It Was a Wonderful Life
by James Quinn. March 19, 2010
The year was 1946. It marked the inauguration of the last High in America. A Crisis had begun abruptly with the 1929 Black Tuesday stock-market crash. After a three-year financial free fall, the ensuing Great Depression prompted FDR’s New Deal social welfare programs, an enormous extension of government, and expectations for a revitalization of our national community. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America planned, mobilized, and manufactured for conflict on a level that made possible the colossal D-Day invasion. Two years later, the Crisis mood eased with America’s unexpectedly painless demobilization. Director Frank Capra produced and directed one of the most beloved movies of all-time in 1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life. The movie is a beloved Christmas classic. It is a story of hope, redemption, belief in the goodness of man, and belief in God. If you are down in the dumps or depressed, watch this movie and your spirits will be lifted. What is less evident, but more pertinent today, is the distinction between the America that we were versus the America we could have become. The America we did not want to become was controlled and manipulated by an evil, soul-less banker. It was a dark foreboding Gomorrah-like world of bars, strip joints, casinos and tenement housing. The citizens were angry, rude and mistrustful. In the movie, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is able to see how his small town would have turned out if he had never been born. In the real world, people and countries don’t have an opportunity to see how their decisions will affect the future. The American people and their elected leaders have made some dreadful decisions since 1946 that have drained the life out of the American Dream. God and morality have lost their meaning and importance in modern America. When the distinction between good and evil is blurred by the media and intellectuals, the degradation of society and morality leads to a downward death spiral.
The Idea of America
“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Founding Fathers risked their lives in order to escape the tyranny and imperial oppressiveness of the British Empire. They dreamed of a country where all men were created equal. They believed that all citizens were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among them were Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. They did their best to create a country where everyone had an equal opportunity to succeed or fail. It is said that, at the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked him what type of government had been decided upon by the delegates. Franklin stated:
"We have given you a Republic, if you can keep it."
Franklin also deemed that the Constitution could only endure as long as the citizens themselves could sustain it:
"In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults; if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other."
The men who created this Republic were practical realists. They were skeptical of all forms of government. They knew that a government would only be as good and honorable as the people who represented the citizens. It was up to the citizens to keep those they elected from abusing their power. Each generation, each individual, needed to pay this price anew each and every day. In the words of Thomas Paine, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." For many decades the citizens did undergo the fatigues of supporting it. They defeated the British in the War of 1812. They spilled the blood of 600,000 men in the War Between the States. They died in the trenches of France in World War I. They saved the world from Nazism and Fascism in World War II. Despite these remarkable sacrifices, the idea of America has been lost along the journey. The American Dream has become a nightmare as we have allowed individualism, materialism and selfish greed to override being a good citizen, good neighbor, and going as far as your ability and hard work would take you.
The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. The freedom now desired by many is not freedom to do and dare but freedom from care and worry." - James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America, 1931
Mr. Adams captured the spirit of America, a nation of opportunity. He saw it slipping away back in 1931. We’ve made fateful choices in the last century that have methodically stolen the spirit of the American Dream. Opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement has been replaced by - from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The twist to the Communist Manifesto is that those with ability who worked hard have had their wealth redistributed to the rich and the poor. The 1% ruling elite have utilized their positions of power, with the help of their benefactor - the Federal Reserve, to amass 40% of all the wealth in the country. The bottom 50% of Americans on the income scale, pay no income taxes and receive the majority of entitlement payments. That leaves the middle class on a permanent treadmill trying to achieve the American Dream, but never reaching the destination.
The loss of the American Dream can be traced to 1913. The creation of the Federal Reserve by powerful banking interests and corrupt politicians marked the beginning of the end for the U.S. dollar. The implementation of a personal income tax opened Pandora’s Box and unleashed incalculable horrors upon the American public. The top marginal tax rate in 1913 was 7%. It reached 94% by 1944. The tax code has grown from 400 pages in 1913 to 67,500 pages today. Politicians have exploited the tax code to recompense political contributors and punish their enemies. The amalgamation of a fiat currency being printed by a Central Bank resulting in a 95% loss in purchasing power and ever increasing tax burdens to support welfare program redistribution have devastated the middle class. With these monetary support mechanisms in place, politicians have been able to promise voters more and more benefits without bothering about future consequences.
