What Went Wrong?
BALTIMORE – We are searching for an insight. Each time we think we see it… like the shadow of a ghost in an old photo… it gets away from us. It concerns the real nature of our money system… and what’s wrong with it. Here… we bring new readers more fully into the picture… and try to spot the flaw that has doomed our economy.
Let’s begin with a question. After the invention of the internal combustion engine, people in Europe… and then the Americas… got richer, almost every year. Earnings rose. Wealth increased. Then in the 1970s, after two centuries, American men ceased making progress.
Despite more PhDs than ever… more scientists… more engineers… more capital… more knowledge… more Nobel Prizes… more college graduates… more machines… more factories… more patents… and the invention of the Internet… after adjusting for inflation, the typical American man earned no more in 2015 than he had 40 years before.
Why? What went wrong? No one knows. But we have a hypothesis. Not one person in 1,000 realizes it, but America’s money changed on August 15, 1971. After that, not even foreign governments could exchange their dollars for gold at a fixed rate.
The dollar still looked the same. It still acted the same. It still could be used to buy booze and cigarettes. But it was flawed money. And it changed the whole world economy in a fundamental way… a way that is just now coming into focus.
The Old Testament tells us that God chased Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden with this curse: “By the sweat of your brow, you will earn your food until you return to the ground.” From then on, you worked… you earned money… you could buy bread. Or lend it out. Or invest it.
Dollars – or any form of real money – were compensation… for work, for risk taking, for accumulating knowledge and capital. Money is information. It tells us how much reward we’ve earned… how much things cost… how much profit, how much loss, how much something is worth… how much we’ve saved, how much we’ve spent, how much we need, and how much we’ve got.
A “Flying Nike” gold distater of Alexander the Great (336-323 BCE). Ultimately, only a market-chosen money can be sound. The market chose gold as the most marketable commodity. There were no meetings or committees deciding on this, it happened spontaneously – governments simply usurped it.
Money doesn’t have to be “hard” or “soft” or expensive or cheap. But it has to be honest. Otherwise, the whole system runs into a ditch. But the new money was a phony. It put the cart ahead of the horse. This was money that no one ever had to break a sweat to get. It was based on credit – the anticipation of work, not work that had already been done.
Money no longer represented wealth. It now represented anti-wealth: debt. So, the economy stopped producing real wealth. The Fed could create money that no one ever earned and no one ever saved. It was no longer the real thing, but a counterfeit.
In this way, effort and reward were cut off from one another. The working man still had to labor. But it was the banker, gambler, speculator, lender, financier, investor, politician, or inside operator who made the money. And the nature of the economy changed. Instead of rewarding the productive Main Street economy, it rewarded insiders… and the financial sector.
The penthouses of Manhattan and the summer houses of the Hamptons changed owners. Gone were the scions of Detroit factories and the titans of New York commerce. Gone were the people who had added to the wealth of the nation. In their place were the Wall Street hustlers… the people who moved money around… taking it from the people who made it and giving it to the financial industry, the money lenders, the insiders, and the Deep State.
This process is misunderstood. It is thought that Wall Street greed and deregulation caused the shift. But Wall Street was just as greedy as it always was… And financial regulations increased dramatically throughout the entire period.
It was not human nature that had changed; it was the money. And it changed everything. Stay tuned for more on this story.
Charts by FT
Chart and image captions by PT
The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
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