What Happened to the American Dream
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
Historian and writer James Truslow Adams
Mr. Adams penned these words in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in our history. It is timely to reflect on these words, as it appears that the American Dream is slipping further out of reach for most Americans. If the dream of a better life for our future generations is lost, it will truly mark a turning point for our great Republic. The reason the American Dream is slipping away is due to the actions of politicians running our government and bureaucrats running the Federal Reserve. Those with ability who have earned a better life through their hard work, intelligence and integrity should be attaining a higher position in the social order. Instead, our government is rewarding those Americans who have taken unwarranted risks, made brainless decisions, and willingly chose the course of excessive debt to climb the social ladder.
As the politicians scurry to “save” capitalism through the use of communist measures, more Americans are becoming disheartened. The definition of communism according to Webster’s is:
A system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.
George Bush, Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke have decided to seize money from the vast majority of Americans who lived within their means, utilized debt sparingly, and worked hard to get ahead, and give it to the most appalling failures in our society. They have shoveled billions to banks that operated their businesses like gambling parlors. They have shoveled hundreds of millions to people who bought houses with no money down, interest only mortgages and fraudulent loan applications. They are now rewarding automakers who made the wrong vehicles, pay 30,000 workers per year to not work, and have only been able to “sell” cars by giving them away with 0% financing to any schmuck who could sign on the dotted line. These acts fit the definition of communism. We are now more communist than China.
Now, commercial developers are trying to pony up to the taxpayer trough. These egotists used immense amounts of short term debt to overpay for malls, office towers, hotels and apartment complexes. The rental income could never cover the interest expense on the debt. The only way they could possibly make money was if the next moron developer was foolish enough to overpay for the same assets. The market was flying high as the MBA geniuses on Wall Street were able to work their magic by slicing this debt into tranches, getting it rated as investment grade paper by criminally negligent Moody’s and S&P, and reselling it to gullible investors throughout the world. The gig is up. According to the Wall Street Journal, $530 billion of debt will come due in the next three years, with $160 billion due in 2009. Of course, in the America of today, your bad business decisions of yesterday that enriched executives like Steve Roth of Vornado Realty and who received accolades from the business press are cast aside. Just use the “Too Big to Fail” excuse and all is well. The American taxpayer will come to the rescue. The American taxpayer gets screwed no matter what we do. As Americans do the right thing and cut their spending, retailers, malls, and hotels will lose money and developers are already asking for a bailout. Our communist government will take the money from the innocent taxpayers and give it to the rich negligent developers. Homebuilders are lobbying for a $22,000 credit for new home purchases. It certainly makes sense to encourage new homes to be built when there are 2.5 million vacant houses and an 11 month supply of existing homes for sale. I await the future bailout demands of Rolex retailers, Porsche dealers, and caviar makers.
My parents believed that they could provide a better, richer and fuller life for their three children. They worked hard, sacrificed for their kids, deferred their gratification, saved, put us through Catholic school and put us through college. Hard working blue collar middle class parents from South Philly were able to advance their children upward in the American social structure through their determined efforts. I have serious doubts about whether my three boys will live a better life than myself. I’m sure that my grandchildren will not live a better life than myself. My parents wisely comprehended that shiny new cars and high wages were not what determined who achieved the American Dream. My Dad toiled for 42 years as a truck driver for ARCO, bought used cars his whole life, and never earned more than $32,000 in a year. My parents bought a three bedroom row home in Delaware County in 1955 and methodically paid it off over 30 years. They never borrowed against the house. We didn’t eat out three times per week. We didn’t go on exotic vacations. Two weeks at the Jersey shore was just fine. My parents had high school degrees, but were able to provide the opportunity for myself, brother and sister to get college degrees and take the next step up in the American social order.
The American Dream was not founded upon wealth and materialism. It revolves around achieving a better life based on the merits of your intelligence, hard work and contribution to the community of all Americans. There is a moral aspect to the American Dream that has been lost over time. James Truslow Adams addressed it in an essay he wrote in 1929:
"There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. Surely these should never be confused in the mind of any man who has the slightest inkling of what culture is. For most of us it is essential that we should make a living...In the complications of modern life and with our increased accumulation of knowledge, it doubtless helps greatly to compress some years of experience into far fewer years by studying for a particular trace or profession in an institution; but that fact should not blind us to another—namely, that in so doing we are learning a trade or a profession, but are not getting a liberal education as human beings."
