Recently, in Part I of this series, I promised that in Part II, I’d explain “why” the survival of our debt-based monetary system (DBMS) depends on the creation of ever more debt. I argued that our massive National Debt is not an accident or evidence of political malfeasance, but rather an intentional and necessary consequence of accepting our debt-based monetary system (DBMS). I argued that our DBMS can’t survive without going ever deeper into debt.
I compared “payments” (which are tangible, real assets like gold or silver coins) to “promises to pay” (which are intangible, paper debt-instruments like paper dollars). I warned that, given the choice between receiving a tangible “payment” and an intangible “promise to pay,” only a fool would take the paper “promises to pay”.
I illustrated my argument about “promises to pay” by reminding readers of how many times they had made or received promises that had failed. My point was that promises are easily made and routinely broken.
So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that my promise to use this week’s article to explain the “why” behind the debt-based monetary scheme will also be broken. I began to write this second article with some background on “Ponzi Schemes” (which is how I and others frequently describe our DBMS). But, when I looked into “Ponzi Schemes,” I discovered that maybe that’s not the most accurate way to describe our DBMS. I also realized that maybe I should try to discern and describe the nature of our DBMS before I got into the “why”.
Result? Here, in Part II of this series of articles we’re going to explore whether our DBMS is really a “Ponzi Scheme” or if it’s something else. Then, in Part III (coming soon) I’ll present my notions concerning the fundamental “why”.
Ponzi or Pyramid?
Wikipedia’s description of “Ponzi Schemes” includes some characteristics which seem similar to our Debt-Based Monetary System (DBMS). It also includes other characteristics that seem more similar to “pyramid schemes”.
• “In Ponzi Schemes, the perpetuation of the high returns requires an ever-increasing flow of money from new investors to sustain the scheme.”
In the DBMS, the perpetuation of economic stimulation requires an ever-increasing flow of debt from new debtors to sustain the debt-based economy. The DBMS would seem similar to a Ponzi Scheme.
• In Ponzi Schemes, “The promoter sells shares to investors by taking advantage of a lack of investor knowledge or competence.”
How many Americans know anything about money besides how to count it? How many have even a clue to what’s meant by the term “Debt-Based Monetary System”?
When it comes to money, most Americans are phenomenally ignorant. As you’ll read, the Ponzi Scheme operates in secrecy while the pyramid scheme takes place out in the open. Is our collective ignorance an accident or an intended disability that’s required to maintain our seeming “support” for the DBMS? (Hosea 4:6 warns “My people perish for lack of knowledge.”)
• “Initially, the Ponzi Scheme promoter will pay out high returns to attract more investors. Other investors begin to participate, leading to a cascade effect. The “return” to the initial investors is paid out of the investments of new entrants, rather than solely from profits.”
There’s a key to Ponzi Schemes: the original investors do not receive Returns On Investments (ROI) based on legitimate profits generated from the sale of Ponzi Scheme goods or services. Instead, their ROI is derived from the recruitment and additional investments from more and more investors.
For example, let’s suppose that Bernie Madoff initially persuaded 100 people to invest $100,000 each in his investment management services. That would give Bernie $10 million to invest. Bernie promised to use the $10 million to purchase various stocks and bonds on his investors’ behalf. His promise to invest their funds constitutes evidence of his debt to his clients.
However, instead of keeping his promise and actually purchasing any stock on his clients’ behalf, suppose Bernie merely claims to have done so, prints up worthless paper certificates as evidence of those purchases, and reports profits of 11% per annum to his clients.
In an investment world where a 7% ROI is considered excellent, Bernie pays his clients a phenomenal 11%. If they ask for actual payment, he takes it out of the $10 million that he didn’t actually invest, rather than from real profits based on real investments. So long as Bernie can pay his debt to those clients who demand payments, he can appear to be solvent, legitimate and brilliant.
However, his clients are usually so happy with the 11% ROI that they don’t take the cash and instead roll the alleged 11% ROI over and back into more “investments” with Bernie. Result? Bernie can use most of the $10 million invested to buy a new Cadillac and a plush apartment.
More, Bernie’s original clients are constantly bragging to their friends about their 11% ROI, so their friends invest another $50 million in Bernie’s investment management firm. Now Bernie has $60 million to play with and very few clients who “cash in”. Result? Bernie can purchase a new Rolls Royce and a modest mansion in the Hamptons.
