Derivatives and the Government Shutdown: Wall Street Bets One Thousand Trillion Dollars of Everybody Else’s Money
By Glen Ford
October 10, 2013
The clock is ticking, we are told, on the “good faith and credit” of the United States government, which might technically be unable to pay its bills after October 17 if the two corporate parties don’t make a deal on the debt limit. Congressional Republicans and the White House are “playing Russian roulette with the global economy,” says an editorial in the Dallas Morning News, warning of impending “economic Armageddon” as financial markets “crater,” the economy stalls and interest on future federal borrowing skyrockets.
Given that capitalism has entered a terminal stage of acute and escalating crises, the Dallas editorialists may be right; anything could set off another spasm of financial mayhem in a system that is ever more unstable. However, it is the “markets” – a euphemism for the financial capitalist class – that are the ultimate source of instability, the folks who play Russian roulette 24-7 and have dragged humanity to a place where an actual Armageddon is only a twirl of the chamber away. In this game, everybody’s head is in play.
t is proper that the corporate press speak of the impending fiscal threat – a minor one, in the maelstrom of crises that beset the system – in gambling terms. An increase of interest rates by a few basis points (fractions of a percent) on trillions of borrowed dollars amounts to quite a chunk of public money, to be paid directly into the accounts of these very same private “markets” that are supposedly biting their nails with anxiety over the budget. The Dallas Morning News and its fellow corporate propaganda spores spread the myth that the “markets” (bankers, hedge funds, etc.) crave stability, when the vital statistics of the real world of finance capitalism scream the opposite.
The Lords of Capital (the “markets”) are pure gamblers who have transformed the global financial marketplace into a machinery of perpetual uncertainty, in which all the wealth of the world is bet many times over by people who don’t actually own it, in a casino whose operators scheme against each other as well as their patrons, most of whom are not even aware that they are in the game – much less, that it is Russian roulette.
The notional value of derivative financial instruments is now estimated at $1.2 quadrillion – that is, one thousand two hundred trillion dollars. This statistic is fantastic in every sense of the word, amounting to 16.7 times the Gross World Product, which is the value of all the goods and services produced per year by every man, woman and child on the planet: $71.83 trillion. Derivatives are valued at six times more than the total accumulated wealth of the world, including all global stock markets, insurance funds, and family wealth: $200 trillion.