Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

New Year Crises

Out of the top corner of my eye, while sitting on a bar stool the other night, I saw the strapline on a Polish rolling news channel on the TV. It said “W Brukseli o kryzysie” or “In Brussels the crisis [is being discussed].” It got me wondering, and this is what I wondered: which crisis? The war on Gaza? The gas shortage in Europe? The general, world-wide depression? Interesting times.

Who’s to blame in each of the three crises? Israel or Hamas? Russia or Ukraine? The trade unions or the trade unions? Yes, you were mistaken if you thought the depression was caused by reckless lending, short term chasing of profit at all costs, poor financial regulation, ideologically blinded (but independent!) central banks, poor planning, bad business practices, the abdication by politicians of their responsibility for providing for the overall good. It says so right here in Gazeta Wyborcza and the usually more measured Polityka. Here’s the latter on the demise of the US car industry: “It was not the financial crisis that brought the Big Three to the edge of the precipice but … the trade unions.” The unions won such good pay and conditions for their members that the manufacturers could not compete with other countries like Japan, sweatshop of the world. (And why shouldn’t the workers of the richest most powerful country in the world not enjoy the best pay and conditions – is that not what being rich and powerful is all about?)

I would have thought that the job of the trade union was to – to simplify greatly – gain as much pay for as little work as possible. Management wants the inverse and so a happy medium should be found. The US unions, then, succeeded (if Polityka is to be believed) but management, sadly, was not up to the job. So who gets the blame? Not the jet-setting management, for failing miserably, but the unions, for succeeding admirably.

Meanwhile Gazeta Wyborcza acknowledged the economic disaster with its Friday (16th) headline: “It has Begun.” It reports on negotiations between employers, unions and the government, quoting one of the most-quoted people in the country, Jeremi Mordasewicz of the employers’ organisation Lewiatan, that if the unions’ demands are met it will destroy the country. Among those demands are pay raises, a raise in the minimum pay (currently 38% of the national average) a cut in VAT, especially on food, and a raise in income tax on the richest. Raising pay for the poorest puts money into the economy as that money is immediately spent on real goods and services. Giving it to the rich (by means of regressive taxes, for instance) means just that: giving it to the rich, unless you still cling to the trickledown theory, in which case hang in there. It can’t be long now before a kindly plutocrat offers you a dime to shine his shoes. You can give him some stock tips in return.

Elsewhere on the business pages in Poland is the amazing discovery that banks – cover your ears and eyes if you are of a nervous disposition – earn money on international currency dealing by selling, e.g., Swiss francs for more than they buy them. Lots of Poles took out mortgages in foreign currencies and are now crying foul because not only are those foreign currencies more expensive these days but the banks are not using the central bank’s exchange rate. No one less than me wants to be seen to seem to be on the banks’ side but have Poles never heard of “let the buyer beware”? But of course the banks set their own, usurious exchange rates.

Among the other hilarious items from the business pages these days in Poland is the discovery of foreign exchange options. Again, people are running around crying foul because of a basic failure to understand (or even read) their contracts. To avoid unpleasant surprises some export businesses bought guarantees from the bank that a certain rate of exchange would be honoured regardless of the actual exchange rate obtaining on the date of the deal. Everything was tickety boo when the zloty was strong and getting stronger but – what’s this? It turns out the zloty can go down as well as up. And down it has gone, like a brick. Who could have expected this? Aren’t markets always supposed to go up? The lure of options was so strong that some businesses went beyond merely protecting their bottom lines from currency fluctuations to the kind of full-on barrow-boy, hopeless gambler-with-a-system-syndrome playing of the system that brought down America’s economy. They are now going bankrupt.

Presumably some way of pinning this on the trade unions will be found. After all, this is a country where people say “liberal” and mean Friedmanite fundamentalist.

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