Originally penned and posted on February 29, ARSH 2012. The next day Western Rifle Shooters Association reprinted it in full (everyone has full reprint permission – I’m not writing this stuff to exercise my fingers, I’m writing it to be read), and the following comment showed up on the WRSA thread. I found it quite humbling. Hopefully it encourages folks to read this piece, despite its length.
“Part 3 of 3 is the most profound insight on why we are where we are in this allegedly Representative Republic that I have encountered in 40 years of deep reading on history and economics. In this day of shallow education and shortened attention spans, I never expected to come across anything like the profound insight and clarity she put forth here. I submit that the above paragraphs are nothing less than the Unified Field Theory of Western Civilization. One of the Founding Fathers said that the system of government they had put together would only work for ‘a moral and religious people. They will utterly fail for any other’. In a few paragraphs, Ann just explained to us why that is so. Yes, it’s depressing, and the successfully and designed outcome of an amoral state education system. Well done Ann. -Trivium Pursuit”
If you know how bad the situation is and don’t feel the need to subject yourself to any more of my patented Barnhardt Phillipic and Funeral Dirge for Civilization, take your leave now, because I honestly think that this is the the saddest, most profoundly depressing post I have yet written.
And I’ve written a few.
A few thousand.
The topic is the US Dollar, and currency in general. The Federal Reserve has been willfully and systematically debasing the US dollar for a century by claiming that 2% inflation is the benchmark of a healthy economy. Since the universities and media have been overrun by Marxists, there is hardly anyone alive who A.) is in possession of the capacity to independently think and reason their way through such a question and B.) anyone who cares in the first place.
In addition to the slow grinding debasement by the Fed, the Marxists have finally fully usurped and overthrown the government of the United States, and thus have now executed the coup de grace: wild, flagrant money “printing”, and by “printing”, please understand that we are not talking about the fabrication of paper bills. We are talking about computerized entries into the Federal Reserve’s ledger. The Fed literally types in an addition of x billion or y trillion dollars into its balance sheet – creating dollars out of thin air that exist as zeroes and ones on a computer server – and then use those new dollars to purchase US Treasury bonds. In this way, the Obama regime and its puppetmasters have debased the US dollar by roughly one half the total GDP in less than four years. This iteration of both the United States and the US Dollar are over. There is no way to walk back the damage that the Obama regime has done. They have accomplished their mission, no matter what happens from this day forward.
After reading and reviewing my texts on monetary theory from Mises, Hayek, Friedman and contemporary economists including Denninger, I have come to a profound realization about money and the fiat vs commodity money (i.e. gold-backed currency) debate – and it bodes very, very poorly for us.
First, a few preliminary points.
1. Going to a gold standard will solve nothing. This is not to say that I don’t think that gold and silver are good wealth storage vehicles in this situation. To the contrary, I think they are excellent for these times. BUT, simply reverting to the gold standard, in and of itself, will not turn us around. We will, at some point, be FORCED to revert to the primordial commodity currency paradigm simply because our government and society will collapse, and thus our currency with it. If and when our culture rebuilds itself, if we remain as we are, the exact same problems that have arisen under the fiat money system will emerge again, even under a gold-backed currency.
So why has civilization, up until just within the last few decades, operated on commodity money systems, and why is it plausible to think that any fiat currency could ever have any legitimacy? The reason why civilization has used commodity money, namely gold and silver, up until just recently is because up until just recently, there was no way to instantly verify money held on deposit, or the existence of a line of credit. With computers and the internet, such instant checks are as common as breathing, blinking and walking. We don’t even think about it anymore. We go to the sandwich shop, get our sandwich, and in less than three seconds, the vendor has confirmed that we have funds, and then transferred those funds into his account. In the centuries and millennia past, people would load chests filled with gold coinage and jewels onto sailing ships and set out for distant lands. Why did they take their gold and jewels with them and risk losing that money to shipwreck or piracy? Because they had to take it with them. The only way to confirm your wealth to others was to physically possess it. Physical possession and spot exchange was also the only way to execute mercantile transactions. If we lose telecommunications and computing ability due to the successful detonation of an Electromagnetic Pulse weapon, or simply due to the total breakdown of society and the ability to maintain and power such systems, then indeed, this argument will become moot. BUT, so long as there is near-instant data transmission, commodity money will be theoretically optional (*with a qualifier to be addressed later in Part 3).
