“A nickel isn’t worth a dime today”
By: Dr. Robert R. Owens
On Sept. 22, 2011 in a speech to business executives Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “Debt is the biggest threat to U.S. national security.” When the leader of the people famous for $800 hammers and $640 toilet seats has to lecture business leaders about the perils of deficit spending we know capitalism in America has jumped the track.
After World War I the world’s monetary system was in disarray. The victorious Allies sought to revive the gold standard. However the structure which had been put in place after 1918 collapsed during the Great Depression. Some economists believe that the world’s attempt to remain on the gold standard prevented central banks from expanding the money supply enough to revive the world’s economies.
After World War II, representatives of the once again victorious allies met at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to create a new international monetary system. At the time the United States accounted for more than 50% of the world’s manufacturing capacity and also held most of the world’s gold. Since America was the uncontested economic Superpower these leaders decided to tie world currencies to the dollar. The value of the dollar would in turn be controlled and supported by the fact that the dollar would be tied to gold at $35 per ounce.
While the Bretton Woods System was in force the central banks were given the task of maintaining fixed exchange rates. This was accomplished by massive and continuous intervention in foreign exchange markets. When a country’s currency became too expensive in relation to the dollar, that country’s central bank would sell its currency for dollars thus driving down the value of its currency. And if the value of a country’s money became too low, that country would then aggressively buy its own currency to drive the price up.
This Bretton Woods System worked well until 1971. By then, due to the “Guns and Butter” economic policies of the Johnson and Nixon administrations inflation in the United States and America’s rapidly expanding trade deficit undermined the value of the dollar. As a result America urged the now recovered and economically powerful Germany and Japan to increase the value of their currencies. Both nations did not want to do this. Raising the value of their currencies hurt their exports by increasing the prices for their goods in the United States which was their largest market.
When the pressure became unbearable, when too many nations were redeeming too many dollars against America’s dwindling gold supply the United States unilaterally abandoned the fixed gold value of the dollar allowing it to “float.” Floating with relationship to money means it is allowed to fluctuate when compared to the currencies of other countries. Immediately the value of the dollar fell substantially when compared to other currencies, especially those of Germany and Japan.
This caused turbulence in the economies of nations and sent shockwaves through the political systems of the world. In consequence the leaders of the major countries made an effort to revive the Bretton Woods system. They came together in 1971, and reached the Smithsonian Agreement which for the first time allowed for the negotiation of fixed exchange rates. However, this attempt soon failed.
In 1973, The United States and the other major economic powers agreed to a new system known as Managed Float. This meant that central banks would still intervene with the buying and selling of their own currencies to eliminate any changes that might be perceived as too dramatic.
How long will this system of floating money, fiat currency, and systemic debt last?
Since I started with a quote from my favorite American philosopher, Yogi Berra I will frame my comments about the end result of America’s love affair with monopoly money and ever growing debt with another nugget from this source of double think profundity, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”
You know, I know and anyone who has enough economic awareness to realize you can’t spend more than you make forever knows that our present governmental financial framework is unsustainable. Why? Apparently our leaders believe you can spend more than you make forever.
If you have ever tried to manage your Visa payments by charging them to MasterCard you know the end of that game. Our leaders have pawned our grandchildren’s future for the votes they buy with social programs, tax give-aways, and bail-outs. However it is hard to lay all the blame on the shoulders of the perpetually re-elected. The government is the people writ large. Almost every household in America is in debt. Almost every business in America is in debt.
Debt is not a bad thing in and of itself. Actually it is one of the most liberating inventions in the world. It allows economic activity to grow based upon future activity instead of just on current holdings. This provides a multiplier effect that has given rise to the modern world.
However, when we spend more of the future than the present can service we have inverted the pyramid and are inviting a correction. Even if the Corporations Once Known as the Mainstream Media are blathering on about how good the stock market is doing, that the pretend unemployment rate is falling, that there is no inflation, and that the President says everything is getting better, the alternative media knows the present course is unsustainable. Unsustainable. That word is spoken day after day on Fox and printed multiple times every day online from thousands of blogs, magazines, and newspapers. All it means is it can’t last forever, or as an alarmist might say, “A crash is coming!”
Sure the stock market is flying high. With the Fed pumping 85 billion a month into the banking system why wouldn’t it? With that kind of money coming in why not play the Lotto? Sure the unemployment rate is falling as long as you don’t count the people who have quit looking for a job. Sure there’s no inflation as long as you don’t count energy or food. And of course the President says everything is getting better all the time that is what his teleprompter tells him to say.
So, how long will this system of floating money, fiat currency, and systemic debt last? None of us gets to live in the world we grew up in because the world moves too fast. Things change. What was science fiction yesterday is your cell phone today. One thing we can know for sure is that it isn’t over till it’s over. Yet from a realistic evaluation of the deep hole we have spent ourselves into the future isn’t what it used to be and if the world were perfect it wouldn’t be.
Is there any way to stop this train wreck before we hit the wall? Can we reign in Washington and stop the 6.85 million per minute that the best and the brightest are spending? What do you think? The great Tea Party victory of 2010 affirmed Boehner as the leader of the co-opted opposition, voted for multiple debt ceiling increases, and renewed the Patriot Act. Do you think another Progressive Republican à la Romney has a chance to beat Hillary or would make any difference if they did? I wish I had an answer to that because I’m tired of answering the question. What do you think?
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College. He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2011 Robert R. Owens firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens