Punchinello's Chronicles

May 11, 2011

Gold Standard? Not So Much

Filed under: Word of the Day — Punchinello @ 5:40 pm
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Steve Forbes has come out with a statement suggesting that the US will likely go back to a gold standard. Several potential 2012 presidential candidates are also jumping on this bandwagon. I have to admit that not so long ago, I would have thought this was a great idea. But I’ve taken the time to learn a bit about economics, and I now understand that a gold standard would be foolish.

What’s money in the first place? Money is simply stored work and effort. It’s a symbolic “something” that’s easy to carry around and exchange in various ways. Paper money (cash) is easy to use between people for everyday transactions. Checks are useful to mail payments. Electronic transactions use digital numbers to represent whatever money is in a bank account. All in all, money is “something” that we can give to folks or get from folks, and use it to buy stuff.

We “get” money through some sort of work and effort. If we have no money, then we have to somehow figure out a way to get shelter from the weather, put clothing on our body, grow food, collect water and all the other basics of survival. The next step up is to grow or build enough surplus that we can trade our surplus for someone else’s surplus. Trading and barter make up a basic, primitive economy.

The problem with barter begins when we have a larger society, separated by geographic distance. The next immediate problem is when needs are separated in time. For example, if you mow someone’s lawn today, you might not want to immediately trade that service for a fried chicken dinner. So how do you store your lawn-mowing work until such time as you want the chicken dinner?

Another example would be that you want to trade your lawn-mowing service for a sweater made by someone 500 miles away. It’s not so easy, first because of your having to travel the distance to mow their lawn, and secondly because they might have someone closer at hand. Not to mention the travel involved to pick up the sweater. You want a way to assign your work to “something” that you can put in the mail.

Money is a way we can store our work and effort so that we can postpone an exchange. We can store up a lot of work in order to exchange that work for something more “expensive.” Maybe the knit sweater is worth 4 mowed lawns. How do you do that, unless you postpone getting the sweater until after you’ve mowed the person’s lawn four times.

A better way would be to mow four different people’s lawns in one afternoon, then trade all that work for one sweater. Now the problem is that you only mowed the sweater maker’s lawn one time. What about all that work you did for the three other people?

Throughout history, people have come up with a symbol of some sort that represents value. The value is work and effort. We might say that mowing one lawn is worth 1 pearl, 15 shells, 40 beads, 2 packs of cigarettes, 12 bullets, 2 rabbit pelts, or whatever else we want to make up. What matters is that EVERYone agrees on the basic symbol.

The problem with assigning a symbol is that we also have to work out some kind of formula that connects the symbol with work and effort. How many plastic beads will equal one mowed lawn?

Another problem is the exact specification of the symbol. What kind of plastic, in what colors, made under what sort of engineering specifications?

Finally, we have the problem of counterfeiting, where someone can make copies of the symbol we’re using for money, but there was NO work or effort behind the symbol.

Imagine if someone started manufacturing plastic beads by the truckload, and used them to buy real goods and services! This is what the Federal Reserve is doing, in cahoots with the US Treasury when they both print dollar bills that have no connection to gross domestic product (GDP).

The key here is the connection between a money symbol and the underlying, real-world goods and services. There must be a true connection between work and effort produced by real people, and the “something” the society is using for money.

Until I did some studying and learning, I thought that a good money symbol should also be limited in access and quantity. Gold, for example, is limited. There’s only a small supply of gold in the world, therefore it would be very hard to counterfeit. But there’s a fundamental problem with that concept!

  • What happens when there are more and more goods and services, and more and more work and effort, but there’s only a limited amount of gold?

It isn’t the symbol that matters. It’s who controls the symbol!

Back in 1913, the United States made a decision to use a Gold Standard for money. That simply means that the US assigned 35 pieces of paper to equal 1 ounce of gold. They called the pieces of paper “dollars.”

Now comes the major, major, really big problem: Who connects how many pieces of paper with how much work and effort?

There are two basic theories about how to assign work and effort to a monetary symbol. The one theory comes from John Maynard Keynes and gives us the Keynesian school of economic theory. The other theory is from Friedrich August Hayek, producing the Free-Market Capitalism school of economics.

