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German corporations demand survival of the fittest

The Eurozone is cracking apart as German-based industrial corporations demand the end of support for poorer, peripheral debt-laden countries so that wages can be forced down. In the back rooms of the financial powerhouses the talk is of leaving Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Belgium to collapse, throwing millions into permanent unemployment.

Why? Because globally co-ordinated attempts to bring the world’s financial institutions back from the brink of Armageddon by printing money, failed to produce anything more than a temporary – and phony – recovery of growth.

Phony, because the figures did nothing to hide the close to 10% unemployment in much of the developed part of the world, rising to 20% in Spain. Phony, because increased manufacturing filled stock levels but didn’t translate into enough increased sales. Phony because investment in China is giving way to inflation and export-dependent growth is slowing there and in India.

And now the debt contagion that is the principal feature of the global capitalist crisis, has spread to local and municipal authorities in the United States and other countries.

More than 100 US cities are already facing the prospect of bankruptcy. American cities and states have debts in total of as much as $2 trillion. In Europe, local and regional government borrowing is expected to reach a historical peak of nearly €1.3tn (£1.1tn) this year.

Cities from Detroit to Madrid are struggling to pay creditors, including providers of basic services such as street cleaning. Last week, Moody's ratings agency warned about a downgrade for the cities of Florence and Barcelona and cut the rating of the Basque country in northern Spain. The debts of Naples, Budapest and Istanbul have achieved unenviable “junk” status.

You don’t need to try to imagine the consequences. Just look at Detroit. Fifty years ago, Detroit was home to almost 2 million people. Today, many of the once bustling, car-clogged streets of the motor city are largely abandoned. The population is less than half what it was. One in five houses is empty – in some areas it is eight out of ten. Property prices have collapsed to the point where houses can be had for $100, although the average price is $7,500 (£5,000). The city council gives homes away to those prepared to pay the outstanding property taxes.

Now the city authorities, faced with talk of bankruptcy, plan to downsize Detroit by cutting off services, such as policing and sewerage, to large parts of the blighted metropolis in an effort to pressure residents to move to core neighbourhoods of a smaller city.

The mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, said that his administration cannot afford to go on providing services such as schools, firefighters, buses and rubbish collection to large areas of the city where the population has dropped sharply. The fall in the number of people paying property taxes has left a $300 million hole in the budget.

Bing told the Detroit Free Press that no one will be forced to move but those who remain outside of designated parts of the city "need to understand that they're not going to get the kind of services they require".

In Britain, rising interest rates and declining tax income are hitting hard already, driving the government’s deficit to record levels yet again. This can only intensify the increasingly shaky Coalition’s drive to cut spending, forcing hundreds of thousands out of work.

It couldn’t be clearer. Capitalist society is no longer able to provide the basics of life for the majority. Its replacement cannot come a moment too soon. People’s Assemblies can surely become the organising focus for a new kind of not-for-profit society. Remaking the financial system will be amongst their first tasks.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
22 December 2010

This will be our last blog before the holiday period. We will resume publication on Thursday, 30 December.

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