THE GREAT TOMATO BUBBLE
My name is Mortimer M. Moneybags III and this is the true story of how I bankrupted and enslaved my hometown of Tomatoville, USA:
One night, Bill, Frank, John, and Mike came over to my place for a friendly game of poker. My four neighbors are all prosperous tomato farmers. Tomatoes actually serve as the currency of Tomatoville, USA.
Before starting, the five of us agree to each put up 10 tomatoes as our “risk capital.” That’s a total of 50 tomatoes. (Gross Domestic Product – GDP)
Play begins and we realize that trading tomatoes during our bets is awkward. I suggest that we utilize paper notes to represent our tomatoes instead. Because I hold a degree from Harvard, all agree that I should act as “Central Banker”.
We place our tomatoes in the center of the table and I print 50 paper notes with the face of Tomatoville’s founder on them (corresponding to the 50 total tomatoes, 10 notes for each player). Each paper note therefore represents 1 tomato….simple. (sound money/hard money/gold standard)
As play resumes, I have an unseen advantage over my guests. At 30 minute intervals, I repeatedly excuse myself for a “bathroom break.” (Fed Meetings) During this time, I’m actually sneaking into my bedroom and printing up more 1 tomato notes (fiat money).
The Money Magician creates money out of thin air.
Upon returning, I gradually gamble and inject ever increasing amounts of notes (liquidity) into the game (the economy). By midnight, the original 50 notes has increased to 500 total notes.
After ebbs and flows, the game was remarkably even at midnight. The five of us, who had each started out with just 10 notes apiece, now held 100 notes apiece. As you might expect, due our newly found “wealth”, the size of each player’s bets increased in direct proportion to the growth in the supply of Tomato Notes. (price inflation).
But the same 50 tomatoes -the true intrinsic value of the game – (GDP) remain in the jackpot.
Because we are getting so “rich” from the game, I propose that instead of ending the game, we leave everything as is and resume play the following month.
“Why don’t you fellows spend some of your Tomato Notes, and save some to invest in next month’s play. Tell the shopkeepers that each Tomato Note represents one tomato that is still sitting on this table. They’ll accept the Notes as if they were actual tomatoes.”
“Great idea Mortimer! The paper is so much more convenient to trade than the tomatoes.” replied Mike.
All agree to suspend play and resume next month. Before they leave, I announce that I’m cashing in 20 of my 100 notes in order to make tomato sauce the following day.
At the original ratio of 1 note to 1 tomato, my 20 notes trade for 20 tomatoes. I have doubled my original “investment” of 10 tomatoes (profit taking), and still have 80 paper notes with which to resume the game next month. There are now only 30 total tomatoes remaining on the table.
As I expected, my friends have no intention of cashing in any of their “winnings” because the returns from the game are so high. They each hold 100 notes and really believe that their original 10 tomatoes have yielded a 10 to 1 return from playing the game (Bull Market, irrational exuberance).
“Let’s go shopping!”
When the players explain to the town merchants that the Tomato Notes represent actual tomatoes that are stored at my house, the merchants gladly accept the notes as if they were actual tomatoes. During the ensuing month, the players spend many of their notes and take out various loans as well.
Bill buys his wife a new sports car by putting down 25 Tomato Notes and taking a loan for the balance. (Detroit prospers.)
Frank takes out a small business loan to open up that restaurant he’s always dreamed about (job creation).
John puts down a 50 Note down payment and signs a contract for a new home mortgage (housing boom).
Mike spends 40 of his Tomato Notes and also goes on a credit card shopping spree (consumer confidence).
The local bank manager also trusts that the Tomato Note income of the borrowers represents true wealth, so he honestly believes that he is not engaged in risky lending when he lends out his depositors tomatoes to the successful poker winners. (Sub Prime mortgages, No Money Down Mortgages)
The bank then sells some of the loan notes to The Tomato Street investment houses. Blinded by greed, and ignorant of “the big picture”, Tomato Street portfolio managers believe that the debts are solid investments for their clients. (secondary market ,mortgage backed securities)
So not only do the four players believe that they are prospering, but the businessmen that are now selling more goods to the wealthy poker players believe that they are earning more Tomatoes also! They too increase their personal spending and borrowing accordingly. (multiplier effect)
As the new “prosperity” makes its way through the town, the prices of goods and services also begin to rise – exactly like the size of the bets in the poker game had risen, and exactly for the same reason! Everyone thinks they are getting “richer”, but their new wealth is artificial and temporary.
Me? I just rub my hands in glee and laugh at how foolish these people are.