While we are looking at history, it bears mentioning that metals-backed currencies have not prevented other economic calamities. Just in the United States, the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the post-Civil War depression of 1873-1879, now called the Long Depression, which was actually caused by the manipulation of silver demand by the German Empire, were not magically prevented by metals-backed currency. Returning to a gold standard would not prevent recessions from happening. In fact, recessions are a necessary fact of economies, and serve to deflate bubbles and restore equilibrium. The only people who promise to eliminate economic recessions are Marxists, and that is because Marxists are liars. Just as all respiring beings on earth must both inhale and exhale, so too must economies. A person who perpetually inhaled would eventually burst their lungs and die. Conversely, a person who could only exhale would asphyxiate and die. But both actions, in a balanced, moderate cycle, are the definition of health. It is the same with economies: periods of expansion followed by a healthy, normal contraction that deflated any bubbles and restored equilibrium, thus setting up the next expansion phase.
2. Metals-backed currencies can be corrupted, too. There are two ways to corrupt a metals-backed currency, and it has happened many, many times throughout history. The first means pertains to coinage, and is to corrupt the metal itself with cheaper metals, such as zinc. The Roman denarius was debased from 4.5 grams of pure silver to less than one tenth of a gram of silver. Hyperinflation was the inevitable result, and the currency had to eventually be totally replaced.
The second means, which pertains to paper and electronic currency, is for the government to lie about the reserve quantity. This could either be done by explicitly lying about the number of ounces in storage, OR could be done by clandestinely issuing dollars to cronies of the oligarchy, which were NOT actually backed by any metal, and thus would be a de facto lie as to the supply. Since the people would be unable to demand a daily audit and reconciliation, the ability to police and reconcile the supply of metal and dollars would be impossible, and exactly the same things that are going on today, namely government looting of the Treasury and debasement of the currency, would continue apace.
The problem lies in our overtly criminal government, obviously, but also in the banking paradigm itself. Fractional reserve banking with unsecured lending has got to go. In the current banking paradigm, banks are required to keep from zero percent to ten percent (yes, that’s right, ZERO PERCENT) of customer deposits on hand as reserves, and loan the rest of the money out. If a customer deposits $100 in Bank A, $90 is lent out and $10 remains as reserve (and this is the CONSERVATIVE version). Whoever borrowed the $90 then deposits it in Bank B. Bank B then lends out $81 and keeps $9 in reserve. And so on, and so on. If you go through ten cycles this way, you end up with the original $100 being leveraged into $686.19 of deposits backed by only the original $100. This is what they call “money creation.” For you math buffs, this is a limit function. With a 10% reserve requirement on a $100 initial deposit sum, the limit terminates at $1000. With a 5% reserve requirement on $100, the limit terminates at $2000. With a zero percent reserve requirement, the limit is obviously infinite.
A reasonable, non-zero reserve ratio is workable, but only so long as banks are required to carry one dollar of reserves for every one dollar they lend out. These reserves can be either in the form of the bank’s own capital, OR in the form of FAIRLY VALUED booking of the assets purchased with the loan. All unsecured lending must stop. This means that all home mortgages must be marked-to-market every single day, and if the home is worth less than the loan outstanding, the bank must post its own capital against the shortfall. This also means that credit cards, which are totally unsecured because they are used to purchase mostly non-assets, such as meals, gasoline, vacations and pure service commodities, must be backed by bank capital dollar-for-dollar. The bank could sell bonds to raise capital if it wants to make unsecured loans and then would be arbitraging the spread between the interest rate it must pay on the bonds and the interest rate plus default risk on the credit cards. In this way, the worst that could possibly happen, namely every unsecured credit line totally defaulting, would result in the bank owners and investors losing their money – but the customer deposits would be safe because all of the loans against hard assets, which would be properly valued and marked-to-market, could be sold to other banks in the market, and that revenue would fully cover all customer deposits.
In not posting capital against unsecured loans, the banks are indeed naked short selling our currency – and it matters not whether that currency is gold-backed or not. The credit card customer is promising to pay back (deliver) a loan with money that they do not have and does not exist, and they won’t be able to borrow. So, the bank and the customer together are colluding in the naked short sale. The long on the other side is the citizen and taxpayer who will subsidize the inevitable “need” to print more dollars to “bail out” both the bank and the customer. Taxes will be raised and the currency will be further debased via electronic “printing”, causing price inflation – a one-two punch to the citizen. This is EXACTLY what is happening to us today.
