The Federal Reserve’s Punch Bowl and Those Who Drink From It

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Posted in category Uncategorized

On NPR the other morning I heard the commentator describe the Federal Reserve Bank as an entity whose job it is to “take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.” The punch bowl line is not a new one. The punch bowl, in fact, was allowed to remain on the table for far too long, permitting people to repeatedly inhale its toxic contents.

Here’s Ryan McMaken from the blog.

I’m stealing from Karen De Coster on the overall theme here, but I couldn’t help but dwell just a little bit on how American adults have degenerated into a race of obese, risibly-dressed caricatures of six-year-olds who spend their days fiddling with overpriced gadgets and other useless playthings.

He’s terrific when he posts on this topic. He adds,

My larger point, however, is to draw this back to an examination of how the behavior of “adults” amounts to mistreatment and exploitation of the young. Adults owe it to the young to act like, well, adults. An adolescent who is surrounded by contemptible adults will ultimately hold adults in contempt, but most unfortunate is the fact that the adolescent will grow up without having the slightest clue about what it means to be an adult.

Did Junior’s parents get divorced because they didn’t feel “fulfilled?” Did little Sally’s mom bring home a lot of guys to “spend the night” while she was growing up?  Did Bobby learn from Dad that you always spend every dime you make on a bunch of useless trinkets like trampolines and jet skis and RVs? Did Jenny learn from Mom that getting a weekly mani-pedi is anything other than a complete waste of money?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is usually yes in America today, so the same adults who now have the audacity to complain about the younger generation are the same ones who taught the youth to behave like a bunch of narcissistic, promiscuous spendthrifts.

Add to this the fact that the Baby-Boomers have essentially destroyed this nation with their endless profligacy, navel-gazing, and disregard for all things decent, and we end up in a situation where the message for future Americans can only be one thing: “you’re screwed.”

Read the rest of his post here.

People know I write on this topic often. The topic is how the excesses of the bubble years warped the social fabric of this nation. Excess to the point of asininity, in fact.

The recent credit boom gave rise to a fictitious prosperity grounded in debt. The accumulation of stuff via the buildup of debt distorted people’s perception of reality and gave them a false sense of wealth, and so they took full advantage of their newfound “prosperity.” It was not authentic affluence because most of the economic growth in the U.S. was built upon a foundation of debt and consumption, not one of increasing production and real wealth. Many Americans took to living well beyond their means – larger and newer homes, stunning furniture, multiple new cars, posh vacations, summer homes, magnificent adult toys, and assorted goodies they had never before accumulated so quickly and so easily. [Here is an article I wrote for young folks about the false perceptions of wealth: Stuff Does Not Equal Wealth]

As household debt-to-income ratios rose to an all-time high, personal savings rates plummeted to new lows. People demanded more and more materialism in the form of “things,” and producers responded by supplying the goods and services that were in demand. The easy-credit, economic boom allowed them to produce increasingly more extravagant products and services that lured consumers who were not restricted by cash on hand or real wealth. Consumers could spend as they pleased through the careless use of debt.

During the boom, existing businesses grew at unprecedented rates and new businesses sprang up overnight. Creditors couldn’t give out loans fast enough to individuals who yearned to become business owners. Anything and everything went during this boom period. Bubbles surfaced everywhere – in business, housing, assets, automobiles, and higher education. Loan underwriting standards were tossed aside in favor of keeping up with a heated and very profitable economy.

At the same time, consumers couldn’t spend money fast enough. They used up the rising equity in their homes – the ATM of the boom era. Americans went hog wild and lived lives that far exceeded their ability to pay in the near term. Due to a vast accumulation of debt via the government’s credit bubble, this was sustainable only in the short term, with a financial and cultural price to be paid in the long term.

Debt-based consumerism can generate numerous social problems, including leaving behind a number of spiritual casualties. In essence, the boom-bubble period made people go bonkers. Entrepreneurs, business owners, individuals, and consumers became unhinged, going well beyond sustainable business models and reasonable spending patterns. The excess of credit along with the low cost of obtaining it allowed business ventures to be funded that otherwise would not have been able to raise capital. Business capital was therefore wasted on projects that were doomed to failure in the long run.

For consumers, the accumulation of excessive goods and services replaced savings and investment as a form of social advancement. Whereas value was once placed upon the ability to plan long-term and prepare for a secure future, the boom period radically changed people’s priorities and influenced an emphasis toward accumulation in the present. Thrift was tossed aside in favor of immediate gratification. Keeping up with the Joneses became the new religion.

The excesses of the bubble period also had the effect of dumbing down the population and changing behavior patterns, especially among adults who morphed into spendthrift adolescents. Many businesses that erupted during the credit bubble would never have evolved during times of true prosperity where credit was priced at market rates and limited to those individuals who were deemed worthy of risk. Overall, the post-bubble bust has left people poorer and less civilized.

