Bank Profits a sign of economic sickness, not health

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The record $6 bil­lion prof­it that the Com­mon­wealth Bank is expect­ed to announce today is a sign of an econ­o­my that has been tak­en over by Ponzi finance. Fun­da­men­tal­ly, banks make mon­ey by cre­at­ing debt, and the amount of debt we’ve been enticed into tak­ing on is the sign of a sick econ­o­my rather than a healthy one. The lev­el of pri­vate debt that is actu­al­ly need­ed to sup­port busi­ness and main­tain home own­er­ship at his­toric lev­els (own­er­ship lev­els have fall­en over recent years!) is pos­si­bly as lit­tle as one sixth the cur­rent lev­el.

Because of that debt lev­el, bank prof­its have gone through the roof as a share of GDP. Back before we had a finan­cial crisis—when debt lev­els were far low­er than today—so too were bank prof­its as a share of GDP. A sus­tain­able lev­el of bank prof­its appears to be about 1% of GDP. The blowout from this lev­el to vir­tu­al­ly six times as much began when bank dereg­u­la­tion began under Hawke and Keat­ing, and then took off as Howard and Costel­lo encour­aged every­one to become “Mum and Dad Investors”, which meant bor­row­ing mon­ey from the bank and gam­bling on share and house prices.

As read­ers of this blog know, I build mod­els of finan­cial insta­bil­i­ty, and in my mod­els, one symp­tom of an econ­o­my that is head­ed for a Depres­sion is a rise in bankers share of income at the expense of work­ers and cap­i­tal­ists. The mod­el below has yet to be cal­i­brat­ed to the data, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties with the actu­al data are still omi­nous.

One empir­i­cal real­i­ty illus­trat­ed by the mod­el as well is that even if firms are the ones tak­ing on the debt (as they are in this model—it does not include house­hold bor­row­ing), work­ers are the ones that pay for this in terms of a declin­ing share of nation­al income: ris­ing debt is asso­ci­at­ed with a con­stant prof­it share of GDP but a falling work­ers share.

When the cri­sis real­ly hits,  both work­ers and cap­i­tal­ists suf­fer as bank income goes through the roof—leading to a Depres­sion. The only way out of this is to abol­ish large slabs of the debt, and coin­ci­den­tal­ly to dri­ve bankers share of income back down to lev­els that reflect is sup­port­ive role as a provider of work­ing cap­i­tal for firms—rather than a par­a­sitic role as the financier of Ponzi schemes.

This is the real debt sto­ry of our econ­o­my right now. As the first chart above indi­cates, pri­vate debt is far high­er than Gov­ern­ment debt, even after the increase last year due to Rud­d’s stim­u­lus pack­age. Gov­ern­ment debt is cur­rent­ly 5.5% of GDP, where­as pri­vate debt—even though it has fall­en slight­ly due to busi­ness deleveraging—is over 150% of GDP: 27 times the size of Gov­ern­ment debt. The so-called debate that the major par­ties are hav­ing over the size of Gov­ern­ment debt is an embar­rass­ment.

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About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.