Well, the reality today is that banks are both writing massive quantities of unsecured loans and doing nothing on their side to balance the ledger, AND they are failing to honestly and realistically book the values of their hard-asset loans. The big banks are still booking home values at their original purchase price – not the fair market value today. Given the housing bubble, most mortgages today are underwater and are worth far, far less than the principal balance to say nothing of interest. This is why I say, echoing others, that the major banks in this country are not just totally insolvent, they are insolvent multiple times over. If the government wasn’t criminal and the favored banks of the oligarchs actually had to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, the entire system would implode into a singularity tomorrow.
For more info and a much better explanation of the concepts covered to this point, do purchase “Leverage” by Karl Denninger – a very easy-to-grasp, detailed explanation of the whole, stinking mess.
And that brings us to the conclusion and actual point.
All of the stuff outlined above is all well and good to talk about, but as I was reading, including opposing thoughts from other schools, including the Austrian School which advocates full-reserve banking in some instances, namely demand deposits – a possibility to which I am not entirely opposed – I kept running into the 400 pound gorilla, which is silently acknowledged, but never really discussed, because the discussion would inevitably lead to talk of morality and thus . . . religion.
At the end of the day, any currency is backed not by physical commodities or a collective abstraction called “a government”. No. A currency is backed by the character and integrity of men that constitute the issuing nation or body. In short, WE ARE THE GOLD. We are the bearers of the “full faith and credit” which backs our Federal Reserve notes today. And that, dear readers, is why this country is not going to turn itself around anytime soon, and is almost certainly doomed in the short-run.
Every text I read over the last few days always included a very brief caveat that all of the preceding theory was, of course, contingent on a moral society with a functioning rule of law, honest regulation and a populace that was mostly honorable and trustworthy. This caveat was phrased differently in each instance, but it was always there, hanging over everything else like a fine mist. If you have a nation of moral degenerates, all bets are off. If the people are more dishonest than honest, and the government is nothing more than a mafia, then all economic systems and all postulations fly apart at the seams. If there is no rule of law, and if theft, graft and looting are the prevalent systems of economic activity, then no matter what your banking system, no matter what your currency – fiat or commodity-backed, your system and your economy will absolutely, positively fail eventually.
Sadly, that is where we are in this country. Sure, there are still good people, but as a percentage it isn’t even remotely enough to bear the burden of the massive moral degeneracy of the others. Even among those people who would never steal or loot, there is a decided lack of courage to stand up to those who do steal and loot. The MF Global confiscation proves this. People have mostly rolled over and taken having their money stolen, shrugging their shoulders and telling themselves that there is nothing they can do – and then going back for more, continuing to patronize the very exchange that facilitated the theft and fraud. To my knowledge, only one broker has exited the field on purely moral grounds in a pre-emptive action to protect clients, and as a protest to the injustice of the system itself.
Our government is saturated with corruption, looting and outright treason and criminality, and yet most people simply cannot be bothered to care, much less to act, and are thus passively complicit. A non-trivial percentage of the population are planning and maneuvering to best “benefit” or profiteer from the criminality and fundamental dishonesty of the paradigm. Others are attempting to enter the oligarch class themselves under the guise of running for political office – and make no mistake, this encompasses both the so-called left and the so-called right on the political spectrum. The degeneracy is everywhere.
The fall of a society can happen very quickly. Our society has taken roughly 50 years to topple. If the previous example of the Russian culture is any example, we can expect it to take many multiples of 50 years to undo this damage, if and only if the pendulum has reached its maximum amplitude and now begins to swing back, which I fear has not yet happened. Morality cannot be legislated. Cultures cannot be purged of evil, selfishness and sloth overnight – even with a war. I cannot lie to you and tell you that short of Divine Intervention, this situation will resolve itself in any of our lifetimes. We had “it.” We had “it”, and we squandered “it”, and now “it” is gone, and no governmental, economic or monetary policy will get “it” back. “It” can only come from God, dwelling in the hearts of men, and God only comes to men if they specifically ask Him.
We, the people, always have been and always will be the ultimate backing commodity of our currency, because at its core, money is merely the representative device for a man’s capacity to produce and create. Dishonest men do not create or produce. They steal. Thus, the currency of a morally degenerated society is by definition degenerate itself. The currency of a degenerate society is the proxy not for a man’s ability to work and think, but rather a proxy for a man’s capacity to steal and evade work.
We used to be like gold – beautiful and warm. Now we are like pig iron – cold, brittle and good-for-nothing. And THAT is what constitutes the “full faith and credit” that backs the U.S. Dollar. So long as our culture remains degenerate, our currency can never be anything but spiraling, worthless trash.