|Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis
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In Empire of Debt, maverick financial writers Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin provide you with the first in-depth look at how the American character has shifted to accommodate its new imperial role; how we have abandoned the private virtues of personal liberty, economic freedom, and fiscal restraint; and how the government has gained control of public life and the economy.
Many Americans have resisted the notion that their country is an imperial power. The idea seems to contradict the values of the Republic and its Founding Fathers. But in Empire of Debt, prominent financial analysts Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin argue passionately that not only is the United States an empire, but it is also one whose end is coming soon. Bonner and Wiggin are the brains behind www.dailyreckoning.com, an iconoclastic and irreverent market advisory service that has long raised concerns about American indebtedness and warned of a looming dollar crisis. In Empire of Debt, a sequel to their earlier doom-and-gloom book Financial Reckoning Day, they elaborate on their argument that the U.S. economy is about to implode.
Bonner and Wiggin enumerate a long list of chronic ailments that imperil the American financial system--a massive trade deficit, soaring personal and government debt, a housing bubble, runaway military expenditures. These problems "hardly disturb the sleep of the imperial race," the authors write. "[But] all empires must pass away." Bonner and Wiggin argue that American imperial delusions are similar to the fantasies that fueled the dot-com market mania. They recommend readers buy gold as insurance in the event of a financial crisis. Empire of Debt flounders when discussing how America indebted itself; the authors blame the Federal Reserve Board's low interest rates but gloss over the fact that rates were slashed because the U.S. teetered on the brink of deflation in 2002 and 2003 (a topic they give more attention to in Financial Reckoning Day). As hardcore free-marketeers, Bonner and Wiggin also seem to long for the pre-welfare days of the 1920s but forget how that period's policies led to the Great Depression. That said, Empire of Debt contains many revelations that will open eyes. --Alex Roslin
- IS THE SKY FALLING YET?
If you have not studied America's financial history and the recent history of empires, this is a good introduction. But, I have read about the inevitable collapse of the dollar since the early seventies. Harry Browne, Paul Erdman and Howard Ruff wrote about it then and still write about it today. The crisis is still presented as urgent by all. But the sky has not yet fallen!
The Empire paradigm is a newer idea and presented convincingly. They are all likely correct, "the Empire" and the dollar will probably both collapse, together or seperately, perhaps in six months (as seems to be implied), perhaps in six decades or maybe six centuries. How long do YOU think the central banks and the powers that be can keep the game going? I suspect it will take a non financial trigger or several to initiate a collapse. Bonner's advise for surviving such a collapse is inadequate. This type of crisis could halt or slow world trade to a trickle for months. If you believe this crisis is near, or in preparing a contingency plan, consult the earlier and other authors for survival advice....more info
- High Finace, Low Finance
Usually a book of this sort, about financial matters, is not easy to get through because of the nature of the subject. In this case, the authors have overcome the boredom and tedium by the lighthearted and airy presentation they give to the matters at hand. It really is easy reading, and enjoyable for the most part. The downside is that it tends to make one think they are not so very serious about what they are saying, and I count that as a disadvantage.
I don't think there are any new ideas in this book, but they have been able to synthesize the connections between existing ideas very well. I especially liked the first chapter, "Dead Men Talking", in which they suggest,"Gaze on the dead, and learn their secrets". All of which is to say that we ought to look at history for ideas and clues, but are reluctant to do so because we seek the novelty of something new. And this is what has gotten us into trouble. Without question, we produce little, spend too much (especially for things we don't really need), and import much more than we export, leaving us with a trade imbalance decidedly not in our favor. When not too long ago we were creditors to the rest of the world, we are now the biggest debtor nation on earth. The Dead Men Talking are just itching to turn over in their graves (if only they could) when they see us spending more than we take in. We all, government and private individuals, are spending beyond our means, and we want still more. This is THE main theme of the book, though there are plenty of related factors which go to explain this state of affairs. Certainly the political arena plays a huge part, for the policies resulting from political decisions have an enormous effect on financial stability and success. But at the bottom of it all, it is overspending in one way or another that is the problem. Politically speaking, it is almost unthinkable that we would balance the budget, either in government or privately.
