Interview with Michael Hudson, economist and professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City – author of Super Imperialism and Killing The Host
KATIE HALPER: Professor Michael Hudson, thank you so much for joining us. We’re really excited to have you.
We wanted to start off by asking you if you could provide an overview of what the economics driving this conflict are—and by conflict, I mean the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and, of course, with the rest of the world, or really the conflict between Russia and US, and the economic fallout.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, it depends on what side you’re looking at. From the Russian side, I don’t think the economic factors were primary. They were threatened by NATO’s expansion and really a plan to attack the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine. So, I think Russia’s calculations were simply military. The West’s calculations were quite different.
And if you looked at what the results of the conflict are, you have to assume that everybody was talking about the results [as] were known. They’re very clear. The results are a very large increase in fuel prices, oil, and energy prices, a very large increase in agricultural prices with declining supplies. This will leave most of Africa and Latin America—third-world countries, the Global South—unable to pay their foreign debts, which is going to result either in a massive debt default or it will result in a debt repudiation.
Countries are going to have to choose. Are they going to have to operate their homes without energy, their factories without energy—and energy consumption per capita is directly connected to GDP for the last 150 years. Every chart shows energy use, GDP, and personal income go up together.
So, what are countries going to do when they can’t afford to pay the higher prices for energy? Well, Janet Yellen, who was the Federal Reserve head and [now] the Secretary of the Treasury says, ‘Well, what we’re going to do is use the International Monetary Fund to preserve America’s unipolar hegemony.’ I think she used almost those words. We have to keep American control of the world and we’re going to do it through the IMF. And that means in practice using the IMF to create special drawing rights, which will be sort of like free money, the bulk of which will go to the United States to support its military spending abroad for all of this huge military escalation. And it will enable the IMF to go to countries and say, ‘We will help you pay your debts and not be foreclosed on and get energy, but it’s conditional.’ On usual conditions: you have to lower your wages; you have to pass anti-labor legislation; you have to agree to begin selling off your public domain and privatize.
The energy and food crisis caused by the NATO war against Russia is going to be used as a lever not only to push privatization, largely under control of US investors and banks and financiers, but it’s also going to lock countries into the US orbit all the more, both the Global South and especially Europe.
One casualty is obviously going to be Europe and the euro. The euro has been plunging in value day after day after day, as people realize that it’s lost its export markets in Russia and much of Asia, and now at home, too, because exports require energy to be made. Its costs of imports are going up, especially energy. It’s agreed to use, I think, now $3 billion to build new port facilities to buy US natural gas—liquified natural gas at three to seven times the price that it’s paying now, which will make it almost impossible for German firms to produce fertilizer to grow crops in Germany. The euro’s plunging.
The largest plunge of all has been the Japanese yen, because Japan imports all of its energy and most of its food and is keeping its interest rates very low in order to support the financial sector. And so, the Japanese economy is being sacrificed and squeezed. And I think this is…you can’t say, ‘Gee, this is an accident.’ This is part of the plan, because now the United States can say, ‘Of course we don’t want your yen to go down so much that your consumers have to pay more. We will, of course, give you SDRs—special drawing rights—and we will give you American aid. But we do want you to rewrite your constitution so that you can have atomic weapons on your soil so that we can fight against China to the last Japanese. Just like we’re doing in Ukraine, let us do it for you.’
And, of course, the Japanese love that. The government loves that idea. They love sacrificing the population, which is what they’ve been doing ever since the Plaza Accord and the Louvre Accord of the 1980s that basically wrecked the Japanese industrial economy from this huge upswing to just a mass shrinkage.
So, those are the economic effects of the war. And in the newspaper, you think the war is all about Ukrainians and NATO fighting Russians, and it’s really a war by the United States to use the NATO-Russia conflict as a means of locking in control over its allies and the whole Western world, and in Janet Yellen’s words, re-establishing American unipolar power.
AARON MATÉ: And do you think that, assuming that this is the US strategy, taking your argument at face value, do you think that this strategy will succeed?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Ultimately, it’ll be self-defeating. And almost every US politician and military speech has the phrase, ‘Gee, we don’t want America to shoot itself.’ And obviously they’re all worried about it. It’s a huge gamble.
