What 70 Hard-Won Greenbacks Will Buy Today

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When the spring
semester at the University of Colorado let out several weeks ago,
I called a good friend (and fellow Denver
) to see if I might be able to work for him during
my summer break as I had done last summer. My friend, who owns a
residential and commercial roofing company in Denver, agreed to
reinstate me on one of his crews, and I began working for him five
days after my last final exam.

It has been
my habit since my freshman year in high school to take a summer
job in one of the various landscaping or construction trades, and
my return to this type of work felt inexpressibly refreshing and
liberating after fifteen weeks of physical idleness and monotonous
study in graduate school. It was, moreover, intensely satisfying
to be earning a regular paycheck once again by means of the strength
and skill of my hands under the clear summer sun — despite the total
physical exhaustion that the roofing profession entails. There is
perhaps nothing more personally satisfying than the paycheck that
is earned by means of physical labor that, while backbreaking, produces
a tangible product that so thoroughly satisfies one's customers.
(The same cannot be said of the graduate student, whose teaching
"services" — if they can rightly be called that — are
usually detested by the supposed consumers/undergraduates, and who
lives, in a public university, solely at the taxpayer's expense).

It only took
several weeks of roofing however, before I noticed that my paychecks
were much less satisfying to me this summer than they were just
one year ago. The problem was not that my wages were nominally any
lower than they were last year, or that I was working fewer hours.
On the contrary, I was actually working more hours now at a slightly
higher nominal rate.

The problem
was (and is) that the greenbacks I'm unfortunately paid with are
buying me fewer and fewer goods (which is, in effect, equivalent
to receiving a concealed pay-cut for the same amount of backbreaking
work after just one year).

What awakened
me to the precipitous decline in my greenbacks' value (and the pay-cut
this decline in value entailed for my standard of living) was a
simple tallying of my expenses for one ordinary Friday afternoon.
After perusing my bank records, I noticed that I had spent $70 in
the course of six hours one Friday, and I sought to discover how
I could have spent so much money on a totally unexceptional weekday.
Here is what I discovered my hard-won $70 had been exchanged for:

cheeseburgers, French fries, and a small drink (lunch)


tins of Skoal snuff


chicken sandwiches and a small French fries (dinner)


twelve-pack of cheap beer (it was Friday, after all)


gallons of regular gasoline


Imagine the
disgust and frustration I felt after surveying the sum of these
appalling prices, when my average pre-tax income as a roofer is
approximately $120 per day. More than half of my income, (i.e.,
around five hours of labor), that Friday was required to purchase
only four ounces of tobacco, 144 ounces of cheap beer, six gallons
of petrol, and less than two pounds of low-quality, greasy food.
I felt very much like young Tom in Steinbeck's The
Grapes of Wrath
, who finds himself in the hopeless position
of working all day at a backbreaking job only to find that his meager
wages will scarcely purchase enough food and gasoline to allow him
to get to work the following day.

Last summer
these same quantities of tobacco, cheap ale, gasoline, and low quality,
greasy food cost me approximately 20% less than they do today. Put
even more starkly, after just one year, these same quantities
of beer, tobacco, food and gasoline now require an additional
hour of backbreaking labor on a roof to procure! What is even
worse, when I first started working in the construction trades twelve
years ago, a gallon of gasoline cost me 98 cents, a tin of smokeless
tobacco cost me two dollars (including the ridiculously high
and totally unjustifiable taxes on the then-newly-demonized smokeless
tobacco), and a greasy cheeseburger cost me 50 cents. I could buy
a twelve-pack of decent beer (i.e., Fat Tire, for a Colorado boy
like me) for only nine dollars.

My frustration
and disgust only increased after I tallied the total number of additional
hours that were required to purchase my new Springfield M1A rifle,
which cost me 1,500 greenbacks two weeks ago (after the revoltingly
high sales tax was tacked on). This same rifle only a handful years
ago was running around $1200, which means that my new rifle cost
me an additional 20 hours of labor to procure (i.e.,
an additional half-week of grueling labor on a roof!), compared
to what it would have cost me only a few years ago.