The economy of Tomatoville is BOOMING……or so it seems.
The Poker players and I meet again at my place and pick up where we left off the month before. The mood is jovial as the players look forward to another round of “earnings”. After a few hours of more silent note injection, 1000 notes now circulate evenly among the players (200 each). My guests boast among themselves about all the new toys they have recently charged. They aren’t worried about the debts they are incurring because, if necessary, they can always cash in their abundant paper notes for tomatos (equity) and pay everything off free and clear.
John then mentions that he has noticed that the town merchants have increased the prices of their goods and services.
“Have you guys noticed how expensive milk and eggs have gotten lately?” John asks.
“Yes! I noticed that too.” said Bill. “And a cup of coffee now costs 2 tomato notes! Why is that Mort?”
Anticipating that this question would arise, I launch into my cleverly planned explanation:
“Well gentlemen, there are three underlying causes behind the price inflation you are seeing at the town stores. First, when the town merchants learned of your new prosperity, they increased their prices because they knew you could now afford to pay more. That’s typical capitalist price-gouging.”
“Those greedy bastards!” shouted Frank.
“Yes. Greed is a main factor. But our shopkeepers aren’t the only greedy businessmen. The second reason for this inflation is that the folks over in Oilville have got us over a barrel. They too have increased their oil prices. Because all of the goods we buy have to be shipped by train and truck, the increase in transportation costs gets passed on to you the consumer.”
Mike leaps to his feet and angrily declares: “I say we bomb Oilville back to the stone age and just take their damn oil!”
“I don’t know about going to war, but we definitely need to develop solar and wind energy here in Tomatoville.” adds Frank.
“What’s the third reason for this inflation?” asks John.
To which I reply:
“The third reason isn’t related to greed. It is due to the prosperity of the people over in Potatoville. As Potatoville develops its economy, they grow and sell more potatoes. This increases their own demand for oil. That increased demand pushes oil prices up. Again, because our economy runs on energy, Potatoville’s prosperity is contributing to the inflation you are seeing here in Tomatoville.”
To my amazement, the men, acting as if they have been enlightened by some deep philosophical discourse, all nod their heads in agreement at the utter nonsense I have just spewed. We then resume the game.
After a few more hours of play, I decide to trade in 20 more paper notes for 20 more tomatoes (insider trading). My friends ridicule me. “Mortimer! Why would you trade in notes for tomatoes when we are all making so much money?” they ask.
“I just want to lock in some of my winnings now. You never know if fortunes may turn.” I replied.
I have now “earned” a total of 40 of the original 50 tomatoes from the table, quadrupling my initial investment. Whereas my scam was not obvious before, my victims now clearly see that the true value of the tomato jackpot has diminished (recession, Bear Market). They each started with 10 tomatoes. So how come they hold hundreds of notes when there are only 10 tomatoes left for the four of them to divide?
Bill panics. “I’m trading in!” he declares. He dumps all 200 of his notes and attempts to grab the remaining 10 tomatoes (stock market crash, bank run).“
Not so fast Bill!” declares Frank. “If you get those remaining tomatoes there will be none left for us!”
“Oh my God! Mortimer! How am I going to pay off my debts to the town’s merchants? What’s happened here?” Mike asks.
My expression turns somber as I reply:
“Damn! I was afraid this might happen. Because we were doing so well, the game “overheated”. The Tomato Note fell against the tomato. When that happens, the cost of playing goes up (inflation) and then a contraction occurs (recession). It’s a natural cycle.”
“So how do we allocate the remaining tomatoes?” John asks.
“Simple.” I replied. “It’s called currency devaluation. You four each have 200 notes in hand, and I have 160. That’s a total of 960 notes in circulation (money supply). There are 10 tomatoes remaining. Divide the 960 notes by the remaining 10 tomatoes and the new cost of a tomato is therefore 96 notes (hyper-inflation). That means that your 200 notes can buy back 2 of the remaining 10 tomatoes for each of you.”
The paper Tomato Note currency has lost its purchasing power (inflation, bubble bursting) and my 4 neighbors have each lost 8 of the original 10 tomatoes they had once owned. I walk away with 42 of the original 50 tomatoes. (real wealth)
But the real problem is that the four suckers, believing they were “wealthy”, had charged up a lifestyle that they can no longer sustain.
That car Bill bought for his wife? Can you say “Repo Man?”
Franks new restaurant? The chefs and some waiters will have to be laid off (increased unemployment).
Mike’s credit card bills? Soon to be delinquent and destroying his credit rating. (credit crunch, local Bank losses)
John’s new home? Foreclosure, followed by divorce (housing slump).
