Let’s put an end to public debt blackmail!

3 April 2010 by Eric Toussaint , Damien Millet , Sophie Perchellet

There is a striking contrast in the most industrialized countries at the epicenter of the global crisis that broke out in 2007-2008: the governments and their friends running the major banks are congratulating themselves on having saved the financial sector and initiated limited economic recovery, but people’s living conditions continue to deteriorate. Furthermore, with stimulus packages for the economy of over 1000 billion dollars, the major financial institutions have received government aid in the form of bail out funds, but the different States have no say in the management of these companies or are not taking advantage of this opportunity to radically change the policies governing them.

The path chosen by governments to emerge from the private financial crisis caused by bankers has led to an explosion in public debt. For many years to come, this sudden growth in public debt will be used by governments as a form of blackmail to impose social cuts and to deduct from the wages of “those at the bottom” the money needed to repay the public debt now held over our heads by the financial markets. How will this scenario be played out? Direct taxes on high income earners and companies will be reduced, while indirect taxes, such as VAT, will increase. Yet, as a percentage of disposable income, VAT is mainly a burden on low income households, which makes it an extremely unfair tax. For example, with a 20% VAT tax, a poor household that spends all its income just to survive, pays the equivalent of a 20% tax on its income, whereas a well off household, which saves 90% of its income, and therefore only spends 10% of it on daily expenses, pays the equivalent of a 2% tax on its income.

Therefore, the richest win twice: as a percentage of their disposable income, they contribute the least amount to taxes, and with the sums they have saved, they buy stocks of public debt and make profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. from the interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. paid by the State. On the contrary, wage earners and pensioners are doubly penalized: their taxes increase while public services and their social security benefits deteriorate. The repayment of public debt is therefore a mechanism for transferring revenue from “those at the bottom” to “those at the top”, as well as an effective form of blackmail in order to pursue neo-liberal policies benefitting “those at the top”.

Meanwhile, profits and bonus distributions (in 2009, 1.75 billion euros in bonuses for the traders of French banks, and 20.3 billion dollars for Wall Street traders — a 17% increase compared to 2008!) have returned to their mad ways while the people are called upon to tighten their belts. In addition, with the easy money central banks lend them, bankers and other institutional investors Institutional investors Entities which pool large sums of money and invest those sums in securities, real property and other investment assets. They are principally banks, insurance companies, pension funds and by extension all organizations that invest collectively in transferable securities. have launched into new speculative operations, which are highly dangerous for the rest of society, as we have seen with the Greek debt for example, not to mention the price of raw materials and the dollar. Not a word from the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

(IMF) or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD OECD
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OECD: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, created in 1960. It includes the major industrialized countries and has 34 members as of January 2016.

), and a refusal from the G20 G20 The Group of Twenty (G20 or G-20) is a group made up of nineteen countries and the European Union whose ministers, central-bank directors and heads of state meet regularly. It was created in 1999 after the series of financial crises in the 1990s. Its aim is to encourage international consultation on the principle of broadening dialogue in keeping with the growing economic importance of a certain number of countries. Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, USA, UK and the European Union (represented by the presidents of the Council and of the European Central Bank). to take measures on bonuses and speculation. Everyone agrees to intensify the race for profit based on the pretext that this will eventually lead to job creation.

The Finance Ministers’ overall objective is a return to growth, even if it turns out to be unequal and harmful to the environment. In no way do they question the system which has proven to be a failure. If they do not react, the dismantling of the State will be pushed to its limits, and the entire cost of the crisis will be borne by the very people who are its victims, while those responsible for it will emerge more powerful than ever before. Today, banks and hedge funds Hedge funds Unlisted investment funds that exist for purposes of speculation and that seek high returns, make liberal use of derivatives, especially options, and frequently make use of leverage. The main hedge funds are independent of banks, although banks frequently have their own hedge funds. Hedge funds come under the category of shadow banking. have been saved with public money without offering the slightest tangible compensation in return.

We believe public policy should be reformulated as follows: “You large creditors have greatly profited from public debt, but fundamental human rights are seriously threatened and inequalities are widening at an alarming rate. Our priority is to maintain and guarantee these fundamental rights and it is you, the large creditors, who should pay for this. We are going to tax you according to the amount that you loaned back to us: the money will not come out of your pockets but the loans will disappear. Count yourselves lucky that we are not demanding back the interest we have already paid you to the detriment of citizens’ interests!” In a nutshell, we support the idea of taxing the large creditors, such as banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds, as well as wealthy individuals according to the money owed to them. This tax revenue would give the State the means to increase social spending and create socially useful and economically sustainable employment. It would eliminate public debt in the North, without making the people who are the victims of this crisis pay. At the same time, it would place the entire burden on those who have caused or worsened the crisis, and have already greatly profited from this debt.

Our proposition would entail a radical change towards a policy of redistribution of wealth, benefiting those who produce wealth and not those who speculate on it. If coupled with the cancellation of foreign public debt of developing countries and a series of reforms (including wide ranging fiscal reform, a radical reduction in working hours without loss of wages and with compensatory hiring, and the transfer of the financial sector to the public domain with citizen control), these measures could enable us to emerge from the current crisis with social justice and in the interests of the people.

Translated by Francesca Denley in collaboration with Charles la Via

Damien Millet, Sophie Perchellet and Eric Toussaint are spokesman, vice-president of CADTM France and president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, www.cadtm.org).

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.

Damien Millet

professeur de mathématiques en classes préparatoires scientifiques à Orléans, porte-parole du CADTM France (Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde), auteur de L’Afrique sans dette (CADTM-Syllepse, 2005), co-auteur avec Frédéric Chauvreau des bandes dessinées Dette odieuse (CADTM-Syllepse, 2006) et Le système Dette (CADTM-Syllepse, 2009), co-auteur avec Eric Toussaint du livre Les tsunamis de la dette (CADTM-Syllepse, 2005), co-auteur avec François Mauger de La Jamaïque dans l’étau du FMI (L’esprit frappeur, 2004).

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Sophie Perchellet

CADTM France (Paris)

Other articles in English by Sophie Perchellet (3)



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