Against the arrogation of power by the “markets”

In Italy and elsewhere

Freedom, the rule of law and democracy are the responsibility of the citizens

by Karl Müller

The troubles of government formation in Italy are currently making daily headlines. This is also an occasion for some fundamental reflecting, especially after the European Commissioner for the EU budget commented on the factors influencing new elections.
“Quietly wait and see” is the title of a longer article published in “Zeit online” on 30 January 2017, and also published a few days earlier in the printed edition of the German weekly. The occasion for the article was the anniversary of the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor on 30 January 1933. The article states:
“In an editorial in the “Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung”, a German newspaper close to heavy industry, editor-in-chief Fritz Klein said that cooperation with the National Socialists would probably be ‘difficult and exhausting’, but at some time ‘the leap into the dark’ had to be ventured, as the Hitler movement had become the strongest political factor in Germany. The leader of the NSDAP now had to prove ‘whether he has the makings of a statesman’. “The next sentence reads:
“The stock exchanges were showing no agitation; everyone was sitting tight for the moment.”

1932 – Call for Hitler as a “moral obligation”

Given the knowledge of today this is not surprising. In many history books we can read a letter written in November 1932 by “leading personalities from economy and agriculture” to President of the Reich von Hindenburg – he was responsible for the appointment of the Reich Chancellor. This letter says: “… We therefore consider it our moral obligation to ask your Excellency most deferentially that, in order to achieve Your Excellency’s objective, which is supported by us all, the reorganisation of the Reich Cabinet should be carried out in such a way that the greatest possible popular power be brought to back up the Cabinet [...]. The transfer of the responsible leadership of a presidential cabinet equipped with the best practical and personal resources to the leader of the largest national group will eradicate the slags and mistakes that inevitably attach to any mass movement and will thrill millions of people still standing aside today to affirmative energy.” In other words, the authors of this letter demand the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor – above all, because he promised to disempower a parliament elected by the people and compounded of deputies from various parties, which was entirely in the interest of the Reich President as well as of the letter writers.
Not only German business leaders pleaded for Hitler. Even from abroad, Hitler and his party received much support for their intended seizure of power in Germany. For Hitler had not only promised to turn the German democracy into a dictatorial regime, but also to fight Bolshevism by any means possible.

2018 – EU Commissioner Oettinger and the “markets”

85 years later, the German EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who is responsible for the EU’s budget within the Commission, commented on government formation in Italy: “My concern – and my expectation – is, that the next few weeks will show that the markets, that the government bonds, that the economic development of Italy could be so incisive that this might be a possible signal for the voters not to elect populists from the left and the right.”
Spiegel online added its comment on 30 May:
“None of this is wrong. Neither that markets might react unhappily to an irresponsible financial and economic policy, nor that this would be a reason for worry or for hope that the voters will come to an insight.”
In fact, “markets” repeatedly influence political events. However, the key question is who actually are the persons behind these “markets”, what makes them “happy” and “unhappy”, and whether it is really about “reactions” to an “irresponsible financial and economic policy”.

What do “the markets” want?

The “markets’” support for Adolf Hitler and his party 85 years ago was indeed irresponsible. Have the “markets” changed so radically from then to today, 85 years later? Have they become friends and supporters of freedom, the rule of law and democracy? Or is it all about something else – for example, about tangible material and political interests? And how do these interests fit together with human dignity and freedom, with the rule of law and democracy today? 85 years ago, these interests did not match. Is the case really different today?
The majority of the national constitutions of the European states do not comment on the question of the economic and financial order. But their guarantees of private property are not unconditional. So, for example, the second paragraph of Article 14 in the German Basic Law reads: “Property entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good.”

Globalisation and shareholder value

This commitment to the common good has been undermined within a globalised world with its so-called “fundamental freedoms” (the euphemistic term used in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)), especially the free movement of capital. The former German CDU politician Willy Wimmer points to this fact. In his latest book, “Deutschland im Umbruch. Vom Diskurs zum Konkurs – eine Republik wird abgewickelt” (Germany in upheaval. From discourse to bankruptcy – a republic is being processed), the chapter “Shareholder value rolls across the Atlantic” is worth reading, especially the passages following the subheading “Slim state, fat booty”.
Human dignity, freedom, the rule of law and democracy include the right of the citizens of a state to together determine their own living conditions. The question of the economic and financial order obviously belongs to these. Well-known economic ethicists such as the Swiss Peter Ulrich have repeatedly explained this in detail.1

Free movement of capital does not fit in with human dignity

It is not compatible with these facts that just about any “markets” determine who is elected in a country. Free movement of capital and shareholder value are an attack on human dignity, freedom, the rule of law and democracy. If the stock market can decide in a matter of seconds where billions are going to flow, what person or what country in the world will cash in those billions and who they will be taken away from – if, in fact, money rules the world – then this is the end of respect for human dignity, the end of freedom, the rule of law and democracy.
The citizens of Italy are currently experiencing the way in which massive stock market slumps are trying to dictate politics. To speak of “reactions” is to use the wrong term. This is where action takes place, even before one single parliamentary decision has been passed.

Three years ago, it was Greece … and today Italy?

Three years ago, the Greeks were forced to submit – although the citizens had voted differently. Today, the “markets” in chorus with the EU are calling for Italy to do the same. Three years ago, the main actors were the political players in the “markets”, in the guise of EU and Euro-politicians. The Eurogroup dictation, which suspended Greek democracy three years ago, remains a document of shame to this day. How far are things to go with Italy?
But it does not end with the “markets” not respecting human dignity, with their overriding freedom, the rule of law and democracy. The “markets” were also at the root of World War II, 85 years ago. So what about today?

The question of the economic and financial order belongs in the hands of the citizens

The question of the “markets” is a question of the fate of states and their citizens. That is what past and present history teaches us. Should this state of affairs really continue into the future? Peter Ulrich proposes that decisions concerning the economic and financial system of a state be submitted to the citizens. This includes the sovereignty of the states concerning their economic and monetary order. A construction like the European Economic and Monetary Union violates this sovereignty. The euro is an enemy of freedom, of the rule of law and democracy.
As yet, the power of the “markets” is still enormous. For many years now, a lot of people have been tracking the stock market reports like rabbits before a snake. This way of seeing things is almost forced on people. Is it meant to artificially produce feelings of powerlessness?
Things are different in a social market economy. There it is about the real companies. Citizens want safe jobs for all those who can and want to work, they want good products and services which they need, constructive competition, economically successful entrepreneurs who have a connection with their country and are oriented towards the common good, for example in medium-sized family businesses, but also in cooperatives that live up even more to their own responsibility.
The “markets” and their political actors aim at depriving citizens of their sovereignty and at undermining the political unity of historically grown and subsidiarily structured (national) states. There are manifold means at hand to achieve this. We are currently experiencing this process in all areas. Only sovereign citizens conscious of their dignity are the natural friends of freedom, the rule of law and democracy. They can also be a bulwark against the power of the “markets”.     •

1     see Ulrich, Peter. Integrative Wirtschaftsethik. Grundlagen einer lebensdienlichen Ökonomie (Integrative business ethics. Foundations of a life-serving economy), 4th edition, Berne 2008; and
    Ulrich, Peter. Zivilisierte Marktwirtschaft. Eine wirtschaftsethische Orientierung (Civilized market economy. An economic ethical orientation), Berne 2010

“In the last two weeks, the financial markets have clearly shown that they are extremely suspicious of such a populist government.“

„Neue Zürcher Zeitung“, 2 June  2018