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Ellen Brown is the founder of the Public Banking Institute and the author of a dozen books and hundreds of articles. She developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In the best-selling Web of Debt (2007, 2012), she turned those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust,” showing how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves and how we the people can get it back.
In The Public Bank Solution (2013) she traces the evolution of two banking models that have competed historically, public and private; and explores contemporary public banking systems globally. She has presented these ideas at scores of conferences in the US and abroad, including in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Malaysia, Mexico and Venezuela.
Brown developed an interest in the developing world and its problems while living abroad for eleven years in Kenya, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. She returned to practicing law when she was asked to join the legal team of a popular Tijuana healer with an innovative cancer therapy, who was targeted by the chemotherapy industry in the 1990s. That experience produced her book Forbidden Medicine, which traces the suppression of natural health treatments to the same corrupting influences that have captured the money system. She also co-authored the bestselling Nature’s Pharmacy, which has sold 285,000 copies.
Ellen ran for California State Treasurer in 2014 with the endorsement of the Green Party garnering a record number of votes for a Green Party candidate. Her 330+ blog articles are at http://EllenBrown.com. The Public Banking Institute is at http://PublicBankingInstitute.org. She can be heard biweekly on “It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown” on PRN.FM.
Books By Ellen Hodgson Brown:
The Recent Articles List
From Lockdown to Police State: The “Great Reset” Rolls Out
By Ellen Brown,
Meet Black Rock, the New Great Vampire Squid
by Ellen Brown
June 24, 2020
When Profits and Politics Drive Science: The Hazards of Rushing a Vaccine at “Warp Speed”
By Ellen Brown
June 04, 2020
Ellen Brown. A Universal Basic Income Is Essential and Will Work.
The Fed Protects Gamblers at the Expense of the Economy:
Jan 08, 2020
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Did Congress just nationalize the Fed?
No. But the door to that result has been cracked open.
By Ellen Brown
April 03, 2020
Socialism at Its Finest after Fed’s Bazooka Fails
by Ellen Brown
March 21, 2020
The Fed’s Baffling Response to the Coronavirus Explained
Mar 09, 2020
When the World Health Organization announced on Feb. 24 that it was time to prepare for a global pandemic, the stock market plummeted. Over the following week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 3,500 points, or 10%. In an attempt to contain the damage, the Federal Reserve on March 3 slashed the fed funds rate from 1.5% to 1.0%, in its first emergency rate move and biggest one-time cut since the 2008 financial crisis. But rather than reassuring investors, the move fueled another panic sell-off.
Exasperated commentators on CNBC wondered what the Fed was thinking. They said a half-point rate cut would not stop the spread of the coronavirus or fix the broken Chinese supply chains that are driving U.S. companies to the brink. A new report by corporate data analytics firm Dun & Bradstreet calculates that some 51,000 companies around the world have one or more direct suppliers in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. At least 5 million companies globally have one or more tier-two suppliers in the region, meaning that their suppliers get their supplies there; and 938 of the Fortune 1,000 companies have tier-one or tier-two suppliers there. Moreover, fully 80% of U.S. pharmaceuticals are made in China. A break in the supply chain can grind businesses to a halt.
So what was the Fed’s reasoning for lowering the fed funds rate? According to some financial analysts, the fire it was trying to put out was actually in the repo market, where the Fed has lost control despite its emergency measures of the last six months. Repo market transactions come to $1 trillion to $2.2 trillion per day and keep our modern-day financial system afloat. But to follow the developments there, we first need a recap of the repo action since 2008.
Repos and the Fed
Before the 2008 banking crisis, banks in need of liquidity borrowed excess reserves from each other in the fed funds market. But after 2008, banks were reluctant to lend in that unsecured market, because they did not trust their counterparts to have the money to pay up. Banks desperate for funds could borrow at the Fed’s discount window, but it carried a stigma. It signaled that the bank must be in distress, since other banks were not willing to lend to it at a reasonable rate. So banks turned instead to the private repo market, which is anonymous and is secured with collateral (Treasuries and other acceptable securities). Repo trades, although technically “sales and repurchases” of collateral, are in effect secured short-term loans, usually repayable the next day or in two weeks.
