So we know that that the U.S. and European Union have frozen over $300 billion from Russia’s central bank foreign exchange reserves. And of course they did this after doing the same to Iran, to Venezuela, to Afghanistan, which is now threatening a famine in Afghanistan that could kill more people than died in the 20-year NATO-U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, which is another topic that really needs to get more coverage.
And I should add, by the way, that the US and the EU, they’ve frozen nearly half of Russia’s central bank’s foreign exchange reserves, and are now saying they’re not going to give it back. So they stole it. I mean, they stole half of its reserves.
My question is, what is the mechanism by which they effectively freeze and steal those reserves?
Because my understanding is that there is of course a physical element of those reserves, which you’re talking about, which is gold. But not all of the $640 billion in Russia’s central bank reserves is physical currency, right? A lot of it is just computerized? It’s number in computers and bank accounts.
So when when the U.S. and the EU steal this money from central banks like in Russia or Afghanistan – obviously in the case of Venezuela, as you mentioned, they physically stole the gold. But if it’s not gold, is it physical cash stored in Moscow, like physical dollars and euros? Or it’s mostly just numbers in a computer, which is why they can steal it?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Every country needs to manage its exchange rates, and there’s always like an up-and-down and a zigzag in the flow of payments for imports and exports, investment, capital movements, debt service, all of that.
So countries want to stabilize their exchange rate. How do they do that? Well, most of the big exchange markets are in New York and in London.
So countries would leave their money in correspondent banks. Like when Iran, at the time under the shah, kept that foreign reserve in the Chase Manhattan Bank. So when Iran, after the revolution and Khomeini came in, and Iran wanted to pay interest on the foreign debt that the shah had run up, they told Chase, please, here’s our bondholders, please pay them.
Well Chase was told by the Treasury, don’t pay them, just take the money and hold it. So Chase said, we put a freeze on your account. And so Iran defaulted, and then Chase and the State Department said, oh, Iran defaulted, it missed the payment. Now, all the money that it’s due for foreign debt has to be paid all at once. And Chase paid all of the bondholders off. No more money in the account. It was all emptied out.
Suppose you had an account in Chase Manhattan. And they said, ok, now you’ve done something really bad, you put Michael Hudson on the show. We’re going to grab your account. We’re going to give it to Mr. Guaidó, because he needs the money in Venezuela because the people still are not voting for him. So all of a sudden, you won’t have money in your account. It’ll go to Mr. Guaidó’s account.
Well, that’s what happened with Russia. They took the money. They grabbed the money from Russia’s account. And they said, half the money we’re going to give to, I think, to the 9/11 people, because we all know that it was Russia that bombed the World Trade Center on 9/11.
And we’re going to give it to all sorts of other people who suffered all over the world. It’s all Russia’s fault.
BENJAMIN NORTON: But Professor Hudson, when you say that they seized Russia’s assets, you mean the assets held by the Russian central bank in foreign bank accounts?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, yes.
BENJAMIN NORTON: And these are not physical assets, these are numbers in a computer, right?
MICHAEL HUDSON: In Venezuela’s case, Venezuela had used some of its oil company earnings to buy oil stations and refining companies and the United States actually grabbed the ownership of the gas stations and the refineries and distribution system that Venezuela had in America.
BENJAMIN NORTON: It’s called Citgo.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Citgo, yeah. Russia doesn’t really have any capital investments in the United States. It did have bank accounts, and that was all that the United States could grab.
BENJAMIN NORTON: So when you say that, when Russia, at least for now, the central bank is allowing convertibility of rubles at a set rate into gold, that’s a temporary policy to make sure that they have a physical asset that their central bank can hold on to, because if they have dollars or euros in their reserves, my understanding is that’s not physical cash, it’s actually just numbers in a computer, so they don’t have it physically in their bank reserves, so it’s easy to steal that money.
Obviously, if they had billions of dollars worth of cash, of paper cash, it would be much harder to steal it, but if it’s just on a bank account, if it’s numbers in a computer, then they can just freeze it.
So I think this is also a reflection of a point that you’ve also made about the financialization of the economy, is it’s also just a lot of this capital is not even physical capital.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes. Savings take the form – one person’s savings is another person’s debt. So these are Russia’s deposits in American banks that it used to buy or sell rubles, or to buy goods from America, or to receive payments in, if Russia exports something such as oil. Americans buyers of Russian oil would put the money into the Russian bank account.
They never dreamed that this would be grabbed. But now Russia says, ok, you’ve grabbed our money, now that means that we get to grab all of your assets in Russia. This is great! All of your stock holdings in nickel, and Yukos, and all these other companies, ok, you’ve got the money, we have the assets, look at us as just buying the assets on the cheap.