The crux of the problem is that Americans, with a strong sense of morality and caring about what is right and wrong, are no longer steering the American ship. Thomas Jefferson declared that Americans had the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The government’s obligation is to protect the life and liberty of its people. Representative Ron Paul bluntly speaks the truth about our government:
"The obligations of our representatives in Washington are to protect our liberty, not coddle the world, precipitating no-win wars, while bringing bankruptcy and economic turmoil to our people."
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field further clarified pursuit of happiness in an 1884 opinion:
Among these inalienable rights, as proclaimed in that great document, is the right of men to pursue their happiness, by which is meant the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give to them their highest enjoyment."
Our current system of incentives is inconsistent with the equal rights of others. I was taught the difference between right and wrong by my parents. The pursuit of happiness by Americans is where the American Dream has gone off the track. The pursuit of excessive wealth, power, influence, luxury automobiles, McMansions, and electronic devices has substituted for happiness in the world we live in today. Whatever means necessary to achieve this bastardized American Dream (Nightmare?) has been the mantra of the “Me Generation”. Every disgraced CEO of the last year was part of the Baby Boom generation. Parents, schools, corporations, media and government have taught Americans how to make a living, but have done a horrific job in teaching Americans how to live. The government and Federal Reserve have encouraged the warped American Dream through the use of insane tax, fiscal, and interest rate policies.
Federal Reserve Fraud
Thomas Jefferson, a wise man by most accounts, thought central banks were not a very good idea.
“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and the corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.... The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs. The modern theory of the perpetuation of debt has drenched the earth with blood, and crushed its inhabitants under burdens ever accumulating.”
We did not heed Mr. Jefferson’s prudent advice. The result for the American people has been persistent inflation that has destroyed the purchasing power of the US dollar. It takes $1.00 to buy what cost 5 cents in 1914, a 95% loss of purchasing power since the creation of the Federal Reserve. Most of this loss in purchasing power has occurred since 1971. “Tricky Dick” Nixon took the country off the gold standard in 1971 and uncorked the bottle and let the inflation genie out. The unchecked issuance of debt by our government, facilitated by Federal Reserve policies since 1971, has brought our great country to the brink of financial disaster. The organization that caused the problem, did not see this crisis looming, and has utterly failed in stemming the damage, is now taking actions completely outside of its mandate, while telling the public they have the answers. They have duped the American public for 85 years through the insidious use of inflation, and now they are trying to dupe the world into keeping their Ponzi scheme going for a while longer.
The Federal Reserve was created in 1913 with the dual purpose of maximizing employment and preserving stables prices. New York Senator Elihu Root, in voting against the creation of a Federal Reserve, saw a vision of our bleak future:
"Little by little, business is enlarged with easy money. With the exhaustless reservoir of the Government of the United States furnishing easy money, the sales increase, the businesses enlarge, more new enterprises are started, the spirit of optimism pervades the community. Bankers are not free from it. They are human. The members of the Federal Reserve board will not be free of it. They are human....Everyone is making money. Everyone is growing rich. It goes up and up, the margin between costs and sales continually growing smaller as a result of the operation of inevitable laws, until finally someone whose judgment was bad, someone whose capacity for business was small, breaks; and as he falls he hits the next brick in the row, and then another, and then another, and down comes the whole structure.”
The concept of forming this central bank was to stop bank panics from happening. So far, they are 0 for 2. They were in charge in 1929 during the greatest bank panic in history. Their actions in the 1930’s exacerbated and prolonged the Depression. Alan Greenspan and the Fed are the chief cause of the current disaster. The absurdly low interest rates of the early 2000’s and the complete lack of oversight of bank lending practices caused the greatest debt bubble in history. During September and October, the country experienced an electronic bank run. Americans rightfully lost trust in all financial institutions and began withdrawing their money. The Federal Reserve has done the only thing it knows how to do. Print money. It has doubled its balance sheet to $2.3 trillion. The overly complicated chart below shows that the Federal Reserve is a privately controlled institution that is essentially under the direction of the biggest banks in the country. Whose best interests do you think it is looking out for? Zero interest rates penalize senior citizen savers in order to save reckless borrowers.
