Global economy heading from contraction to destruction
It’s no wonder that prime minister Cameron now sees no prospect of a “recovery” in the foreseeable future. He’s just stating the obvious.
Twelve European countries are in recession – meaning they have suffered at least two consecutive quarters of contraction: Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the UK.
Germany, the so-called European economic powerhouse, contracted by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2012, after two quarters of less than 1% growth. In France, the growth rate has been less than 1% for four years. In the last three quarters it was 0.0%, 0.3% and 0.2%.
Recession is declining production. It finds its expression in rising unemployment.
The global employment situation is already alarming and shows no sign of recovery in the near future, according to the International Labour Organisation in its World of Work report 2012, optimistically sub-titled “Better jobs for a better economy”.
How do you even begin to comprehend the meaning of 25% unemployment in Spain, rising to 50% amongst its young people?
These rates are already comparable with those of the 1930s Great Depression when while unemployment in the US never rose above 25%, in some countries of Europe it soared as high as 33%. In Germany the unemployment rate reached nearly 25% in 1932. In the UK in the same year it peaked at just over 22%.
And what of the future? The evidence shows that the contraction has hardly begun.
A survey out today shows that the eurozone's manufacturing sector slipped further into decline last month. Firms cut workers at the fastest pace in more than two years in April after new orders fell for the 11th straight month.
The ILO report shows that soaring unemployment is going hand-in-hand with a prolonged investment deficit – another sign that the crisis has entered a new phase.
With no hope of increasing consumption, large firms, seeing no possibility of profits from investment, are holding on to unprecedented levels of cash. In some economies, more optimistic small firms have difficulty accessing credit that would allow them to invest and create jobs, because banks, seeing no hope of a profitable return, aren’t lending.
As the effects of only recently-adopted austerity programmes begin to bite, despite monstrous injections of further credit from the European Central Bank, voices of alarm are beginning to predominate in the pro-growth camp.
Lawrence H. Summers, former US treasury secretary, knows a thing or two. This week he warned:
Once again European efforts to contain crisis have fallen short. It was perhaps reasonable to hope that the European Central Bank’s commitment to provide nearly a trillion dollars in cheap three-year funding to banks would, if not resolve the crisis, contain it for a significant interval. Unfortunately, this has proved little more than a palliative. Weak banks, especially in Spain, have bought more of the debt of their weak sovereigns, while foreigners have sold down their holdings. Markets, seeing banks holding the dubious debt of the sovereigns that stand behind them, grow ever nervous. Again, Europe and the global economy approach the brink.
The brink of what he doesn’t say.
This inevitable self-feeding spiral of contraction was triggered in 2007 when the capitalist economy reached the limits of five decades of growth funded by clouds of fantasy finance. But these five decades started from a low level. The tidal retreat of the 1930s left a mountain of surplus capacity exposed.
The BBC’s Stephanie Flanders economics editor quotes economists at Citi who say “it's been the worst four years for the UK economy in at least 100 years: worse than what happened in the 1920s and 1930s, and worse than anything in the 1970s and 1980s”. “Leaving aside the war”, she told viewers recently.
Since there’s no prospect of a recovery, and austerity is making a bad situation worse, the turn from contraction to destruction is next on the agenda for global capitalism. We need to learn the lessons from history about the political consequences of slump and depression – and quickly – to block the process through mass action aimed at a transfer of power to the 99% asap.
2 May 2012