Apparently, the military was not even consulted in the sanctions that were put against Russian energy. And the military wasn’t consulted even on the plans by the State Department and the National Security…the neo-cons that are running the NATO war. And so, obviously, there’s a lot of doubts within the military, but they don’t speak up—that’s not what they do.
It’s amazing that in Europe the only opposition to this is coming from the right wing, people like Marine Le Pen. Not from the left wing. So, the left wing in Europe…I shouldn’t say the left, I should say what is now the right wing, the Social Democratic parties, the Labour Party, those are the parties that are thoroughly behind NATO. And there doesn’t seem to be a political imperative in these countries, except going along with the policy that’s going to squeeze their balance of payments and lock them into dependency on the United States.
So, what seems to be happening if there’s no fight back on the part of Europe? Obviously, if you look at the United Nations vote on whether to come out with a policy against Russia, many countries either abstained or voted against it. So, the big economic result is structural. It means there’s like an iron curtain between the white Western world (Europe and North America) and Eurasia (China, India, and Russia, and their surrounding territories). And if you have China, India and Russia—or what [Halford John]Mackinder called Eurasia, the world core—then, are you going to have the rest of Asia coming along? The question’s going to be, what happens with Taiwan, Japan, and North Korea? They’re pretty much up for grabs. And yet two days ago, the NATO leader, [Jens] Stoltenberg, said NATO has to have a presence in the South China sea, that NATO has to defend Europe in the Pacific, in China. So, you can see the conflict that’s coming there. And I think you also had one of the NATO people—a European politician, negotiator—saying this war cannot be settled economically. It cannot be settled by treaty. It can only be settled militarily.
Well, so then you’re back to, how is the military going to affect the economy? Well, Russia cannot afford to lose, because if it loses, NATO is going to put atomic weapons right in Ukraine, right next to its border, as it wants to do in Latvia and Estonia. And the US, apparently, is taking a position, ‘We can’t lose, because if we lose, Biden won’t be reelected.’ And Biden apparently is now running the military and economic campaign with a view towards how can he be reelected in November —with the only real variable in the American strategy being the American public itself, which, unfortunately, there’s almost no discussion of what we’re talking about today, except your show, the internet, [The Vineyard of] The Saker and the others. So, everything is up for grabs.
AARON MATÉ: And by the way, if this is Biden thinking, he’s doing so, even though most Americans don’t wake up caring about Ukraine, it’s not their top concern. But there’s a very different attitude inside the White House. Obviously, they do.
So, let me ask you about Russia. Can Russia afford to weather all of this? As we’re speaking, Russia has recently cut off gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria. Let’s say other parts of Europe follow suit and refuse to pay in rubles for gas payments, as Putin has demanded. Can Russia afford to cut off more countries from receiving Russian energy, or is Putin bluffing there, do you think?
MICHAEL HUDSON: No, of course it can afford to cut it off because Russia is pretty much self-contained. It’s how it survived the 1990s and the shock therapy. Any country that could survive the shock therapy, nothing is going to be that serious again. So, it’s already shown that it can survive, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. And it can survive much better than Europe can survive.
AARON MATÉ: Michael, let me push back there. It survived, but the 90s took a very heavy toll on Russia.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, it did. Absolutely.
AARON MATÉ: Are you suggesting that Russia might face that again?
MICHAEL HUDSON: No, I don’t think it’ll be that serious again, because now it has the support of China, India, and other countries. Before it was completely dismantled from within. Now, it’s not dismantled from within. It’s rebuilt; certainly, it’s military. It’s rebuilt enough of its economy and made enough links with other economies who are politically supporting it. Because Biden has said again and again, ‘We’ve got to destroy Russia because if we destroy Russia, we will cut it off in China, and then we can go against China as our real enemy.’ So, we’ve got to cut up the world potentially opposing us, first Russia and then China, maybe India, too. And he’s been very explicit in this, so you can imagine where this leaves China and India. India has already said, ‘Well, look, we’re economically linked to Russia. We’re going to continue to link.’
