Global Crisis I: A respite from the turbulence

Global Crisis I: A respite from the turbulence

By Claudio Katz

State aid mitigates but does not reverse the biggest recession in recent decades. But both aspects ignore that the crisis is due to intrinsic contradictions of the system.


In this first text, the situation of financial relief generated by state relief for bankers is analyzed. The financiers have imposed the socialization of their losses, after dispersing the risk in sophisticated operations. How they managed to block control of their activity have reinitiated the bubbles and reinforced financial concentration. Although the situation of many banks remains compromised, they managed to transfer part of their bankruptcy to the rest of the economy.

State aid mitigates but does not reverse the biggest recession in recent decades. In the conjuncture, the brake on production is fed back by unemployment and the fall in wages.

There are strong indications of the protracted nature of the crisis. New outbursts in the most fragile economies would coexist with the repetition in the advanced countries of the Japanese stagnation of the 1990s. The establishment vacillates between extending and reducing state subsidies, while a capital devaluation is processed through drastic corporate reorganizations. The model followed by General Motors illustrates the socially regressive character of this reconversion.

Financial détente induces neoliberals to take up the gospel of deregulation. But both aspects ignore that the crisis is due to intrinsic contradictions of the system.

The ruling classes propitiate new cuts in wages and social conquests. They encourage the fear that unemployment arouses and seek to transform the frustration of the middle sectors into anti-popular fury.

The relief exhibited by the capitalists also reflects the weaknesses of social resistance, which lost steam after strong initial responses. The political impasse of the alterglobal movement makes it difficult to coordinate a global protest. Workers face the current crisis in more adverse conditions than the previous generation, but there will be many opportunities to regain the initiative.

One year after the outbreak of the crisis, a situation of financial relief prevails. This abrupt change in climate has puzzled many economists, who a few months ago predicted the repetition of the depression of 30 and now they believe that nothing has happened. They all closely follow the evolution of the North American economy, which seems to define the prevailing climate on a world scale.

A relief effect

The current détente is a consequence of the aid provided by the states to the banks, which were rescued from the abyss with multi-million dollar aid. This support made it possible to contain a collapse that put large US entities in check and threatened the survival of the entire European financial system. The rescue came when deposit leaks and savings confiscations were sighted.

This bailout illustrated how the close association between rulers and bankers works. Officials first validated the socialization of bad debts imposed by financiers, by dispersing their risk into bond packages with a low probability of collection. When the impossibility of commercializing these papers came to the fore, a socialization of the losses took place, through aid that the population as a whole paid for.

This subsidy is presented as a natural procedure to avoid major ailments, hiding the dimension of the benefits granted to the financiers and the harsh effects of the penalties transferred to the salaried employees. It is argued that the banks "are too big to fail", without explaining why that size would force the owners of the entities to subsidize.

It is also repeated that handing over money to financiers "is more efficient than distributing it to the public", as if the crisis had not demonstrated the total parasitism of the bankers. It is clear that neoliberal rhetoric returns to the scene, with all the myths of competition and the wisdom of the market. It is already forgotten how the withering state intervention during the last year categorically refuted those beliefs.

The aid to the bankers is monitored by the Wall Street elite surrounding Obama (Geithner, Sumers, Volcker). This group ensures the granting of countless funds to bankers, without compensation or guarantees of return to the state. They have extended the aid that a Bush man (Paulson) provided, so that the banks clean their balance sheets of securities that came to be traded at zero prices. The state provides the money that the financiers need to restart the capitalization of their entities and recreate a market for those toxic bonds.

Obama rejected all proposals for control over banks. There were no punishments or interventions in the management of entities, which carry mountains of bad debts. This red involves payments to large companies and not just to small mortgages. The US president also did not accept to implement the Swedish model of temporary nationalization of the most affected banks, to assess the real situation of their portfolios. It did not even consider that in exchange for official assistance, the state would have participation as a shareholder with decision-making power in the management of those entities. With this attitude, it has prevented losses from being recognized and bank insolvency from being transparent.

The party is back

The financial relief has generated total amnesia with what happened a few months ago. As the fear of a collapse decreased, speculative dynamics were reinstated in all markets. The calls to reduce the "financial exuberance" - through the "re-founding of capitalism" - that erupted during the crisis have been forgotten. The voracity of the bankers regained prominence, but this time with the shameless financing of the state. This return of the party is very visible in the euphoria of the Bags.

In this scenario, the banks have restarted the payment of millionaire bonuses to the executives. The North American entities that received the most money from the Treasury (Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup) are leading the awarding of these scandalous awards. While the Obama team explicitly opposes limiting these payments, the French government questions them but validates their implementation.

The bankers have reopened the casino, after preventing effective supervision of its activity. They return to operating with sophisticated securities, derivatives and lucrative short-term transactions. They are already preparing the replacement of mortgage loans with new bubbles, related to the financing of environmental projects (market of emission credits) and with operations of early purchase and sale of patents.

