The Financialization of Food and the Profitability of Poverty
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a brief excerpt from a chapter of The People’s Book Project, covering issues related to food, water, land grabs, environmental destruction, hunger and poverty. This excerpt examines the global food crisis.
There are a few things upon which humanity is entirely dependent for survival: food, water, land and the environment. One of the central questions with which humanity currently has to address its part, past and present, is the ways in which we, as a species, interact with our environment. When it comes to environmental issues, the primary focus is placed upon the issue of climate change, and while this is indeed an important issue, it could be said that this focus almost misses the forest for the trees. Climatic change is here to stay, it is an inevitability, and it is a requirement for humanity to begin the process of adaptation. However, climate change is not “the problem,” it is a symptom of the problems associated with the environment. The source of the problem is how human society – specifically Western state-capitalist society – interacts with the environment at the local and global level. When examining this question, the issues and concerns raised go far beyond climatic changes, though they all interact.
One cannot separate our interaction with the environment from the interaction between power structures and people, whether we are discussing large states, banks, corporations, international organizations, etc. In a global system in which people are themselves treated as commodities, where more than half the world’s population lives in abject poverty, with hunger and starvation increasing, with imperial powers destabilizing countries, bombing communities, supporting coups and waging wars, oppressing, impoverishing, and destroying, environmental issues are inseparable from social, political, and economic issues.
One need only look at the issue of militarization and war to see a clear relationship between these issues: wars are mostly waged by large states – whether directly or indirectly through proxies – against poor populations in weak ‘Third World’ states. Aside from the obvious destruction the physical war takes – through bombs and bullets – a nation’s infrastructure is destroyed, its people impoverished and oppressed. The American military system – by far the largest in the world – through the maintenance of aircraft carriers, ships, jets, equipment, transportation, weapons, with roughly one thousand military bases around the world, foreign occupations and operations, make this single institution known as the Pentagon “the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy” in the world. The United States wages wars to secure resources around the world, to dominate and oppress populations, and in doing so, exploits and plunders those very same resources, destroys the environment, spreads poverty, death, and destruction. Its purpose is to serve minute – yet powerful – interests. Yet, it is devastating for the world’s people and the environment.
If we are truly interested with answering the question of how we move forward as a species in dealing with environmental issues, we must ask the parallel questions of how we deal with issues of poverty, hunger, land, exploitation, oppression, war, empire, and power. It seemingly makes the task harder, but it also makes the answers more plausible, and, indeed, possible.
Again, looking at the issue of climate change, we have seen countless international conferences held by global plutocrats, governments, international organizations, banks and corporations and global NGOs and environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, whose boards of directors are dominated by individuals from banks, corporations and oil conglomerates. And we phase surprise that nothing productive is done. The ‘solutions’ we are given for complex problems are based around ideas of carbon credits, carbon trading, carbon caps and carbon markets, effectively commodifying the entire atmosphere, turning pollution itself into a profitable enterprise, and thus, making the problems that much worse. We are told that there are ways to simply ‘Green’ the economy, to promote the interests of state-capitalism and the environment simultaneously. But in a system which has always subjugated the environment and the population at large to the powerful interests which dominate, we are fools to assume they have changed their interests.
A great deal of press was given to the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, and the fact that it ended in failure. The focus was on “who” screwed it up: it was China, it was America, it was Canada! Everyone was pointing the finger at one another. The reality, however, was far more revealing, not only of the failure of Copenhagen, but of the true intent and the result of pursuing environmental issues through the institutions of power which have created the environmental problems in the first place.
The Copenhagen conference was viewed by elites as a means to advancing their institutional power to a more global level, as internal UN documents revealed that the focus was on a “green economy,” noting: “moving towards a green economy would also provide an opportunity to re-examine national and global governance structures.” The document stated that “linkages between environmental sustainability and the economy will emerge as a key focus for public policymaking and a determinant of future market opportunities,” and one top official stated that the environmental, food, and economic “crises provide a unique opportunity for fundamental restructuring of economies so that they encourage and sustain green energy, green growth and green jobs.”
It sounds well enough, but its focus on “market opportunities” for the “green economy” ignores entirely the nature of “market opportunities” being one of the most significant factors in creating environmental crises in the first place. With a focus on advancing issues of “global governance” in order to address environmental issues, the role of dominant institutions in creating the environmental crisis is overlooked, and thus, the ‘solution’ is to enhance the power of those very same institutions to global levels, further removing power from populations and communities (where the real solutions to environmental issues lie). In short, if the issue of ‘power’ – and the global distribution of power between institutions and populations – is not addressed, the ‘solutions’ offered are, at best, little more than band-aids on broken arms.
China received a great deal of the blame for the failure of the Copenhagen talks, but there is more to this story. Perhaps the most significant factor was due to what was called the ‘Danish Text,’ a leaked Danish government document written in secret between the rich and powerful nations to serve as a framework for their actions and intentions at the conference. The agreement would have handed more power to the rich nations, and sideline the UN in any final agreement, as well as “setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.” In other words, with true Western cultural state-capitalist logic: find the problem, acknowledge the problem, then double the problem! The text was drafted by a select coterie of representatives from Denmark, the U.K. and the United States, and the draft “hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.”
Thus, one of the central institutions of world power – the World Bank – which has advanced the interests of Western banks and corporations across the ‘developing’ world, promoting privatization, deregulation, exploitation, resource extraction, and ultimately, environmental degradation, would then be given the responsibility of ‘solving’ the environmental crisis. And how would it do this? The World Bank would be given control over the dispersal of funds in the same way that it has handled the dispersal of loans in the past. Here’s a hint: it comes with “strings attached.”
A senior diplomat at the talks described the Danish Text as “a very dangerous document for developing countries.” Among the many points in the document were to “force developing countries to agree to specific emissions cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement” and to “weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance,” as well as aiming to “divide poor countries further.” Allowing for the rich countries to increase their emissions, while poor countries face severe restraints, overlooks the fact that the countries with most emissions already are those very same rich countries. Preventing poor countries from producing emissions would prevent them from developing their own resources as they see fit, instead allowing for the rich countries to move in and further dictate policies in their own interests. Ultimately, it was a draft agreement to advance imperial domination of the rich world over the poor world, using the issue of “climate change” as the excuse.
When the Danish text was leaked, representatives of poor nations were “furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.” One diplomat noted: “It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process.” Further, “It proposes a green fund to be run by a board but the big risk is that it will be run by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility,” a partnership of ten agencies including the World Bank and UN Environment Programme, thus bypassing more democratically accountable and representative institutions, such as the UN itself. This, stated one diplomat, “would be a step backwards, and it tries to put constraints on developing countries when none were negotiated in earlier UN climate talks.” Since poor countries already suffer the greatest burden, not only of poverty, but of environmental devastation and climatic change (not to mention, war, imperialism, and oppression), the notion of the powerful countries exporting their responsibility to the poor and oppressed does not only fail to address the issues, but would inevitably make the problems much worse. We tend to call this “market logic.”
The release of the Danish text prompted the developing nations, represented by the G-77 (the vast majority of the world’s population) to suspend their participation in the negotiations. Days following the conclusion of the Copenhagen conference, the UN’s climate chief wrote in a confidential internal memo that it was the ‘Danish Text’ that led to the ultimate failure of the talks, stating that, “the text was clearly advantageous to the US and the west, would have steamrollered the developing countries, and was presented to a few countries a week before the meeting officially started.” Within days of the leaking of the ‘Danish Text’, developing nations were accusing the rich countries of engaging in “climate colonialism.” The Sudanese diplomat to the conference stated, “This is all based on the dominance and supremacy of developed countries. One could say the Empire has been doing this since the 16th Century, the Empire has always ruthlessly grabbed natural resources – the new resource is the global atmospheric space and carbon space.” One activist and participant called the deal an act of “carbon colonialism.”
The British delegation at Copenhagen further inflamed tensions and calls of colonialism when it suggested the creation of a “climate fund” by diverting western aid budgets from poverty reduction funds into climate change “adaptation.” Thus, “money earmarked for education or health would be diverted into projects such as solar panels and wind farms,” incurring anger from several developing nations. As one commentator with the Guardian explained, Copenhagen was “a disaster for Africa,” the continent that contributes the least amount of carbon emissions in the world, and will disproportionately suffer the consequences more than any other. Several African nations were coerced into signing the final deal, even though they had walked out of negotiations following the Danish Text, with industrial rich nations threatening to withdraw foreign aid if the deal was not signed.
Again, this is but one of many examples of how environmental issues are intimately related to those of poverty, economics, imperialism, and power, more generally. To address one with any substance, we must address all with perseverance. Or, we could just continue to push for international conferences met with the self-congratulations of global elites who pride themselves on having flown around the world on taxpayers’ dollars to stay in five-star hotels and eat gourmet meals while they discuss issues of poverty and environmental protection, amounting to little more than “agreements to agree” at some point in the future, while globally, business as usual, and more accurately, accelerated rates of exploitation and devastation, dominate the decisions and actions of the powerful.
The Financialization of Food and the Profitability of Poverty
The global food crisis hit international headlines in 2008, with “food riots” erupting in dozens of countries around the world, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By May of 2008, it was reported that food riots had hit roughly 37 countries, with some of the more dramatic taking place in Cameroon, Niger, Egypt, and Haiti. At that time, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned: “Food is no longer the cheap commodity that it once was. Rising food prices are bound to worsen he already unacceptable level of food deprivation suffered by 854 million people… We are facing the risk that the number of hungry will increase by many more millions of people.”
Governments and repressive regimes around the world were under threat from the rising tide of food price rebellions (commonly referred to as “food riots”), with the rapidly accelerating costs of life’s necessities driving people to desperation, and even pushing governments to the brink of collapse. A UN adviser and economist, Jeffrey Sachs, noted, “It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years… It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.” El Salvador’s president, Elias Antonio Saca, told the World Economic Forum that it “is a perfect storm… How long can we withstand the situation? We have to feed our people, and commodities are becoming scarce. This scandalous storm might become a hurricane that could upset not only our economies but also the stability of our countries.” A former adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture in Indonesia added that “[t]he biggest concern is food riots… It has happened in the past and can happen again.” In Haiti, where roughly 75% of the population earn less than $2 per day, with one in five children chronically malnourished, hunger had become so extreme that one “booming” commodity had become “the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.”
In Haiti, as protesters approached the presidential palace, United Nations “peacekeepers” fired rubber bullets on the hungry and starving, as well as using tear gas, and several protesters were reported to have been killed in the chaos. Food prices rose by an average of 40% since the middle of 2007, and with the price increases, came increased instability and social unrest. An adviser to the Haitian president commented: “I compare this situation to having a bucket full of gasoline and having some people around with a box of matches… As long as the two have a possibility to meet, you’re going to have trouble.”
The American government scrambled to increase “food aid” to countries around the world, fearful for the stability of its protectorates and puppet governments. A U.S. Senator, Richard Durbin, noted: “This is the worst global food crisis in more than 30 years… It threatens not only the health and survival of millions of people around the world, many of them children, but it also is a threat to global security,” with over 36 countries “now facing food crises [and] requiring help from abroad.”
An analyst at a major risk management agency told the Financial Times in November of 2008 that there had been “food protests in 25 countries in the past year,” adding: “In Indonesia the price of rice is directly correlated to the number of strikes or riots… A sharp increase in prices could cause production problems if there are strikes by workers and civil unrest could damage vital infrastructure like roads or telecoms or the government could impose a political crackdown.” The analyst provided advice for global corporations: “What global companies need to do is to avoid being seen as contributing to or being complicit with an issue. Some governments will blame rising food prices on the west, for example.” An analyst at an insurance conglomerate agreed: “Companies need to be aware of how they are perceived and seek to win hearts and minds.” In other words, what is needed is an excellent public relations campaign to ensure that western corporations do not get their deserved share of the blame for rising food prices. The advice was not to avoid contributing to the crisis, but to “avoid being seen as contributing,” after all.
In the span of a year between 2007 and 2008, the global price of wheat rose by 130%, the price of rice – the staple food for the majority of the world’s population – rose by 74%, going up by more than 10% in one day alone. While rising food prices were causing riots, social unrest, and the instability of governments across the ‘Third World,’ the prices were noticeably increasing within the industrial nations themselves, though by no means to the same degree, or with the same dramatic and devastating effects. The FAO estimated that food prices were likely to remain high for at least a decade. Global droughts, climate change, environmental destruction, massive farm subsidies in the west, population growth, and the development of biofuels (food for fuel), have all contributed to the rising costs of food. Of course, a number of other important factors were involved, such as the liberalization of food production and global markets, largely a staple of the neoliberal era, from the mid-1970s onward, and of enormous importance, the role of financial speculation, with banks, hedge funds, and investors speculating on food costs increasing, and thus, driving up the costs of food.
According to a confidential report by the World Bank in 2008 which was leaked to the Guardian, biofuels forced global food prices up by roughly 75%, contradicting the claims of the U.S. government, the main promoter and developer of biofuels, that their production led to a 3% price rise in the cost of food. Robert Bailey, a policy adviser at Oxfam stated: “Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises… It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.” The World Bank estimated that the rising food prices pushed 100 million people worldwide below the poverty line, with government ministers at the G8 conference in Japan describing the food crisis as “the first real economic crisis of globalization.”
The World Bank report contested that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.” The major droughts in Australia and elsewhere, according to the World Bank report, did not have a significant impact on food prices, with the biggest cause being the US and European drive for biofuels. The report noted: “Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” adding that the higher costs of energy and fertilizer contributed to a 15% increase of food costs. Use of biofuels has diverted grain production away from food and toward fuel, with over one-third of U.S. corn used to produce ethanol, and roughly half of vegetable oils in the European Union used to produce biodiesel. Further, farmers have been encouraged to put aside land for use in the production of biofuels instead of food. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the production of biofuels has encouraged financial speculation in food markets, as prices were expected to increase, and thus speculators were set to make enormous amounts of money if and when prices go up. Speculation, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as speculators betting that prices will go up inevitably pushes the prices up.
The production of biofuels has been a major strategy by North American and European governments in order to reduce dependency on foreign oil and address climate change and environmental issues. A secret report conducted by the British government – the Gallagher Report – released in 2008, reported that the development of biofuels played a “significant” role in the food price increases. All petrol and diesel in Britain had to contain 2.5% of biofuels by 2008, and was aimed to meet a target of 5% by 2010, while the EU was itself contemplating a 10% target for 2020. Naturally, this would increase food prices accordingly, creating much larger and deeper food crises.
For all the contributory factors, not least of which was the development of biofuels, which collectively account for moderate increases in the cost of food, the primary driver of the food prices was financial speculation. This has been made exceedingly evident as the food crisis was not ended in 2008, but has continued to reach new heights, and the crisis has become almost permanent.
At an emergency meeting on food price inflation in 2010, the UN’s special rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, released a paper in which the increase of food prices was blamed on a “speculative bubble” created by pension funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, and big banks that speculate on commodity markets. The paper noted that beginning in 2001, “food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors… The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the US housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behaviour of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.” De Schutter further wrote: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [was] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”
As prices nearly doubled between 2007 and 2008, riots erupted in over 30 countries and 150 million more people were pushed into hunger, the majority of commodity prices in 2010 remained well over 50% of their pre-2007 figures, and were set to continue upwards: “Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds [were] witnessing significant price increases.” Gregory Barrow of the UN World Food Program noted: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.” Food prices were rising by roughly 15% per year in India, Nepal, Latin America and China. A British Green Party MP stated: “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organization.”
In December of 2010, food prices reached a new record high, surpassing the 2008 levels, entering what an FAO economist referred to as “a danger territory,” adding that there was “still room for prices to go up much higher.” As John Vidal wrote in the Guardian, “[t]he same banks, hedge funds and financiers whose speculation on the global money markets caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis are thought to be causing food prices to yo-yo and inflate,” as they have taken “advantage of the deregulation of global commodity markets” and are thus “making billions from speculating on food and causing misery around the world.” Food prices were even rising 10% per year in Britain and Europe, with the UN reporting that prices could be expected to rise at least another 40% within the following decade.
