International seminar: A coherent civil society response to the global financial crisis

October 31, 2008

Bretton Woods Project, October 30, 2008

On 28 October, more than 40 representatives of NGOs, development organisations, labour unions, think tanks, academia and the media came together in London to discuss how to take forward demands for a fundamental redesign of the international financial system. The participants included not only British organisations but also others from around Europe.

The main themes for the day were about creating a system that works to improve people’s live, reduce poverty, and protect the environment. The meeting follows calls from European leaders Nicholas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, and Angela Merkel for an international summit on the crisis. Those calls have been seized upon by US president George Bush to organise a meeting of the G-20 leaders in Washington DC on 15 November. Bush ignored an offer from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon for the United Nations to host the summit in New York.

The seminar started with the finding that the currently proposed international summit is too exclusive if a new financial architecture is going to be fashioned. A statement on the global summit was presented, demanding that the process be much more inclusive not only of developing countries, but also civil society and other external stakeholders. That statement, signed by more than 630 civil society organisations around the world and launched at the end of the day on the 28th, demanded: “a major international conference convened by the UN to review the international financial and monetary architecture.”

It also called for “full use to be made of the new UN task force on the global financial system, the upcoming UN Financing for Development meeting and other UN instances to begin preparing such a global meeting.”

Further presentations were made by researchers on the causes and consequences of the crisis. While the proximate causes were easily recognisable as the new lending instruments, lax regulation, excessive use of leverage and low interest rates; the academics indentified two fundamental causes: (1) the financialisation of the economy; and (2) the inequality that has been generated by a rising share of income going to capital rather than labour.

They identified the breaking of the link between corporations and banks as a key factor. As corporations accessed finance on capital markets as opposed to through banks, individuals were drawn into deeper relationships with the financial system. The increasing indebtedness of households, partly caused by a withdrawal of public service, served the banks need for a new market.

On top of this, further detail was given on the de-regulation that has occurred as countries raced to compete for financial capital. A key component has been tax havens which punched both regulatory and transparency holes in the international financial system. They have been fundamental to the subprime lending crisis in the US, as the securitised loans are held in special purpose vehicles located in tax havens. One element of a reformed system must be reduced complexity with more transparency and return to trust in the system.

Another international angle has been the liberalisation of capital flows and how this has fuelled the risks being taken in financial markets in the rich world, as well as created a contagion mechanism for transmitting instability to developing countries. While the IMF has been instrumental, this has also been pushed by the World Bank and especially its private sector arm the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Through a programme of research, policy advice and lending, the Bank and the IFC have pushed open banking markets in developing countries and brought increased foreign bank presence.

With these analyses of the problem in mind, participants turned in the afternoon session to discussion how civil society should respond. It was clear that hundreds if not thousands of proposals would be put forwarded, discussed, and debated over the course of any reform of the system; but the people in the room stressed again and again the need to fundamentally rethink the mechanisms by which we govern the international financial system.

Much stress was placed on not letting the institutions that created this crisis, simply try to fix it. The break we are seeing and opportunity for reform should push us to throw out the old models of governance and the old institutions which have failed in favour of new ones which are more democratically controlled and more accountable. The participants felt that we must not let the elites and those who have benefit from the failed system save it in order to save their own position within it.

One key conclusion was that there is now a real alignment of the interests of working people and ordinary citizens in the rich countries with the interests of those in poor and developing countries. Both need a root and branch reform of the international financial system that is people-centred and development-friendly.

In response to the impact on the real economy in the developed world, social mobilisation must focus on developing a new economic paradigm and a vision of a system of global social democracy. The conclusion was a need for much stronger social movements, and more activism, but that this must happen locally and nationally and also be linked globally to movements in the South and in other rich countries for a more just and equitable system.

There was discussion of numerous ideas, including whether there could be a single international financial regulatory institution, an independent institution to deal with problems of debt, the increasing financialisation of the environment and how climate change must be incorporated into the debate. The participants agreed that cooperation must increase across different kinds of movements, sectors, and organisations in order to better develop strategies and tactics. And most importantly that we must seize this opportunity and commit our time and resources to pushing the reforms we demand.

We give links here to a limited selection of video from the full-day long seminar. If you want the full unedited video of the full day of discussions please contact Zoe Young.

Jesse Griffiths introduces BWP seminar on the Financial Crisis

Welcome to a world without rules: How tax havens and secrecy contributed to the financial crisis , John Christensen, Tax Justice Network

The Financial Crisis Of 2007-8: Why And What Next?, Costas Lapavitsas, SOAS

On the Market and Policy Origins of the International Financial Crisis, Paulo dos Santos, SOAS

Financial Crisis Impacts, Sargon Nissan, new economics foundation

Discussion and questions (not yet available)

Please find below links to the presentations:

  1. Bretton Woods II conference FAQ (Eurodad and Halifax Initiative)
  2. Statement on the global summit
  3. ATTAC statement on the financial crisis
  4. Casinocrash.org statement on the financial crisis
  5. Dangerous derivatives – a 2 page briefing (Eurodad)
  6. Food speculation – a 2 page briefing (WEED)
  7. A European agenda on capital flight – a 2 page briefing (CRBM and Eurodad)
  8. A (Crumbling) Wall of Money Financial Bricolage, Derivatives and Power (Cornerhouse)
  9. Taking it Private: Consequences of the Global Growth of Private Equity (Cornerhouse)
  10. Alternative Investments and Secrecy Jurisdictions: Environmental, Social and Governance Issues in the Context of the Financial Crisis (Cornerhouse)
  11. Addressing development’s black hole: Regulating capital flight (Eurodad)

The Global Economic Crisis: An Historic Opportunity for Transformation

October 30, 2008
Preamble
Taking advantage of the opportunity of so many people from movements gathering in Beijing during the Asia-Europe People’s Forum, the Transnational Institute and Focus on the Global South convened informal nightly meetings between 13 and 15 October 2008. We took stock of the meaning of the unfolding global economic crisis and the opportunity it presents for us to put into the public domain some of the inspiring and feasible alternatives many of us have been working on for decades. This statement represents the collective outcome of our Beijing nights. We, the initial signatories, mean this to be a contribution towards efforts to formulate proposals around which our movements can organise as the basis for a radically different kind of political and economic order.
Please sign on to this statement at http://www.casinocrash.org

The Crisis

The global financial system is unravelling at great speed. This is happening in the midst of a multiplicity of crises in relation to food, climate and energy. It severely weakens the power of the US and the EU, and the global institutions they dominate, particularly the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. Not only is the legitimacy of the neo-liberal paradigm in question, but the very future of capitalism itself.