This restart of the financial festival dilutes the pressure to prosecute those responsible for the crack. The incarceration of fraudsters who misled their clients with shady transactions (like Madoff) has been exceptional. Governments continue to cover up fraud and, at most, negotiate some laundering of the tax evasion perpetrated by American millionaires in Swiss banks. The overwhelming allegations of wrongdoing by US banks against small mortgage borrowers are not investigated, nor penalized (1).

The financial reforms envisioned during the peak of the crisis have also cooled. In the relief situation, banks have regained power to block the regulation of financial havens or control of derivatives. The obligation to return funds lost due to inappropriate investments and the requirement to report on the risks involved in future operations has also been drafted.

State aid also reinforces the renewed process of capital concentration. The Obama administration has let the winners (Goldman Sachs, Morgan) absorb the portfolios of the losers (Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns) and put pressure on the assets of distressed entities. The relief plans began this course by typing in the recipients of the official subsidy. Only 13 banks received, for example, three-quarters of the first relief package awarded last year (Troubled Asset Relief Program).

A new wave of mega-banks is also taking hold in Europe. In Great Britain the bulk of the subsidy went to three entities (Northern Rock, Bank of Scotland, Lloyds), ​​in France the state directly supported two threatened groups (Banque Populaire and Caisse d'Epargne) and facilitated the purchase of Fortis by the BNP-Paribas. In Germany, a traditional bank (Dresdner) was supported and Switzerland provided all the guarantees required to ensure the continuity of its three main institutions (2).

A temporary relief

The official aid mitigated the danger of a banking explosion, but it has not solved the main problems of the financial system. Entities must deal with millionaire debts from large corporations that postpone the payment of their commitments.

At the beginning of 2009, this payment default in the United States involved about 500,000 million dollars. The default rate averaged 13.9% of the total and could reach 18.5%, after standing at 11.9% (2001) and 10.4% (2002). Mortgage liabilities total $ 1.2 trillion, consumer debts account for 7 trillion and corporate bonds account for several additional trillion (3).

The subprime debt problem that triggered the crisis has not been put on track either. The grouping of these securities in a fund or bank has been delayed, which allows them to be marketed in the future and the way to establish the price of these bonds has not been defined. The fragility of the current relief is also verified in the weak rebuilding of credit. Banks keep loans frozen and use the money provided by the state to restore their equity.

The government's validation of this behavior has unleashed strong criticism among the economists who sympathize with Obama. They highlight the need to include the state in the boards of entities to force banks to lend (4).

This credit drought could be overcome if North American and European banks achieve a strong re-capitalization, by raising private funds. But the incentive for such collection has been undermined by the policy of ensuring immediate state protection against any earthquake.

It is not easy to assess how much the situation of the entities has really changed, which a few months ago were one step away from bankruptcy. The situation of Citigroup and Bank of America - which had been classified as "zombie" institutions due to their ridiculous market valuation - is striking and now they look formally recovered. This passage from collapse to flourishing could indicate that the banks were able to pass on part of their failure to the rest of the economy.

The impact on production

The financial crisis has had a hard impact on the real orbit, through the recession that began in the middle of last year. With sales plummeting, the industry has contracted to the biggest drop in GDP since the Second World War. Although the production regression eased in recent months, the relief has been very slight compared to the financial rebound.

The most recent figures only record a lower intensity of the productive brake. The significant falls in North American GDP (from 5.4% in the last quarter of 2008 and 6.4% in the first of 2009) have eased to 1% (second of 2009). More than an improvement there is a deterioration floor. The IMF estimates that the global economy will shrink 1.3% in 2009, due to a large decline in developed economies (3.7%). In Europe, no growth is foreseen and in Japan a major stall persists.

In all countries the recession has been contained with expansionary economic policies. Through this intervention, interest rates have reached an unprecedented floor of 0-0.25% (United States) or 1% (Europe). State subsidies have also sought to compensate for the fall in exports (especially in Japan and Germany) and to sustain languishing consumption.

But the reaction of production to these stimuli has been very limited. The typical rebuilding of stocks that companies implement when they perceive a recovery in sales is not yet observed. The contraction of private investment persists and only public spending keeps commercial activity afloat. Nobody rules out another relapse in GDP in this table, after two or three quarters of recovery.

The bulk of public funds have been channeled to large corporations. In many cases, these subsidies benefit financial-productive firms that do business with bonds, stocks, cars, or computers. The invariable condition for receiving these grants is to belong to the club of large corporations.

What happened with the North American automotive industry is an example of this concentration of state relief. Companies in this sector have received large sums to pay creditors, international partners, and managers who failed the companies.

Some economists estimate that these aids made it possible to contain the productive collapse. But they avoid evaluating the monumental cost and consequences of this bailout (5).

The tinderbox of public debt

The astronomical increase in state liabilities tends to structurally weaken any future recovery. All economies have been subject to growing interest payments, which could even affect the current recovery. The mortgage that the states have contracted introduces this strong restriction.

In the United States, public debt is already around 100% of GDP, while state spending amounts to 28.1% and the deficit reaches 11% of that indicator. It is estimated that the accumulated red would be around 9 trillion dollars in the next decade.