The American people have voted themselves more and more goodies. They have ignored their obligation to the past and the future. The Founding Fathers created an imperfect Republic. Ben Franklin knew its future depended upon people administering it well. Unborn future generations are dependent on their parents and grandparents to make choices that do not burden them with an anchor of unbearable debt. We have failed our brave forefathers and have sold our unborn into slavery. The people have been corrupted and the country is on course towards despotism. Today’s “progressives” in the media and government have manipulated the fact that the Founders did not want a national religion to be misrepresented as keeping religion out of America. The Founders were religious men. They believed religion and morality were vital to the country being administered in a moral ethical way and guided by a code of conduct. As God, religion and morality have been denigrated by those in power we have moved further and further from the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Only a people with a strong moral backbone can be trusted to honor the Constitution.
“We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." - John Adams
Niall Ferguson, Harvard historian, recently detailed that the choices and decisions we’ve made as a nation have put us on a path of collapse. The believers in American Exceptionalism think it is sacrilege to mention the decline of the American Empire. They estimate that any decline would play out over a century or more. Ferguson notes the widely held belief that:
“Great powers, like great men, are born, rise, reign and then gradually wane. No matter whether civilizations decline culturally, economically or ecologically, their downfalls are protracted.”
But what if they are wrong? What if the speed of the modern world also translates into the speed of declines? Ferguson understands that any grain of sand that falls on an instable portion of the sand pile can lead to collapse:
“What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night? Great powers are complex systems. There comes a moment when complex systems ‘go critical.’ A very small trigger can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis -- a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse.”
Lack of courage, political corruption, greed, immorality, laziness, and materiality has left the country on the brink. Ferguson assesses the facts and concludes that collapse of the American Empire is closer than most people think:
“Most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises. Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $1.5 trillion -- about 11% of GDP, the biggest since World War II. A complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability. Empires behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse.”
How did we get to this point? In 1946 America sat on top of the world.
America – 1946 – Bedford Falls
“There is nothing wrong with America that faith, love of freedom, intelligence, and energy of her citizens cannot cure.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Europe, Russia, and Japan were devastated by World War II. Their populations, cities, infrastructure and industries were ravaged. Only America remained unscathed by war. The rest of the world looked to the U.S. to lead and be the beacon of light on the hill as the shining example of capitalism, freedom, and morality. As the only country whose manufacturing base was still intact, America had huge economic advantages. Despite these advantages, the seeds of destruction were being planted. Almost 30% of our economy was based upon producing things the rest of the world wanted to buy. Another 12% of GDP was from the productive functions of agriculture and mining. Americans were settling into their post-war suburban oasis, leading to 15% of the economy being driven by retail & wholesale sales. Finance and professional services accounted for only 14% of the economy. Today, manufacturing accounts for 11% of the economy, while finance & professional services account for 33% of the economy. This dramatic shift has had a profound effect on the nation.
It's a Wonderful Life teaches us that family, friendship, and virtue are the true definitions of wealth. It also broaches the subject of small town America where small business owners and hard working Americans were treated with respect by small town bankers and valued as lifelong customers. The movie clearly distinguishes between the small town banker who believes that every townsperson deserved a chance at a better life and the big time banker who treated people like cattle and only cared about how much profit he could generate by keeping those people under his thumb. Mr. Potter represents every evil banker that has ever walked this earth and taken advantage of the poor and middle class to enrich himself. George Bailey represents the kind of banker that built this country by making loans to his fellow hard working Americans. This was a very early picture of how allowing a single all-powerful corporate banker to exercise monopolistic control would ultimately destroy the community and enslave the citizens. The scene when Potter offers the depositors 50 cents on the dollar for their shares of Bailey Building & Loan is representative of how thug like corporate bankers will resort to anything in order to put small banks out of business and steal the deposits of average Americans.
The point of the movie, that money won’t buy happiness and that good works are more important than consumerism, was cast aside by America with assistance from the bankers who control the Federal Reserve. The result is a country of bureaucrats, paper pushers, and government lackeys, producing nothing and borrowing at ever increasing amounts in order to live the good life today with no thought about tomorrow. The message of materialism has been preached by the holy trinity of bankers, government, and corporate media.
