During a March 17 address to the nation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, President Donald Trump asked that Americans work from home, postpone unnecessary travel, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people. Ten days later, Trump signed a stimulus package of over $2 trillion dollars to provide relief to an economy on the precipice of collapse. The aid package includes handouts and loans to individuals, small businesses, and other distressed industries.
Two weeks ago, during a March 17 address to the nation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, President Donald Trump asked that Americans work from home, postpone unnecessary travel, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people.
And last week, on March 27, Trump signed a stimulus package of over $2 trillion dollars to provide relief to an economy on the precipice of collapse.
The aid package includes handouts and loans to individuals, small businesses, and other distressed industries.
Despite Trump’s “having created the greatest Economy in the history of our Country,” when the markets tanked, massive and immediate government intervention was the only thing left to forestall a total collapse.
So why can’t greatest economy in the world can’t handle a temporary shock without needing trillions of dollars injected to stay afloat?
The Federal Reserve and its vicious and ongoing war on savers are to blame.
Using the Federal Reserve Note – commonly (but incorrectly) referred to as the dollar – introduces a dilemma. Because of inflationary monetary policy, Americans have long been forced to select among three undesirable options:
A) Save. Hold Federal Reserve Notes and be guaranteed to lose at least 2% in purchasing power every single year.
B) Consume. Spend Federal Reserve Notes on immediate goods and services to get the most out of current purchasing power.
C) Speculate. Try to beat the Fed’s deliberate inflation, seeking a higher return by investing in complicated and unstable asset markets.
With businesses and Americans defaulting on their rent and other obligations only days into the collapse, the problem is clear: Few have any savings… and why should they when saving their money at negative real rates of return has been a sucker’s game?
Lack of sound money, or money that doesn’t maintain its purchasing power over time, has discouraged savings while encouraging debt-financed consumption.
American businesses and individuals are so over-leveraged that once their income goes away, even briefly, they are too often left with nothing.
Fiat money is especially pernicious in the way it harms its users. To some, small 2% losses can go easily unnoticed, year to year. Over 100 years, the loss has been well over 97%.
And who can save for emergencies when you’re being forced to work and spend more – simply to maintain the same quality of life?
Over 100 years, the Federal Reserve has destroyed more than 97% of our currency’s purchasing power.
With the Fed slashing short-term rates to zero, the US Federal Reserve Note has been further destroyed as a method of preserving savings. (And negative nominal interest rates could be coming next.)
Inflationary economic policy, absent the guardrails of sound money, has created a situation with an obvious and deadly conclusion: that many Americans lack savings to protect themselves against downturns.
This situation isn’t necessarily the fault of the people, but rather the fault of a system in which discouraging and punishing savers is a crucial tenet of the entire framework.
The Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury, and the White House are trying to reassure the public that everything is “under control,” that “the U.S. economy’s fundamentals are still strong,” and that the economy will skyrocket once COVID-19 is taken care of. What if they’re wrong?
Maybe the greatest monetary experiment in history is coming to an end. Maybe sound money can still save the day, but we must not waste any more time in restoring it.
Americans no longer carry gold and silver money in our pockets and purses as our grandparents did. But we still carry the history, legacy, and spirit of those gold and silver coins in our language.
“Sound money” embodies a clear message recognized for centuries around the world. It describes the musical, metallic ring of a gold, silver, or copper coin dropped on any hard surface of glass, stone, wood, or metal.
Sound money literally refers to real wealth, with a natural, unmistakable signature of authenticity, as opposed to the paper, plastic, and electronic debt instruments used almost exclusively today.
The term “sound money” has its roots in Ancient Rome, where small, silver coins were standard in everyday commerce, whether used for paying Roman soldiers or buying exotic goods from all corners of the known world.
As Rome squandered its wealth, it found a shortcut to shore up the treasury. It gradually debased those silver coins with common metals, ultimately cutting the silver content to just 5 percent.
That didn’t fool anyone for long. Understandably, disciplined Roman soldiers did not appreciate being paid with worthless mystery metal in return for risking their lives on Rome’s bloody battlefields.
History is wrought with economic distortions resulting from currency debasement by central planners. Appreciation for gold and silver has been driven out of the public consciousness. Today, there is little understanding of what money actually is, its origins, and the folly of politicians and financial “experts.”
What is Money?
Austrian economist Carl Menger explains that the origins of money are spontaneous. The barter system’s shortcomings were quickly exposed by the problems of divisibility and “double-coincidence of wants.”