In the mid-1990s, “following heavy lobbying by banks, hedge funds and free market politicians in the US and Britain, the regulations on commodity markets were steadily abolished.” What had previously been “contracts” between farmers and traders turned into “derivatives” which were to be bought and sold on international markets between global investors, “who had nothing to do with agriculture.” Thus, a global market of “food speculation” had been born, noted Vidal: “Cocoa, fruit juices, sugar, staples, meat and coffee are all now global commodities, along with oil, gold and metals.” The same institutions which were responsible for creating the massive housing bubble which resulted in the economic crisis, with foreclosures on millions of homes, reacted to the bursting of that bubble by creating a new one in commodity markets, notably food. Except with this bubble, people don’t have to wait for it to burst in order to suffer, as people are driven deeper into poverty and hunger as it inflates, all the while the institutional “investors” make a killing, quite literally.
When banks and investors began moving billions out of the housing market and into new markets, food speculation became especially attractive. Mike Masters, the fund manager at Masters Capital Management testified in the US Senate in 2008 that, “We first became aware of this [food speculation] in 2006. It didn’t seem like a big factor then. But in 2007/08 it really spiked up… When you looked at the flows there was strong evidence. I know a lot of traders and they confirmed what was happening. Most of the business is now speculation – I would say 70-80%.” In other words, roughly 70-80% of the food price increases were determined by speculation, compared to the plethora of other given reasons, combined. Masters warned the Senate: “Let’s say news comes about bad crops and rain somewhere. Normally the price would rise about $1 [per bushel]. [However] when you have a 70-80% speculative market it goes up $2-3 to account for the extra costs. It adds to the volatility. It will end badly as all Wall Street fads do. It’s going to blow up.”
The president of Strategic Investment Group in New York warned that this speculative market has only increased in size, and that “speculative demand for commodity futures has increased since 2008 by 40-80% in agriculture futures.” In 2010, one London-based hedge fund purchased more than 7% of the world’s stocks of cocoa beans, which drove the price of chocolate to its highest price in 33 years. The UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter agreed: “Prices of wheat, maize and rice have increased very significantly but this is not linked to low stock levels or harvests, but rather to traders reacting to information and speculating on the markets.” Deborah Doane of the World Development Movement noted: “People die from hunger while the banks make a killing from betting on food.”
The World Development Movement (WDM) issued a report in the Summer of 2010 blaming the rising food prices on investors and speculators, just as cocoa spiked to its 33-year high after a London hedge fund purchased massive amounts of cocoa stock. The report noted that “risky and secretive” speculative bets on food prices were exacerbating the conditions of the world’s poor, as well as sparking social unrest. Deborah Doane, director of the WDM, noted: “Investment banks, like Goldman Sachs, are making huge profits by gambling on the price of everyday foods. But this is leaving people in the UK out of pocket, and risks the poorest people in the world starving.” She added: “Nobody benefits from this kind of reckless gambling except a few City [of London] wheeler-dealers. British consumers suffer because it pushes up inflation, because of unpredictable oil and raw material prices, and the world’s poorest people suffer because basic foods become unaffordable.” The WDM estimated that Goldman Sachs likely made a profit of $1 billion in 2009 through speculating on food prices, though Goldman Sachs stated that these profits from poverty and hunger were “ludicrously overstated.”
Even in the establishment journal, Foreign Policy, ever an apologist and advocate for American imperialism and global hegemony, the food price increases were blamed on “Wall Street greed.” Perhaps not surprisingly, it was bankers at Goldman Sachs in 1991 that developed a derivative (speculative bet) based upon 24 raw materials, from metals and energy, to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, wheat and soy, known as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI). In 1999, when futures markets were deregulated, “bankers could take as large a position on grains as they liked, an opportunity which had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.” Other banks followed the lead of Goldman Sachs, and found that they too could reap enormous profits from speculating on food prices (and thereby causing mass poverty, hunger, and starvation), including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Pimco, JP Morgan Chase, AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers. As Frederick Kaufman wrote: “The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures.” Speculation thus resulted in a situation where “imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat,” as “bankers and traders sit at the top of the food chain – the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below.”
Alan Knuckman is an analyst with Agora Financials, a consulting firm specializing in commodity investments, which has Knuckman spending his time on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), the world’s largest commodity futures exchange. Knuckman stated: “This is capitalism in its purest form… This is where millionaires are made.” One might add, however, that it’s also where millions more people in hunger are “made.” Knuckman explained: “I trade in anything you can get in and out of quickly… I’m here to make money.” And that’s what he does, and he does it well. Knuckman reflected the view of many in his field, stating: “I don’t believe in politics… I believe in the market, and the market is always right.” When asked if the soaring food prices were the result of financial speculation, something in which he is directly engaged, Knuckman replied: “I don’t see it.”
One is reminded of a bad joke: two fish meet, one asks the other, “how’s the water today?” to which the other replies, “what’s water?” When one is entirely submerged in a specific universe, it requires a great deal of effort to remove one’s perspective to see a wider world view, and their place within it. Alan Knuckman is quite obviously far removed from the everyday struggles of most people, in his own country, let alone the rest of the world. When questioned by Der Spiegel about the high cost of food, he explained: “The age of cheap food is over… Most Americans eat too much, anyway.” While Americans spend roughly 13% of their disposable income, on average, on food, the world’s poor spend roughly 70% of their budget on food, and thus, high food prices for this population, with one billion people on earth classified as living in hunger, and with food prices hitting new record highs almost every passing year, pushing tens of millions more into poverty and hunger, these price-hikes are “life-threatening.” So what did Knuckman have to say about this? He contended that it amounted to “undesirable side effects of the market,” but of course, as he earlier stated, “the market is always right,” and thus, with that logic of thinking, there is nothing “wrong” with one billion people going hungry, nor with more being pushed into poverty and hunger, which are amounted to mere “undesirable side effects.” As he earlier explained, “I’m here to make money,” and obviously, everything else is incidental.
The international food market, which “is always right,” is also incidentally dominated by major banking houses, and the speculative trade in food securities was created and inflated by the very same banks that created, inflated, and profited off of the housing boom in the United States, such as Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase. These banks, hedge funds, and other speculators are able to reap enormous profits as millions are pushed into hunger and poverty, and the brilliance of this scheme is that the investors don’t have to produce a single thing, and never even come into contact with the real food market, whether production or distribution. They trade in “futures,” betting that prices will go up (or possibly down) in the future, and the real prices of food follow the speculative increases and decreases, and when prices go up, the speculators make money. The World Bank estimated that an increase of 10% in worldwide food prices pushes roughly 10 million more people into poverty, and that while there is enough food to feed the world, “many die of hunger simply because they can no longer afford to pay for it.”
In 2011, the annual meeting for Barclays faced protests by anti-poverty campaigners who were raising awareness about the role of Barclays in driving up food prices and profiting off of hunger, as the UK’s largest participant in food commodity trading, and one of the top three banks involved globally, according to information from the World Development Movement (WDM). The other top two banks in global commodity trading are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Deborah Doane of the WDM noted: “First, it was sub-prime mortgages, now it’s food commodities… The lack of transparency in these markets bears worrying resemblance to the behaviour that led to the 2008 financial crash. Like any irrational asset bubble, the investors pile their money in for short-term profits, in spite of the consequences.” Estimates from WDM put the profits Barclays accumulated from food speculation at 340 million pounds in 2010.
By 2012, it was reported that Barclays had made as much as half a billion pounds in two years from food speculation. An official at Oxfam noted: “The food market is becoming a playground for investors rather than a market place for farmers. The trend of big investors betting on food prices is transforming food into a financial asset while exacerbating the risk of price spikes that hit the poor hardest.”
In an early 2012 interview with Der Spiegel, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, stated that, “speculation is indeed an important cause of the heavily fluctuating and very high prices” of food, and “only benefits banks and hedge funds, but not producers, processors and buyers – and certainly not consumers.” Apart from placing “regulations” on food speculation, da Silva suggested that the rich industrial countries should end their agricultural subsidies, noting that when the U.S. ended its subsidies for corn-based biofuels in the summer of 2011, global prices of corn immediately dropped, which “had a direct and positive effect on the food situation.” The FAO is hardly a radical organization, firmly entrenched within global power structures, it continues to promote “market solutions” to problems of hunger and food, though is critical of market “excesses.” Da Silva noted, however, that “there is enough food for everybody, but for many people, especially the poor, it’s simply too expensive. They are going hungry, even with full shelves of food.” Thus, when asked if the food crisis was “really a financial problem,” da Silva replied, “Of course.”
In 2011, speculative investment in agricultural commodities amounted to 20 times the amount of money spent by all countries of the world on food and agricultural “aid.” The three biggest players in agricultural commodity speculation – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays, respectively – have reaped hundreds of millions and billions in profits in this speculative assault against the world’s poorest billion people suffering from hunger. The UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, noted: “What we are seeing now is that these financial markets have developed massively with the arrival of these new financial investors, who are purely interested in the short-term monetary gain and are not really interested in the physical thing – they never actually buy the ton of wheat or maize; they only buy a promise to buy or sell. The result of this financialisation of the commodities market is that the prices of the products respond increasingly to a purely speculative logic. That explains why in very short periods of time we see prices spiking or bubbles exploding, because prices are less and less determined by the real match between supply and demand.”
The UN World Food Programme referred to the 2008-2011 global spike in food prices as a “silent tsunami of hunger,” pushing 115 million more people into hunger and poverty since 2008. This, explained De Schutter, is “an absolute catastrophe” for the world’s poor. In Kenya, an unemployed single-mother looking after her eight-year-old daughter and 83-year old father explained that since the massive food price hikes: “We stopped eating lunch, and saved the little we had to eat for supper. We drank tea without sugar and sometimes we also missed breakfast. I had to travel so much to wash clothes to get money for food, but sometimes I was so weak I fell down. For supper, we had one or two cups of flour mixed with water and salt. Our life was so hard.” It is worth remembering – and reminding yourself continuously – that there is more than enough food in the world to feed the population of the world, yet, stories like this single mother’s are becoming increasingly common among billions of people. If ever there was a clear sign that something is fundamentally wrong with the global system – and “market solutions” – this is it.
In the summer of 2012, the United States experienced the worst draught in decades, contributing to increased speculation in food markets, driving prices up higher and inducing warnings of another major global food crisis on the brink. Chris Mahoney, the head of agriculture at Glencore, a major global commodity trader, let slip some industry honesty when he stated: “The U.S. weather starting mid-May… has been among the worst three or four years of the century, comparable to the dust bowl years of the mid-1930s… In terms of the outlook for the balance [profits] of the year, the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities… I think we will both be able to provide the world with solutions, getting stuff to where it’s needed quickly and timely, and that should also be good for Glencore.” The CEO of Glencore, Ivan Glasenberg, referred to the volatile food market as “a time when industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.” Put simply, increased food prices, and thus, increased hunger, is “good for Glencore.” Tens of millions more people pushed into abject poverty and hunger? No need to be concerned, that only means that “industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.”
What can we conclude, therefore, from a global system of ‘markets’ in which poverty and starvation create massive profits for a few select institutions and individuals, at the expense of literally billions of human beings, and entire nations and societies? Does this really reflect, as one trader stated that, “the market is always right”? Or does it reveal a market which benefits few at the expense of many? The answer is, of course, self-evident: so then why is the issue not framed in such a manner? Instead of acknowledging global markets as inherently and structurally (not to mention ideologically) immoral and wrong, we talk about “reforming” and “regulating” these markets as if minor changes would rectify the fundamental problems. The truth – as hard as it may be for many to accept – is that global markets are fundamentally wrong and immoral.
We acknowledge this type of immorality on an individual level, say with the literary character of Ebenezer Scrooge who profited from the misery of others, but when it reaches global institutional and ideological proportions, we often justify and excuse it, or possibly acknowledge that it is “not perfect” and there are “undesirable side effects,” possibly warranting ‘reform.’ Perhaps the institutional ideology could be best summarized by Ebenezer Scrooge when he was asked to donate to a charity to help the poor and hungry who were at risk of dying, to which Scrooge replied, “If they would rather die… they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
At what point is it acceptable to suggest that humanity is in need of an entirely new way of organization and function? In a world of seven billion people, when billions live in poverty, in slums, and with hunger, at what point do we begin to acknowledge that this system simply does not work? Sadly, it seems that people only often recognize this when they are among the poor, within the slums, and starving. By that point, however, their concerns become those of daily survival, not issues of reform or even activism and revolution. Their days are spent toiling and struggling for a meager dollar or two so that they could afford a meager meal, or if lucky, two meals. Looking after other family members, they do not have the luxury of education, information, and the ready capacity for organization and activism that we – who do not live in hunger and absolute poverty – have. If we continue to uphold a world system which has created and sustains and exacerbates the conditions and prevalence of global poverty, slums, and hunger, we doom others – and indeed ourselves – to that same fate.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Future samples from this chapter will focus on environmental degradation, poverty, and the global land grabs. If you found this excerpt of interest, please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project to help the research and writing continue.
 Sara Flounders, “Winner of Project Consored top 25 articles for 2009 – 2010 news stories: Pentagon’s role in global catastrophe,” IAC, 18 December 2009:
 UNEP, Background paper for the ministerial consultations, Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, 14 December 2009: page 3
 John Vidal, Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after ‘Danish text’ leak, The Guardian, 8 December 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/copenhagen-climate-summit-disarray-danish-text
 Richard Black, Copenhagen climate summit negotiations ‘suspended’, BBC, 14 December 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8411898.stm
 John Vidal, Copenhagen climate failure blamed on ‘Danish text’, The Guardian, 31 May 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/31/climate-change-copenhagen-danish-text
 Louise Gray and Rowena Mason, Copenhagen summit: rich nations guilty of ‘climate colonialism’, The Telegraph, 9 December 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/copenhagen-climate-change-confe/6771129/Copenhagen-summit-rich-nations-guilty-of-climate-colonialism.html
 Philippe Naughton, Copenhagen Summit: wealthy nations accused of ‘carbon colonialism’, The Sunday Times, 9 December 2009: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6950081.ece
 Ben Webster, Britain angers poor nations with plan to switch cash from health to climate, The Times, 10 December 2009: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6951047.ece
 William Gumede, Copenhagen is a disaster for Africa, The Guardian, 23 December 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/23/copenhagen-africa-climate-change-deal
 Julian Borger, “Crisis talks on global food prices,” The Guardian, 27 May 2008:
 Marc Lacey, “Across globe, hunger brings rising anger,” The New York Times, 18 April 2008:
 Orla Ryan, “Food riots grip Haiti,” The Guardian, 9 April 2008:
 David M. Herszenhorn, “Senate Democrats Calling for More Food Assistance,” The New York Times, 29 April 2008:
 Jane Croft, “Food: Employers may have to become providers,” The Financial Times, 18 November 2008:
 Paul Vallely, “The other global crisis: rush to biofuels is driving up price of food,” The Independent, 12 April 2008:
 Aditya Chakrabortty, “Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis,” The Guardian, 3 July 2008:
 Julian Borger and John Vidal, “New study to force ministers to review climate change plan,” The Guardian, 19 June 2008:
 John Vidal, “UN warned of major new food crisis at emergency meeting in Rome,” The Guardian, 24 September 2010:
 Jill Treanor, “World food prices enter ‘danger territory’ to reach record high,” The Guardian, 5 January 2011:
 John Vidal, “Food speculation: ‘People die from hunger while banks make a killing on food’,” The Observer, 23 January 2011:
 Katie Allen, “Hedge funds accused of gambling with lives of the poorest as food prices soar,” The Guardian, 19 July 2010:
 Frederick Kaufman, “How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis,” Foreign Policy, 27 April 2011:
 Horand Knaup, Michaela Schiessl and Anne Seith, “Speculating with Lives How Global Investors Make Money Out of Hunger,” Der Spiegel, 1 September 2011:
 Felicity Lawrence, “Barclays faces protests over role in global food crisis,” The Guardian, 25 April 2011:
 Tom Bawden, “Barclays makes £500m betting on food crisis,” The Independent, 1 September 2012:
 Spiegel Staff, “UN Food and Agricultural Chief: ‘Speculation Is an Important Cause of High Prices’,” Der Spiegel, 16 January 2012:
 Grace Livingstone, “The real hunger games: How banks gamble on food prices – and the poor lose out,” The Independent, 1 April 2012:
 Vince Heaney, “US drought renews food speculation concerns,” The Financial Times, 19 August 2012:
 Tom Bawden, “Unholy trade of making millions out of misery,” The Independent, 23 August 2012:
The following is a video update for The People’s Book Project
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Corporate power is immense. The world’s largest corporation is Royal Dutch Shell, surpassed in wealth only by the 24 largest countries on earth. Of the 150 largest economic entities in the world, 58% are corporations. Corporations are institutionally totalitarian, the result of power’s resistance to the democratic revolution, which was begrudgingly accepted in the political sphere, but denied the economic sphere, and thus was denied a truly democratic society. They are driven by a religion called “short-term profits.” Corporate society – a state-capitalist society – flourished in the United States, and managed the transition of American society in the early 20th century, just as Fascists and Communists were managing transitions across Europe. With each World War, American society – its political and economic power – grew in global influence, and with the end of World War II, that corporate society was exported globally.