Such is the chaos in the global financial system that Northern governments have resorted to measures progressive movements have advocated for years, such as nationalisation of banks.  These moves are intended, however, as short-term stabilisation measures and once the storm clears, they are likely to return the banks to the private sector. We have a short window of opportunity to mobilise so that they are not.

The challenge and the opportunity

We are entering uncharted terrain with this conjuncture of profound crises – the fall out from the financial crisis will be severe. People are being thrown into a deep sense of insecurity; misery and hardship will increase for many poorer people everywhere. We should not cede this moment to fascist, right wing populist, xenophobic groups, who will surely try to take advantage of people’s fear and anger for reactionary ends. 

Powerful movements against neo-liberalism have been built over many decades. This will grow as critical coverage of the crisis enlightens more people, who are already angry at public funds being diverted to pay for problems they are not responsible for creating, and already concerned about the ecological crisis and rising prices – especially of food and energy. The movements will grow further as recession starts to bite and economies start sinking into depression. 

There is a new openness to alternatives. To capture people’s attention and support, they must be practical and immediately feasible. We have convincing alternatives that are already underway, and we have many other good ideas attempted in the past, but defeated. Our alternatives put the well-being of people and the planet at their centre. For this, democratic control over financial and economic institutions are required. This is the “red thread” connecting up the proposals presented below.

Proposals for debate, elaboration and action

Finance
•    Introduce full-scale socialisation of banks, not just nationalisation of bad assets.
•    Create people-based banking institutions and strengthen existing popular forms of lending based on mutuality and solidarity.
•    Institutionalise full transparency within the financial system through the opening of the books to the public, to be facilitated by citizen and worker organisations.
•    Introduce parliamentary and citizens’ oversight of the existing banking system
•    Apply social ( including conditions of  labour) and environmental criteria to all lending, including for business purposes 
•    Prioritise lending, at minimum rates of interest, to meet social and environmental needs and to expand the already growing social economy 
•    Overhaul central banks in line with democratically determined social, environmental and expansionary (to counter the recession) objectives, and make them publicly accountable institutions.
•    Safeguard migrant remittances to their families and introduce legislation to restrict charges and taxes on transfers

Taxation
•    Close all tax havens
•    End tax breaks for fossil fuel and nuclear energy companies
•    Apply stringent progressive tax systems
•    Introduce a global taxation system to prevent transfer pricing and tax evasion
•    Introduce a levy on nationalised bank profits with which to establish citizen investment funds (see below)
•    Impose stringent progressive carbon taxes on those with the biggest carbon footprints
•    Adopt controls, such as Tobin taxes, on the movements of speculative capital
•    Re-introduce tariffs and duties on imports of luxury goods and other goods already produced locally as a means of increasing the state’s fiscal base, as well as a means to support local production and thereby reduce carbon emissions globally

Public Spending and Investment
•    Radically reduce military spending
•    Redirect government spending from bailing out bankers to guaranteeing basic incomes and social security, and providing universally accessible basic social services such as housing, water, electricity, health, education, child care, and access to the internet and other public communications facilities.
•    Use citizen funds (see above) to support very poor communities
•    Ensure that people at risk of losing their homes due to defaults on mortgages caused by the crisis are offered renegotiated terms of payment
•    Stop privatisations of public services
•    Establish public enterprises under the control of parliaments, local communities and/or workers to increase employment
•    Improve the performance of public enterprises through democratizing management – encourage public service managers, staff, unions and consumer organisations to collaborate to this end
•    Introduce participatory budgeting over public finances at all feasible levels 
•    Invest massively in improved energy efficiency, low carbon emitting public transport, renewable energy and environmental repair 
•    Control or subsidise the prices of basic commodities

International Trade and Finance
•    Introduce a permanent global ban on short-selling of stock and shares 
•    Ban on trade in derivatives
•    Ban all speculation on staple food commodities
•    Cancel the debt of all developing countries – debt is mounting as the crisis causes the value of Southern currencies to fall
•    Support the United Nations call to be involved in discussions about how the to resolve the crisis, which is going to have a much bigger impact on Southern economies than is currently being acknowledged 
•    Phase out the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation
•    Phase out the US dollar as the international reserve currency
•    Establish a people’s inquiry into the mechanisms necessary for a just international monetary system.
•    Ensure aid transfers do not fall as a result of the crisis
•    Abolish tied aid
•    Abolish neo-liberal aid conditionalities
•    Phase out the paradigm of export-led development, and refocus sustainable development on production for the local and regional market
•    Introduce incentives for products produced for sale closest to the local market
•    Cancel all negotiations for bilateral free trade and economic partnership agreements
•    Promote regional economic co-operation arrangements, such as UNASUR, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the Trade Treaty of the Peoples and others, that encourage genuine development and an end to poverty.

Environment
•    Introduce a global system of compensation for countries which do not exploit fossil fuel reserves in the global interests of limiting effects on the climate, such as Ecuador has proposed.
•    Pay reparations to Southern countries for the ecological destruction wrought by the North to assist peoples of the South to deal with climate change and other environmental crises.
•    Strictly implement the “precautionary principle” of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development as a condition for all developmental and environmental projects.
•    End lending for projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s “Clean Development Mechanism” that are environmentally destructive, such as monoculture plantations of eucalyptus, soya and palm oil.
•    Stop the development of carbon trading and other environmentally counter-productive techno-fixes, such as carbon capture and sequestration, agrofuels, nuclear power and ‘clean coal’ technology.
•    Adopt strategies to radically reduce consumption in the rich countries, while promoting sustainable development in poorer countries
•    Introduce democratic management of all international funding mechanisms for climate change mitigation, with strong participation from Southern countries and civil society.

Agriculture and Industry
•    Phase out the pernicious paradigm of industry-led development, where the rural sector is squeezed to provide the resources necessary to support industrialisation and urbanisation
•    Promote agricultural strategies aimed at achieving food security, food sovereignty and sustainable farming.
•    Promote land reforms and other measures which support small holder agriculture and sustain peasant and indigenous communities
•    Stop the spread of socially and environmentally destructive mono-cultural enterprises.
•    Stop labour law reforms aimed at extending hours of work and making it easier for employers to fire or retrench workers
•    Secure jobs through outlawing precarious low paid work
•    Guarantee equal pay for equal work for women – as a basic principle and to help counter the coming recession by increasing workers’ capacity to consume.
•    Protect the rights of migrant workers in the event of job losses, ensuring their safe return to and reintegration into their home countries. For those who cannot return, there should be no forced return, their security should be guaranteed, and they should be provided with employment or a basic minimum income.

Conclusion
These are all practical, common sense proposals. Some are initiatives already underway and demonstrably feasible. Their successes need to be publicised and popularised so as to inspire reproduction. Others are unlikely to be implemented on their objective merits alone. Political will is required. By implication, therefore, every proposal is a call to action. 

