Loretta Napoleoni: How the Patriot Act contributed to the global financial crisis

Loretta Napoleoni: How the Patriot Act contributed to the global financial crisis

April 7, 2010

Reblogged from the Washington Post’s Political Bookworm column, here’s Loretta Napoleoni, author of Terrorism and the Economy and Rogue Economics, on the link between former President Bush’s terror policies and the global financial crisis:

Could the war on terror have plunged the United States and the world economy into the current crisis? The answer to such an unconventional question rests on the legacy of the Patriot Act.

Legislation that greatly reduces the liberties of U.S. citizens, the Patriot Act includes financial provisions that are the toughest anti-money laundering regulations so far introduced in a Western country. Too bad the regulations only apply to transactions in U.S. dollars involving U.S. banks and U.S. registered foreign banks.

How did this happen? In the aftermath of 9/11, Washington did not consult with other governments about its anti-terrorist strategy and instead produced the Patriot Act in record time and unilaterally.

Far from destroying terrorist finance networks or even curbing money laundering, the new financial regulations prompted an outflow of money from the United States. Banks did not like the Patriot Act and advised clients to move away from dollar-denominated investments into euro investments. The infant euro at the time offered a perfect alternative.

Money launderers made similar decisions, and simply moved their activities across the Atlantic. The absence in the European Union of any legislation similar to the Patriot Act encouraged such a decision. In the space of a few months, Europe became the epicenter of money laundering activity in the world.

The sudden outflow weakened the dollar. A study conducted by economists from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that the immediate reaction of the markets to Bush’s war on terror was positive: the dollar in fact rallied. However, the medium to long-term reaction was negative. Following the invasion of Afghanistan the U.S. currency began to fall, never to recover — and well ahead of any worries about the U.S. budget deficit.

But the impact of the war on terror upon the world economy and upon our daily lives goes well beyond the changing flows of money laundering. The Patriot Act represented the first step towards the neo-con new world order which required, among other things, a regime change in Iraq.

To fund the Iraqi military misadventure, the Bush administration went into debt. And to make U.S. government bonds more competitive on the international capital market, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan slashed interest rates that went from 6 percent on the eve of 9/11, to 1.2 percent by the end of the official “war on terror” in early summer 2003. Thanks to this strategy, Bush had no problem borrowing the $4 trillion the war on terror cost his administration.

Against the background of a falling dollar, the sudden drop in interest rates created the ideal conditions for the spreading of subprime mortgages at home and abroad, which seemed a profitable albeit risky investment. Today we are still battling with the consequences of such policies: while the world economy needed a tight monetary policy to cool down credit growth, Bush slashed rates in order to fund the war on terror, preparing the grounds for bankruptcy and insolvency.

Paradoxically, Bush’s response to 9/11 contributed to Osama bin Laden’s absurd dream: a terrorist strike at the heart of America, seriously damaging its economy and its global financial leadership.

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