Russia’s foreign reserves were stolen in the West. It’s going to basically work with China to create some kind of mutual currency swaps like United States arranges with Europe and other countries—currency swaps so that they can hold each other’s currency. And China knows that, ultimately, it will be repaid through a new pipeline to deliver gas to China. So, I think a decision has been made in Russia that it’s decoupling with the West. Certainly, decoupling from Europe, decoupling from the United States, except for marginal trade, and [from] reorienting itself towards the West because it can’t afford to deal on these terms anymore.
So, yes, it’s going to be painful. But I think the Russian people, who get a very different report of the war and the violence and terrorism that’s going on than the American press [gives], the Russians seem to be 80% behind Putin. It’s not like it was in the 90s when they were utterly demoralized.
The military fighting is not going to end this year or next year. It’s going to take at least 30 years. And it will end probably with a split between Europe and the West on the one hand and Eurasia on the other hand, with more and more of Africa and South America linking itself to the Eurasian economy as Europe and the American economies shrink.
Almost everyone sees shrinkage. I think President Xi of China said the other day, he sees that the American economy is shrinking, and certainly the European economy is shrinking, for a decade or as long as it continues the neoliberal course. And I think that’s pretty obvious—it’s going to shrink. And Xi also said that’s because a centrally planned economy, which they call socialism or Marxism with Chinese characteristics, is more efficient than democracy, because democracy really turns into oligarchy very quickly, and the oligarchy turns into a hereditary aristocracy.
And the West is not a democracy anymore. The West is turning into a hereditary aristocracy. And the Chinese are trying to prevent the financial class from becoming an independent class, pursuing policies that impoverish labor, because for them banking and credit is still a public utility. That’s the most important sector to be [saved] in China, and that’s what makes China so different from the United States. You could say that bankers and Wall Street are the central planners of the US, and their central planning is in favor of the finance, insurance, and real estate sector, and bankers are in charge of China through the Treasury, which is run by party officials that are not seeking to make capital gains for wealthy families but are using finance to build up their industry and infrastructure and make themselves independent of the West, so that America can never do to China what it did to Russia.
AARON MATÉ: And if you were to predict the first places where we’re going to see a major fallout, major unrest as a result of higher commodity prices due to this war on Ukraine, where will it be?
MICHAEL HUDSON: I would say Latin America, Africa, third-world countries that have not followed World Bank policy for the last 70 years and not produced their own food, but produce the export crops, so they’re dependent on importing food, primarily American grain and importing American energy. And probably the central economic game of the NATO war against Russia was to reconcentrate control of the world energy trade in the hands of American, English, and Dutch oil companies.
So, basically the oil companies and the US are going to let the third-world countries go into a crisis. If they default on their bonds, then the United States and the bondholders get to treat Latin America like they treated Argentina or Venezuela and grab whatever assets they have outside of their country. Like Venezuela had investments in the United States and gold that it left in the Bank of England that were grabbed.
There’s going to be a huge asset grab. That is supposed to be how this unfolds, and the most obvious assets to the grabbed are going to be in Latin America and Africa. Maybe some Asian deficit countries. So, this is the weakest link, and that’s why there’s this fight within the IMF at the upcoming meetings, to create these special drawing rights to give them money on the condition that there is a class war.
So, what we’re seeing, really, isn’t a war between NATO and Russia. It’s a class war of the neoliberals against labor across the world to establish the power of finance over labor.
AARON MATÉ: And so, do you think that there’s a threat of an even worse hunger crisis in this world, one that we’re not talking about and should be preparing for it?
MICHAEL HUDSON: A threat? That’s the objective! Yes, of course. That’s what they’re aiming at. If you read what Klaus Schwab says at the World Economic Forum, he said there are 20 percent too many people in the world, especially in the Global South. This is what all the big foundations are for. The billionaires, they all say, ‘We’ve got to thin out the population, there’s too many consumers that don’t produce enough wealth for us.’ If they produce wealth for themselves, that doesn’t count because that’s not for us and we don’t get it. So, yes, that’s not going to be an accident. Obviously, anyone who looks at the basic economic trends can see that this is inevitable—and you have to assume that this was discussed as part of the whole big neoliberal plan of the Biden administration and the Deep State behind it.
KATIE HALPER: How different is this from what we saw with Trump, how continuous, or how much of an aberration do we have between the different administrations?