We have written what we see as a living document to be developed and enriched by us all.

Please sign on to this statement at http://www.casinocrash.org.

A future occasion to come together to work on the actions needed to make these ideas and others a reality will be the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil at the end of January 2009.  

We have the experience and the ideas – let’s meet the challenge of the present ruling disorder and keep the momentum towards an alternative rolling!!


Independent People’s Tribunal report charges World Bank

October 29, 2008

Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank Group, September 21, 2008

After a year-long review, the Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank Group in Asia released its “Findings of the Jury” report on September 11, 2008. The purpose of the Tribunal, which took place over four days in September 2007, was to provide a “just and unbiased forum for people who have faced the impact of projects and policies funded or promoted by the World Bank Group.” The report leveled twenty-nine specific charges against the Bank, arguing that its projects and policies have caused “grievous and irreversible damage to those they intend to serve.”

NEW DELHI (21 September 2008) – A thirteen member panel consisting of prominent Indian and international jurists, economists, scientists, retired government officials, and social and religious leaders have found the World Bank guilty of harming the environment and lowering the standard of living for most Indians.

From 21 – 24 September 2007, the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus was the venue for an Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank Group in India. It was the first time a broad spectrum of Indian society has come together to look at the damage caused by the World Bank to the country as a whole. Affected communities, expert witnesses, and over 40 concerned groups presented testimonies in order to evaluate the impact of the World Bank across 26 sectors of social and economic development in India. After reviewing over a thousand pages of transcripts the jury has put together an extensive and substantiated list of twenty-nine specific charges against the Bank. These findings are of critical importance in light of the pace in which current development policies are changing the country.

Charges in the final report include: failure in its mission to reduce poverty, advocacy of policies which contribute to increased hunger, contributing to the agricultural crisis, and deliberate posting of former staff in the Indian bureaucracy in order to influence policy, and diluting Indian environmental legislation.

“The evidence and depositions we have witnessed presents a disturbing and shocking picture of increased and needless human suffering since 1991 among hundreds of millions of India’s poorest and most disadvantaged in rural areas and in the cities. It is clear to us that a significant number of Indian government policies and projects financed and influenced by the World Bank have contributed directly and/or indirectly to this increased impoverishment and suffering. All this has taken place while a minority of India’s population that constitutes the middle class and rich has enjoyed the fruits of an economic boom…… India and the international community must join to hold the World Bank accountable for policies and projects that in practice directly contradict its mandate of alleviating poverty for the poorest.”

- Preliminary Findings by the Jury of the Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank Group in India

We hope that such a strong statement from this distinguished group will contribute significantly to the debate on the legitimacy of the Bank’s operations in the country and as an institution. On the occasion of its anniversary please find attached the final jury findings of the Tribunal.

The impact of this Tribunal has already been significant. The Tribunal process quickly inspired similar processes in The Hague, Netherlands and in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Copies of this report have been sent to the World Bank, Members of Parliament, relevant government ministries and the newly formed US Congressional Committee on the World Bank. To ensure that these findings generate much needed debate we need your active support.

The World Bank tribunal was the result of the combined effort of over two hundred groups who mobilized for over two years to organise this People’s Tribunal and provide a just and unbiased forum for people who have faced the impact of projects and policies funded or promoted by the World Bank Group.

Read and download the full report:

Findings of the Jury, Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank Group in India, September 11, 2008 (Acrobat pdf, 234 KB)


Statement on the proposed “Global Summit” to reform the international financial system

October 28, 2008

Click to sign on to the following statement by Tuesday October 28th 2008. 

Background

The past few months have seen one of the most significant financial crises in North American and European history. The response was just as historic. To stave off regional and global recessions and restore stability and confidence in the market, northern governments are pursuing a massive and unprecedented program of government intervention, nationalizing banks, injecting massive subsidies into ailing institutions and re-regulating their financial sectors.

This response sits in direct contrast to the austere neoliberal policies pressed on developing countries by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and developed countries for the past thirty years. Governments have been pushed to liberalize trade barriers, deregulate financial and labour markets, privatize national industries, abolish subsidies, and reduce social and economic spending. The state saw its role severely reduced.

This double standard is not only unacceptable, but it also signals the demise of free-market fundamentalism. The international financial system, its architecture and its institutions have been completely overwhelmed by the scale of the current financial and economic crisis. The financial system, its architecture and its institutions must be completely rethought.

A truly global response to a global crisis

In recent weeks, leaders worldwide have recognized the deficiencies of the existing system and the need to meet to address a broader set of proposals to reform the global financial system and its institutions. The G20 are now set to meet in Washington DC on November 15 to begin the discussions. It is of course imperative to agree on immediate measures to address the crisis, and we emphasize that priority must be given to responses to the impacts on ordinary employees and workers, low-income households, pensioners and other extremely vulnerable sectors. But we are deeply concerned that the proposed meetings will be carried out in a rushed and non-inclusive manner, and as a result, not address the comprehensive range of changes needed, nor fairly allocate their burden.

Though the crisis originated in northern countries, the impacts are likely to be greatest in developing countries.  It is therefore critical that all countries have a say in the process to change the international financial architecture. No equitable and sustainable solutions to transforming the current system will come out of a conference that is rapidly-prepared and excludes many countries and civil society. Such efforts are in fact more likely to further undermine public trust and confidence and to further disenfranchise countries that are already opting for regional solutions over a stronger, more coherent and fairer international financial system.

Our demands –time for a fundamental rethink

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, support the fundamental and far-reaching transformation of the international financial and economic system. To serve this purpose, we support a major international conference convened by the UN to review the international financial and monetary architecture, its institutions and its governance, but only if the meeting follows a process that: 

  1. is inclusive and participatory of all governments of the world;
  2. includes representatives from civil society, citizen’s groups, social movements and other stakeholders;
  3. has a clear timeline and process for regional consultations, particularly with those most affected by the crisis;
  4. is comprehensive in scope, tackling the full array of issues and institutions;
  5. is transparent, with proposals and draft outcome documents made publicly available and discussed well in advance of the meeting.

Full use should be made of the new UN task force on the global financial system, the upcoming UN Financing for Development meeting and other UN instances to begin preparing such a global meeting.

There are no quick fixes in the transition from the current system – which has fostered instability and inequity – towards a just, sustainable and accountable one, which yields benefits for the majority of the world’s people.


The time has come: Let’s shut down the financial casino

October 16, 2008

ATTAC’s statement on the financial crisis and democratic alternatives

“Disarm the markets!” When Attac was founded in 1998, this slogan was formulated against the background of the financial crash in East Asia. In the meantime, we have witnessed other crises triggered by financial markets: in Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina and the burst of the “New Economy” bubble in 2001.