As long as new clients are begging to invest more currency in Bernie’s Ponzi Scheme, everything appears normal, the investors are delighted, and Bernie keeps living large on unearned income. Everything seems cool—until the economy implodes and a large number of Bernie’s clients begin to cash out and/or the number of new investors in Bernie’s Ponzi Scheme falls. Then, the fraud is exposed, Bernie’s clients scream and shout, the government issues indictments, one of Bernie’s two sons dies from cancer, the other commits suicide, and Bernie goes to prison for the rest of his life.
Those who live by the Ponzi Scheme die by the Ponzi Scheme. Madoff’s family tragedy seems almost Shakespearean. (I suspect that those who live by the National Debt will, likewise, die by the National Debt.)
In any case, the key to the Ponzi Scheme is that the operator (Bernie) claimed to be making investments that earned fabulous returns for his clients when, in fact, virtually no investments were purchased and the only incoming revenue was that provided by new investors.
• So, let’s compare Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme to our modern Debt-Based Monetary System (DBMS).
We have an “official” National Debt of $20 trillion. Some sources say that, including unfunded liabilities, the real National Debt could be over $200 trillion.
Whatever the true size of the National Debt, let’s consider what that debt has been used to do. Government has ostensibly used those borrowed funds to provide “free lunches” for poor welfare recipients, rich subsidy recipients, the military, and the health care system. And the voters (just like Bernie Madoff clients) cheer YAAYYYY!!! because they love those free lunches.
As I explained in Part I of this article series, I believe the real objective and necessity for the National Debt is to create ever-more debt to feed the DBMS. But I’m not going deeper into that notion right now. Let’s just consider the ostensible reason for the National Debt: to give something for nothing (free lunches) to today’s voters.
A fundamental truth is that there’s no free lunch. Ever. Although the people who “ate” those “free lunches” might not have to personally pay for them, somebody does have to pay for them.
Q: Who is the designated “payor” for today’s “free lunches”?
A: Future generations.
Just as Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme was ultimately premised on the expectation of an endless supply of future clients and new investment funds, our National Debt presumes that future generations of Americans will grow so great in both number and prosperity that they’ll happily and easily repay that $20 trillion.
However, if the economy declines, slides into a “Great Recession,” and unemployment rises, future generations won’t be able to repay the $20 trillion (plus interest) due on the “free lunches”. Likewise, if the debt becomes so large that it’s mathematically impossible to repay—or, if future generations simply say, “Screw you grandpa; we want our own homes and families while we’re young enough to enjoy them, so we’re not payin’ your debts”—then,
Q: What happens?
A: The National Debt will be paid by the people and institutions of “gradpa’s” generation who purchased all those U.S. bonds that initially paid for the “free lunches”. Bond buyers will lose their assets. Their U.S. bonds will turn out to be mostly or even completely worthless.
Ironically, the same generation that believed in and received most of the “free lunches” are, for the most part, also the primary purchasers of government bonds. The same generation that wanted “free lunches” and who trusted in government, will lose the wealth they invested in the “safe haven” of U.S. bonds. There’s a certain rough justice in that.
When the debt hits the fan, U.S. bond holders will scream just like Bernie Madoff clients.
• However, don’t miss the fundamental point: both Ponzi Schemes and the National Debt are based on the assumption that there’ll be an ever-increasing supply of future investors and/or future creditors who will always be blissfully willing and able to repay the current debt incurred by previous generation.
That assumption must be false since the number of Americans is finite. Sooner or later, the Ponzi Schemes and the National Debt will run out of new investors and/or “greater fools” and both rackets will implode. Those failures are mathematical certainties.
The only question is when will the fraud inherent in a particular Ponzi Scheme—or the National Debt—be exposed? That’s when the debs will be substantially repudiated and those fraudulent institutions will collapse.
My contribution to this inevitability is the hypothesis (see Part I) that once we entered into a DBMS in A.D. 1971, it became necessary—absolutely necessary—for our debt to increase. Any time the debt declines significantly in a Debt-Based Monetary System or Debt-Based Economy, those systems will slide towards recession, depression or even disintegration.
For me, a DBMS mandates we have a National Debt that grows rapidly and even geometrically. If so, our National Debt is merely evidence that our DBMS is essentially a Ponzi Scheme. More, the National Debt can’t and won’t ever be paid in full and, inevitably, the Debt-Based Monetary System must collapse.
Given the similarities between the DBMS, National Debt and Ponzi Schemes, are there any differences? Could it be that the DBMS, though similar to a Ponzi Scheme is more accurately described as something else?