This is empire. The American military, intelligence agencies, and national security apparatus operate with the intention of serving U.S. – and now increasingly global – state and corporate interests. Wars, coups, destabilization campaigns, support for dictators, tyrants, genocides and oppression are the products of Western interaction with the rest of the world.
In the same sense that “God made man in his own image,” corporations remade society in their own interest; and with equal arrogance. Corporations and banks created or took over think tanks, foundations, educational institutions, media, public relations, advertising, and other sectors of society. Through their control of other institutions, they extend their ideologies of power – and the variances between them – to the population, to other elites, the ‘educated’ class, middle class, the poor and working class. So long as the ideas expressed support power, it’s ‘acceptable.’ It can extend critiques, but institutional analysis is not permitted. Ideas which oppose institutional power are ‘ideological’, ‘idealist’, ‘utopian’, and ultimately, unacceptable.
Corporate culture dominates our society in the West. Being inherently totalitarian institutions, the culture – and its institutions – become increasingly totalitarian. This is the response by private economic power to undo the achievements in human history which came through increased democracy in the political sphere. Corporations and banks seek to control and consume all things, to dominate without end.
The only reason corporations were and are able to be the defining cultural institution of the 20th and now 21st century, is because of their economic power. This is derived from exploitation: of resources, the environment, labour, and consumers. It is enforced with repression: the job of the state in the state-capitalist society, along with massive subsidies and protectionist measures for corporate and financial interests. As corporate power extended around the world, the rapid destruction of the environment and resources accelerated, and Western powers ‘outsourced’ the environmental devastation our consumer societies ‘require’ to the so-called Third World. We consume, and they suffer; a marriage of inconvenience that we call “civilization.” Corporations and our state keep the rest of the world in a state of poverty and repression, eternally attempting to block the inevitable global revolution to create a human society that acts… humanely. We were busy buying things. Couldn’t be bothered.
Now what our societies have done to the people on whose land we now live, or everyone else in the world, is being done internally, to us. Everything is up for sale! Corporations make record profits, hoard billions and trillions in cash reserves, NOT being invested, but likely waiting until your standard of living is significantly reduced so that your labour and resources are cheaper, and thus, ultimately more profitable. This is called ‘austerity’ and ‘structural reform,’ political euphemisms for impoverishment and exploitation.
Corporations, banks and states have in recent years caused a massive global food crisis, driving food costs to record highs almost every subsequent year from 2007 onward. With billions of people in the world living on less than $2 per day, the majority of humanity spends most of their income on food. Price increases in food, caused primarily by financial speculation (big players include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays), push tens of millions more people into poverty and hunger. Roughly one billion – 1/7th of the world’s population – live in slums. And they are growing rapidly. Massive urban slums were developed out of the imperialism Western states and corporations imposed upon the rest of the world, pushing people off the land and into the cities, whether induced by poverty or coerced by bombs and guns. All billed to the imperial Western state sponsors of terrorism. We supported (and support) ruthless and tiny elites in the countries we dominate[d] around the world, and now we are just beginning to realize the ruthless and tiny elite which rules over our own domestic lives. Their social function is that of a parasite: to suck the life blood out of all global society.
Food price increases have helped spur a massive global land grab, with Western (as well as Gulf and Asian powers) grabbing vast tracts of land – and water – around the world, for pennies on the dollar. This grab is most extensive in Africa, where in the past several years, mostly Western investors have grabbed land which amounts to an area roughly the size of Western Europe. The land not only contains extensive resource wealth, most importantly water (the Nile is up for sale!), but it is home to hundreds of millions of people, and globally, there are 2.5 billion poor people engaged in small-scale farming. This is primarily done through communal land ownership, something which Western society – with its ‘divine right’ of private property – does not understand. Thus, in international, state, and corporate law – which we designed – we deem communally owned and used land to be legally owned by the state. Our ‘investors’ – banks, hedge funds, pension funds, corporations and states – strike deals with corrupt states across the world to give us 40-100 year contracts for vast tracts of land, paying little or sometimes no rent. Then the “empty land” – as we call it – is cleared (of it’s “emptiness”, no doubt), evicting peoples who have been there for generations and beyond, who depend upon the land and the food it produces for their very lives. These people are being driven to cities, and ultimately, slums.
This is what we call “productive” use of land. So naturally, we then destroy it, eviscerate its environment, poison and pollute, extract, exploit, plunder and profit. Or we simply hold onto the land, not using it at all, just waiting until it goes up in profit. Even major American universities like Harvard are getting involved in the massive land grabs across Africa and elsewhere. This is the largest land grab in history since the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’ where Europeans colonized almost the entire continent. When we do use the land for ‘productive use’, we say it will “help the climate” and “reduce hunger.” How? Because we will produce food and biofuels. And in doing so, we will use massive amounts of chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, deforestation, biodiversity destruction, highly mechanized and heavy fuel-use farming techniques. The food we produce – which is not much, we have more interest in things like biofuels, lumber, minerals, oil, cash-crops, etc. – is then exported to our countries, and away from the poor ones where hunger and poverty are so prevalent. They lose their land, gain more poverty, with the added bonus of extensive food insecurity, hunger, starvation, slum growth, increased mortality rates, disease, and violence. Poverty is violence.
This is how Western states, banks, corporations and international organizations address the issue of “hunger”: by creating more of it. And in a deeply disturbing irony, we call this moving towards “sustainability.” Little did we know that power interests have a different definition of “sustainability” than most people: they simply combined the words sustained and profitability, and called it “sustainability.” And coincidentally, that word already has a meaning to most people, so we simply misinterpreted the meaning. But there are people who take that concept seriously, those who experience the major costs of an unsustainable society.
We are witnessing a massive global resistance to these processes, largely driven by indigenous peoples – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and now in North America. In Canada, the ‘Idle No More‘ movement began with four indigenous women in Saskatchewan deciding to meet up and discuss their concerns about Steven Harper’s “budget bill,” which, among other things, had reduced the amount of Canada’s protected rivers, lakes, and streams from roughly 2.5 million (as of Dec. 4, 2012) to somewhere around 62 (as of Dec. 5, 2012). Now a large, expanding, and increasingly international social movement led by indigenous peoples is taking place. Less than two months ago, it began with four women having a discussion.
Canada’s Indigenous peoples are showing Canadians – and others around the world – how to stand up against power. And they’ve had practice. For over 500 years, our societies have been oppressing and often eradicating indigenous populations at ‘home’ and abroad. Indigenous peoples, like other oppressed peoples, are at the front lines of the most oppressive nature of our society: they experience and have experienced exploitation, environmental devastation, domination and decimation. With the world’s Indigenous peoples speaking – not only in Canada, but across Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere – it is time that we in the West begin to listen. It is always important to listen to those who are most oppressed; the histories of our ‘victims’ are rarely written or known, at least not to us. Victims remember. And it matters that we begin to listen.
How can we expect to change – or know what and how to change – our societies if we do not listen and learn from those who have experienced the worst of our society? Indigenous people are now giving us a lesson in democratic struggle. If we continue on our current path, Indigenous communities will be completely wiped out; the powers that rule our society will have completed a 500-year genocide.
So we have to ask ourselves the question: should we now listen to, learn from, and join with these people in common struggle for justice and the idea of a humane society, or… are we still too busy buying things?
Perhaps it is time we all should be ‘Idle No More.’
The above was a short summary of roughly three separate chapters currently being researched and written as part of The People’s Book Project. To help the Project continue, please consider spreading the word, sharing articles, or donating.
Today marks the end of an era – as the current Mayan calendar ends – and a new era begins. Mayans did not predict the end of the world for December 21, 2012, but rather the end of one cycle, and the beginning of a new, transformed era in the world. The 21st is the last day of the current cycle, and the 22nd marks the beginning of the next, and what many Mayan elders and experts say will be a positive era for humanity.
Think of it as the marking of a transformation of ‘human consciousness.’ Surely, few would argue that humanity is in desperate need of this. I find it helpful to think of the long history of humanity as if we imagine ourselves as individuals, looking back upon our lives, how we have learned from our past mistakes (or not), how we have adapted and evolved (or not), and how we direct our paths from the present into the future. In this sense, think of humanity as preparing to leave adolescence, where we have been confined to the dictates of others, told what to do, what to think, what to be, what to believe, what to want, and how to act; like children living under their parents’ roof. Now, it is time for humanity, like the young adult, to discover the world and their place within it, for themselves, to grow up, move out, and reach for that ever-elusive sense of autonomy. Humanity now must mature into adulthood, and just as it is with each individual, so shall it be with humanity as a whole: tumultuous, frustrating, problematic, not shy of challenges and frustrations and failures along the way, but ultimately worth the effort, and requiring of it if we are to ever reach self-actualizing, autonomy, and freedom.
Appropriately, on the 21st of December 2012, it was Mayan descendants and other indigenous people who are showing the path into the future. In Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatistas who first emerged in opposition to neoliberalism on the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in 1994, have again resurfaced, peacefully marching in the thousands. In Canada, indigenous peoples who have mobilized a mass movement – rapidly spreading across the nation and even internationally – have organized a day of mobilization against the Harper regime and the destruction it is bringing to people, peace, and the environment. The movement, referred to as ‘Idle No More‘, is leading the way for other Canadians and people around the world to oppose the rapacious policies and ideologies of those who rule over us. Indeed, the phrase is apt: the world, and its population, is “idle no more.”
Humanity is interconnected like never before, and in this interconnected and interactive world, those who rule over humanity are themselves more interconnected than before, with more power and destructive potential than history has ever witnessed. Our fates are collectively entwined: we face the greatest threats to peace, freedom, and the future, yet, we simultaneously hold the greatest potential to create meaningful peace, freedom, and a future worth struggling for. We have no other option other than to try our best to make this a better world. We have no other means than to work together, struggle together, think together, and act accordingly. The diversity of thought, purpose and action will be nothing less than astounding.
The People’s Book Project is my own small attempt to contribute to change: trying to compile massive amounts of information in an analysis which is comprehensible to everyone, to try to understand the world better, and thus, to encourage people to act accordingly, to chart their own ways forward. The Book Project itself only exists because of the efforts and support of many: those who contribute ideas, spread information, and make donations, which all allow the Project to continue. In the past several weeks, progress on the first volume has been accelerating, researching and writing about the sociopathic nature of elite circles, from the psychology of serial killers, to sex rings, human trafficking and the culture of criminality. I have been writing a great deal about free trade, resource wealth, and the great global land grabs, where international investors are essentially stealing the world’s land and resources, most notably in Africa. I have been preparing the research for my chapter(s) on imperialism in the age of Obama, the nature and structures of the American Empire and its global protectorates, the Arab Spring; the global economic crisis, anti-austerity movements, resistance and revolution.
We do, indeed, live in interesting times, and as Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So as the new calendar begins, marking the beginning of a new era, and with the New Year just around the corner, my hope is that I will be able to make significant near-term progress on the first volume of the People’s Book Project. For that to happen, like for all good progress, the efforts of many are required. I cannot complete this book without support from readers and others, no more than their support can complete the book without my own research and writing. I am only able to do what I do because others do what they do, and have done, and hopefully, will continue to do.
Please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project, and I will continue putting my time and effort into producing the best results I can.
Thank you kindly, happy holidays, and may the new era and New Year bring you as much tumult, challenge, hope and progress as it brings to the world.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
The Great Corporate Colony: Welcome to Canada Inc., A Subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a sample from the first volume of The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded initiative to produce a series of books studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance. Please consider donating to help the Project come to fruition.
As one of the most resource-rich countries on earth, and the largest single trading partner with the United States, Canada is strategically positioned to influence the changing nature of global power structures. Do we support – and siphon our resources for the benefit of – the American Empire, co-operating in the wholesale plundering of the world, the oppression and impoverishment of peoples, destruction of global ecology, all for the benefit of an increasingly small class of global corporations and banks… Or, do we become independent and free? Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” With multiple “free trade” agreements under way, expanded corporate rights, expropriation of vast amounts of natural resources, Canada is becoming one of the world’s foremost corporate colonies, unrecognizable from what Canadians once imagined our nation to be.
The Plundering Potential of Resource Wealth
Canada is the second largest country by landmass in the world, after Russia, and with roughly 10% of the population of the United States, it is also one of the most resource rich countries on the entire planet. Looking at a list of the ten most resource-rich nations on earth (determined not by the multitude, but rather the ‘market value’ of the resources they contain) is rather revealing. At number ten, and in descending order is: Venezuela, Iraq, Australia, Brazil, China, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Russia. Canada has one of the largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iran (though these are largely located in the difficult-to-extract Alberta tar sands), as well as having some of the largest mineral resource deposits in the world, with the second-largest proven reserves of uranium and the third largest amount of timber. According to Statistics Canada, the nation’s natural wealth tripled in value between 1990 and 2009, then valued at $3 trillion, largely due to the increased price of oil.
In June of 2012, the United Nations released a major report in which it established a new index to account for and define ‘wealth’ beyond mere reports of GDP. Termed the “Inclusive Wealth Index” (IWI), it determines national wealth based upon three types of assets: “manufactured” (machinery, buildings, infrastructure, etc.), “human capital” (the population’s education and skills), and “natural capital” (land, forests, fossil fuels, minerals, etc.). The study, Inclusive Wealth Report 2012, analyzed 20 different countries, and was intended to take into account depleting resources and sustainability for future generations when determining a nation’s real wealth. While GDP growth has taken place in China, the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, these nations have significantly reduced their natural capital. Between 1990 and 2008, the “natural capital” of the United States declined by 20%, 17% for China, 25% for Brazil, and 33% for South Africa. In fact, 19 out of the 20 countries studied showed a decline in natural capital, offset only by an increase in human capital (education and skills).
Human capital is based upon the average years of schooling, wages that the country’s workers can demand, and how many years they are expected to work before they retire or die. With this measurement, human capital amounts to the largest percentage of a nation’s wealth (except for Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia), accounting for 88% of Britain’s wealth and 75% of America’s. Canada is of course included among the 19 countries with rapidly declining natural capital.
Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver spoke to a gathering of Canaccord Genuity Corporation (a financial services conglomerate) in Toronto in September of 2012, where he explained that Canada’s “tremendous natural wealth” included “huge capacities and reserves of energy, including the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world,” as well as “tremendous hydroelectric capacity, massive tracts of forests and an abundance of minerals and metals.” He added, however: “it’s not enough to have the resources… You have to do something with them.” Oliver listed some of the many resources which Canada has and produces in abundance: oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, uranium (second largest producer in the world), more than 200 mines turning out more than 60 minerals, “including more potash than anyone else,” as well as aluminum, cobalt, diamonds, nickel, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate, tungsten, chromite, the second-largest exporter of primary forest products, and is the “biggest exporter of wood pulp, newsprint and softwood lumber.” The resource sector, explained Oliver, “is the cornerstone of our economy, our long-term prosperity and our quality of life.”
Oliver explained that the energy, forestry, metals and minerals industries accounted for roughly 15% of Canada’s nominal GDP, the “direct contribution” to the Canadian economy, while the indirect GDP (taking into account “goods and services purchased from other sectors – construction, machinery and equipment, business and professional services”) takes the number up to roughly 20%. The key areas and industries are oil in Alberta, forestry in British Columbia, potash and uranium in Saskatchewan, mining in Ontario and hydro-power in Quebec. Oliver told the assembled crowd in the heart of Toronto’s finance industry that there was “about $650 billion invested in over 600 major resource projects currently underway in Canada or planned in the next 10 years.” He added: “Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are especially hungry for the energy and minerals and metals and forest products they need to fuel their growth and build a better quality of life for their citizens.” There were, he acknowledged, still inherent problems with the global economy which could effect this outlook, but suggested that what the Canadian government can – “and is doing – is establish a competitive business climate so the private sector can capitalize on our enormous potential.” In other words, the Canadian government will establish a highly protective and subsidized market for multinational corporations to more effectively plunder the natural resources. All for altruistic intentions, of course!
Canada’s highly influential big business dominated think tanks have not been far behind in promoting resource plundering by multinational corporations. The Conference Board of Canada published a report in June of 2012 arguing that “Canada’s trade strengths are concentrated in industries that extract natural resources and process raw materials,” including agricultural and food products, minerals and metals, forest products, and electricity exports. In the report, Adding Value to Trade: Moving Beyond Being Hewers of Wood, Michael Burt wrote: “These industries rely heavily on natural resource wealth such as land, water, forests, and mineral products. The abundance of these resources gives Canada a robust comparative advantage in the industries that extract and process them.” Thus, it would be desirable to promote the “development and use of our natural resources, and industries that support the primary sector are competitive with world standards.” The board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada includes executives and/or board members of the Business Development Bank of Canada, EPCOR Utilities, CGI Group, GE Canada, Canada Post Corporation, TransAlta Corporation, ICICI Bank Canada, Cisco Systems Canada, Desjardins Group, IBM Canada, Shell Canada, Xerox Canada, SaskTel, SaskPower, and John Manley, the President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the main business interest group in Canada, made up of the top 150 corporate CEOs in the country.
In October of 2012, the Canadian International Council (CIC) – the Canadian counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. – published a report entitled, Becoming a Resource Superpower, in which the author, Madelaine Drohan (the Canada correspondent for The Economist) argued that, “without strong leadership and collaboration we risk losing an opportunity to become a real resource superpower.” A series of recommendations were laid out, including the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) to pool and invest money made from resources, encouraging the provincial and federal governments in Canada to “stop treating” revenue from resources “as income to be spent and start treating them as capital to be saved or invested.” In other words, the money made from resources should not go back to benefit Canadians, but rather be used to exclusively benefit the investor class.
Other recommendations focused on expanding the relationship between government, business, and academia (as if we don’t have enough of this already): “To do this, federal and provincial governments must concentrate their funding for research and development on collaborative projects between groups of companies and academic institutions.” Another recommendation focused on expanding “trade” networks and energy customers, specifically in the Asia-Pacific, noting: “Canada should focus on negotiations involving the largest possible number of countries, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and look beyond China so we do not repeat the error of putting all our eggs in one basket.” The report then recommended the government to establish highly protectionist trade agreements for corporations, writing: “Government can help companies plug into global value chains by removing impediments and securing the right trade and investment deals.” By definition, that is the opposite of “free trade,” which is why it is important that we call it “free trade,” when in actuality, it is highly protectionist, involving state intervention designed to undermine the ‘market’ and give corporations a subsidized advantage, thus, undermining competition. The last major recommendation was for federal, provincial, and territorial governments to “collaborate on a national blueprint for resource development that identifies the gaps to be filled – including in infrastructure, environmental protection, trade diversification, education, immigration, technology, and supporting sectors – and sets out how to address them, with achievable goals and deadlines.” In other words, massive state-capitalist planning and plundering is required.
The board of directors of the Canadian International Council (CIC) includes the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Atlantic Council of Canada, Raymond Chrétien (nephew of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien), while the chief sponsors of the CIC include: Bennett Jones, Power Corporation of Canada (owned by the Desmarais family, Canada’s Rockefellers), the Royal Bank of Canada, AGF, Barrick Gold, BMO Financial Group, Sun Life Financial, Scotiabank, and TD Bank. So naturally, it has everyone’s interests at heart, and by ‘everyone’, I mean, everyone that matters to the investor class (i.e., the investor class).
So, as Canada increases production of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, the government is seeking to expand the major pipelines to the coast in the hopes of acquiring China as a major trading partner, instead of just the United States. Canada sits atop “unknown quantities” of natural gas reserves, what The Economist calls an “unconventional bonanza,” adding: “Just as the 20th century was the age of oil, the 21st could prove to be the century of gas.” However, in August of 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that Canada’s future economic hopes depend upon the natural resources of the Arctic, which has been the focus of a new global grab for resources since the Arctic ice has begun to break up more rapidly. On a visit to the region, Harper stated, “Obviously, there is a tremendous economic opportunity here. The fact that we are attracting investment not just domestically, but from around the globe speaks very highly to the future.” As revealed by documents released to the press, in late 2011, the Mining Association of Canada was lobbying the Environment Minister Peter Kent “to change regulations and allow non-metal mines, such as diamonds, oilsands and coal, to discharge potentially polluted water under federal guidelines.”
In other words, now that the ice is breaking and resources are being readied for plunder, the major mining conglomerates want the government’s permission to treat the Canadian environment the way they treat the environment in the rest of the world, notably, in poor, conflict-ridden countries like Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After all, what is plundering without the added bonus of environmental devastation? It’s not just a matter of extracting and exploiting all available resources, from which to gain massive profits, but it’s also important for corporations to destroy the surrounding environment so that little, if anything, can flourish and replenish. That is plundering at its most profitable. In October of 2012, it was reported that Canada was going to claim ownership of a massive size of undersea territory in the Arctic, larger than the size of the province of Québec, and roughly equal to 20% of the country’s surface area.
In 2013, Canada will begin chairing a two-year term of the Arctic Council, a grouping of eight nations working together to manage the development of the Arctic as an economically and strategically important global region. With the opening of new and large opportunities for economic exploitation and resource plundering, the states with territory in the Arctic have become increasingly aggressive in their military posturing in the region, “increasingly designed for combat rather than policing,” according to a study by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. The report noted: “Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernize their military capabilities in the region.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been publicly making aggressive statements about competition in the Arctic, particularly in relation to Russia. In private, however, Harper had been making different claims. As revealed by Wikileaks, Harper expressed the message to the Secretary-General of NATO that there was no real military threat in the Arctic, instead expressing the perspective that, “Canada has a good working relationship with Russia with respect to the Arctic, and a NATO presence could backfire by exacerbating tensions.” Harper added, according to the released cables, “that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favoured a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where ‘they don’t belong’.” All the public statements and aggressive military stances in the region have, however, helped to sway public opinion into believing that there is a “security or sovereignty threat to the northern border,” and thus justify increased expansion into the region for exploitation. The issue is not one of security, but of securing resources (for corporations, no doubt). One released cable from 2009 relayed this point accurately, noting that Canada’s defense plan to build six Arctic Patrol ships for the navy was “an example of a requirement driven by political rather than military imperatives, since the navy did not request these patrol ships. The Conservatives have nonetheless long found domestic political capital in asserting Canada’s ‘Arctic Sovereignty’.” By the summer of 2012, the aggressive rhetoric had essentially vanished, and Harper’s missions to the Arctic were entirely diplomatic and aimed at exploiting the region’s vast natural resources. The Obama administration has also identified the Arctic as “an area of key strategic interest.”
Canada For Sale: “Free Trade” Fanaticism
Canada has been pursuing a vast array of so-called “free trade” agreements with specific countries around the world, as part of the overall program of plundering resources and giving multinational corporations unprecedented control over society. Since the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada has pursued agreements with several countries, including Israel, Jordan, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Peru and is in talks with the European Union and Japan, as well as China and India.
On August 15, 2011, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – a highly protectionist corporate-driven agreement (like all “free trade” agreements) – came into effect. The agreement was reached in 2008, receiving “royal assent” in 2010, and is sure to benefit major corporations and help finance a state which is responsible for the greatest human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere. Canada’s top five exports to Colombia include wheat, newsprint and paper, machinery and equipment, dump trucks as well as beans, peas, and lentils. Colombia’s top five exports to Canada include coal, coffee, bananas, fuel oil and cut flowers (note: this list excludes illicit trade products like cocaine, of which Colombia is a major global exporter).
As critics of the deal pointed to Colombia’s record on human rights abuses, Stephen Harper commented, “No good purpose is served in this country or in the United States by anybody who is standing in the way of the development of the prosperity of Colombia,” by which he means to say that human rights are irrelevant so long as multinational corporations are making large profits. And indeed, policies fit that paradigm very well. Harper added: “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibility and great ambition. And we need to be encouraging that every step of the way. That’s why we have made this a priority to get this deal done. We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons.” In this sense, the word “protectionist” refers to any impediments, regulations, or barriers to the unhindered exploitation and plundering of a country by multinational corporations. When agreements are protectionist in favour of corporations, securing and enforcing their unhindered monopolization of markets and exploitation of resources, this is called “free trade.”
With more than 70 Canadian corporations in Colombia, from oil and mining to finance, the agreement will open up more access for major companies. For those who mention human rights abuses, Harper had this to say: “I think there are protectionist forces in our country and in the United States that don’t care about development and prosperity in this part of the world. And that’s unfortunate.” Chris Spaulding of Talisman Energy, a Canadian corporation doing business in Colombia, commented that, “It’s very business friendly. They want foreign investment. The labor force is very good. The resources are there.”
According to the Globe and Mail, Colombia has “near bullet-proof potential for rapid growth,” due to low wages, abundant resources, and with the return of “order” (a euphemism for state oppression and control), though the country still has a high murder rate, five times the rate of the United States. Colombia not only signed a free trade agreement with Canada, but also with the U.S., and has received top rates from the World Bank for fostering a good “business climate.” Scotiabank, one of Canada’s big five banks, made a $1 billion purchase of a 51% stake in Colombia’s fifth largest bank, Banco Colpatria. Rick Waugh, the CEO of Scotiabank, declared that, “Colombia is very important to us.”
Toronto-based mining company Gran Colombia Gold Corp has been seeking to remove an entire town, a 500-year old community, to make way for an open-pit mine. When the Colombian government was preparing to displace the town, villagers in the community formed a committee to defend themselves. One of the organizers, a local priest, Father José Reinel Restrepo, publicly denounced the plan to move the town for the benefit of a foreign corporation, even giving television interviews in which he denounced “Canadian imperialism.” He explained: “If they are going to drive me out of here, I would tell them they would have to expel me by way of bullets or machetes – but they can’t oblige me to leave.” Four days later, Father Restrepo was shot dead while traveling to visit his family.
Colombia has a long history with powerful business interests allying themselves with paramilitary outfits to “silence opponents and displace rural populations living atop natural resources.” Under the guise of the “war on drugs,” Colombia’s military, with billions in “aid” from the United States, has co-operated with big business interests and criminal paramilitary groups, purportedly to fight rebel groups (notably FARC), but mostly to clear rural communities to allow for corporate plundering of the resources upon which they sit. In recent decades, some four million people have been displaced by such actions, leaving the country with Latin America’s “most inequitable distribution of wealth.” On top of that, Colombia is a major narco-state, with state, paramilitary and rebel groups all participating in the massive cocaine trade. Many historians have described Colombia as “the world’s most enduringly violent country,” with over five decades of constant internal warfare. With over 20 major Canadian companies holding major investments in Colombia, it’s no wonder that the World Bank rated the country as the best investment climate in Latin America.
The brand of “order” that the government of Colombia has enforced in recent years represents a continuation of the policies of several administrations before it. The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Colombia is “staggering in scale,” with millions displaced, killed, tortured, raped, kidnapped or “disappeared,” more than 280,000 people had to flee their homes in 2010 alone. State, paramilitary and rebel groups have all routinely been accused of vast human rights abuses and war crimes. While the new government of President Santos promised to prioritize human rights when he came to power in 2010, the reality, according to Amnesty International, was that “threats against and killings of leaders of displaced communities and of those seeking the return of lands misappropriated during the conflict, mainly by paramilitary groups, have increased during the Santos government.” In criminal investigations of human rights abuses, witnesses, victims, lawyers, and judges have continuously been threatened or even killed. Threats and murders have also increased for human rights activists, trade unionists, and community leaders.
Canadian law demands that the government table a human rights report for Parliament on the impact of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Instead of submitting the report, the Canadian government decided, in May of 2012, that it would not even adhere to Canadian law, and refused to submit any such report, instead stating that it would produce a report for May of 2013. With more than 259,000 people displaced from their homes in Colombia in 2011 (on top of the 280,000 displaced in 2010), human rights abuses and war crimes will continue, with the tacit (and perhaps active) cooperation of Canadian corporations, notably mining companies. The Canadian government has effectively given the green light for such abuses to continue. While Colombia’s Constitutional Court identified 34 Indigenous nations in the country that were in “grave danger of extinction,” Canadian indifference continued. Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada declared that, “Canada must not turn its back on the human rights crisis in Colombia for yet another year… The crucial question that should not be postponed is what role is Canadian investment playing with regard to this emergency?” Neve added: “Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada’s responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations.”
The website for the Canadian ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Trade declared that the Canada-Colombia FTA provided “a key boost for Canadian companies in five important sectors: agriculture, information and communication technologies, mining, oil and gas, and services.” Noting that Canada’s interest in the narco-state was “growing strongly,” the ministry website added that Colombia had “undergone important economic and legal reforms, spurring democracy and global direct investment.” The business climate, it declared, was “now stable and predictable, making Colombia a secure business partner and a solid investment destination.” With that in mind, Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed an agreement with the Colombian military in November of 2012 to strengthen its “military relationship with Colombia,” which MacKay stated, “represents a natural evolution in our relationship… And we look forward to continuing to build our ties with the Colombian Armed Forces.” No doubt, as they continue to displace hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to clear the land for foreign corporations, and of course, to help advance the profits of the international illicit drug trade.
Scotiabank decided to expand its operations further in Colombia, with the purchase of a majority stake in one of Colombia’s largest pension fund companies. Scotiabank has taken on a major role in “financing Colombia’s energy and mining sectors,” with the bank’s head of global wealth management stating, “We look to continue the growth and expansion of this business.” Another executive at Scotiabank stated, “We continue to invest in Colombia because we see this as a market with great potential for growth.” Interestingly, the Canadian Embassy in Colombia is located in the new Scotiabank Tower in Bogota.
Canada continues to pursue further “free trade agreements” with other countries as well, notably, Japan and China. In March of 2012, Canada and Japan agreed to begin free trade talks, already steadfast trading partners. On top of “free trade,” the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Canada and Japan would also be advancing defence and security “co-operation.” At the announcement, Harper declared that, “This is a truly historic step that will help create jobs and growth for both countries.” Jayson Myers, the president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association stated, “Japan is a strategic commercial partner… However, it is also a country with whom we’ve had a persistent trade deficit when it comes to manufacturing. These negotiations provide the appropriate forum to resolve ongoing concerns.”
