Wednesday, November 26, 2008


(Week 16 - Wednesday, Nov. 26)

The U.S. economy itself is essentially a gambling house managed by a financial corporation (Federal Reserve) that manages the game according to "house rules" that assure that those who own the House get their "return on investment", while those who labor in the productive sector and are responsible for all wealth creation are expected put up their hard-earned money for the game, and to cover all losses. We could picture the way it operates as follows:

Suppose that a gambling house offered to host a group of poker players, and that their game would be subject to only one house rule; that is, that the House would collect five percent of every pot. As the game commenced the fortunes of the players relative to each other would rise and fall however they might. The single outcome of which we could be certain, however, is that due to the one governing house rule, the money that the players brought to the game would disappear at an inexorable five-percent-per-pot rate into the bank accounts of the owners of the House.

Eventually the players who fared relatively poorly would begin to run out of funds, but no matter. The House would "graciously" offer to lend them money so they could stay in the game. The House would of course need more than the word of a gambler as security for such a loan. It could perhaps demand a contract signed by the gambler that promised that if he failed to pay back the money, the House could collect its "debt" in the form of some item of value held by the player, like say the title to his car or the deed to his house. If a player were foolish enough to continue his participation on such terms, this money would eventually go back to the House also, and his only option for continuing would be to borrow still more. It would not be long before he, and indeed all his fellow players, would lose virtually all their wealth and become indentured servants to the House.

This poker game analogy is an accurate image of the U.S. economy at present. The players are the workers in the economy who produce all wealth. The dollars they bring to the game are like the poker chips that serve as its currency. The playing table is the marketplace where they risk their money. The "pots" are represented by the monetary wealth subject to changing hands in the course of a fiscal year. The percentage of the action due the House is reflected in the yearly "interest" charge that accrues to the use of the dollars. The House itself is the Federal Reserve System.

Let us suppose that the banks of the Federal Reserve System attached, on average, a five percent yearly "interest" charge to the use of their Federal Reserve Notes. That means that at the end of one year, for every one thousand dollars in the game, the banking system will have drawn out $50, and the players as a whole would still be holding $950. After two years the House's cumulative take would be $97.50 ($50 + [$950 x 5%]), and the players would be left with $902.50. After three years the split would be $143.63 and $857.37, respectively. In subsequent years the distribution (rounded to the nearest dollar) would be as follows:

Fourth - $185 vs. $815
Fifth - $226 vs. $774
Sixth - $265 vs. $735
Seventh - $302 vs. $698
Eight - $337 vs. $663
Ninth - $370 vs. $630
Tenth - $401 vs. $599
* * * * * * *
Fifteenth - $537 vs. $463
* * * * * * *
Twentieth - $642 vs. $358
* * * * * * *
Twenty-fifth - $723 vs. $277

We can see that after twenty-five years (one generation) the amount of money still in play is only about a quarter of the original total. If we continued to follow this progression we would see that the take of the House would approach 100 percent.

Often, when I outline this poker-game analogy, people immediately recognize that anyone who submits to playing under such terms is being very foolish indeed. Is it not obvious, they wonder, that however well one might fare in the short run, the prospect of coming out a winner diminishes inexorably with each play of the game? Of course, there are many people who do play in casinos under house rules while imagining they will "beat the odds" and become rich, but if they are compelled to do such under a spell of addiction and denial (as opposed to accepting their losses as a cost of entertainment, and, some would argue, even then) we say that they are deluded.

This begs the question, why do we as a civilization that imagines itself to be sophisticated in matters of finance continue to submit our lives and fortunes to just such a game in the casino that the Federal Reserve economy has effectively become? Why is the affect of the "house rule" represented by the "interest" payment on our money supply hardly even mentioned in the public dialogue about the current "debt" crisis? Why have I virtually never heard it spoken about directly by the politicians and experts who have been paraded before us in the media as the ones, it is presumed, who are going to lead us out of the "debt" wilderness?

The answer, I believe, is that we also, as individuals and as a social order, are acting out of an addiction to the illusions of the "debt"-money game, and are in a denial of that condition. This is something that we, individually and collectively, need to come to grips with. I mean no blame or criticism by this assertion, as a lack of consciousness about money is a condition of culture at this juncture of human evolution. I continue to struggle with it in my own life. The providential task before us is to wake up to what we are doing, and at long last walk away from this rigged game.

Richard Kotlarz

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.