A farmer can tender corn and wheat in exchange for medical services, but what if the town doctor already has all the corn and wheat he needs?
Market actors realized that they could acquire more goods by tendering a more sought-after, or “saleable,” commodity as payment.
The most marketable goods establish themselves as common media of exchange. The marketability differences between commodities serve to discern between them; it is in this way that money undergoes competition. Through this process, gold and silver rose as the most marketable commodities due to their features: The metals are portable, homogenous, divisible, durable, and scarce.
Through market processes, the “most marketable commodity,” as economist Ludwig von Mises described money, makes itself known. Money is not created by government decree, but rather by surviving the test of time and the pressures of market forces while maintaining its value.
What is Fake Money?
Less than a hundred years into the American experiment, the Civil War began. Wars are expensive, and the federal government, which had a policy to only print notes that were backed by an equal amount of gold and silver, was running low on specie.
To fund the Civil War, President Lincoln signed the Legal Tender Act in 1862, which allowed the U.S. government to print $150 million worth of unbacked paper notes. The force of government was used to legitimize this fake, fiat money of the nature we still use today.
Lincoln and his money managers knew citizens would be wary of unbacked paper notes. After all, the Constitutional Convention that took place less than 75 years prior had overwhelmingly rejected paper money.
George Washington wrote that paper money was “wicked.” James Madison wrote it was “unjust” and “unconstitutional.” Thomas Jefferson wrote “its [paper money’s] abuses also are inevitable and, by breaking up the measure of value, makes a lottery of all private property, cannot be denied.”
Although not allowed by the Constitution, Lincoln’s government issued unbacked paper money, called Greenbacks.
But how could he get people to accept them in exchange for their goods and services? Lincoln made them legal tender for debts (but not customs duties, which still had to be paid with gold or silver coin).
Legal tender is a stamp of approval by the federal government that magically turns strips of unbacked paper into money people must accept, if begrudgingly at first. By the end of the war, nearly half a billion unbacked notes had been issued.
As always happens with paper money, the Greenbacks lost buying power. At their low point, it took $265 in Greenbacks to buy $100 worth of gold. Legal tender allowed debtors who had borrowed money (gold or silver coin) before the Civil War to repay debts with Greenbacks that had less than half the buying power of the original loan.
Creditors were understandably furious over this swindle. When the war ended, the constitutionality of printing unbacked notes was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in Hepburn vs. Griswold (1870).
Chief Justice Chase, who had been Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and who had imposed legal tender, said that there is no legal tender power in the Constitution. He said that legal tender was a war measure used out of necessity. Since the war was over, so was legal tender.
On the same day the Hepburn decision was announced, two of President Grant’s nominations for Supreme Court Justice were appointed to the high court. The Legal Tender Act issue was reheard in Knox v. Lee (1871), and the Hepburn ruling was overturned. By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled that printing unbacked paper money was no longer unconstitutional, even when there is no war or emergency.
The next 60 years were marred with the destruction of sound money (not to mention the Constitution): establishment of the Federal Reserve System (which has served to devalue the Federal Reserve Note 97% since its creation, despite its mandate to maintain price stability), an unconstitutional income tax, gold confiscation by executive order, and the abrogation of gold clause contracts.
What came next should surprise no one. An explosion of government spending brings us to today. Bureaucrats saw the constraint that sound money placed on government spending as a bug rather than a feature, and America is now well down the road to financial disaster, shouldering more than $21 trillion in debt.
What is Sound Money?
Deriving its name from the powerful, melodic ring gold and silver make when dropped, signaling honesty and integrity, sound money is money that is not prone to sudden appreciation or depreciation in purchasing power over the long term, aided by self-correcting mechanisms inherent in a free-market system.
The foregoing definition presents several implications about how we view sound money and how we should approach money in general.
Central banks across the world manipulate money ostensibly to “grow,” or “stabilize,” or otherwise achieve their desired interventionist goals for the economy. However, large swings of the purchasing power of a money, such as that seen with the Federal Reserve Note, result from the same money manipulation that purports to solve the very problem it causes.
A negative consequence of central bank control of money is the disconnect between the money supply and the demand for money. Economic downturns strike when changes in the demand for money are not met with an automatic adjustment in its supply.
In the United States, today’s monetary system is antithetical to sound money. Money, including its supply, is controlled by unelected bureaucrats operating a government backed banking cartel with no real constraints on its power.