As revealed by secret documents obtained by the media, the Canadian government had been lobbying the United States to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement for the main reason of gaining more access to Japan, with one document noting that the TPP without Japan “does not excite us.” In November of 2012, it was reported that Japan was likely to follow Canada’s entrance into the TPP, the largest and most secretive trade agreement in history, involving 11 Pacific rim countries, and negotiated in cooperation with over 600 corporations. The TPP is highly controversial within Japan, since it could potentially – and likely would – lead to reduced protections and subsidies for the Japanese agriculture sector, an area long considered untouchable. A spokesperson for the Canadian department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated, “We welcome Japan’s interest in joining the TPP. Japan’s participation in the TPP would further strengthen Canada and Japan’s strong trade and investment relationship. We are already working closely with Japan towards a bilateral free trade agreement that will bring new jobs and increased prosperity to Canadians and we would welcome the opportunity to also work together in the TPP.”
(For more information on the TPP, please see my three-part series here: The Trans-Pacific Partnership)
Canada has also begun talks with India and hoped to sign a free trade deal with the country by the end of 2013, with Stephen Harper stating, upon a visit to India, “I think I am very clear that we need to go farther and faster.” Stephen Harper lamented against the fact that India has democratic institutions, and thus, undemocratic policies are harder to implement. He stated: “What we do have to realize when we deal with India, as opposed to some other countries that we’re dealing with in the developing world – this country is a democracy… And that means that governments cannot simply dictate a whole set of policy changes to happen the next day. That means governments must develop consensus behind policy changes. And that, in this country is not easy. We understand that.” Luckily for Harper, he doesn’t have to face any such problems at home, with a majority government, tearing the country to pieces day-by-day. Stephen Harper once boasted many years ago, that if he was given the chance to become Prime Minister, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Indeed, that turns out to be quite true. Indeed, back in 1997, Harper wrote an article in which he referred to Canada as “a benign dictatorship,” though there seems to be little ‘benign’ about his majority-government rule.
In September of 2012, Stephen Harper signed an investment treaty with China (as a precursor to a potential free trade agreement), called the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). The details of the agreement were kept secret until the deal was tabled in the Canadian Parliament in late September, but the agreement is not to be debated in Parliament because treaty making “is a royal prerogative,” and can thus become law through the initiative of the Prime Minister’s cabinet alone, so long as the treaty is ‘tabled’ in Parliament. Canada already had roughly 24 FIPAs in operation, with roughly a dozen more in the works. FIPAs are not “free trade agreements,” but are designed to simply “protect and promote” foreign investment in legally-binding agreements. In essence, they are quicker and smaller versions of “free trade” agreements, and designed with a similar purpose: to advance corporate rights and the expense of democratic rights.
China’s ambassador to Canada stated that the two countries should move quickly toward a free-trade agreement within a decade, adding, “It’s time to open each other’s markets.” The comments came as a major Chinese state-owned corporation was seeking to take over a Canadian energy company, which would be the first direct foreign takeover of a major actor in Canada’s energy sector, a major concern for Canadians who fear Canada’s resource wealth will not benefit Canadians. On this issue, the Chinese ambassador noted, “Business is business. It should not be politicized… If we politicize all this, then we can’t do business.” The ambassador told a Canadian journalist, “We are not coming to control your resources.” No, of course not, they’re just coming to take the resources. Within a couple months, Prime Minister Harper approved of the Chinese takeover of the Canadian energy company Nexen, as well as another takeover by a Malaysian company in the Canadian energy sector. However, Harper then stated that there would be restrictions on foreign governments buying some of Canada’s largest energy conglomerates (just not these ones in particular). At a press conference, Harper stated, “When we say that Canada is open for business, we do not mean that Canada is for sale to foreign governments.” Except, of course, for all the exceptions to that rule.
Critics of the Canada-China FIPA warned that it would reduce Canada to little more than a “resource colony,” which would bind Canada to new investment rights with China for 30 years. Not only does it allow China to gain an increased foothold in Canada’s economy, and specifically, in purchasing Canadian resources, but it also acts “to protect Canadian capitalists when they go into China.” What more could someone ask for? The Council of Canadians, a public interest organization, referred to the Canada-China FIPA as a “corporate rights pact” that would have serious repercussions on Canadian environmental, energy, and financial policies. This is because the deal would allow for lawsuits against the Canadian federal and provincial governments for having “barriers” to investments, which could then be overturned.
Canada is also in the final stages of negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union, called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), designed to reduce tariffs and open up “new markets,” having major impacts upon agriculture, intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), with drug prices likely to increase “significantly,” as well as allowing for more “labour mobility,” a euphemism for increased labour exploitation. The agreement, which has been in negotiations for years, would “deal another blow to Canada’s already battered manufacturing sector,” with roughly 28,000 jobs under threat, deemed to be the “best-case scenario” by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The “worst-case” scenario could see up to 152,000 jobs being “vaporized.”
As is typical, the negotiations are “behind closed doors” and barely deal with actual “trade.” CETA is, much like the TPP, termed a “next generation” free trade agreement, negotiated since May of 2009, and would further deregulate and privatize the Canadian economy, and of course, therefore, increase corporate power, and thus at the expense of democratic accountability. The agreement could restrict how local and provincial governments could spend money, even banning “buy local” policies, increase the cost of drugs by $3 billion, increase Canada’s trade deficit with the EU, allow for European corporations to attack environmental and health protections within Canada as “barriers to investment,” potentially even apply pressure to privatize water, transit, and energy, and even prevent farmers from saving their seeds, as a major gift to GMO manufacturers. Where corporate rights are advanced, democratic rights are dismantled.
A leaked document from the European Commission dated November 6, 2012, revealed that the practice of Canadian municipalities “buying locally” would disappear with the Canada-EU CETA, and that “provincial development programs could go with them.” Canadian municipalities were offering better terms for European access to municipal contracts that those which Canadian provinces give each other. The document, prepared for the European Commission’s Trade Policy Committee noted that the agreement is “the most ambitious and comprehensive offer Canada and its provinces have made to any partner, including the U.S.” EU negotiations will, however, continue to press for more access to energy sectors. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians noted: “The amount of room our provinces, municipalities and local communities have to support local farmers and otherwise create the jobs of tomorrow is threatened again by a Canada-European Union free trade deal that will forever prohibit these kinds of economic strategies.” The province of Ontario could alone lose between 13,000 and 70,000 jobs as a result of the agreement, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Openly acknowledged by European politicians was that Canada would be getting the short end of the stick in the CETA deal, as a Danish member of the European Parliament stated, “At the moment Europe will be able to export more than what Canada will be exporting.” Another European official closely linked to the negotiations stated, “We will gain a bit more.” Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said, “[t]he potential benefits to Canadians under a free trade agreement with the European Union are immense,” though he forgot to acknowledge that the ‘Canadians’ he was referring to are largely corporations, and the elite class that owns them. Michael Hart, a trade expert at Carleton University noted, “[t]rade agreements do not create jobs. Never have. Never will. But ministers have never accepted that economic insight.” And understandably so, after all, it’s rather challenging to sell a trade deal to the public if one openly declares it is for the singular purpose of advancing corporate rights, domination, and plundering. So instead, politicians must always mutter the magical word of “jobs,” which in political language, translates accurately into “profits,” as Noam Chomsky has suggested in the past. Thus, when politicians say that trade agreements will “create jobs,” which they never do, what they are actually saying is that such agreements will “create profits,” and exclusively for major multinational corporations, which they always do.
Canada’s trade agenda is of course driven by big business, whose interests will be served by such “free trade” agreements. In regards to CETA, the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT) was established in 1999 to contribute “recommendations on trade and investment to government officials and hosting thematic, high-level meeting focused on developing strategic relationships between company executives and with government officials,” according to the website for CERT. A declaration of support in 2008 for a Canada-EU trade agreement was signed by over 100 executives in Europe and Canada, urging Canadian and EU leaders to “design a new type of forward-looking, wide-ranging and binding bilateral trade and investment agreement.” Such an agreement, the document stated, “will provide European companies with a gateway into the vast North American free trade area, while increasing Canadian opportunities in the European Common Market,” serving as “a strategic and important step towards the eventual creation of a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment area.” Among the signatories to the statement were top executives at the following companies: Anglo American plc, AstraZeneca, Barrick Gold Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Bertelsmann, BNP-Paribas, Bombardier, British Airways, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, CN, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, E.ON AG, Gaz de France, GlaxoSmithKline, Lafarge, Manulife Financial, Merck, Monsanto Canada, Munich Re, Pfizer Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Rio Tinto plc, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, SNC-Lavalin, Société Générale, SUEZ, Suncor, ThyssenKrupp, TOTAL SA., TSX Group, Ubisoft Entertainment, and Volkswagen, among many others.
In late October 2012, a number of European and Canadian big business lobbying groups, including BusinessEurope, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), sent a letter to the Canadian and European trade negotiators, Ed Fast and Karel de Gucht, respectively, urging them to push through on the CETA. The signatories called for Canada and the EU to reach “an ambitious and successful conclusion to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations by the end of 2012.” The letter said it was “imperative” to “maintain a high level of ambition” in key areas which would benefit Canadian and European corporate interests. Among the many areas for which the letter suggested “a high level of ambition” were in recommending the “full and rapid dismantling of tariffs for all industrial goods,” and “[a]ccess to raw materials and energy products,” the removal of barriers and “discriminations” in service sectors, “full access” to the agricultural sector, including “a satisfactory path forward on the bio-tech issues that have caused trade impediments,” by which is meant to advance the interests of GMO manufacturers. Further recommendations included “access to government procurement” which removes all barriers and allows for increased privatization, and of course, “[r]obust protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights in both markets,” which would include “the targeting, seizing and destroying of counterfeit imports and exports,” so as to undermine competition and protect monopoly and oligopoly corporations. Finally, the letter stated that the Canada-EU agreement “must also ensure improved labour mobility,” which would allow for increased labour exploitation, enhancing competition between the labour forces of Europe and Canada, which always results in lost jobs, lower wages, and reduced protections and benefits. These are, of course, all very good things for multinational corporations. Since they are terrible things for the populations, they have to be coded in political and economic language, so instead of saying, “we want easily exploitable and cheap labour,” they suggest, “improved labour mobility,” which is also at times referred to as “labour flexibility” (i.e., making labour “flexible” to the interests of multinational corporations).
The Great Canadian Corporate Colony
Such letters from corporate leaders are necessary in order to remind political leaders whose interests they are in office to serve. The Canadian government ensured that it would serve big business interests through trade policy by appointing, in May of 2012, a new ‘advisory panel’ which would “help guide Canada’s ambitious, pro-trade plan in large, dynamic and fast-growing priority markets.” Speaking at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, International Trade Minister Ed Fast stated: “Our government’s top priority is the economy – creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian workers, businesses and families… We understand the importance of trade to our economy… That is why we are deepening Canada’s trading relationships in priority markets around the world.”
Ed Fast announced the formation of the new advisory panel at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The members of the panel include: Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of Alliance Grain Traders Inc.; Paul Reynolds, president and CEO of Canaccord Financial; Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), representing 80% of Canada’s agri-food sector; Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, former president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, former president and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations (CBC), and former government minister; John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, former Foreign Affairs and Finance Minister, and currently president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), a corporate interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs; Catherine Swift, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses; Jayson Myers, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; Brian Ferguson, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc, a major Canadian oil company; Serge Godin, founder and executive chairman of the board of CGI Group Inc, one of the largest information technology businesses in the world; and Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta. Upon the announcement of this panel, Ed Fast stated: “I look forward to receiving advice from these knowledgeable Canadian leaders.”
So we return to the statement once made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Sadly, this is quite true as Harper Inc. advance Canada to the status of one of the world’s premier corporate colonies, where plundering for profits, environmental degradation, mass privatization, deregulation, and democratic devastation are the rules of the day. A Canada once thought of as democratic, free, and peaceful, is ever-advancing toward a fully privatized outpost of global corporate tyranny: Canada Inc., a subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
 “The World’s Most Resource-Rich Countries,” 24/7 Wall St., 18 April 2012:
 Kim Covert, “Canada’s natural wealth tripled between 1990 and 2009,” Financial Post, 28 June 2011:
 UNEP, “A New Balance Sheet for Nations: Launch of Sustainability Index that Looks Beyond GDP,” UNEP News Centre, 17 June 2012:
 Free Exchange, “The real wealth of nations,” The Economist, 30 June 2012:
 Joe Oliver, “Natural Resources: Canada’s Advantage, Canada’s Opportunity,” Natural Resources Canada, 4 September 2012:
 CNW, “Canada’s trade strengths come from natural resources and related industries,” Canada Newswire, 19 June 2012:
 Jameson Berkow, “Canada could become a global resource superpower in just nine easy steps,” The Financial Post, 9 October 2012:
 Jameson Berkow, “Canada could become a global resource superpower in just nine easy steps,” The Financial Post, 9 October 2012:
 Energy in Canada, “The great pipeline battle,” The Economist, 26 May 2012:
 “An unconventional bonanza,” The Economist, 14 July 2012:
 Jordan Press, “Future lies in Arctic resource development, Harper says,” Postmedia News, 21 August 2012:
 Randy Boswell, “Canada poised for massive undersea land grab off Arctic, Atlantic coasts,” The Ottawa Citizen, 4 October 2012:
 Randy Boswell, “Canada to take helm of Arctic Council as region heats up,” Postmedia News, 25 September 2012:
 Terry Macalister, “Arctic military rivalry could herald a 21st-century cold war,” The Guardian, 5 June 2012:
 Campbell Clark, “Harper’s tough talk on the Arctic less stern in private,” The Globe and Mail, 12 May 2011:
 Campbell Clark, “Harper’s Arctic trips are now diplomatic ventures,” The Globe and Mail, 22 August 2012:
 Jacquelyn Ryan, “As Arctic melts, U.S. ill-positioned to tap resources,” The Washington Post, 9 January 2011:
 “Free trade with Canada has become a global aspiration,” The Vancouver Sun, 2 November 2012: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Free+trade+with+Canada+become+global+aspiration/7488138/story.html#ixzz2BfUjOQxc
 “Canada-Colombia trade deal takes effect,” CBC, 15 August 2011:
 Mark Kennedy, “Harper defends trade agreement with Colombia,” 10 August 2011:
 Martin Hutchinson, “Colombia’s turnaround: from bullets into drill bits,” The Globe and Mail, 19 January 2012:
 Caroline Van Hasselt and Dan Molinski, “Scotiabank Buys Stake in Colombian Bank,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 October 2011:
 Paul Christopher Webster, “Colombia is Canada’s new best friend,” The Globe and Mail, 26 April 2012:
 Alex Neve, “Canada’s tainted trade partner,” The Toronto Star, 21 September 2011:
 News Release, “Canada-Colombia trade deal: Empty human rights impact report yet another failure by government,” Amnesty International, 16 May 2012:
 FAITC, “Colombia FTA gives Canadian firms a big boost,” Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 7 December 2012:
 Jessica Hume, “Canada, Colombia strengthen defence relationship,” The Toronto Sun, 17 November 2012:
 Grant Robertson, “Scotiabank bulks up in Colombia,” The Globe and Mail, 14 August 2012:
 Paul Christopher Webster, “Colombia is Canada’s new best friend,” The Globe and Mail, 26 April 2012:
 “Canada, Japan agree to free-trade talks,” CBC, 25 March 2012:
 Shawn McCarthy, “Canada, Japan launch free-trade talks,” The Globe and Mail, 25 March 2012:
 Jason Fekete, “Secret documents show how hard Conservative government lobbied to get into TPP talks,” Reuters, 12 June 2012:
 Andy Hoffman, “Japanese PM looks to join Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal,” The Globe and Mail, 11 November 2012:
 Mark Kennedy, “Stephen Harper says Canada-India trade links must come faster,” The Montreal Gazette, 8 November 2012:
 Frances Russell, “True colours of Mulroney, Harper revealed,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 May 2009:
 Terry Milewski, “Ending Canada’s ‘benign dictatorship’,” CBC, 30 March 2011:
 “5 things to know about the Canada-China investment treaty,” CBC, 27 October 2012:
 Campbell Clark, “China calls for free-trade deal with Canada within a decade,” The Globe and Mail, 22 September 2012:
 Shawn McCarthy and Steven Chase, “Ottawa approves Nexen, Progress foreign takeovers,” The Globe and Mail, 7 December 2012:
 Heather Scoffield, “China deals would leave Canada a resource colony: opponents,” The Financial Post, 31 October 2012:
 Don Butler, “Understanding FIPA in under 1,000 words,” Ottawa Citizen, 31 October 2012:
 Daniel Tencer, “Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion And Protection Agreement ‘A Corporate Rights Pact,’ Council Of Canadians Says,” The Huffington Post, 1 October 2012:
 Janyce McGregor, “5 key issues in the Canada-EU trade deal,” CBC, 22 November 2012:
 Greg Keenan, “Free-trade deal with EU could cost thousands of Canadian factory jobs,” The Globe and Mail, 27 October 2010:
 Campaigns, “Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA),” The Council of Canadians:
 Daniel Tencer, “Canada-EU Free Trade: Leaked EU Document Sheds Light On Negotiations,” The Huffington Post, 26 November 2012:
 Althia Raj, “Canada Trade Deal With European Union: CETA May Benefit EU Over Canada, Officials Say,” The Huffington Post, 17 October 2012:
 CERT, “Declaration in support of a Canada-EU trade and investment agreement,” The Canada Europe Roundtable for Business.