The Left, naturally, blames all of this on wicked corporations and marketing gimmicks, but they neglect the root cause that made it possible in the first place. Without the government’s credit creation and ensuing credit bubble, and the debt levels enabled by overall government policy, these events could not have taken place on such a grand scale. {See the Tom Woods book Meltdown for the best explanation on the cause of the financial crack-up.}

Among the most tragic consequences are the behavioral enigmas left behind by the spiritual debasement caused by years of excesses. Two of the most perplexing problems are the professional child consumer and the perpetual adolescent adult.

In addition to all that I’ve researched on this topic (I will write much more on this going forward) I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing this up close, with family and friends. I’ve stood helplessly and watched people go nuts on debt, things, stuff, and good-time-party-time lifestyles, and I’ve watched individuals reverse their behavior and change their personal beliefs right before my eyes. If it were a movie, it would be titled America Gone Wild.

Most Americans watch and read enough mainstream news to understand that a serious economic catastrophe has occurred, along with a breakdown in societal behavior and the ethical/moral fabric of America, thereby creating a new class of insolvent consumers living well beyond their means. They’ve witnessed a tide of foreclosures, businesses going bankrupt, large business and bank failures, stock market volatility, and empty strip malls and home development sites. Although people recognize that these problems have surfaced in record numbers, they are not able to make the logical connection between governmental monetary/political policy and the plight of a society in meltdown from a prolonged period of careless excess.

So much of the boom period opulence reflected fantasy and not real prosperity. The government-induced boom period altered adult behavior and corrupted priorities. An uncivilized and infantile America has emerged as a consequence of years of reckless and perverted government policies.

This has been tragic, yet there is humor to be found. The fallout has been sad yet comical, and pathetic but often entertaining. These links below point to some previous comments of mine on the pathetic-yet-entertaining aspect of the bubble in juvenile behavior for adults.

•  Cereality Cereal Bar & Café [short blog] This is where you go to sit down and pay $8 for cereal served up by “cereologists” in their jammies, and you get to pick your brand, milk, and toppings.

•  Cold Stone Creamery [full article]

•  Bubble franchises [short blog]

•  P.B. Loco –  [short blog] Adult peanut butter cafes

The excess has taken on many forms. First, we have the easy-credit addiction problem. Thanks to easy credit and consumers injecting it like heroin, we can ask the question: Whatever happened to the starter home? There have been tragic consequences of the shift away from thrift and long-term planning to the new practice of instant gratification, especially in terms of housing.

We’ve seen the development of America’s newest class: The Two-Thousandaire. This is a person who has everything except his prosperity has come by way of debt and he is financially insolvent, and his 4,000 sq. ft. McMansion is likely in foreclosure.

Then there’s the Professional Child Consumer. The boom-bubble era created another dreadful byproduct which is the new class of professional child consumers. Oodles of middle-class kids who have learned to consume without ever having to produce.

Then there is the boom era’s most outrageous business flops. These are businesses born of excess that relied on a credit card society with no spending restraints and a customer base of dumbed-down, juvenile adults. (See my links above to Cereality, a cereal cafe for adults; PB Loco, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich cafe for adults; and Cold Stone Creamery.)

Have Americans learned their lesson? The economic bust is ushering in a new era of frugality that is gaining popularity as well as attention from the mainstream press. But still, the government is attempting to keep the citizenry following old, familiar patterns by convincing them that they must keep borrowing, spending, and accumulating in order to put the economy back on the path to prosperous times. More of the same equals “change.” Yet the rising popularity of frugal habits suggests Americans are aware that something has gone very wrong and therefore lifestyle changes must occur.

Much more to come on this topic.

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4 Responses to The Federal Reserve’s Punch Bowl and Those Who Drink From It

  1. Shannon says:

    July 1st, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I had to go check out the Cereality website. I about laughed till I cried. This is so ridiculous! Media “experts” are hailing it a genius franchise. I wonder if they will next serve up toast cut any way you’d like-diagonal, horizontal, criss-cross, etc.

  2. Karen De Coster says:

    July 1st, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    “serve up toast cut any way you’d like-diagonal, horizontal, criss-cross, etc.”

    Don’t give ‘em any ideas!

  3. Tom Mullen says:

    July 5th, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Hello Karen – I love Peter Schiff’s frequent use of the punchbowl metaphor as well. This paragraph from a blog several months ago still makes me laugh in that gallows humor sort of way:
    President Obama and the majority of our leadership on both sides of the aisle are confident that the right mix of monetary and fiscal policy can restart the spending party that defined America for a generation. And as the bleary-eyed revelers wisely reach for a cup of black coffee or stumble into a rehab center, Obama is pouring grain alcohol into the punch bowl hoping to lure the walking zombies back onto the dance floor. Europe and Asia fully understand that Obama will ask them to lend the booze.

  4. Shannon says:

    July 6th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Oh, and P.S.

    P.B. Loco are going to be in serious trouble if they don’t diversify the company and add celery sticks to their menu….$6.95 for a jar of peanut butter? No thanks, I’ll just stick with Jif.

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