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A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare | A Lightning War for Liberty

A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare | A Lightning War for Liberty.

Posted on March 26, 2014

One of the primary topics on this website since it was launched has been the extremely destructive and explosive rise of crony capitalism throughout the USA. It is crony capitalism, as opposed to free markets, that has led to the gross inequality in American society we have today. Cronyism for the super wealthy starts at the very top with the Federal Reserve System, which consists of topdown economic central planners who manipulate the money supply and hence interest rates for the benefit of the financial oligarch class. It then trickles down through lobbyist money into the halls of Washington D.C., and ultimately filters down to local governments and then the average person on the street gaming welfare or disability.

As such, we now live in a culture of corruption and theft that is pervasive throughout society. One thing that bothers me to no end is when fake Republicans focus their criticism on struggling people who need welfare or food stamps to survive. They have this absurd notion that the whole welfare system doesn’t start with the multinational corporations and Central Banks at the top. In reality, it is at the top where the cancer starts, and that’s where we should focus in order to achieve real change.

That’s where a new report from Open the Books on corporate welfare comes in. In a preview of the publication, the organization notes:

If Republicans are going to get truly serious about cutting government spending, they are going to have to snip the umbilical cord from the Treasury to corporate America.  You can’t reform welfare programs for the poor until you’ve gotten Daddy Warbucks off the dole. Voters will insist on that — as well they should.

So why hasn’t it happened? Why hasn’t the GOP pledged to end corporate welfare as we know it?

Part of the explanation is that too many have gotten confused about the difference between free-market capitalism and crony capitalism.

Federal_Contract_Spending_Spirals

And part of the problem is corporate welfare that is so well hidden from public view in the budget that no one has really measured how big this mountain of giveaway cash to the Fortune 500 really is. Finding out is like trying to break into the CIA.

Until now. Open the Books, an Illinois-based watchdog group, has been scrupulously monitoring all federal grants, loans, direct payments and insurance subsidies flowing to individuals and companies.

It’s an attempt to force federal agencies to release information on where the $4 trillion budget is really spent — and Open the Books will release a new report on corporate welfare payments to the Fortune 100 companies from 2000 to 2012.

Over that period, the 100 received $1.2 trillion in payments from the federal government.

That number does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars in housing, bank and auto company bailouts in 2008 and 2009, because those payments and where they went are kept mostly invisible in the federal agency books.

As suspected, the biggest welfare queens in the U.S. are the super wealthy themselves, but they’d rather you focus on some single mother on welfare simply trying to survive.

The full report can be downloaded here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

How Cronyism And Corruption Brought Down Detroit | Zero Hedge

How Cronyism And Corruption Brought Down Detroit | Zero Hedge.

Detroit U.S.A.: Once the most prosperous city in America. With a booming manufacturing sector and cultural magnetism, the city had bright horizons after World War II. But as the 1960?s rolled in, the marriage of Big Business and Big Government overtook Detroit. The central planners in government needed the powerful corporations, and the powerful corporations came to depend on the bureaucracy, too. The marriage worked well for the politicians and for their corporate cronies, but Detroit itself entered a decades-long decline. America watched as Detroit slowly bled people, jobs and revenue. Politicians tried spending money. They tried raising taxes. The more they taxed and spent, the faster the city declined.

 

Detroit still had its “Big Three” auto manufacturers, until two of its crown jewels, General Motors and Chrysler, imploded in 2008 under the weight of reckless and subsidized mismanagement.

Instead of allowing market forces to rebuild Detroit and the auto industry, the United States handed billions of dollars to General Motors and Chrysler.

Five years later, the city of Detroit is bankrupt and almost $20 billion dollars in debt. Meanwhile, General Motors has a cash balance of over $20 billion, still owes the taxpayers over $10 billion dollars that outgoing CEO Dan Akerson said will not be paid, and the company continues to benefit from an unprecedented $18 billion tax gift from the bankruptcy.

Why is General Motors walking away with billions while Detroit dies?

