Archive for the ‘Debt Monetization’ Category

“By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”

With those words, John Maynard Keynes–the inventor of the “prime the pump,” economic stimulus theory employed by both FDR and Obama–tells you everything you need to know about current U.S. monetary and fiscal policy.  And while he said this as an attack on inflation, it is ironic that his policies have–in some people’s minds–led to high levels of inflation right here in the United States.

American Endgame has already touched upon inflation in fleeting terms.  We have discussed the idea that inflation is the rate at which a particular currency loses its value.  For example, a 2% rate of inflation will leave a dollar with 25% of its buying power after about 75 years.  A 6% rate of inflation will accomplish the same in just over 20.  But one thing we have not discussed is how inflation may be purposely being employed by the U.S. Government–and governments around the world–to both buy this economy more time and to establish a solution to America’s “there’s no way we can pay off our debt” problem.

The mechanics of inflation are fairly straightforward.  Assuming a fixed supply of currency, businesses will accept the fact that there is a finite amount of money to be “earned,” and prices will stabilize around a strategy to maximize a business’ ability to get the largest chunk of that pot as possible.  By way of example, if there were $1,000,000 in the U.S. economy, an intelligent businessman would recognize that there are $1,000,000 in circulation and “up for grabs” among the workers.  Some of these dollars would be given to the workers through paychecks, while others would be made available through bank loans, credit card borrowing, etc.  This intelligent businessman would also recognize that, on average, each American has access to $1,000,000/x, with x being the number of workers in the country (this is dramatically simplified, but bear with me).  After factoring how much of that money must go to basics needed to survive, a businessman makes a calculation of how much they will charge for their good or service to entice workers to spend a portion of their $1,000,000/x dollars on their product to maximize their profit.  Conversely, as a worker with only $1,000,000/x dollars available to spend, one must carefully determine how much they must spend to survive, buying food and clothing, paying rent and utilities, before going out to buy other goods.  Every purchase results from a calculation that goes approximately like this: “I have $1,000,000/x, so I can still afford to buy…”

Now, what would happen if the U.S. Government made arrangements to introduce an extra $1,000,000 into the economy?  This could be done through various methods, including physically creating more currency or by lowering the amount of money banks must hold in reserve, thus allowing them to fractionally lend greater amounts of their deposits.  Either way, let us say that now the U.S. economy consists of $2,000,000, and the amount of money available to workers is $2,000,000/x, on average.  Of course, this increase will come almost entirely from bank lending and credit card borrowing, since no one is going to advocate doubling a worker’s pay in America–not even in our hypothetical scenarios is that anywhere near realistic.  So, now the intelligent businessman recognizes that there are two times as many dollars out there to get his hands on.  In this way, prices would rise in all sectors because people are now “twice as able” to buy the products they’ve been buying all along.  And while the original intent of the government introducing more currency would have been to get people to buy “extra” stuff with their “extra” money, the effect is almost always different: people will end up buying the same stuff at an “extra” cost.  The effect is highly detrimental, and not stimulative at all.

One doesn’t have to be a prize-winning economist to see that this set of circumstances is not only happening today, but very dangerous indeed.  After all, if I make a fixed amount of money, and prices continually rise because more money is available to use, this is highly problematic.  My purchasing power drops continually as my slice of the overall pie continues to dwindle as I sit helpless.  If, in order to keep up, I do what so many Americans do and borrow money from banks or use credit cards to fill the gap, I am doubly in trouble.  How will I ever pay it back on a fixed, finite amount of pay? (I say “fixed” and “finite,” and I use those terms in a relative sense.  A 3% payraise–unimaginable for most of us–is not “fixed,” but might as well be for the purposes of taking on inflation, since the numbers we see suggest inflation is somewhere near 9 or 10%.)  So why does the U.S. Congress and the Federal Reserve continue to make more money available?  Consider the alternative.  Should the Federal Reserve end its policy of introducing more currency into the system on a fairly constant basis–this introduction is easy because U.S. Dollars, as we’ve learned, are fiat and have no real value–people will be forced, finally for the first time in probably 30 years, to live within their means.  “Living within their means” scares the Hell out of Congress.  Without more money always being introduced into the system, the United States would experience a highly deflationary event.  Americans would quickly begin to conserve and spend far more preciously the currency they possess in order to survive.  Without additional availability of credit, we would see money spent on food, utilities, gasoline to get to and from work, clothing, and other basics.  Goodbye, Channels 2-300…  Goodbye, trips to the movies for a family of four…  Goodbye new cars that can’t be paid for from savings…  You get the picture.  While the uber-rich would probably be fine, the 99% would vastly reduce their spending, and this would cause a massive collapse of the United States’ economy for want of customers.  Layoffs would ensue, and a deflationary spiral–where prices would fall to keep up with spending habits, which would lead to layoffs, which would lead to businesses shuttering, which would lead to catastrophe–would be almost certain.