And the Western investors in Russia have all been selling their Russian assets to show that they’re good American citizens in NATO, and the Russians are buying up these European and American assets on the cheap, largely by borrowing money from the banks, that get the money from the central bank, now that they’re so wealthy, and all of the foreign exchange reserves is a result of the American shock-and-awe statement, that’s sort of shock-and-awe in reverse.
So Russia is coming through just fine. And you can imagine how the American strategists are gnashing the teeth. They don’t understand how Russia was able to avoid being bankrupted by this.
They really are not economists. They’re not really financiers. They’re foreign-policy strategists. They’re ideologues that are not very well educated in how to think about the future and how to recognize the fact that the world can actually change from what it is today into something else. And sometimes that change is not in America’s interests. That is sort of not a permitted thought over here.
So essentially, Americans and Europe are operating in the blind, and Russia and China, and Iran, and India, are all looking at how are we going to restructure the world so that we come out of it more prosperous than we were before, not more impoverished. That’s really what the world is dividing into.
BENJAMIN NORTON: Professor Hudson, I don’t know if this is directly related, but it’s it’s something that’s always been a very curious question in my mind.
Germany, back in 2016 and 2017, it moved, physically moved, its central bank’s gold reserves, which had been stored in New York, London, and Paris, and it physically moved those reserves, those gold reserves, to Frankfurt.
Now this was before the U.S. and Britain stole Venezuela’s gold reserves and other reserves. But do you know anything about what motivated Germany’s central bank to move the physical location of its gold reserves into Germany itself?
MICHAEL HUDSON: I don’t think it’s all moved yet. It’s still going on. Gold is very heavy, as heavy has lead, basically. And America said, well, we can only do a little bit, trickle by trickle. So America has been returning the gold very slowly.
So I think Germany, with all of its history of hyper inflation, I think just realizes that, now that gold is not used to settle balance of payments deficits anymore – the gold that Germany had in America was all of the exports that it made to the United States during the Vietnam War. This is Vietnam War gold.
You remember that President de Gaulle would every month cash in, the dollars that America spent in Vietnam would all be spent from Vietnam to Paris, the dollars would end up there, the central bank of Paris would essentially buy gold on the London exchange and keep the gold either in New York or in London.
Well, Germany, because America defeated Germany, and it wasn’t going to keep its gold in Russia, that defeated it even more, it said, well, ok, we’re cashing in our surplus dollars for gold, but we’re going to hold the gold in America.
But now it says, well, America is never going to settle its balance of payments deficits and its foreign debt in gold again, because it doesn’t have any balance of payments surplus, any ability to do that.
It’s going to spend its export surplus and its investment surplus on war. So it’s never going to be able to pay. That’s obvious. Let’s get the gold back.
That was the calculation that every country was making already a decade ago. They realized that America can never repay its foreign debt, unlike other countries.
When other countries can’t pay their foreign debt, they have to go to the International Monetary Fund, that tells them, well, we’ll make you a loan, but you have to sell off your natural resource reserves to the Americans, or we won’t lend you the money.
Well, basically, that’s not going to happen anymore. They realized that America is just going to say, haha, we’re just not going to pay.
Well, now other countries are saying, wait a minute, if America’s never going to repay its foreign debt, why do the Global South countries have to pay their debt to the IMF and the World Bank, all this dollar debt to dollar bondholders?
If America won’t pay, we don’t have to pay. Let’s have a clean slate. Let’s start from the beginning. And we’re only going to have debt and credit relations with friendly countries, not countries that want to go to war with us like America did in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and now Russia.
So that’s basically what’s happening.
BENJAMIN NORTON: Great. And just to wrap up here, I have another question. And I know your time is limited, so I really appreciate you being here.
I have a quick question about the decline in U.S. dollar hegemony. We were talking about the strength of the ruble, the economic war on Russia; we talked about the bilateral trade that’s growing between Russia and China using the Chinese yuan, between Russia and India using the Indian rupee. And Iran also is talking about doing business with a basket of currencies.
I want to point to a report that was recently published by economists who work with the IMF. And I published an article about this over at Multipolarista.com, “IMF admits US dollar hegemony declining due to rise of Chinese yuan and sanctions on Russia.”
And there is this report that was published by the IMF, by these economists, and I cite you, Professor Hudson, in this report. It’s a working paper from the IMF, published in March, titled “The Stealth Erosion of Dollar Dominance.”
And here’s a graph, for people watching, here’s a graph from the report. And it shows not a large, but a noticeable and consistent decline in the use of the holding of the U.S. dollar in the foreign exchange reserves of central banks around the world. So this is around the world.
And it has declined in the past years from about 70% of central bank exchange reserves to about 60%. So a 10% decline. That’s not massive, but it’s steady and I think it’s going to accelerate.