This overflow from the averages prevailing since the Second War could only be reduced with a very high growth rate. But the most problematic thing is financing, since unlike in the past the collection of funds does not depend only on internal collection, but also on the influx of international loans.

Many Obama predecessors channeled public spending toward war spending, which in turn drove the reactivation (Roosvelt, Truman, Johnson, Reagan). But the current president came to government with promises to limit that spending. It cannot base the recovery on an explicit rearmament, but it also has no margin to reduce the military budget, since the United States maintains its imperialist leadership in the supremacy of the Pentagon. Faced with these dilemmas, Obama has chosen to keep the percentage of war expenditures unchanged, announcing that he will expand civil spending without many social investments.

While the strategy to follow is being defined, public debt is expanding at a dizzying rate. This growth strengthens the vicious cycle of indebtedness to stop the recession and growing fiscal deterioration due to the productive stagnation. This situation tends to recreate sooner or later the pressure of the creditors of public securities, who already demand a plan to reduce the deficit. Obama himself has begun considering a project to cut this imbalance in half in four years.

After the completion of the rescue of their banks, the financiers are preparing to resume the old discourse of fiscal adjustment. They demand a law to limit the increase in public debt, which could become imperative if the bonds of certain North American states (such as California) begin to falter (6).

The same problem is true in Europe. Public debt is critical in some countries and explosive in others. The deficit has gotten out of control in Italy, Greece and Spain (6.2% of GDP), it has grown in France (5.4%) and Portugal (4.2%).

These mismatches are proportionally lower than the United States, but they face greater external financing difficulties. All the budget balance targets of the European Union have been overwhelmed. The Community also lacks the experience and powers to rescue countries with collapsed budgets. This scenario of fiscal collapse is particularly observed in Ireland (11% deficit) and among the new partners in Eastern Europe.

Social decline

Whatever the ups and downs of the recessive cycle, the standard of living of workers tends to degrade. Employees are already paying the consequences of the crisis with higher unemployment and falling wages.

As a direct result of the financial meltdown, the ILO has forecast an increase in unemployment, affecting a range of 39-59 million people. This new wave would particularly hit young women in developed economies, who have become the main recruits in the army of the unemployed.

Even a more significant recovery in the world economy would continue to shrink the demand for labor for four to five years. This absence of jobs will be very hard for emigrants, who seek to enter the labor universe of advanced economies.

If unemployment continues to rise at the current rate in the Euro zone, it would reach 11.5% in 2010, compared to 7.5% at the beginning of 2008. In Japan, the old stable job has been eroded along with the collapse of average family income , which is at its lowest level in 19 years. Temporary contracts are increasing rapidly and already regulate the activity of a third of the workforce.

Half a million jobs a month have been lost in the United States since the beginning of the crisis. At the end of the year, the unemployment rate would jump to 9% and underemployment would reach 15%, that is, a percentage much higher than the average of the last decades.

The Public Works Plan launched by Obama does not counteract this destruction of jobs, since instead of creating public jobs it offers subsidies to capitalists to hire workers. It is evident that as long as the fall in sales and profits persists, employers will avoid incorporating new employees.

The North American social scenario worsens day by day due to the abrupt withdrawal of family assets and the continued eviction of insolvent mortgage debtors. The mass of homeless individuals - who survive in tents or substandard housing - is already part of the landscape of many suburbs. Obama provided millionaire aid for the bankers, but did not adopt any measures to protect the nine million affected by the housing crash. Nor did it implement any project to prohibit the auction of homes or to establish the mandatory refinancing of mortgages.

The crisis has also delayed the launch of a public health care system for families who cannot afford expensive health insurance. The pressures of the business lobby that manages this business continue to empty the project of state or mixed coverage, which has been discussed for years.

Prolonged crisis

Whatever the profile of the conjunctural recoveries, there are strong indications of the prolonged nature of the current crisis. This scenario is predicted by all analysts who forecast a long period of low growth (in L), compared to those who anticipate a rapid (in U) or oscillating (in W) exit from the recession.

This significant duration would derive from the confluence of three processes, which are especially pressing in the United States towards a new contraction of GDP: the contraction of credit, the devaluation of properties and the loss of patrimonial wealth.

The credit crunch tends to persist. Banks have been forced to cut their funding allocation to offset the losses suffered during the crisis. Only a vertiginous re-capitalization would attenuate this credit squeeze.

Furthermore, the crisis may be prolonged due to the reduction in expenses generated by the depreciation of savings and the reduction in income. The drop in employment and wages directly affects consumption, which drives the North American economy. Attempts to sustain this level of purchases with state appropriations to families have not been able to overcome this retraction in demand. If this impact deteriorates the productive sector again, the vulnerability of finances could be fed back. This downward cliff has been the norm for all deep recessions.

Many economists estimate that this grim scenario will put a brake on the US economy until at least 2012-13. Certain additional external imbalances, caused for example by a new rise in oil prices, could aggravate the situation (7).