At present, the rich world is in the middle of a crisis, which is the heaviest since the Great Depression in 1929. The crash at Wall Street in September 2008 marks the end of a historical period: the system of financial capitalism, a system driven by the only search for maximum profit, has collapsed. It destroyed itself as a result of its own inherent contradictions. The financial shock waves have just reached the real economy. The US has entered into a recession, the EU is following. The entire global economy will be affected.

The contraction of economic activity will increase unemployment and inequality. New pressure will be put on wage-earners to accept more “flexibility on labor markets” implying lower wages and weaker social protection. The decrease in aggregate demand from the rich countries will also hit the vulnerable economies of the developing world and increase poverty. The Millennium Development Goals and the goals of a socially and environmentally friendly sustainable development worldwide will get completely out of reach.

The financial crash and the recession converge with a sharp increase in prices for oil and food which has led to severe social crisis in several developing countries and generated hunger revolts. Both, commodity and food price increases have multiple causes. But again as with the several financial crises, speculation by hedge funds and other institutional investors has considerably contributed to the price peaks and instability.

The trigger of the current crisis was the excessive lending of subprime mortgages to US households, and the corresponding flawed procedures of securitization through which these risky loans were sold to financial institutions and households, in the United States and worldwide. The ongoing wave of defaults had dramatic consequences on financial institutions such as investment and commercial banks, or hedge funds. Now, also the non-financial sector is affected tremendously. The economic, social and environmental outlook for 2009 is bleak for quite some parts of the world.

One should have known better. The crash unfortunately confirms the forecasts by heterodox experts such as Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz, by Attac, by social movements and by other critics. Even supervisors knew that the system was risky, but there was no willingness to act due to the dominant belief in the self-regulation of the market.

Now, under the pressure of the crisis, even the mainstream of the financial community is calling for reforms. However, these proposals do not go far enough since they do not tackle the systemic problems behind the crisis. They are mainly aimed at the financial industry and oriented at issues of stability. This is not enough. Financial capitalism has also disastrous consequences on distribution and democracy. Bankers call for state intervention, what they mean is socialising losses, while keeping profits in private pockets. The rescue actions by the US over 700 billion – the biggest in human history – the rescue packages in the UK, Germany and other countries clearly show this logic. When the financial community talks about reform they, at best, mean a piece-meal (re)regulation and short term crisis management, trying to save the neo-liberal course and to return to business as usual after a while.

What is needed in the interest of the large majority of the people are real changes towards another paradigm, where finance has to contribute to social justice, economic stability and sustainable development. We cannot allow to return to the status quo ante in the years to come.

The crisis is not the result of some unfortunate circumstances, nor can it be reduced to the failure of supervision, rating agencies or misbehaviour of single actors. It has systemic roots, and hence the structure and the mechanisms of the system in general are at stake.

The financial markets constitute the centre and the driving force of neo-liberal globalisation. The finance sector evolved to become dominant over the economy after the introduction of free floating exchange rates between the major currencies in 1973, the abolishment of capital controls and the subsequent liberalisation and deregulation of financial markets and the financial industry, including making supervisors so called independent, but in practice subject to heavy and successful lobbying from the financial industry. Since then, the financial industry and mechanisms have experienced a phase of rapid expansion; the masses of financial assets, debts and world wide search of financial profits grew in tandem. It is also important to remember the sharp acceleration of this process in the aftermath of 2001, when the US economy recovered from the dot.com-crisis in particular the dramatic rise of both the domestic debt of the United States (notably household debt), and the growing external deficit of this country, financed by the rest of the world.

Together, these trends have led to the establishment of a new economic model, a new form of capitalism, which by some is called financial globalisation, some call it financial capitalism and others speak of shareholder capitalism. However you name it, one thing is clear: whereas in previous times financial markets had a subordinate and instrumental role to the real economy, this relationship has been turned around. The grasp of “financial interests” on the “real” economy increased tremendously by making all economic activities subservient to profits in the financial markets and creating financial instruments to make profits only through the financial markets, while at the same time failing to serve sustainable production and farming, and stable savings by ‘normal’ customers. The logics and dynamics of short-termed profit maximization have penetrated into all pores of economic and social life. The perfect mobility of financial capital, which is the result of neoliberal policies, plays a crucial role in the world economy, today. It creates global competition not only among multinational firms, but also among nation states, their social and fiscal systems and among workers of different parts of the planet. By creating a power relationship in favor of corporations relative to their workers, this domination of capital has led to rising inequalities, to decreasing labor, social and environmental standards as well as to the privatization of public goods and services.

Shortly, the “freedom” of financial actors has been extended at the expense of the huge majority of people and has lead to economic activities that degrade the environment. The failure of this model has never been as obvious as today in the food crisis, the climate crisis and energy crisis. This model that was supported by governments worldwide is completely discredited. Therefore clear consequences must be drawn so that political and economic decision-makers fully turn around this unsustainable and un-equitable financial system towards the needs of people, equity and sustainability.

A historic window of opportunity is opening. It will depend on pressure from public opinion whether a real change of course is achieved.

Another finance system is possible: Stability and solidarity before profits

Due to the complexity of the present finance system, it is impossible to resolve the problems with only one instrument. There is no Archimedean point. A whole box of instruments will be necessary. However, in view of the hundreds of single proposals which will come up in the near future and which all will be controversial, we can define some basic requirements which have to be met in order for single proposals to be acceptable as emancipatory reforms:

A. Systemic changes instead of piecemeal repair

The whole finance system in its neo-liberal form has proven to be economically unstable and inefficient as well as harmful to equality, general welfare and democracy. Therefore, systemic changes are necessary. One of our major goals is to break down the pillars of neoliberalism, in particular the worldwide mobility of capital. Some regulatory measures aimed at maintaining asset-driven capital accumulation and pure financial stability, protecting the wealthy, and superficial reforms aiming e. g. at mere “transparency” are unacceptable.

B. A new Bretton Woods instead of “self-regulating market forces”

The crisis shows that markets left alone without political regulation and democratic accountability lead to disastrous results. Therefore, democratic control is required as well as international cooperation instead of destructive competition between national economies. In economic and financial decision-making, priority has to be given to sustainable development and to the human rights of all three generations.

An appropriate institutional setting under the auspices of the UN has to be set up to strictly regulate and re-orient the financial system. Due care will need to be taken to make such a setting accountable and pro-active towards equity and sustainability, and capable of preventing (rather than reacting to) financial crises. For instance, discussions to give theIMF a mandate to monitor the link between financial markets and the real economy should be given to the UN, and should assess the link between the financial markets and poverty and sustainable development. It should support strong international intervention to prevent build up of huge trade surpluses / current account surpluses in some countries and huge trade deficits/ debt / current account deficits in other countries (currently US vs China). Such a UN body would also be the forum for decision-making about the extent to which financial services companies, financial products/services would be liberalized and freedom of capital movements is being limited. This would mean that such decisions would not be taken in the WTO/GATS and free trade agreements (FTA) as is currently the case.

