On Board the 'U.S.S. Titanic'

by: James Quinn

This article first appeared on Lewrockwell.com

On Thursday morning, September 18, 2008 a tragedy almost befell the 450 billionaires and 3,000,000 millionaires that live in the United States. The billionaires were on their way to becoming millionaires and the millionaires were about to leave the club. Luckily, Hank Paulson, U.S. Treasury Secretary, felt their pain. His $700 million portfolio was probably taking a bit of a haircut too. There are 305 million people living in the United States. The net worth of all the households in the U.S as of June 30, 2008 was $56 trillion. The 450 billionaires have a net worth of approximately $1 trillion and the 3,000,000 millionaires have a net worth of approximately $11 trillion. So, 1% of the population currently owns 21% of the net worth in this country.

Many of these billionaires and millionaires have accumulated their wealth by managing other people’s money. The customers never have the yachts. The money managers have the yachts. The .1% ruling elite are deciding the fate of your grandchildren in Washington D.C. this week out of public view. The ruling elite have the most to lose. Whose best interest do you think they are looking out for?

As I’ve watched the various business networks over the last few weeks, I sense desperation and fear among the commentators, pundits, and “experts”. It is a fear based upon self interest. Their lives depend upon the masses keeping their money invested in the market. They have overwhelmingly been in favor of the bailout bill. I wonder why. Jim “Mad Money” Cramer, who has a net worth of $100 million, is in favor of the bill. Larry “Free market capitalism is the best path to prosperity” Kudlow, a multi-millionaire, is 100% in favor of a socialist bailout of the criminal investment banks. They support this “blank check” to a government that is already $9.65 trillion in debt, because they want to maintain their lavish lifestyle, multiple estates, and prominent positions in society. 

An honest balance sheet (as opposed to the balance sheets of US Banks) will always tell the true story. The balance sheet of U.S. households shown below explains the situation we are in today. The value of real estate rose 50% between 2002 and 2007, much faster than historical growth rates of 3% per year. The problem is that mortgage debt rose by 75% over this same time frame, resulting in owner’s equity as a % of real estate reaching an all-time low of 45.2% in June, 2008.

The assumption by homeowners that prices could only go up, supported by lies from the National Association of Realtors and Wall Street gurus, led homeowners to take $3 trillion of equity out of their homes and live a more lavish lifestyle than was warranted by their income. Consumer debt has risen 30%, while durable goods assets (which naturally depreciate) have only risen 24%. Financial Assets outpaced all classes, rising 55%, as the stock market came out of a bear market in 2003. The vast majority of this financial asset wealth increase benefitted the billionaire club and millionaire club. The rest trickled down.

click to enlarge

Many are now learning a hard lesson. Real estate asset values declined by $500 billion during the first 6 months of 2008, while mortgage debt continued to rise. Financial assets declined by 4%. The lesson being learned is that real estate assets and financial assets can and will decline. As the recession gets deeper and the bear market growls, asset values will decline by 10% to 20% more. The debt will remain and probably increase. With this proposed bailout, horribly run financial institutions will be relieved of all their bad debt. Who is going to relieve our debt? No one. The executives of these banks will continue to reap multi-million dollar pay packages, while we make their debt payments in the form of interest payments to the Chinese and higher taxes.

Icebergs Ahead

I can’t help but compare our country’s situation to the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Everyone has seen the movie, so can relate to the story. The captain (Alan Greenspan) has been handed the greatest ship (United States) ever made. It is unsinkable. The initial voyage across the Atlantic Ocean has drawn the rich elite ruling class (financers & bankers) onboard. But, the lower decks are filled with lowly peasants (Working Class) who are sneered at by those in the upper decks. A maiden voyage should always be taken slowly. A prudent captain would not take undue risks. Our captain (Alan Greenspan) wants to make his mark on history. He declares full steam ahead (reducing interest rates to 1%). Midway through the voyage, the captain is handed a telegram warning of icebergs (potential financial catastrophe) ahead. If he slows down the ship, he will not set the speed record. He ignores the warning and steams on to his rendezvous (eternal disgrace) with history.

In the middle of the night, the lookouts (Ron Paul, among others) scream iceberg!!! But, it is too late. The great ship (United States) has struck an enormous iceberg (banking crisis). At first, it seemed like everything is OK. There are no visible problems. But, below the waterline the great ship (United States) is taking on water (massive mortgage write downs). The engine room (Federal Reserve printing presses) works frantically to stem the damage. The captain believes that the compartmentalization of the ship will save it. The expert on the design of the ship (Nouriel Roubini) explains that the ship will surely sink. The captain orders the band (Hank Paulson) on deck to distract the masses from their imminent fate. The owners of the ship (U.S. government) never thought it could sink, so they didn’t provide nearly enough lifeboats.

To avoid mass panic, the crew (government bureaucrats) has locked the lowly peasants (Working Class) below deck. They will surely go down with the ship. But, here is where our story starts to deviate. The band (Hank Paulson) decides that the women and children (Middle Class) should not be saved first. The ruling elite (financers and bankers) are piling into the boats to escape their fate. The captain (Alan Greenspan) does not go down with the ship. In a cowardly act, he leaped onto the 1st lifeboat to be launched. So, this is where we stand today. The great ship (United States) is sinking. Should we let the band (Hank Paulson) dictate those who get onto the lifeboats first? If we do, we will all face the fate of Jack as he slowly freezes to death in the icy Atlantic.

The Big Lie 

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

- Adolf Hitler

We must pass this bailout bill before it is too late. This bailout bill is really for Main Street, not Wall Street. Trust the government, we’ve got the solution. Blah, Blah, Blah. The American people are tired of being lied to. Enough is enough. We’ve believed our government and financial “leaders”.  They lied to us. We don’t believe them anymore. They cannot be trusted. This commitment of at least $700 billion was originally documented on 3 pages by Hank Paulson. Below is Section 8 from Paulson’s proposal.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Do we live in Nazi Germany? To have this language in a document is outrageous. Herr Paulson may have been able to run Goldman Sachs this way, but he now works for you and I. He serves at our discretion along with every other politician and government bureaucrat in Washington. They are so consumed by their power that they have forgotten that “We The People” dictate the future of this country. The public is overwhelmingly against this bill. Calls and emails are flooding Senators and Representatives to vote against this bill. If they ignore the people, it will confirm that they are as corrupt as many believe. The same people who created the problem, didn’t see it coming down the track, insisted there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and now see their elitist corrupt system falling apart, now want you to believe that they know best. President Bush summoned up his best WMD scare mongering speech, to try and convince the American public that we must do this before it is too late. If they pass this bill against the wishes of America, they should suffer the consequences by being voted out of office in November.

What the Future Holds

I am naturally drawn to people who tell the truth. President Bush, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Barney Frank (Can you believe our fate is in his hands?), and Chris Dodd have been lying to the American public for years. The truth is buried under a blizzard of their lies. We are supposed to believe the words of a multi-millionaire Harvard MBA President telling us we must trust the former CEO of Goldman Sachs who is worth $700 million and never saw this coming, with at least $700 billion of our money. There is no detailed plan, because they have no idea what they are doing. They are making it up as they go along. Once he has this authority, he will hire the same firms that caused the problem to manage the fund. This same President promised a quick Iraq war that would cost less than $50 billion with minimal casualties. The war has cost $700 billion so far. That number has a familiar ring. Over 4,000 brave Americans are dead. Over 30,000 have been wounded. This result does not give me confidence that he will be right this time.

The President is trying to scare the American public into supporting this bailout by saying we will go into a deep recession if we don’t pass it. I’ve got news for Mr. Bush. We are in a recession and it will be deep and long, whether they pass that bill or not. We have entered a massive deleveraging phase in America. Americans are learning that debt can destroy companies, people, and governments. They are slowly wakening from their hedonistic stupor and will begin to pay off debt and save. It will not be pretty for the economy, as retailers, homebuilders, developers, and restaurants go bankrupt by the thousands. This is supposed to be a capitalistic society. A deep recession will purge the excesses. If this bill is passed, Jim Cramer, Larry Kudlow, and the rest of the ruling elite will keep most of their millions. The average American will be pushed closer to the abyss as their home price continues to decline, their 401k stagnates or declines, they lose their jobs, and pay higher taxes. 

Those telling the truth include Representative Ron Paul and Senator Jim Bunning. Their views on the bill are as follows:

Ron Paul’s words:

“Whenever a Great Bipartisan Consensus is announced, and a compliant media assures everyone that the wondrous actions of our wise leaders are being taken for our own good, you can know with absolute certainty that disaster is about to strike. The events of the past week are no exception. The bailout package that is about to be rammed down Congress’ throat is not just economically foolish.  It is downright sinister.  It makes a mockery of our Constitution, which our leaders should never again bother pretending is still in effect.  It promises the American people a never-ending nightmare of ever-greater debt liabilities they will have to shoulder.

The claim that the market caused all this is so staggeringly foolish that only politicians and the media could pretend to believe it.  But that has become the conventional wisdom, with the desired result that those responsible for the credit bubble and its predictable consequences - predictable, that is, to those who understand sound, Austrian economics - are being let off the hook.  The Federal Reserve System is actually positioning itself as the savior, rather than the culprit, in this mess!

The issue boils down to this: do we care about freedom?  Do we care about responsibility and accountability?  Do we care that our government and media have been bought and paid for?  Do we care that average Americans are about to be looted in order to subsidize the fattest of cats on Wall Street and in government? Do we care?

When the chips are down, will we stand up and fight, even if it means standing up against every stripe of fashionable opinion in politics and the media?

Times like these have a way of telling us what kind of a people we are, and what kind of country we shall be.”