This table inspires the frequent analogy between the current crisis and the prolonged recession that Japan suffered in the 1990s. This context would differ from the abrupt collapse that characterized the 1930s depression. Instead of a uniform and generalized collapse, a stagnation of several years in the most advanced countries, combined with unpredictable bursts of the most fragile economies. These shocks are sensed by all analysts, who compare the collapse of Argentina (2001) with the collapses observed last year in Eastern Europe (8).

The establishment elite is very cautious in taking note of this possibility of continued crisis. How dreading a recessive relapse after transient breaths (the dreaded "second round") maintains state aid programs. This attitude prevailed among the G20 leaders who participated in the last meeting in Pittsburg.

Everyone distrusts the effects of a recovery lacking in private investment, which is sustained by the fiscal boost. A tough dilemma to solve is when to take off the foot of this bra. The continuity of this relief leads to the collapse of the public debt, but its anticipated cut threatens to recreate the recessive abyss.

Business debugging

The prolonged nature of the crisis is conditioned by the urgent need to devalue existing capital, in order to rebuild the profits affected by the crash. This purification is the only way that capitalism knows to emerge from its periodic disasters. During the downward cycles of this system, drastic reorganizations of the firms, sharp reductions in popular income and acute expropriation processes are usually processed.

These readjustments have already begun in the financial sphere, where the IMF estimates that losses of 4.1 trillion dollars will have to be digested. These losses would be distributed among the United States (2.7 billion), Europe (1.19 billion) and Japan (149 billion). A similar rebalancing is taking place in the stock markets, through the absorption of the great crashes of last year (9).

This reorganization tends to make it clear who would be the winners and losers of the crisis. The reckoning may include the closure of large entities, but the US government tends to avoid this type of closure, after the earthquake created by the Lehman Brothers burial.

The Obama team tries to avoid heavy penalties, injects liquidity and evades recognition of insolvency situations. It seeks to postpone penalties and the resolution of financial losses, through compulsory withdrawals or compulsory bond swaps. Nobody knows to what extent these measures can be avoided, since the use of public money to redeem bankruptcies has a limit. But the intention is to achieve a regulated administration of the inevitable financial cleansing (10).

Much more convulsive will be the extension of this devaluation to the productive orbit. This adjustment already affects large companies and hits wages. The time required for this cleanup is likely to determine the duration of the crisis.

The bankruptcy of General Motors provides a preview of the form that devaluation could take. The firm resorted to a judicial protection for bankruptcy situations that allows to regulate the sacrifices of pensions, wages and working conditions. The goal is to transfer the entire cost of the surgery to the salaried employees.

This outrage is justified by attributing the breach to the "privileges" maintained by Detroit unionized workers, compared to their disorganized peers from other companies. This explanation of the collapse of the company has gained prominence over other interpretations, which emphasize administrative (mismanagement, failed reinvention, bad business decisions), economic (loss of competitiveness) or cultural (decline in a lifestyle) aspects. .

At General Motors, the closure of eleven factories and the elimination of 21,000 of the 54,000 jobs is being negotiated. The emptying of the workers' pension funds is also implemented by converting these assets into securities of a devalued company. Furthermore, the new labor contract would make strikes impossible, repeating the precedent of union destruction perpetrated in the airlines.

This reactionary plan is financed with public funds. The capitalists receive millionaire sums to finance layoffs and wage cuts. Instead of penalizing a company that multiplied waste to increase sales (accelerated obsolescence), generalized the waste of gasoline and harassed workers relentlessly, those responsible for bankruptcy are rewarded. The ongoing restructuring also discourages a more structural conversion from the inefficient individual vehicle system to a non-polluting public transport scheme (11).

The General Motors negotiation constitutes a test for the entire North American industry. It indicates a path of reactionary solutions, which would tend to block all attempts to resurrect the weight of unions in American life.

Neoliberals and Keynesians

When the crisis broke out, the neoliberals forgot their principles of competition and demanded immediate help from the state. This attitude remained unchanged while they recorded the worsening of the tremor. But with the financial relief of recent months, calls have reappeared to guarantee the preeminence of the market.

These calls regain strength, as if the financial collapse had occurred centuries ago. The bankers maintain their demand for state intervention to socialize losses, but they are already taking up the gospel of deregulation. They acknowledge that there was a moment of panic, with herd escapes that threatened the entire financial system. But the respite has taken their fright away and they look with resentment at the new economic landscape created by state interference.

In just a few months, the US government has become the main mortgage company, taking stakes in 600 banks, supporting the large insurers and guarantor of the automotive restructuring. This presence portrays the typical “buddy capitalism” scheme (officials decide the fate of each company), which neo-liberals have always hypocritically objected to. To keep the free-market flame alive, that structure must be removed at some point. But nobody knows how and when to implement this modification.

Neoliberal journalism proclaims from the rooftops that "the crisis is over." Some even estimate that a short and mild recession has paved a new cycle of successful globalization (12).

But this stabilization announcement needs to be corroborated by the facts. The crisis has already proven how fickle the idyllic image of capitalism is, as a system of infinite prosperity. A new recessionary turn will once again transform these reassuring utopias into desperate calls for help.

