Last year the Chairman of the Federal Reserve told me that gold is not money, a position which central banks, governments, and mainstream economists have claimed is the consensus for decades. But lately there have been some high-profile defections from that consensus. As Forbes recently reported, the president of the Bundesbank (Germany’s central bank) and two highly-respected analysts at Deutsche Bank have praised gold as good money.
Why is gold good money? Because it possesses all the monetary properties that the market demands: it is divisible, portable, recognizable and, most importantly, scarce – making it a stable store of value. It is all things the market needs good money to be and has been recognized as such throughout history. Gold rose to nearly $1800 an ounce after the Fed’s most recent round of quantitative easing because the people know that gold is money when fiat money fails.
Central bankers recognize this too, even if they officially deny it. Some analysts have speculated that the International Monetary Fund’s real clout is due to its large holdings of gold. And central banks around the world have increased their gold holdings over the last year, especially in emerging market economies trying to protect themselves from the collapse of Western fiat currencies.
Fiat money is not good money because it can be issued without limit and therefore cannot act as a stable store of value. A fiat monetary system gives complete discretion to those who run the printing press, allowing governments to spend money without having to suffer the political consequences of raising taxes. Fiat money benefits those who create it and receive it first, enriching government and its cronies. And the negative effects of fiat money are disguised so that people do not realize that money the Fed creates today is the reason for the busts, rising prices and unemployment, and diminished standard of living tomorrow.
This is why it is so important to allow people the freedom to choose stable money. Earlier this Congress I introduced the Free Competition in Currency Act (H.R. 1098) to permit people to use gold as money again. By eliminating taxes on gold and other precious metals and repealing legal tender laws, people are given the option between using good money or fiat money. If the government persists in debasing the dollar – as money monopolists have always done – then the people would be able to protect themselves by using alternatives such as gold that are both sound and stable.
As the fiat money pyramid crumbles, gold retains its luster. Rather than being the barbarous relic Keynesians have tried to lead us to believe it is, gold is, as the Bundesbank president put it, “a timeless classic.” The defamation of gold wrought by central banks and governments is because gold exposes the devaluation of fiat currencies and the flawed policies of government. Governments hate gold because the people cannot be fooled by it.
I recently held a hearing in my congressional subcommittee on the subject of competing currencies. This is an issue of enormous importance, but unfortunately few Americans understand how the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department impose a strict monopoly on money in America.
This monopoly is maintained using federal counterfeiting laws, which is a bit rich. If any organization is guilty of counterfeiting dollars, it is our own Treasury. But those who dare to challenge federal legal tender laws by circulating competing currencies– at least physical currencies– risk going to prison.
Like all government created monopolies, the federal monopoly on money results in substandard product in the form of our ever-depreciating dollars.
Yet governments have always sought to monopolize the issuance of money, either directly or through the creation of central banks. The expanding role of the Federal Reserve in the 20th century enabled our federal government to grow wildly larger than would have been possible otherwise. Our Fed, like all central banks, encourages deficits by effectively monetizing Treasury debt. But the price we pay is the terrible and ongoing debasement of our money.
Allowing individuals and business to use alternate currencies, especially currencies backed by gold and silver, would expose the whole rotten system because the marketplace would prefer such alternate currencies unless and until the Fed suddenly imposed radical discipline on its dollar inflation.
Sadly, Americans are far less free than many others around the world when it comes to protecting themselves against the rapidly depreciating US dollar. Mexican workers can set up accounts denominated in ounces of silver and take tax-free delivery of that silver whenever they want. In Singapore and other Asian countries, individuals can set up bank accounts denominated in gold and silver. Debit cards can be linked to gold and silver accounts so that customers can use gold and silver to make point of sale transactions, a service which is only available to non-Americans.
The obvious solution is to legalize monetary freedom and allow the circulation of parallel and competing currencies. There is no reason why Americans should not be able to transact, save, and invest using the currency of their choosing. They should be free to use gold, silver, or other currencies with no legal restrictions or punitive taxation standing in the way. Restoring the monetary system envisioned by the Constitution is the only way to ensure the economic security of the American people.