The risky element of these apparently secure trades is that the collateral itself may not be reliable, because it may be subject to more than one claim. For example, it may have been acquired in a swap with another party for securitized auto loans or other shaky assets — a swap that will have to be reversed at maturity. As I explained in an earlier article, the private repo market has been invaded by hedge funds, which are highly leveraged and risky; so risk-averse money market funds and other institutional lenders have been withdrawing from that market. When the normally low repo interest rate shot up to 10% in September, the Fed therefore felt compelled to step in. The action it took was to restart its former practice of injecting money short-term through its own repo agreements with its primary dealers, which then lent to banks and other players. on March 3, however, even that central bank facility was oversubscribed, with far more demand for loans than the subscription limit.
The Fed’s emergency rate cut was in response to that crisis. Lowering the fed funds rate by half a percentage point was supposed to relieve the pressure on the central bank’s repo facility by encouraging banks to lend to each other. But the rate cut had virtually no effect, and the central bank’s repo facility continued to be oversubscribed the next day and the following. As observed by Zero Hedge:
This continuing liquidity crunch is bizarre, as it means that not only did the rate cut not unlock additional funding, it actually made the problem worse, and now banks and dealers are telegraphing that they need not only more repo buffer but likely an expansion of QE [quantitative easing].
The Collateral Problem
As financial analyst George Gammon explains, however, the crunch in the private repo market is not actually due to a shortage of liquidity. Banks still have $1.5 trillion in excess reserves in their accounts with the Fed, stockpiled after multiple rounds of quantitative easing. The problem is in the collateral, which lenders no longer trust. Lowering the fed funds rate did not relieve the pressure on the Fed’s repo facility for obvious reasons: Banks that are not willing to take the risk of lending to each other unsecured at 1.5% in the fed funds market are going to be even less willing to lend at 1%. They can earn that much just by leaving their excess reserves at the safe, secure Fed, drawing on the Interest on Excess Reserves it has been doling out ever since the 2008 crisis.
But surely the Fed knew that. So why lower the fed funds rate? Perhaps because it had to do something to maintain the façade of being in control, and lowering the interest rate was the most acceptable tool it had. The alternative would be another round of quantitative easing, but the Fed has so far denied entertaining that controversial alternative. Those protests aside, QE is probably next after the Fed’s orthodox tools fail, as the Zero Hedge author notes.
The central bank has become the only game in town, and its hammer keeps missing the nail. A recession caused by a massive disruption in supply chains cannot be fixed through central-bank monetary easing alone. Monetary policy is a tool designed to deal with demand — the amount of money competing for goods and services, driving prices up. To fix a supply-side problem, monetary policy needs to be combined with fiscal policy, which means Congress and the Fed need to work together. There are successful contemporary models for this, and the best are in China and Japan.
The Chinese Stock Market Has Held Its Ground
While U.S. markets were crashing, the Chinese stock market actually went up by 10% in February. How could that be? China is the country hardest hit by the disruptive COVID-19 virus, yet investors are evidently confident that it will prevail against the virus and market threats.
In 2008, China beat the global financial crisis by pouring massive amounts of money into infrastructure, and that is apparently the policy it is pursuing now. Five hundred billion dollars in infrastructure projects have already been proposed for 2020 — nearly as much as was invested in the country’s huge stimulus program after 2008. The newly injected money will go into the pockets of laborers and suppliers, who will spend it on consumer goods, prompting producers to produce more goods and services, increasing productivity and jobs.
