The political winds have shifted wildly over the past four years. After decisive defeats in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, the Republican Party’s prospects seemed dreary. There was widespread talk of how the party needed to “remake itself.” There was even speculation from some quarters that it would fade from influence permanently, as had its predecessors, the Whigs and Federalists. Certainly, the conservative movement needed a rallying point in order to regain a foothold upon public sentiment.
That rallying point was public aversion to the radically socialist agenda of Barack Obama and the Pelosi Congress. Regardless of whether the Republicans had any new ideas to offer, they were able to remake their image quickly by jumping aboard and partially co-opting the Tea Party phenomenon. Somehow, they have again established themselves in the minds of most Americans as the party of small government, free markets, and individual liberty, their consistent behavior while in power notwithstanding.
Now, it is the Democrats who find themselves on the wrong end of a one-sided mid-term election defeat, with more of the same looming over the 2012 presidential elections. As much as the 2008 elections were a repudiation of George W. Bush and all associated with his philosophy, 2012 will be a repudiation of Obama and all associated with his. If the modern “conservative” philosophy had been thoroughly discredited two years ago, the modern “liberal” philosophy has been annihilated this year. Nothing that Democrats won on in 2006 and 2008 is going to fly with voters right now. The left needs a rallying point that will resonate with voters and make them forget why they voted them out of office just two years earlier, just as those same voters forgot why they had voted the Republicans out merely two years before the 2010 mid-terms.
If they are not to completely abandon their image as champions of the poor, disadvantaged, and working class against the power of the wealthy elite, they must find a way to restore that perception in the minds of voters without associating themselves at all with socialism, which average Americans have quite obviously choked on and spit out over the past two years. They need their own avenue to tap into the Tea Party phenomenon, or a grass roots movement like it, and appear as the party fighting for the people against a federal government run amok. Their traditional anti-corporate, pro-welfare platform won’t work. For better or worse, Americans right now associate corporatism with the free market and aversion to welfare programs has never been more ascendant. However, there is a rallying point available to the left that is completely consistent with the modern progressive philosophy and which conservatives are completely ignoring.
The left’s political dominance during the 20th century all began with the early progressive movement, which was given its first life under Republican presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. However, it was the “new freedom” promised by Woodrow Wilson which established and defined the progressive platform, subsequently advanced in great strides by FDR and Lyndon B. Johnson. A core tenet of this philosophy was the need to protect “the little guy” against the robber barons of capitalism – which the progressives successfully defined in the minds of voters as anyone of great wealth, whether they have achieved that wealth legitimately or not.
Indeed, the tragic aspect of the early progressive movement was that they lumped together all successful business people as plunderers and exploiters of the working class, thus discrediting free market capitalism along with the crony capitalism that was as rampant at the time as it is now. Along with corrupt railroad companies that soaked the people for corporate welfare, only to deliver shoddily constructed railroads that all went bankrupt, the early progressives also targeted companies whose success was due to superior products and lower prices, with their profits earned from consumers voluntarily choosing to buy their products.
John D. Rockerfeller’s Standard Oil was one such example. His company was dismantled by the government after more than two decades of offering the public higher quality oil at lower and lower prices. Instead of holding him up as an example of what a truly free market could achieve for the common man, the left attacked Rockerfeller as the definitive robber baron, regardless of facts to the contrary. With his company dismantled by the government, Rockerfeller abandoned the free market and became the robber baron he was wrongly accused of being. He decided to get into banking.
This is not to repeat the mistake of early progressives. All bankers in the 19th and early 20th century were not robber barons, nor is banking a de facto dishonest profession. Like any other business, it offers a service of great value to the public when that service is voluntarily purchased by consumers. When consumers choose to store their savings in a bank or allow the bank to invest their savings by loaning it out at interest, the banks that most conscientiously and wisely protect their depositors’ interests will prosper the most. Those that make good loan decisions will be able to pay higher interest rates to depositors and provide more stability. In a truly free market, they will win, because they benefit average Americans – the political base of the progressives – the most.
However, this is not the banking model that John D. Rockerfeller helped found in 1913. Rockerfeller was no longer interested in competing on a level playing field and relying on talent and hard work to make his fortune. He had already done that successfully and had been plundered by the government for his trouble. He was not interested in being victimized again. This time, he would be the plunderer. Along with J.P. Morgan, Rockerfeller sent a delegation of men to Jekyll Island in 1913 to devise the mother of all robber baron schemes – the Federal Reserve System.
The Federal Reserve System is the most ingenious fraud in human history. It appeals to the right because it is seen as an institution of capitalism. It appeals to the left because it is seen as a regulator of the financial system that protects the little guy from the supposedly violent machinations of unregulated capitalism. In the meantime, it funnels trillions of dollars of plundered wealth to politically-connected corporations at the expense of average Americans and those corporations which still actually prosper because they offer superior benefits to the public.
Without getting into what really goes on behind the scenes at the Fed, let us consider what the Fed purports to try to do. Ninety-seven years of results notwithstanding, the Fed supposedly regulates the market by maintaining both full employment and price stability. The left supports this agenda because its constituency depends upon jobs and affordable consumer goods in order to survive. They never stop to think about how the Fed attempts to accomplish these goals.