Value Added as a % of GDP
|Retail & Wholesale Trade||14.5%||14.0%||12.9%||12.7%||11.9%|
|Finance, Insurance, Real Estate||14.6%||15.9%||18.0%||19.7%||20.0%|
Path of Least Resistance
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. – Abraham Lincoln
The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life. – Theodore Roosevelt
Americans were lured into believing they could live the good life without making the sacrifices necessary to obtain that life. They chose to take “50 cents on the dollar” from Potter. They borrowed the other 50 cents from Potter and let the Bailey Building & Loan go out of business. In the world Americans have chosen, George Bailey committed suicide. The United States government made a choice too. The politicians who hold the reins of power in America’s Gomorrah, Washington D.C., sold their souls to the devil of fiat currency printed by corrupt bankers. All the power of the Federal Government has been put in the ravenous claws of the Federal Reserve, a private bank owned and controlled by the biggest banks in the world. Politicians hit the jackpot in 1913 with the creation of the Federal Reserve and the institution of an individual income tax. These fateful decisions have allowed slimy depraved elected officials to promise their constituents trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlements, tax credits for their buddies, and promises of safety and security in order to buy votes. The government made a pact with the banking cartel which has unleashed a torrent of debt that has skyrocketed to levels never conceived by the Bedford Falls America of the 1940’s. Net U.S. debt now exceeds $52 trillion, a full 372% more than GDP.
Total U.S. debt as a percentage of GDP now exceeds the levels at the depths of the Great Depression by 24%. Ask yourself who profits from printing money and ever increasing levels of debt. Bankers and politicians profit. Who loses from ever increasing levels of debt? The middle class, who have been ensnared by banker deception and phony promises into the belief that possessing extravagant objects is real wealth while sinking ever deeper into debt, are today’s losers. Unborn future generations who will be stuck with the bill for the Baby Boomer orgy of materialism are the real losers. The current fascination with the affluent, the influential, and the celebrated was not found in Bedford Falls. To Frank Capra, the well-to-do and elite had none of the critical traits to safeguard liberty in America, nor did they display any of the core cultural values the country was built upon. The country was built upon the hard work of small close knit communities supported by small town banks and freedom to succeed or fail without government interference. An entrepreneur with a good idea could attain a higher place in the social order through their brains and work ethic. The choice of government to support monopolistic mega corporations and mega banks has destroyed the vital values of the country. Profit and wealth have become the ends, with the means being inflation and debt.
Credit card debt didn’t exist until the late 1960s because credit cards didn’t exist. Until 1970 Americans bought things by saving money until they accumulated enough to make the purchase. Noble bankers were able to put their luminous minds to the task and created the credit card to “help” all Americans. We are now referred to as consumers rather than citizens. The chart above chronicles the “success” of this banker invention. They didn’t have another such outstanding “success” until the creation of the subprime mortgage, the credit default swap, and the no doc Option ARM. There are 310 million Americans and 1.5 billion credit cards in circulation. The top 10 banks control 88% of the credit card market. Americans owe these banks more than $800 billion. In 1980, at the outset of the great credit hurricane, a credit card application was 700 words and fit on one sheet of paper. Today, a credit card application is 30 pages of unintelligible legalese. Did bankers increase the complexity to help consumers or mislead, bamboozle, and confuse them? I’m sure their motives were honorable.
The ethical bankers are so concerned about young Americans they have managed to issue, on average, 4 credit cards per undergraduate student in the country. They are surely looking out after the best interest of these teenagers. Through devious marketing, with the help of the mainstream media that glorifies the rich and famous, the largest banks in the land convinced a vast majority of Americans they deserved to live like kings. They deserved a McMansion castle, a BMW chariot, a flat screen to watch fools entertain them, and instead of gold coins as real wealth – a gold Amex to create faux wealth. The banking elite hit the jackpot when they “invented” derivatives that allowed them to package credit card and mortgage debt and sell it to unsuspecting suckers. This opened the door to unheard of wealth for the banking elite, as their models told them they could loan money to people who had no chance of paying you back, package the loans, bribe S&P and Moody’s to rate the package of shit as AAA, and sell it to pension funds, small towns, and grandmothers. Wall Street surely cared about their responsibility to the community at large.
