DUMMERSTON, Vt. — It seems hard to believe, but the finance, insurance and real estate sector (FIRE, for short) now constitutes about 20 percent of our nation's gross domestic product, while manufacturing contributes less than 13 percent. By comparison, in 1950, manufacturing was 29.3 percent of GDP and financial services contributed 10.9 percent.

In other words, more money is made today by shifting money around than in making things. And the FIRE sector no longer represents a group of institutions designed to raise capital for investment in productive activities. It is wealth generated from activities that contribute little to the actual economy.

Conservative writer Kevin Phillips calls it "financialization," or the process by which the FIRE sector assumes the dominant economic, cultural and political role in a national economy.

For example, energy prices. Last summer, commodities traders bid up the price of oil to $78 per barrel last summer on fears of more unrest in the Middle East after the Israel/Hezbollah dustup and another season of severe hurricanes. Neither thing happened, and oil prices slid down to about $50 per barrel by the end of 2006. Fear-based speculation drove up oil prices, and reality drove them back down.

If you invested in oil futures and got out at the top of the market, you made money. But what did it contribute to the larger economy? The rest of us paid more than we needed to for most of 2006 for heating oil, propane and gasoline, based on a possibility that some disruption of petroleum supplies might happen. That's what you get when the financial sector is totally divorced from reality.

Now, oil prices have crept back up to that level this summer, without an suitable alibi such as a hurricane or a war to justify $78 a barrel oil. Who is profiting and does this profit provide an good for the economy at large?

An equally good question is the long-term viability of an economy based on shuffling around financial assets.

It's hard to say whether the sharp swings in the stock market over the past week has been just a minor correction in stock values or the start of what could be a bigger problem.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went all the way up to 14,000 on July 19 based on the hope that the collapse of the subprime lending market would not have an effect on the larger economy and that higher energy prices would not have an effect on consumer spending.

The reality, however, is that as much as $2.5 trillion could be at risk in bad mortgages and the frenzy of mergers and leveraged buyouts of companies fueled by borrowed money.

According recent figures from Moody's, the bond rating firm, nearly 20 percent of all mortgage debt is at risk, or about $2.5 trillion of subprime mortgages. About $1.4 trillion is at high risk of default, as many as 2.5 million mortgages will default in the next two years and about 20 percent of subprime loans written in the last half of 2006 will default. Investor losses could run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

On July 26, a record 10.59 billion shares changed hands on the three major U.S. markets. Several big deals — from Chrysler to Tyco Electronics — have been postponed in the last couple of weeks because of rapidly tightening credit. There's an estimated backlog of more than $300 billion in unsold bonds and bank loans. That's almost as big as the backlog of unsold homes in the United States right now, as housing inventories in some part of the country are at levels not seen in decades.

The implosion of the subprime mortgage market, where people with little or no savings took huge mortgages with little or no money down, has been well documented. While it was inevitable that money lent to people without the means to pay it back would lead to a massive number of defaults and foreclosures, the investors who fueled this market never seemed to think that all those risky loans might go bad at all once.

It's truly amazing to see how deeply Wall Street has been involved in what's known as collateralized debt obligations (CDO), or the bundling of mortgages, home equity loans, car loans and credit card debt by hedge funds.

A major Wall Street investment house, Bear Stearns, saw about $10 billion of value disappear from two of its CDO hedge funds last month, and the market barely blinked an eye. But once other investment houses came to the realization that they are holding hundreds of billions of dollars of bad loans that they are now unable to sell to other investors, they started to realize that you can only ignore reality for so long before it comes back to bite you — hard.

Mortgage lenders stopped caring if borrowers were qualified. Bankers stopped caring if borrowers couldn't repay loans. And all these bad loans got repackaged and resold to other investors — all gussied up so that you'd never know that you were buying into funds based on assets that didn't exist.

This has been the state of our financial markets over the past few years. Greed has seemingly blinded people to fundamental economic principles, and the transfer of more of this nation's wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people is celebrated as capitalism's highest achievement.

The total net worth of American households climbed to $54.1 trillion last year, or more than $3 trillion higher than it was in 2005, and tax revenues managed to increase despite lower rates on wealthy Americans. Meanwhile, over the past five years, inflation-adjusted weekly wages for workers have been up about 0.5 percent per year.

Unfortunately, the people who have profited from wrecking the American economy will walk away with bulging pockets and seemingly clear consciences. The rest of us will be stuck with cleaning up when every comes tumbling down.


About author
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

Originally by Randolph T Holhut from The Smirking Chimp - News And Commentary from the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy on August 1, 2007, 8:19pm


The following should appear at the end of every post:

According to the IRS, "Know the law: Avoid political campaign intervention":

Tax-exempt section 501(c)(3) organizations like churches, universities, and hospitals must follow the law regarding political campaigns. Unfortunately, some don't know the law.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to campaigns at the federal, state and local level.

Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Section 501(c)(3) private foundations are subject to additional restrictions.

Political Campaign Intervention

Political campaign intervention includes any activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements.

Contributions to political campaign funds, public statements of support or opposition (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization, and the distribution of materials prepared by others that support or oppose any candidate for public office all violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention.

Factors in determining whether a communication results in political campaign intervention include the following:

  • Whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office
  • Whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval of one or more candidates' positions and/or actions
  • Whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election
  • Whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election
  • Whether the issue addressed distinguishes candidates for a given office

Many religious organizations believe, as we do, that the above constitutes a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That said, we make the following absolutely clear here:

  • The Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project not only do not endorse any candidate for any secular office, we say that Christianity forbids voting in such elections.
  • Furthermore, when we discuss any public-office holder's position, policy, action or inaction, we definitely are not encouraging anyone to vote for that office holder's position.
  • We are not trying to influence secular elections but rather want people to come out from that entire fallen system.
  • When we analyze or discuss what is termed "public policy," we do it entirely from a theological standpoint with an eye to educating professing Christians and those to whom we are openly always proselytizing to convert to authentic Christianity.
  • It is impossible for us to fully evangelize and proselytize without directly discussing the pros and cons of public policy and the positions of secular-office holders, hence the unconstitutionality of the IRS code on the matter.
  • We are not rich and wouldn't be looking for a fight regardless. What we cannot do is compromise our faith (which seeks to harm nobody, quite the contrary).
  • We render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. We render unto God what is God's.
  • When Caesar says to us that unless we shut up about the unrighteousness of Caesar's policies and practices, we will lose the ability of people who donate to us to declare their donations as deductions on their federal and state income-tax returns, we say to Caesar that we cannot shut up while exercising our religion in a very reasonable way.
  • We consider the IRS code on this matter as deliberate economic duress (a form of coercion) and a direct attempt by the federal government to censor dissenting, free political and religious speech.
  • It's not freedom of religion if they tax it.

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. (Matthew 17:24-26)

  • Subscribe

  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 – present, website developer and writer. 2015 – present, insurance broker.

    Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration.

    Volunteerism: 2007 – present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.

    This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.