Keynes tells us that a central authority, a government or state will determine how much symbol should equal how much work and effort. This has become known as “top down” economics, where someone at “the top” tells everyone else at “the bottom” how much money they can have for how much work and effort.

Free-market capitalism tells us that “the market” will determine how much symbol will equal what amount of goods and services. This “market” means every individual in the society, working on their own, in their own self interest, figuring out how much they’re each willing to exchange for whatever they want.

Hayek’s concept has become known as “bottom up” economics. The individuals at the bottom of the process each, individually determine prices and value, which eventually comes together to form statistical “market prices.”

When the US government made the determination that 35 dollar bills will equal 1 ounce of gold, that was a top down decision. When the State of Illinois government tells you that 1 hour of work and effort will equal $8.25 (eight and a quarter pieces of paper), that’s a top down decision.

Everything is still okay, as long as whomever at the top makes sure that the number of symbols (paper dollars) matches up with the amount of work and effort being produced by the entire society. In theory, the amount of money in circulation is supposed to match up with the total production of everyone in America’s work and effort. That total production is the gross domestic product — the GDP that you hear about all the time.

  • When money symbols can increase with the amount of goods and services, we have fiat money.

A gold standard would mean that “someone” would have to be in charge of storing all the gold somewhere. That gold would be the representation of real work and real effort. That “someone” would then issue pieces of paper (dollars) in an exact formula. Back in 1913, you could take 35 pieces of paper, go to “someone” and redeem the paper for 1 ounce of gold. The gold (in theory) was stored in Fort Knox.

What happens if that group or person who stores the gold is corrupt? What if they start printing more dollar bills then there actually is gold?

It’s no different than when a corrupt person or group prints more pieces of paper than there actually is real production!

It doesn’t matter if we use gold or we use yours and my work and effort to “back” the value of our dollars! Nobody cares, and it means nothing at all to the world economy! What matters is ONLY that the amount of symbolic money matches the real, underlying “stuff” the money symbolizes!

Bottom-up economics, as advocated by Hayek and the Chicago School of Economics is pretty simple. For each person’s work and effort, the servant government then produces “money.” Only after a product or service has been created does “someone” produce the money to match that real stuff!

  • Top-down economics allows whomever is in control to produce arbitrary amounts of money. In theory, that will therefore cause products and services to magically appear! (In the same way, producing more and more gasoline will cause new cars to magically appear.)

Every time you hear about “stimulus” and how QE1 or QE2 or QE-whatever will “grow job and stimulate the economy,” you’re hearing the fantasy of Keynesian economics. They believe that printing more money will somehow produce more real-world work and effort.

At the same time, more and more people are doing NO work, expending NO effort. Unemployment benefits, welfare, food stamps, and every other government benefit or entitlement program is producing yet MORE paper money without a connection to goods and services.

Going to a gold standard would do absolutely nothing! Zero, zilch, nada! In fact, what it would do would be to limit even more the free market determination of prices and value. What if you want to start a business and borrow some money for a machine? What if there isn’t enough available gold to generate the money for you to borrow? Then what?

The solution is NOT a gold standard! Instead, the solution is to get rid of the corruption taking place in the government and the banking system. People should be in jail by now! Remove the phony statistics from the Bureau of Labor & Statistics. They’re busy telling us how all the magic money pouring into the economy “matches” the GDP! It’s total hogwash designed for a single purpose: to give the super-rich more and more paper money.

We can use gold, silver, wooden sticks, or Kryptonite as the underlying basis of our money. It doesn’t matter! What matters is only who controls the supply of that underlying basis. When you and I, in a a free market, with only the most basic regulatory oversight systems — when we control the supply (and demand) of money, then we’ll have a solid economy!

Government should serve the people, not the other way around! And that service is to only print new money whenever new products, goods and services enter into the market. That’s it! That’s all she wrote! No more, no less, but a government BY the people, FOR the people, which SERVES the people.

Okay…that’s the end of my rant for now.

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April 28, 2011

What Do We Do Right Now?

Month after month we hear the bad news. It really doesn’t matter anymore what particular story comes to light. We’ve passed the tipping point. It’s a bit pointless to discover more corruption, more regulations, more hypocrisy, more fraud and more of everything. The stage was set decades ago, and we’re in the end game now. Free-market capitalism, centered in the United States of America is under final assault. The bad guys are winning, but the US citizens are waking up. So what’s the next step? What do we actually do?

