Coin Debasement, Currency Inflation and the Loss of Purchasing Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2013

History 101

The Roman Citizens welcomed the Barbarian Invaders as Liberators from the Oppressive Roman Regime

The Roman Empire pushed its borders out for centuries.  And when they did their legions conquered new territories.  And other civilizations.  Allowing them to send a lot of spoils back to Rome.  Providing the necessary funds for the empire.  With this lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome they could leave the economy alone.  And did.  Economic activity was pretty much laissez-faire.  Then something happened.  The Romans had conquered pretty much all of the known civilized world.  And they stopped pushing their borders out.  Putting an end to that lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome.

This created a problem.  For the empire was never larger.  With a greater border to protect than ever before.  And more territory to administer.  Which meant more soldiers.  And more civil servants.  Neither of which worked for free.  Which changed how the Romans handled the private sector economy.  They began to tax and regulate the hell out of it.  To raise the funds to pay the costs of empire.

Things got so bad that some people just started disappearing.  So the Romans introduced something that would evolve into European feudalism.  They forbade people from leaving their jobs.  Ever.  They even forbade the children from leaving their father’s profession.  While they were doing this they were debasing their coins.  The gold a little.  As it paid the soldiers and the civil servants.  And the silver a lot.  The money of the common people.  Who weren’t as important as the soldiers and the civil servants.  Until their silver was nothing but worthless slugs.  Causing prices to soar.  And the economy to collapse back into the barter system.  Hastening the fall of the Roman Empire.  As the Roman citizens welcomed the barbarian invaders as liberators from the oppressive Roman regime.

The Spanish brought back so much Gold and Silver from the New World that it actually Depreciated the Money Supply

Europe met Asia on the Bosporus.  The straits that connected the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  And it was where the Silk Road brought the exotic goods of the Far East into Europe.  Which the Europeans just couldn’t get enough of.  Making the Mediterranean powers the dominant powers.  For they controlled this lucrative trade.  Until, that is, the European nations made better ships.  Ships that could cross oceans.  And were bigger than the ships that plied the Mediterranean.  So they could bypass the Mediterranean powers.  And sail directly to the Far East.  Fill their large holds with those goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  Getting rich and powerful.  And shifting the balance of power to these European nations.

But the Europeans just didn’t go east.  They also went west.  And bumped into the New World.  The Dutch, the French, the British, the Portuguese and the Spanish all had colonies in the New World.  It was the age of mercantilism.  Colonies sent raw materials to their mother country.  Who manufactured these raw materials into finished goods.  And shipped them from the mother country on the mother country’s ships through the mother country’s ports.  For the name of the game was balance of trade.  Which meant you imported lower-valued raw materials and you exported higher-valued finished goods.  And because the value of their exports was greater than the value of their imports there was also a net in-flow of gold and silver.  Which was what mercantilism was all about.  Trying to accumulate more gold and silver than your trading partners.

And the Spanish hit mercantile pay-dirt in the New World.  Gold and silver.  Lots of it.  So they loaded it up on their ships.  And sent it back to Spain.  Where it entered the European money supply.  And none too soon as the Europeans were cash-starved.  Because of all those exotic goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  While those in the Far East had no interest whatsoever in European goods.  Which meant that European gold and silver went to the Far East to pay for those exotic goods.  Leaving the Europeans starving for gold and silver.  But thanks to the New World, they were able to reverse that net outflow of gold and silver.  In fact, so much gold and silver arrived from the New World that it actually inflated the money supply.  Which actually devalued the currency.  And because the currency lost purchasing power prices rose.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.

President Andrew Jackson joined the Hard-Money People and refused to renew the Charter of the BUS

Responsible nations have chosen gold and silver as their currency as it is difficult to increase the money supply and cause inflation.  Because mining these precious metals, refining them and minting coins is very costly.  Unless you discovered a New World with gold and silver paving the streets.  But that didn’t happen every day.  The irresponsible government, though, figured out a way to make that happen every day.  By just getting rid of the responsible gold and silver.  And replacing it with paper notes.  Fiat money.

Fiat money dates back to 11th century China.  To the Song Dynasty.  Which allowed the government to spend more money than their taxes raised.  Especially during war time.  But printing money devalued the currency.  And when you make the currency worth less it takes more of it to buy the things it once did.  Reducing purchasing power.  And unleashing price inflation.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.  During the American Revolutionary War there was so little gold and silver available that the Continental Congress turned to printing money.  And they printed so much that they unleashed a punishing inflation.  Causing prices to soar because the money became so worthless.  People wouldn’t accept it for payment.  So the Continental Army had to take the provisions they needed.  Leaving behind IOUs for the Continental Congress to make good on.  Later.