It is too simplistic to focus only on overspending, and the authors certainly do not do that. There is a lot of detail about many of the factors that influence our indebtedness, such as outsourcing the labor pool, failure to save instead of spend, and the effects of wars as a financial drain. Consumer spending is especially egregious because we spend money to buy goods made in other countries, and the money we spend finds its way to those other countries. This leaves us with less money (a whole lot less) to invest in capital inprovement. We have changed from a manufacturing and exporting country to a consumer and importing country, resulting in a trade deficit (a debt, a huge debt !). Sooner or later we will have to pay this debt, or declare bankruptcy.
But the authors do not treat the moral aspect, at least not explicitly.
It's as if we never heard of envy (keeping up with the Joneses) or gluttony (insatiable desire). We need to control our appetites in order to balance outgo (spending) against income. William F. Buckley,Jr. once said "The trouble with capitalism is Capitalists, the trouble with communism is Communism". I have always thought that capitalism is a good system which enabled anyone who had money to invest, to gain an honest return, but any system can be subverted and abused. It appears that this is what has happened to capitalism, and it is regrettable.
All in all, it is good reading, and something to be gained by doing so.
If you want to know what is going on in the world of money today, here is the book to read. Very well written. It describes in detail and easy understandable form the diease of todays financial world. If everybody would have read this book two years ago it would have protected a lot of people from personal loss or bankruptcy. Thank you for speaking the uncomfortable truth....more info
- The problem is GOLD is no solution either....
The book gives an excellent review why the present reliance on the US dollar as reserve currency for the world is not in the interests of the average American. Sure it's great in the sort run, buying all that Chinese junk that lines the Walmart, or the electronic gagetry that Americans--in our arrogance and short-sidedness---believe makes us more "productive" then anyone else. But the fact is the US economy is a Keynesian perpetual motion machine dependent on the political stablity of the OIL sheikdoms, and their continued obedience in propping up the US "Petro-Dollar". And it is America's economic dependence on this system that accounts for the dramatic turn of the US away from it's historical economic independence and non-interventionism into the equivalent of old-fashioned British style "Imperialism".
The main problem with the book is it's reliance on "Gold" as a hedge against the dollar falling. We've been listening to this sort of libertarian fantasy thinking for years! Nothing is a perfect "store of value", it's a libertarian, free market fantasy.
You can't eat your gold any more then you can eat your paper money or your investments. In the end, the value of all money---even gold---is dependent on the overall productivity of the domestic economy. It can only buy what the economic system produces. Sure, diversify into gold, it will come in handy in the event of an economic collapse like the authors are predicting. But ultimately Gold's ship will sink along with the rest of the US economy. You can't buy what's NOT being produced, no matter how much GOLD you have.
The real solution is communitarian, and voting out the political establishment that controls the 2 party system, and returning the economic foundation of the American Republic to some sort of economic common sense.
- A witty book on finance and economics
It's rare that a book on the topic of deficits, consumer spending, economic growth, and globalization would also be this entertaining. Bonner and Wiggin have it right about the American empire: it is an empire of debt. As such, it is unsustainable.
Some reviewers here seem to think it is wrong to repeat the key ideas of a book. If these ideas had not been elaborated upon in different ways, you probably would've missed them.
Some see this book as too 'gloomy'. I understand. But surely it's better to try to see things as they are, rather than as you wish them to be.
Regarding gold, it seems clear that under a full-reserve gold standard, the kinds of financial chicanery that created this massive bubble would be impossible. (There will always be cons and hustles in finance, but they would be marginal rather than central to the system). ...more info
- Buy Gold!
The book is exactly about what the title says it is:
1. The United States has become an empire. And like all the empires that have come before (Page 49 has a list of them), there will come a time, sooner or later, when it will no longer be an empire.
2. Unlike empires of the past, which were financed by resources (tribute, human, mineral, etc.) of the places colonized or taken over by the empire, the United States empire is financed by debt. The US government is over $36 trillion in debt, largely to foreign debtors, while individual Americans are burdened with consumer debt such as credit cards and mortgages--without any sign of letting up.
The first section of the book talks about empires, describing those of Genghis Khan, Ancient Greece and Rome, and Austria-Hungary. According to the authors, the United States first started to become an empire with Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders". But it was really Woodrow Wilson's adventures in Mexico, and later World War I, that really established the idea of the United States as an empire. From then on, whether it was FDR in World War II, Johnson's Vietnam...all the way to Reagan's Cold War and Bush's Iraq...we have spent much blood and treasure trying to make the world a better place for democracy, or fight commies, or terrorism, or whatever. All financed by increasing debt, of course. Domestic welfare programs such as FDR's New Deal, Johnson's Great Society, etc. also got financed similarly. At some point all this debt must be paid, and it would not be a pretty thing if all our debtors, one day, demanded all their money at once!
Meanwhile, while America (and Americans) are running up all this debt, the rest of the world (read China and India primarily, but Russia and Brazil as well) has been actually making things, building up their factories and selling products, all for lower wages than America (and the developed West, for that matter). Inflation is also eating into the (meager) savings of Americans.
The last section discusses investing in stocks, real estate, etc. Most Americans invest to get something for nothing, and end up getting poor results. The smarter way to invest, according to the authors, is to buy stock in companies that the investor, using what they call "insider" information--private information and personal experience. (Unfortunately, the authors don't seem to clearly distinguish this from "insider trading", which is illegal!)
The theme running through the book is "Buy Gold". This comes to the forefront in the last few pages, where the authors compare gold to paper currency. While governments can print as much paper money as they think they need, it's harder for them to do that with gold. Gold will always be worth something, while paper currency can (and has) lost value.
This is a good read. I especially liked the history of all of the empires in the past, and how the United States compares to them. What will happen at the end of the American Empire is (necessarily) an open question, but we can all be prepared.....
- Devoid of real economic discussion
One might assume Empire of Debt is about the economics and folly of high national debt and trade deficits. Instead, this book is a lecture on America being an "imperialistic empire", while at best skirting the real issue of America's debt problem.
The book begins with anecdotal tales of ancient empires, while briefly discussing the economics of debt. However, it quickly launches into a fiery diatribe on the evils of capitalism, competition, globalization, and inevitably George Bush.
In the author's mind, isolation and protectionalist policies are the hallmark of political purity - any country involved in international affairs clearly has imperialist motives! Unsurprisingly, the authors worship Switzerland as if it were the golden "City on the Hill". As I read into the book I thought, "Wow, this sounds just like John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman". Sure enough, three chapters into the book Confessions is quoted as if it were the gospel on international affairs.
An important topic - America's unsustainable debt - was lost in this book. The book is devoid of any real economic discussion, and as an economist I find Bonner and Wiggin's understanding of economic theory wanting at best.
- A dinner table knife won't win you a battle
It was an interesting read, got a lot of good points and good stories, but the authors basically:
use common sense to refute mainstream economics,
use data to fight neocon politics,
use history to combat empire sociology,
and ultimately fell into the same old trap:
a lot of talks, no analytical thinking;
a lot of information, no framework;
a lot of history, no theory...
A dinner table knife won't win you a battle, let alone when you see it as a war....more info
- Inflation: The blessed blight of capitalism
If you liked the movie Independence Day, then by all means read "Empire of Debt." If you believe in free enterprise, then save your money.
Financial ruin is not around the corner like the book claims. Inflation is. Inherent to capitalism this economic phenomenom will balance our trade deficit, strenghten the dollar abroad, pay old debts with devaluated currency, revive the real estate market and so forth. Double digit inflation is upon us. Thirty years is about the right time for it to flare up again. Get your bucks from under the mattress and act accordingly....more info
- doom and gloom view with a historical perspective
Unlike other doom and gloom books on American economy including "the Demise of the dollar","The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit from It", "The Bust Ahead", or "America's Financial Apocalypse", this book provides more indepth analysis and commentary about American economy, consumerism culture, and politics from a historical perspective. It's a 384 pages book, if you have plenty time and enjoy reading about economy and history like myself, you will enjoy this well researched and written book.
There's no specific investment advice in this volume, but you do find gems and wisdoms about investing here and there. The major theme and idea of this book are succinctly summarized in much less pages in the newly released book and documentary/DVD "I.O.U.S.A."...more info
I specifically bought this book because it was referenced by several other books I had read as well as people I know. There is no question that the deficit we're running in this country is an issue. However, I found the authors viewpoint of past American actions, and their thought that America could have easily stood aside in the World Wars, as well as Lincoln letting the nation severe in two, to be not only outragous, but personally offensive. It's amazing how many people out there are eager to portray this county in the most negative light posibble without presenting any balancing views... by page 100, I was truly tired of reading about how terrible this nation is. The book was nothing more than a long winded, repetitive, editorial on how terrible this country is and how stupid we've been over the past 100 years....more info
- Interesting read but no viable solutions offered
Empire of Debt points out many flaws in our current economic system. We have learned to live off the "kindness of foreigners", who provide all our products in return for pieces of paper. We live off and the fruit of earlier generations while passing on the bills onto future generations. The abuse of credit to juice up current consumption would surprise even David Hume who lamented about the modern (18th century), practice of passing on the today's debts to future generations as compared to the ancient Romans. Hume would be surprised by our audacity to not only pass on the debt of wars but of mere day to day operating expenses.
Many of these points are hammered home repetitiously and to people that uninitiated in the economics of the problem it may come as a surprise. If foreigners do not fund our lifestyle by loaning us money we can not live the way we do. And, since we are letting the dollar fall in value these foreigners are getting a queasy feeling as their investments in the USA become smaller and smaller, especially, the Saudis with their $800B future generation fund looking like a stack of Polish war bonds. Something will give; it's only a question of time.
There are no good solutions here. Bonner and Wiggin make the case for gold and seem to indicate a gold standard would be at least part of a solution. They also point out that only 58,000 metric tons of gold have been mined since 1971, which they contrast with the out of control monetary growth in the US. Of course, the amount of goods in circulation has also gone up explosively since 1971 and if the money supply, which would equal the gold supply if it were indeed linked to gold, would result in severe DEFLATION. More goods chasing less money. This is what happened in the 1890s and 1900s which resulted in the agitation for Silver to increase the money supply. Western states owing money to eastern bankers in a period of falling prices could not service their debts, etc. Later the discovery of the cyanide process allowed gold to be extracted from South African mines causing the gold supply to increase greatly resulting in inflationary effects. This points out why gold is no panacea; there is no intrinsic connection between the amount of gold in the world and world production of goods and services. There must be a balance between the two for price stability.
The authors point out the poor history of fiat paper money systems, like our own. The fact is that it much easier to move a zero on a ledger sheet or print more currency than to exercise discipline in the growth of the money supply or to exercise spending restraint. Now, with money growth not only the providence of the Fed but of financial institutions the system is more out of control than ever.
For people that think the autopilot of the gold system is the answer to prevent the abuses described in this book, the record of the depression era should give pause. True, managing the world trade through a gold system would put limits on grasping politicians and incompetent financiers. However, this system has been gamed before to the detriment of all. The fine clockwork of the gold system requires everyone to play by the rules. If a country is exporting a lot gold flows into their country, money supply grows prices rise and the system naturally balances as foreigners stop buying at the higher prices. In the 1920s the USA had such a situation and by resorting to open market operations the Fed was able to "sterilize" these inflows, screwing our trading partners. Today, we could guess who would be sterilizing their inflows, the Chinese. The gold standard also shackled all the gold standard countries together so when the depression hit it knocked out all countries that were on gold. Silver standard countries like China were not affected immediately.
This was a fun read with a little bit or ranting at certain figures and some bizarre takes on history. Yes WWII had to be fought maybe not WWI and the Civil War was necessary to prevent the country from falling into chaos. There are no clear solutions out of this mess.
- Epic Financial Crisis
I enjoyed this book. Mr. Bill Bonner is too political for me and sometimes he's just trying to be cute, but overall I enjoyed reading the book and I personally like the newletters put out by Mr. Bonner's Agora Inc. I am a paid subscriber to some of these news letter which gives good investment advice. Regards, Keith Renick, Peachtree City, Ga. ...more info
- Your freedom is lost; your future could be also.
While the authors may tend to hyperbole at times I found it well researched and written with some humerous and outstanding metaphors. It is a sad commentary, though, on the decline of the American republic to the entitlement-minded welfare state that the voters have actively sought. It is not a matter of 'if', but 'when'? Buy gold....more info
- Long Editorial
I generally enjoy Bonner's material, but I found that this book did not contain a solid factual basis, but rather a long editorial on Bill's views. In addition, it was rather repetitious; once the first chapter is complete, there is no need to read the rest of the book....more info
- Be scared, very scared
"Just when you thought it was safe to conquer the world" or "put down the credit card and step away from the arms dealers counter"....more info
- The shock value of this true book makes it a gripper and an epic classic
THE EMPIRE BUSTING BUBBLES;
Empire of Debt by Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin
Page 48; in 1989, "American democratic imperialism triumphed unmistakably against its adversary-the Evil Empire. The Good Empire was the last one standing; God had shined its light on us and would never turn it off.
Many people said many dumb things in the twentieth century..."
The shock value of this true book makes it a gripper and an epic classic.
Page 317-318; "The oldest generation of Americans remembers the Great Depression. They borrowed reluctantly, saved eagerly, and made the United States the Greatest power on earth. Their children still talked their parents' talk, but didn't mind walking off in a different direction when the wind was at their backs. And their grandchildren? The newest generation seems to have no regard whatever for the virtues of their grandparents or the futures of their grand children. They disregard the wisdom of the dead, and load up the unborn with debt."
- entertaining but misses the mark
This book attempts to illustrate the associations of empires and does so in an articulate and entertaining fashion. With respect to the current empire's follies, the author fails to give the true reasoning. It fails to understand the real purpose of the federal reserve system, and that all wars since then have served to enrich those who profit from war while enslaving the working class in paying for it and fighting with their blood. All these follies which have led to the current massive federal debt have been intentional, this is not the result of clouded imperialistic ego. Readers need to skip this book if they really want to know what is going on in the monetary system....more info
- Don't shoot the messengers
An easy and enjoyable read that tries to sound a wake-up call to a spendthrift nation and it's citizen's. Long term, a nation or individual cannot continue to spend more than their income, without some kind of negative consequences. When and what those consequences are cannot be known, but this book successfully sounds the alarm. Don't shoot the authors, they are only pointing out the obvious. However, somehow the obvious seems to escape our elected officials. Let's hope that at least some of the message in this book gets through....more info
- TOO MUCH EMPIRE
The authors' theory about the U.S. economy seems to boil down to saying about 500 times that having become an empire the United States is doomed to endure the fate of previous empires. To drive home the point, readers are treated to page after page about the travails of the Athenians, Romans, Mongols, Venetians, Spanish, British, etc.
The seeds of empire were sown in 1913, when the Constitution was amended to permit a federal income tax and the Federal Reserve System was created.
It seems that our country should not have gotten into World War I, most likely could have stayed out of World War II, and has no one to blame for 9/11 except itself.
The best U.S. presidents were not those whose faces are carved on Mount Rushmore, but men like Warren Harding who did very little during their time in office.
The reputations and motivations of various people, e.g., Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Allen Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and journalist Thomas Friedman, are mercilessly lambasted.
Oddly enough, given their readiness to express opinions on so many other subjects, the authors shy off from explaining the Great Depression, beyond pointing out that FDR used it as an excuse to expand the scope of the government. "The causes of the depression have been hotly debated. They go beyond the scope of this book." Darned, just when things were about to get interesting.
When it comes to evaluation of financial matters, such as the fact that both as a nation and as individuals we are living beyond our means and financing it with debt that most likely cannot be repaid, the message of the book becomes more compelling. Such thoughts are not entirely new, however, and might even be characterized as obvious.
Worse, in my opinion, the authors offer no suggestions to get the United States back on a sounder track. Now that might be worthwhile, whereas mere hand wringing about the financial situation seems rather pointless....more info
- Required reading for americans
Well written book. Many americans are not aware of this stuff. The view is British in my opinion and while correct doesn't necessarily predict the future. It seems to be taken from the audios "Wizards of money" by Smithy....more info
- Show Your Love for Your Kin and Yourself -- Read Empire of Debt
Through your life, few books are worth trading your time to read them for your time expressing your love for others, making others laugh and helping your neighbors.
Empire of Debt is one of those books you should read.
Like most books, the story does not begin until several chapters ahead and like most books, Empire of Debt suffers from the wrong chapter sequence.
Here's a better chapter sequence to get you to the story faster:
[should read -- sets the stage of how the U.S. overthrew the American Republic]
The Road to Hell (5)
The Revolution of 1913 and the Great Depression (6)
How Empires Work (3)
[optional read -- yet helpful if you do not know this history]
Nixon's the One (8)
Reagan's Legacy (9)
The U.S.'s (America's) Glorious Empire of Debt (10)
Still Turning Japanese (14)
[must read -- the real story]
Modern Imperial Finance (11)
Welcome to Squanderville (13)
The Wall Street Fandango (15)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (12)
Subversive Investing (16)
[optional read -- coda commentary about past empires]
Empires of Dirt (2)
Dead Men Talking (1)
Slouching Toward Empire (Introduction)
[optional read -- for history buffs only]
MacNamara's War (7)
As We Go Marching (2)
- Lessons from History
The book starts with a good description of causes the rise empires, their growth, decay and demise, a cycle that has been repeating itself since times of recorded history. The commonality for reasons of the fall of great empires is excessive spending on the military in conquests of new colonies, and later an attitude of arrogance and supremacy. Suddenly the great empires fall victim to their own weaknesses and the collapse is many times faster that its rise. The book tries to bring in compelling arguments to describe and label modern America with the ancient empires, and further extrapolating its imminent collapse.