The Fed attempts to maintain full employment through inflation. Inflation is properly defined as an increase in the supply of money and credit, not an increase in consumer prices (more on that in a moment). During periods when unemployment is higher and overall economic growth is lower, the Fed attempts to stimulate investment in new business ventures or expansion of existing ventures by “lowering interest rates.”
However, Mr. Bernanke cannot lower interest rates with a fiat command. Instead, the Fed manipulates the interest rate by buying large quantities of U.S. Treasury bonds from its member banks. This artificially increases the demand and lowers the supply of U.S. Treasuries. It also artificially increases the supply of money available to be lent in the market. With more money available to be lent, banks offer loans at lower rates than they would if money were in shorter supply. With lower rates, more businesses take out loans with which to expand or start new ventures. At the end of this chain of events, more average Americans supposedly get hired in order to support the new business activity that has been “stimulated” by the Fed’s monetary expansion.
Taking the Fed at its word, there is still a rub to this story. The magic described above and in the Fed’s press releases does not come without a cost. The money and credit infused into the economy during this process does not come from any “reserve” that is held by the public or by the privately-owned Federal Reserve. It is created out of thin air by the Fed, which enjoys this privilege as a result of legal tender laws and the Federal Reserve Act. By increasing the overall supply of dollars in the economy, this monetary inflation drives up the price of consumer goods.
It also causes capital to be misallocated, meaning that working people are hired for projects that are not ultimately going to succeed. This inevitably happens much more frequently when banks are able to loan “free money.” When they must convince depositors to invest their own money in loans the bank wishes to make, they are forced to make much wiser choices with that capital than when the money is simply created out of thin air and handed to them, with more fiat money forthcoming if they should make a mistake. In fact, a true understanding of the economics behind monetary inflation reveals that misallocation – economic booms and busts – are inevitable when monetary inflation is allowed to take place.
Progressives should automatically be suspicious of this whole charade simply because Wall Street loves it. Whenever the Fed makes an announcement that it will attempt to lower interest rates, the stock market immediately goes up. Of course it does. Cheap money hitting the market allows investors to get in on ground floor companies and pump up their stock value with newly-created money, subsequently bailing out long before the bust occurs. When the reality hits the market that half of these new companies had no viable business plan, the stock prices collapse and the ventures go out of business and lay off their employees. This is a recession. Average Americans are unemployed while the sharks who gobbled up the cheap money to pump and dump the stocks are sitting on a beach, enjoying the fruits of their heist.
Furthermore, while monetary inflation causes prices of consumer goods to rise for everyone, it is really average Americans and the poor who are most affected by it. When the price of gasoline rises to seven dollars per gallon, the Wall Street elite have lost purchasing power in terms of the dollars they hold, but they more than make up for it during the economic booms. Millionaires become billionaires, negating the effects of a further devalued money supply, while average Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck start looking for second jobs just to pay their rent and fill up their gas tanks to get to work.
However, the most compelling reason for progressives to oppose the Federal Reserve System is because of what it openly admits it represents. Taking the Fed and its supporters at their word, the Fed is nothing more than a subtler, more devious version of “trickle-down economics,” whereby large corporations receive huge sums of money in the hopes that they will then create jobs for the little guys. There is absolutely no difference between this argument and the “Reaganomics” of the 1980’s. Any self-respecting progressive who opposed Reaganomics must oppose the Federal Reserve System. If they are not strictly opposed to government redistribution of wealth, they certainly are opposed to redistributing from the middle class and poor to Wall Street. That was the whole principle upon which the movement was founded.
There is no reason that the left should concede the Tea Party movement to conservatives. It is not fundamentally a Republican phenomenon. It is just that the Republicans are the only party that has been able to adapt their rhetoric to what the Tea Party demands to hear. The Tea Party is rediscovering America’s founding principles. However, their perceptions are being skewed toward the conservative founding philosophy that advocated corporate welfare, a large military establishment, and a central bank to provide the necessary capital – plundered from average Americans. They quote Jefferson but are deceived into supporting policies consistent with his political arch-enemy, Hamilton. They need to hear from the left on what they are missing, instead of being vilified by the left as kooks.
The true American philosophy of free enterprise as expressed by the liberal Jefferson was completely opposed to the central bank of the time, recognizing it as incompatible with the free market and wholly a vehicle for big business to plunder the people. These ideas have been dead and buried for an entire century while the Fed has been allowed to wreak its havoc with impunity. They are ripe for rebirth within the Tea Party, which would embrace Jefferson’s ideas about the dangers of central banking as readily as they do his warnings about big government. There is a strong populist undercurrent in the Tea Party. Progressives are ignoring it at their peril.
Never in its existence has the Fed been under such scrutiny in the media as it is now, nor the subject of so much public opposition. It is a grassroots fire smoldering beneath the surface, waiting for someone to strike a match. To liberals and progressives everywhere, don’t let the conservatives snatch this opportunity out from under your noses. Take up your fight against the real robber barons – the Federal Reserve System and all of its beneficiaries.
© Thomas Mullen 2010