There are 4,495 colleges and universities in the US. By our count, they reckoned there were at least 4,495 commencement speakers more suitable than your editor.
Not one asked us to give the graduation address. That was probably a good decision on their part. Nevertheless, we prepared an address we would have delivered had we been asked. Today, we share with you the speech we prepared in advance…
Class of 2014: You and your families have paid tens of thousands… or hundreds of thousands… of dollars so that you can take your places in the modern economy.
What were you thinking?
Have you ever heard of the Cantillon Effect?
I didn’t think so. You’ve been too busy trying to keep up with the expenses of a college education.
Have you bothered to think about what a government really is and what it really does?
No? I guess I shouldn’t expect it. You’ve been too busy being indoctrinated in your politics and government classes.
How about “intertemporal discoordination?”
Well, I hadn’t heard about it either until yesterday. Now, I realize it’s an essential ingredient in today’s financial omelet. And it’s going to make you very sick…
Status, Power and Money
Give me five minutes. I want to give you an education. Or at least begin the process of undoing the harm caused by four years in an institution of higher learning.
Many of you are already in debt. The banks lend you money so you can pass it along to the education industry. Where did the banks get the money? And how come it’s so expensive to go to college that you have to borrow heavily to afford it?
Hey, didn’t they teach you anything in college? Allow me to enlighten you on how your economy works. You’ll see that you’re being taken for a patsy… a chump… and a sucker.
First, why is it so expensive to go to college?
Well, it’s a long story. But the short version is that the economy has been rigged by collusion between industry and government.
Everybody who isn’t a saint or a mental defective wants more status, more money and more power. The easiest way to get these things is to rig the economy in your favor.
Who can rig the economy and get away with it?
The government, of course.
Who can get the government to do what it wants?
The oligarchs who control it with their lobbyists… their campaign contributions… and their voting blocks.
Just this week, there was an article in the Financial Times. It told us that the amount of “dark money” going into election campaigns is soaring. “Dark money” is what they call the cash that goes, not to the candidates directly, but to interest groups that do their own advertising and politicking.
A total of less than $100 million in 2008, it rose to over $300 million in 2012… and seems to be headed over $500 million in this next election cycle.
Donors all have an axe to grind. And almost everyone is aimed at your neck.
Tricky Dicky’s New Money
Up until the early 1980s, Americans made things and sold them to the rest of the world.
You didn’t need a college degree to make things. And you didn’t have to make campaign contributions. You just had to learn… and work hard… and sell things at a profit. Then you could earn a decent living and live a decent life.
But this economy was changing…
The feds were replacing money with credit. In February 1968, President Johnson asked Congress to end the requirement that dollars be backed by gold.
Then in August 1971, President Nixon stopped honoring commitments to settle foreign accounts in gold.
Gold had limited the amount of money and credit in the economy. But Tricky Dicky’s new money was unlimited. It made it easier and cheaper to buy things made by other people than it was to make them ourselves. Since 1980, the US spent nearly $10 trillion more overseas than it received from overseas sales.
Gradually, making things in the US became less and less profitable. So, if you wanted to earn a good salary, you had to go somewhere else. Finance, administration, accounting, law, education or health care. The good jobs in these industries required college. That’s why you’re here.
Zombies and Parasites
But wait. There’s more to the story. Unlimited credit also made it easier to support zombies… and parasites.
Government connived with industry to create quasi-monopolies… cartels… subsidies… guarantees and price supports. And the feds could add bureaucracy… controls… rules… and regulations all they wanted.
For example, the education industry added few teachers, but lots of “educators” and policy coordinators. The health-care industry added relatively few doctors – but a boatload of paper-pushing insurance workers and ambulance-chasing tort lawyers.
Drive down any highway in America, and you’ll see billboards for lawyers offering to sue someone for you. They could also buy more votes from what I call the “poligarchs”: voters who need to be bought off to maintain social peace and the illusion of fairness.
These zombies – I call them zombies because they don’t produce anything worthwhile; they just suck the blood out of the other parts of the economy – reduce output and add costs. But now, with their cheap credit, Americans – including those in Washington – could borrow to support this overhead.
And have you heard of Baumol’s cost disease?
Why do I bother to ask? Of course you haven’t. More on that when my speech continues on Monday.
Further Reading: When he was just seven years old, Diary of a Rogue Economist publisher (and Bill’s eldest son) Will Bonner sued the US government to try to stop it rigging the system. To find out what happened next… and how it lead Will to a very unusual wealth discovery… read on here.