A more serious debate involves the future of monetary policy. Many orthodox economists believe that the Federal Reserve was wrong to implement lax policies, which since 2001 favored the expansion of the housing bubble. They approve the introduction of low interest rates in the emergency, but advocate a more restrictive orientation for the future. They trust in the ability of the FED to handle rates and issuance in the conjuncture, but they warn against the inflationary dangers of this strategy.

Keynesian economists, too, tend to waver with the ups and downs of the moment, but generally present more cautious assessments of the current easing. They believe that the recovery will only take a consistent path, when new regulations are introduced in the financial system. Cómo explican la crisis por las “fallas de mercado” (información asimétrica, incentivos desacertados, falta de transparencia) estiman que un buen control sobre los bancos garantizará la salud del capitalismo (13).

Pero omiten aclarar cómo se ha logrado el respiro actual sin la adopción de ninguna de esas medidas. A pesar del congelamiento de todas las reformas bajo consideración oficial, la tensión financiera se aquietó. Este resultado parece indicar que los vaivenes del ciclo son más sensibles al socorro a los banqueros, que a la supervisión de sus operaciones.

A diferencia de sus colegas ortodoxos, los keynesianos avalan la continuidad y la ampliación del gasto público (14). Pero olvidan las consecuencias desestabilizadoras de esos gastos. Cómo restringen todos los problemas del capitalismo a defectos de la administración gubernamental, imaginan que una buena dosis de intervención pública enmendará al sistema. Por eso le asignan al financiamiento oficial una capacidad mayúscula para disipar la recesión, cómo si este recurso tuviera elasticidad infinita y provisión garantizada de fondos hasta el fin de los tiempos.

En cualquier caso es importante registrar cómo la heterodoxia ha bajado los decibeles de sus críticas en la coyuntura de alivio financiero. Hay muchos signos de subordinación al nuevo perfil del neoliberalismo, que a su vez tiende remodelarse con mayores regulaciones estatales. Esta es la fórmula elegida por el establishment para salir de la crisis. Se busca preservar los atropellos contra los trabajadores, acotando los excesos de la liberalización financiera, mediante cierto control sobre los bancos y los movimientos internacionales de capital.

Si esta orientación se afianza la vieja convergencia entre economistas neoclásicos y keynesianos podría asumir nuevas modalidades. No hay que olvidar que los reguladores de posguerra adoptaron los principios conservadores del libre-mercado, mientras que el neoliberalismo de las últimas décadas mantuvo todos los instrumentos heterodoxos de la política anticíclica y el déficit fiscal. Muchas propuestas de reorganización bancaria, coordinación del gasto público y engrosamiento de las deudas estatales se ubican en esta perspectiva de empalme keynesiano-liberal.

Pero la continuidad de la crisis afecta por igual a ambas tradiciones. Demuestra la imposibilidad de evitar los colapsos financieros, recurriendo a la auto-regulación mercantil o priorizando la supervisión estatal. Estos descalabros obedecen a contradicciones intrínsecas del capitalismo y tienden a reaparecer en escenarios regulados y desregulados.

La crisis no deriva de la codicia o de la especulación. Es una consecuencia del comportamiento económico ciego y auto-destructivo que impone la competencia. El estallido repitió todos los rasgos típicos de las eclosiones capitalistas. Incluyó el contagio, la propagación (dominó) y la retroalimentación (ping pong), es decir todos los mecanismos que la economía convencional periódicamente considera extinguidos. La crisis expresa desequilibrios sistémicos y contradicciones acumulativas del capitalismo, que la ortodoxia y la heterodoxia nunca logran explicar (15).

Ofensiva patronal

Las clases dominantes pretenden afrontar los desequilibrios en curso con nuevos atropellos a los trabajadores. Los capitalistas intentan aprovechar el temor que suscita el desempleo, para desmantelar en Estados Unidos todas las protecciones sociales conquistadas en la posguerra.

Estos objetivos reaccionarios son incentivados por el discurso republicano contra cualquier reforma social y por la ideología derechista, que equipara responsabilidades en la gestación de la crisis. Los financistas -que se enriquecieron con burbujas especulativas- son ubicados en el mismo plano que los pequeños deudores hipotecarios, que contrajeron créditos por encima de su capacidad de pago.

Ambos grupos son igualmente señalados como culpables de una “cultura del endeudamiento”, que descuidó el ahorro y descontroló los gastos. Con este enfoque se justifica el auxilio a los grandes capitalistas enalteciendo su capacidad para generar empleo. La convocatoria a ayudar “sólo a los que se que se auto-ayudan” es la consigna para arremeter contra los últimos resabios del estado de bienestar (16).

El carácter reaccionario de estos discursos salta a la vista. Para restaurar la confianza en un sueño americano -severamente corroído por el temblor financiero- se promueve un mayor ensanchamiento de las desigualdades sociales.

Esta misma estrategia de agresiones patronales promueve el establishment en Europa Occidental, para remover conquistas populares más significativas. También allí la retórica derechista exonera a los poderosos y culpabiliza a los desamparados, buscando convertir a los inmigrantes en chivos expiatorios.