How will all this stimulus be funded? In the past, China has simply borrowed from its own state-owned banks, which can create money as deposits on their books, as all depository banks do today (see here and here). Most of the loans will be repaid with the profits from the infrastructure they create, and those that are not can be written off or carried on the books or moved off the balance sheet. The Chinese government is the regulator of its banks, and rather than putting its insolvent banks and businesses into bankruptcy, its usual practice is to let nonperforming loans just pile up on bank balance sheets. The newly created money that was not repaid adds to the money supply, but no harm is done to the consumer economy, which actually needs regular injections of new money to fill the gap between debt and the money available to repay it. In all systems in which banks create the principal but not the interest due on loans, this gap continually widens, requiring continual infusions of new money to fill the breach (see my earlier article here). In the last 20 years, China’s money supply has increased by 2,000% without driving up the consumer price index, which has averaged around 2% during those two decades. Supply has gone up with demand, keeping prices stable.
The Japanese Model
China’s experiences are instructive, but borrowing from the government’s own banks cannot be done in the U.S., because our banks have not been nationalized and our central bank is considered to be independent of government control. The Fed cannot pour money directly into infrastructure but is limited to buying bonds from its primary dealers on the open market.
At least, that is the Fed’s argument, but the Federal Reserve Act allows it to make three-month infrastructure loans to states, and these could be rolled over for extended periods thereafter. The repo market itself consists of short-term loans continually rolled over. If hedge funds can borrow at 1.5% in the private repo market, which is now backstopped by the Fed, states should get those low rates as well.
Alternatively, Congress could amend the Federal Reserve Act to allow it to work with the central bank in funding infrastructure and other national projects, following the path successfully blazed by Japan. Under Japanese banking law, the central bank must cooperate closely with the Ministry of Finance in setting policy. Unlike in the U.S., Japan’s prime minister can negotiate with the head of its central bank to buy the government’s bonds, ensuring that the bonds will be turned into new money that will stimulate domestic economic growth; and if the bonds are continually rolled over, this debt need never be repaid.
The Bank of Japan has already “monetized” nearly 50% of the government’s debt in this way, and it has pulled off this feat without driving up consumer prices. In fact, Japan’s inflation rate remains stubbornly below the BOJ’s 2% target. Deflation continues to be a greater concern than inflation in Japan, despite unprecedented debt monetization by its central bank.
The Independent Federal Reserve Is Obsolete
In the face of a recession caused by massive supply-chain disruption, the U.S. central bank has shown itself to be impotent. Congress needs to take a lesson from Japan and modify U.S. banking law to allow it to work with the central bank in getting the wheels of production turning again. The next time the country’s largest banks become insolvent, rather than bailing banks out, Congress should nationalize them. The banks could then be used to fund infrastructure and other government projects to stimulate the economy, following China’s model.
Ellen Brown is an attorney, chairman of the Public Banking Institute, and author of thirteen books including her latest, "Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age."
Mexico Is Showing the World How to Defeat Neoliberalism
Мексика показывает миру, как победить неолиберализм
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico's president. (Eneas De Troya / CC BY 2.0)
While U.S. advocates and local politicians struggle to get their first public banks chartered, Mexico’s new president has begun construction on 2,700 branches of a government-owned bank to be completed in 2021, when it will be the largest bank in the country. At a press conference on Jan. 6, he said the neoliberal model had failed; private banks were not serving the poor and people outside the cities, so the government had to step in.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) has been compared to the United Kingdom’s left-wing opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, with one notable difference: AMLO is now in power. He and his left-wing coalition won by a landslide in Mexico’s 2018 general election, overturning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had ruled the country for much of the past century. Called Mexico’s “first full-fledged left-wing experiment,” AMLO’s election marks a dramatic change in the political direction of the country. AMLO wrote in his 2018 book “A New Hope for Mexico,” “In Mexico the governing class constitutes a gang of plunderers…. Mexico will not grow strong if our public institutions remain at the service of the wealthy elites.”
