• The Vultures Are Circling

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    The
    rotting corpses of several large corporations are attracting the
    vultures. The vultures are circling. From time to time, one of them
    flies down, lands next to a body, and begins picking away at its
    flesh.

    Vultures need a steady supply of corpses. That old poster is accurate:
    one vulture saying to another, “If things don’t change, we may have
    to kill something.”

    The crucial investment question today is this: “What caused these
    companies to die?” The answer is not greed. Greed is present in
    all societies at all times. These companies died in 2002. Why? K-Mart
    went bankrupt because it offered lousy service, a poor selection
    of products, run-down stores, and was aimed at people without much
    money. It died because Wal-Mart is a better company. Its only big-name
    hope was Martha Stewart. It was an enterprise aimed at just barely
    middle-class women. I dreamed for years of hearing this: “Attention
    K-Mart shoppers: Wal-Mart has a better selection.” Global Crossing
    and Enron and WorldCom died for very different reasons.

    What, specifically, has created demand by naive stock market investors
    and fund managers to buy overinflated, stocks for 40 times reported
    earnings — almost three times the historic average Warning:
    I keep seeing reported P/E ratios for the S&P 500 ranging anywhere
    from 23 to 40. I use the S&P 500’s own statistic:

    http://www.spglobal.com/indexmain500_data.html

    The public’s willingness to buy stocks at inflated prices has in
    turn made possible the ability of America’s corporate CEO’s to gain
    incomes that were on average 531 times more than the average worker’s
    income in 2000, up from 85 in 1990 and 42 in 1980.

    http://www.aflcio.org/paywatch/ceopay.htm

    CEO’s pull this off mainly with stock options, which are taxed favorably
    for the companies that issue them. Stock options create potential
    future corporate liabilities that are not treated as present liabilities
    by accounting laws. The liabilities hit after common investors have
    bid up the price of the shares. Congress has created this monster
    by structuring corporate tax laws to favor senior executives rather
    than common investors. It is just one more example of government
    promising to “help the little guy,” and then creating arcane tax
    laws that help the big boys, who donate big bucks to incumbent politicians.
    It is the same old deception.

    If there were a flat sales tax instead of an envy-driven graduated
    income tax, there would be less of this cream-skimming by the rich.
    If capital gains were not taxed at all until investors sold their
    investments and took the money as income, there would be more economic
    growth and fewer scams. If corporate tax law allowed corporations
    to deduct dividends as expenses — single taxation of dividends
    — and if recipients could legally reinvest dividends on an
    income-tax-deferred basis, there would be more interest in income
    than creative accounting. But this would mean that the politics
    of envy no longer gets people elected. That’s not our world.

    TOM BROKAW: NOW HE TELLS US!

    On Sunday evening, July 28, NBC television broadcast a memorable
    piece of hatchet journalism, “Take the Money and Run.” It was hosted
    by Tom Brokaw, the NBC anchorman.

    The show dealt with the evils of the Chief Executive Officers of
    now failed corporations, though its main poster child was Global
    Crossing. The show reported on things that are bad about American
    corporate capitalism, with these notable exceptions:

    1. The envy-driven
      tax structure that promises to “soak the rich”

    2. Federal
      regulatory agencies, especially the Securities & Exchange Commission,
      that create barriers to entry against new, innovative firms
      — barriers based mainly on hiring lawyers and filling out
      forms

    3. The politically
      untouchable government-created monopoly, the Federal Reserve
      System, which initially provides the fiat money that fuels every
      market mania

    4. The major
      media, such as CNBC, that make their money by attracting audiences
      with lots of money for advertisers to skim off, audiences that
      can only be attracted by selling greed

    In other words, NBC was attacking the results of anti-capitalist
    interference into the free market. The media today are attacking
    the results of the media’s own marketing strategy to bring in suckers
    by the millions and deliver them to advertisers. The networks and
    newsstand money magazines lure in the masses with stories of dreams
    of wealth — stories that statistically cannot come true for
    more than a tiny handful of investors. The winners are those investors
    who, unlike the media’s dupes, see a bear market coming and sell
    out at the top to the naive victims of the media’s own hype. The
    media create insatiable demand for get-rich-easily stocks, and the
    viewers respond by buying stocks from wiser souls, who see a stock
    market bubble for what it is and unload their shares on the rubes.
    Nobody on Tout TV told the rubes to sell Global Crossing or Enron.
    As Brokaw’s report said, less than 1% of all stocks mentioned by
    brokerage firms are ever in the “sell” category. Tout TV followed
    the lead of the brokerage firms.