National supervision and international cooperation between regulatory and supervisory bodies, especially at the EU level, have to be strengthened, made democratic and broadened with a mandate to serve societal needs. The participation of trade unions, consumers and other stakeholders in regulation has to be assured. Rating has to become a part of public supervision with a mandate to also assess the impact on society (e.g. avoid financial products, loans and companies that destroy the environment).

For the immediate crisis management, close international cooperation is needed on European level, including Switzerland and Russia and on transatlantic level.

Limits must be placed on unrestricted free trade and free capital mobility worldwide. The dogmatic “openness” of goods, services and financial in- and outflows must be substituted by a more differentiated approach. New international agreements must put other goals – like financial stability, tax justice, or social justice and sustainability- over the free flow of capital, goods and services. Social rights and historical conquests of workers must not be endangered by these treaties; on the contrary, they should foster international solidarity instead of competition.

C. Breaking the dominance of financial markets

The basic orientation for a real change has to aim at breaking the dominance of financial markets over the real economy. Some suitable instruments for that purpose are:

- Taxation of all kinds of financial transfers including currency transactions, in order to finish with speculation, to slow down the speed of financial markets and to end short termism while financing fair and sustainable trade, production and consumption should be stimulated. This includes a multilateral tax on all currency transactions to discourage short-term speculative transactions across borders.

Second, national authorities should unilaterally impose an appropiate taxation on national stock exchange transactions in order to stop speculation and ensure a more progressive taxation.

- Prohibition of the creation of (worldwide) financial industry conglomerates which are too big to fail, or too internconnected to fail, and too complex to manage all potential risks.

- Progressive taxation of capital income. A main factor contributing to the swelling of financial markets is the concentration of wealth. Thus, in order to slow down and stabilize financial markets, substantial redistribution of income and wealth from the rich to the poor is required as well as reducing incentives for excessive profit making and taxation evasion mechanisms used by the rich and even the financial industry itself.

- Before redistribution, economic policy has to provide for just distribution: Wages must not grow slower than productivity and work has to be shared fairly.

- Privatisation of social systems and of important infrastructure such as energy and railways has to be stopped and reversed where it already happened. The privatization of pension funds has to be revised as they have lead to the creation of capital roaming the world for high profits and investing in company shares that are socially and environmentally irresponsible.

D. Mitigating the effect of the crisis on real economy and “speculator pays principle”

As the current financial system and the crash have affected the real economy and society, emergency programmes to mitigate its effects on the real economy and society are urgently needed..

Given the depth of the crisis, bail out packages might be inevitable in order to prevent the total collapse of the financial system. However, these rescue packages must be linked to strict conditionality, excluding any moral hazard. In cases, where bail outs are successful without nationalization, its costs have to be repaid by the shareholders – including interests. Where this is not possible, the state acquires shares or nationalizes completely the enterprise.

The overall costs of liquidity injections, bail outs and mitigating measures should be paid primarily by those who are responsible for the crisis and have amassed fortunes. Therefore a special crisis fund should be set up in each country. The fund is fed by a one-off extra duty on all capital income above 50.000 Euro and a 1% extra tax on all corporate profits in the financial sector.

A share of this fund should be used internationally for the assistance to those poor countries which suffer from the crash and are hit by the food and commodity price crisis.

In addition, substantial public investment should be undertaken into the social infrastructure, education, culture and environment as these sectors sufferend from under-investment and will create employment and support sustainable development.

E. Reforming the EU, democratic control over the European Central Bank

Special attention has to be given to the EU. The financial dimensions in the Lisbon and other treaties are shaped according to neo-liberal dogma. Article 63 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (ex art. 56 ECT), which forbids any restrictions on capital flows not only within the EU, but also to all third countries and thus sets the perfect conditions for the overwhelming hold of finance on society, must be changed: There are good reasons to partly restrict the movement of capital: to guarantee financial stability; to avoid tax evasion and tax competition; to exercise an employment-friendly monetary policy without risking capital flight. We also call for restriction of the freedom of establishment (art. 49), leaving capital free to migrate wherever conditions are most favourable and financial institutions free to seek asylum in the City of London or anywhere else they choose.

The decision-making on financial regulations and supervision at the EU level and in EU member states needs to be fully revised and reoriented away from mainly supporting the growth and competitiveness of the financial industry. A common system of regulation and supervision should be set up, which is shaped according to the highest standards and not in the logics of a race to the bottom.

Parliaments need to regularly assess if the right regulations on the financial markets and on the financial industry are in place. The European Parliament needs to have the right to introduce regulation. EU regulations should set all necessary criteria for the financial industry (for lending, risk assessment, investment, issuing of equities/investment banking activities) so that financial means and services are only provided to sustainable activities and poverty eradication.

Furthermore, it is necessary to alter the monetary policy of the ECB. The bank is at the very centre of neo-liberalism in Europe. It completely rests upon the monetarist ideology by committing itself primarily to price stability at the expense of employment, social justice and economic stability. Consistent with the neo-liberal ideology, it is so-called independent and not at all subject to democratic control. We demand the democratic control over this institution, whose policies influence dramatically the fate of citizens. We disagree with the focus of the ECB on keeping consumer price inflation under 2% – this is a central pillar of neoliberal policy. Instead, we want the ECB to focus on employment and just distribution. Even the annual report of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS, June 2008) advises that the interest rate policy by Central banks should not only look at inflation figures to keep interest rates low but also assess the impact of interest rates on “excessive and imprudent credit growth”, the creation of bubbles, and spending and production patterns which are excessive.

The increase of the interest rate by the ECB as reaction to the oil price hike was fully in the line of the neo-liberal dogma. Although the increase of relative prices, as in the case of oil, should not be confused with inflation (which is an increase of all prices), Frankfurt was painting the spectre of inflation on the wall. However, in the present conjuncture inflation is not the problem, but recession and unemployment. The ECB’s policy is accelerating and deepening the crisis to which the EU is heading.

Society friendly financial, monetary and economic decision-making will be improved when full control and transparency of lobby and “consultations” by the financial industry and other large corporations will be restricted and made accountable (to start with full transparency).

F. Reforms in central parts of the system

In light of the crisis, some cornerstones of the present system require special attention, such as:

a. Capital requirements and prudential practices in the banking sector

Capital requirements for banks have to be upgraded. In that respect Basle II was a step in the wrong direction. Therefore Basle III is needed, drawing consequences from the crash. Off-balance deals which are at the heart of the current crisis must be banned.