Despite gold being a linchpin of the United States’ monetary system for most of our nation’s history, the U.S. severed its final link to gold in 1971.
After several millennia of being tested by market forces, gold and silver are undoubtedly sound money. It’s also possible that other sound monies could emerge. However, no government can replace the ringing echo of sound money from its system without grave consequences.
The process through which money is “created” is not one of central planning, but rather one in which money is “discovered” by markets. It would behoove us to realize and correct this mistake before it’s too late.
William Jennings Bryan, famous for repudiating the gold standard in favor of a bi-metallic standard that used both gold and silver, cried, “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”
Bryan’s fears may have been misplaced, however. For, instead, mankind has been crucified upon a cross of paper.
Jp Cortez is a graduate of Auburn University and a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the Policy Director of the Sound Money Defense League, an organization working to bring back gold and silver as America’s constitutional money. Follow him on Twitter @JpCortez27.
In a newsletter published in 1970, economist Murray Rothbard wrote, “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”
This is an oft-quoted platitude within circles of libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics.
Today, we are seeing the embodiment of Rothbard’s fears. The woeful state of economic understanding has reached a critical mass. Economics has taken a back seat to issues deemed more important. What’s worse is that when economics is discussed, millennials tend to lean socialist.
I have a vested interest in seeing economics and sound money flourish as I work in the field. Yes, I believe that tying a nation’s currency to gold keeps government spending in check. This is hardly professional bias though, as we all have a vested interest in seeing economics and sound money championed, many just don’t recognize it. This piece is aimed at anyone with a vested interest in maintaining a standard of living higher than that of the depression-era breadline vagabond. Economics transcends race, gender, and political identification.
Let’s begin by examining the first of two reasons that good economics is paramount.
Good Economics Is Important Because We Are Seeing a Rise in Bad Economics
Despite the corruption and backhanded actions of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to win the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders experienced a meteoric rise reminiscent to that of Ron Paul’s, whose 2008 presidential campaign trained his supporters’ focus on economics. Paul championed policies in the spirit of economists that I personally revere: Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Nobel Prize Laureate Friedrich Hayek, among others.
Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign had an equal but opposite effect. From teenagers to senior citizens, many loved Sanders’s critique of the broken system that favors the wealthy and stifles the poor. His “solutions” are abysmal, yet despite the countless examples of current (and more importantly, collapsed) socialist-Marxist/Leninist calamities, a self-described socialist found a foothold in the United States.
The revolution inspired by Sanders is anti-intellectual. The “economics” that stemmed out of the Sanders campaign was not economics at all. His school of economics was built on people shouting about their feelings and promoting egalitarianism for the sake of egalitarianism.
Good economics is grounded in axiomatic truths and empirical facts about the world around us. Sound money keeps governments and central banks (called the Federal Reserve in the US) from endless money printing and devastating inflation. Yes, that means the government won’t be able to provide every service that one desires. That is a good thing. Government is the bastion of inefficiency and the epitome of waste. Strictly from an economics standpoint, the market is far better suited at providing products and services.
The espousal of socialist policies in economics is dangerous and irresponsible. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much intellectual firepower to write off socialism as wildly inefficient. But it does take some. Socialism falls apart quickly when one understands the economic calculation problem, which explains the importance of prices based in subjective value in a free market system and explains how centrally planned economies, devoid of market prices, are doomed to suffer from inefficiencies in the form of widespread shortages and surpluses. Without these rudimentary economic blocks, “free college, health care for everyone, and massive taxation on the 1 percent to pay for these policies” sounds desirable.
Socialism has been proven to be a terrible economic policy repeatedly. At some point, the value of human lives outweighs the desire for a politician to conduct a social experiment on how quickly he or she can rid their country of any and all valuable resources. That point is now. We must understand that socialism is an exercise in futility and inefficiency. Understanding good economics kills off the allure of central planning that continues to be peddled by politicians on the left. In fairness, understanding good economics helps wade past the bad economics posited by the right as well.
For a multitude of reasons, it’s a good idea to take a politicians’ statements with grains of salt. As far as economics goes, economist Thomas Sowell said it better than I ever could.
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
Sound economics based in sound money policies make it possible to eat reasonably priced meals because inflation tends to be lower in countries that practice these policies. Sound money policies make enacting socialist policies difficult. Understanding fundamental economics is the lynchpin to cultivating an environment conducive to having meaningful debate on other social issues. Which brings us to the second reason why economics is crucial.