For example, there are pyramid schemes. You might’ve tried one when you were in high school or college. They were called “chain letters”.
I was a freshman at the University of Illinois in the early 1960s when a chain letter hit campus. If I recall correctly, the University had about 100,000 students back then. I don’t doubt that virtually every kid on that campus had at least one of those chain letters within three days after they first hit campus. The sheer velocity at which the chain letters spread was astonishing. Everyone was starving for somethin’ for nuthin’.
These “chain letters” that went something like this: There were ten names on the list. You sent $10 to the #1 name at the top of the list, then deleted that name, recopied the list of remaining nine names and added your name to the bottom of the list (#10), and then sent the new list to two of your friends.
Then, your two friends would send $10 to the top name, delete it, copy the remaining nine names and add their own names to the bottom of the list (your name would be moved up to #9), and then send this new list to two of their friends.
If everyone played by the rules (“Don’t Break The Chain!!!!”), by the time your name moved up the list from the #10 position to the #1 position, there’d be 210 people (1,024!!!) each sending you a $10 bill! That’s over $10,000!
But, if (instead of following the rules about sending copies of the list to just two friends) you sent copies to three friends, by the time your name reached the #1 position, you’d receive 1,536 $10 bills = over $15,000!!! And if you sent your list to five people, you could receive over $25,000!!! But, what if you sent your list to ten names?! The mind boggled. Who needed a college education when there were chain letters?
I don’t recall how many chain letters I sent out, but I expected to rake in thousands of dollars. I don’t remember if I made a dime. I’m sure I didn’t make over $50. The only people to profit from those chain letters were probably the first ones to start the chain and/or the Post Office which sold tens of thousands of stamps to pay for delivering thousands of chain letters.
That was my last knowing and voluntary involvement in a pyramid scheme.
But, could it be that our DBMS and/or National Debt are just a modern variety of pyramid schemes?
• According to Wikipedia, the answer may be Yes:
“A pyramid scheme is a form of fraud similar in some ways to a Ponzi scheme, relying as it does on a mistaken belief in a nonexistent financial reality, including the hope of an extremely high rate of return.”
How can any “reality” also be “nonexistent”? Doe the term “nonexistent financial reality” make sense?
Nevertheless, when it comes to “nonexistent financial realities” (a polite term for fraud, legal fictions and/or lies) here’s a few examples of that genera that relate to the DBMS and/or the National Debt:
1. The U.S. bonds that memorialize the National Debt will never be repaid in full. It’s mathematically impossible. Sooner or later, the National Debt will be expressly repudiated by a refusal to pay or implicitly repudiated by inflation or hyperinflation.
2. U.S. bonds are not a “safe haven” for your wealth. Sometime soon, the average value of U.S. bonds will fall by 50% to 90%
3. Fiat dollars and paper investments denominated in fiat dollars will not preserve your wealth. The fiat dollar has lost over 95% of its purchasing power since A.D. 1971 (46 years ago). We can bet that trend will continue and cause the complete devaluation of the fiat dollar within the next five years (and possibly much sooner).
Thus, both Ponzi and pyramid schemes rely on “non-existent financial realities” (fraud, legal fictions and lies). Does that sound like a financial foundation that intelligent people should entrust with their wealth?
Q: Next, what does Wikipedia mean by claiming that both Ponzi and pyramid schemes promise “an extremely high rate of return”?
A: That’s just a fancy (and deceptive) way of saying “something for nothing”.
Both pyramid and Ponzi schemes promise “something for nothing” and, just as my experience with chain letters at the University of Illinois showed over fifty years ago, there’s nothing people want more in all the world than a “free lunch”. Within sixty hours, virtually 100% of all students on campus had signed up for a fantastic “free lunch”. That appetite’s sheer velocity was evidence of mass stupidity, lack of discipline and moral character and a tendency to self-destruction.
If you want to bait a hook, nothing works better than a free lunch. If you don’t believe me, ask a trout. It’s sad, but it’s human nature.
Several characteristics distinguish pyramid schemes from Ponzi schemes:
• “In a Ponzi scheme, a single schemer acts as a “hub” for the victims, interacting with all of them directly. In a pyramid scheme, those who recruit additional participants benefit directly. “
As in the case of Bernie Madoff, there’s only a single perpetrator in a typical Ponzi Scheme.