The procedures of securitization must be restricted to institutions under the strict control of governments. Risky procedures of securitization, as in Collateralized Debt Obligations whose purpose was the massive resale of subprime loans, must be prohibited.

Speculative financial products should be prohibited, especially in food and where they have a destabilizing effect. At the very minimum: the bigger the financial conglomerate, the lesser speculative products it can sell or trade in.

All new financial products need to be tested by supervisors for their impact on financial stability and on society before being allowed.

Investment banking has to be shrinked to an extent, where its volume does not constitute any more systemic risk. What remains from investment banking is fully brought under regulation and supervision, and separated from other financial services. All investment banking activities should include criteria that promote sustainable development of societies e.g. promoting shares of companies that produce environmentally friendly products.

All financial-conglomerates covering retail and investment banking, securites trading and insurance need to be restructured or separated and supervision fully adapted to the remaining conglomerate structures.

The high bonus system should be forbidden as it incites risky behaviour up to the top management, without accountability when high losses are made by the financial company or by (its poor) clients.

b. Strengthening of the public and not-for-profit banking sector

After World War II, in Europe, the locally orientated, not-for-profit and public banking sector did a good job. Over the last two decades, these banks increasingly merged and transformed into for-profit commercial banks whose shares were traded on the stockmarket, developing towards the Anglo-Saxon marked-based financial system. This trend hast to be inverted; public and not-for-profit banks must be strengthened and exempted from EU competition law. The public should own at least some of the key banks to provide stable finance for sustainable and just development.

The re-nationalised banks and banks where the state has acquired shares as a consequence of bail outs should be restructured to service the needs of society, including affordable credit for sustainable projects and enterprises, universal access to good basic financial services, etc.

c. Rating agencies under public control

Rating agencies – which failed badly in the current crisis as well as in almost all crises in the last few decades – should come under public control. They should no longer be paid by the firms they rate – instead they should be financed out of a fund paid for by all users of the ratings and issuers of financial products. They should not only rate the financial aspects but also take into consideration social and environmental risks.

Accountants have failed to expose the weaknesses of the risk control systems of financial institutions. The accountants allowed some activities in the subprime mortgage market, derivatives and other assets to be off balance. Accountant rule settings needs to become again a(n inter)governmental matter.

d. Regulating funds, especially hedge funds and private equity funds

Who needs hedge funds and what is their benefit for the economy? When at the 2007 G8 the Germans asked for more transparency for Hedge Funds, it was argued that these funds have a useful function because they take risks that others are not ready to take. In reality, these risks are the risks of speculation only at the service of maximum profit. There is no benefit for the economy stemming from these operations, on the contrary they destabilise the system. Due to the practices of leverage the risk is transferred to the banks. This is why they should not take place at all, and the current prohibition of short selling is unsufficient. Declaring hedge funds as an instrument of risk prevention is the same as giving a pyromaniac the task of fire protection. Hedge Funds have to be banned. Regulators and supervisors have to prevent banks from doing business with hedge funds who are located in fiscal paradises. Nobody needs hedge funds except rich individuals and institutional investors in search of high-risk maximum profit.

Private Equity Funds, too, have proven to be a stability risk and have served as a conveyor belt of shareholder capitalism to real economy. This untransparent business model has to be stopped. As an alternative, incentives have to be created to involve banks much more into company financing and venture capital, in particular for small and medium sized enterprises. The public banks have to play a lead role in company financing.

More generally, the EU should regulate all kind of funds with a directive: All funds must publish their investment strategies and management fees. Certain investment strategies shall be forbidden (e. g. naked sales), the credit borrowing (leverage effect) must be limited and a ceiling of assets under control must be set. Profits made by funds must be taxed more than labour income. Funds that have no legal seat in the EU (e. g. in offshore centres) or that do not comply with EU standards should not get access to the EU market.

e. Limiting strongly derivatives.

Financial derivatives should only be traded at the stock exchange, standardized and authorized by a supervisory body like pharmaceutical products are being assessed for their (long term) negative impacts. When of pure speculative nature, derivatives should be banned. Trade over the counter (OTC) should be banned.

f. Offshore Centres

Who needs offshore banking centres (OFCs) and fiscal paradises? Only rich individuals and institutional investors who want to hide their assets from tax authorities, the mafia, terrorists, arms traders and other criminal forces who want to launder money. There is no reasonable economic argument in favour of maintaining the economic status of such territories. Therefore their economic function should be completely closed down.

As long as this is not possible, because some big rich countries maintain themselves asOFCs and protect others, a set of unilateral measures can be used, ranging from lifting the bank secrecy of the banks under their sovereignty, via obliging banks which maintain branches in tax heavens to close them, to putting a high levy on transactions with OFCs.

The “Savings Directive” of the EU has to be extended to all capital incomes (at present only interest payments), to legal persons (at present only natural persons) and the automatic exchange of information mechanism to Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg (at present 24 countries). The closure of these loopholes is a condition to exercise credible pressure on other tax heavens like Switzerland or Liechtenstein to give up their bank secrecy and cooperate in an international information exchange.

g. Measures against short term shareholder value policies

John Maynard Keynes recommended to “marry investors to their assets” in order to encourage long term investment and impede harmful short term speculation. The power of short term oriented shareholders could be limited by coupling the share voting rights to a minimum period of share holding (5 – 10 years) and by the prohibition of stock options (which incite managers to only care for the share price).

Instead the management fees should be ceiled and partly coupled to an indicator of general welfare. Furthermore, trade unions, consumers and other stakeholders must be given effective participation rights in corporate decision making.

h. Regulating indebtedness of households

Regulatory limits must be placed on indebtedness, first concerning households, by the imposition of ceilings on the ratio of repayments and interests to income in every country. The housing of social strata with lower purchasing power is one component of social programs on the part of Governments. It must not become the privilege of the worst segments of private financial institutions. We strongly support proposals to set up a new procedure of foreclosure which would allow over-debted home owners to become tenants. However, access to individual home ownership should not remain the main objective of social programs. We demand a real public social housing development, with high social diversity and ecological standards.

Attac Austria, Attac Denmark, Attac Finland, Attac Flanders, Attac France, Attac Germany, Attac Hungary, Attac Italy, Attac Morocco, Attac Norway, Attac Poland, Attac Spain, Attac Sweden, Attac Switzerland


Goldman Sachs socialism

October 15, 2008

The Real News, October 13, 2008

World markets – and top economists – dismiss the Wall Street bailout.


Reality of Aid in 2008

October 14, 2008

The 2008 Report, published by the Reality of Aid (RoA) Network, gathers evidence and experiences of CSOs and people’s organizations working in the forefront of development policies on the present reality of aid, as well as forwards some proposals and directions for reforms.