Having gone through the book patiently, page after page, here are some of my personal thoughts:
1. Firstly, the book could not have been published in an ancient empire where the state was in full control of public life. Only a great democracy can tolerate the harsh and loud criticisms in every page of a book, and still go along with business as usual, for the business of America is business! This proves that America is a great democracy with almost unlimited freedom of press.
2. The hypothesis that America is spending more than it should, through excessive borrowing and the mounting external debt is reaching dangerous proportions can be explained in a much more elegant manner. I do not understand why the same message gets repeated so often in almost every chapter.
3. The weakness of the dollar resulting from excessive debt, and not being backed by gold is explained better in many other books without confusing history, economics and emotions.
4. If one has to understand the housing bubble and the sub prime crisis and its impact on global financial markets, look elsewhere.
5. If buying gold is what one should do to protect savings (and prosper) in the event of an economic crisis, better buy gold, instead of wasting time and money on books.
6. America is the global engine of economic growth. America's open policies to source goods and services from across the globe has contributed to distribution of wealth, employment generation and poverty alleviation in many third world countries. Empires do not distribute wealth, but exploit their colonies.
7. The book does not spare anyone, including Presidents, bankers, politicians, bureaucrats and economists. The criticisms at times appear to be too harsh and one sided.
With love from India to America. In defence of democracy, human rights and global prosperity.
- Bill Bonner king of "doom & gloom"
His solution is to buy gold/silver & dig
yourself a hole in a ground to live in.
- I Wanted To Read More
My only disappointment with this book was that it ended. I felt like Bonner & Wiggin covered so much ground, but still left me wanting to know more- so I've found that more in other places by intellectually cheating on them. I liked that they didn't come across as partisan- they plopped out the numbers and history and there she was in her naked truth. I have also become a regular on their daily reckoning website. ...more info
The book's perspective and observations are entertaining, but it really doesn't say much that is new and it utterly fails to live up to the hype that I received about it from the publisher via e-mail; namely, that it is "The most feared book in Washington". The e-mail solicitation I received stated that a copy of this book had been sent to every US Senator and Congressman. They shouldn't have bothered; I doubt that any of them will read it. Owning gold may well be a prudent hedge against the chance of collapse of traditional markets, but it is hardly the only one. My advice: Put your money into a book that will really raise your eyebrows like "The Lessons of History" by Will and Ariel Durant - which has been around for a long time but which does not seem to have been widely read. That one should be on the banned list. ...more info
- Seeing things as they really are rather than as we'd like them to be
A prognosis most Americans have not wanted to hear for decades (until now when sadly the disease can no longer be ignored). Philosophical but easy to read for anyone willing to expend a little thought/effort, and read with an open mind. Almost everone who reads it will find something offensive to their perceptions of the world we live in, but that's the point. Some might see this as gloom & doom but it's excellent at cutting through perceptions to expose realities; and perhaps more important how reality and perceptions so easily and stealthily diverged from one another.
I don't agree with every cause and effect or conclusion but overall Bonner is spot on. As a treatise to show the ill effects of blind trust, overreaching government, misleading press, ignoring history and human frailities - this would make excellent reading in HS or at least college where we want to teach that it's not just OK to challenge conventional wisdom and leaders, but that our long term freedoms rely on us doing so....more info
- Caustic & Straightforward, But...
Darkly humourous--unlike assessments written at dailyreckoning.com; however, I disagree with the authors' view on the Second World War. I don't think that America, "empire" or not, Depression or not, would have sat back and allowed Germany and Japan to conquer the world.
It was Germany's ambition to conquer America, but to leave that to the next generation. It was Japan's ambition to conquer the world, too, which deliberately gave the West the false impression that by establishing its Diet (parliament) that it had embraced democracy. We would have been left with a world run by Germany and Japan that possibly would have resulted in the end of everything once each acquired nuclear weapons and used them to challenge each other in a showdown for world dominance.
I agree with their point too that America has ceded more and more states'rights to the federal government. To this can be added the "line-item veto" (since ruled unconstitutional) and a desire to give "fast-track" authority to the president to negotiate under GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) thereby bypassing Congress.
