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Manipulating currency: The pot calls the kettle black.

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Steven Senne / AP

(Read caption) In this Aug. 10 photo, United States Treasury Department Bureau of Engraving and Printing manager Kevin Brown displays a sheet of $100,000 gold certificate bills at the World's Fair of Money, in Boston. The bills, the largest denomination ever issued, were used for federal bank transfers. If the government can print sheets of $100,000 bills, what exactly is money worth?

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“Monetary warfare!” says The Financial Times. In North America, the US is pointing its heavy guns at China… The US Congress has proposed a bill naming China as a “currency manipulator.” How, exactly, is China manipulating the renminbi? It is holding steadfast to the dollar! This, says US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, “translates into a significant subsidy, artificially making US products more expensive, and jeopardizing efforts to create and preserve manufacturing jobs in America.”

In South America, Brazil fires salvoes at Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. “We’re in the midst of an international currency war,” said Guido Mantega, Brazil’s finance minister, on Monday. What makes the Asian countries a target of Brazil’s artillery? They intervened in the currency markets directly, selling their own currencies and buying, among other things, Brazil’s real.

The remarkable thing about these battles is that admirals scuttle their own ships. Generals spike their own cannon. All the combatants send out their currencies like foot soldiers – and then shoot them in the back. They are all trying to “manage their currencies down,” the FT explains.

Meanwhile in Europe, Ireland cannot assassinate its own homegrown currency. It doesn’t have one. It signed on to the euro. For the moment at least, the euro managers hesitate; Ireland will have to cheat its people and its creditors flagrantly rather than surreptitiously. On Thursday, it put another 5 billion euros into Anglo-Irish Bank.

These strange facts incite the following reflection on the whole scammy system. The trouble with today’s capitalism is that there is little honest capital left in it. It has been drained away by quackery, debt and fraud. Real capitalism requires solid capital – money you can trust. But real money disappeared nearly 40 years ago. That was when the last traces of gold were removed. Since then, all currencies have been “managed.” No longer fixed measures of real wealth, they have become tools…supposedly used by the authorities to promote full employment and growth…but in fact little more than monetary felonies.

From the end of the Napoleonic wars until the beginning of World Wars of the 20th century, the world’s money system was backed by gold. You couldn’t “manage” it. You couldn’t devalue it. You couldn’t talk it up or talk it down. You couldn’t beggar thy neighbor by cheapening it or enrich him by making it more dear. It was what it was. The new experimental money system began in the Year of Richard Nixon, 1971. Thereafter, the supply of money could increase much faster than the supply of goods and services. US money supply (M2) rose 1,314% between 1970 and 2008, from $624 billion to $8.2 trillion. What did all this ersatz new money do? First it flattered…then it corrupted…and finally, it robbed.

America’s working stiffs were the first to get whacked. Inflation made them feel like they were earning more; but they haven’t had a real, hourly raise since the system was put in place 4 decades ago. And now, America is struggling to make sure they get none in the future either. Lowering the dollar against the renminbi increases the cost of probably 90% of the goods in Wal-Mart and Costco – where the working classes shop.

But this has been going on ever since the managers began taking liberties with the dollar. In the 1960s, the working man – 90% of the population – got 60% of the income gains of the period. By the end of the bubble years – 2001- 2007 – he got just 11%. This has resulted in a “record income gap,” says this week’s news. Half the nation’s income goes to the top 20% of the population, nearly twice as much, compared to the bottom 20%, as in 1967; it’s the biggest gap since they began keeping track.

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Consumer prices rose 5 times over the last 40 years. The stock market went up 15 times – from 800 in January 1970 to over 12,000 in 2008 – roughly in line with the increase in the money supply. But the phony money betrayed the rich too. Investors were misled. Capitalists erred. Trillions of dollars went down rat-holes. Consumers were spent out, but the capitalists kept building shopping malls. Now, stock market prices have gone nowhere for more than a decade. And household net worth – most of it in the hands of the wealthy – has declined $12.3 trillion from the peak. When the mistakes are finally flushed out, they could be down another $12 trillion.

The horns have sounded and bells have been rung. It is 1939 in the currency war – just the beginning. When it is over, every managed currency in the world will be dead or wounded. But we will be wiser, too. When the new managed dollar was introduced in the “Nixon Shock” of August, 1971, nobody knew what it was worth. When the end comes, everyone will know.

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