The report cites the continuing practice of donors to impose conditionalities on their aid to developing countries, and this has prevented communities to assert their right to development.

“Democratic ownership continues to be undermined and poor and discriminated communities remain marginalized from decisions and resources that might improve their lives,” Brian Tomlinson, Vice Chairperson of RoA says.

Thus, the report strongly endorses that donors and governments agree on an Accra Agenda of Action. This agenda is expected to set in motion ambitious initiatives over the next two years to deepen the commitments of all aid players to aid reform beyond the PD.

“Among the practical reforms being forwarded by CSOs is that all aid actors must set an agenda for a visionary High-Level Forum IV in 2011 that would include CSOs as equal development partners, and enshrine human rights, social justice, gender equality and environment at the heart of aid effectiveness,” asserts Antonio Tujan Jr., Chairperson of RoA.

The Reality of Aid 2008 Report was officially launched on September 1, 2008 during the CSO Parallel Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana.

Contact Person: Brian Tomlinson at btomlinson@ccic.ca
                        Antonio A. Tujan Jr. at atujan@ibon.org

The Reality of Aid Management Committee: Antonio Tujan, Jr. (Chairperson) ● Brian Tomlinson (Vice Chairperson) ● Meja Vitalice (Representing African CSO partners) ● Ruben Fernandez (Representing Latin American CSO partners) ● Lucy Hayes (Representing European country CSO partners) ● Reality of Aid Secretariat (Representing Asia-Pacific CSO partners)


Declaration from the Asian Colloquium on Water : Common Good, Public Management and Alternatives

October 13, 2008

The Asian Water Colloquium (September 25-28, 2008, Chennai) concluded with the following joint declaration by delegates from 17 Asian countries, representatives from networks in Europe and the Americas, and the organising and participating members from India. 

We, the delegates of the Asian Water Colloquium, “Water: Common Good, Public Management and Alternatives”, who gathered between September 25-27, 2008 at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras in Chennai, Tamil Nadu State, India, declare that

- ‘Water is life’ and is part of the global commons whose nurturance remains the responsibility of humankind for the survival of the planet; 

- this responsibility calls for democratic governance and sustainable, inclusive, community stewardship of water, which is a gift of nature; 

- the State must work for the protection and fulfillment of the right to water, including the promotion and support of community stewardship; 

- the ethical basis of water as the right of all life must be affirmed and the mainstream dogma of the market as the arbiter of value, rejected; 

- all state and market initiatives to enclose the commons to the exclusion of the disadvantaged, marginalized and underprivileged must be firmly resisted. 

As we build alternatives, we remain

- firm in seeking remedial justice for the destruction of water resources by the State, international financial institutions (IFIs), big business and other private entities; 

- steadfast in resisting the global and concerted drive of corporations, international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, regional development banks such as the ADB, etc., multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organisation, governments and elites to commodify and privatise water; 

- determined in repudiating the illegitimate debts claimed from us by the IFIs, the servicing of which has taken public resources away from the strengthening of public water utilities and services, and in exposing the use of debt as leverage to promote privatization; 

- in solidarity with water justice movements whose resolute mobilisation has strengthened opposition to water privatisation and commodification while promoting the search for alternatives. 

We stand by principles which maintain that

- the nurturance of water is rooted in respect for living cultures, their values and traditions; 

- any process that involves the access, use and disposal of water should be evolved from systems of governance that are democratic, ecologically sustainable, socially acceptable, inclusive and gender just; 

- community control in water governance must be ensured at all levels and across the spectrum of water use; 

- access to water must be ensured by state investments, as a fundamental rejection of exploitative principles exercised in the name of revenue generation, financial viability and willingness to pay; 

- we uphold the right of communities to technologies that are accessible, affordable, sustainable, self-manageable, gender just, and respect traditional knowledge and cultural practices, where these involve good water conservation practices; 

- the responsibility of State shall be to promote, support and sustain improvement initiatives through partnerships between its agencies and communities. 

We therefore commit to further develop, promote, and practice alternatives to ensure that

- water is democratised through participatory, gender-fair processes of consultation and decision-making; transparency and accountability of governments and government agencies, especially those directly involved with water resources and services; and access to justice mechanisms and processes for redress, where and when the right to water is compromised or denied in any way; 

- reclaiming and strengthening of public water utilities through adequate public investments to fulfill a public trust of providing clean, adequate, (With dignity or in a dignified way) and affordable water to the people; 

- reinforcement of regulatory authorities, seeing to it that they are truly autonomous and independent, established by virtue of Act of legislation to operate transparently and provide mechanisms for accountability; (Rather – Democratically Governed and Participatory water supply institutions and systems) 

- Support for public-public partnerships (PUPs) that actively and decisively involve government and civil society in policy-making, resource generation, and management; 

- Promotion of community-based water management initiatives; and 

- Supporting public audit of debts to guarantee that public expenditures for water are prioritized over debt service. 

We affirm the above in the spirit of the koodam - a Tamil word for a gathering, a social space, for consensus, that implies harmony, diversity, equality and justice. that resonates with other life-affirming world views in Asia such as bayanihan (Philippines), idobata-kaigi (Japan), choupal (North India).


UNCTAD urges government action in “crisis of a century”

October 9, 2008

Martin Khor, Third World Network, 9 October 2008

Geneva, 7 Oct (Martin Khor) — The present global crisis shows that the financial system has become a beast that must be tamed by governments, and excessive financial innovation turned into “financial weapons of mass destruction”, according to an UNCTAD assessment of what it calls “the crisis of a century.”

The UNCTAD policy brief, released Tuesday, says that the United States’ bailout scheme is necessary to prevent a meltdown, but added that protecting banks’ deposit holders and creditors must have higher priority than protecting shareholders. There should also be priority to government equity stakes, not just subsidizing banks.

The UNCTAD brief gave a strong warning that in contrast to the US’ activist stance, other large developed countries are taking reactive or contractionary macroeconomic policies, and this is now “the major global problem.”

It criticized the European Central Bank for its “extremely hawkish monetary stance”, which is the opposite to the monetary stimulus it should be providing, while Europe’s fiscal policy remains “straitjacketed” by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact.

It also warned that the accelerated de-leveraging process has tremendous negative implications for world growth.Japan and large European countries should counter this by providing policy stimuli to avoid a long global recession or depression. UNCTAD attacked arguments that such actions should not be taken because of inflation fears.

The UNCTAD brief said that as the financial crisis evolves at dizzying speed, the business model underlying a growing share of financial sector activity has been increasingly discredited.

“Public intervention is required to avoid greater damage to the financial system and the real economy. It is also imperative to strengthen regulation and increase the transparency of financial instruments and institutions. Overall, macroeconomic policy should aim at avoiding a global recession or even depression. Ultimately, deflation and not inflation may be the main economic policy challenge.”