How did so much money change hands between the world’s most powerful corporate leaders and government officials while delivering on so little of the promise sold to America by central planners? Bankrupt: How Cronyism & Corruption Took Down Detroit answers this question, and many others.

Complete with the candid analysis of pundits, journalists, analysts and government officials, sourcing of historical news and government archives, and on-scene interviews with everyday Detroiters, Bankrupt sheds light on what happened to Detroit, and who is to blame.

 

And most importantly, it asks “What is next for the Motor City?”

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Two Powder Kegs Ready to Blow: China & India

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Two Powder Kegs Ready to Blow: China & India.

China and India are both powder kegs awaiting a spark for the same reason: systemic corruption.

The conventional view of China and India sports not one but two pair of rose-colored glasses: Chindia (even the portmanteau word is chirpy) is the world’s engine of growth, and this rapid economic growth is chipping away at structural political and social problems.

Nice, especially from a distance. But on the ground, China and India (not Chindia–there is no such entity) are both powder kegs awaiting a spark for the same reason: systemic corruption in every nook and cranny of both nations. The conventional rose-colored view is that corruption will inevitably decline with modernization and economic growth.

This is simply wrong on multiple levels: as the opportunities for crony/neofeudal skimming increase, so does corruption. As the scale of the economy increases, so does the scale of corruption.

China’s “princelings” (offspring and family of the inner political circle and top apparatchiks of the Communist Party) are billionaires, not mere millionaires. A recent expose of offshore accounts held by various Chinese billionaires estimated the wealth skimmed and transferred our of China at between $1 trillion and $4 trillion: China’s Epic Offshore Wealth Revealed: How Chinese Oligarchs Quietly Parked Up To $4 Trillion In The Caribbean.

Even the top number is a gross underestimate, as $4 trillion only accounts for the skim of the top layer; beneath that 1/10th of 1% is the rest of the top 1%, tens of thousands of lower-level political functionaries who skimmed billions of dollars forcing peasants off their land and selling development rights to crony developers–to name but one common skim of many.

A more realistic estimate might be $6 trillion–half of China’s gross domestic product (GDP). Consider the ramifications of the many models of systemic corruption at the top: How a PLA General Built a Web of Corruption to Amass a Fortune.

I know from confidential on-the-ground sources that a significant percentage of the entire top political layer of 3rd, 4th and 5th tier cities have left China for well-padded nests in the West: Australia and Canada are popular choices, as the right to immigrate can be purchased–just bring in the requisite sum of cash looted from peasants. (The U.S. also grants special immigration status to those bringing in major capital and declaring their intent to hire Americans: easy enough with looted millions.)

(Sidebar on how even the lowly functionary skimmer can get huge sums out of China: take a “vacation” to Macau. Buy $1 million in casino chips with your looted yuan. Lose $50,000 at the tables and then go cash in your remaining chips in U.S. dollars. Deposit the dollars in a Hong Kong or other Asian bank and then transfer the cash to L.A. or Vancouver to buy a house for cash. Repeat as necessary.)

All this systemic corruption is accepted as long as the conveyor belt of wealth is moving: that the previous political Plutocracy skimmed their $4 trillion and absconded with their ill-gotten gains is OK to their replacements, as long as there is another $6 trillion to be skimmed.

The problem is there isn’t another $6 trillion to be skimmed. It has taken an enormous credit bubble of $23 trillion (The $23 Trillion Credit Bubble In China Is Starting To Collapse – What Next?) plus the monumental credit expansion of the shadow banking system in China to enable the skimming of $6 trillion by the political/financial Plutocracy.

This $23 trillion credit bubble is roughly twice the size of China’s entire GDP ($12 trillion). That this credit bubble is generating less return in the real economy is obvious–diminishing returns have set in with a vengeance.

The revolution never starts with the oppressed peasantry–it starts with the bourgeois who bought the fantasy of another $6 trillion to be skimmed and credit bubbles/ real estate valuations that never go down. The leadership in China has managed to create a propaganda bubble of epic proportions: Chinese leaders are supposed to have a long-term view that puts the West to shame.