MICHAEL HUDSON: It’s pretty much the same. The same groups are still in control. Trump was going to appoint that general who was going to basically clean out the State Department and the CIA, but his son-in-law convinced them not to appoint this person. And Trump didn’t have anyone in his administration able to close down this whole neocon group there. So, basically, he let them destroy, essentially. They just ignored what he did. He wanted to withdraw troops from Syria and the Army just refused to withdraw the troops. Nobody followed his orders. So, he was an aberration politically, but the presidency of the US these days is pretty much a figurehead for the Deep State behind it. So, I don’t think there’s that much difference. The Republicans are as much behind this plan as the Democrats.
AARON MATÉ: Let me ask you about the economic toll on Ukraine from this conflict, and not just from Russia’s invasion, but the last eight years since the US-backed coup. And maybe we can start with what happened in the fall of 2013, because the conventional story that we get told a lot in the US is that basically this whole crisis began when Ukraine was in talks with the EU under Yanukovych, the ousted president. And Yanukovych was going to sign this agreement with the EU and that’s what most Ukrainians wanted. It would have brought liberty to Ukraine, and then Russia basically sabotaged it and ordered him not to. And that’s when Ukrainians came out to protest…
KATIE HALPER: This is not…you’re not saying this, Aaron, right? You’re saying this is the mainstream narrative that we’ve been fed.
AARON MATÉ: Yes, this is the mainstream narrative that we’ve been fed. And so that’s when Ukrainians came out to protest with the Maidan revolution, as it’s called, and that’s what led to the coup in February of 2014 that ousted Yanukovych.
Can you talk about what that narrative gets wrong, especially the actual terms of the agreements that Yanukovych was being asked to sign by the EU and what that would’ve meant for Ukraine?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, Russia couldn’t really tell Yanukovych what to do. Yanukovych was always independent. Russia offered a better deal, and Yanukovych said the deal that the EU was offering would make it much poorer than the continuation of the relationships that it had with Russia, which, after all, were its traditional relationships. So, Yanukovych didn’t sign the EU deals. And at that point, it wasn’t the Ukrainians that protested. It was a neo-Nazi group that was positioned in…that set itself up with snipers all around Maidan square, and it was the Nazi group that began firing on the policemen to make it appear as if it were the government, and to fire on the general crowd. So, basically, the coup was sponsored by the United States who put in the officials that were designated by Ms. Nuland, and the Ukrainians had hoped that somehow joining the EU would make them prosperous. Well, that’s the myth that Europe had, that if it would only take US advice, it would end up as prosperous with as many consumer goods as the United States. And it was all a myth.
But when Yanukovych’s board looked at it, they said, ‘Well, we’re not going to make money this way, basically.’ And the kleptocrats who were running Ukraine at that time…the Ukrainians weren’t running Ukraine. It was considered by the World Bank, every agency, to be the most corrupt country in Europe, and the kleptocrats thought, ‘Wait a minute. If we sign that then the Europeans are going to take over our property and they’re going to want to buy us out, and we’re going to end up with some yachts and some real estate in England like the Russians. But it’s really going to be a giveaway.’ So, they were certainly behind Yanukovych, saying, ‘This is not a good deal with this.’
That’s when the US decided that it needed a coup, and even at that time it wanted…it realized that it had the idea of long-term fighting against Russia as the first domino to fall in the fight against China. That was already in the discussion already at that time in 2014.
AARON MATÉ: Right. Carl Gershman is the former head of the National Endowment for Democracy. He called Ukraine, quote, “The biggest prize,” and what he saw as a struggle against Russia, he thought that actually bringing Ukraine into the Western orbit would actually lead to regime change even in Russia, and lead to Vladimir Putin’s downfall.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, he was a Trotskyist, a neocon, and a virulent Russia-hater.
KATIE HALPER: An example of that great Trotskyist-to-neocon trajectory that we see so much.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Yeah.
AARON MATÉ: One small point though. I think the protest that happened initially against Yanukovych, I think that was actually a large mass of people. That wasn’t neo-Nazi. I think the neo-Nazi…
MICHAEL HUDSON: Right. But they didn’t do the coup. They weren’t behind the coup.