After all, if our monetary system is fundamentally sound– and the Federal Reserve indeed stabilizes the dollar as its apologists claim–then why fear competition? Why do we accept that centralized, monopoly control over our money is compatible with a supposedly free-market economy? In a free market, the government’s fiat dollar should compete with alternate currencies for the benefit of American consumers, savers, and investors.
As Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises explained, sound money is an instrument that protects our civil liberties against despotic government. Our current monetary system is indeed despotic, and the surest way to correct things simply is to legalize competing currencies.
For most of his time as a national political figure, Barack Obama has been careful to cloak his core socialist leanings behind a veil of pro-capitalist rhetoric. This makes strategic sense, as Americans still largely identify as pro-capitalist. However, based on his recent speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, the President appears to have reassessed the political landscape in advance of the 2012 elections. Based on the growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the recent defeat of Republicans in special elections, he has perhaps sensed a surge of left-leaning sentiment; and, as a result, he finally dropped the pretense.
According to our President’s new view of history, capitalism is a theory that has “never worked.” He argues that its appeal can’t be justified by results, but its popularity is based on Americans’ preference for an economic ideology that “fits well on a bumper sticker.” He feels that capitalism speaks to the flaws in the American DNA, those deeply rooted creation myths that elevate the achievements of individuals and cast unwarranted skepticism on the benefits of government. He argues that this pre-disposition has been exploited by the rich to popularize policies that benefit themselves at the expense of the poor and middle class.
But Obama’s knowledge of history is limited to what is written on his teleprompter. And his selection of the same location that Teddy Roosevelt used to chart an abrupt departure into populist politics is deeply symbolic in the opposite way to that which he intended. It is not by some genetic fluke that Americans distrust government. It is an integral and essential part of our heritage. The United States was founded by people who distrusted government intensely and was subsequently settled, over successive generations, by people fleeing the ravages of government oppression. These Americans relied on capitalism to quickly build the greatest economic power the world had ever seen – from nothing.
But according to Obama’s revisionist version of American history, we tried capitalism only briefly during our history. First, during the Robber Barron period of the late 19th Century, the result of which was child labor and unprecedented lower-class poverty. These ravages were supposedly only corrected by the progressive policies of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. We tried capitalism again in the 1920s, according to Obama, and the result was the Great Depression. This time, it allegedly took FDR’s New Deal to finally slay that capitalist monster. Then, the account only gets more farcical. Apparently, we tried capitalism again under George W. Bush, and the result was the housing bubble, financial crisis, and ensuing Great Recession. Obama now argues that government is needed once again to save the day.
This view is complete fiction and proves that Obama is not qualified to teach elementary school civics, let alone serve as President of the United States. I wonder what other economic system he believes we followed prior to the 1890s and 1920s (and during the 1950s and 1960s) that that he now seeks to restore? Capitalism did not start with J.P. Morgan in 1890s or John D. Rockefeller in the 1920s as the President suggests. In fact, it was about that time that capitalism came under attack by the progressives. We were born and prospered under capitalism. The Great Depression did not result from unbridled capitalism, but from the monetary policy of the newly created Federal Reserve and the interventionist economic policies of both Hoover and Roosevelt – policies that were decidedly un-capitalist.
The prosperity enjoyed during mid-20th century actually resulted from the incredible progress produced by years of capitalism. Contrary to Obama’s belief, the New Deal and Great Society did not create the middle class; it was, in fact, a direct result of the capitalist industrial revolution. The socialist programs of which Obama is so fond are the reasons why the middle class has been shrinking. America’s economic descent began in the 1960s, when we abandoned capitalism in favor of a mixed economy. By mixing capitalism with socialism, we undermined economic growth, and reversed much of the progress years of laissez-faire had bestowed on average Americans. The back of the middle class is being broken by the weight of government and the enormous burden taxes and regulation place on the economy.
