I recently had the opportunity to read "The Creature from Jekyll Island" by G. Edward Griffin, a prodigious tome dealing with the circumstances surrounding the creation of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. I was taken aback by some of its provocative assertions.
- America joined World War I largely to help a few bankers profit off the war (despite a long-standing Monroe doctrine that prohibited our involvement in European affairs)
- The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was supported by international financial interests in order to destabilize Russia and steal the wealth of the Russian people; and
- So-called "foreign aid" is merely a clever means of shifting the bad debt incurred by banks and wealthy financiers to American taxpayers.
The book is narrated in a notably conspiratorial tone and contains some obvious contradictions. For example, it contends that President Lincoln was once a liberator who sought to avoid being goaded into a destructive civil war by European powers jealous of America’s success, and had designs on colonizing Mexico. However, the book still raised some very good points that deserve serious consideration.
One that stood out is that over successive generations, people with concentrated wealth have sought to use the American military and the purse power of the taxpayer for personal gain. In fact, Griffin argues, the creation of the current iteration of the Federal Reserve System was a political act designed to hide the fact that a private banking cartel would manage the U.S. currency.
The Federal Reserve, as Griffin explains, is neither "federal" nor a "reserve." It is not owned by the federal government, and it does not hold real assets in reserve. In reality, it is a giant debt factory backed by the "full faith and credit" of the government, or taxpayers.
One thing is clear. In the aftermath of the global recession of 2008, America and the world have been swimming in debt. America’s national debt alone has skyrocketed. While the Fed continues to justify flooding the market with cheap "reserve notes" based on the theory that it must supply these notes in order to support asset prices, the overall effect has been to debase the currency and prolong the pain of the American people.
As an entrepreneur who owns real assets — real estate, spectrum licenses and a publishing library, among others — I was able to benefit, at least on paper, from the Fed’s asset inflation strategy. I have been able to refinance my debt at attractive rates, and I've seen asset prices (but not necessarily values) climb. But others, especially workers (who derive the bulk of their income from salary instead of capital appreciation) and savers (retirees living on a fixed income), have lost under this post-recession scheme.
Workers lost because their spending power diluted drastically over the past 10 years. The costs of housing and energy have continued to rise in areas where the highest concentrations of jobs are located. For example, a young college graduate who wants to earn a high salary in the tech industry has to live in Silicon Valley, where even a base salary of $100,000 won’t enable them to afford to purchase a home there. Home prices are so out of line with average salaries that cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are seeing an epidemic of homelessness never experienced since the Great Depression of 1929.
Savers have lost because the interest income they were counting on earning from their lifetime of saving has dwindled to less than nothing. These days, in most cases, you actually have to pay the bank to keep your money there. And so many retirees have had to tap into their home mortgages or take on additional consumer debt merely to survive. As America faces the largest retirement boom in its history — the retiring baby boomers — more than two-thirds of them do not have enough savings to retire comfortable. And on top of that, the Social Security system that was to be a back-stop against poverty for older Americans is practically insolvent.
The unwieldy national debt also causes friction for entrepreneurs. Governments have sought to increase taxes, regulations and fees on entrepreneurial activity in order to service the ballooning debt. This has sucked critical capital out of the system that entrepreneurs need in order to grow businesses and drive employment. With consumers still reeling from the great recession, demand for goods and services is lagging employment growth by a significant margin, further constraining opportunities for entrepreneurs.
The great project to rescue the American economy by the Fed has hit an obvious wall. The debt it used to goose the economy is now gumming up the system and constraining real growth. The looming question of what actually happens when the debt bubble finally bursts is one that not even the soberest economists at the Fed have been able to confront effectively. Unless we deal finally with the false notion that "central economic planning" can replace actual capitalism as the driver of American growth, we may be in store for far, far worse.