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The British Left is usurped and IMF austerity begins 1976

We left the trail last time with James Callaghan telling the British Labour Party Annual Conference on September 28, 1976 that governments can no longer spend their “way out of a recession” and that the Keynesian approach was an option that “no longer exists”. He even suggested that the Keynesian approach to stabilising economic cycles was never valid. Meanwhile, his Chancellor, Denis Healey, by then convinced that Monetarist had validity, was working behind the scenes at the Conference to duchess or beat his colleagues in submission and accept the TINA approach to bringing in the IMF. They worked hard to construct the situation as a crisis of massive proportions although much of the ‘crisis’ was the result of their extreme reluctance to allow the pound to depreciate, to impose capital controls to stop the non-productive speculative outflows that were causing the currency to drop in value, and to accept that in the Post Bretton Woods era they no longer had to match their fiscal deficits with private debt issuance. But in doing so, the British government effectively created their own ‘funding’ crisis. Things came to a head in November 1976 within the Labour Cabinet, which was still deeply divided over the IMF issue. We finish this analysis of Britain and the IMF today by tracing events at the end of 1976 before providing a general summation of what it was all about.

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The conspiracy to bring British Labour to heel 1976

This is a further instalment in tracing through the British currency crisis in 1976 and its retreat to the IMF later in that year. Today we discuss the tensions within the British Labour Party at the time, the Callaghan Speech to the Blackpool Annual Labour Conference on September 28, 1976, the behind the scenes work by Denis Healey and some clandestine activity between the US and British bureaucracies which was aimed to bring Britain to heel, one way or another and to overcome its ‘immorality’ – yes, the US thought the fiscal deficits the Brits were running were immoral.

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The 1976 British austerity shift – a triumph of perception over reality

This is a further instalment in tracing through the British currency crisis in 1976 and its retreat to the IMF later in that year. Today we discuss whether it was the IMF that forced the change of direction for British Labour or all their own dirty work with the IMF just being used to depoliticise what Callaghan and Healey wanted to do (and were doing) anyway. We trace through the way the leadership of the British Labour government were building the case for austerity and the path they followed leading up to the request to the IMF for a stand-by loan. Far from being the only alternative available, the course taken by the Government was a triumph of ideology and perception over evidence and reality.

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The British Cabinet divides over the IMF negotiations in 1976

This blog continues the discussion of the British currency crisis in 1976. Today we discuss the growing discontent within the British government over the need to negotiate the IMF loan in 1976. While it has been held out that Britain had no alternative but to impose austerity and allow the IMF to dictate policy, the fact is that an alternative was proposed which would have been a superior option.

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Iceland proves the nation state is alive and well

On May 27, 2016, Statistics Iceland (the national statistical agency) released the news – Iceland economy to grow by 4.3% in 2016. The nation is enjoying strong household consumption and investment growth and tourism is driving export growth. Inflation is low and the exchange rate, which depreciated sharply during the crisis, is stable, if not steadily appreciating again. Compare that to the Eurozone Member States, which are in varying states of moribund. We also learned this week that the Icelandic government has increased the intensity of its capital controls and is forcing speculative capital to behave itself. For those who think the state is dead, particularly those on the Left who promote grand (delusional) schemes of a Pan Europe Democracy as the only way of taking on the powers of corporations, Iceland proves that neo-liberalism has to work through the legislative capacities of sovereign states. Corporations do not have armies (usually). They have to manipulate the legislative process in their favour. The currency-issuing state is still supreme – globalisation or not – and the Right know that. The Left have been duped into believing otherwise. That is what has to change before progress is made in restoring some decency to the policy making process around the world.

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The US government view of the 1976 sterling crisis

This blog continues the discussion of the British currency crisis in 1976. Today we discuss the way the US government was constructing the crisis. They had previously seen Europe in terms of military and political threats and had clearly developed a range of interventions in Europe (NATO, military bases etc) in response to their fear of Communism. But, it was clear that the US began to believe that the on-going financial turmoil that accompanied the OPEC oil shocks at a time when the world was trying to adjust to the collapse of the Bretton Woods system (and the Smithsonian agreement reprise), was undermining what they called their “assumptions of political stability” and increasing, in their paranoiac minds, the threat of the spread of communism. They considered that the IMF would have to be ‘steered’ to take a larger role in this period of turmoil to restore financial stability – a precondition for political stability (in their eyes). And if they couldn’t directly order the IMF to act in the perceived interests of the US government, then they would do it informally – through “‘conversations’ rather than meetings”. It is a very interesting period because the US clearly wanted to use the IMF to influence “the future shape of the political economy of Great Britain”. The ‘crisis’ was, in effect, manufactured to give those ambitions ‘ground cover’. At least, that is one plausible perspective of what happened in 1976.