The merchants who had sold or loaned to them will also be negatively affected. Anyone who had dealings with the free spending Poker players is also holding devalued notes and possibly carrying bad debts. The artificial debt & inflation prosperity had spread like viruses, and now the malinvestment balloon has to painfully deflate.
The bewildered and frightened town folk don’t understand how this happened. Because of my Ivy League credentials, coupled with the fact that I have accumulated so much wealth, they look to me for expert advice and answers.
I explain to them that we are in a liquidity crisis:
“Friends! This is part of the natural business cycle. Sure, you have suffered a short term loss, but in the long term we all come out OK as the markets recover. You saw how much wealth you had earned. If you get out of the game you’ll be locking in your losses.”
“The market has hit bottom. Truth be told, you guys helped create this mess yourselves with your reckless consumer borrowing, and the local bank should have known better than to lend its depositors tomatoes out so carelessly. (blaming the symptoms, instead of the cause) This is the problem with free market capitalism sometimes.”
“I will advise Mayor Bulshitz to institute new legislation, a huge stimulus package, and more regulation over private enterprise (New Deal). We shall create a social safety net in order to protect you from future naturally occurring business cycles.” (Great Society, War on Poverty)
“Greedy Corporations, town shopkeepers, and employers big & small created this mess and it must never happen again. (class warfare) We will impose strict price controls to fight the inflation that the greedy , price-gouging shopkeepers caused.”
“We will tax the rich! (Federal Income Tax, established in 1913) Free health care! Free education! (socialism) Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! Change we can believe in! Hope! Yes we can! Workers unite! You have nothing to lose but the chains which bind you!”
“Don’t worry about the town’s Constitution. It’s an outdated document written by a bunch of dead white guys. If we are to fix this mess, then we must ignore its limitations on progressive government action.”
“The tomato must no longer serve as the backing for our currency. To meet the liquidity needs of our new system, it is imperative that we get this town off of that antiquated, “barbaric fruit” Standard (hard money) and transition to my expertly managed paper currency.” (fiat money)
“As far as the poker markets go, now is the time to play even more aggressively (buy low). We’ll meet again next month. In the meantime, work harder and bring more tomatoes to the next game, I’ll print more notes to increase liquidity and induce the banks to loosen up credit once again. (pump priming, quantitative easing)
“If the local banks need to make more loans, I’ll lower their reserve requirements so that they can lend (create) money that they don’t have. As long as too many depositors don’t make withdrawals all at the same time, like you fellows did in our poker game, they’ll be none the wiser.” (fractional reserve banking)
Even if there is a bank run, or if the bank’s loan demand exceeds it’s reserve requirement, I’ll act as the “lender of last resort” (Federal Reserve, established in 1913) and lend (create money for) to the local bank at interest (Bank takeover, Discount Window).
I will also lend to (create money for) the Mayor’s office (Open Market Operations, purchase of T-Bills, stimulus) , and bail out (create money for) the Tomato Street Brokerage houses that I deem to be “too big to fail” (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan bailout package).
I continue: “Finally, I will organize an emergency meeting of the Mayors, Finance Ministers, and Note Printers of the European towns (G-20, “world stage”). Now is not the time for isolationism. (independence, sovereignty) Global problems demand global solutions! (IMF, World Bank, WTO, UN).”
“We will recover. So keep spending, secure in the knowledge that the best and the brightest of the world community are on the job. We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”
The men leave my place full of hope, grateful that a financial “expert” and a caring leader are in charge of the recovery plan. Incredibly, I have convinced them that it was free enterprise, tomato currency, and limited government (the three main pillars of their original prosperity), that caused their problems.
Instead of seeing my inflationary system, my perpetual interest demands, and the Mayor’s out-of-control spending and high taxes as the causes of their lower standard of living, they actually worship Mayor Bulshitz as a savior. Bulshitz gives them all the socialistic “free” goodies that our destructive schemes made unaffordable for them in the first place.
First we crush the owners and the workers of the private economy. Then, Bulshitz rides in like a knight on a white horse, offering welfare schemes to save them.
The simple townfolk never stop to think that were it not for us, they would have the income and capital to take care of themselves!
When Bulshitz runs short of money (as he always does), I’m there to lend it to his office…at interest of course.
Damn I love this job! .
