Debt Forgiveness

Austerity Measures: Can They Be Justified?

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By Viktor Persson

 

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In the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis that incurred a massive economic destabilization on a global level, the neoliberal concept of ‘austerity measures’ have now reached the western hemisphere, with Greece and Spain as its more notable victims. In particular, the Greece bailout, which is allegedly a saving package, has imposed a myriad of conditions and restrictive measures on the Greece economy. The purpose of these structural restrictions is apparently to empower and stabilize the Greece economy, however, the opposite has happened, as has been documented in several high profile investigations.

The concept of austerity measures ranges back to the 17th century, and have more recently been adopted by the neoliberal economic doctrine as a way of dumping market failures on the state and indirectly, on the public. That austerity measures has the capacity of causing detrimental effects for the general public has been proven in Greece, and there is a history of failures with the so-called Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund as part of their lending to developing countries, due to the conditions of austerity that these loans impose on the debtor.

Several independent sources indicate that austerity measures, such as cuts in public spending in the health, education, and other mechanisms of social security, creates human suffering on a widespread scale. With Greece, we have been given the opportunity to closely observe the social catastrophe that is created by austerity. The Truth Committee has noted that, unemployment has gone from 7.3% in 2008 to 27.9% in 2013. Youth unemployment reached a staggering 64.9% in may 2013. Due to cuts in public health expenditure more than 2.5 million persons, or one fourth of the total population of Greece, are without health insurance. Furthermore diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV have increased, and mental health problems have ballooned. Pensions have been reduced by 40 %, which have caused 45 % of Greece pensioners to fall below the poverty line. 500,000 people lives in conditions of homelessness, insecure or inadequate housing. To put it mildly, there is a humanitarian crisis in Greece.

What have been left out from the discussion on austerity measures are human rights, primarily the economic and social rights established by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This convention is binding on the contracting states – and Greece together with the Eurozone countries has all ratified the convention. You would hence think, that in detailing the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the Troika, that contains the austerity conditions imposed on Greece, there must have been a discussion on the potential impacts on Human Rights that the austerity measures could create. However, there has not been such a discussion. Instead the EU member states, the EU commission, EU central bank and the International Monetary Fund have displayed a disregard for how the austerity policies would affect the Human Rights of the people of Greece. Court rulings by the highest Greece court that have ruled the pension cuts as unconstitutional and as a breach of Human Rights, have in the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding been referred to as ‘fiscal risks’. Such a use of vocabulary when referring to the Human Rights is nothing short of remarkable.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted the Guiding principles on foreign debt and human rights in July 2012. According to paragraph 56 ‘Debt relief efforts must not compromise the provision of basic services. In particular, debt relief conditions that may adversely impact the realization of human rights or undermine development in the beneficiary State must be avoided’. The UN General assembly has in September 2015 adopted a resolution (A/69/L.84), which defines nine principles on how a debt restructuring process should be directed. Among these principles is the principle of sustainability, which implies that sovereign debt restructuring should lead to a stable debt situation in the debtor state, preserving creditors’ rights while promoting economic growth and sustainable development, reducing economic and social costs, ensuring the stability of the international financial system and respecting human rights.

Not surprisingly, these principles were adopted by vote and not by consensus, with the developed countries claiming that Human Rights should not be a consideration when it comes to debt and debt relief. However this position cannot be accepted as legitimate. Obviously Human Rights is and must be an important part of economical decisions, because the very foundation of economics is Human Beings. The consequence of separating economics from Human Rights is such perversities as slavery. Possibly, this is what the new era of austerity and debt has become, a more refined form of slavery, which is free from the moral constraints of its predecessors, because it is now justified with the slick vocabulary of neoliberalism and market economy. Though, when scrutinized, austerity measures are a soulless machine working for an anonymous creditor, fueled with the accepted belief that this is the way things must be. The debt must allegedly be paid back at all costs… because… well because, the market wants it that way.

To create a heaven on earth, it is clear that all forms of commercial agreements, debt contracts accounted for, must be able to be declared null and void if they happen to breach Human Rights. This is how it should have always been, and we must ask ourselves, why this has not yet happened. The United Nations has been around for 60 years, yet still, flagrant violations of Human Rights are allowed with reference to commercial agreements. What is missing; motivation, drive, integrity or compassion? And how come we accept and allow the life of countless human beings to be reduced to numbers on a balance sheet?

Clearly, there is a rift between the reality of our world, and the principles conceptualized in our Human Rights instruments. The process of making these principles a living reality will without a doubt be a challenging venture, yet it will be through the respect for Humans on a global level, that we will be able to create a world that truly worth living in. And let us not forget that there are solutions to these problems. Even though the massive bureaucracy that is involved can make us as individuals feel as if we are small ants facing the enormous Goliath, the system is comprised of individual human beings, like you and me. By standing up, one by one, and supporting a new direction in politics and economics, we will have an impact. In democracy we each have one vote, and that is how we will be able to shift direction, through coming together and unanimously voting for a new world that is best for all.