Economics Is the Most Important Social Issue of Our Time
We should start by understanding that economics is a social issue. In fact, economics is the social issue. No issue influences individuals (read: all the individuals) within a society more than its economic practices.
Living in the United States in 2017 means exposure to all sorts of social issues including – but not limited to – same sex marriage, police brutality, safe spaces, drug legalization, and firearms ownership. To be sure, these issues are important and should be examined with sober eyes. But the issue of economics supersedes this list and every other list.
I believe consenting individuals should be allowed to do whatever their hearts desire so long as they aren’t violating the rights of another. I stand in solidarity with those who favor legalized same-sex marriages. I stand with those who want to see marijuana legalized nationwide and those who want to own automatic weapons.
But herein lies the danger of ignoring economics at the expense of other issues: Being “allowed” to smoke marijuana legally seems insignificant when a loaf of bread costs a month’s salary and your loved ones are dying of starvation, doesn’t it? I concede the subjective nature of this evaluation, but if I had to choose between the legality of same sex marriages and economic stability, I would choose economic stability without pause. Not because I don’t value personal freedom to do as one wishes, but because I understand that with economic stability comes the ability to fight another day for other issues.
Brazil, according to Bloomberg, was the second-worst economic performer of 2016. The other side of the coin is more uplifting: Brazil recognizes same-sex unions; allows same-sex marriages; allows adoptions by same-sex couples; allows individuals who identify as LGBT to serve in the military; and so on. Brazil’s removal of the proverbial shackles on homosexuals to live as they see fit is a big win for personal liberty, undoubtedly.
But one can’t help but wonder if the married same-sex couple in Brazil suffering from the terrible economic policies enacted by their country thinks, “13.2 percent of our entire country’s population is unemployed. That’s close to what the US faced between 1930-1931 as the Great Depression destroyed their economy. We can’t afford to feed ourselves or our family and we’re subjected to danger and crime as others are desperate to obtain food and money. But hey, at least the government recognizes our marriage!”
Greece is another example of the result of poor economic policies. Riots and crippling tax hikes to pay for irresponsible economic policies are commonplace in Greece, but hey, at least small amounts of cannabis have been decriminalized, right?
I don’t mean to belittle the importance of issues such as these. But as millennials, as members of the citizenry, and as people with a stake in the economic health of the nation we inhabit, our efforts are often misplaced. Sound economic policies should be pursued with at least the same amount of fervor as the myriad issues that don’t potentially end in economic collapse, death, crime, and general hysteria.
America finds itself on the cusp of revolution, but not necessarily the kind you might imagine. The revolution we are headed towards is an intellectual one. Good economics lies at the heart of this revolution.
Without good economics, we are powerless against the abuses of the Federal Reserve, the central bank that intentionally devalues the money in your bank account while it finances foreign wars and domestic programs that the government wouldn’t have the means to pay for otherwise. Without good economics, we are defenseless against the bad economic policies that lead to extreme levels of pillaging that socialists lovingly refer to as taxation. Without good economics, we subject ourselves to tangible, real-life danger and lose the opportunity to bring about the changes we wish to see.
The Framers of our nation established that gold and silver are money, but federal taxing authorities in recent decades have required taxpayers to pay taxes on this form of money when its exchange for Federal Reserve Notes results in nominal capital “gains.”
But that problem may soon be mitigated, at least in Idaho.
A prominent Gem State state representative has advanced legislation to remove state income taxes when Idaho taxpayers sell their precious metals.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle introduced House Bill 206 on February 23rd to amend Idaho revenue statutes, providing “that capital gains and losses on precious metals bullion and monetized bullion sales be added to or subtracted from Idaho taxable income.”
Similar to a bill recently passed by Arizona’s state House, Idaho HB206 is a pure and tax neutral proposal. That’s because both precious metals gains (income) and losses are backed out of the calculation of one’s Idaho taxable income. While HB206’s passage will have little fiscal impact as to Idaho tax revenues, it will have a larger impact on Idahoans’ freedoms.
Enjoying the backing of the Sound Money Defense League, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and Money Metals Exchange (an Idaho-based national precious metals dealer), the Idaho proposal seeks to correct the misclassification of precious metals by the IRS as “property” rather than money. It is only because of this misclassification in the first place that precious metals income and losses are included in the federal adjusted gross income number that flows through to the taxpayer’s Idaho tax return.