Let the investment banks and financial wizards all fail! Get Toto to pull back that curtain!

The first thing is education. Instead of watching “American Idol” and reading the so-called mainstream news reports, spend some time asking questions. Grow up, learn how to balance a budget, get rid of unsecured credit cards and loans, and move toward a cash-only basis. That’ll help you survive the collapse of paper money.

The next thing is to learn how to actually take care of yourself in an inconvenient world. Do you know how to shop for your basic, everyday necessities? Do you know how to cook some simple meals? Can you entertain yourself without the help of 10,000 TV channels?

But of all the things that we can do, the single most effective is quite simple: Let Them Fail!

There’s a good reason we have competition in the world. Survival of the fittest wasn’t invented by Charles Darwin, and it didn’t apply to the biological world. It’s an economic principle, and Darwin adapted it to biology. But that’s okay, let’s stick with biology and consider bacteria.

Bacteria have a simple and basic attribute that helps to understand evolution and natural selection: they breed exponentially, really fast! Start with a single cell, and within days you get millions of cells.

With millions upon millions of a particular bacteria, we invent some sort of antibacterial agent; penicillin, for example. It NEARLY wipes out that massive colony of bacteria. Even so, with hundreds of millions (if not billions) of cells, there’s a very high chance that at least 1 cell will survive. It’ll have some strange mutation or DNA variant that’ll allow it to survive the onslaught of penicillin.

With that one, single cell that’s immune to penicillin, the rapid breeding cycle of bacteria allows it to create hundreds of millions of replicas, ALL of which are now immune to penicillin. It’s basic natural selection, survival of the fittest, and leads to what we now call Super Bacteria.

We absolutely must have life based on survival capabilities, and death based on obsolete or insufficient survival attributes. Without death, there wouldn’t be enough parking places, for cryin’ out loud!

In today’s world, the single cause of just about everything we’re witnessing in the collapse of the American empire begins with government (state) support of dead, dying, or failed entities!

Fortunately, with the Internet and World Wide Web, people everywhere in the world have become more powerful as individuals. Knowledge is power, after all, and with that knowledge comes completely new and different survival skills. One of those new skills has to do with forcing the world banking system to adopt a metals-based money system. It doesn’t matter if it’s gold, silver, copper, palladium or platinum.

Paper money, simplistically speaking, is called fiat (fee-yott) money. The value of the money is set by declaration of some controlling authority. Such a declaration is a “fiat” declaration — an arbitrary decree or proclamation, such as a royal decree.

When any country first creates paper money, it typically sets a relationship of some amount of paper to some amount of physical “something.” Back in 1913, the Bretton Woods agreement defined the US dollar as having a value of 35 pieces of paper dollars being equal to 1 ounce of solid gold. That was known as the Gold Standard.

Although this is a proclamation of value, whomever is doing the decree can’t just make up some arbitrary number. They’re basing the value on a more solid foundation, such as gold.

In 1975, President Nixon took the United States off the gold standard. That means he unlinked the value of a dollar from anything other than some badly defined concept of the gross domestic product. Nobody but the government can figure out what’s the total amount of “stuff” the country produces, so the government effectively can call the value of a dollar whatever it wants.

Nowadays, we have a world economy where many nations bid for goods and services around the planet. Money from each country is constantly being converted back and forth. To accomplish that, we have “currency exchanges,” and each country sets the “exchange rate” for its money.

The problem is that if one country starts printing too much money, other countries won’t agree with the exchange rate. With computers and instant, world-wide trading and banking, we now have a “market” made up of many different countries. Those countries agree or disagree with the exchange rate set by a country’s central bank.

The world right now disagrees with the exchange rate being set by the US Federal Reserve. Therefore, the true value of the dollar is falling in relation to what “we” say it’s worth.

Much more importantly, common citizens and wealthy people all can buy precious metals. Those metals are the same everywhere, so silver is silver no matter what country calls it something in their own language. Silver is a metal, with chemical properties unique and specified on the Periodic Table of elements.

For years and years (decades, even) big banks have been playing a scam. They purchase 1 actual, physical ounce of silver and put it in their vault. They then “sell” 99 additional ounces of silver, claiming they have it, and giving the buyer a piece of paper that says the buyer can redeem that silver…whenever.

All this means that banks are using the fractional reserve system for physical metal exactly the same way they use it for paper money. And THAT means that NOTHING a bank owns is worth ANYthing! They own empty space in their vaults, and only the naive ignorance of their customers keeps the scam going!

In 2008, there was a run on the banks. Goldman-Sachs, in a stunningly stupid move demanded that AIG (insurance company) prove it actually had the money to actually insure all the mortgages and loans they said they could insure.

AIG didn’t have the money.

When the news leaked out, people began grabbing their money out of banks as fast as possible. Then came the gigantic money-market funds, with hundreds of millions of dollars being “managed” for safe-keeping by all the big banks, and by Goldman-Sachs. They instantly, electronically removed their money from their investment accounts, causing a “digital run” on the major banks.

Within hours, hundred and hundreds of millions of dollars were sucked out of the banks in New York City. Just like in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” massive accounts, managed by human beings came into question. Was the money “really” there? Or was it all just a mirage. Better to be safe than sorry, and they pulled their money.

At that point, ALL the banks that were party to this kind of “air storage” fiasco SHOULD HAVE FAILED! There should have been a catastrophic meltdown of every single bank — any and all of them — that had participated in this kind of fraud, theft and robbery!

It didn’t happen.

The Federal Reserve and US Treasury authorized hundreds of billions of paper dollars to be placed instantly into the many accounts. Congressed instantly passed a money-market insurance fund, similar to the FDIC. Everyone around the world was told not to panic, “We have the money! It’s all here! Nobody will lose their money.” Just like in the Jimmy Stewart movie.

To keep this fraud going, the Federal Reserve has since been printing billions of dollars through the US Treasury. They lend them to the big banks, hoping those banks will then lend them to you and me. We’ll create businesses, buy microwave ovens and color TVs, and take vacations. We’ll spend, spend, spend, thereby causing a demand for more stuff.

Instead, the banks have used the money to invest in the stock market, commodities markets, and hare-brained schemes around the world! They’re not failing, they’re thriving! It’s like a bacteria whose main food supply is penicillin!

To make matters worse, the Federal Reserve is also “buying” any bad loans or failed paper contracts owned by these same banks. The rationale is that those banks are Too BIG to fail! It would decimate the world economy!

No, it wouldn’t!

People around the world actually produce things. We actually grow food. We actually build machines. Additionally, people around the world are buying up gold and silver by the tonne! The reason is that people around the world don’t believe for a minute that paper money is worth a mosquito fart!

General Motors was about to fail, mostly because of the same kind of non-productive loans and investments made by banks. These banks are NOT “the producers” of the world! They produce NOTHING! All the do is produce debt, loans, interest payments and mortgages. Long ago, banks used to!…produce economic activity, by loaning money to startup businesses. That’s all finished with.

GM was not allowed to fail! It was Too Big to fail! So the government bailed them out with paper money. Not with taxpayer dollars — there isn’t a chance in Hell that you or I or our descendants will ever in all of time come up with enough money to equal the government’s bail-out. The result was that GM became part of the walking dead. A Zombie! Much like the zombie banks, GM is now a zombie corporation.

Watch any zombie movie and the resulting events are inevitable. The zombies eat everyone’s brains and create more zombies. What’s the answer? Burn them until they’re really and truly, totally and incontrovertibly dead!

GM has to all intents and purposes, finally and at last failed. Their stock is worthless (even the government is trying to get out of it as fast as possible). Nobody give their cars the slightest bit of credibility anymore. If they’d been allowed to fail, there were many OTHER companies, much more organized and run in far better style that would have purchased the shattered remains of General Motors. That wasn’t allowed.

So too with the Too Big To Fail (TBTF) banks. They produce nothing, lend nothing, make nothing, fix nothing, buy nothing, risk nothing, and have nothing. They have no money. “Naked short selling” is basically a contract to sell something you don’t have to some idiot stupid enough to buy the piece of paper.

Right now, the TBTF banks are “short” massive amounts of silver. They’ve sold 99 ounces of silver “air” for every 1 ounce they own. At some point in the year, each month the bank has to either roll over those contracts by extending them, or they have to actually deliver on the silver.

Each bank only gets asked to deliver a small portion of their silver each month. Therefore, they can continue to “store in their vaults” 99 ounces of air for every dollar. And they charge a storage fee!

The world is waking up. People are buying silver. That means there isn’t enough silver for the TBTF banks to buy each month so they can meet their delivery obligations. They’re buying silver more and more desperately! And so the price is going up and up in paper money. In 1969, you could by a gallon of gas for 25-cents. Today, in silver at $48/oz., you can buy a gallon of gas for 13-cents.

Each piece of silver that YOU buy means the big banks canNOT buy it! And that means that as more and more people demand their silver, those banks won’t have it! At some point, they’ll have to declare the truth, in which case it won’t matter how much paper money the Federal Reserve pours into the bank: It will fail.

Do you care?

What actually would happen if all these banks failed? What actually would happen if the entire world economy collapsed? Would it? Or would only the Paper Economy collapse? Would nobody grow food suddenly? Would nobody buy oil suddenly? Would time stop, the seasons end and the sun explode?

Of course not! We’d very quickly move to a barter system, and within only months, NEW banks would be formed that worked with real money — paper money that actually was backed by something of value.

Only the financiers, politicians, and non-producers of fantasy “value” would disappear. Is that such a bad thing?

Don’t confuse real producers who use real capitalism to buy and sell real goods, with bankers and financial managers who only trade paper. We do NOT need to support those “producers” known as billionaires! They do NOT create jobs! They create NOTHING! They don’t even create paper dollars! All they create are promises of paper dollars in the form of certificates —- stock certificates, bonds, T-bills, silver futures, gold futures and so forth.

Before anything can possibly even begin to be fixed; before Americans can get back to living ordinary lives, we must reinstate basic competition! We must let failed companies and failed banks collapse. There’s no way we can fix anything without first getting rid of the pus and infection of the Zit banks.

Since these banks are stealing our houses and converting them to paper money, let’s paraphrase Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat fake!” THEN we can rally like the French peasants and say, “Off with their heads!”

April 27, 2011

eBay, the Fed, and Shill Bidding

Let’s you and me start a small business, okay? We’ll pretend we’re in the same family, maybe. Or, you can imagine it’s you and your spouse, significant other, kids or someone otherwise sharing money and expenses. The key here is that the two of us have weekly expenses, and we make some money. The problem is, we’re not making enough money these days, to cover our expenses. So we figure we’ll start a business.

The first thing we do is come up with a product. We’ll call it The Widget, since that’s what lots of companies you hear about in books are making. It’s a really popular product, apparently, since I read about it all the time. It’s like that Parking family who has a monopoly on all those signs you see everywhere.

The next step is that we’ll sell Widgets on eBay. Everyone likes doing that, and it doesn’t take a lot of know-how to get started. We’re buying our Widgets wholesale from China, probably, for around $4 each. So we’d “like to” sell them for around $10 apiece. On the other hand, we’ve heard that if you put something up for auction, you might even make more than your basic asking price. Cool beans, that’s the way to go!

Alright, we’re ready to go. We’ve listed a Widget and set the starting bid at $5 (to cover the listing fees and stuff). Nobody can actually see that starting bid, we just put in a reserve. We also have a “Buy it Now” price of $10 so people don’t have to be bothered with auction bidding. If they don’t want to.

Just one problem. Nobody’s ever heard of us! We’re a totally new company, no word-of-mouth, no online presence, and we’re selling a variation of the same Widget other people are selling.

Here’s what we can do, as long as we ignore all ethical standards, cancel any moral principles, blindfold our conscience, and generally act like Wall Street financiers or government officials. We create two different screen-names and eBay accounts. They’re different from our actual business name and account, under which we’re listing our product.

To get some action going, I’ll make a bid. Then you make a bid. Then I’ll make a bid really fast. You make another bid, and BAMMO!…suddenly we’ve got A Hot Item! Obviously it’s a hot item, otherwise “people” wouldn’t be bidding on it so rapidly, right? And man-oh-man is that price goin’ up! Woah…we’re already at $9.50! Just a few more bids and we’ll be selling it for more than our ten bucks!

Neat-O!

We’re Hot! We’re A Rising Star! Product activity is sky-rocketing! People are taking notice, what with all that activity goin’ on about Widgets! “Have you heard? Widgets are the hot new item! A gotta-have thing, dude, and people are bidding like crazy! Just go to eBay and you’ll see!”