- Apt Warning
The authors have a breezy and engaging writing style but make many dogmatic assertions without bolstering their arguments or citing sources of verification. They assert that houses "usually go up at a rate roughly equal to the rate of inflation, income, or GDP growth - no more" but this statement is not backed up. Later, the authors state the GDP is a flawed measure "dramatically inflating both the importance of the tech sector in the economy, and overstating GDP so as to make the number useless" (pg. 208). The authors use many words to denigrate and dismiss author Thomas Friedman to no useful point. The authors also severely criticize Alan Greenspan, but they do not convincingly counter Greenspan's thesis "...that increases in personal wealth and the growing sophistication of financial markets have allowed Americans - individually and as a nation- to borrow much more today that might have seemed manageable 20 years ago." I think not grappling with this point is the major flaw of this book. "Empire of Debt" describes the US economy as a consumer economy, where spending accounts for 71% of all economic activity. It is made possible by globalization, and state "(globalization) requires civilized relationships for trade to work; people must get along with each other. They must rely on others...(and) be able to count on the medium of exchange for trading goods and services." (pg. 251).
One of their main points is that through globalization others have come to rely on the US dollar as the medium of exchange, and so long as other nations (principally the Japanese and Chinese) accept the dollar for their products, and so long as they invest them back into US debt (Treasury bonds), the US can print as much money as it needs in the short term without risk of inflation. In the long term this system cannot be sustained, and international finance will break down. The authors claim no specific time for that collapse. Their remedy is to invest in the yen and gold. The reason the yen is strong is that "The Japanese went bust with the rest of the world owing them a lot of money. And every year since, even through the darkest years of their recession, the Japanese trade balance was positive.
"The US is a very different story." and "Consumer spending is 71% of the US economy; in Japan it was never more than 55%." pg. 301
The authors state on pg. 294 "The total value of all assets in American is only about $50 trillion. Current U.S. debt is about $37 trillion. Add to it the present value of Federal government liabilities and America is broke." These assertions are unsubstantiated. On pg. 301: the US "can have a soft, slow slump, but not a long one. It can't afford it." Again, this statement is not explained.
However, I thought the most astonishing statement they make is: "All its (the US's) debts are denominated in its own currency- the value of which it can control. Having the world's reserve currency means you can stiff your creditors without ever having to say you're sorry." This is just too flippant, of course, though they go on to say, "In the case of America's debts to foreign nations, this (payment of debts) can be achieved in three ways: the currency in which the debt is denominated can be devalued against other currencies; the currency can be made less valuable through inflation; or the debt can be repudiated."
This book provides an insightful, contrarian view of global economics and world history. For example, the authors believe the best US presidents are those that accomplished little or nothing (W.H. Harrison, who served only a few weeks and W.G. Harding are praised), and the worst presidents are those that the led the US into wars. Wilson is criticized as the one man who forever changed the US's destiny from insular and neutral in international affairs towards tending to interventions, under Wilson's misguided assumption that the US must make the world safe for democracy. Reagan's legacy is described as `evening in America'.
Despite the authors' flippant assertions and preachy tone, "Empire of Debt" offers clear explanations of international finance and the consequences of too much debt, and its message that there will be a `correction' to the deceptions that the US has built its finances upon has proven to be very real.
- Economics with a Flair of Irony
I love this book. I must have read it thru ten times already.
Don't let the title scare you. Bonner and Wiggin bring a dull subject to life with an irreverent but refreshing take on history.
"Would the nation be better off if Lincoln had not slaughtered so many Southerners?" they ask. "Would world history have been worse if Wilson had not meddled in World War 1."
Political correctness is cast aside. Party propaganda is ignored. National heroes get skewered. "The most popular American presidents were those who stole most beautifully," they intone, describing the logic of democratic larceny. These guys love to poke fun at pompous politicians.
The authors do get serious. After relating the rise and demise of past empires, they report that America is headed for the same fate. She has moved away from her founding principles, away from the freedoms of republic and into the clutches of empire.
With the inexorable rise of the state come delusions of grandeur and pseudo patriotism. Government intrusion crowds out free enterprise. Civil liberties are tossed in favor of fast money. Original thought gives way to corporate cool. History is relegated to the dustbin.
We are consumed with the running of empire. We mind everyone's business but our own. We shred the Constitution for wars without end.
Wave good-bye to the American Republic. Say hello to the Empire of Debt.