Assessing Income Taxes on the Exchange of Money Is Unjust
Income taxes are one major way government bureaucrats penalize holders of precious metals. If you own gold to protect against the ongoing devaluation of America’s paper currency (which results from the inflationary practices of the Federal Reserve), you may end up with a “gain” on your gold when it’s priced in dollars. Not necessarily a real gain, mind you. It’s frequently nothing more than a nominal gain – but it’s nonetheless considered income against which the government assesses a tax.
The Federal Reserve strives for and openly announces a target inflation rate, and it’s these policies that cause these artificial “gains” which precious metals owners experience.
By removing precious metals from the state income tax, Idaho can stop compounding the problem and instead help promote the adoption and widespread use of constitutional money.
While Idaho citizens are not currently subjected to “double taxation” in the form of sales taxes, more than 20 other states do. In most states with sales taxes, precious metals owners are taxed on their original purchase and then taxed again if they have nominal “gains” when they sell their precious metals.
But that’s not all. At the federal level, these dollar-denominated gains on precious metals are taxed at the discriminatorily high 28% long-term capital gains tax rate. Capital gains on other assets are taxed at 15% or 20%, depending on one’s income level.
And, unless a state passes a bill like the one under consideration in Idaho, the “income” one receives from owning and selling gold and silver increases the taxes they must pay at the state level too.
Let’s hope Idaho House Bill 206 passes through both chambers this session and gets signed into law.
In 1850, French economist Frédéric Bastiat published an essay that is misunderstood, or more often, unread, titled, “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.” Bastiat brilliantly introduced the idea of opportunity cost and, through the parable of the broken window, illustrated the destructive effects of unintended consequences.
Unfortunately, because of misplaced belief in government benevolence, even the most powerful and successful members of the American citizenry often miss the point.
According to Reuters, Ramin Arani, a co-portfolio manager of the $25 billion Fidelity Puritan fund, said while discussing his current bullish stance of gold, “In terms of unpredictability, there is a tail risk with this administration that did not exist with the prior…There is a small but present possibility that government action is going to lead to unintended consequences.”
Arani’s overall bullish stance on gold is sound. Given the political climate, gold is an attractive “insurance” for equity exposure. The problem doesn’t lie in his financial analysis, but rather in the seemingly innocuous comment that followed.
“There is a small but present possibility that government action is going to lead to unintended consequences.”
To suggest the chances of unintended consequences are merely “small” is extremely naïve.
Notwithstanding myriad examples of government action leading to unintended consequences, including, but certainly not limited to, minimum wage laws, rent control, social security, and the disastrous war on drugs, there are countless examples of unintended consequences brought on by government action that should resonate with a multi-billion-dollar portfolio manager. Yet they seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Unintended Consequences of Gold Confiscation
In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102 which called for the confiscation of gold. Robert Higgs’ writes for the Mises Institute:
Besides being theft, gold confiscation didn’t work. The price of gold was increased from $20.67 to $35.00 per ounce, a 69% increase, but the domestic price level increased only 7% between 1933 and 1934, and over rest of the decade it hardly increased at all. FDR’s devaluation provoked retaliation by other countries, further strangling international trade and throwing the world’s economies further into depression.”
Looking for government action that led to the unintended consequence of literally worsening the worst depression in world history? Check.
Unintended Consequences of the Community Reinvestment Act
In 1977, Congress passed of a piece of legislation called the Community Reinvestment Act. The evolution of this act played a significant role in establishing the lowered lending standards that caused the 2008 housing crisis. Combined with the Federal Reserve artificially lowering interest rates, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taking on the “philanthropic” effort of improving homeownership of low and middle class families, and many other factors, the unintended consequences of government action raised the rate of foreclosure by 225% from 2006 to 2009.
Looking for government action that led to the unintended consequence of close to a million American families losing their homes? Check.
Unintended Consequences of the Affordable Care Act
The first half of Arani’s statement speaks to rising unpredictability under the Trump administration relative to the Obama administration. It has been less than two weeks since President Trump was inaugurated, but one would be remiss to speak on the Obama administration as if it was the bastion of predictability.
Without examining the disparity between Obama’s foreign policy campaign rhetoric and his unpredictable drone-happy administration, there is a glaring example of an unintended but extremely foreseeable consequence stemming from his signature health care law.
In September 2013, President Obama said the following in a speech on the Affordable Care Act:
In the United States of America, health care is not a privilege for the fortunate few — it is a right. And I knew that if we didn’t do something about our unfair and inefficient health care system, it would keep driving up our deficits, it would keep burdening our businesses, it would keep hurting our families, and it would keep holding back economic growth.
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