Jim Bunning’s words:

“Most pressing is the $700 billion Treasury proposal that is being negotiated with the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. The Paulson proposal is an attempt to do what we so often do in Washington – throw money at a problem.

We cannot make bad mortgages go away. We cannot make the losses that our financial institutions are facing go away. Someone must take those losses. We can either let the people who made bad decisions bear the consequences of their actions, or we can spread that pain to others. And that is exactly what the Secretary proposes to do – take Wall Street’s pain and spread it to the taxpayers. The plan has not even passed, and already Americans are paying for it because of the fall in the dollar as a result of all the new debt we will be taking on.

I know there are problems in the financial markets, and I share a lot of the same concerns that our witnesses do. However, the Paulson plan will not fix those problems. The Paulson plan will not help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages. The Paulson plan will not bring a stop to the slide in home prices. But the Paulson plan will spend 700 billion taxpayer dollars to prop up and clean up the balance sheets of Wall Street. This massive bailout is not the solution, it is financial socialism, and it is un-American.”

The “American Rulers” are telling you we have no alternative. That is false. Smart thoughtful people like Dr. John Hussman and NYU professor Nouriel Roubini have been right on this issue for years and have proposed alternative solutions. John Hussman’s solution relies upon the rule of capitalism and wipes out the stockholders and bondholders of these bankrupt banks before placing any burden on the American people. The problem with this solution is that Jim Cramer, Larry Kudlow and the rest of the ruling elite would lose millions. To see Dr. Hussman’s proposal, go to his webpage.

The time to act is now. This bailout bill will punish your children and their children. The only way to stop it is by swamping your Representatives and Senators with phone calls, faxes and emails. Do it before it is too late. Remember the Government Motto: If you think the problems we created are bad, wait until you see the solutions.
If this bill is passed, I see the following implications to various passengers onboard U.S. Titianic:

Rich ruling elite

  • In the short-term they will be joyous. The stock market will briefly soar as their millions will be protected.
  • I would recommend that they buy some books about the French Revolution and the Russian revolution. The huddled masses have had just about enough. Class warfare is closer than it has ever been. The anger in this country is building. The passing of this bill against the wishes of the vast majority will be the trigger for civil unrest.

The Poor

  • You’re screwed!!!
  • You don’t have any money or investments, so you have nothing to lose. There will be less jobs. The money that Obama and McCain have promised you will be used to keep rich bankers rich. Sorry, you’re going down with the ship.

The Middle Class

  • You’re really screwed.
  • The dollar will decline. You will pay more for gas, food, and other basics.
  • Interest rates will go up, making your debt more burdensome.
  • Taxes will be raised and/or benefits will be decreased because the rich will need to maintain their lifestyle.
  • Your home value will continue to decline for the next five years.
  • Your salary, investments and 401k will not keep up with inflation, thereby reducing your standard of living.
  • I recommend that you: pay off your car and use it for 10 years or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first; stop buying crap you don’t need; pay off your credit cards; try brown bagging your lunch; wash your car in the driveway; cut your own lawn; let your kids play outside rather than trying to dictate all their time; use your appliances until they break; if the cushion on your couch is ripped or stained, turn it over; contribute as much to your 401k as possible; and buy generics.
  • If you own a home, stay in that home for the rest of your life. Pay down your mortgage. Make necessary repairs. Do not get a new kitchen or bathroom because your neighbor did. Do not borrow against your equity to buy stuff you don’t need.
  • If you rent, continue to rent until you have at least 20% to put down on a house and can easily make the monthly mortgage payment using a 30 year fixed mortgage.
  • If your Congressman or Senator voted for the bailout bill, vote them out in November.

Alan Greenspan

  • His legacy has already been discredited. His actions in the last ten years will be seen as the root cause of all the financial problems America is experiencing today.
  • Because of his reckless reduction in interest rates to correct the excesses of previous bubbles, the world economic system is on the brink of collapse.
  • History will not be kind to Alan Greenspan.

Hank Paulson

  • This multi-millionaire, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, will go down in history as the most pompous Treasury Secretary in the history of the United States.
  • He isn’t the CEO of the United States. Harvard MBAs have already done enough damage to this country because they think they are smarter than the rest of us. They are not. They are responsible for this mess. It is time they leave the scene of the crime.

George Bush

  • George’s administration will be another for the history books. This administration will surely be considered one of the worst in U.S. history. He entered office with budget surpluses and leaves office after saddling future generations with $4 trillion more debt and the promise of much more.
  • He can retire to his Texas ranch, write his memoirs for $10 million, and make speeches at Neo-con conventions for $1 million a shot, knowing that the average hard working American is on the hook for $9.65 trillion of debt. I hope he enjoys his retirement. Millions of Americans will not enjoy theirs.

My final thought comes from a real working class American who emailed me this week with the suggestion for a bumper sticker.

"Imagine, who would Jesus give a trillion dollars to?  The money lenders or the poor, homeless (and about to be homeless)."