Of course, not everyone suffered during times of inflation.  Speculators did very well.  For their friends in the government’s central bank could print money and loan it to them on very favorable terms.  The speculators then used this cheap money and bought and sold assets.  Pocketing handsome profits in large part because of that inflation.  As the currency depreciation raised prices.  Including the prices of the assets they were selling.  So the rich got richer during periods of inflation.  While the working class just lost purchasing power.  Which is why President Andrew Jackson joined the hard-money people.  Those who favored gold and silver over paper currency.  And refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  Being one of the first world leaders not to choose destructive inflationary policies.  Instead choosing policies that favored the people.  Not the state.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The First Bank of the United States, the Second Bank of the United States and the Federal Reserve System

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 2nd, 2013

History 101

Merchants raise their Prices when the Monetary Authority depreciates the Currency

What is inflation?  A depreciation of the currency.  By adding more money into the money supply each piece of currency becomes less valuable.  Let’s assume our currency is whiskey.  In bottles.  Whiskey has value because people are willing to pay for it.  And because we are willing to pay for it we are willing to accept it as legal tender.  Because we can always trade it to others.  Who can drink it.  Or they can trade it with others.

Now let’s say the monetary authority wants to stimulate economic activity.  Which they try to do by expanding the money supply.  So there is more money available to borrow.  And because there is more money available to borrow interest rates are lower.  Hence making it easy for people to borrow money.  But the monetary authority doesn’t want to make more whiskey.  Because that is costly to do.  Instead, they choose an easier way of expanding the money supply.  By watering down the bottles of whiskey.

Now pretend you are a merchant.  And people are coming in with the new watered-down whiskey.  What do you do?  You know the whiskey is watered down.  And that if you go and try to resell it you’re not going to get what you once did.  For people typically drink whiskey for that happy feeling of being drunk.  But with this water-downed whiskey it will take more drinks than it used to take to get drunk.  So what do you as a merchant do when the money is worth less?  You raise your prices.  For it will take more bottles of lesser-valued whiskey to equal the purchasing power of full-valued whiskey.   And if they water down that whiskey too much?  You just won’t accept it as legal tender.  Because it will be little different from water.  And you can get that for free from any well or creek.  Yes, water is necessary to sustain life.  But no one will pay ‘whiskey’ prices for it when they can drink it from a well or a creek for free.

It was while in the Continental Army that Alexander Hamilton began thinking about a Central Bank

During the American Revolutionary War we had a very weak central government.  The Continental Congress.  Which had no taxing authority.  Which posed a problem in fighting the Revolutionary War.  Because wars are expensive.  You need to buy arms and supplies for your army.  You have to feed your army.  And you have to pay your army.  The Continental Congress paid for the Revolution by asking states to contribute to the cause.  Those that did never gave as much as the Congress asked for.  They got a lot of money from France.  As we were fighting their long-time enemy.  And we borrowed some money from other European nations.  But it wasn’t enough.  So they turned to printing paper money.

This unleashed a brutal inflation.  Because everyone was printing money.  The central government.  And the states.  Prices soared.  Merchants didn’t want to accept it as legal tender.  Preferring specie instead.  Because you can’t print gold and silver.  So you can’t depreciate specie like you can paper money.  All of this just made life in the Continental Army worse.  For they were hungry, half-naked and unpaid.  And frustrating for men like Alexander Hamilton.  Who served on General Washington’s staff.  Hamilton, and many other officers in the Continental Army, saw how the weakness of the central government almost lost the war for them.

It was while in the army that Hamilton began thinking about a central bank.  But that’s all he did.  For there was not much support for a central government let alone a central bank.  That would change, though, after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 created the United States of America.  And America’s first president, George Washington, chose his old aide de camp as his treasury secretary.  Alexander Hamilton.  A capitalist who understood finance.

Despite the Carnage from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis the Fed is still Printing Money

At the time the new nation’s finances were in a mess.  Few could make any sense of them.  But Hamilton could.  He began by assuming the states’ war debts.  Added them to the national war debt.  Which he planned on paying off by issuing new debt.  That he planned on servicing with new excise taxes.  And he would use his bank to facilitate all of this.  The First Bank of the United States.  Which faced fierce opposition from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Who opposed it for a couple of reasons.  For one they argued it wasn’t constitutional.  There was no central bank enumerated in the Constitution.  And the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution stated that any power not enumerated to the new federal government belonged to the states.  And that included banking.  A central bank would only further consolidate power in the new federal government.  By consolidating the money.  Transferring it from the local banks.  Which they feared would benefit the merchants, manufacturers and speculators in the north.  By making cheap money available for them to make money with money.  Which is the last thing people who believed America’s future was an agrarian one of yeoman farmers wanted to do.