America’s first experiment with socialism, the Plymouth Bay Colony, ended in failure, and our most successful colonies – New York, Virginia, Massachusetts – were begun primarily as commercial enterprises. When the founding fathers gathered to write the Constitution, they represented capitalist states and granted the federal government severely limited powers.
Apparently, Obama thinks our founders’ mistrust of government was delusional, and that we were fortunate that far wiser groups of leaders eventually corrected those mistakes. The danger, as Obama sees it, is that some Republicans actually want to reverse course and adopt the failed ideas espoused by great American fools like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.
The President unknowingly illustrated his own contradictory thinking with the importance he now places on extending the temporary payroll tax cuts. If all that stands between middle-class families and abject poverty is a small tax cut, imagine how much damage the far more massive existing tax burden already inflicts on those very households! If Obama really wants to relieve middle-class taxpayers of this burden, he needs to reduce the cost of government by cutting spending. After all, there is no way to pay for all the government programs Obama wants by simply by taxing the rich.
History has proven time-and-again that capitalism works and socialism does not. Taking money from the rich and redistributing it to the poor does not grow the economy. On the contrary, it reduces the incentives of both parties. It lowers savings, destroys capital, limits economic growth, and lowers living standards. Maybe Obama should take his eyes off the teleprompter long enough to read some American history. In fact, he could start by reading the Constitution that he swore an oath to uphold.
The global economic situation is becoming more dire every day. Approximately half of all US banks have significant exposure to the debt crisis in Europe. Much more dangerous for the US taxpayer is the dollar’s status as reserve currency for the world, and the US Federal Reserve’s status as the lender of last resort. As we’ve learned in recent disclosures, this has not only benefitted companies like AIG, the auto industry and various US banks, but multiple foreign central banks as they have run into trouble. Nothing has been solved, however, by offering up the productivity of Americans as a sacrificial lamb. Greece is set to be the first domino to fall in the string of European economies at risk. Rather than learning from Greece’s terrible example of an over-consuming public sector and drowning private sector, what is more likely from our politicians is an eventual bailout of European investors.
The US has a relatively small exposure to overwhelmed Greek banks, but much larger economies in Europe are set to follow and that will have serious implications for US banks. Greece is technically small enough to bail out. Italy is not. Germany is not. France is not. It is estimated that US banks have over a trillion dollars tied up in at-risk German and French banks. Because the urge to paper over the debt with more credit is so strong, the collapse of the Euro is imminent. Will the Fed be held responsible if the Euro brings the US dollar down with it?
The most disingenuous aspect of the narrative about the European sovereign debt crisis is that entire economies will collapse if more resources are not bilked from productive people around the world. This is untrue. Tough times are coming for the banks, to be sure, but free people always find a way back to prosperity if the politicians leave them alone. Communities within Greece are coming together and forming barter systems because they know the Euro is becoming unstable. Greeks are learning how to engage in commerce with each other, without the use of fiat currency controlled by central banks. In other words, they are rediscovering what money really is, and they are trading with each other in ways that cannot be controlled, manipulated, squandered, inflated away and generally ruined by corrupt bankers and the politicians that enable them. Farmers will still grow food, mechanics will still fix cars, people will still make things and exchange them with each other. No banker, no politician can stop that by destroying one medium of exchange. People will find or create another medium of exchange.
Unfortunately when politicians try to monopolize currency with legal tender laws, the people find it harder and harder to survive the inflation and taxation to which they are subjected. Bankers should take their dreaded haircut rather than making innocent people pay for their mistakes. The losses should be limited and liquidated, rather than perpetuated and rewarded. This is the only way we can recover.
Government debt is often considered rock solid because it is backed by a government’s ability to forcibly extract interest payments out of the public. The public is increasingly unwilling to be bilked to make bankers whole. The riots and the violence in Greece should tell us something about the sustainability of this system.
