As the Bubbles Burst

Once again, global capitalism has imploded. But why is everyone acting so surprised? This phenomenon has been happening on a fairly regular basis since 1971. This time, however, it appears different. Could it be because the new engine of growth for the world economy has now, unbelievably, become the Chinese Communist Party? Could it be that the Chinese rulers had become so fascinated by the capitalist imperative of unlimited growth, and the basic tenets of Marxist analysis have been long forgotten in Beijing? Bubble number one is that the US no longer holds the keys to the capitalist kingdom.

Unlike the crises of 1971, 1975-1978, 1981-1983, 1987, 1992, 1998, 2001 and 2008, Black Monday 2015 has deep roots outside of the US and can’t simply be “cured” by either cheap foreign labor or the US Federal Reserve. For the last seven years, China and its colossal, internal development debt machine have been the magnet for foreign investment funds that boosted the world economy out of the doldrums created in the wake of the 2008 US and global housing-securitization crisis. This situation is certainly unprecedented. Unlike the stock market crash of 1987, or the banking crisis in 1992 due to the Mexican default, or the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2001 or even the global financial meltdown of 2008, dropping Federal Reserve interest rates is now out of the question. These same rates have been near zero for the last seven years. As far as cheap foreign labor is concerned, if workers can’t afford the products they produce, then who will buy them?

Now it is the Chinese bubble which has burst. As the vast global investment pool has begun to leave China as well as all the other so-called emerging markets (which provided China with the raw materials for its boom), globalization and financial manipulation are simply without leverage. This vast exodus of capital has left the communist authorities in China with one of two choices: Either raise interest rates in order to make Chinese investments more attractive, or devalue the Chinese currency in order to make exports cheaper. Both choices hold stark risks. Raising rates in the middle of an economic slowdown could mean a far greater slowdown. However, cheapening the national currency would undoubtedly lead to a sharper level of investment withdrawal from the country. Bubble number two is that the Chinese communist model of capitalism holds no relief from the contradictions inherent within the globalization of the capitalist system — that is, that supply doesn’t create its own demand.

What has become crystal clear in the present crisis is that, however gigantic the numbers of global capitalism have become (to the point of total unreality), without their continued growth they simply begin to evaporate. Trillions of dollars are lost in a matter of hours as investment “psychology” shifts. In essence, however, this has been the goal of the US Federal Reserve. To make everyone in America appear richer than they actually were, interest rates were dropped to near zero in order to create a false boom in global financial assets. American institutions borrowed cheaply in order to pursue any financial asset with a higher interest rate return. This could be Turkish government bonds, South African mineral stocks or Brazilian soybean futures. It didn’t matter; as long as China boomed, everyone was okay. As long as the markets stayed up, greed set in, and the various bubbles ballooned outward.

In the US, interest rates were kept low through US Treasury buy-backs from the Federal Reserve. From the start of the crisis in 2008 to Black Monday 2015, the Federal Reserve’s liabilities have mushroomed to upwards of 4.5 trillion dollars of new cash into the banking system. With interest rates pushed down to near zero (artificially), US corporations borrowed cheaply in order to buy their own stock. This pushed their stock price upward and created a false sense of stability throughout the financial sector, and therefore the entire economy.

Instead of investing in productive enterprise with plant and equipment expansion (creating good paying jobs for the working class), financial stock manipulation became the corporate rule-of-thumb. Wall St. boomed, while Main St. languished. Instead of the stock market reflecting a rising of all boats, the stock market bubble of 2010-2015 was an insider job which essentially benefited only the top ten or twenty percent of the US population that owned financial certificates. In other words, why pay workers decent wages in the US when cheap labor was readily available anywhere else in the world? Bubble number three is that the Keynesian monetary and fiscal manipulation of the financial system has become a bankrupt model, both intellectually and financially, because it has failed to create real demand without massive amounts of debt.

“In the end”, Keynes said, “we are all dead”. Of course, he was referring to the contradictions and limitations of capitalism. Well, the end is now in sight. As global capitalism collapses once again, Muslim, Christian and Jewish sources of both economic and ecological wisdom must begin to carry the day. For the final bubble is the biggest bubble of all. And that bubble is the secular belief that human economy is greater and more important than global ecology. Humanity has forgotten that the world does not belong to us, but that we are simply a part of creation, and it is our job to care for that creation and not attempt to exploit it for our own greedy ends.

Unfortunately, this last great bubble is the one bubble that has yet to burst. Because of its three-hundred-year staying power, our planet is now in jeopardy. Even if there were enough productive enterprises to continue a more normal economic expansion, we would still need the resources of three planet earths to achieve their doubling or tripling within the next few generations. Our atmosphere could simply not contain such an expansion. With capitalism, the growth never ends. But in the Jewish understanding of economy, growth always has an end, and then a return to a beginning. This is called Jubilee, and it is the essence of Jewish economics. What has been clear over the last fifty years of my adult life is that all secular economic systems have failed, and that now there are no other economic solutions on the horizon. Meanwhile, the level of human- induced carbon dioxide within the atmosphere continues to rise.

Yes, there has been human progress over the last three hundred years, unbelievable human progress. Certainly elements of capitalist development are inevitably responsible. But the planet still remains incredibly vulnerable to ecological imbalances, and the human population continues to suffer from the whipsawing of capitalist crises and their unendurable inequality.

Both the Torah and the Koran have a Biblical and agrarian agenda which could help humanity understand that there are Divine answers to the pressing questions of our time. Unless the wars and turmoil in the Middle East stop, this Divine agenda will never be able to lead, and global chaos will continue to ensue. Yes, the survival of the Jewish state is a crucial element in the Divine plan, but there must be more to the plan than the survival of any one people. For the world to be redeemed, all the peoples of the world must flourish within the strict limitations of God’s incredible creation. We as a species are being tested, and history as we’ve known it will not suffice.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).