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The Kids Are Not Alright

The Kids Are Not Alright

Debt initially dazzles and deceives, then it disappoints, disillusions, devastates, and destroys.

The thing governments do best is borrow. Performance varies across the range of their purported functions—warfare, maintenance of public order, provision of goods and services, redistribution, regulation—but they all go into debt. The structure of governments and their underlying philosophies also vary, but there’s one commonality. They are set up to optimize their own borrowing. Thus, central banks are essential.

There is a cottage industry devoted to the minutia of central bank personnel, policies, and pronouncements and what they mean for humanity’s future. Actually, cottage industry is not a correct characterization. No cottage industry could generate the kind of money paid to central banking’s acolytes.

After months of speculation, President Trump named Jerome Powell as the next Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. If you know why the Fed exists and how it operates, the speculation was so much dross. The Federal Reserve exists to “facilitate” the US government’s issuance of debt. Mr. Powell will do what Janet Yellen, Benjamin Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volker, G. William Miller, Arthur Burns, and every chairperson has done on back to the first one, Charles Hamlin: make it easier for the government to borrow. All of the other candidates would have done the same.

Central banks, their fiat debt, and ostensibly private banking systems that either control or are controlled by governments (take your pick) have facilitated unprecedented global governmental indebtedness. Suppressed interest rates and pyramiding debt via fractional reserve banking, securitization, and derivatives have led to record private indebtedness as well. The totals so dwarf the world’s productive capacities as measured, albeit imperfectly, by gross domestic product figures that the comparison yields an inescapable conclusion: most of this debt cannot be repaid.

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