They fought against the establishment of the bank.  But failed.  The bank got a 20 year charter.  Jefferson and Madison would later have a change of heart on a central bank.  For it helped Jefferson with the Louisiana Purchase.  And like it or not the country was changing.  It wasn’t going to be an agrarian one.  America’s future was an industrial one.  And that required credit.  Just as Alexander Hamilton thought.  So after the War of 1812, after the charter of the First Bank of the United States had expired, James Madison signed into law a 20-year charter for the Second Bank of the United States.  Which actually did some of the things Jefferson and Madison feared.  It concentrated a lot of money and power into a few hands. Allowing speculators easy access to cheap money.  Which they borrowed and invested.  Creating great asset bubbles.  And when they burst, great depressions.  Because of that paper money.  Which they printed so much of that it depreciated the dollar.  And caused asset prices to soar to artificial heights.

Andrew Jackson did not like the bank.  For he saw it creating a new noble class.  A select few were getting rich and powerful.  Something the Americans fought to get away from.  When the charter for the Second Bank of the United States was set to expire Congress renewed the charter.  Because of their friends at the bank.  And their friends who profited from the bank.  But when they sent it to Andrew Jackson for his signature he vetoed the bill.  And Congress could not override it.  Sensing some blowback from the bank Jackson directed that they transfer the government’s money out of the Second Bank of the United States.  And deposited it into some state banks.  The president of the bank, Nicholas Biddle, did not give up, though.  For he could hurt those state banks.  Such as calling in loans.  Which he did. Among other things.  To try and throw the country into a depression.  So he could blame it on the president’s anti-bank policies.  And get his charter renewed.  But it didn’t work.  And the Second Bank of the United States was no more.

National banks versus local banks.  Hard money (specie) versus paper money.  Nobility versus the common people.  They’ve argued the same arguments throughout the history of the United States.  But we never learn anything.  We never learn the ultimate price of too much easy money.  Even now.  For here we are.  Suffering through the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Because our current central bank, the Federal Reserve System, likes to print paper money.  And create asset bubbles.  Their last being the one that burst into the subprime mortgage crisis.  And despite the carnage from that they’re still printing money.  Money that the rich few are borrowing to invest in the stock market.  Speculators.  Who are making a lot of money.  Buying and selling assets.  Thanks to the central bank’s inflationary policies that keep increasing prices.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #24: “You cannot lobby a politician unless he or she is for sale.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2010

IT’S A PROFESSION as old as time.  Politics.  Prostitution, too.

Hooker:  Hey, baby, you got girlfriend Vietnam?

Joker:    Not just this minute.

Hooker:  Well, baby, me so horny. Me so horny. Me love you long time. You party?

Joker:    Yeah, we might party. How much?

Hooker:  Fifteen dolla.

Joker:    Fifteen dollars for both of us?

Hooker:  No. Each you fifteen dolla. Me love you long time. Me so horny.

Joker:    Fifteen dollar too boo-coo. Five dollars each.

Hooker:  Me suckee-suckee. Me love you too much.

Joker:    Five dollars is all my mom allows me to spend.

Hooker:  Okay! Ten dolla each.

Joker:    What do we get for ten dollars?

Hooker:  Every’ting you want.

Joker:    Everything?

Hooker:  Every’ting.

Joker:    Well, old buddy, feel like spending some of your hard-earned money?

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In the above scene from Full Metal Jacket, Private Joker (reporter for Stars and Stripes) and Private Rafterman (photographer for Stars and Stripes) are sitting at a table outside a cafe in Da Nang.  Minding their own business.  The hooker walks up to them.  She initiates the conversation.  She tells them that for a fee she’ll have sex with them.

Please note that it is the service provider that approached the two privates.  They did not go up to random women, offering them money in exchange for sex.  Why?  Because not all women are for sale.  They know this.  It would be a waste of their time to ask random women.   And it would be rather offensive to the laywoman in the street.  Now, Marines may be killers.  But they’re polite to the indigenous population.

When you’re selling favors, the onus is on the seller to find the buyers.  They have to put the word out that they are for sale (ultra-miniskirt, low-cut tops, high heels, heavy makeup, stand on a corner, flash their ‘wares’, etc.).  Or find someone who will broker these sales for them.  A pimp, if you will.  Or a brothel madam.  Or, mamasan, as she is called in Southeast Asia.  A prostitute must initiate the process with the ‘john’ (Hey, baby, you got girlfriend Vietnam?).  Or she goes to a place where other prostitutes ply their trade to a receptive clientele (such as a brothel).