    The script writers of the prime-time specials, hostile to the free
    market, now blame the free market for the failures of what is best
    described as monopoly capitalism. Then they call for more of the
    same.

    GLOBAL CROSS-EXAMINING

    The NBC show told a human interest story — a real-life soap
    opera with an unhappy ending. It focused on some naive schnook who
    believed all the nonsense about the technology sector. He read and
    believed George Gilder’s technobabble. He went to Websites and watched
    the hypesters on Tout TV. Then he bought Global Crossing at $60
    a share, from which it steadily dropped. He used his retirement
    money. He kept buying more Global Crossing shares as the price fell.
    He had heard and absorbed all the brokerage house nonsense about
    “averaging down,” i.e., buying more shares in a falling market.
    He applied this eminently false and potentially suicidal investment
    strategy in a way that even the experts (so-called) say is wrong:
    by buying more of a losing proposition, rather than diversifying
    his portfolio.

    Now he goes on national TV and says that he feels betrayed. It was
    his own bad judgment that did him in. It was his desire to “get
    even with the market,” to prove to himself that his bad judgment
    had in fact been good judgment, by buying more and more of a losing
    company. He thought that investment experts knew what was happening,
    which prime-time experts rarely do in mania markets. He violated
    the rules of sound investing all the way down, and then he consented
    to become a guest star on Tom Brokaw’s prime-time soap opera. He
    consented to become the seasoning for Brokaw’s feast on the rotting
    corpse. The show was a feast of fools.

    Brokaw
    interviewed other victims. I have never seen such blatantly leading
    questions. He asked one group that had lost their retirement funds:
    “How do you feel about all this?” Would this man ask a victim of
    the 9-11 disaster, “How do you feel about losing your husband?”
    Everyone knows how she would feel. Why ask? What’s the hidden agenda
    here? Then he asked: “Do you think these executives should go to
    jail?” One respondent was wiser than the questioner. The woman did
    not go that far. But other participants did.

    Would he have asked the 9-11 victim, “What do you think about Al
    Qaeda?” Why would anyone ask such questions? In the case of 9-11,
    for this reason: to create broad public support for the creation
    of a Department of Homeland Security. But even the newscasters did
    not go that far. Such questions would have been seen as exploitative
    and cruel last September. But when capitalism is in a network’s
    prime-time dock, no question is too blatantly leading for a network’s
    multimillionaire anchorman.

    These TV news anchors have been carefully screened and promoted
    by the networks’ hired public opinion experts to play their roles
    as neutral reporters of the news, who narrate what viewers are supposed
    to believe is the unvarnished truth, interspersed with 12 minutes
    of ads, five nights a week. Or, in this case, a one-hour special
    on Sunday evening.

    Interview by interview, Brokaw was playing the prosecuting attorney,
    establishing a case against senior executives who in fact seem to
    have broken no laws. When we see something like this, we should
    recognize the presence of a hidden agenda: laying the ground work
    for another round of statist intervention into the capital markets.

    Global Crossing was a classic example of an empty shell, a multi-billion
    dollar product of media hype and central bank monetary inflation.
    George Gilder was the main hypester here. This poor soul actually
    believes his own technobabble. He invested most of his own money
    in this turkey. It was madness to the nth degree. Gilder kept writing
    in the 1990’s about the falling price of bandwidth, i.e., the wonders
    of what he called the telecosm. (I saw his book, Telecosm,
    in the $3.98 remaindered books bin at Hastings recently.) I accepted
    his theory about the falling price of bandwidth. I was not equally
    impressed by his claim that this would in some way revolutionize
    the lives of Americans. One of my doubts about the incomparable
    benefits of cheap bandwidth is the speed of modems, which has peaked
    for years at 56k. The vast majority of Internet users still use
    56k modems, and seem vaguely contented, including me.