My European colleagues and forefathers have been running this scam for centuries. During this past century, we’ve been working to diversify our operations to include control of the world’s natural resources. Whenever some independent-minded foreign mayor resists our game of Banking & Resource Monopoly, (Iraq, Venezuela, Iran), our friendly mayors (the “free world”) will team up to bring that town back in line (sanctions,UN resolutions, spreading democracy,CIA coups,wars). Perhaps one day we may even merge our operations under a single global umbrella? (New World Order, G-20, Global New Deal, Global Warming scare)
I also play golf with the owners and publishers of the local “liberal” newspaper as well as with those from the “conservative” media. Through my close friendship with them, I am able to influence the editorial and news content of both. It’s sort of a “good ole boys” networking thing. As long as they don’t expose my operation, I am happy to allow the two parties and their sheeplike followers to amuse themselves with the daily drama of those superficial popularity contests known as “political campaigns.” By having the “left” and the “right” beat each other up, the townfolk are kept divided and diverted from my actions. In the end, it is I who wins EVERY election.
My “philanthropic endowments” to Tomatoville University guarantee that my twisted version of economics is taught to the students. Awestruck by my immense wealth and prestige, most, but not all (“Austrian School”, Peter Schiff, Ron & Rand Paul), of the economists at “TU” are eating out of my hands. So, when the town folk read The Tomato Street Journal, or hear Professor Pointyhead speak on TV, my false theories are reinforced in their minds.(Keynesian Theory, “Chicago School”)
All, except for John – the critical thinker of T-ville. He figures it all out and embarks upon a one man Internet crusade to expose me, calling me a “counterfeiter”, “usurer”, “insider trader”, “warmonger”, and “The Shadow Mayor.”
“John is Baaaaaad.”
My fellow Country Club members from the media convince everyone that John is “paranoid”, and an “extremist” who is a mentally unstable “conspiracy theorist” and potential “domestic terrorist.” Most of the town folks defend my intellect and character, and disassociate themselves from John. The others are too burned out by the hustle of life to even make the time to study politics and economics. Eventually, John is denied access to The Tomato Street Journal and throws his hands up in frustration.
Tomatoville is deeply in debt in to me because the massive police force and the “safety net” programs (that my destructive monetary schemes necessitated) are very expensive! I’ve got so much dirt on Mayor Bulshitz, that if he dares to either reintroduce the tomato standard, or if he decides to print interest free currency proportionate to the amount of real goods and services in the town, my newspaper friends and slick TNN anchormen can ruin him.
But Mayor Bulshitz, as well as his rivals from the other Party, are all very easy to get along with. Most politicians are just ambitious liars who only care about getting re-elected. My printer helps cover the huge budget deficits generated by their vote-buying welfare schemes and their endless foreign wars. One hand washes the other. It doesn’t serve the insatiable ambitions of the local politicians to alienate a well connected “bi-partisan” donor like me.
Every few years, for public show, Mayor Bulshitz gets to nominate a printing “Chairman” from my list of preferred professors. Because of this “dog and pony show”, most readers of The Tomato Street Journal believe that the central banking operation is regulated by the Mayor’s office. It’s not.
In reality, it is a private cartel, owned and operated by my banking associates and me. It is only our cartel that gets to print (or E-mail) the actual money supply, and then inject it at will into the government treasury (FED purchase of T-bills) and banking systems (FED loans to member banks, lower reserve requirements), as we see fit.
Because debt is the actual currency, you can never stay out of debt. The total of all debt and interest owed always exceeds the total money supply.
So you see, this debt based currency system is actually nothing but a massive pyramid scheme. We international banking and media kingpins sit on the top. Our wholly owned politicians, professors, & reporters sit on the levels below. While you worker bees are stuck on the bottom levels – toiling away to perpetually support the crushing weight of our fraudulent structure.
Different parties. Same BS.
It’s like a game of musical chairs, where the number of players always exceeds the amount of chairs. I start and stop the music at my pleasure as you exhaust yourselves running around in circles for my amusement. I stimulate the “booms” (blowing bubbles), and the “busts” (letting some air out), profiting from both.
Now you know the secrets of my success and power. You’re probably wondering why I would reveal the truth and indict myself like this. Right?
It’s simple. It’s because I do not respect you. I know that no matter how badly I screw you, no matter how much I steal from your kids’ mouths…you won’t do a damn thing about it.
It would never even cross your mind to take the personal initiative to spread this story around to your friends and family. If everyone who read my confession passed it on to 10 others, my game would be up in no time. But I know you won’t do that. As long as there is a ballgame or a reality TV show to entertain you….. as long as you have a few beers in your refrigerator…. I can do or say whatever I want…forever.
Poker at my house, everybody! Who’s in?
Mortimer M. Moneybags III