Alas, the secret view of China’s leadership is considerably shorter-term: U.S. dollars in Swiss bank accounts, real estate in Vancouver, San Francisco, New York City, London, Geneva, etc. and whatever other assets can be scooped up with looted billions.

Corruption isn’t just abstract: Much of China’s building boom will not last a generation, much less a long-term timeline. This toppled tower is an apt metaphor for China’s financialized crony-capitalist credit bubble and its shoddy corruption-riddled construction:

Nine held over Shanghai building collapse
The Chinese authorities are holding nine people in connection with the collapse of a 13-storey block of flats, raising fresh questions about corruption and shoddy practices in China’s construction industry.

China’s Towers and U.S. McMansions: When Things Fall Apart (Literally) (April 14, 2010).

India’s system is different, but equally corrupt. Combine feudalism and religious tradition with a helping of modern crony capitalism and neofeudal looting, add a dash of post-Imperial flavoring and voila, corruption on every level.

The sad irony of this pervasive, systemic corruption that enriches the Plutocracy is that the average Indian and Chinese citizen is basically honest. Non-Elites will tolerate the corruption at the top as long as they believe their own prosperity is advancing. Once it becomes clear that their prosperity has been hijacked by the Plutocracy, tolerance of oppression, corruption and the vast inequalities of wealth being skimmed by the well-connected few will wear thin.

The spark that ignites the powder keg cannot be predicted or suppressed. Don’t look to the disenfranchised peasantry as the source, though they are ready enough to cast off the Powers That Be; look to those who believed the gilded promises issued by the looters and discovered that the fruits of their labor and their hopes is disillusionment on a scale as vast as the skim looted from their nation by their self-serving leadership.

Chris Martenson: “Endless Growth” Is the Plan & There Is No Plan B | Peak Prosperity

Chris Martenson: “Endless Growth” Is the Plan & There Is No Plan B | Peak Prosperity.

After five years of aggressive Federal Reserve and government intervention in our monetary and financial systems, it’s time to ask: Where are we? 

The “plan,” such as it has been, is to let future growth sweep everything under the rug. To print some money, close their eyes, cross their fingers, and hope for the best.

On that, I give them an “A” for wishful thinking – and an “F” for actual results.

For the big banks, the plan has involved giving them free money so that they can be “healthy.” This has been conducted via direct (TARP, etc.) and semi-direct bailouts (such as offering them money at zero percent and then paying them 0.25% for stashing that same money back at the Fed), and indirectly via telegraphing future market interventions so that the big banks could ‘front run’ those moves to make virtually risk-free money.

This has been fabulously lucrative for the big banks that are in the inner circle. As we’ve noted somewhat monotonously, the big banks enjoy “win ratios” on their trading activities that are, well, implausible at best.

Here’s a chart of J.P. Morgan’s trading revenues for the first three quarters of 2013, showing how many days the bank made or lost money:

(Source)

Do you see the number of days the bank lost money? No? Oh, that’s right. There weren’t any.

Now, for you or me, trading involves losses, or risk. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. There appears to be zero risk at all to JP Morgan’s trading activities. They won virtually all of the time over this 9-month period.

That’s like living at a casino poker table for months and never losing.

Of course, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and a few other U.S.-based banks were able to turn in roughly similar results. Pretty sweet deal being a bank these days, huh?

So one might think, Well, that’s just how banks are now. Bernanke’s flood of liquidity is allowing them to simply ‘win’ at trading. If true (which it appears to be), we can’t call this trading. The act of “trading” implies risk. And it’s clear that what the big banks are doing carries no risk; otherwise they would be posting at least some degree of losses. We should call it sanctioned theft, corporate welfare, cronyism  the list goes on. And it is most grossly unfair, as well as corrosive to the long-term health of our markets.

Therefore, sadly, I have to give Bernanke an A++ on his objective of handing the banks a truly massive amount of risk-free money. He’s done fabulously well there.

But will this be sufficient to carry the day? Will this be enough to set us back on the path of high growth?

