Nomi Prins worked on Wall Street as a managing director at Goldman Sachs, ran the international analytics group as a senior managing director at Bear Stearns in London, and worked as a strategist at Lehman Brothers and an analyst at the Chase Manhattan Bank. She is currently a Senior Fellow at the non-partisan public policy think-tank, Demos.
Presidents, Bankers, the Neo-Cold War and the World Bank
Monday, March 23, 2015
At first glance, the neo-Cold War between the US and its post WWII European Allies vs. Russia over the Ukraine, and the stonewalling of Greece by the Troika might appear to have little in common. Yet both are manifestations of a political-military-financial power play that began during the first Cold War. Behind the bravado of today’s sanctions and austerity measures lies the decision-making alliance that private bankers enjoy in conjunction with government and multinational entries like NATO and the World Bank.
It is President Obama’s foreign policy to back the Ukraine against Russia; in 1958, it was the Eisenhower Doctrine that protected Lebanon from a Soviet threat. For President Truman, the Marshall Plan arose partly to guard Greece (and other US allies) from Communism, but it also had lasting economic implications. The alignment of political leaders and key bankers was more personal back then, but the implications were similar to the present day. US military might protected its major trading partners, which in turn, did business with US banks. One power reinforced the other. Today, the ECB’s QE program funds swanky Frankfurt headquarters and prioritizes Germany’s super-bank, Deutschebank and its bond investors above Greece’s future.
These actions, then and now, have roots in the American ideology of melding military, political and financial power that flourished in the haze of World War II. It’s not fair to pin this triple-power stance on one man, or even one bank; yet one man and one bank signified that power in all of its dimensions, including the use of political enemy creation to achieve financial goals. That man was John McCloy, ‘Chairman of the Establishment’ as his biographer, Kai Bird, characterized him. The relationship between McCloy and Truman cemented a set of public-private practices that strengthened private US banks globally at the expense of weaker, potentially Soviet (now Russian) leaning countries.
John McCloy and the World Bank Twist
In 1947, President Truman selected then-partner at a Rockefeller law firm, John McCloy, to be the second president of the World Bank (or International Bank of Reconstruction and Development) that would provide financial aid to developing nations after WWII. McCloy demanded the ability to unilaterally restructure the nascent World Bank—absent Congressional debate –such that its bonds would be sold through Wall Street banks.
That linkage altered the future of global financial relationships, by transforming the World Bank into a securities vending machine for private banks that would profit from distributing these bonds globally, while augmenting World Bank aid with private loans.
World Bank, IMF and other multinational entity decisions about aid vs. austerity or any other ‘reform’ requirements including opening border to private banks, would be controlled by the capital markets. Big private global banks arrange, underwrite and distribute World Bank bonds. Small banks in Greece did not. Financial assistance terms were established to follow a similar hierarchy.
During the Cold War, the World Bank provided funds for countries that leaned toward capitalism versus communism. Political allies of the United States got better treatment (and still do). The Nations that private bankers coveted for speculative and lending purposes saw their debt loads increase substantially and their industries privatized. Equally, the bankers decided which bonds they could sell to augment public aid funds, which meant they would have control over which countries the World Bank would support. The World Bank did more to expand US banking globally than any treaty or entity that came before it.
The Marshall Plan and Eisenhower’s Rise
Another pillar of global reconstructive and foreign policy efforts, the Marshall Plan, would provide further a ide to “friendly” countries in the early years of the Cold War. Truman unveiled the Marshall Plan in the spring of 1947. He presented it as a way to counter the threat of Communism, warning that Europe was disintegrating economically, and Truman feared Greece and Turkey would fall victim to Communist control. America’s new enemy was not Germany nor the Nazis but Communism and its associated countries.
Under the Marshall Plan, Congress approved $13 billion to aid Europe’s fight against Communism, and also to bolster prime trading partners for American industries and banks. As a result, more currencies became available for conversion into US dollars. The Marshall Plan wasn’t just about helping allies: but about spreading dollar domination.
Chase (now JPM Chase) Chairman, Winthrop Aldrich enthusiastically supported the Marshall Plan. To big banks, lending to developing nations and fighting Communism amounted to the same thing. Plus, the Marshall Plan effectively gave each major US bank its own European country to play in. From 1948 to 1952, Chase amassed the most deals in Europe, nearly $1 billion, followed by National City Bank (now Citigroup).
Eisenhower, NATO & Bankers
In 1952, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the new military alliance established between the United States, Canada, and leading Western European powers to deter Soviet expansion, and promote European political integration. NATO blended military, political, and economic power behind the mantra, “an armed attack against one or more of [the allied countries] shall be considered an attack against them all.”. In practice, what held for military support, held for opening borders to dollar based trade and private banking business, too.
In the spring of 1952 Aldrich traveled to Europe with an entourage of power brokers to persuade Eisenhower to run for president on the Republican ticket. Upon election victory, Ike’s banker sphere of appointees included his secretary of war, Thomas Gates, who would later chair the Morgan Guaranty Bank (now JPM Chase), Aldrich who became Ike’s ambassador to Great Britain, and John McCloy, who would spend the Eisenhower years as chairman of the Chase National Bank (now JPM Chase) assuming Aldrich’s role.
Beside the Marshall Plan, the Truman and Eisenhower doctrines extended US military and economic support to nations that adopted US ideology and that were military allies. Overseas offices of major US banks subsequently swelled to accommodate all the private loan demand that accompanied government support.
In 1956, W. Randolph Burgess, former National City Bank Vice President, left his Treasury Department post to become the US ambassador to NATO. By that time, the luster of NATO was fading. By 1963, Burgess noted that “the shine of postwar NATO was getting a little dull.” Stronger European countries felt less threatened by Soviet aggression and this made them less pliable to US policies. In addition, their European banks began spreading their wings globally again. The financial end of the cold war was preceding the diplomatic end by decades.
The International Bank Race
US bankers sought to compete with strengthening European banks by opening more offices overseas and by fighting to eliminate New Deal regulatory restrictions so they could grow domestically and use their size as a broader lending springboard.
Fast forward sixty years later to today , and those seeds of political-military-financial partnerships against the threat of the Soviet Union (now Russia) have sprouted to support US banks and dollar, and US monetary and fiscal policy supremacy the world over.
Much has happened in between; mass deregulation of international banking, technological advancements in trading, and the use of the World Bank (and the IMF and various central banks) to subsidize bank led speculation by submitting weak countries to austerity measures or ‘bailouts’, thereby prioritizing payments to bondholder clients of mega-banks over economic stability. The Big Six banks in the US, a subset of the 30 G-SIBs (global systemically important banks) enjoy a magnitude of government, central bank and multinational entity support that would have been unimaginable back then.
Whether it’s a $17 billion bailout package for the Ukraine. or a $270 billion one for Greece, or Obama doing a 180 on Cuba to keep Russia out, the costs of power alignments are greater than ever for the smaller, weaker countries. Their economic coffers have been pried open by the Western super-powers still calling the political, military and financial shots and again using threats of Russian ‘aggression’ to camouflage expansionary intents.
Under Obama, the US is resurrecting the Cold War and invigorating NATO by promoting the threat notion, just as Truman and Eisenhower did. Financial supremacy and currency dominance remain central to this strategy. But this time, there’s a more dangerous difference – a level of financial opposition that could become military opposition if sufficiently provoked. The counter-movement from a currency and financial perspective is comparatively small. But it’s growing. The global position of super-powers and super-banks remains at play in this newly sanctioned financial Cold War.