The new president has held to his campaign promises. In 2019, his first year in office, he did what Donald Trump pledged to do — “drain the swamp” — purging the government of technocrats and institutions he considered corrupt, profligate or impeding the transformation of Mexico after 36 years of failed market-focused neoliberal policies. Other accomplishments have included substantially increasing the minimum wage while cutting top government salaries and oversize pensions; making small loans and grants directly to farmers; guaranteeing crop prices for key agricultural crops; launching programs to benefit youth, the disabled and the elderly; and initiating a $44 billion infrastructure plan. López Obrador’s goal, he says, is to construct a “new paradigm” in economic policy that improves human welfare, not just increases gross domestic product.
The End of the Neoliberal Era
To deliver on that promise, in July 2019 AMLO converted the publicly owned federal savings bank Bansefi into a “Bank of the Poor” (Banco del Bienestar or “Welfare Bank”). He said on Jan. 6 that the neoliberal era had eliminated all the state-owned banks but one, which he had gotten approval to expand with 2,700 new branches. Added to the existing 538 branches of the former Bansefi, that will bring the total in two years to 3,238 branches, far outstripping any other bank in the country. (Banco Azteca, currently the largest by number of branches, has 1,860.)
Digital banking will also be developed. Speaking to a local group in December, AMLO said his goal was for the Bank of the Poor to reach 13,000 branches, more than all the private banks in the country combined.
At a news conference on Jan. 8, he explained why this new bank was needed:
There are more than 1,000 municipalities that don’t have a bank branch. We’re dispersing [welfare] resources but we don’t have a way to do it. . . . People have to go to branches that are two, three hours away. If we don’t bring these services close to the people, we’re not going to bring development to the people. …
They’re already building. I’ll invite you within two months, three at the most, to the inauguration of the first branches because they’re already working, they’re getting the land … because we have to do it quickly.
The president said the 10 billion pesos ($530.4 million) needed to build the new branches would come from government savings; and that 5 million had already been transferred to the Banco del Bienestar, which would pass the funds to the Secretariat of Defense, whose engineers were responsible for construction. The military will also be used to transport physical funds to the branches for welfare payments. AMLO added, “They are helping me. They are propping me up. The military has behaved very well and they don’t back down at all. They always tell me ‘yes you can, yes we do, go.’ ”
To concerns that the government-owned bank would draw deposits away from commercial banks and might compete in other ways, such as making interest-free loans to small businesses, AMLO countered:
There’s no reason to be complaining about us building these branches. … [I]f private banks want to build branches, they have every right to go to the towns and build their branches, but as they won’t because they believe that it’s not [good] business, we have to do it . . . it’s our social responsibility, the state can’t shirk its social responsibility.
Issues With the Central Bank
While the legislature has approved the new bank, Mexico’s central bank can still block it if bank regulations are breached. Ricardo Delfín, who works at the international accounting firm KPMG, told the newspaper La Razón that if the money to fund the bank comes from a loan from the federal government rather than from capital, it will adversely affect the bank’s “Capitalization Ratio.” But AMLO contends that the bank will be self-sufficient. Funding for construction will come from federal savings from other programs, and the bank’s operating expenses will be covered by small commissions paid on each transaction by customers, most of whom are welfare recipients. Branches will be built on land owned by the government or donated, and software companies have offered to advise for free.
About the central bank, he said:
We’re going to speak with those from the Bank of México respecting the autonomy of the Bank of México. We have to educate them because for them this is an anachronism, even sacrilege, because they have other ideas. But we’ve arrived here [in government] after telling the people that the neoliberal economic policy was going to change. . . .
There shouldn’t be obstacles. How is the Bank of México going to stop us from having a [bank] branch that disperses resources in favor of the people? What damage does that do? Whom does it harm?
AMLO has repeatedly promised not to interfere in the business of the central bank, which has been autonomous for the past quarter of a century. But he has also said that he would like its mandate expanded from just preserving the value of the peso by fighting inflation to include fostering growth. The concern, according to The Financial Times, is that he might use the central bank to fund government programs, following in the footsteps of Argentina’s former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, “whose heterodox policies led to high inflation and, many economists believe, the country’s current crisis.”
