or later. Thousands of savings and loan executives went to jail for looting their companies. One of the most extreme cases was Charles Keating.
You got to say Keating, a smart Alec that he was, hired an economist named Alan Greenspan. His hand was so steeped in the heist that he did go to jail but luck smiled on Greenspan. President Reagan appointed him chairman of America’s central bank, the Federal
Reserve. Greenspan was reappointed by presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.
During the Clinton administration, deregulation continued under Greenspan and Treasury secretaries Robert Rubin — the former CEO of the investment bank Goldman Sachs — and Larry Summers, a Harvard economics professor. By the late 1990s, the financial sector had consolidated into a few gigantic firms, each of them so large that their failure could threaten the whole system; and the Clinton administration helped them grow even larger.
In 1998, Citicorp and Travelers merged, to form Citigroup, the largest financial services company in the world. The merger violated the Glass-Steagall Act, a law passed after the Great Depression, which prevented banks with consumer deposits from engaging in
risky investment banking activities. Here we see a President’s lack of attention to detail or long range conseqnces was writing the scenario for disaster.
Reagan and Clinton:
By the way Reagan stepping out from the entertainment business wanted to entertain and his policies all as can be seen were motivated by wowing them and leave them in stiches. He had style but never did acquire susbstance as FDR has had. (It seems he never as a President wanted his aides to brief him with memos more than a paragraph.Was it his short attention span or the Alzcheimer was in incipient stage?) Clinton the Great Communicator also failed but for different reasons. Mnica Lewinsky scandal was a distraction.
The nation was banking with fools and under the watch of men of straw. The events will run their course and in 2008 blow in the faces of the nation.(ack: Inside Job-sony Pictures,2010)
benny

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I have on hand a report where 52 economists have put the chances of falling back into a recession in the next year at one in four. The same Wall Street Journal had come with a one in three chance foreseen by the same group in September.
America is biting the bullet and hoping the nightmare would go away. The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but the bits and pieces of the Great Meltdown of 2008 still reverberate. Now all we need to brace for is Europe’s debt crisis. It is like the riptide after the high tide of consumer spending for goods we could not afford,- and listening to Alan J Greenspan as though he were an oracle, and finding after the waves broke that the ground was cut off from beneath, he was mistaken.
Now while in America politically divided house harp over the same old charges at one another veterans are suffering, man on the street is suffering and the home industries are gathering dust. I suspect American Banking is one grey area where troubles brew come high tide or low tide.
As a layman I do not trust banks. Especially when they crow of their expertise. American bankers are like crows with degrees but technocrats with so much power in their hands often behave like cuckoos. Remember how clever John Devaney sounded when he bought up risky loans? Hedge funds played an important role in his life. By buying up mortgage loans, Devaney and other hedge-fund managers made it profitable for lenders to make questionable loans and then sell them off. Hedge funds were more than willing to swallow the risk in exchange for the promise of fat returns. Devaney wasn’t just a big buyer of mortgage bonds — he had his own $600 million fund devoted to buying risky loans — he was one of its cheerleaders. He was also a wizard , maestro jumping through hoops, only that there weren’t any. In early 2007, talking about option ARM mortgages, he told Money, “The consumer has to be an idiot to take on one of those loans, but it has been one of our best-performing investments.” From crow to cuckoo is the art making the dollar shrink,- and whichever way you look it cannot do you any good.(ack:Time magazine/John Devaney)
benny

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