 “The Canadian and EU business communities’ call for a successful conclusion to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA),” BUSINESSEUROPE, 29 October 2012.
 Press Release, “Harper Government Launches Next Phase of Canada’s Pro-Trade Plan for Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity,” Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 29 May 2012:
The Global Banking ‘Super-Entity’ Drug Cartel: The “Free Market” of Finance Capital
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
This essay is the product of research undertaken for the first volume of The People’s Book Project. Please donate to help the first volume come to completion: a study of the institutions, ideas, and individuals of power and resistance in a snap-shot of the world today, looking at the global economic crisis, war and empire, repression and the global spread of anti-austerity and resistance movements.
I would like to introduce you, the reader, to some realities of our global banking system, resting on the rhetoric of free markets, but functioning, in actuality, as a global cartel, a “super-entity” in which the world’s major banks all own each other and own the controlling shares in the world’s largest multinational corporations, influence governments and policy with politicians in their back pockets, routinely engaging in fraud and bribery, and launder hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money, not to mention arms dealing and terrorist financing. These are the “too big to fail” and “too big to jail” banks, the centre of our global economy, what we call a “free market,” implying that the global banks – and corporations – have “free reign” to do anything they please, engage in blatantly criminal activities, steal trillions in wealth which is hidden offshore, and never get more than a slap on the wrist. This is the real “free market,” a highly profitable global banking cartel, functioning as a worldwide financial Mafia.
Scientific Research Proves the Existence of a Global Financial “Super-Entity”
In October of 2011, New Scientist reported that a scientific study on the global financial system was undertaken by three complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. The conclusion of the study revealed what many theorists and observers have noted for years, decades, and indeed, even centuries: “An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.” As one of the researchers stated, “Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it’s conspiracy theories or free-market… Our analysis is reality-based.” Using a database which listed 37 million companies and investors worldwide, the researchers studied all 43,060 trans-national corporations (TNCs), including the share ownerships linking them.
The mapping of ‘power’ was through the construction of a model showing which companies controlled which other companies through shareholdings. The web of ownership revealed a core of 1,318 companies with ties to two or more other companies. This ‘core’ was found to own roughly 80% of global revenues for the entire set of 43,000 TNCs. And then came what the researchers referred to as the “super-entity” of 147 tightly-knit companies, which all own each other, and collectively own 40% of the total wealth in the entire network. One of the researchers noted, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.” This network poses a huge risk to the global economy, as, “If one [company] suffers distress… this propagates.” The study was undertaken with a data set established prior to the economic crisis, thus, as the financial crisis forced some banks to die (Lehman Bros.) and others to merge, the “super-entity” would now be even more connected, concentrated, and problematic for the economy.
The top 50 companies on the list of the “super-entity” included (as of 2007): Barclays Plc (1), Capital Group Companies Inc (2), FMR Corporation (3), AXA (4), State Street Corporation (5), JP Morgan Chase & Co. (6), UBS AG (9), Merrill Lynch & Co Inc (10), Deutsche Bank (12), Credit Suisse Group (14), Bank of New York Mellon Corp (16), Goldman Sachs Group (18), Morgan Stanley (21), Société Générale (24), Bank of America Corporation (25), Lloyds TSB Group (26), Lehman Brothers Holdings (34), Sun Life Financial (35), ING Groep (41), BNP Paribas (46), and several others.
In the United States, five banks control half the economy: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs Group collectively held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, which equals roughly 56% of the U.S. economy. This data was according to central bankers at the Federal Reserve. In 2007, the assets of the largest banks amounted to 43% of the U.S. economy. Thus, the crisis has made the banks bigger and more powerful than ever. Because the government invoked “too big to fail,” meaning that the big banks will be saved because they are very important, the big banks have incentive to make continued and bigger risks, because they will be bailed out in the end. Essentially, it’s an insurance policy for criminal risk-taking behaviour. The former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis stated, “Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact.” Remember, “market” means the banking cartel (or “super-entity” if you prefer). Thus, they build new bubbles and buy government bonds (sovereign debt), making the global financial system increasingly insecure and at risk of a larger collapse than took place in 2008.
When politicians, economists, and other refer to “financial markets,” they are in actuality referring to the “super-entity” of corporate-financial institutions which dominate, collectively, the global economy. For example, the role of financial markets in the debt crisis ravaging Europe over the past two years is often referred to as “market discipline,” with financial markets speculating against the ability of nations to repay their debt or interest, of credit ratings agencies downgrading the credit-worthiness of nations, of higher yields on sovereign bonds (higher interest on government debt), and plunging the country deeper into crisis, thus forcing its political class to impose austerity and structural adjustment measures in order to restore “market confidence.” This process is called “market discipline,” but is more accurately, “financial terrorism” or “market warfare,” with the term “market” referring specifically to the “super-entity.” Whatever you call it, market discipline is ultimately a euphemism for class war.
The Global Supra-Government and the “Free Market”
In December of 2011, Roger Altman, the former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under the Clinton administration wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he explained that financial markets were “acting like a global supra-government,” noting:
They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth.
Altman continued, explaining that when the power of this “global supra-government” is flexed, “the immediate impact on society can be painful – wider unemployment, for example, frequently results and governments fail.” But of course, being a former top Treasury Department official, he went on to endorse the global supra-government, writing, “the longer-term effects can be often transformative and positive.” Ominously, Altman concluded: “Whether this power is healthy or not is beside the point. It is permanent,” and “there is no stopping the new policing role of the financial markets.” In other words, the ‘super-entity’ global ‘supra-government’ of financial markets carries out financial extortion, overthrows governments and impoverishes populations, but this is ultimately “positive” and “permanent,” at least from the view of a former Treasury Department official. From the point of view of those who are being impoverished, the actual populations, “positive” is not necessarily the word that comes to mind.
In the age of globalization, money – or capital – flows easily across borders, with banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions acting as the vanguards of a new international order of global governance. Where finance goes, corporations follow; where corporations venture, powerful states stand guard of their interests. Our global system is one of state-capitalism, where the state and corporate interests are interdependent and mutually beneficial, at least for those in power. Today, financial institutions – with banks at the helm – have reached unprecedented power and influence in state capitalist societies. The banks are bigger than ever before in history, guarded by an insurance policy that we call “too big to fail,” which means that despite their criminal and reckless behaviour, the government will step in to bail them out, as it always has. Financial markets also include credit ratings agencies, which determine the supposed “credit-worthiness” of other banks, corporations, and entire nations. The lower the credit rating, the riskier the investment, and thus, the higher the interest is for that entity to borrow money. Countries that do not follow the dictates of the “financial market” are punished with lower credit ratings, higher interest, speculative attacks, and in the cases of Greece and Italy in November of 2011, their democratically-elected governments are simply removed and replaced with technocratic administrations made up of bankers and economists who then push through austerity and adjustment policies that impoverish and exploit their populations. In the age of the “super-entity” global “supra-government,” there is no time to rattle around with the pesky process of formal liberal democracy; they mean business, and if your elected governments do not succumb to “market discipline,” they will be removed and replaced in what – under any other circumstances – is referred to as a ‘coup.’
Banks and financial institutions provide the liquidity – or funds – for what we call “free markets.” Free markets in principle would allow for free competition between companies and countries, each producing their own comparative advantage – producing what they are best at – and trading with others in the international market, so that all parties rise in living standards and wealth together. The “free market” is, of course, pure mythology. In practice, what we call “free markets” are actually highly protectionist, regimented, regulated, and designed to undermine competition and enforce monopolization. The “free markets” serve this purpose for the benefit of large multinational corporations and banks.
When we use the term “free markets” we are generally referring to the “real” economy, legitimate and legal. When it comes to illegitimate markets, for example, the global drug trade, we do not tend to refer to them as “free markets” but rather, “illegal” and run by “cartels.” Cartels, like corporations, are hierarchically organized totalitarian institutions, where decisions and power and exercised from the top-down, with essentially no input going from the bottom-up. Large multinational corporations, like large international cartels, seek to control their particular market throughout entire nations, regions, and beyond. Often, co-operation between corporations allow them to function in an oligopolistic manner, where the collectively dominate the entire market, carving it up between them. Major oil companies, agro-industrial firms, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, military contractors and water management corporations are well-known for these types of activities.
Cartels have often been known to engage in a similar practice, though typically they are more competitive with each other. When interests are threatened – which is defined as when a corporation or cartel is at risk of losing its total dominance of its market in a particular region – conflict arises, and often violently so, with the potential for coups, assassinations, terror campaigns, and war. This is when the state intervenes to protect the market for the cartel or corporate interests. Thus, a market like the global drug trade functions relatively similar to those of the “legitimate” economy, pharmaceuticals, energy, technology, etc. The illicit trade in drugs is as much a “free market” as is the trade in automobiles or oil. And of course, the money ends up in the same place: the global supra-government of “financial markets.”
Banking Cartel or Drug Cartel… or What’s the Difference?
In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that billions of dollars in drug money saved the major banks during the financial crisis, providing much-needed liquidity. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated that drug money was “the only liquid investment capital” available to banks on the brink of collapse, with roughly $325 billion in drug money absorbed by the financial system. Without identifying specific countries or banks, Costa stated that, “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities… There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”
In 2010, Wachovia Bank (now owned by Wells Fargo) settled the largest action ever under the U.S. bank secrecy act, paying a fine of $50 million plus forfeiting $110 million of drug money, of which the bank laundered roughly $378.4 billion out of Mexico. The federal prosecutor in the case stated, “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations.” The fine that the bank paid for laundering hundreds of billions of dollars in drug money was less than 2% of the bank’s 2009 profit, and on the same week of the settlement, Wells Fargo’s stock actually went up. The bank admitted in a statement of settlement that, “As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk” of holding such an account, but “despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business.” The leading investigator into the money laundering operations, Martin Woods, based out of London, had discovered that Wachovia had received roughly six or seven thousand subpoenas for information about its Mexican operation from the federal government, of which Woods commented: “An absurd number. So at what point does someone at the highest level not get the feeling that something is very, very wrong?” Woods had been hired by Wachovia’s London branch as a senior anti-money laundering officer in 2005, and when in 2007 an official investigation was opened into Wachovia’s Mexican operations, Woods was informed by the bank that he failed “to perform at an acceptable standard.” In other words, he was actually doing his job. In regards to the settlement, Woods stated:
The regulatory authorities do not have to spend any more time on it, and they don’t have to push it as far as a criminal trial. They just issue criminal proceedings, and settle. The law enforcement people do what they are supposed to do, but what’s the point? All those people dealing with all that money from drug-trafficking and murder, and no one goes to jail?
As the former UN Office of Drugs and Crime czar Antonio Maria Costa said, “The connection between organized crime and financial institutions started in the late 1970s, early 1980s… when the mafia became globalized,” just like other major markets. Martin Woods added that, “These are the proceeds of murder and misery in Mexico, and of drugs sold around the world,” yet no one went to jail, asking, “What does the settlement do to fight the cartels? Nothing – it doesn’t make the job of law enforcement easier and it encourages the cartels and anyone who wants to make money by laundering their blood dollars. Where’s the risk? There is none.” He added: “Is it in the interest of the American people to encourage both the drug cartels and the banks in this way? Is it in the interest of the Mexican people? It’s simple: if you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 30,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point.” Woods, who now runs his own consultancy, told the Observer in 2011 that, “New York and London… have become the world’s two biggest laundries of criminal and drug money, and offshore tax havens. Not the Cayman Islands, not the Isle of Man or Jersey. The big laundering is right through the City of London and Wall Street.”
Just as the “too big to fail” program acts as an insurance policy for the big banks to engage in constant criminal activity, taking ever-larger financial risks with the guarantee that they will be bailed out, the settlements and lack of criminal prosecutions for banks laundering drug money provides the incentive to continue laundering hundreds of billions in drug money, because so long as the fine is smaller than the profit accrued from such a practice, it comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis: if the cost of laundering drug money is less than the benefit, continue with the policy. The same cost-benefit analysis goes for all forms of criminal activity by banks and corporations, whether bribery, fraud, or violating environmental, labour and other regulations. So long as the penalty is less than the profit, the problem continues.
An article in the Observer from July of 2012 referred to global banks as “the financial services wing of the drug cartels,” noting that HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, had been called before the U.S. Senate to testify about laundering drug money from Mexican cartels, holding one “suspicious account” for four years on behalf of the largest drug cartel in the world, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. In fact, a multi-year investigation into HSBC revealed that the bank was not only a major international drug money-laundering conduit, but also laundered money for clients with ties to terrorism. In July of 2012, as the Senate was publicly investigating HSBC, Antonio Maria Costa stated, “Today I cannot think of one bank in the world that has not been penetrated by mafia money.” The global drug trade is estimated to be worth roughly $380 billion annually, with most of the money made in the consumer markets of North America and Europe. Using the example of the $35 billion per year cocaine market in the United States, only about 1.5% of these profits make their way to the coca-leaf producers (mostly poor peasants) in South America (who became the target of our bombing and chemical warfare campaigns in the “war on drugs”), while the international traffickers get roughly 13% of the profits, with the remaining 85% earned by the distributors in the U.S. HSBC was accused of laundering the profits of the distributors.
The U.S. Senate report concluded that HSBC had exposed the U.S. financial system to “a wide array of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing,” including billions in “proceeds from illegal drug sales in the United States.” HSBC acknowledged, in an official statement, that, “in the past, we have sometimes failed to meet the standards that regulators and customers expect.” Among those “standards” that HSBC “sometimes failed to meet,” according to the Senate investigation, were financing provided to banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh which were tied to terrorist organizations, while the bank’s regulator failed to take a single enforcement action against HSBC. Among the terrorist organizations which potentially received financial assistance from HSBC through Saudi banks was al-Qaeda. HSBC put aside $700 million to cover any potential fines for such activities, which is not uncommon for banks to do. Banks like ABN Amro, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Lloyds and ING had all reached major settlements for admitting to facilitating transactions and engaging in money laundering for clients in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.