If we continue to bail out banks and bankers so they can continue to lose money, if we cavalierly put this burden on the taxpayer, it is all too predictable what will happen here.
Last week, I spent the afternoon visiting the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in lower Manhattan. I brought a film crew and a sign that said “I Am The 1%, Let’s Talk.” The purpose was to understand what was motivating these protesters and try to educate them about what caused the financial crisis. I went down there with the feeling that much of their anger was justified, but broadly misdirected.
Indeed, there were plenty of heated discussions. I did little more than ask how much of my earnings I should be allowed to keep. In return, I was called an idiot, a fool, heartless, and selfish. But when we started talking about the issues, it seemed like the protesters fell into two categories: those who generally understood and agreed that Washington caused this mess, and those who could only recite Marxist talking points. It was the latter who usually resorted to calling names once I pointed out the hypocrisy of their positions. They might shout, “the banks have taken over the regulatory agencies, so we need more regulations!” Obviously, this is paradoxical. If they’re blaming government for causing this problem, why would they suggest more government as the solution?
I think some of the leadership of Occupy Wall Street comes from this kind of radical Marxist background – and perhaps they’re smart to intentionally keep quiet about their goals. Because the vast majority of protesters I met did believe in capitalism – they’re just tired of being screwed over by crony capitalism. Noted school-choice activist Michael Strong calls it “crapitalism,” and that’s what it is. It’s a rotten deal for everyone, and they know it.
The problem is that many of these people are under the mistaken impression that Wall Street banks are to blame for this state of affairs. That’s like blaming the dogs for getting into the trashcan. Sure, it’s bad behavior, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the authority figures – in this case, Washington. After all, it’s not the New York metro area that has benefited the most from this crisis. Rather, the counties around DC are now ranking as the wealthiest in the country. And while wealthy New Yorkers have historically made their living providing essential financial services to the global economy, Washington has always made its living one way: at our expense.
That’s why I have trouble sympathizing with people calling themselves the “99%”, implying they stand in opposition to wealth no matter how it’s earned. I own a brokerage firm, but I didn’t receive any bailout money. In fact, I have to work twice as hard to compete with bigger financial firms that are propped up by the US government. The least I deserve is the ability to keep what I earn.
Remember, if the IRS weren’t taking so much from the wealthy who have earned it, there would be that much less for Wall Street bailouts. A hundred years ago, major banks had no business lobbying Washington, because compared to their free-market earnings, the government simply didn’t have that much money to dole.
The other tool the government didn’t have to use against us back then was the Federal Reserve. Even if we drastically reduce taxes, the Fed might decide to do what it has been doing: printing money to finance government profligacy. This acts as a secret tax on everyone with a bank account, and is critical in transferring wealth from hardworking Americans to politically connected elites. So, really, the protests shouldn’t be on Wall Street but around the corner on the ironically named Liberty Street, site of the New York Federal Reserve Bank – the heart of this dishonest system.
Until these twin sources of financial oppression are brought under control, the average American’s standard of living will most likely continue to fall, more jobs will leave for increasingly capitalist emerging markets, and more young kids will be left with nothing better to do than block traffic.
One common refrain I heard at the protests was that our problems result from the rich not paying enough taxes. Most feel that economy was better when marginal tax rates were higher, and that lower rates are a cause of financial decline. Forget about the faulty logic of this assumption, it ignores two key points. First, while it’s true that marginal tax rates were much higher after World War II, the tax code also used to contain many allowances and exceptions, such that very few people actually paid the nominal rate. Second, prior to 1913, the rich paid no income taxes at all; yet, lower- and middle-class living standards rose much faster in the 19th century than in the 20th!