Finally, only seconds before the auction closes, I make a bid for $10.75 and win! Hoo Hah! (Fist in the air, air-guitar, Injun war dance across the living room!) I won! I got it! It’s…MINE!! ALL MINE!!!

I send you the $10.75 via PayPal, who takes out their small percentage for the transaction. You get around ten bucks, and we decide to go out and celebrate! After all, we Sold Our First Item! We’re gonna be RICH! We suddenly have money!

Right?

Obviously, we don’t have SQUAT! I take the money out of our household checking expenses to pay YOU the money for the item WE sold! The result is a net zero! And actually, that’s not true either. The true result is that we took a loss. We had to pay a listing fee, a PayPal transaction fee, and a Final Value fee.

This is pretty much exactly how the Federal Reserve and the United States Treasury work with the bonds and other so-called securities.

Right now, each month the US Treasury lists somewhere around $75-billion in bonds and securities on the open auction markets, which might as well be eBay for all they’re worth.

“Bidders” then start placing their bids. US Treasuries and bonds are a good deal, see, because they’re safe. You can buy them with paper money and when you sell them again, you get the same amount of paper money back again. It used to be that you’d get some additional paper money, historically known as something called “interest.”

Nobody uses “interest” anymore. Probably because nobody’s interested.

The Treasury calls up folks in the family and let’s them know there’s a hot new Widget for auction. They’re calling it the 10-year bond, or maybe the 2-year bond. It’s hot! It’s cool! It’s massive! It’s The Cat’s Meow! (Does anyone say that, really?) “Ya gotta buy this new product, dude! It’s awesome! There’s all KINDS of activity goin’ on right now, with EVERYone wanting in on the action!”

The Federal Reserve puts in their bids, Bank of America puts in a bid, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, HSB; they ALL put in bids! The Fed sees that the bid is going hot an heavy, and by gosh they sure don’t want to lose so they put in a higher bid!

At the last moment, just before the auction closes, the Fed sweeps in with a hyooooOOGE bid and wins! Fists in the air, happy feet, air guitar, and a whole lotta whoopin’ and hollerin’ over there at the office. They WON!

Thank God “we” sold all those securities and bonds! If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have any money! And if we didn’t have any money, we couldn’t afford to pay the monthly interest on our credit cards and loans! China would get really mad! So would Japan, England, Brazil, India, Russia and so forth. The Financial Markets would get mad! Everyone would get really really mad!

But not to worry: We sold out of all our Widgets — those whatchamacallits…the bond thingie! So now we’ve got Moh’ Money! At least enough to play around for a month, until we can list some more stuff!

Good deal, dude! We’re gonna get totally rich! All’s we gotta do is keep sellin’ those Widgets and bonds! There’s obviously a huge amount of excitement about them, ’cause, like, dude!…whenever we list them for auction they get, like, totally sold OUT!

Right?

Okay, so somewhere along the line here, you probably figured out that this is ridiculous! Nobody would be fooled by something as idiotic as this kind of scheme (or is it a scam?), right?

WRONG!

There’s an entire whole Group of people who are Totally Fooled! That group is called The United States Congress! Yup, the best government money can buy! They’re, like, totally fooled, dude!

Each month, Our Esteemed Members of the August Body of American Leadership (except for a few new members here and there) go out and party it up! They’re totally excited, because The Treasury just sold out of all it’s debt issues! Obviously, America is still The Home of the Great, Land of the Rich!

Otherwise, why would everyone be so excited about buying our bonds and securities? Heck, all’s ya gotta do is look at the stock market, for cryin’ out loud. It’s going up pretty much all the time! Sure, there are a few times when it goes down, but not for long!

There’s no question we can afford a higher debt ceiling. There’s no question we can afford to keep ALL the fabulous programs and benefits! There’s no question we can continue building up more debt. After all, according to Leading Economists and pretty much everyone in California, “Debt equals Wealth!” Right? Right!

Let’s just keep voting in those Esteemed Members of our August Leadership. They sure know what’s what! They understand business! They know how to make stuff! In fact, let’s just give them control over all the business activity in the country, maybe even the world! They’re experienced, right? They’ve got the background, the know-how, and they surely know a lot more than anyone else.

Right?

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