And even if we do magically return to the sort of high-octane growth that we used to enjoy back in the day, will that really solve anything?

Endless Growth Is Plan A Through Plan Z

The problem I see with the current rescue plans is that they are piling on massive amounts of new debts.

These debts represent obligations taken on today that will have to be repaid in the future. And the only way repayment can possibly happen is if the future consists of a LOT of uninterrupted growth upwards from here.

It’s always easiest to make a case when you go to silly extremes, so let’s examine Japan. It’s no secret that Japan is piling on sovereign debt and just going nuts in an attempt to get its economy working again. At least that’s the publicly stated reason. The real reason is to keep its banking system from imploding.

After all, exponential debt-based financial systems function especially poorly in reverse. So Japan keeps piling on the debt in rather stunning amounts:

(Source)

That’s up nearly 40% in three years (!).

It’s the people of Japan who are on the hook for all that borrowing, now standing well over 200% of GDP. So here’s the kicker: In 2010, Japan had a population of 128 million. In 2100, the ‘best case’ projected outcome for Japan is that its population will stand at 65 million. The worst case? 38 million.

So…who, exactly, is going to be paying all of that debt back?

The answer: Japan’s steadily shrinking pool of citizens.

This is simple math, and the trends are very, very clear. Japan has a swiftly rising debt load and a falling population. Whoever it is that is buying 30-year Japanese debt at 1.69% today either cannot perform simple math, or, more likely, is merely playing along for the moment but plans on getting out ahead of everybody else.

But the fact remains that Japan’s long-term economic prospects are pretty terrible. And they will remain so as long as the Japanese government, slave to the concept of debt-based money, cannot think of any other response to the current economic condition besides trying to shock the patient back to vigorous life by borrowing and spending like crazy.

If, instead, Japan had used its glory days of manufacturing export surpluses to build up real stores of actual wealth that would persist into the future, then the prognosis could be entirely different. But it didn’t.

The U.S. Is No Different

Except for some timing differences, the U.S. is largely in the same place as Japan twenty years ago and following a nearly identical trajectory.  Currently, it’s an economic powerhouse, folks are generally optimistic on the domestic economic front (relatively speaking), and its politicians are making exceptionally short-sighted decisions. But the long-term math is the same.

There’s too much debt representing too many promises. The only possible way those can be met is if rapid and persistent economic growth returns.

However, even under the very best of circumstances, where the economy rises from here without a hitch  say, at historically usual rates of around 3.5% in real terms (6% or more, nominally)  we know that various pension and entitlement programs will still be in big trouble.

Worse, we know that the environment is screaming for attention based on our poor stewardship. Addressing issues such as over-farming, water wastage, and oceanic fishery depletion  to say nothing of carbon levels in the atmosphere – will be hugely expensive.

Likewise, a complete focus on consumer borrowing and spending at the exclusion of everything else (except bailing out big banks, of course), along with a dab of excessive state security spending, has left the U.S. with an enormous infrastructure bill that also must be paid, one way or the other. That is, short-term decisions have left us with long-term challenges.

But what happens if that expected (required?) high rate of growth does not appear?

What if there are hitches and glitches along the way in the form of recessions, as is certain to be the case?  There always have been moments of economic retreat, despite the Fed’s heroic recent attempts to end them. Then what happens?

Well, that’s when an already implausible story of ‘recovery’ becomes ludicrous.

If we take a closer look at the projections, the idea that we’re going to grow – even remotely – into a gigantic future that will consume all entitlement shortfalls within its cornucopian maw becomes all but laughable.

Of course, the purpose of this exercise is not to make fun of anyone, nor to mock any particular beliefs, but to create an actionable understanding of the true nature of where we really are and what you should be doing about it.

In Part II: Why Your Own Plan Better Be Different, we examine more deeply the unsustainability of our current economic system and why it is folly to assume “things will get better from here.”

Given the unforgiving math at the macro altitudes, the need for adopting a saner, more prudent plan at the individual level is the best option available to us now.

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

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