UNCTAD said that 13 months since the crisis erupted, things are getting worse, as a full-fledged financial meltdown looms. The almost daily news of collapsing banks, and the fact that a once-trumpeted business model of investment banks has disappeared down the black hole of the crisis, bodes ill for the global economy.

It noted that governments have come back onto centre stage as only they can stabilize markets when confidence has been lost and all other actors are attempting to cut expenditures or clean up their balance sheets at any price, in order to avoid bankruptcy. The market cannot find the bottom without counter-cyclical government intervention.

“Governments and central banks must also recognize that a modern financial market chasing higher and higher returns based on the expectation of ever-rising prices in certain sectors or certain assets is a beast that must be tamed before it causes acute damage and threatens the whole system.

“Governments that have watched the huge bubbles emerging from recent leveraged speculation in the Russian or Chinese stock markets, for example, should know that such bubbles will not burst without risking systemic crisis. For other governments — including some in Eastern Europe — speculation is resulting in currency overvaluation and huge currency mismatches on the balance sheets of domestic households and companies.

“They should be aware of the repercussions on their trade balances and of the possible need to devalue their currency, even if this will increase the domestic currency value of the foreign debt held by households and firms.”

UNCTAD said that financial markets are characterized by frequent herding behaviour, which creates manias and panics. The standard recent view that financial innovation can help diversify risk (because it can allocate it efficiently to agents who are better suited to bear it) is misleading.

This is because at a certain stage, nearly all actors — including the agencies entrusted with rating credit risk — become infected by the euphoria over high returns. Systematically separating risk from information about creditors and their ability to repay has now been revealed as a major flaw of modern financial engineering.

On the US bailout scheme, UNCTAD said that the “socialization of losses” associated with the bailout has been criticized. But given the risks to financial stability and the domestic economy, the government had no choice but to provide insurance for some of the largest endangered institutions. This intervention should also be seen as an attempt to minimize the negative effects on the real economy.

“Of course, protecting the deposit holders and creditors of imperilled banks deserves higher priority than does protecting the shareholders. Similarly, the long-run cost for both government and taxpayer should be kept in check by giving priority to government equity stakes and not just to subsidizing banks.”

UNCTAD added that government insurance and rescue packages should not come for free, neither in their immediate cost to the taxpayer nor over the longer term of market restructuring.

Bailouts must have regulatory consequences. In future, such institutions must be treated like deposit-taking banks and subjected to tighter prudential regulation — or, as has already happened in some cases, forced to change their business model and adapt to more traditional banking arrangements.

The market-fundamentalist argument against stronger regulation based on the idea that market discipline alone can most efficiently monitor banks’ behaviour has clearly been discredited by this crisis, said UNCTAD.

A key lesson is that excessive financial innovation can generate what billionaire investor Warren Buffet has called “financial weapons of mass destruction”.

UNCTAD said that regulatory policies should aim at increasing the transparency of financial products. To this end, there are a few quick regulatory fixes at national and international levels.

The first is to reassess the role of credit rating agencies. They seem to have played the opposite role and made the market even more opaque.

The second is to create incentives for simpler financial instruments. The current regulation system creates a bias in favour of sophisticated financial products which are poorly understood by market participants.

The third is to address maturity mismatches in non-bank financial institutions and limit the involvement of banks with lightly regulated agencies.

The fourth is to limit credit deterioration linked to securitization. Banks that sell their loans off quickly are less interested in monitoring the quality of the borrowers. This problem could be mitigated by forcing banks to keep on their books a part of the loans they make.

UNCTAD noted that the past weeks’ fire fighting focused on limiting the direct impact of the financial crisis on the real economy, but the looming indirect effects must be tackled next.

Since the beginning of 2008, the US government has been acting to mitigate the indirect effects and restore consumer and company confidence. However, the monetary and fiscal stimulus injected at the beginning of 2007 may have faded, with the new downward spin of the financial spiral and the breakdown of major banks.

“The major global problem is that the activist stance of the US authorities in reviving the real economy is swimming against the tide of reactive, or even contractionary, macroeconomic policies in other large developed countries,” said the UNCTAD brief.

“While the European Central Bank is actively providing liquidity to the system and thus avoiding a collapse of the inter-bank market, it is not providing a much-needed monetary stimulus. In fact, the ECB decided to do just the opposite, adopting an extremely hawkish monetary stance at a time when fiscal policy remains straitjacketed by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact.”

Throughout the world, added UNCTAD, policymakers have failed to grasp the full implications of an acceleration of the de-leveraging process (i. e., the process of depreciating assets without value and reducing debt at all levels) in the United States, the weak US dollar, and the uncertainty of Americans in the aftermath of the crisis.

Such forces can have tremendous negative implications for the world economic outlook. Said UNCTAD: “The undesirable effects of the unwinding of unsustainable debt can be compensated only if the surplus countries — especially Japan and the large countries in the Euro zone, where growth is already anemic or negative — reduce their surplus positions at all levels and quickly provide policy stimuli to avoid a long recession or even a depression of the global economy.”

The UNCTAD brief criticized international responses to the current situation that overplay concerns about inflation as “misguided.” It said the risk of a prolonged downturn or depression is far more important, as the slowdown will further reduce commodity prices. Moreover, there is not much evidence that wage-price spirals similar to the ones that triggered inflation in the 1970s are a real threat at this point.

Only in very few developing and developed countries have nominal wage increases consistently exceeded the growth rates of labour productivity by more than what is tolerable in terms of inflation, said UNCTAD, concluding that deflation, not inflation, is the main policy challenge. 


Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) sells its shares in Phulbari mine scheme

October 9, 2008

World Development Movement, London, 08 October 2008

British bank Royal Bank of Scotland has sold its shares in Global Coal Management Resources (GCM ltd), the British company behind the Phulbari open-cast mine project in Bangladesh. In August 2008, 110 organisations from across the world wrote to RBS calling on it to withdraw its investment from the disastrous Phulbari project. The British bank has now responded by selling its shares, held through subsidiary ABN Amro, and telling campaigners RBS is “no longer an investor in GCM Resources”. The World Development Movement’s Policy Officer, Tim Jones, said: “RBS has joined Barclays and the Asian Development Bank in distancing themselves from this mine which would destroy the livelihood of tens of thousands of people. It is now up to Gareth Thomas and the UK government to do the same.” If it went ahead, the Phulbari open-cast mine would force more than 40,000 people to leave their homes and threaten the water supply of a further 100,000 people.

For more information and to take action go to:

Take Action

Kate Blagojevic Press officer, World Development Movement

0207 820 4900/4913, 07711 875 345

Email: kate.blagojevic@wdm.org.uk


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