And at the same time they’ve also found an increase in the use of what they call “non-traditional currencies” in the foreign exchange reserves of central banks around the world.
And here you can see this graph. I mean it looks like a significant influence because if you look at the y-axis it’s only from 90 to 100. But there is a significant increase in the use of other currencies in foreign exchange reserves, aside from the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen, and the British pound. And the currency that is increasingly popular is the Chinese yuan.
So that’s one half of my question. The other half is about this interesting report that was published in the Financial Times, and it’s titled “Russia Sanctions Threaten to Erode Dominance of Dollar, says IMF.”
And the FT interviewed the IMF’s first deputy managing director, Gita Gopinath, who acknowledged that the sanctions imposed on Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine could lead to what she says “fragmentation at a smaller level.”
And she did say that the dollar is eroding influence, but “would remain the major global currency.”
So, that’s a two part question. I’m wondering if you could talk about the decline in U.S. dollar hegemony and how the sanctions will potentially erode that. And then the other half of the question is, can you comment on the declining use of dollars in foreign exchange reserves?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, this is what my book “Super Imperialism” was all about. When I first published it in 1972, I could see how the whole thing was unfolding for the next 50 years. And we just published last year a third edition of it, bringing it up to date.
Dollar hegemony means America’s entire balance of payments deficit in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s was military. So the dollars that were being pumped into the world economy were the result of military spending.
But the dollars would end up in foreign central banks, especially from Asia to France, Germany, others. What were they going to do with it? Well after 1971 they could not buy gold anymore, so all they could do was buy U.S. Treasury securities. IOUs.
And so they re-lent to the Treasury all the money that America was spending militarily. And the more money America spent in waging its cold war militarily against the world, the more money central banks would lend to the U.S. government to finance the U.S. deficit that was spent largely on the military-industrial complex and foreign military operations.
So dollar hegemony was a free lunch financing America’s almost 800 military bases across the world, to fight against communism, defined as any country that doesn’t let American industry and finance buy control of its raw materials, agriculture, resources.
And this has now come to an end. Right now America has grabbed Afghanistan’s, and Russia’s gold. All of a sudden it’s obvious that, this summer, there’s going to be an enormous squeeze on Third World countries, on the Global South.
Their energy prices are going to go way up, and that’s going to hurt them just like the oil shock of 1974 and 1975 did.
They’re going to have to pay higher food costs, because of food prices are going to go way up now that the Ukraine war is erupting.
And a lot of their foreign debt, dollarized debt service, is coming due. And they’re facing a choice: if they pay the foreign debt, they can’t afford to buy the oil and energy that they need to run their factories and heat their homes. They can’t afford to buy the food to feed their people. Whose interests are they going to put first?
Well of course their leaders are going to put America’s interests first, and their own interests second, because their leaders, if they’re a client oligarchy, are put in power by the U.S. military, as sort of miniature Pinochets, throughout Latin America and other countries.
So suppose other countries decide, well, we’re going to feed ourselves and we’re not going to wreck our economy just to pay foreign bondholders. We’re a sovereign country. We’re going to put our national interests first.
Well, then the United States can say, aha, we’re going to grab all of your foreign assets in the United States.
Well, other countries can say, oh, they’re going to do to us just what they did to Afghanistan and Russia. Let’s move our money out of the United States quickly. If we don’t have dollars, well, it’s true, we can’t pay our dollar bondholders, but at least we can, in international markets, we can buy the food and the energy we need.
And so the tensions, the disruption of world prices, and inflation, and trade that is a result of the NATO attack on Russia, now threatens to drive all of the southern hemisphere countries into an alliance with Russia, China, India, and all the rest.
So America basically is creating a new Berlin Wall, but the wall is isolating itself from other countries, and driving other countries all together into what I hope will be a happy, self-sufficient, non-U.S. globalized economy.
BENJAMIN NORTON: Well, I want to thank you, Professor Michael Hudson. It’s always a real pleasure having you. I know you’re very busy, so thank you for giving us so much of your time.
I’ll say that the comment section here on YouTube has been very vibrant, with some interesting conversation. And what’s nice is there are people from all over the world, from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and from Russia. So it’s good to see a mix of people.
And for anyone who wants to listen to this, you can check out the podcast version if you look up Multipolarista on Spotify, and iTunes, and all the other podcast platforms.
And I’ll just say, while I wrap up here, that today we were talking about, at the beginning of this discussion, a new book that Michael Hudson is publishing this week. It is called “The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism, or Socialism.”
It’s a very good book. I had the privilege of getting a review copy early. So definitely check out that book.
You can also find all of Professor Hudson’s writings at michael-hudson.com.
Thanks, Professor Hudson.
MICHAEL HUDSON: It’s really good to be here. It was a good discussion.