A prostitute is often a victim of circumstance.  Few women seek this life.  They’re not shopping one day when a man walks up to them and says, “Wow.  I find you beautiful and would like to pay you to have sex with me.”   To which she replies, “okay” and leaves one life to start another.  It doesn’t happen like that.   Often it is some misfortune that forces them into the business.  And once there they have but one thing of value that they can sell for subsistence; a young attractive body.  For a limited time.

THEY WEREN’T PERFECT.  The Founding Fathers had their faults.  They knew the evils of a strong central government.  And they knew the dangers of a weak central government.  John Adams wanted to build ‘wooden walls’ (i.e., a navy) to protect America.  Jefferson opposed standing armies and expensive navies.  Washington was a nationalist.  Hamilton, too.  Madison and Jefferson were more states’ rights men.  Hamilton was a capitalist and wanted a national bank.  Jefferson hated capitalism, banks, cities and Hamilton.  It was a rocky start.  They had different views about what America should be.  But the administrations of the Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Munroe) were for the most part honest.  There was partisan fighting, but political corruption was still gestating.   Our first Democratic administration would give it real life.

Government was growing.  There were more federal jobs to hand out.  And with property ownership no longer a requirement to vote, more and more voters had no skin in the game.  People were now voting to have a say in how to spend other people’s money.  You put the two together and you get political patronage and spoils.  Those who help to ‘get out the vote’ to get Democrats elected were rewarded with federal jobs.  The more you helped the better the job.  And when Andrew Jackson won the election in 1828, federal job seekers overran Washington.

It may have started with the Democrats, but soon everyone was using the spoils of an election victory to repay their most loyal supporters.  And government continued to grow.  Back then, it was just politics.  Egregious, but just politics.  Patronage and spoils turned into graft and kickbacks.  And the bigger government got, the more money poured into and out of Washington.

Soon, congressmen, senators and presidents steered legislation and/or policy in exchange for sweetheart mortgage deals, vacation junkets, campaign contributions, legal defense funds, retirement of campaign debt, libraries, etc.  They were now offering services for a fee.  And for a lot more than subsistence.  During a limited time.  Due to the circumstance of holding public office.  Now, they’re not saying “me love you long time,” but they are taking money and someone is getting screwed.  And it’s a pretty sweet deal.  The prostitute has to earn her money the hard way.  She has to put out.  A politician, on the other hand, doesn’t.  They get rich the easy way.  While the public takes it up the pooper.

PEOPLE HATE LOBBYISTS.  They hate their influence.  They hate Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Oil, Big Finance and the other ‘Bigs’ that lobby Big Government.  But these ‘johns’ only exist because politicians are more than willing (and make it known) that they are for sale.  You gotta pay to play in Washington. 

Are we to believe that politicians are as pure as the wind-driven snow until a lobbyist corrupts them?  Yeah, right.   If you believe that be wary of anyone trying to sell you a bridge.  It’s a game.  And they write the rules.  And if you don’t play nice, they can make it pretty unpleasant for you.  Anti-business legislation, justice department probes, attorney general investigations, public attacks by administration officials, etc.  Nasty things for a business.  And costly.  Often the cost of avoiding these (i.e., playing the game) is a cheaper option.  The business that does not lobby, then, may find themselves under assault by Big Government or at a disadvantage against their competitors who do.  So they enter the fray, hedging their bets by throwing large sums of money on both sides of the aisle. 

And even though the Republican Party is supposed to be the party of Big Business, have you seen who Big Business often contributes to?  More times than not they’re in bed with the Democrats.  Who did General Electric endorse in the 2008 election?  Obama.  Why?  You tell me.  For I have no idea.  They make MRIs.  And electricity-generating windmills.  I’m not sure how they could benefit by an administration that was going to reform health care and promote green energy.  It just baffles the mind.

THE CORRUPTION CONTAGION knows no party lines.  Unabashed greed is universal.  Especially with other people’s money.  Washington has become what the Founding Fathers feared.  Big, powerful and awash in cash.  Even during record deficits.  The days of disinterested public service are long gone.  Getting to Washington has become the objective.  Not what you do when you get there.  Because if you make it to Washington, you leave it rich.  And live comfortably ever after.

And now I must apologize to prostitutes everywhere.  For they truly earn their money.  It is unfair and unjust to compare them to politicians.  And the ultimate injustice is the fact that politicians enjoy their services.  One of the perks of being in Washington.  High-priced call girls at your beckoned call.  Paid for, of course, by others.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,