The only competent Federal Reserve Chairman in the last 40 years, Paul Volcker, had this to say about the actions of Ben Bernanke in the last year.
“The Federal Reserve has judged it necessary to take actions that extend to the very edge of its lawful and implied powers, transcending in the process certain long-embedded central banking principles and practices. What appears to be in substance a direct transfer of mortgage and mortgage-backed securities of questionable pedigree from an investment bank to the Federal Reserve seems to test the time-honored central bank mantra in time of crisis: lend freely at high rates against good collateral; test it to the point of no return.”
Since these words were spoken by Mr. Volcker, the Federal Reserve has gone way beyond their lawful and implied powers. Look at its balance sheet as of last week. It has more than doubled its balance sheet in the last few months. As you can see they have been busy making loans to financial institutions throughout the world. These loans are being made with your money. The Federal Reserve is supposed to be protecting the people of the United States. Transparency is essential for financial systems and democracies to function. Instead, Ben Bernanke is withholding which banks have borrowed from the Federal Reserve and what collateral was put up for the loans. They have lent out over $2 trillion of your money with no accountability to the American taxpayer. Bloomberg News has sued the Federal Reserve to obtain this information under the Freedom of Information Act. They are covering up their actions because they know that the collateral they have accepted is worthless. These are criminal actions with the intent to deceive the American public. The government and Federal Reserve work for “We the People”, not vice versa.
Thank You Sir, May I Have Another
Last week the Federal Reserve decreased its discount rate to .25%, the lowest in history. They also announced they would use any means necessary to re-inflate our bubble economy. Deflation is not a bad thing for most Americans. Cheaper gas is nice, cheaper food is nice, cheaper cars are nice, and flat screen TVs are nice. For people and countries without debt, deflation is just fine. That does not describe U.S. consumers or the U.S. government. Deflation when you are a country that has $10.6 trillion in debt will annihilate the debtor. Therefore, Mr. Bernanke has chosen to try and inflate us out of this mess. As an expert on the Great Depression, Ben believes that fiscal and monetary expansion will save the country. There is one significant difference. When the crisis hit the U.S. in 1929, total U.S. debt as a percentage of GDP was about 200% and we were a net exporter nation. We enter this crisis with total U.S. debt exceeding 350% of GDP and we have a trade deficit of $700 billion.
The Federal Reserve and Obama administration are about to add trillions of debt when we already have record amounts of debt. The brilliant James Grant sums up the dilemma:
“If the Fed is going to create boatloads of depreciating, non-yielding dollar bills, who will absorb them? Who will finance the Obama administration's looming titanic fiscal deficits? Who will finance America's annual surplus of consumption over production (after 25 more or less continuous years, almost a national trait)? Inflation is a kind of governmentally sanctioned white-collar crime. Every crime needs a dupe. Now that the Fed has announced its plan to deceive, where will it find its victims? Today's policy makers allow, there are risks to "creating" a trillion or so of new currency every few months, but that is tomorrow's worry. On today's agenda is a deflationary abyss.”
Foreigners have been buyers of 70% of our newly issued debt in the last few years. Does Ben Bernanke really believe that foreigners will be willing to accept 2% interest for 10 years on bonds while we are printing trillions of new dollars? The all out assault on deflation will work. It will work so well that it will lead to a crash in the US dollar as foreigners begin to shun the debased currency. A hyperinflationary bust ala Argentina and the Weimer Republic is in our future. There is one thing for sure. Whatever happens will take the Fed by surprise. They didn’t see the credit crisis coming and will not see the inflation tsunami before it washes over us. Economist Irwin Kellner knows this will not end well. “While virtually no one is raising prices in today's depressed economy, all this liquidity will soon become an accident looking for a place to happen.”
The last 85 years of allowing our currency to be manipulated by a private bank has been a series of crisis, failure, and mismanagement. Ron Paul clearly articulates why the Federal Reserve has helped destroy the American Dream and needs to be abolished:
"Abolishing the Federal Reserve will allow Congress to reassert its constitutional authority over monetary policy. Though the Federal Reserve policy harms the average American, it benefits those in a position to take advantage of the cycles in monetary policy. The main beneficiaries are those who receive access to artificially inflated money and/or credit before the inflationary effects of the policy impact the entire economy. Federal Reserve policies also benefit big spending politicians who use the inflated currency created by the Fed to hide the true costs of the welfare-warfare state. It is time for Congress to put the interests of the American people ahead of the special interests and their own appetite for big government."