Antes del estallido financiero los capitalistas del Viejo Continente despotricaban contra la “reducida competitividad” y “la magra productividad” que imponen las protecciones sociales. Ahora sitúan en esas mismas “distorsiones” a la gran dificultad para salir de la recesión.

Los atropellos sociales en marcha presentan una dimensión mayor en las pequeñas economías de la periferia europea (como Irlanda o Islandia), que intentaron convertirse en paraísos financieros y actualmente soportan un plan de ajuste del Fondo Monetario. Este mismo torniquete agobia a los países de Europa Oriental. Esperaban llegar al Primer Mundo con la restauración capitalista y en los hechos enfrentan una degradación propia del Tercer Mundo.

En todas estas regiones se verifica un empobrecimiento de los sectores medios, que en las últimas dos décadas adoptaron el credo neoliberal. El establishment intenta transformar la frustración que exhiben estos segmentos en furia antipopular, para redoblar las medidas de austeridad y profundizar la flexibilización laboral. En un marco de recesión profunda y alto desempleo, los capitalistas pretenden recrear el escenario que en 1981-82 dio inicio a la ofensiva neoliberal.

Interrogantes de la resistencia social

La sensación de alivio económico que exhiben las clases dominantes también refleja la ausencia de una resistencia popular significativa. El temor a esa reacción estuvo muy presente en el debut de la crisis y se expresó en la reunión que la crema del capital realizó a principio de año en Davos. El pesimismo económico coincidió en ese evento con el pavor a un estallido social (17).

Allí se observó el impacto generado por la rebelión juvenil en Grecia y por las movilizaciones sindicales de Europa Occidental. Estas acciones se profundizaron posteriormente en Francia, con marchas que tuvieron un nivel de concurrencia comparable a las protestas de 1995.

Las movilizaciones también fueron multitudinarias en Alemania y España y estuvieron rodeadas en Irlanda por simbólicas ocupaciones de fábricas. La oleada de resistencia parecía consolidarse con las manifestaciones que tumbaron al gobierno conservador de Islandia. Pero al cabo de esta primera reacción, las protestas cedieron en todos los países y los dominadores se tranquilizaron.

En Estados Unidos se registraron inicialmente varias acciones significativas (simbolizadas en la lucha de Republic Windows). Pero los regresivos acuerdos de General Motors frenaron ese impulso. También la expectativa de lograr una reforma que revierta la persecución a los sindicatos (EFCA) se ha debilitado. En el sector privado el nivel de sindicalización se mantiene en un piso histórico de 7,3% (2008) frente al 35% de mediados de los años 50. Es inminente, además, una ofensiva patronal para recortar los contratos colectivos, en un clima de intimidación judicial a las organizaciones obreras y mudanza laboral hacia el despolitizado sur del país.

Este panorama podría revertirse con las luchas que han gestado los inmigrantes y con otras formas de resistencia social dispersa. La llegada de Obama a la presidencia reflejó un cambio de expectativas populares, asentado en la superación de viejos prejuicios raciales y en la gravitación de nuevas demandas (como el seguro médico). Pero este giro no se expresa hasta ahora en irrupciones callejeras. Este contexto contrasta con lo ocurrido en los años 30, cuándo Roosvelt se vio obligado a concretar reformas sociales y otorgar derechos de organización sindical bajo la directa presión de la resistencia obrera (18).

En Europa Occidental las protestas sociales han sido contrapesadas por la presión desmovilizadora, que genera un mercado de trabajo crecientemente liberalizado. Los patrones recurren a este mecanismo para potenciar la competencia laboral entre los asalariados. Mientras que los gobiernos socialdemócratas han reforzado su servilismo hacia las clases dominantes hay muchos signos de desorientación popular. En las últimas elecciones de la Unión Europea se registró una altísima abstención y el miedo creado por la crisis alimentó un deslizamiento hacia la derecha (19).

En Europa del Este, la magnitud del colapso social colocó a varios gobiernos al borde del precipicio. Hubo fuertes ensayos de movilización social (especialmente en Letonia, Lituania y Bulgaria), pero ninguna de estas respuestas alcanzó la dimensión que, por ejemplo, tuvo la rebelión del 2001 en Argentina.

Las escasas noticias sobre el curso de la resistencia en el Sudeste de Asia, probablemente reflejen el menor impacto que ha tenido la crisis en esa región. Algunos investigadores han retratado los síntomas de reacción subterránea que se observan en China o Vietnam, junto a la conocida valentía que han vuelto a exhibir los obreros de Corea del Sur (20).

Pero hasta ahora, la zona que registra el principal engrosamiento mundial de la clase obrera, no se ha transformado en un foco protagónico de la lucha social. Proliferan las situaciones de crisis por arriba (como el desplome del oficialismo en Japón por primera vez en 50 años), pero no las manifestaciones de irrupción popular.