    Gilder then drew an economically insane conclusion from his theory
    of ever-cheaper bandwidth: the greatest company in the world was
    a company that spent billions of dollars on buying or laying fiber
    cable to supply bandwidth. I read his reports on Global Crossing
    at the time and thought, “This man has lost his ability to think
    economically. If the price of something is heading relentlessly
    toward zero, then the last thing you want to invest in is a company
    that sells this product. You may want to invest in companies that
    add value for consumers by converting this depreciating asset into
    usable services or goods, but not the seller of the asset.” My suspicion
    was correct. Global Crossing went bust.

    The man who ran it, Gary Winnick, sold 30% of his shares in three
    separate unloadings, took in $735 million, and bought a $90 million
    estate in Bel Air, California. (Why any home is worth $90 million
    in the smog-filled Los Angeles basin, I cannot imagine.) This, of
    course, is supermoney
    in action, as described a generation ago by “Adam Smith,” and praised
    ever since as capitalism’s ninth wonder of the world. (The eighth
    wonder is compound interest.) NBC got finally it right. Supermoney
    is indeed a system based on the principle of “take the money and
    run.” Supermoney is based on a premise: “A fool and his money are
    soon parted.” CNBC and other Tout TV channels created a huge market
    of these fools, and, sure enough, they and their money were soon
    parted.

    Of course, all of this is peanuts compared to the level of the deliberate
    deception by the West’s welfare states with respect to their pay-as-you-go
    compulsory retirement programs and compulsory health insurance programs.
    Nothing that Global Crossing or Enron did can compare with what
    Social Security/Medicare has done to, and will continue to do to
    the masses who got in on this compulsory Ponzi scheme late (after
    1955). Nothing that Arthur Andersen did can compare to what Congress
    has done, namely, to count $25 trillion of unfunded liabilities
    as off-budget liabilities, and therefore not reported in the budget
    statistics, and not limited by the automatic annual increase in
    the Federal budget ceiling. If you doubt me, order my report on
    the bankruptcy of these systems. Click here,
    and then click “SEND.”

    But NBC, CBS, and ABC never air a program called “Account Overdrawn:
    The Social Security Trust Fund.” That would undermine trust in the
    government. Their shows are designed to undermine trust in the free
    market, not trust in the welfare state.

    It amuses me to see the prime time big brother of CNBC wring its
    hands in horror. “Blame the CEO’s!” No, blame the politics of envy.
    Once again, those fools who believed the pied piper’s story of wealth
    for all through government-regulated, central bank-funded intervention
    into the free market have had their money removed from them by sharpies.

    The NBC show was about poorly invested pension fund money. Well,
    this disaster has only just begun. It will play out for the next
    forty years, getting ever worse. The model of self-conscious deception
    of the public is the Social Security system, the most untouchable
    of all government programs of compulsory wealth extraction. Those
    who still vote for politicians who promise to continue this theft
    will find themselves ruined. I cannot resist citing Karl Marx: “The
    expropriators are expropriated.” He was speaking of capitalists.
    I am speaking of voters who vote to provide old age security for
    themselves at the expense of workers still in the labor force, and
    who will find, as Pogo Possum found, that “We have met the victims,
    and they are us.”

    MAKING THINGS WORSE

    Economist Thomas Sowell recently hit the nail on the head. The great
    threat to our prosperity is not the popping of Greenspan’s stock
    market bubble. The threat is what the government is likely to do
    to fix things. He wrote:

    What
    can be even worse than a stock market crash — including the great
    crash of 1929 — are politicians rushing in to fix things. At one
    time, it was widely assumed that the 1929 crash led directly to
    the Great Depression that lasted throughout the decade of the
    1930s. Now, more and more people who have studied that era have
    come to see what the government itself did to help as being the
    biggest reason why the depression went so deep and lasted so long.