Mark Weisbrot counters in The New York Times, however, that Argentina’s problems were caused, not by printing money to fund domestic development, but by a massive foreign debt. Hyperinflation actually happened under Fernández de Kirchner’s successor, President Mauricio Macri, who replaced her in 2015. The public debt grew from 53% to more than 86% of GDP, inflation soared from 18% to 54%, short-term interest rates shot up to 75%, and poverty increased from 27% to 40%.
In an upset election in August 2019, the outraged Argentinian public re-elected Fernández de Kirchner as vice president and her former head of the cabinet of ministers as president, restoring the 12-year Kirchner legacy begun by her husband, Nestor Kirchner, in 2003 and considered by Weisbrot to be among the most successful presidencies in the Western Hemisphere.
More appropriate than Argentina as a model for what can be achieved by a government working in partnership with its central bank is that of Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has funded his stimulus programs by selling government bonds directly to the Bank of Japan. The BOJ now holds nearly 50% of the government’s debt, yet consumer price inflation remains low — so low that the BOJ cannot get the figure up even to its 2% target.
Other Funding Options
AMLO is unlikely to go that route, because he has vowed not to interfere with the central bank; but analysts say he needs to introduce some sort of economic stimulus, because Mexico’s GDP has slipped in the last year. The Mexican president has criticized GDP as the ultimate standard, advocating instead for a model of development that incorporates wealth distribution and access to education, health, housing and culture into its measurements.
But as Kurt Hackbarth warned in Jacobin in December, “To fully unfurl [his] program without simply ransacking other line items to pay for it will require doing something AMLO has up to now categorically ruled out: raising taxes on the rich and large corporations which, not surprisingly, make out like utter bandits in Mexico’s rigged financial system.”
AMLO has continually vowed, however, not to raise taxes on the rich. Instead he has enlisted Mexico’s business magnates as investors in public-private partnerships, allowing him to avoid the “tequila trap” that brought down Argentina and Mexico itself in earlier years — getting locked into debt to foreign investors and the International Monetary Fund. Mexico’s business leaders seem happy to invest in the country, despite some slippage in GDP.
As noted by Carlos Slim, Mexico’s wealthiest man, “Debt didn’t go up, there is no fiscal deficit and inflation came down.” In November 2019, the Economy Secretariat reported that foreign direct investment showed a 7.8% increase in the first nine months of that year compared with the same period in 2018, reaching its second highest level ever; and at the end of 2019 the peso was up around 4%. Stocks also rose 4.5%, and inflation dropped from 4.8% to 3%.
Partnering with local businessleaders is politically expedient, but public/private partnerships can be expensive; and as U.K. Professor Richard Werner points out, tapping up private investors merely recirculates existing money in the economy. Better would be to borrow directly from banks, which create new bank money when they lend, as the Bank of England has confirmed. This new money then circulates in the economy, stimulating productivity.
Today, the best model for that approach is China, which funds infrastructure by borrowing from its own state-owned banks. Like all banks, they create loans as bank credit on their books, which is then repaid with the proceeds of the projects created with the loans. There is no need to tap up the central bank or rich investors or the tax base. Government banks can create money on their books just as central banks and private banks do.
For Mexico, however, using its public banks as China does would be something for the future, if at all. Meanwhile, AMLO has been a trailblazer in showing how a national public banking system can be initiated quickly and efficiently. The key, it seems, is just to have the political will — along with massive support from the public, the legislature, local business leaders and the military.
Эллен Браун: Мексика похоронила неолиберализм
как идеологию «банды грабителей»
Дорогие члены ГСГ, друзья!