Comparaciones y problemas

La principal diferencia entre la crisis actual y su antecesora de los años 70 se localiza hasta ahora en el plano político y social. Las analogías puramente económicas suelen omitir esta distinción, cuya relevancia es más significativa que cualquier matiz de la recesión, del endeudamiento o de la política monetaria.

Las clases dominantes fueron radicalmente desafiadas hace treinta años por una oleada internacional de alzamientos obreros y sublevaciones antiimperialistas. En la crisis actual prevalece, por el contrario, un cuadro de preeminencia neoliberal, retroceso social y regresión del proyecto anticapitalista. Los trabajadores deben lidiar con una situación más adversa que la afrontada por la generación precedente.

Estas diferencias entre el contexto actual y el escenario de 1974-75 se refleja nítidamente en las interpretaciones de la eclosión, que se debaten en los ámbitos radicales. Ninguna caracterización contemporánea atribuye el estallido financiero del 2008 a un “estrangulamiento de las ganancias”, a la fortaleza de los sindicatos o las demandas obreras (profit squeze). Tampoco se escuchan explicaciones asociadas con el incremento de los costos sociales o la expansión del estado de bienestar. La crisis actual no fue detonada por protestas sociales, ni militancias radicales.

Otro problema de la resistencia popular ha sido la irrupción de la crisis, en un momento de impasse política dentro del Foro Social Mundial (FSM). Este bloqueo afecta al organismo que podría cumplir un rol aglutinante de la protesta. El movimiento alterglobal es el candidato natural a centralizar esa lucha por la experiencia adquirida al cabo de varios años de movilizaciones internacionales. Pero su rol ha decaído, cuándo más se necesita un referente global de la resistencia.

Luego del pico de protestas altermundialistas alcanzado en Génova (2001) y en las marchas contra la guerra de Irak (2003), la influencia de los Foros y convocatorias del FSM ha disminuido. A pesar del alto nivel de participación que tuvo el último encuentro de Belem (2009) este declive no se ha detenido. Las plataformas frente a las crisis discutidas en ese encuentro no han bastado para revertir el vaciamiento político que padece el Foro, por el papel que juega una dirección socialdemócrata asociadas con ONGs de oscuro financiamiento.

La sistemática oposición a las iniciativas de lucha, la atomización de los temas en debate y la inexistencia de prioridades han creado un clima de frustración y cansancio, entre los movimientos sociales que participan en el FSM. Tampoco las distintas iniciativas radicales ensayadas durante el año pasado han alcanzado para contrarrestar este bloqueo con una respuesta por abajo (21).

Una conjunción de factores ha determinado por lo tanto el carácter limitado de la respuesta popular a la crisis. Estas debilidades le han permitido a las clases dominantes recuperarse del susto inicial. Pero también es cierto que los poderosos han sido cautelosos en descargar todos los efectos de la eclosión sobre los trabajadores. Aunque siguen temiendo esa reacción social, no dudarán en reforzar su agresión si encuentran el terreno despejado.

La crisis recién ha comenzado y es prematuro cualquier pronóstico sobre la lucha popular. En la izquierda hay posturas optimistas y pesimistas sobre esa resistencia. Lo más sensato es constatar que en la conmoción económica será persistente y habrá muchas oportunidades para recuperar la iniciativa.

El devenir de la crisis depende de esta actitud de los oprimidos. Un mismo descalabro financiero puede reforzar la andanada de atropellos o crear una situación opuesta de protesta por abajo y repliegue por arriba. Quiénes abstraen la política y la lucha social del análisis económico, no pueden comprender ni caracterizar estas alternativas. Se enfrascan en discusiones técnicas y especulaciones sobre las variables financieras, olvidando la influencia preeminente que tienen las confrontaciones clasistas sobre el devenir de la economía.

Pero una comprensión de la crisis también exige superar las visiones exclusivamente centradas en la coyuntura.

¿Cuál es la relación de la eclosión actual con varias décadas de neoliberalismo? ¿De qué forma influye la mundialización sobre ese estallido? ¿Qué efecto tiene la conmoción en curso sobre la dinámica del imperialismo? Abordaremos estos temas en nuestro segundo texto sobre la crisis global.

Claudio Katz es Economista, Investigador, Profesor. Miembro del EDI (Economistas de Izquierda). Su página web es:


(1) Estos fraudes se multiplicaron por diez desde el 2001, Página 12, 26-2-09

(2) Wall Street Journal-La Nación, 26-1-09.

(3) Wall Street Journal-La Nación 13-2-09.

(4) Krugman Paul, “Consejos del Nobel de Economía a Obama”, Revista Rolling Stone, 19-1-09. Krugman Paul “En el borde justo del abismo”, Clarín, 24-2-09

(5) Roubini Nouriel “Bernanke lo hizo bien”•, Clarín, 28-7-09.

(6) Ver por ejemplo: Buffet Warren, “Que EEUU no sea una república bananera”, Clarín, 27-8-09.