Overall, I think there was a real lack of understanding of basic economic principles among the Occupiers. Protesters thought that the rich owed a duty to share their wealth with society. However, they failed to see that in true capitalism, the rich can only acquire their wealth by serving others. No one succeeds in a vacuum. Consider the late Steve Jobs. He became a billionaire by sharing his wealth. Think about the millions of people around the world whose lives are vastly better because of Apple products. Think of all the Apple employees who benefit from high-paying jobs he created. Think about all those investors who made money from Apple stock. Steve Jobs shared his wealth with the entire planet before he ever paid one dime in taxes. In fact, any money Steve Jobs did pay in taxes likely prevented him from creating and sharing even more wealth. Had Jobs tried to hoard his wealth instead, he never would have acquired it in the first place.
Of course, the idea that Occupy Wall Street protesters have a right to share directly in the private profits earned by others is immoral. The protesters were correct in being outraged by having to share in Wall Street’s losses. But if they do not want to share the losses, they have no right to demand a share of the profits!
One protester equated the low wages paid by Wal-Mart to slavery, yet thought the government should take 70% of my income. In the case of Wal-Mart, employees are free to choose other jobs. What choice would I have when faced with a 70% income tax? They call it “slavery” when Wal-Mart offers workers better opportunities than they could find elsewhere, and “justice” when government enslaves me by forcibly taking 70% of the fruits of my labor.
Another protester challenged my claim that businesses create jobs by stating that consumers create the jobs by spending money. When I asked him where the consumers got their money, he replied “from their jobs,” which actually proved my point. Without jobs, consumers have no purchasing power. And without production, there is nothing to purchase.
I’m calling for these protesters to educate themselves on the causes of the current financial decline and not to waste their time attacking the wrong target. They have every right to be angry, but also an obligation to be part of the solution. Yes, I am the 1% – but I’ve earned every penny. Instead of trying to take my wealth away, I hope they learn from my example.
The Super Congress created by the recent debt ceiling increase deal is a typical example of something nefarious attached to a bigger bill that is rushed through Congress without giving Members ample opportunity to consider the full ramifications. This commission may turn into an early Christmas present for the well-heeled lobbyists of K Street. This is because the commission presents a huge opportunity for lobbying firms to sneak their client’s pet projects and issues into whatever legislation is created by the commission. The fact that automatic cuts to defense are named if the committee deadlocks simply signals to the military industrial complex to bring their A game to the lobbying effort.
One red flag I am constantly aware of in my position as a Congressman is that highly complex and convoluted legislation frequently has dangerous provisions hidden in the fine print. Elaborate legislative packages force lawmakers to take the bad with the good, and often if they refuse, they are accused of voting against the positive provision – never mind the blatant Constitutional violations in the bill, the spending, the waste, and the unchecked expansion of government. I don’t usually have to read too much of a bill like that before encountering something unconstitutional, or simply unwise. Then I have to vote no.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with a majority of legislators, unfortunately. In order to ram through one special interest’s favorable treatment or giveaway, a certain amount of horse-trading is done. The end result is mammoth bills with myriads of unrelated provisions that favor those with the best lobbyists at the expense of everyone else.
The creation of a 12 member committee to preside over $1.5 trillion in spending decisions, and the exclusion of the rest of Congress also means lobbying firms can focus their efforts on an anointed few, which is certainly more manageable for them than having to deal with the entire Congress. Every cut considered will, of course, have a recipient on the other end whose livelihood is being threatened. The probable outcome is that any cuts realized will be more a function of lobbying prowess than the merits or demerits of the actual programs on the chopping block.
Make no mistake – I am enthusiastically for cutting government spending. The goal should be to eventually reduce government down to the size and scope of its constitutional limitations. However, the process of getting there must also be constitutional. Concentrating such special authority to fast track legislation affecting so many special interests to a small, select committee is nothing more than an unprecedented power grab. Only fears of an impending catastrophe could have motivated Members to allow this legislation to be rushed through Congress. The founding fathers had strong feelings about taxation without representation and under no circumstances would they have felt excluding 98% of Congress from fiscal decisions was appropriate.
I see nothing good coming out of this Super Congress. I suspect it will be highly vulnerable to corruption and special interests. No benefit can come from such careless disregard of the Founders’ design.
"Lack of money is the root of all evil" (George Bernard Shaw)