Мы счастливы познакомить вас с замечательной статьей Эллен Браун «Мексика показывает миру, как победить неолиберализм», которая была опубликована с нашими подчеркиваниями на ее странице здесь: https://peacefromharmony.org/?cat=en_c&key=918.
Эллен дает блестящий анализ новой «экономической парадигмы» нового президента Мексики: Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Эта парадигма, порожденная политической волей Мексиканского президента, похоронила одряхлевший неолиберализм как идеологию «банды грабителей». Эта парадигма поставила вопросы о смене либеральных стандартов развития: вместо ВВП – уровень благосостояния населения и много других новшеств в создании национальной государственной банковской системы, вытесняющей либеральную систему «банды грабителей».
Инновационный опыт Мексики и ее президента открывают для нас возможность инициировать перед ним модель Гандианской сферной ненасильственной демократии, бюджетная/финансовая система которой нацелена не на американские приоритеты войны и милитаризма, а на Гандианские, народные приоритеты мира, ненасилия, гармонии для благосостояния населения. Мы приглашаем наше Латино-Американское отделение ГСГ подумать о реализации этой возможности в Мексике, когда мы опубликуем нашу Гандикратию и когда у нас будет Испанская Гандика. Мы надеемся, что Эллен могла бы помочь нам в этом и написать небольшую статью о Мексиканском опыте в нашу новую книгу, если она хочет и может. Это был бы ее большой вклад в глобальный мир через модернизацию и демократии, и ее банковской системы. Мы высоко оценим этот вклад.
Лучшие пожелания мира из гармонии,
Ellen Brown: Mexico buries neoliberalism
as “a gang of plunderers” ideology
Dear GHA members, friends,
We are happy to introduce you to the wonderful article by Dr. Ellen Brown “Mexico shows the world how to defeat neoliberalism”, which was published with our underlines on her page here: https://peacefromharmony.org/?cat=en_c&key=918 .
Ellen gives a brilliant analysis of the new “economic paradigm” of the new President of Mexico: Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). This paradigm generated by the political will of the Mexican president buried decrepit neoliberalism as the ideology of "a gang of plunderers." This paradigm posed questions about changing liberal development standards: instead of GDP, it was the level of well-being of the population and many other innovations in creating a public banking system, crowding out the liberal system of “robber gangs”.
The innovative experience of Mexico and its president offers us the opportunity to initiate before him a model of the Gandhian spheral nonviolent democracy, the budget / financial system of which is aimed not at the American priorities of war and militarism, but at the Gandhian, popular priorities of peace, non-violence, harmony for the well-being of the population. We invite our GHA Latin American Department to think about the implementation of this opportunity in Mexico when we publish our “Gandhicracy” and when we will have the Spanish Gandhica. We hope that Ellen could help us with this and write a short article about the Mexican experience in our new book, if she wants and can. This would be her great contribution to global peace through modernization of both democracy and its banking system.
We will greatly appreciate this contribution.
Best wishes for peace from harmony,
Dr. Leo Semashko,
The Key to the Environmental Crisis
Is Beneath Our Feet
The Green New Deal resolution that was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in February hit a wall in the Senate, where it was called unrealistic and unaffordable. In a Washington Post article titled “The Green New Deal Sets Us Up for Failure. We Need a Better Approach,” former Colorado governor and Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper framed the problem like this:
The resolution sets unachievable goals. We do not yet have the technology needed to reach “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it. There is no clean substitute for jet fuel. Electric vehicles are growing quickly, yet are still in their infancy. Manufacturing industries such as steel and chemicals, which account for almost as much carbon emissions as transportation, are even harder to decarbonize.
Amid this technological innovation, we need to ensure that energy is not only clean but also affordable. Millions of Americans struggle with “energy poverty.” Too often, low-income Americans must choose between paying for medicine and having their heat shut off. …
If climate change policy becomes synonymous in the U.S. psyche with higher utility bills, rising taxes and lost jobs, we will have missed our shot.