Government in Action
We’ve created a behemoth government agency called Homeland Security at a cost of $50.5 billion per year, employing 203,000 people as our response to the 9/11 tragedy. How much would it have cost to have installed a $39.99 Wal-Mart deadbolt lock on every cockpit cabin door of every plane in the world before 9/11? There are approximately 20,000 commercial airplanes in the world. The cost would have been $800,000 and 9/11 would have been averted. Based on the government’s outstanding record of fiscal management ($1,200 toilet seats), we could easily assume that it would cost $1,000 per cockpit door, rather than $39.99. In that case, the bill would have been $20 million. For a $20 million investment we would have averted 3,000 deaths at the WTC, 4,500 deaths of American soldiers, 30,000 wounded American soldiers, countless thousands of innocent Iraqi deaths, $850 billion of taxpayer funds spent on the War on Terror, and the $50 billion per year we spend on a vast government bureaucracy that is not making our lives safer or better in any way. Our government had the power, the funds, and the ability to install a simple deadbolt lock. They did not. Government fails because it is corrupt, incompetent, mismanaged, and self serving.
We are about to experience the largest government outlay in the history of our glorious Republic. President elect Obama and his team of economic masterminds are preparing to borrow and spend the country back to prosperity. Mr. Obama wants to create 3 million new jobs in 2009. Considering that there are only 1.5 million people unemployed in the construction field, it is uncertain how he will employ all of the cashiers, burger flippers, and Wall Street paper shufflers in the infrastructure build out of our country. The Obama plan to spend $1 trillion to stimulate our economy has the 17,000 lobbyists in Washington DC swarming like voracious locusts over a field of crops. It will be the biggest pig roast in the history of our country. These lobbyists will utilize the $3 billion per year they spend (bribe) to “influence” policymakers like there is no tomorrow. "The ever-increasing cost of the yet-to-be-seen stimulus is like chum in the water for lobbyists circling to snap up some taxpayer cash for their clients," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.
Examples of the kind of stimulus we can look forward to according to the LA Times are as follows:
Now that I know the catfish industry is safe I can sleep better at night knowing the $1 trillion won’t be wasted on anything frivolous. You can be sure that the more outrageous projects are not even being discussed openly. They will slide through on page 895 of the coming bill. Every congressman, except Ron Paul, will be bought off with goodies for their district.
Everybody Knows That the Captain Lied
Poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen captures the current mood of the country in his song Everybody Knows. The financial and political game is rigged against the good guys. The poor will stay poor and the rich will get richer. The captain is your political leaders, fat cat CEOs, and investment professionals. The American ship of state is leaking.
knows that the dice are loaded
I’m now convinced that the only qualification to be a CEO of a U.S. company is to have balls the size of grapefruits. How else could you explain John Thain’s demand that he receive a $10 million bonus from Merrill Lynch after leading that prestigious firm to losses of $24.4 billion in the previous four quarters? Steve Roth, the CEO of Vornado Realty, raked in $71.8 million last year in compensation. His company has ridden the wave of cheap debt for the last eight years. He brilliantly doubled the debt of his company from $6.2 billion in 2005 to $12.9 billion in 2007. Their leverage ratio exploded from 54% to 68%. He did deals that didn’t make sense from a cash flow standpoint. His business plan was based on the greater fool theory. Now, he is the greater fool. His stock price has plummeted 46%. No bank is willing to lend a commercial developer a dime. The commercial development Ponzi scheme will collapse next year. But, not to worry. Steve and his fellow incompetent gamblers want the U.S. taxpayer to bail them out. In the America of today, the taxpayer will again be screwed and the rich ruling elite will retain their place in the social order. The government has chosen to make you the greater fool.
Thomas Friedman in a recent NYT article correctly assesses the corrupt financial system we are stuck with:
"I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the 'legal' scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds, which Moody's or Standard & Poor's rate AAA, and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn't a pyramid scheme, what is?"