There are some who dare suggest that this type of event is inevitable and necessary to fix the problem we’ve created by allowing too much debt to accumulate in the system.  After all, $55 trillion is a lot of debt, and like any massive debt, it will save a lot of money in the long-term were it paid down or paid off.  The devil is in the interim.  The contraction of such an overinflated economy would most likely feel like something between the Great Depression and the Dark Ages.  And as we’ve seen this year in Greece, when the government reduces its spending–ending favored social programs, reducing benefits, lowering minimum wages, and potentially increasing taxes–ain’t nobody gonna be happy.  The problem then becomes not only an economic problem, but a major social problem and a political problem.  And Congress and the White House don’t have the stomach for an American Spring, which is what they would be looking at if they make the necessary changes.

I am of the mind that we are definitely going to experience this “something between the Great Depression and the Dark Ages” event–you could probably tell by the title of this blog.  The question is not whether a major credit crisis will occur.  The questions are “when will it occur,” “how do we mitigate the impact on our society,” and “what do we owe to our progeny?”  If our generation could shoot for the Great Depression–an event which we survived–and take that on, it would be a great contribution to our nation’s future.  This would be far better than the Dark Ages scenario.  However, we grew up in a society so focused on material gain, selfish behavior, and instant gratification, that we may not have the mental fortitude to take this on.  The alternatives are dire.

One way or another, this event is unavoidable unless we make changes to our spending now.  The selfish path leads to our annihilation.  The selfless path–where Medicare, Social Security, low taxes, and military omnipresence are sacrificed–may get us out of this mess in the next 50 or 60 years.  I am simply not yet convinced we as a people have the foresight and strength to recognize the need for these changes and make them.  Even if our Congress sees the need and tries to save us from ourselves, we will probably “unelect” them or riot in the streets.  Either way, the outcomes will most likely be the same and we’ll have an interesting lifetime to look forward to.

~ DS

“When you or I write a check there must be sufficient funds in our account to cover the check, but when the Federal Reserve writes a check there is no bank deposit on which that check is drawn.  When the Federal Reserve writes a check, it is creating money.” 

~ Boston Federal Reserve Bank Publication

Okay, I know, a great place to start this morning–in the weeds.  But, hold onto that quote, because it will come to be very powerful later in the post.

Today we have to deal with the $8 trillion gorilla in the room: the Federal Reserve.  I’ve already been hammered for talking about this by people in LaLaLand on the Internet, so why not go back for more punishment, right?  The reality is, as I discussed with a FFRL (friend from real life–yes, I have some) just the other day, it would probably be impossible to get rid of the Federal Reserve, since it does have more power than Lord Voldemort and Word Girl put together.  However, having average citizens in the United States aware of the Fed and what exactly it is and does is a laudable goal.  Of course, I understand the average citizen probably isn’t reading this post, but hopefully that’s where you come in (spread this message far and wide, my people!).  In any event, the Federal Reserve is the single most important institution in the United States, and probably in the world, and will have the single biggest impact on global monetary policy (yes, that thing I apparently “know nothing about”) in the next 5 years.  I won’t dare project beyond that, but the next several years are certainly shaping up to be a doozy, and the Fed is going to be in on this in a MAJOR way.

Again, with American Endgame, I am trying to recreate my own learning experience for the reader.  And while I understand the whole “lead a horse to water” theory–and certainly don’t expect anyone to learn the same way I did–I want to create an opportunity for people to have a couple bread crumbs to start their own journey.  So, if we’re throwing down bread crumbs (or tiny pebbles that shine in the moonlight, because we know the bread crumbs get eaten, and then you end up in a cage in a gingerbread house being poked by a witch with a stick), then we have to go back to Chris Martenson and his Crash Course.  This series of videos is what first allowed me to wrap my brain around the really complex stuff that’s going on–I highlighted this series as an important resource here.

Today we start with Chapter 7, which deals with Money Creation.  Watch the video, embedded below (takes 5 minutes).  The key vocab from today’s lesson is “fractional reserve lending.”  Please watch:

So, as you see, lending money is key to the current monetary system, but is a double-edged sword since any defaults really foul things up.  Now, please keep this last chapter in mind and take another 8 minutes to watch the next chapter, which discusses the Federal Reserve.  This is where the red meat is:

So, what do we take away from this?  Essentially, what really set my mind reeling–and what I immediately recognized as something that had major implications for how our nation’s currency is managed–is the fact that our currency is literally created out of thin air when our Congress runs out.  I was occasionally told by my father growing up that “money doesn’t grow on trees.”  Well, now I can emphatically tell him I disagree with his premise.  No wonder Congress can’t stop spending: they can get more money anytime they want!  As Chris puts it in the video, there are two kinds of money: one kind is “loaned into existence,” and the other is “printed out of thin air.”  This is where I start to get concerned and wonder what exactly my entire financial and monetary world is built upon…

So, where do we go from here?  The suggestion that the Federal Reserve can print more money without necessarily anything backing it–we don’t even have gold or silver backing our currency, which is a major cause of the (hyper)inflation we are all experiencing, and is probably the subject of another post–should make us all take pause.  It may take several days for you to truly appreciate the idea that your money is not worth anything and that the Federal Reserve is printing it like toilet paper, but once you make that cognitive leap, come back.  We’ll be ready to walk farther down this spooky path, closer to the gingerbread house.

~DS