The problem may be that a transition to 100% renewables is the wrong target. Reversing climate change need not mean emptying our pockets and tightening our belts. It is possible to sequester carbon and restore our collapsing ecosystem using the financial resources we already have, and it can be done while at the same time improving the quality of our food, water, air and general health.
The Larger Problem – and the Solution – Is in the Soil
Contrary to popular belief, the biggest environmental polluters are not big fossil fuel companies. They are big agribusiness and factory farming, with six powerful food industry giants – Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Dean Foods, Dow AgroSciences, Tyson and Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) – playing a major role. Oil-dependent farming, industrial livestock operations, the clearing of carbon-storing fields and forests, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the combustion of fuel to process and distribute food are estimated to be responsible for as much as one-half of human-caused pollution. Climate change, while partly a consequence of the excessive relocation of carbon and other elements from the earth into the atmosphere, is more fundamentally just one symptom of overall ecosystem distress from centuries of over-tilling, over-grazing, over-burning, over-hunting, over-fishing and deforestation.
Big Ag’s toxin-laden, nutrient-poor food is also a major contributor to the U.S. obesity epidemic and many other diseases. Yet these are the industries getting the largest subsidies from U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of more than $20 billion annually. We don’t hear about this for the same reason that they get the subsidies – they have massively funded lobbies capable of bribing their way into special treatment.
The story we do hear, as Judith Schwartz observes in The Guardian, is, “Climate change is global warming caused by too much CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. We stop climate change by making the transition to renewable energy.” Schwartz does not discount this part of the story but points to several problems with it:
One is the uncomfortable fact that even if, by some miracle, we could immediately cut emissions to zero, due to inertia in the system it would take more than a century for CO2 levels to drop to 350 parts per million, which is considered the safe threshold. Plus, here’s what we don’t talk about when we talk about climate: we can all go solar and drive electric cars and still have the problems – the unprecedented heat waves, the wacky weather – that we now associate with CO2-driven climate change.
But that hasn’t stopped investors, who see the climate crisis as simply another profit opportunity. According to a study by Morgan Stanley analysts reported in Forbes in October, halting global warming and reducing net carbon emissions to zero would take an investment of $50 trillion over the next three decades, including $14 trillion for renewables; $11 trillion to build the factories, batteries and infrastructure necessary for a widespread switch to electric vehicles; $2.5 trillion for carbon capture and storage; $20 trillion to provide clean hydrogen fuel for power, cars and other industries, and $2.7 trillion for biofuels. The article goes on to highlight the investment opportunities presented by these challenges by recommending various big companies expected to lead the transition, including Exxon, Chevron, BP, General Electric, Shell and similar corporate giants – many of them the very companies blamed by Green New Deal advocates for the crisis.
A Truly Green New Deal
There is a much cheaper and faster way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere that doesn’t rely on these corporate giants to transition us to 100% renewables. Additionally, it can be done while at the same time reducing the chronic diseases that impose an even heavier cost on citizens and governments. Our most powerful partner is nature itself, which over hundreds of millions of years has evolved the most efficient carbon sequestration system on the planet. As David Perry writes on the World Economic Forum website:
This solution leverages a natural process that every plant undergoes, powered by a source that is always available, costs little to nothing to run and does not cause further pollution. This power source is the sun, and the process is photosynthesis.
A plant takes carbon dioxide out of the air and, with the help of sunlight and water, converts it to sugars. Every bit of that plant – stems, leaves, roots – is made from carbon that was once in our atmosphere. Some of this carbon goes into the soil as roots. The roots, then, release sugars to feed soil microbes. These microbes perform their own chemical processes to convert carbon into even more stable forms.
Perry observes that before farmland was cultivated, it had soil carbon levels of from 3% to 7%. Today, those levels are roughly 1% carbon. If every acre of farmland globally were returned to a soil carbon level of just 3%, 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil – equal to the amount of carbon that has been drawn into the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. The size of the potential solution matches the size of the problem.