What made these
rising prices all the more frightening and maddening to me is the
fact that I am only 28 years old. I'm not a 96-year-old veteran
of World War II, regaling my grandchildren with tales of $500 Model
T's, five-cent candy bars, and ten-cent cigars. Nor am I a veteran
of the Vietnam War, who remembers that M14's could be had in the
1970's for only a couple of hundred dollars. In fact, I'm probably
young enough to be the grandchild of many of my readers — I wasn't
even born until the Vietnam War was over! Inflation is not a far-off
and now obsolete threat to our wealth and standard of living. It
is, on the contrary, an all-too real, yet often forgotten and more
often misdiagnosed, drain on our hard-won paychecks and savings

The perpetrator
of this wretched decline in my paychecks' value is the Federal Reserve
Bank of the United States. This unelected and almost completely
ungoverned institution continues to flood the U.S. and global economies
with ever more green pieces of paper every year, which inexorably
causes each individual unit of currency to fall in value. For those
of us who are not able to renegotiate our wages every week or month
to keep pace with this irresponsible inflation, the deluge of currency
literally results in continuous pay cuts.

The consequence
of this fall in the value of the greenbacks with which I am paid
every week should also be obvious: I have either to work more hours
on a roof to obtain the same amount of goods as I did just one year
ago, or I have to make do with the fewer goods the depleted green
paper with which I am paid will purchase. While either one of these
options represents a fall in my standard of living, I am usually
forced, due to the physical exhaustion from roofing, to make do
with fewer and fewer goods, since I can only physically work so
many grueling hours of overtime in a single week.

Another baneful
consequence of this deluge of currency caused by the Fed is that
certain sectors of the economy get bloated with the new currency
(i.e., a bubble), pushing the prices of the products of those industries
even more out of reach of average wage earners like myself. In the
recent housing bubble, for example, (which was caused by a massive
and long-lived release of new currency into the mortgage lending
industry), the price of almost all homes and building materials
in Denver soared to unfathomable levels. The average worker like
myself saw the price of a home skyrocket almost completely out of
reach — to the point where a hard-working young roofer like myself
can scarcely dream of purchasing even the dumpiest little shack
in Denver without sacrificing literally half a lifetime of grueling
labor (despite the fact that I, ironically, posses every single
skill necessary to build my own home from foundation to rafters).

The lesson
for me, as I perused my bank statements for the last few years,
was that hard-working Americans in the private sector, like myself,
can ill afford to take their increasingly worthless green paper
for granted any more. We can no longer simply skimp and save in
the naïve hope that we can live off a pile of emerald paper
in the future, because the value of these pieces of paper continues
to rapidly fall against the goods that we desire and which make
our lives comfortable and happy. We need to take a cold, hard look
at our un-backed currency and seriously consider exchanging these
ridiculous green pieces of paper with which we are paid (and which
the Fed continues to recklessly pump out at a record pace), for
goods that retain their value over time. We need, in other words,
to exchange our paper for the scarce and irreproducible goods that
have been used as currencies since the dawn of civilization; namely,
gold and silver.

As I thumbed
through my bank statements with my left hand, sipping the low-quality,
sour, American ale that cost me an hour's worth of grueling labor,
(when only a few years ago the same amount of green paper would
have bought me a fine micro-brewed lager), I felt unrelenting pricks
at my pride for being the dupe of this ruse for so long. I felt
irrepressible resentment and disgust toward the U.S. Treasury and
the Federal Reserve for the depreciation of my and every other hard-working
American's hard-earned wages and savings for their own selfish benefit
(not to mention the nauseating level of taxation extracted from
us by the U.S. Congress and their henchmen in the I.R.S.). These
agents of the federal government were stealthily taking more and
more of the money I was earning with the sweat of my brow and the
strength of my tired and sunburned arms, while they sat back in
their plush leather chairs in New York and Washington printing ever
more green paper and arrogantly extracting more taxes from me.

Under my right
hand, however, lay my new M1A and a small pile of 22-carat gold
coins. I felt a measure of consolation from the fact that there
were doubtless tens of thousands of similar Americans who were not
fooled by this unconscionable decline in the value of our currency,
who were also exchanging green paper for gold (what better deal
has there ever been in the history of the world?), and who also
felt the sting of this mendacious ruse on their pride. I also felt
a measure of consolation from the knowledge that this completely
un-backed, and thus intrinsically worthless and infinitely replicable,
green paper could depreciate only so long before millions of other
Americans catch on to the ruse, and revolt against the pitiless
plundering of their wages and savings by the Federal Reserve, the
U.S. Treasury, and the U.S. Congress. When that day of reckoning
finally arrives, woe to those who have so mercilessly robbed us
of the just fruits of our backbreaking labor for so very long.

27, 2007

Mark R.
Crovelli [send him mail]
is a graduate student in the department of political science at
the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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