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The Bacon-Eltis intervention – Britain 1976

This blog continues the discussion of the British currency crisis in 1976. It traces the growing anti-government influence on key players within the British Labour government as the pressures on the exchange rate were mounting in the early part of 1976. While the Chancellor was clearly influenced by the growing dominance of Monetarist thought, he also fell under the influence of the so-called Bacon-Eltis thesis, which argued that the growth of the public sector in the 1960s and early 1970s in Britain had starved the private sector of resources, which had led, directly, to the declining growth, high inflation and elevated unemployment. The conservative mainstream used this thesis to call for harsh cut backs in public spending and the British Labour government were increasingly cowed into submission by the vehemence of this mounting opposition. The problem is that the ‘thesis’ didn’t stand up to critical scrutiny, although that fact didn’t seem to bother those who used it to advance their anti-government ideological agenda. This blog is longer than usual because I felt it important to put this part of the story into one continuous narrative rather than break it up into two or three separate, shorter blogs.

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The Wall Street-US Treasury Complex

Today I am in Barcelona, Spain after travelling from Trujillo (in the western part of Spain). Today’s blog continues the analysis I have been providing which aims to advance our understanding of why the British government called in the IMF in 1976 and why it fell prey to a growing neo-liberal consensus, largely orchestrated by the Americans. Yesterday, we analysed the way in which the IMF reinvented itself after its raison d’être was terminated with the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system. Today’s part of the story, is to trace the growing US influence on the IMF and the way it manipulated that institution to further its ‘free market’ agenda on a global scale. We will consider what Jagdish Bhagwati called the “Wall Street-Treasury complex”, which referred to the way in which financial market interests in the US combined with (pressured) the US Treasury Department to advance the myth that liberalisation of global capital flows would deliver massive benefits in the post-1971 period after the convertible currency, fixed exchange rate system collapsed.

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The Left confuses globalisation with neo-liberalism and gets lost

Financial Times journalist Wolfgang Münchau’s article (April 24, 2016) – The revenge of globalisation’s losers – rehearses a common theme, and one which those on the Left have become intoxicated with (not implicating the journalist among them). The problem is that the basic tenet is incorrect and by failing to separate the process of globalisation (integrated multinational supply chains and global capital flows) from what we might call economic neo-liberalism, the Left leave themselves exposed and too ready to accept notions that the capacity of the state has become compromised and economic policy is constrained by global capital. This is a further part in my current series that will form the thrust of my next book (coming out later this year). I have broken sequence a bit with today’s blog given I have been tracing the lead up to the British decision to call in the IMF in 1976. More instalments in that sequence will come next week as I do some more thinking and research – I am trawling through hundreds of documents at present (which is fun but time consuming). But today picks up on Wolfgang Münchau’s article from the weekend and fits nicely into the overall theme of the series. It also keeps me from talking about deflation in Australia (yes, announced today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics) as the Federal government keeps raving on about cutting its fiscal deficit (statement next Tuesday). I will write about those dreaded topics in due course.

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The 1976 currency crisis

Today, I take a further step in advancing our understanding of why the British government called in the IMF in 1976 and why it fell prey to a growing neo-liberal consensus, largely orchestrated by the Americans. The assertion by British Labour Prime Minster James Callaghan on September 28, 1976 that Britain had to end its ‘Keynesian’ inclinations and pursue widespread market deregulation and fiscal austerity has been taken to reflect a situation where the British government had no other alternative. His words have echoed down through the years and constituted one of the major turning points in ‘Left’ history. Successive, so-called progressive governments and politicians have repeated the words in one way or another. The impact has been that they have increasingly imbibed the neo-liberal Kool-Aid and have, seemingly forgotten that their were options at the time that the British government rejected, which would have significantly altered the course of history. The rejections were ideological rather than based on substance. For all intents and purposes, the British Labour Party, in government, had become the first practising neo-liberal government in British history. Britain just became a part of the US-led policy move that aimed to tilt the world economy heavily in favour of the profit-seeking aspirations of the corporate sector and the financial market sector (‘Wall Street’), in particular. The US government became the international political conduit for ‘Wall Street’ influence and the growing influence of the ‘City’ in London, also allowed these neo-liberal ideas to permeate the policy making circles in Britain. But it wasn’t just a permeation that was going on. The US used institutions such as the IMF to conduct brute force attacks on the prosperity of nations to undermine the viability of their public sectors and to shift more of the national income and national assets into the hands of capital. It was a brazen and very determined shift in world affairs. The ‘Left’ should never hold the decisions that were taken by the British government at the time as an inevitability of global capitalism.

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