 

Investigate the Living Income Guaranteed Proposal

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Micro Credits – A Solution For Poverty?

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By Viktor Persson

After the Norwegian Nobel prize committee decided to give the United States president Barack Obama the peace price, a president that later came to continue to war in Iraq, and also fund insurgents in Syria, I seriously started to doubt the reasoning skills of the members of this Nobel Prize committee. And after having watched the documentary ‘The Micro Debt’ by Tom Heinemann, I have concluded that the Nobel Prize committee (at least those handing out the peace prize) do not know anything about what it means to create actual peace in this world. Because when they decided to give Muhammad Yunus the peace price, for having founded the Grameen Bank, and invented the concept of micro loans, and for thereby apparently having found a solution to poverty, they were obviously not using basic mathematics to assess the outflows of such loan methods.

YunusThough, before we dive into the basic mathematics of Micro Debt and whether this can be a solution for poverty or not, let me share the story of Muhammad Yunus, his bank, and the stories that has begun to surface about his money lending practices. It begins in 1976 when Yunus (supposedly) found out that small loans could make a disproportionate difference in a poor person’s life. According to Wikipedia, the first loans Yunus gave, made it possible for the borrowers to profit. Yunus business expanded, and by July 2007, his bank had issued around US$6.38 billion to 7.4 million borrowers.

As mentioned above, Yunus was awarded the peace price in 2006 for his efforts to create economic and social development. However after the release of the documentary ‘The Micro Debt’ the Bangladeshi government decided to review Yunus bank, and Yunus himself was removed as Managing Director of his bank. This is not particularly strange considering the claims that are made in the documentary, and the compelling evidence that it presents, that the micro debt is not at all a solution for poverty, but rather a trap, making the large amount of borrowers worse off than before.

Though in this blog I am not going to focus on Yunus and whether the claims made against him are true or not. My focus will instead be the concept of micro credits and whether these loans makes any sense; is it really possible to remove poverty through debt? The Micro Credit concept is not unique to Bangladesh; it has also become popular in South Africa, where it has created the opposite of poverty reduction. The following quote gives a stark description of the situation that unfolded.

”The microcredit-induced problems that emerged in South Africa are two-fold. First, microcredit per se is actually an “anti-developmental” intervention. For one thing, it exists on paper to support the smallest income-generating activities, but in practice is increasingly all about supporting consumption spending. In South Africa, the microcredit movement has created an incredibly risky and expensive way to support the immediate consumption needs of the very poorest.

With few poor individuals possessing a secure income stream that might ensure full repayment of a microloan – unemployment is now higher than it was under apartheid – many of the poorest individuals have been forced to repay their microloan by selling off their household assets, borrowing from friends and family, as well as simply taking out new microloans to repay old ones. For far too many now “financially included” individuals in South Africa, using microcredit to support current spending has been a disastrous and irreversible pathway into chronic poverty.”

Milford Bateman, Microcredit has been a disaster for the poorest in South Africa, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/nov/19/microcredit-south-africa-loans-disaster (2015-09-25)

 

Euros - MicrocreditAcademics and other proponents of the Micro Credit as a way out of poverty makes the assumption that the money lent will be used by the borrower to further his business. This however, is just that, an assumption. Most poor people are just as middle class people, not entrepreneurs, and do not have a very entrepreneurial relationship with money. The loan will be used to buy goods for immediate consumption, and will only serve to put more pressure on the debtor. In worst-case scenario, this will lead the already poor person, to loose the little safety they do have, when they are forced to sell their house to meet interest and installment payments.

Further, those borrowers that are indeed entrepreneurs, and that do invest their money in a business, there is nothing that says that these businesses will be able to profit. Nine out of ten startups fail – and that number will probably be even higher when not only you, but also all of your neighbors, decide to go out on the streets and sell the same thing – which did happen in South Africa.

Then we have the big problem when it comes to Micro Credits, the interest rates. On some of the Micro Loans that interest rate will be at 100 % or more. There is no startup that yields a sufficient profit to cover such a high interest rate. Conveniently for the creditors, most of the debtors are not proficiently literate, and will thus not really understand what they are signing.

Yunus was applauded when he was able to offer loans to poor people that cannot offer any securities in case they would forfeit on their installments. However, to ensure repayment of the loans, Yunus bank have developed a system of “solidarity groups”. It is these small informal groups that together apply for loans and its members act as co-guarantors of repayment and support one another’s efforts at economic self-advancement. Hence Yunus use the psychology of group pressure to ensure that the poor people are sufficiently motivated to pay back their loans. And even though this might seem innocent, in reality it has lead to the most horrific of consequences. One woman that was unable to pay her loan was pressed by her co-guarantors to take up prostitution as a way to meet her installment payment. That woman later poured kerosene on herself, and lit herself on fire. That is the effectiveness of group pressure when survival is in the picture.

