Wednesday, 10 August 2011


After Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy and US, the next country with high risk sovereign debt is France. The goal of the conservative Sarkozy government is to avoid the almost inevitable downgrade by one of the rating agencies that has been examining France's public debt. The way to achieve the goal is to reduce government deficit 3% by 2013, a goal that is in accordance with debt limits in the eurozone. However, if Sarkozy cuts too deep into social programs and public programs and wages - reinforces an otherwise Greek-style austerity program - the result will be social unrest much worse than those England is experiencing in August 2011.

There was a time, about 40 years ago that France enjoyed a GDP-to-debt ratio that was a mere 20%, as compared with above 86% in August 2011  - 14th largest pbulic debt in the world, just ahead of Portugal.  Just as a note of interest, Libya, which NATO has been bombing and trying to install a pro-West regime,enjoys the lowest debt-to GDP ratio in the world.

France is an absolutely necessary partner for Germany to operate in the eurozone, otherwise we are looking at the possible twilight of the monetary union - something that could result if the crisis becomes too deep. About half of the French voters do not have confidence either in the conservatives or the socialists to solve the public debt problem, but they know that middle class and working class living standards will decline during the decade as will be the case for much of the Western World. National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has stated that she could reduce the debt if only the central bank would extend loans to government at zero interest rates. This sounds wonderful, but it means that France must leave the EU in order to conduct its own monetary policy.

Public debt dynamics include everything from monetary policy, high prices of raw materials, rapid rise of German GDP growth in relationship to France in the past decade, growth-by-debt policies of the 1990s and failure of growth to outpace debt levels, unemployment, underutilized productive capacity and parasitic sectors absorbing capital without a commensurate return on investment, government bailout of banks, especially those with large exposure in the European periphery, but above all a fiscal structure that does not absorb surplus capital from the top ten percent of income earners.

Although it may appear like an academic exercise to compare public debt by excluding financial sector intervention versus one that includes it for the past four years, such figures make sense and the UK has done a great service to provide them. If we include UK financial sector bailout, the net debt is at about 150% of GDP, while excluding such injections into banks the figure drops to a mere 60% of GDP. In short, the UK example illustrates that the main cause of the European public debt problem in 2011, and it is not much different for the US, is the massive financial bailout that was necessary after the recession of 2008. Today, governments across the Western World demand that the middle class and workers, who suffered immensely as a result of the 2008-2011 recession, must also pay to bring down public debt.

What should people do? Riot, demonstrate peacefully, declare general strikes, vote politicians who promise a better tomorrow but never deliver? What options do people living in pluralistic societies have before them and why would any one be surprised if the reactions include everything from isolated acts of madness such as the one in Norway that represents elements of the extreme right wing, or youths rioting in England because they know that they are at the bottom of society's ladder, living without hope.

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