(7) Stiglitz Joseph, “La crisis no ha terminado”, Clarin 15-9-09. Roubini Nouriel, “The risk of a double-dip recession is rising”, Financial Times, 23-8-09

(8) Algañaraz Julio, “Argentina del Báltico”, Clarín, 28-2-09, Ferguson Niall, “Tan endeudados como Argentina”, Clarín, 11-2-09, The Economist, “Argentina en el Danubio”, 1-3-09, Krugman Paul, “La economía mundial corre el riesgo de un largo estancamiento”, Clarín, 5-7-09.

(9) Clarín, 24-3-09.

(10) Esta política es retratada por Hossein Zadegh Ismael, “The Wall Street coup and the bailout cam”,, 21-10-08, Hossein Zadegh Ismael, “Too big to fail: a Bailout Hoax”,2-2-09

(11) Estos efectos son documentados por Moore Michel “Adiós a General Motors”, Página 12, 5-6-09.

(12) Castro Jorge, “El G 20, en busca de retomar el control sobre las finanzas mundiales”, Clarín, 20-9-09. Castro Jorge, “Al final, la temida recesión mundial ha sido breve y leve”, Clarín, 13-9-09.

(13) Es la postura de Vanoli Alejandro, “Cómo salir de un orden financiero ineficaz y cruel”, Clarín, 26-02-09 Lavagna Roberto, “La crisis global reclama reformas no cosméticas”, Clarín, 24-2-09.

(14) Stiglitz Joseph, “Un nuevo sistema de crédito es vital para frenar esta crisis”, Clarín, 11-4-09.

(15) Hemos expuesto nuestra caracterización de la crisis en: Katz Claudio, “Lección acelerada de capitalismo”, Laberinto, Universidad de Málaga, n 28, 3er cuatrimestre de 2008, Málaga. Katz Claudio, “Codicia, regulación o capitalismo”, Revista Herramienta, n 41, julio 2009, Buenos Aires.

(16) Ver: Brendt Rolf, “El estado no debe salvar a las compañías”, La Nación, 13-5-09, Dahrendorf Ralf, “No existen soluciones globales”, La Nación, 1-4-09.

(17) “Honestamente no sabemos lo que va a ocurrir. Pero lo seguro es que las próximas noticias serán peores”, Martín Wolf, El País, 1-2-09.

(18) Sustar Lee, “Los trabajadores norteamericanos en la crisis”,, 10-9-09, Selfa Lance, “Change Lite from the new White House”, Socialist Worker, 5-6-09.

(19) Sabado Francois, “Après les résultats des élections européennes”, Inprecor 551-552, juillet-aout 2009.

(20) Bello Waldem, “Asia: the coming fury”,, 9-2-09

(21) Antentas Josep Maria, Vivas Esther, “G 8: de Génova a L´Aquila”, ALAI, 8-7-09, Rousset Pierre, “Le FSM en debate”, Les autres voix de la Planete, n 38, avril 2008.


-Álvarez Nacho, Medialdea Bibiana, “Financiarización, crisis económica y socialización de las pérdidas”, Viento Sur n 100, enero 2009.

-Chesnais Francois, “La recesión mundial: el momento, las interpretaciones y lo que se juega en la crisis, Herramienta n 40, marzo 2009.

-Di Leo Petrino, “The return of Keynes”, International Socialist Review, January-February 2009

-Foster John Bellamy, McChesney Robert, “A New Deal under Obama?”, Monthly Review vol 60, n 9, February 2009.

-Geier Joel, “Capitalism´s worst crisis since the 1930s”, International Socialist Review, November-December 2008.

-Guillén Romo Arturo, “La crisis global y la recesión generalizada”, XI Encuentro Internacional sobre Globalización y problemas del Desarrollo, La Habana, 2-6 marzo 2009.

-Harvey David, “Por qué está condenado al fracaso el paquete de estímulos económicos”, Sin Permiso, 16-2-09.

-Husson Michel, “La burguesía o la crisis en marcha atrás”, Viento Sur, abril 2009

-Johsua Isaac, “Crisis: tras los planes de relanzamiento, la hora de la verdad”, 20-8-09

-Kregel, Jan, “Taming the bond market vigilantes: gaining policy space”, XI Encuentro Internacional sobre Globalización y problemas del Desarrollo, La Habana, 2-6 marzo 2009.

-Moseley Fred, “The U.S. economic crisis. Causes and solutions”, International Socialist Review, March-April 2009.

-Panitch Leo, “Interview”, Worker´s Liberty,, 17-2-09

-Samary Catherine, “Vers un tsunami bancaire et social Est-Ouest européen”, Inprecor 549-550, mai-juin 2009.

-Sapir Jacques, “Rèflexions sur les conséquences de la crise et les tendances economiques a venir”, 31-10-08.

-Shaik Anwar “La mejor alternativa es un estado creando puestos de trabajo”, Página 12, 15-3-09.

-Udry Charles André, “Una crisis duradera”, Revista La Breche n 5, enero-febrero 2009.

-Wallerstein Inmanuel, “The politics of Economic Disaster”, Agence Global, 15-2-09

-Weisbrot Mark, “Economía global exagerada”, Página 12, 17-4-09

Video: Mental Health Wellness during a Crisis (May 2021).