As executives from HSBC appeared in the U.S. Senate, the bank’s head of compliance since 2002, David Bagley, resigned as he testified before the committee, commenting, “Despite the best efforts and intentions of many dedicated professionals, HSBC has fallen short of our own expectations and the expectations of our regulators.” As Ed Vulliamy reported in the Observer, in May of 2012, a poor black man named Edward Dorsey Sr. was convicted of peddling 5.5 grams of crack cocaine in Washington D.C. and was given 10 years in jail. Meanwhile, just across the river from where Dorsey had committed his crime, executives from HSBC admitted before the U.S. Senate that they laundered billions in drug money, just as Wachovia had admitted to the previous year, with no one going to prison. The lesson from this is clear: if you are poor, black, and are caught with a couple grams of crack-cocaine, you can expect to go to prison for several years (or in this case, a decade); but if you are rich, white, own a bank, and are caught laundering billions of dollars (or hundreds of billions of dollars) in drug money, you will be fined (but not enough to make such practices unprofitable), and may have to resign. Too big to fail is simply another way of saying “too big to jail.”
Of course, it’s not fair to put all the blame for international drug money-laundering on the shoulders of HSBC and Wachovia, as Bloomberg reported, Mexican drug cartels also funneled money through the Bank of America and even the banking branch of American Express, Banco Santander, and Citigroup. Even the FBI has accused Bank of America of laundering Mexican drug cartel funds. But it’s not just drug money that banks launder; all sorts of illicit funds are laundered through major banks, many of which have been fined or are now being investigated for their criminal activities, including JPMorgan, Standard Chartered, Credit Suisse, Lloyds, Barclays, ING, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, among others. Another major Swiss bank, UBS, has been very consistent in committing fraud and engaging in various conspiracies, a great deal of which was committed against Americans, though the bank was given “conditional immunity” from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Financial Fraud and the ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’
The major banks of the world have been caught in conspiracies of ripping off small towns and cities across the United States, which allowed banks like JPMorgan Chase, GE Capital, UBS, Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Bear Stearns, and others, to steal billions of dollars from schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to a court settlement on the issue. The theft was done through the manipulation of the public bidding process, something that the Mafia has become experts in with regards to garbage and construction industry contracts. In short, the banking system actually functions like a Mafia cartel system, not to mention, taking money from the Mafia and cartels themselves. Banks like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs engaged in bribery, fraud, and conspiracies which resulted in the bankruptcy of counties all across the United States. Still, they continue to be ‘respected’ by the political class which refuses to punish them for their criminal activity, and instead, rewards them with bailouts and follows their instructions for policy.
Over the summer of 2012, another major banking scandal hit the headlines, regarding the manipulation of the London inter-bank lending rate known as the Libor. The Libor rate, explained the Economist, “determines the prices that people and corporations around the world pay for loans or receive for their savings,” as it is used as a benchmark for establishing payments on an $800 trillion derivatives market, covering everything from interest rate derivatives to mortgages. Essentially, the Libor is the interest rate at which banks lend to each other on the short term, and is established through an “honour system” of where 18 major banks report their daily rates, from which an average is calculated. That average becomes the Libor rate, and reverberates throughout the entire global economy, setting a benchmark for a massive amount of transactions in the global derivatives market. Whereas the derivatives market is a massive casino of unregulated speculation, the Libor scandal revealed the cartel that owns the casino.
The scandal began with Barclays, a 300-year old bank in Britain, revealing that several employees had been involved in rigging the Libor to suit their own needs. More banks quickly became implemented, and countries all over the world began opening investigations into this scandal and the role their own banks may have played in it. By early July, as many as 20 major banks were named in various investigations or lawsuits related to the rigging of the Libor.
Among the major global banks which are being investigated by U.S. prosecutors are Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, UBS, Bank of America, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Credit Suisse, Lloyds Banking Group, Rabobank, Royal Bank of Canada, Société Générale, and others. Prosecutors in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Japan were investigating collusion between the major banks on the manipulation of the Libor. In June of 2012, Barclays paid a fine to US and UK authorities, admitting its culpability in the rigging with a $450 million settlement. With information and documents pouring out, implicating further banks and institutions in the scandal, a general consensus was emerging that the Libor had been manipulated since at least 2005, though, as one former Morgan Stanley trader wrote in the Financial Times, the rigging had began as early as 1991, if not before. The British Banker’s Association was responsible for setting the Libor rate by polling roughly 18 major banks on their highest and lowest rates daily. Thus, rigging by one bank would require the co-operating of at least nine other banks in purposely manipulating their rates in order to have any effect upon the Libor. Douglas Keenan, the former Morgan Stanley trader, wrote that, “it seems the misreporting of Libor rates may have been common practice since at least 1991.”
Rolf Majcen, the head of a hedge fund called FTC Capital told Der Spiegel that, “the Libor manipulation is presumably the biggest financial scandal ever.” As regulators were using words like “organized fraud” and “banksters” to describe the growing scandal, it was becoming common to refer to the major banks as functioning like a “cartel” or “mafia.” The CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, resigned in disgrace, as did Marcus Agius, the Chairman of Barclays (who also serves as a director on the board of BBC, and is married into the Rothschild banking dynasty). The “cartel” manipulated the Libor for a great number of reasons, among them, to appear to be in better health by rigging their credit ratings upwards. The Business Insider referred to the Libor rigging as a “criminal conspiracy” from the start, essentially designed to promote manipulation as the Libor was determined by an “honor system” for banks to properly report their rates. Imagine giving a pile of credit cards to a group of credit card fraud convicts and establishing an “honour system.” Could one truly be surprised if it didn’t work out? Well, the Libor scandal is effectively based upon the same logic, except that the repercussions are global in scope.
Traders at the Royal Bank of Scotland referenced, in internal emails, to their participation in operating a “cartel” that made “amazing” amounts of money through the manipulation of interest rates, with a former senior trader at RBS writing that managers at the bank had “condoned collusion.” The same trader, who was later hung out to dry by RBS as a scapegoat, wrote in an email to a trader at Deutsche Bank that, “It is a cartel now in London,” where the Libor is established.
The cartel, however, did not simply include the major banks, but also required the cooperation or at least negligence of regulators and central banks. Documents released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank of England show correspondence between then-President of the NY Fed Timothy Geithner (who is now Obama’s Treasury Secretary) and Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discussing how Barclays was manipulating the Libor rates during the 2008 financial crisis. While the NY Fed corresponded with both the Bank of England and Barclays itself on the acknowledgment of interest rate manipulation, it never told the bank to stop the rigging practice. An official at Barclays even informed the NYFed in 2008 that the bank was under-reporting the rate at which it could borrow from other banks so that Barclays could “avoid the stigma” of appearing to be weaker than its peers, adding that “other participating banks were also under-reporting their Libor submissions.”
A Barclays employee told the New York Fed in an April 2008 phone call that, “We know that we’re not posting um, an honest Libor… and yet we are doing it, because, um, if we didn’t do it, it draws, um, unwanted attention on ourselves.” The New York Fed official replied: “You have to accept it… I understand. Despite it’s against what you would like to do. I understand completely.” Several months later, a Barclays employee told a New York Fed official that the Libor rates were still “absolute rubbish.”
While the New York Fed expressed sympathy for the poor and helpless global banks need to engage in fraud and interest rate manipulation in order to lie and appear to be healthier than it was, the Bank of England went a step further, when Paul Tucker, the head of markets at the BoE wrote a note to Barclays CEO Bob Diamond in 2008 suggesting that Barclays lower its Libor rate, thus encouraging the rigging itself, instead of just expressing sympathy for the “need” to commit fraud.
The main British banking lobby group, the British Banker’s Association (BBA), which was responsible for overseeing the Libor rate process (no conflict of interest there, right?), was, in late September of 2012, stripped of its right to oversee the Libor, to be replaced with a formal regulator. The BBA’s “oversight” of Libor dates back to 1984, when the City of London (Britain’s Wall Street) had begun an experiment to establish a new way of setting interest rates, asking the banking lobby group to set the rate in 1986 when the Libor began. The BBA’s Foreign Exchange and Money Markets Committee is responsible for setting the Libor, and they meet every two months to review the process in secret without any minutes being published, and even the membership of the Committee is kept a secret. Spokespersons at Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS refused to comment on whether they had any representatives on the committee, while Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of America and Citigroup didn’t even respond to emailed inquiries about their involvement with the committee, as Bloomberg reported. A British regulator, in the understatement of the century, stated, “There is an apparent lack of transparency,” adding that the BBA’s committee “doesn’t appear to be sufficiently open and transparent to provide the necessary degree of accountability to firms and markets with a direct interest in being assured of the integrity of Libor.” When the fox guards the henhouse, it takes a great deal of stupidity to be “surprised” when some hens go missing.
In an April 2008 meeting with officials at the Bank of England, Angela Knight, the head of the British Banker’s Association, suggested that the BBA perhaps should no longer be responsible for oversight of “the world’s most important number,” which had become too big for the BBA to manage. No one at the meeting cared enough to do anything about it, however, and so nothing changed. Where was the incentive to change the system, after all? Yes, massive fraud was taking place, and this was well understood by the banks committing it, as well as the regulators and central banks overseeing it. But on the plus side, everyone was getting away with it. So indeed, there was no incentive to change the system. From the point of view of those managing it, the Libor was functioning as it should. A cartel was established because a cartel was desired. The fact that it was all highly illegal, fraudulent, and immoral was – and is – beside the point. Mexican drug cartels do not worry about the legality of their operations because they are, by definition, illegal. They worry simply about getting away with their illegal operations. The same can be said for the global banking cartel. So long as they get away with criminal cartel operations, there is no incentive to change the system, and instead, there is only an incentive to expand and further entrench the cartel’s operations.
Canada’s antitrust regulator began an investigation into the “international cartel” of banks rigging the Libor, focusing on the role played by banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Royal bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Citigroup, among others. A law professor at the University of Toronto who was hired by the regulator to study the case commented that, “international cartels are of a significant concern for the Canadian economy.” We have truly reached an impressive circumstance when the actual regulators of the banks refer to the banking system as an “international cartel.”
A lawsuit was being filed by several homeowners in the U.S. who were attempting to sue some of the world’s largest banks for fraud, as the Libor manipulation sparked increases on their mortgages, resulting in illegal profits for banks. The class action lawsuit filed in New York in October of 2012 accused banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, Barclays, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and others of fraud over a period of ten years. For U.S. states and municipalities that bought interest-rate swaps before the financial crisis, the Libor rigging was poised to more than double their losses. Banks had sold roughly $500 billion of interest-rate swaps (in the derivatives market) to municipalities before the financial crisis, with roughly $200 billion of those swaps tied to the Libor. As one legal expert who studies derivatives told Bloomberg, “Almost all interest-rate swaps begin with Libor.” This prompted several states in the U.S. to begin their own investigations into how the Libor-rigging may have negatively affected them.
Punishing the World’s Population into Poverty: Life Under the Global Cartel
While the global cartel of criminal banks rig rates, launder drug money, fund terrorists, engage in bribery, fraud and demand multi-trillion dollar bailouts from our governments (effectively selling their bad debts to the public), and then give themselves massive bonuses, they are also demanding – through what is called “market discipline” – that our governments deal with our debts by undertaking policies of “austerity” and “structural reform,” which are euphemisms for impoverishment and exploitation. Thus, after the cartel helped create a massive financial crisis, and after our governments rewarded them for their criminal activity, the cartel now demands that our governments punish their populations into poverty and open their economies, resources and labour up for cheap and easy exploitation by banks and multinational corporations. This is referred to as the “solution” for getting out of the ‘Great Recession,’ and which is sure to great a Great Depression. Greece is now two and a half years into its “austerity” and “adjustment” reforms, with its debt growing as a result, poverty exploding, misery spreading, health, education, welfare rapidly declining, suicide rates and hunger increasing, as the Greek people are subjected to a program of “social genocide.” Market discipline demands austerity and adjustment, or in other words, class warfare creates poverty and exploitation.
Countries that refuse to implement programs of austerity and adjustment are subjected to financial terrorism by the “international cartel,” as financial markets engage in “market discipline” by using the derivatives market to speculate against that particular country’s ability to pay its interest or debt, thus making its credit ratings decrease and borrowing rates increase, plunging the country into a deeper crisis. In any other scenario, this is called terrorism or in the very least, extortion: do what I say or I will punish you and destroy you. This is what former U.S. Treasury official Roger Altman referred to in the Financial Times as the new “global supra-government” who can “force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes,” and thus, “have become the most powerful force on earth.” Countries, regional, and international organizations all bow down to the dictates of the “international cartel” of the “global supra-government,” and so countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal, organizations like the European Union, European Central Bank, powerful states like Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S., and other international organizations like the IMF, Bank for International Settlements, and the OECD all demand and implement austerity measures and structural “reforms.” Either they follow the orders of the “cartel” – which we commonly refer to as the “invisible hand” of the “free market – or they directly challenge “the most powerful force on earth.” In the global economy, a small country like Greece standing up to the “global supra-government” is much like a small Greek restaurant trying to stand up to the city Mafia.
In the U.S., states that were defrauded in the billions of dollars by the cartel, and took on major debts as a result, are now the harbingers of austerity in America. Beginning in 2010, roughly 20 states across the U.S. began implementing austerity measures, and have been doing much worse economically as a result (the predicted effect of austerity). Even the institutions which are the most militant in demanding austerity measures, such as the European Union and the IMF, have acknowledged in recent reports that countries which pursue austerity to supposedly reduce their debts end up getting much larger debts as a result, and that such measures are actually extremely damaging to economies. This is not news, of course, since there is a rather large sample of data from the past 30 years of forced austerity and adjustment measures across Africa, Asia, and Latin America (at the behest of the IMF, World Bank, western governments, and of course, the “cartel”), which show quite clearly the effect that austerity and adjustment have in rapidly expanding poverty and facilitating exploitation. As austerity is hitting several U.S. states, jobs are lost and poverty increases with debt, standards of living decline and the recession deepens into a depression. The population is essentially punished for the crimes of the global cartel, while public employees, pensioners, welfare recipients, teachers and workers get the blame.
In late October of 2012, the CEOs of 80 major corporations and banks in the United States banded together (as any well functioning cartel does) in order to pressure Congress, regardless of who the next President is, to pursue an agenda of harsh austerity measures and structural reforms. In a statement to Congress signed by the 80 CEOs, the American branch of the global cartel (its most significant branch), demanded that policies be enacted immediately, though implemented gradually, “to give Americans time to prepare for the changes in the federal budget.” Among the demands are to reform Medicare and Medicaid, healthcare, Social Security, increase taxes, and generally reduce spending. All of this amounts to a large federal program of austerity, to cut social spending and increase taxes on the population, thus impoverishing the population. This, in the words of the letter to Congress, “must be bipartisan and reforms to all areas of the budget should be included.” Among the signatories to the letter were the CEOs of AT&T, Bank of America, BlackRock, Boeing, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical Company, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merck, Microsoft, Motorola, Time Warner, and Verizon, among many others.
This followed roughly one week after a group of 15 major global bank CEOs sent a letter to President Obama and the U.S. Congress lecturing the U.S. political class on “moral authority,” giving their formal orders to the U.S. political establishment, that regardless of Democratic or Republican administrations, they are losing patience with the democratic apparatus of the state, and warned: “The solvency, productive capacity, and stability of the United States, as well as its moral authority as a global leader, require that its fiscal challenges be credibly met.” Among the signatories to the letter were the CEOs of Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo. The Wall Street Journal, reporting on this letter, commented that even for “a dying democracy, it’s embarrassing enough to see bankers telling our government what to do,” but in this letter, “we even see foreign bankers telling our government what to do,” as other CEOs of the global cartel signed the letter, from banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse, and Deutsche Bank. The “consequences of inaction” on the U.S. debt, read the letter, “would be very grave.” In other words, the U.S. political class has received a threat from the global cartel that it is now time to implement austerity and adjustment measures, or to face the consequences of financial terrorism.