The dice are loaded and the fight is fixed. Those who played by the rules, lived within their means, went to work every day, didn’t flip condos, or use home equity to lease a Mercedes, will pay for those who lied, cheated, and cut corners. This is how the American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare.
American Dream Redux – Patriots Needed
Below is an email I received this week from a lady named Cindy regarding my last article about Bernie Madoff:
Mr. Quinn..I just completed reading your article and could not agree with you more...Possibly a word of advice will ease my pain...I am a single mother with 3 children, 23, 19, 16....I am 52, self made, and worked my entire life to achieve a comfortable level of success for my family...For years I ran side by side accounts with Paine Webber, Merrill Lynch and Bernie Madoff. Amazingly, I met an associate of Madoff's at a Church in Fort Lauderdale and entrusted him with $10,000 16 yrs ago....Nothing posh..Simply good.....In the last 5 yrs Madoff out performed all, so naturally I moved my accounts and fed my Madoff feeder...Now, $1.7M later I am destitute...I will begin fore-closure on 3 of my investment properties and loose my primary home for I can no longer afford it....Why should a little guy like me have to suffer the consequences of an SEC over site...OHHH...I’m sorry, we will do better next time???
Why is it OK for Madoff to sit in his $10M apartment out on bail, watching TV and playing on the Internet?...Why is it OK for him to afford the most powerful former SEC attorneys now in private practice that will delay his trial for 3-5 yrs...How can our government allow this to happen...How is Ok to bail out Wall St with $700B while I stress out and cry like a baby over my loss....
How is it OK for Obama to be spending Christmas in Hawaii with his family staying at a $30M mansion, while my sickly mother flies from NC to Fort Lauderdale to hold and comfort her daughter....How is it OK that we have no Xmas tree or gifts this year?...How is it OK that my and my children's trust in mankind has been shattered....
I suppose we will survive, but how we don’t know....
The evil perpetrated by Bernie Madoff and his kind on Wall Street have disillusioned the American public and have driven another stake into the heart of the American Dream. The greed, false promises and fraudulent schemes by investment professionals and bank CEOs has shattered the dreams of millions. The immoral vision of immense wages, tremendous power, and elite social status has driven many to cheat the innocent.
As my father crosses the threshold into the final stages of his ultimately losing ten year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, I can’t help but contrast the compassion, care, empathy and love that my Dad has experienced from nurses, doctors, aides, and ambulance drivers, with the coldness, selfishness, materialism, egotism and narcissism exhibited by Wall Street scam artists, power hungry politicians, and pompous government bureaucrats. Dedicated caring nurses are paid a few thousand dollars per year. Criminally incompetent bank CEOs are paid hundreds of millions per year. Who benefits society more? I’m convinced that the majority of Americans are decent human beings. They want a richer and fuller life, with a legitimate opportunity for advancement. The last 25 years of materialistic psychosis was a temporary deviation on the road towards the American Dream. If the authorities would let capitalism run its course and allow the painful deleveraging that is needed, we could get back on course. If it takes a depression to accomplish this required deleveraging, so be it. We’ve survived depressions before. It is time to resist the Federal Reserve criminality and government abuse of power. Ron Paul’s call for new patriots must be our rallying cry to reclaim the American Dream:
"The original American patriots were those individuals brave enough to resist with force the oppressive power of King George. I accept the definition of patriotism as that effort to resist oppressive state power. The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the notion that patriotism means obedience to the state."
Many people are looking for an easy answer to the tyranny that is being imposed upon us by the oligopoly of government, corporations, and media. There is no easy answer. The original patriots struggled for 14 years to free themselves from British tyranny. Failure meant the hangman’s noose. Our politicians, corporate CEOs, and media pundits will provide comforting “solutions” that have been crafted by PR maggots. Their crafted talking points are lies. They have no idea what they are doing. The only question is whether rational change will come when the existing system collapses under the weight of its lies, or we take back the country through grassroots efforts and spreading the truth through the internet.
James has held financial positions with a retailer, homebuilder and university in his 22-year career. Those positions included treasurer, controller, and head of strategic planning. He is married with three boys and is writing these articles because he cares about their future. He earned a BS in accounting from Drexel University and an MBA from Villanova University. He is a certified public accountant and a certified cash manager.
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