Occupiers like to rail against the “1 percent” who supposedly have all the money and then tell you “we are the 99 percent” of the population that toils in obscurity for little or no reward.
The proper, rational use of those numbers in relation to the Occupy movement would be that 99 percent of what the Occupy Wall Street movement espouses is pure hogwash, but then there’s that 1 percent. …
That’s why I say Occupy Whatever is a broken clock, because even a broken clock can be right twice a day and the Occupy movement is right about exactly two things: There is not enough being done to help the growing masses of the poor; and much of the blame for the dreadful state of our economy can properly be placed on our banking system.
Of course, there’s a lot more to both issues than what is conveyed in those simple statements. Such complexities elude the Left and, honestly, many on the Right.
President Obama’s cooked-up unemployment numbers notwithstanding, it’s no secret that the number of unemployed throughout many regions of the country continues to grow, especially in places like California where the liberal government is obsessed with draining the last drop of blood from the benighted state’s businesses.
The demands on the social safety net are so great in places like Los Angeles that Section 8 housing funds and other programs for the impoverished have been shut down until further notice.
Charities in California aren’t faring much better. Donations have dried up because there are fewer and fewer people left capable of donating. Thus, the poor suffer again.
Now, a word about the poor: You probably don’t know them like you think you do.
There are two pictures of poor people in America present in most modern thought. The liberal view is that they are all victims, probably of racism, and they are completely helpless, so the government has to take care of them. A view that is prominent among conservatives is that the poor are mostly lazy and they should go get jobs to take care of themselves.
Both of these views have something in common: Those who express them want somebody else to help the poor. For liberals, it’s the government; for conservatives, it’s the poor themselves.
After all, are there no workhouses?
In other words, something should be done about the poor, but they aren’t “my” business.
But as Marley’s Ghost famously warned Scrooge, “Mankind should have been my business.”
Here’s a dose of reality: Many people have fallen from the middle class into the ranks of the poor because of job loss and a pernicious lack of available work. The young and unskilled actually have an edge here because businesses can afford to hire them, and employers know that young workers may stick around even for low pay.
Older, experienced and more educated workers are often out of luck these days. Opportunities are scarce; many businesses won’t hire because of age or because they don’t want to waste time and effort training someone who will take the first better job offer that comes along.
Too many people not only can’t get a job in their field but can’t even get a call back from WalMart because they’re deemed overqualified. There is an alarming number of highly skilled professionals out of work, standing in food lines, even living on the streets.
The liberal go-to play of raising taxes to pay for more social services is a losing game. The government could certainly improve its delivery of services and help more people if the aid bureaucracy was more efficient, but on the whole just throwing money at the problem won’t work.
Nor is it any good to expect people to pull themselves up by their own boot straps with a job when there are no jobs to be had and the banks are repossessing all the boots.
Which brings me to our lovely banking system.
On the surface, our banks work great, except for the inclination toward ridiculous fees for non-existent costs.
But there’s something rotten at the heart of the banking system that has, more than anything else, brought us to the brink of disaster. It’s a policy called fractional reserve lending.
Much has been written about this, yet surprisingly few people have processed what the banks have done to us.
Fractional lending is the policy of banks that every dollar deposited with them can effectively be multiplied by a factor of 10 and loaned out to other customers. And it’s legal.
Let me slow that down and restate it because it’s important. If you deposit, say, $1,000 in Bank of America, the bank is legally allowed to keep only $100 physically on deposit and loan out $900. At that point, the effective money supply is now $1,900 because the bank has loaned out $900 and given the original depositor a $1,000 IOU.
The process continues because the borrower soon spends his $900, giving it to another depositor, such as a store owner, who then deposits the sum in his own bank. That bank keeps $90 on reserve and loans out $810, creating another IOU for the depositor and expanding the money supply again.
By the time this process reaches its conclusion, each dollar has been multiplied roughly by 10, without the action of any government or central bank.
Now consider salaries, which tend to stay relatively flat over the years. If someone was making $36,000 a year in 1970, that probably meant he was doing pretty well for himself and his family. If someone doing the same job makes the same salary today, he’s struggling.
That’s because costs of just about everything, particularly housing, have skyrocketed. But why have costs skyrocketed? It’s not just because workers in various industries demand more pay. Electricity, heat and water didn’t suddenly become more difficult to create or deliver. Food isn’t any harder to grow now than it was a few decades ago. Farm animals don’t for some reason consume more grain. Lumber mills can still cut a straight plank with ease.
So what is driving costs?
Government regulation and meddling has added to the problem, of course, but the biggest culprit is the simple fact that a dollar today has only a small portion of the value it had years ago because the banks have quietly been expanding the money supply and driving all of us into poverty.
But government doesn’t get off the hook, since it is Congress and the president and the courts that have allowed the practice that continues to gut our economy.
It’s not an unfixable situation, either, if there were the will to end it. Obviously, the first step would be to end the practice of fractional lending forever and, as an aside, cap allowable interest rates on all future lending.
One of the most maddening things about us humans is that we don’t realize the power we have over our own reality. The world’s a mess right now, but if we could all somehow sit down together tonight and decide that it didn’t have to be this way, the world would be different tomorrow morning.
Money does not have a fixed value. We can reset it, reboot the system if we want.
It’s a fantasy, I know, but you can’t blame a fella for dreaming.
Tad Cronn is the editor in chief of The Patriots Almanac, and the author of the e-book Radical Reboot: How to Fix Capitalism (and Save the World).