Hiding the Loot: The Offshore Economy in the Age of the Global Plutonomy
While people are being forced into poverty to pay off the bad debts of the “super-entity” global banking cartel of drug-money laundering banks which make up the “global supra-government,” the richest people in the world have been hiding their wealth in offshore tax havens, and of course, with the help of those same banks. James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey, a major global consultancy, published a major report on tax havens in July of 2012 for the Tax Justice Network, compiling data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and other private sector entities which revealed that the world’s superrich have hidden between $21 and $32 trillion offshore to avoid taxation. Henry stated: “This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries.” John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network commented that, “Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people… This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich.” Roughly 92,000 of the super-rich, globally, hold at least $10 trillion in offshore wealth. In many cases, the worth of these offshore assets far exceeds the debts of the countries that they flow from, the same debts that are used to keep these countries and their populations in poverty and a constant state of exploitation.
The estimated total of hidden offshore wealth amounts to more than the combined GDP of the United States and Japan, hidden in secretive financial jurisdictions like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. The process of hiding this wealth is largely facilitated by the major global banks, which compete with one another to attract the assets of the world’s super-rich. James Henry explained that the wealth of the world’s super-rich is “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy;” more of that “free market” magic. The top ten banks in the world, which include UBS and Credit Suisse (based in Switzerland) as well as Goldman Sachs in the United States, collectively managed roughly $6.4 trillion in offshore accounts for 2010 alone. As the report revealed, “for many developing countries the cumulative value of the capital that has flowed out of their economies since the 1970s would be more than enough to pay off their debts to the rest of the world,” debts which are largely illegitimate as it stands. This trend is exacerbated in the oil-rich states of the world such as Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The report stated: “The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.” With roughly half of the world’s offshore wealth belonging to the top 92,000 richest individuals, they represent the top 0.001%, a far more extreme global disparity than that which is invoked by the Occupy movement’s 1% paradigm. Henry commented: “The very existence of the global offshore industry, and the tax-free status of the enormous sums invested by their wealthy clients, is predicated on secrecy.” Remember, “free market” means that those who own the market (the global cartel), and free to do anything they please.
A 2005 report from Citigroup coined the term “plutonomy,” to describe countries “where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few,” and specifically identified the U.K., Canada, Australia, and the United States as four plutonomies. Keeping in mind that the report was published three years before the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the Citigroup report stated: “Asset booms, a rising profit share and favourable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries,” and that, “the rich are in great shape, financially.” It’s only everyone else that is suffering, which by definition, is a “well functioning” economy. As the Federal Reserve reported, “the nation’s top 1% of households own more than half the nation’s stocks,” and “they also control more than $16 trillion in wealth — more than the bottom 90%.” The term ‘Plutonomy’ is specifically used to “describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality,” and that they have three basic characteristics, according to the Citigroup report:
1. They are all created by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist friendly cooperative governments, immigrants…the rule of law and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.”
2. There is no “average” consumer in Plutonomies. There is only the rich “and everyone else.” The rich account for a disproportionate chunk of the economy, while the non-rich account for “surprisingly small bites of the national pie.” [Citigroup strategist Ajay] Kapur estimates that in 2005, the richest 20% may have been responsible for 60% of total spending.
3. Plutonomies are likely to grow in the future, fed by capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity and globalization.
Kapur, who authored the Citigroup report, stated that there were also risks to the Plutonomy, “including war, inflation, financial crises, the end of the technological revolution and populist political pressure,” yet, “the rich are likely to keep getting even richer, and enjoy an even greater share of the wealth pie over the coming years.”
In February of 2011, Ajay Kapur, the author of the Citigroup report who is now with Deutsche Bank, gave an interview in which he explained that, “the world economy is even more dependent on the spending and consumption of the rich,” and that, “Plutonomist consumption is almost 10 times as volatile that of the average consumer.” He further explained that increased debt levels are a sign of plutonomies:
We have an economy today where a large fraction of the population doesn’t pay federal income taxes and, because of demand for entitlements, we have a system of massive representation without taxation. On the other hand, you have plutonomists who protect their turf and the taxation amounts are not enough to pay for everyone’s demand. So I’ve come to the conclusion that budget deficits are biased toward getting bigger and bigger. Budget deficits are going to become a manifestation of a plutonomy.
The plutonomy is largely characterized by a lack of a consuming and vibrant middle class. This is a trend that has been accelerating for several decades, particularly in North America and Britain, where the middle class population is heavily indebted. The middle class has existed as a consumer class, keeping the lower class submissive, and keeping the upper class secure and wealthy by consuming their products, produced with the labour of the lower class.
The most advanced plutonomies in the world are the most advanced industrial and technological nations, where the major corporations and banks are highly subsidized and protected by the state, as is typical for a state-capitalist society. While the industrial and rich northern state-capitalist societies were able to industrialize and grow rich through highly protectionist measures, the poor south of the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America) were subjected to “free market” policies which opened up their economies to be exploited and plundered by the rich northern nations. No country has ever become an industrial power by implementing free market policies, but rather, by doing the exact opposite: heavy subsidies and state protection for key industries, technologies, and corporate entities.
While the ‘Third World’ was forced to implement “free market” policies in order to get loans, the predictable result took place: mass impoverishment and exploitation. The ‘Third World’ states were run by tiny elites who dominated the countries politically and economically, and who hid their stolen wealth in foreign banks and offshore tax havens. Now, in the midst of the global economic crisis which has been ravaging the world for the past four years, the rich northern countries are themselves implementing the same “free market” policies, though designed to subject their populations to “market discipline” while maintaining – and in fact increasing – the protectionist and subsidized policies for the multinational corporations and banks. It is important to note that “market discipline” and actual “free market” policies are exclusively designed for the general population, not the elite. Workers, students, the elderly, the poor and the many are to be subjected to “market discipline” while the banks and multinational corporations continue to be heavily subsidized (as the largest national welfare recipients) and protected by the state. Thus, just as our banks and corporations have plundered the Third World with rapacious delight over the past three decades, now they will be able to do the same to the populations of the rich nations themselves. The state will transform, as it did in the ‘Third World’, into a typically totalitarian institution which is responsible for protecting the super-rich and controlling, oppressing, or, in extreme cases of resistance, eliminating the ‘problem populations’ (i.e., the people).
Welcome to the global plutonomy in the age of austerity, the result of living under – and tolerating – a global “super-entity” corporate-financial cartel. Truly, one must pause and, if only for a moment, appreciate the ability of this global cartel to function so effectively in spite of its blatant criminal activities, and face almost absolutely no repercussions. Something truly is wrong with a society when a poor black man caught with 5 grams of crack-cocaine goes to prison for ten years, while rich white bank executives admit to laundering billions of dollars in drug money and receive only a fine and a slap on the wrist (maybe).
The lesson is clear: if you are a thief, steal by the billions or trillions, and then no one can do anything about it. If you are in the drug trade: handle only billions (or hundreds of billions) in drug money, and then you will get away with it. If you don’t want to pay taxes, be a member of the top o.oo1% of the world’s super-rich and hide your billions in offshore tax-free accounts. If you want more, create a global economic crisis, demand to be saved by the state to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars, and then, tell the state to punish their populations into poverty in order to pay for your mistakes.
In other words, if you want to indulge your criminal fantasies, lie and steal, profit from death and drugs, dominate and demand, be king and command, become the highly-functioning socially-acceptable sociopath you always knew you could be… think big. Think BANK. Serial killers, bank robbers and drug dealers go to jail; bankers get bailouts and get an unlimited insurance policy called “too big to fail.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Andy Coghlan and Debora MacKenzie, “Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world,” New Scientist, 24 October 2011:
 David J. Lynch, “Banks Seen Dangerous Defying Obama’s Too-Big-to-Fail Move,” Bloomberg, 16 April 2012:
 Dean Baker, “The eurozone crisis is not about market discipline,” Al-Jazeera, 18 December 2011:
 Roger Altman, “We need not fret over omnipotent markets,” The Financial Times, 1 December 2011:
 Roger Altman, “We need not fret over omnipotent markets,” The Financial Times, 1 December 2011:
 Rajeev Syal, “Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor,” The Observer, 13 December 2009:
 Ed Vulliamy, “How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico’s murderous drug gangs,” The Observer, 3 April 2011:
 Ed Vulliamy, “Global banks are the financial services wing of the drug cartels,” The Observer, 21 July 2012:
 John Paul Rathbone, “Money laundering: Taken to the cleaners,” 20 July 2012:
 Agustino Fontevecchia, “HSBC Helped Terrorists, Iran, Mexican Drug Cartels Launder Money, Senate Report Says,” Forbes, 16 July 2012:
 Roberto Saviano, “Where the Mob Keeps its Money,” The New York Times, 25 August 2012:
 Dominic Rushe, “HSBC ‘sorry’ for aiding Mexican drugs lords, rogue states and terrorists,” The Guardian, 17 July 2012:
 Ed Vulliamy, “Global banks are the financial services wing of the drug cartels,” The Observer, 21 July 2012:
 Michael Smith, “Banks Financing Mexico Gangs Admitted in Wells Fargo Deal,” Bloomberg, 29 June 2010:
 Alexander Eichler, “Mexican Drug Cartel Laundered Money Through BofA, FBI Alleges,” The Huffington Post, 9 June 2012:
 Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Edward Wyatt, “In Laundering Case, a Lax Banking Law Obscured Money Flow,” The New York Times, 8 August 2012:
Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess, “
Money-Laundering Inquiry Is Said to Aim at U.S. Banks,” The New York Times, 14 September 2012:
 James B. Stewart, “For UBS, a Record of Averting Prosecution,” The New York Times, 20 July 2012:
 Matt Taibbi, “The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia,” Rolling Stone, 21 June 2012:
 William D. Cohan, “How Wall Street Scams Counties Into Bankruptcy,” Bloomberg, 1 July 2012:
 “The Libor Scandal: The Rotten Heart of Finance,” The Economist, 7 July 2012:
 Shahien Nasiripour, “Nine more banks added to Libor probe,” The Financial Times, 26 October 2012:
 Douglas Keenan, “My thwarted attempt to tell of Libor shenanigans,” The Financial Times, 26 July 2012:
 “The Cartel: Behind the Scenes in the Libor Interest Rate Scandal,” Der Spiegel, 1 August 2012:
 Matt Taibbi, “Why is Nobody Freaking Out About the LIBOR Banking Scandal?” Rolling Stone, 3 July 2012:
 Raúl Ilargi Meijer, “LIBOR Was A Criminal Conspiracy From The Start,” The Business Insider, 11 July 2012:
 Steven Swinford and Harry Wilson, “RBS traders boasted of Libor ‘cartel’,” The Telegraph, 26 September 2012:
 Jill Treanor and Dominic Rushe, “Timothy Geithner and Mervyn King discussed Libor worries in 2008,” The Guardian, 13 July 2012:
 Mark Gongloff, “New York Fed’s Libor Documents Reveal Cozy Relationship Between Regulators, Banks,” The Huffington Post, 13 July 2012:
 Chris Giles, “Libor scandal puts BoE in line of fire,” The Financial Times, 17 July 2012:
 Jill Treanor, “British Bankers’ Association to be stripped of Libor rate-setting role,” The Guardian, 25 September 2012:
 Liam Vaughan, “Secret Libor Committee Clings to Anonymity Following Scandal,” Bloomberg, 21 August 2012:
 David Enrich and Max Colchester, “Before Scandal, Clash Over Control of Libor,” The Wall Street Journal, 11 September 2012:
 Andrew Mayeda, “Canada Regulator Says Has Power to Probe Libor ‘Cartel’,” Bloomberg, 22 June 2012:
 Halah Touryalai, “Banks Rigged Libor To Inflate Adjustable-Rate Mortgages: Lawsuit,” Forbes, 15 October 2012:
 Darrell Preston, “Rigged Libor Hits States-Localities With $6 Billion: Muni Credit,” Bloomberg, 9 October 2012:
 Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 24 July 2012:
 Roger Altman, “We need not fret over omnipotent markets,” The Financial Times, 1 December 2011:
 Ben Polak and Peter K. Schott, America’s Hidden Austerity Program,” The New York Times, 11 June 2012:
Jason Cherkis, “A Thousand Cuts: Austerity Measures Devastate Communities Around The World,” The Huffington Post, 17 July 2012:
Editorial, “The Austerity Trap,” The New York Times, 23 October 2012:
Derek Thompson, “American Austerity: Why the States Cutting Spending Are Doing Worse,” The Atlantic, 21 June 2012:
 “CEOs Deficit Manifesto,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 October 2012:
 “Executives Who Signed the Fix the Debt Declaration,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 October 2012:
 Al Lewis, “Bankers Face the Abyss,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 October 2012:
 Heather Stewart, “Wealth doesn’t trickle down – it just floods offshore, research reveals,” The Observer, 21 July 2012:
 Heather Stewart, “£13tn hoard hidden from taxman by global elite,” The Observer, 21 July 2012:
 We’re living in a plutonomy, The Telegraph, 2 April 2006:
 Robert Frank, Plutonomics, The Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2007:
 Gus Lubin, Deutsche Bank Says The ‘Global Plutonomy’ Is Stronger Than Ever, And That Means 10X More Volatility, Business Insider, 17 February 2011:
An update for the People’s Book Project is very much in order. It has been a very tumultuous past month or so for me, with my computer essentially crashing, getting sick, and then entering a period of what is commonly referred to as “writer’s block,” the first time I have ever had any experience with such a thing. Usually, my interest simply drives my writing, and while it is expansive and seemingly never-ending, it is consistent and takes on a life of its own. I write whatever inspires me most at that particular time. Well, a few weeks ago, my interests were all over the place, and I was researching, reading, and writing about several different subjects at once, unable to focus on one facet. Then, suddenly, I was unable to focus on anything, and lacked all motivation and inspiration. Writer’s block was not something I ever believed in, until it suddenly happened to me, and it was a new experience.
But thankfully, it is now also over, and I am back to doing what I have to do and what I do best. The first volume of The People’s Book Project is seeing progress, and I am trying to keep the focus on the years from when the economic crisis began in 2008, though I will have to include some historical analysis just to establish a little context. The real history, however, will be left for future volumes of the Project. This volume aims to examine primarily the global economic crisis, its origins and evolution, the bailouts, the banks, and the debt crisis in Europe and elsewhere, the austerity and “structural adjustment” programs of impoverishment and exploitation, the corporate and financial plundering of the world; the expanded imperial policies of the Obama administration and its NATO allies (“puppets”), and I am just about to begin work on the chapter covering the Arab Spring, its origins, power relations, conflicting agendas and ideologies, and the imperial attempts at co-optation and repression, including the war in Libya, conflict in Syria, potential war with Iran, etc. Also included in this volume will be a look at the development of global governance institutions and ideologies, regional governance institutions, trade blocs and global power networks; and of course, the growth of anti-austerity and resistance movements, across Europe, as well as the student movements in Quebec and Chile (as a few examples, there will be much more!), Occupy, and the methods of repression, police state measures and surveillance/control grids being established by the Western “democracies” as a form of repressing any attempt at change.
So there is a lot to cover, and a great deal I have already written, which is in need of editing and formatting properly within this volume. In order to continue with this work, I need your help, support, social networking skills, and donations in order to get the job finished and get this volume done and out as soon as possible!
Being an independent researcher and writer means having to ask for money a lot, which I am no fan of to be honest. But here I am, asking, all the same. It also means that I need to produce articles for publication in order to keep up traffic to my sites and generate readership which can, in turn, possibly donate or contribute to the Project. The unfortunate aspect of this is that it requires me to spend a good deal of time writing articles for posting online, time that is not used, then, for writing the actual book. This tends to delay the process. So I will attempt to focus on posting little excerpts instead of original content in the hopes of speeding up the process.
Again, thank you for all of your constant support, and if at all possible, please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project!
Andrew Gavin Marshall