I am convinced that the grand key to understanding United States history in the 20th century—and by extension, current events in the 21st—is a deep knowledge of monetary policy and the financial system.
In 1913, two things happened: Congress established the Federal Reserve, and the Constitution was amended to allow for an income tax. This established a new monetary system in direct opposition to the gold standard, which in turn had replaced the bi-metallic standard established by the Constitution. In time, the Federal Reserve system would replace the gold standard altogether, becoming our sole form of legal tender.
Before the Federal Reserve system, every dollar represented a fixed weight of gold—a real, physical asset. Today, what does a dollar represent?
Dollars are created when Washington runs a deficit. The government spends more money than it takes in through taxes, so it has to borrow the difference. It does this by issuing treasury bonds, which it sells to the banks. The Federal Reserve then buys them, but with money that it creates by issuing a check against an account with nothing in it. In other words, the Fed creates money out of nothing to buy our national debt.
These dollars, called “base money,” then trickle down into the banking system as government contractors deposit their money. Through fractional reserve banking, this base money multiplies by ten-fold, or even a hundred-fold or more.
In other words, every dollar in existence represents a dollar’s worth of debt. Some of it is our national debt, owed by current and future generations of taxpayers. The rest of it is owed by private citizens in the form of mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit cards, etc.
But if every dollar represents a debt, where do you get the money to pay the interest?
You borrow it, of course. The only way to create more money is to create more debt. This is why the US dollar has lost 97% of its value since the creation of the Federal Reserve. This is why inflation has been a fact of life for the past century. This is why income inequality has widened so dramatically. And this is why our politics have become so insane.
I titled this post “The end of politics in America” because I’ve come to realize that the greatest problem facing this country is not political, and that no political solution can fix it. The problem is economic. It’s financial.
Our country has bought into a massive Ponzi scheme that we like to call “money.” We measure our wealth in a debt-based currency that steals prosperity from future generations and transfers wealth and power to an elite class of unelected bankers and bureaucrats. As with every Ponzi scheme, it only works so long as new capital enters the system. This happens in three ways: growth, innovation, and serfdom.
Growth is obvious. So long as our economy is growing, debt isn’t a problem because we’re creating more wealth to pay it off with. This is where debt actually makes sense: when it goes towards building future prosperity. An example of this that people often point to are the infrastructure projects of the 1950s.
Unfortunately, when your debt level reaches a certain point, it goes from stimulating growth to inhibiting it. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is now 104.17%. That means that if we took the sum total of all the goods, services, investments, tax revenue, deficit spending, and net exports, and we spent it ALL on paying off the debt, we still couldn’t pay it all off.
Think about that. Your entire paycheck. Warren Buffett’s paycheck, and all the millions he made last year on his investments too. All of the money spent on Amazon. All of our grocery bills. All of the ticket sales for every blockbuster movie, and the production costs as well.
Even with a whole year of that, you still couldn’t pay off the national debt.
Ever since the Great Recession, our GDP has never seen more than 3% annual growth. This, in spite of deficit spending that from 2009 to 2012 was higher than the deficit we ran in World War II! We have gone even deeper into debt than we did to defeat the Nazis, and all we got was this crappy economy.
We’re not going to grow our way out of this debt burden. The debt is the reason the economy can’t grow.
Innovation is, in some ways, another form of growth. Instead of making more mousetraps, you’re building better ones. This is why computers are cheaper now than they were in the 1980s. This is why we have no idea how people survived before mobile phones.
Twenty-five years ago, data storage cost nearly $10,000 per gigabyte. Email was a novelty. Mobile phones were revolutionary. Only the military had GPS. Satellite imagery was top secret spy stuff. “Facebook” was a printed directory of addresses and phone numbers for your local college or high school.
And yet, with all of these incredible innovations in just the past few decades, does it feel that your life has gotten any easier? Is it any easier to make ends meet? Have we entered the leisure society yet?
The truth is that we’re caught in a tug-of-war between inflation and innovation. In some areas, innovation is winning. This is why computers and smart phones are getting cheaper. In other areas, inflation is winning. This is why cars and housing are so much more expensive.
Can we innovate our way out of our national debt burden? Not without fundamentally changing our monetary system first. Until then, we’re just putting patches on a broken operating system. We can delay the inevitable collapse for a while, but not forever.
Which brings us to the third way our Ponzi money stays afloat: serfdom.
I have a lot more to say, but this post has gone long enough and already sucked up way too much writing time. I’ll post part 2 sometime next week, taking the risk that events in Washington will make me regret the post title. But I don’t think that they will. Hopefully you’ll soon see why.