Monday, February 01, 2010


Posted by kandylini on March 16, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from The Web of Debt. A nice refresher into what happened in Mexico, and good to keep in mind when we want to blame “them” for our economic problems when in fact they were manufactured by our own government.

By 1994, Mexico had restored its standing with investors. It had a balanced budget, a growth rate of over three percent, and a stock market that was up fivefold. In February 1995, Jane Ingraham wrote in The New American that Mexico’s fiscal policy was in some respects “superior and saner than our own wildly spendthrift Washington circus.” Mexico received enormous amounts of foreign investment, after being singled out as the most promising and safest of Latin American markets. Investors were therefore shocked and surprised when newly-elected President Ernesto Zedillo suddenly announced a 13 percent devaluation of the peso, since there seemed no valid reason for the move. The following day, Zedillo allowed the formerly managed peso to float freely against the dollar. The peso immediately plunged by 39 percent.5

What was going on? In 1994, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office Report on NAFTA had diagnosed the peso as “overvalued” by 20 percent. The Mexican government was advised to unpeg the currency and let it float, allowing it to fall naturally to its “true” level. The theory was that it would fall by only 20 percent; but that is not what happened. The peso eventually dropped by 300 percent – 15 times the predicted fall.6 Its collapse was blamed on the lack of “investor confidence” due to Mexico’s negative trade balance; but as Ingraham observes, investor confidence was quite high immediately before the collapse. If a negative trade balance is what sends a currency into massive devaluation and hyperinflation, the U.S. dollar itself should have been driven there long ago. By 2001, U.S. public and private debt totaled ten times the debt of all Third World countries combined.7

Although the peso’s collapse was supposedly unanticipated, over 4 billion U.S. dollars suddenly and mysteriously left Mexico in the 20 days before it occurred. Six months later, this money had twice the Mexican purchasing power it had earlier. Later commentators maintained that lead investors with inside information precipitated the stampede out of the peso.8 These investors were evidently the same parties who profited from the Mexican bailout that followed. When Mexico’s banks ran out of dollars to pay off its creditors (which were largely U.S. banks), the U.S. government stepped in with U.S. tax dollars. The Mexican bailout was engineered by Robert Rubin, who headed the investment bank Goldman Sachs before he became U.S. Treasury Secretary. Goldman Sachs was then heavily invested in short-term dollar-denominated Mexican bonds. The bailout was arranged the very day of Rubin’s appointment. Needless to say, the money provided by U.S. taxpayers never made it to Mexico. It went straight into the vaults of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and other big American lenders whose risky loans were on the line.9

The late Jude Wanniski was a conservative economist who was at one time a Wall Street Journal editor and adviser to President Reagan. He cynically observed of this banker coup:

There was a big party at Morgan Stanley after the Mexican peso devaluation, people from all over Wall Street came, they drank champagne and smoked cigars and congratulated themselves on how they pulled it off and they made a fortune. These people are pirates, international pirates.10

The loot was more than just the profits of gamblers who had bet the right way. The pirates actually got control of Mexico’s banks. NAFTA rules had already opened the nationalized Mexican banking system to a number of U.S. banks, with Mexican licenses being granted to 18 big foreign banks and 16 brokers including Goldman Sachs. But these banks could bring in no more than 20 percent of the system’s total capital, limiting their market share in loans and securities holdings.11 They wanted the whole enchilada. By 2004, all but one of Mexico’s major banks had been sold to foreign banks, which gained total access to the formerly closed Mexican banking market.12

The value of Mexican pesos and Mexican stocks collapsed together, supposedly because there was a stampede to sell and no one around to buy; but buyers with ample funds were sitting on the sidelines, waiting to pick over the devalued stock at bargain basement prices. The result was a direct transfer of wealth from the local economy to international money manipulators. The devaluation also precipitated a wave of privatizations (sales of public assets to private corporations), as the Mexican government tried to meet its spiraling debt crisis. In a February 1996 article called “Militant Capitalism,” David Peterson blamed the rout on an assault on the peso by short-sellers. He wrote:

The austerity measures that the U.S. government and the IMF forced on Mexicans in the aftermath of last winter’s assault on the peso by short-sellers in the foreign exchange markets have been something to behold. Almost overnight, the Mexican people have had to endure dramatic cuts in government spending; a sharp hike in regressive sales taxes; at least one million layoffs (a conservative estimate); a spike in interest rates so pronounced as to render their debts unserviceable (hence El Barzon, a nation-wide movement of small debtors to resist property seizures and to seek a rescheduling of their debts); a collapse in consumer spending on the order of 25 percent by mid-year; and, in brief, a 10.5 percent contraction in overall economic activity during the second quarter, with more of the same sure to follow.13

By 1995, Mexico’s foreign debt was more than twice the country’s total debt payment for the previous century and a half. Per-capita income had fallen by almost a third from a year earlier, and Mexican purchasing power had fallen by well over 50 percent.14 Mexico was propelled into a crippling national depression that has lasted for over a decade. As in the U.S. depression of the 1930s, the actual value of Mexican businesses and assets did not change during this speculator-induced crisis. What changed was simply that currency had been sucked out of the economy by investors stampeding to get out of the Mexican stock market, leaving insufficient money in circulation to pay workers, buy raw materials, finance loans, and operate the country. It was further evidence that when short-selling is allowed, currencies are driven into hyperinflation not by the market mechanism of “supply and demand” but by the concerted action of currency speculators. The flipside of this also appears to be true: the U.S. dollar remains strong despite its plunging trade balance, because it has been artificially manipulated up by the Fed. (More on this in Chapter 33.) Market manipulators, not free market forces, are in control.

This entry was posted on March 16, 2008 at 7:03 pm and is filed under Politics, economy. Tagged: economy, mexico, nafta, Politics, web of debt. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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