America – 2010 – Potterville
“All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise, not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from the downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.” – John Adams
“A free America... means just this: individual freedom for all, rich or poor, or else this system of government we call democracy is only an expedient to enslave man to the machine and make him like it.” - Frank Lloyd Wright
America had an option in 1946. We had a choice between Bedford Falls and Pottersville. Sadly, over time, Americans came to a fork in the road and took it. Life is about choices. As a nation we have undoubtedly made more ghastly choices than superior ones. Essentially, the choices were the same ones faced by George Bailey. Do I act in the best interest of myself or do what is best for the community as a whole? Do I choose the path that will give me the most benefits and greatest personal wealth, with the least sacrifice? Or, do I choose a path based upon the values we hold dear like hard work, sacrifice, charity, and loving thy neighbor. A civilization cannot be sustained with making money as its chief pursuit. In that scenario we are no more than animals. Our transition to a brutish society began when citizens became consumers. A citizen is concerned with their civic responsibility, fiscal accountability and obligation to future generations. A consumer devours whatever they can get their grubby little hands on and cares not about debt or unborn generations.
Americans bought into two huge lies. They believed that “free market capitalism” and “globalism” would make their lives better. These fabrications were spread by the monopolistic mammoth corporations that control Washington D.C. and their puppets in Congress. Big media spread the gospel of free markets and the benefits of a global economy incessantly. The fact is free markets aren’t really free and global markets meant your job was shipped to China or India. Americans fell for the hook of cheap goods sold by mega-retailers and produced by slave labor in Far East countries and paid for with loans at 19.99%. This was not free market capitalism, but predatory capitalism. The capitalism that thrived in Bedford Falls was humane capitalism. It was a capitalism where one's commitment to being benevolent took priority over greedy self interest; when the welfare of the person was rooted in the best interests of the society, and when the profit motivation was employed to meet societal needs, rather than Potter-like inhumane bankers and gluttonous corporate CEOs. These monsters of capitalism have the same contempt for the American people as displayed by Henry Potter. They are as bigoted towards America's working class just as Potter referring to the townsfolk as suckers, riff raff, and garlic eaters. Frank Capra depicted bankers as prejudiced predators, angling to direct America toward a rapacious existence under their sphere of influence. In my opinion, he was too generous, as the Wall Street bankers of today personify pure evil. Only soulless parasites could create subprime, no doc, and Option ARM mortgages, sell them as packages to pension funds, bet they would collapse, beg for a taxpayer rescue, use the money to gamble in the stock market, and pay themselves billions in bonuses. That defines American capitalism today.
The banking elite have been so successful, the average American hasn’t realized their standard of living has been steadily declining for decades. Even using the fraudulent government manipulated CPI, real average weekly earnings are below the level of wages in 1964. Average Americans are making less than they did 46 years ago. In a fascinating coincidence, Alan Greenspan and his minions began “tweaking” the CPI calculation downward in the early 1980’s just as banks opened the spigot on easy revolving credit. Using the true CPI, as calculated by economist John Williams, real weekly earnings are 70% lower than they were in 1964. Revolving credit outstanding per household has risen by 1,100% since 1980. Knowing the average American doesn’t understand the concepts of inflation, interest or debt has allowed bankers and politicians to convince Americans they were getting richer when they were really descending into the abyss.
Here we sit in 2010. We are blessed with 4,300 Wal-Marts, 2,200 Home Depots, 1,500 Lowes, 1,000 Best Buys, 15,000 McDonalds, 11,000 Starbucks and 2 million other retail stores. Americans need to ask themselves whether cheap economy packs of tube socks were worth allowing small town America to disintegrate and blow away. Small businesses that were the heart of America in 1946 have been methodically driven out of business by predatory mega-retailers. The free market capitalists claim this has been good for America. Is it free market capitalism when these companies use their billions to buy politicians, zoning boards, and local officials? The next time you drive through a small town and see boarded up stores, for lease signs, and decaying infrastructure think about the true cost of big business capitalism. Succumbing to corporatism and debt financed materialism has resulted in a society marred by divorce, broken families, decaying cities, drugs, murder and police chases - the Potterville of It’s a Wonderful Life. Was it worth it?
