"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Fools and Their (Worthless) Money
August 22, 2007
Over the last few days the global financial markets have been suffering from a serious liquidity crisis. Headlines like 'How Rating Firms' Calls Fueled Subprime Mess' in The Wall Street Journal are indicative of the reflection and finger pointing going on all over the financial world. Even on Main Street , folks can sense something is amiss and are beginning to worry that there's more to the 'deflating housing market' than originally predicted by the 'experts.' One thing mostly everyone can agree on is that things aren't going to be getting better anytime soon.
The current economic fiasco was sparked, like many other things, by the events of 9/11, but the events of that day are by no means the sole cause of what amounts to a perpetual Ponzi scheme of mammoth proportions. In 2001, as the country was headed for a recession, the politicians did what they do best: pointed fingers (whether it was Bush's or Clinton 's recession was not important--politicians and their minions rarely point to what's important, like facts, otherwise they would never win elections). Well before anybody knew of the existence of Bin Laden, Clinton or W, events were taking shape that would put the controls of the US and world economy in the hands of a chosen few. The struggle for financial superiority and control has been chronicled for thousands of years. In the US we are sometimes reminded about the colonist revolt against King George III over England 's passage of the Stamp Act tax on imported tea and the subsequent Boston Tea Party, but rarely are we told what happened once some of those at the forefront of the revolution seized power.
One episode that points to the hypocrisy of some of those involved in "the War of Independence" is the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. The rebellion was sparked by a federal excise tax on whiskey conjured up by Robert Morris and Alexander Hamilton in an attempt to simultaneously (a) pay off war bond holders in full (for the most part these were well connected folks who had purchased the bonds at deep discounts from veterans) and (b) control the monetary system of the recently "liberated" colonies. The tax was extremely draconian to small distillers--it stifled free market competition, giving an edge to larger distillers (some things never change). Small distillers in western Pennsylvania sensed that the new excise tax on whiskey would put them out of business, so they refused to comply, and roughed up tax collectors. This led to an all out rebellion that required 13,000 "militia" from various states led by George Washington, to put down the revolt. Though the tax was eventually repealed (only to be replaced by other taxes), many "rebellious malcontents" like Herman Husband were forced to march east to Philadelphia in inclement weather and remained incarcerated for months. Morris and Hamilton were followed by a slew of schemers who would try to control the monetary system of the United States . The Legal Tender Act of 1862, which created the 'Greenback,' championed by Abraham Lincoln and passed by Congress, stated that the notes were an "obligation of the US Government.' So where does the US government obtain the money to meet 'its' obligations? The obvious answer is taxes, and since taxes are taken by force, the complete answer would be: by subjugating its citizens and terrorizing them to the point that they would rather pay draconian taxes and see their savings wiped out than protest or revolt.
If ever one figure could be singled out as the darkest in US monetary history, it would have to be Republican Senator Nelson W. Aldrich. Senator Aldrich (whose daughter 'coincidentally' was married to John D. Rockefeller Jr.) in 1909 introduced an amendment to the Constitution that would allow for a federal income tax. He also was responsible for the act that created The National Monetary Commission, the predecessor to the Federal Reserve Act. Most of these changes were plotted under a veil of secrecy by Mr. Aldrich and leaders of the most powerful financial institutions on Jekyll Island, located off the Georgia coast. It could be argued that Mr. Aldrich delivered the 'one, two punch' that knocked out the free market system in the United States (later put out of its misery by FDR).
On August 15th, 1971 President Richard M. Nixon eliminated any vestige left of the gold standard; the dollar was no longer backed by even the illusion of gold and became entirely an obligation of the United States government (AKA taxpayers AKA serfs or slaves). Removing any real backing for any currency amounts to theft (something our elected kleptocrats are good at), since it allows the government to print money at will, devaluing any existing currency (like that in your wallet or bank account).
On September 11th 2001 , as the terrorists were flying planes into buildings in New York and Washington , DC , the United States economy was suffering the early symptoms of a recession. The Federal Reserve under Chairman Alan Greenspan acted quickly and declared a jihad on interest rates and flooded the markets with money ('liquidity'). The money had to go somewhere, and since the stock market had recently experienced the 'internet bubble,' the money started seeping into the real estate sector.
Easy money and fools are a volatile mix. As the real estate market began to pick up steam, more and more folks began to jump in, eventually creating a frenzy that fed strictly off emotion. The real estate market became flooded by human lemmings who never stopped to analyze CAP rates, affordability, geographic location, absorption rates or cash on cash returns; they bought simply because they feared they would miss out on (unsustainable) future gains. Some real estate markets experienced 'gains' of more than 100% in a three year period. Banks joined in. Flush with liquidity (cheap or worthless money), they began to lower their lending standards, throwing caution to the wind. In many cases, banks loaned 100% of the purchase amount without even verifying the borrowers' income (or their ability to repay), financial statements or in the case of multi-family or commercial properties, considering that the income from the property would not be enough to even service the debt.
Then the Fed decided to end the fools' party and began to increase interest rates and reel in the money supply. Today we have begun a financial descent that has wiped out (deservedly so) those mindless twits who 'invested' blindly in real estate. Predictably, foreclosure rates have risen exponentially and a large number of mortgage company failures are looming on the horizon. The politicians have already begun to point fingers and suggest ways to help the poor fools who took on more debt than they could afford to pay back. Of course, this will be at the expense of those who were judicious with their (now even more devalued) money.
So the Federal Reserve System given to us by the politicians of the early 20th Century with the (empty) promise that it would curb market volatility has failed (on numerous occasions) to do so. So what purpose does the Fed really serve? It not only allows the government to spend money like a drunken sailor in a whorehouse while taxing you to pay the interest on the bill, it also allows the government to devalue your money (and its debt) at its every whim, by giving it the ability to create more money without even having to print it (see Fractional Reserve Banking). It also makes it easier for the government to fund and fight wars at the expense of the value of a buck (not to mention lives). Today the national debt is approximately $9 trillion (that's $27,000 for every man, woman and child) and continues to grow by hundreds of billions every year. That's a lot of zeros, but not quite as many zeros as the ones elected to Congress, even if you count the big zero in the White House.