Understanding the Federal Reserve’s Shell Game
From Mises Daily by Dan Sanchez
The Federal Reserve is a key component of the American Transfer State. Under the guise of “macroeconomic management,” it redistributes vast amounts of wealth on an ongoing basis through inflation. The victims of these transfers are ordinary Americans. The beneficiaries are the government and its elite cronies.
The Fed masks the nature of this surreptitious taxation and corporate welfare by performing a simple shell game that is just complicated enough to confound the general public.
First, let’s imagine the government performing this kind of inflationary transfer without the shell game.
Imagine Uncle Sam sitting at a desk, representing the Federal government. His right hand is the Treasury. It has the government’s main bank account, represented by a ledger on the desk. Uncle Sam also has revenue collecting powers, represented by a gun resting on the desk, which he uses to extort taxes from the public. Whenever he confiscates money, the cash balances of the public decline, and Uncle Sam’s ledger increases by the same amount.
Now let’s say Uncle Sam wants to raise $200 million for current expenditures: bureaucrat salaries, weapons purchases, welfare payments, etc. The problem is, the public has a limited tolerance for overt taxation. So, at a certain point, if Uncle Sam simply gestures to his gun again to levy the funds, he might face a tax revolt.
So let’s say instead of using his taxing power, Uncle Sam uses his fiat money power: his ability, based on the government’s monopoly control over the money supply, to inflate (defined here as monetary expansion). As the God of the Bible could say “let there be light” (in Latin, fiat lux) and it was so, the modern omnipotent State can say “let there be money” (fiat money or fiat pecunia) and it is so. With his right hand, Uncle Sam adds $200 million to his Treasury bank balance by simply writing it on his ledger. Voilà, he now has $200 million, simply because he says so. He can then transfer the new money to his workers, contractors, and dependents.
It would seem the public wasn’t taxed at all. Uncle Sam’s balance increased, but the cash balances of the populace did not diminish. So no skin off the backs of the people, right? Does anybody lose when the government gains in this magical way? When you think about it, somebody must lose. After all, it’s not really magic.
The true wealth of society — what actually sustains human life and makes it more comfortable and delightful — is the stuff we buy with money; not money itself. It’s the food, clothing, housing, smartphones, mountain bikes, and other consumers’ goods. It’s also the farmland, factories, robots, raw materials, labor and other producers’ goods used to make those consumers’ goods. I covered this point in detail in a lecture I gave which is on YouTube, and in my essay based on that talk, “How Inflation Drinks Your Milkshake.”
Creating new money does not create any additional stuff to go around. So if creating money got the government more stuff, that means others sharing the same world of scarcity must have less stuff. It’s a zero-sum game; a win-lose situation. If the government wins something through inflation, somebody has to lose. So who loses? . . .(more)