Sympathy for the Devil
"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." - Frederic Bastiat
Frank Capra ended his movie on an optimistic note. This makes sense, as the U.S. was just entering a new High. There were bad people in the world, but the good people had just defeated the bad people in a World War. Good people had the support of God and his angels. Every time a bell rang, an angel got their wings. Today, every time a bell rings, a Goldman Sachs banker gets a bonus. The depressing truth is that Capra’s faith in Americans was misplaced. Evil has won out over good. The men of wealth and taste have stolen our souls and our faith. They’ve used their superior knowledge of money and power to obscure the nature of their game. This country was founded upon the rights of the individual, respect for property, freedom to succeed or fail, and power at the local level. Judge for yourself on the political and economic continuum below, where we stand today. I contend that we are much closer to a centralized military corporate fascist state than a true democratic Republic of the people, for the people, and by the people. Both political parties have been successful in shoving us in the direction of big government, corporate & banking oligarchic monopolies, never ending warfare, fiat currency, entitlements for the many, and riches for the few.
If Americans understood the concept of systematic inflation, as practiced by the Federal Reserve, they would comprehend how the American Dream has been stolen by a narrow subset of privileged elite. These people live in penthouses, are chauffeured to their nightly galas, summer in the Hamptons, have prominent politicians over for dinner, and direct the largest banks and corporations in the world. Do you think they care about the George Baileys of the world? These are the people who expounded about the benefits of a global marketplace. Who received the benefits? Global markets weren’t free. The admired U.S. corporate titans like General Electric, Intel, Apple, and IBM shipped the $30 an hour American jobs to China where they only needed to pay $1 per hour. Corporations are designed for one purpose – to make money. When corporations and the people who run them are given unfettered control over society, money making and debt proliferation to support the money making become the only goals. Corporate media and corporate manipulated government officials then hammer the message that being rich is a noble goal. Mega-banks must be saved, we are told, because our way of life is dependent upon these modern day Potters.
The wealthy elite keep the masses distracted with electronic igadgets that never leave our hands, new and improved five bladed razors, $5 cups of flavored foamy hot water, sexcapades of golfers, color coded terrorist warnings, military surges, and 600 HDTV channels with nothing worth watching. While Boobus Americanus was pre-occupied, the bankers stole their wallets. If it seems like we have a financial crisis every five years which “threatens the financial system”, you are right. Have the wealthy bankers created these crisis episodes on purpose? Fifteen years ago, the combined assets of our six biggest banks totaled 17% of our GDP. By 2006, that number was 55%. Right now, it stands at 63%. The big four have 50% of the market for mortgages and 67% of the market for credit cards. Five banks have over 95% of the market for over-the-counter derivatives. Three U.S. banks have over 40% of the global market for stock underwriting. Does it make sense that after every crisis precipitated by the Federal Reserve and the mega banks that control it, the Fed accumulates more power (new Consumer Protection Agency) and the top 5 or 6 banks accumulate more assets as hundreds of small banks go out of business?
Frank Capra thought a suburban oasis, as reflected in Bailey Park, would protect Americans from Henry’s Potter’s nightmare world. He was wrong. America’s suburban sprawl has actually encouraged the onset of Pottersville. The suburbanization of America corroded much of what remained of community values. With its cookie cutter McMansions, lack of meaningful community space, suburbia fostered not neighborhoods, but individualized rampant consumerism. Americans live next door to people for five years without saying more than hello. This reality made it effortless for Americans to turn inward and disregard all but their own self interest. Instead of community identity flowing smoothly from the communication of citizens and neighbors, as in Bedford Falls, suburbia took on the personality of a sprawling concrete meca of four lane highways, regional malls, power centers, strip centers and stand alone 350,000 sq ft palaces of consumerism. The average family of 2.5 Americans huddles in their 3,500 square foot brick and vinyl castle on ¼ acre of chemical treated land during the week and crosses the drawbridge on the weekends in their $60,000 leased Mercedes SUV chariot to venture out to the jousting matches at the local mall, charging the entertainment on a 4 inch sliver of plastic.
In the end, America is left to extend and pretend. With a National Debt of $12.4 trillion and $4.4 billion of debt being added to that number every day, no amount of obfuscation by the Federal Reserve, elite bankers and corrupt politicians will successfully camouflage the road to ruin we are on. Is it too late to turn back? Until Americans experience another dose of horrific pain inflicted upon them by the ruling elite, they will not learn the simple lesson:
You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.
Only then will they have a chance to be the richest man in town, like George Bailey
© 2010 James Quinn
Bio: James Quinn is a senior director of strategic planning for a major university. These articles reflect the personal views of James Quinn. They do not necessarily represent the views of his employer and are not sponsored or endorsed by his employer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.