So how can we increase the carbon content of soil? Through “regenerative” farming practices, says Perry, including planting cover crops, no-till farming, rotating crops, reducing chemicals and fertilizers, and managed grazing (combining trees, forage plants and livestock together as an integrated system, a technique called “silvopasture”). These practices have been demonstrated to drive carbon into the soil and keep it there, resulting in carbon-enriched soils that are healthier and more resilient to extreme weather conditions and show improved water permeability, preventing the rainwater runoff that contributes to rising sea levels and rising temperatures. Evaporation from degraded, exposed soil has been shown to cause 1,600% more heat annually than all the world’s powerhouses combined. Regenerative farming methods also produce increased microbial diversity, higher yields, reduced input requirements, more nutritious harvests and increased farm profits.
These highly favorable results were confirmed by Paul Hawken and his team in the project that was the subject of his best-selling 2016 book, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” The project involved evaluating the 100 most promising solutions to the environmental crisis for cost and effectiveness. The results surprised the researchers themselves. The best-performing sector was not “Transport” or “Materials” or “Buildings and Cities” or even “Electricity Generation.” It was the sector called “Food,” including how we grow our food, market it and use it. Of the top 30 solutions, 12 were various forms of regenerative agriculture, including silvopasture, tropical staple trees, conservation agriculture, tree intercropping, managed grazing, farmland restoration and multistrata agroforestry.
How to Fund It All
If regenerative farming increases farmers’ bottom lines, why aren’t they already doing it? For one thing, the benefits of the approach are not well known. But even if they were, farmers would have a hard time making the switch. As noted in a Rolling Stone article titled “How Big Agriculture Is Preventing Farmers From Combating the Climate Crisis”:
[I]implementing these practices requires an economic flexibility most farmers don’t have, and which is almost impossible to achieve within a government-backed system designed to preserve a large-scale, corporate-farming monoculture based around commodity crops like corn and soybeans, which often cost smaller farmers more money to grow than they can make selling.
Farmers are locked into a system that is destroying their farmlands and the planet, because a handful of giant agribusinesses have captured Congress and the regulators. one proposed solution is to transfer the $20 billion in subsidies that now go mainly to Big Ag into a fund to compensate small farmers who transition to regenerative practices. We also need to enforce the antitrust laws and break up the biggest agribusinesses, something for which legislation is now pending in Congress.
At the grassroots level, we can vote with our pocketbooks by demanding truly nutritious foods. New technology is in development that can help with this grassroots approach by validating how nutrient-dense our foods really are. one such device, developed by Dan Kittredge and team, is a hand-held consumer spectrometer called a Bionutrient Meter, which tests nutrient density at point of purchase. The goal is to bring transparency to the marketplace, empowering consumers to choose their foods based on demonstrated nutrient quality, providing economic incentives to growers and grocers to drive regenerative practices across the system. Other new technology measures nutrient density in the soil, allowing farmers to be compensated in proportion to their verified success in carbon sequestration and soil regeneration.
Granted, $20 billion is unlikely to be enough to finance the critically needed transition from destructive to regenerative agriculture, but Congress can supplement this fund by tapping the deep pocket of the central bank. In the last decade, the Fed has demonstrated that its pool of financial liquidity is potentially limitless, but the chief beneficiaries of its largess have been big banks and their wealthy clients. We need a form of quantitative easing that actually serves the local productive economy. That might require modifying the Federal Reserve Act, but Congress has modified it before. The only real limit on new money creation is consumer price inflation, and there is room for a great deal more money to be pumped into the productive local economy before that ceiling is hit than is circulating in it now. For a detailed analysis of this issue, see my earlier articles here and here and latest book, “Banking on the People.”
The bottom line is that saving the planet from environmental destruction is not only achievable, but that by focusing on regenerative agriculture and tapping up the central bank for funding, the climate crisis can be addressed without raising taxes and while restoring our collective health.
Web of Debt