How Cheap Money Ruined America

And all the towns and people seem

To fade into a bad dream

And the steel rails still ain’t heard the news.

The conductor sings his song again,

The passengers will please refrain

This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues.

– Steve Goodman

The Acela train from Penn Station in New York left on schedule. It entered the tunnel to cross the Hudson into New Jersey. But when it came out, there was nothing to see…a thick fog lay over the whole area.

Ghost-like…we passed abandoned factories, wrecked warehouses, and whole areas that seemed devoted to collecting and recycling industrial relics…with mountains of bent and rusty steel…Everests of broken concrete…and what looked like whole blocks full of abandoned junk.

We looked out the window… curious about what goes on in this part of the world. Amid the phantoms, do real people still live here? Do they still do real work?

They must. Many of the buildings had broken out windows… but others looked freshly painted with rows of tractor trailers waiting to take something somewhere.

There were also areas of very modest worker housing…not abandoned… but actually lived in. Or else, someone went to a lot of trouble to fool us… there were modern automobiles in front of the row houses. And parking lots full next to the old warehouses.

We breathed a sigh of relief…the Northeast Corridor has not been entirely taken over by zombies. There are still people who work in America!

But wait…is it still there? The train slid into Trenton…had the city fathers finally given up the advertising that welcomed visitors since the Depression? Or was it still there, announcing a world that died half a century ago?

We held our breath…then we realised…we missed it. Or it has come down. We didn’t see it.

Oh say can you see… does the town motto still proudly and fraudulently proclaim: ‘Trenton Makes; The World Takes’? We checked Google. Apparently, the Warren Street bridge, built in 1935, still has the motto on it. Trenton ain’t heard the news.

Trenton, 50 years ago, was a city of middle class makers. Now, it is a city of takers. They take food-stamps, disability payments, poverty grants, subsidies, bailouts – whatever they can get. 21% of Trenton residents ‘live in poverty’, say the press reports. The rest must live in houses. Or in shame.

Many of the people of Trenton – like the people of so many of America’s cities and suburbs – have slipped from middle class makers to low class takers.

What happened?

The feds undermined America’s middle class economy with cheap money. In effect, the feds gave out free money and credit.

Consumers used it…like the Romans during the late imperial period of the 2nd to 5th centuries…and the Spaniards during the 16th and 17th centuries…to buy stuff. When you can get stuff without producing anything, why bother?

The Romans took money from the people they conquered. When the conquests ran out in the first century AD, they began inflating the currency.

The Spaniards got their money from the Aztecs and Incas. Instead of producing things they used the cheap money to buy things from foreigners. Overseas industries prospered. Spanish industries shrivelled and rusted.

Trenton stopped making in the ’80s and ’90s. Instead, the people of New Jersey bought what they needed from China. And Saudi Arabia. On credit.

And now… surprise, surprise… Trenton’s middle class is struggling. Good jobs are hard to find. Housing prices are low. And in real terms, a $1,000 investment in the stock market 12 years ago is now worth $884.

But aren’t things picking up? Maybe. But in the final quarter of 2012, GDP actually fell 0.1%. Why? Because the Pentagon cut its spending by $40bn. The New York Times/Denver Post:

‘The United States economy unexpectedly reversed course in the final quarter of 2012 and contracted at a 0.1 percent rate, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, its worst performance since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009.

‘The drop in gross domestic product was driven by a plunge in military spending, as well as fewer exports and a steep slowdown in the buildup of inventories by businesses. Anxieties about the fiscal impasse in Washington also contributed to the slowdown, one reason stockpiles grew more slowly.

‘The 22.2 percent drop in military spending – the sharpest quarterly drop in more than four decades – along with the drop in inventories and exports overwhelmed more positive indicators in the private sector, he said.’

We have previously reported that the manufacturing comeback in the US is not based on making real things for real buyers. 40% of US manufacturing is for the military. Take it away and the economy is in trouble.


Bill Bonner

for Markets and Money

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Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America's most respected authorities.

Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and MoneyDice Have No Memory: Big Bets & Bad Economics from Paris to the Pampas, the newest book from Bill Bonner, is the definitive compendium of Bill's daily reckonings from more than a decade: 1999-2010. 

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4 Comments on "How Cheap Money Ruined America"

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Head Farm Steward
Look man, I’m just a programmer by day and a farmer by night (a middle-class maker (forgive the Flashdance humor)). I missed something in this series. Maybe the sign was along the road somewhere. I held my breath…then I realised…I missed it. Or it has come down. I didn’t see it. Let’s review. From a few days ago: “Today, we do our civic duty. We stretch out a hand to America’s vast…suffering…holding on by their fingertips…middle class. We offer help… So, herewith, we offer some advice: get out! Escape the middle class trap. How? More to come… tomorrow…” I can’t… Read more »
Pssst…..Farm Boy You need to make things people won’t so that someone else can make something you wont and so on and so forth……so that a real economy can exist based on doing things people actually wont and not redistribution and people doing things that are not worth doing……..the stuff a nation dose before it needs to restructure itself after its creditors stiff it……………………….more education, more health care, more school kid benefits, more military spending, more and cheaper pills for old people….this just directs the middle classes away from doing things that people are actually willing to pay for with… Read more »
Head Farm Steward

“…and it is in the subtlety of everything Bill writes.”

I’m down. Like I said, I’m a middle-class maker. I have read Bill for years and keep coming back for more. But for the sake of the zombies I just wish he would be a little more blunt.

Therein lies the problem ‘SG’ and ‘farm boy’ people buying ‘stuff’ they want instead of what they need. Of course it didn’t help when banks were throwing money at you and real estate agents were saying ‘buy now, it will be double the price next week’ Banksters and their minions were making fortunes defrauding the financially uneducated, and politicians who exhorted people to buy property as an investment, saying ‘wait 12 months’, sell and make a fortune. The whole thing boils down to one thing, ‘GREED’, with people unable to pay the interest on their debts, much like the US… Read more »
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