The Worst Case Scenario!

As defined by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Note: this really has very little to do with Brexit at all. I suspect Bill Black who’s been writing about it a lot these last few days (I’m planning an extended summary soon) just put his fingers on automatic.

The EU’s Failed Neo-Liberal Policies and BREXIT
by William Black, New Economic Perspectives
June 29, 2016

No one reads Sorkin for financial analytical expertise. We read Sorkin because he regurgitates to the public the elite bankers’ concerns and propaganda. So, ignore real analytics for the moment and focus on the last sentence of the quotation. “A material economic slowdown across the Continent” is Sorkin’s euphemism for a European-wide return to recession. Such a recession would, of course, be enormously harmful. Much of Europe is still suffering Great Depression-levels of unemployment. If the Continent fell back into recession the harm to people in Southern Europe would be catastrophic and the harm to the inhabitants of several other parts of Europe would be severe. Tens of millions of Europeans would remain trapped in long-term unemployment and tens of millions of young adults would be forced to emigrate to try to find work. A continent-wide recession in Europe would, even in a modestly “worst-case” scenario, trigger a recession in most of the world. In an “absolute worst-case” scenario it would trigger a global Great Depression.

Recall that Sorkin promised his column would describe the “absolute worst-case.” So, how did Sorkin picture the implications of creating yet another continent-wide recession in Europe? “Italy’s banks … could significantly suffer” if the EU did not (again) bail them out through “a rescue plan.” “Banks,” of course, can neither “suffer” nor “significantly suffer.” People suffer. The return to recession “across the Continent” is not what Sorkin views as the “absolute worst-case,” nor is a global recession or a global Great Depression. The Continental recession, as Sorkin envisions it, is what prompts the following “absolute worst-case” scenario – “Italy’s banks … could significantly suffer” unless they receive another public bailout.

You can see how faithfully Sorkin channels Wall Street CEOs’ unique perspective on what constitutes the “absolute worst-case scenarios.” Sorkin became Wall Street’s sycophant-in-chief (SIC) on the basis of his uncanny ability to suspend all empathy for the public and worry instead about the unlikely possibility that a continent-wide recession might cause an enormously wealthy bank CEO to lose his job because the bank he led into failure, often by looting it, was not bailed out by the public. Sorkin’s columns are must reads because they unintentionally expose on a regular basis the depravity of the Wall Street CEOs that wine (and whine) and dine him so sumptuously.

First, there is never a “need to panic.” There is always a need not to panic and the more severe and urgent the crisis the greater the need not to panic. Sorkin has never had to stop a financial emergency. Many of us have. Among the first things you do is throw anyone who panics out of the room. What Sorkin should be saying is that in a crisis you cannot stay in a business-as-usual mode and you cannot “reinforce defeat” by continuing failed policies.

Second, Italy is a real country and the Great Recession and the EU’s economically illiterate austerity policies are real events as are the Italian banks’ massive bad debts and the death of effective financial regulation that has allowed the elite bankers to “extend and pretend” those debts for nine years. Sorkin is spinning an elaborate hypothetical, one in which the suffering of tens of millions of Italians is ignored in favor of the fictional suffering of “banks.” So the real policy issue is what to do about the suffering of the Italian people.

Italy is still struggling to emerge from its second Great Depression, so what Sorkin envisages in his second round hypothetical is Italy falling back into that Great Depression. He prefers the euphemism “falter,” which helps hide the human suffering. If Italy falls back into its recent Great Depression it is likely that it would receive the same “help” from the EU that it received during the depths of its recent Great Depression. The ECB will keep interest rates low on Italian public debt offerings. The ECB and the European Commission will “help” Italy by demanding austerity, which will exacerbate the Great Depression. Austerity is not a “tough” condition, it is a stupid, self-destructive condition. The EU has forced this insanity on Italy for nine years even though they know it is an epic failure. Tens of millions of Italians will live in households that will suffer job and wage losses. Emigration of university students will continue to be the norm as soon as they graduate. That means Italy’s future will be crippled. In short, the Italian people would suffer another five years (minimum) of “catastrophe.”

Sorkin sees a very different “true catastrophe” – Italy leaving the euro and returning to a sovereign currency. That true catastrophe would occur because Italy would follow a well-proven route to recovering from the renewed Great Depression by devaluing the lira.

I will now leave the Sorkin fantasy world to return to the real world and actual economics. Austerity is a self-destructive, economically illiterate response to a recession, much less a renewed Great Depression. Sovereign currencies are vastly more stable than currencies like the euro. Devaluation of a sovereign currency in response to a Great Depression is economically sensible.

In Sorkin-land, however, each of these three facts is reversed. But the key takeaway is Sorkin’s insights as to what Wall Street CEOs define as a “true catastrophe” – it is one where events “cause huge problems for investors and banks across the globe that have interests in Italy.” Silly me, I thought a “true catastrophe” in the economic sphere occurred when tens of millions of people lost their jobs and homes and were forced to emigrate. Wall Street CEOs know that a “true catastrophe” occurs in finance when they lose even a portion of their vast wealth.

The “developed world” is characterized by “wage deflation [falling wages], high unemployment, immigration, and inequality.” Anyone can predict the reaction of workers to that combination of four results that come directly from the workers’ hides and redound directly to the benefit of the top .0001 percent. Workers will “increasingly vot[e]” against the policies that produced that quadruple assault on workers. Sorkin labels this a “populistic revolt,” but what he has described is simple rationality that would be the inevitable reaction of any group that had been successfully targeted for attack the way workers were targeted. What Sorkin is describing is called democracy and rationality. “Populistic” is simply an insult that demonstrates that Sorkin treats a purely rational, peaceful, and democratic response by workers to the quadruple assault on them as illegitimate. Does anyone doubt that bank CEOs or doctors, had they been repeatedly subjected to an analogous quadruple assault for 35 years that resulted in them suffering falling real wages, would respond by “increasingly voting” against those policies? No one believes that their voting against such an assault would be described by Sorkin as a “populistic revolt.”

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