What are we then able to conclude from all of this? One thing is clear: We cannot trust academics to know what is right! Even though they have a degree in economics, and even though they have received the Nobel peace price, that does not mean they actually understand how reality operates. Academics have their nose buried in deep books and because of that they will many times miss what is right before their eyes. Hence, we have to educate ourselves, and take responsibility. We cannot rely on a small intellectual elite to know how to solve such things as poverty – this is a problem that involves, and touches all of us, and accordingly it is everyone’s responsibility.

Then, the second thing we can learn: Change cannot come through DEBT. The very reason why we are living in a world where money is increasingly more difficult to obtain is because of DEBT. We live in a debt based system, and this forces us to work more – and even still there will/must be a loser. With debt, someone always loses; someone must be that poor guy that has to pay back the interest.

Real change will come through changing the structural design of the economic system – because only through changing the rules of the game are we removing this incessant fear of survival that is currently holding the entire human race in its grip. That structural change must involve giving all human beings a dignified life, real security, real safety, and easy access to money. This cannot come from debt, as debt is the very instigator of fear, anxiety and stress.

Hence, if you are interested in solving poverty, I suggest that you investigate the Living Income Guaranteed. This is an economical system that will revolutionize the way we think about money – and that is precisely what we need. We need something new, a brand new way of looking at things – a fresh start – free from debt and the old pessimistic ideas that apparently, poverty is unable to be removed from the face of this earth.

 

For more reading:

http://www.marlenvargasdelrazo.com/the-micro-debt-the-nefarious-business-on-poverty/#

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/nov/19/microcredit-south-africa-loans-disaster

 

Watch the documentary ‘The Micro Debt’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=791&v=yoAGKFaqwjM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6KHa4omGG8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdmXLpjykNk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncBXy_AvNUY

 

Investigate the Living Income Guaranteed Proposal

Living Income Guaranteed and the Nationalization of Banks

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Banking in fact is a resource that is required by all citizens equally. If we look at what are resources that should be nationalized, the minimum guideline is that they are all the resources that are equally required by all citizens – this implies water, electricity, roads, transport systems, media, banking, etc. All of the stuff that is necessary for each one to have a decent life, and banking falls within this category.

Banking in a way has become so technological that it is no longer a major job creator; it is simply a management of funds. Therefore, if we nationalize the banks within the approach that with minimum wage one no longer allows personal debt to accumulate – because we will forgive all debt – and the banks facilitate points like building houses and facilitate the placement of motorcars that are debt based on capital investments, which are good for the economic growth – then we are looking here at a very stable banking sector. The profits that come from a minimal interest rate will be distributed according to what is required to facilitate the Living Income Guaranteed in its totality in a particular country.

 

The point of importance to note with the Living Income Guaranteed proposal is that personal tax will be abolished, but taxation in terms of transactions – which is a use tax, a per sales tax and value added tax – those types of taxes would be fair because it would be based on how much one uses the system and those taxes specifically would be accumulated to pay for the functions of government.

To facilitate a society that will stop abusing each other, there is an interesting point that will have to be considered and that is to move away from cash money to total digital money, because with total digital money one will reduce the propensity to deal outside the system and as such to take part in criminal activities. This will also bring an end to the current issues with protests and social dissidence where the problem is being approached from the starting point of demanding others to make the necessary changes, without proposing any agenda that can lead to a feasible practical solution.

 

Within the Living Income Guaranteed system the excuse of some wanting to deal with cash because of ‘not wanting to pay tax’ will become irrelevant. It’ll bring stability for the system because those that do pay tax on their services or their products bought will contribute to the tax resource that that will be collected by the banking sector. And so the financial system for the country will be very stable and the budget will be according to available money; and when necessary, pricing or tax will be adjusted for extra money and the governments will not be allowed to borrow money, so that these exorbitant amounts of interests that even go towards ‘unidentifiable parties’ paid for by the labor of the citizens, can finally be stopped.

With the Living Income Guaranteed system: governmental debt and national debt won’t exist, there is no need for it. Proper accounting, proper planning will prevent this and it is suggested that in the basic Constitution it is placed that: a government cannot make debt. And ‘not being able to make debt’ will also mean that the government will have to spend money on issues that are genuinely relevant where things like war will come to an end and the education, healthcare and all sectors that are relevant to the citizen is what will be considered in the budgets.

Obviously when somebody disagrees with such practical reasonable solutions, one must investigate what criminal activities they are participating in that they want to protect, so that they can have ‘more money’ when it is not necessary because: there is and will be sufficient for all.

 

Equal Life Foundation Research Team

 

Basic Income Guaranteed and the Nationalization of Banks