However, as in the chain letters of my youth, there are multiple “recruiters” in a pyramid scheme (every kid on campus was soliciting more kids to join the pyramid).
When we talk about our current DBMS, it’s hard to argue that it’s all run by a single person or even entity. Our DBMS seems to be “operated” by a number of persons and institutions who profit from that system at the expense of the vast majority of people. Thus, because the DBMS is run by a multitude of “recruiters” (a/k/a “bankers”), the DBMS may be more like a pyramid scheme than a Ponzi Scheme.
• “A Ponzi scheme claims to rely on some esoteric investment approach and often attracts well-to-do investors, whereas pyramid schemes explicitly claim that new money will be the source of payout for the initial investments.”
Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme claimed to have some secret investment expertise that allowed Bernie to consistently produce an 11% ROI while other investment managers could only manage 7%. Of course, Bernie’s “expertise” was allegedly a trade secret that couldn’t be revealed to the public or his clients since such revelation would destroy Bernie’s competitive edge.
In fact, Bernie’s alleged “expertise” was that he was engaged in fraud rather than legitimate investment. He was running a Ponzi Scheme instead of a super-sophisticated computer algorithm. The essence of Bernie’s “secret expertise” was fraud.
When I think of today’s DBMS, I think of the Federal Reserve and Alan Greenspan (the “Maestro”), whose incredible personal expertise allowed him to “flawlessly” administer the Fed and the DBMS for almost 20 years. People had just as much confidence in Greenspan as they later had in Madoff. However, now that the DBMS and Federal Reserve are in danger of catastrophic failure, we’re left to wonder if the “Maestro” was really all that bright, or if his “expertise” had more to do with fraud than finesse.
Hasn’t the Fed has always operated under cover of secrecy and seldom, if ever, revealed all to the great unwashed? Does that secrecy imply the presence of some essential fraud?
In view of the Fed’s seemingly “secret expertise” (a common characteristic Ponzi schemes), it appears that the DBMS may have more in common with Ponzi than pyramids.
• “A pyramid scheme typically collapses much faster because it requires exponential increases in participants to sustain it.”
That’s the one that rings my bell.
I can’t yet prove it but, as I’ve said in Part I of this series, I suspect that in order to feed the DBMS, the National Debt must not only increase, but must increase “geometrically”. After all, It doubled during the Obama administration. Maybe that’s not an accident. If I’m right about the debt increasing “geometrically” (Wikipedia says “exponentially”), then the DBMS would have to be a pyramid scheme rather than a Ponzi scheme.
It may take another year (two at the most) to see if my hypothesis is correct. If Trump can shrink the size of the National Debt and the DBMS and economy don’t collapse, then my hypothesis (that the DBMS compels the nation to go continuously and “geometrically” deeper into debt) would be shown to be invalid. If Trump can merely hold the National Debt where it is, or even increase it only modestly, it might still true that we must have more debt to survive–however, that debt might not be required to increase geometrically.
On the other hand, if Trump (after campaigning to reduce the debt) actually increases the National Debt by at least as much (and probably more) than Obama did, and the economy continues to function fairly well, I’d read that as evidence in support of my basic hypothesis: The DBMS requires more debt—perhaps “geometrically” more—to survive.
• So, which is our DBMS? Ponzi or pyramid?
Wikipedia observes that,
“Pyramid schemes are based on network marketing, where each part of the pyramid takes a piece of the pie / benefits, forwarding the money to the top of the pyramid. They fail simply because there aren’t sufficient people.
“Ponzi schemes, on the other hand are based on the principle of ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’—early investors are paid their returns through the proceeds of investments by later investors.
“While often confused for each other, Pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes differ. They are related in the sense that both pyramid and Ponzi schemes are forms of financial fraud.”
I’d hoped to find greater clarity as to the nature of the Debt-Based Monetary System. But, when I stop to think about it, whatever the DBMS is, it could not “exactly” conform to the specific description of a Ponzi Scheme, pyramid scheme, or some other “scheme” without being quickly exposed as a as “scheme”. Almost by definition, the DBMS must be sufficiently vague and indistinct to avoid being readily defined and rejected as a known, illegal “scheme”.
Even so, just like Ponzi and pyramid schemes, the Debt-Based Monetary System must also be defined as a “form of financial fraud”. If our Debt-Based Monetary System is fundamentally fraudulent, how long can it last before it implodes?
How safe can any investor’s wealth be if stored in the medium of a debt-based fraud rather than an asset-based truth?