    The
    economist who first proved this was Murray Rothbard, in his book,
    America’s
    Great Depression
    (1963). I read it the year it was published.
    It convinced me. It is the best book ever written on the topic.
    It was savagely attacked in academic journals at the time and then
    ignored by the academic community. Rothbard blamed Hoover’s interventionist
    policies, thereby alienating Republican apologists, and he blamed
    the Federal Reserve System’s monetary policies in the 1920’s, thereby
    alienating the bankers, the FED, and conventional free market economists.
    Not until the master historian, Paul Johnson, wrote Modern
    Times
    (1983), and made Rothbard’s book the basis of his
    analysis of the Great Depression, did Rothbard receive even grudging
    credit. Sowell quotes Rothbard’s conclusion, but not the source:

    Neither
    Republican President Herbert Hoover or his Democratic successor
    Franklin D. Roosevelt had a clue about economics or a policy that
    made any sense.

    Both sought
    to keep prices — including wages — up, despite the fact
    that the money supply had declined by one third. How was the country
    supposed to buy all the output at existing prices, and employ
    all the workers at existing wages, when there was so much less
    money? . . .

    In reality,
    it was Hoover — not FDR — who became the first president
    to throw the power of the federal government into the effort to
    get the country out of a depression. In recent years, it has become
    more widely acknowledged that Roosevelt’s New Deal was essentially
    Hoover’s policies raised to the next exponent, spending on a more
    lavish scale and saddling the country with counterproductive programs
    that have lasted into the next century.

    This was Rothbard’s thesis in 1963, and it was ridiculed. His thesis
    has yet to work its way into the history textbooks. The textbooks,
    bought by government-funded schools to promote faith in the government’s
    funding of everything, do not deviate from the original propaganda
    campaign of the New Deal: “Roosevelt saved capitalism from itself.”

    We are now seeing the latest application of this false claim. The
    Democrats are going to ride into control of Congress this fall with
    a campaign based on this claim: “We need to save capitalism from
    itself.” They will not show the film clips of Global Crossing’s
    Gary Winnick playing golf with Bill Clinton. They will tar and feather
    the Republicans, as if this corrupt stock market were not a bipartisan
    disaster that has been funded by the supposedly independent, supposedly
    non-political Federal Reserve System.

    You may not believe me. OK, test me. Click through on this link.
    It will take you to a graph. The graph reveals the expansion of
    MZM (money of zero maturity). With this graph, things will become
    clearer as to why the mania of 1995 to March of 2000 took place.

    http://www.economagic.com/em-cgi/charter.exe/fedstl/mzmsl

    This chart is from http://www.economagic.com,
    a marvelous statistical site. You can play around with the chart.
    Use the options box. It starts in 1990. Insert 1975. You can see
    why the dollar has fallen in value. You should set the chart to
    show recessions. But before you have fun with this chart, look at
    what happened in 1993—94. There was a slight decline in MZM.
    But, beginning in 1995, the graph shoots up rapidly. This is when
    the stock market boom turned into a stock market mania. This is
    what turned the NASDAQ into a bubble. Look at what happened to the
    NASDAQ, beginning in 1995..

    http://bigcharts.marketwatch.com/quickchart/quickchart.asp?symb=NASDAQ&sid=3291&o_symb=NASDAQ&freq=2&time=13

    The
    relationship is even closer for the New York Stock Exchange Composite
    Index.

    http://bigcharts.marketwatch.com/quickchart/quickchart.asp?symb=NYA&sid=3277&o_symb=NYA&freq=2&time=13

    What is ahead for us? Maybe a replay of the 1929 stock market. Again,
    quoting Dr. Sowell:

    Not only
    the Federal Reserve and two presidents managed to make the Great
    Depression worse, so did Congress. When it passed the Hawley-Smoot
    tariff of 1930, it contributed to a worldwide contraction in international
    trade, as country after country tried to “save jobs” by protectionism.

    Bush has already raised tariffs on imported steel. He has shown,
    once again, that the Republicans have learned nothing since Hoover.
    Bush has yet to veto any bill. He signed the agriculture subsidy,
    a gigantic subsidy to large-scale corporate farming, which of course
    was passed in the name of helping the family farm.

    Sowell continued:

    This year’s
    scandals and stock market collapse could not have come at a worse
    time, with an election coming up and no other big issues around
    for politicians to use. It is also worth noting that there are
    only two economists in Congress and hundreds of lawyers, ready
    to say and do whatever will look good and feel good at the moment.

    One of these two economists, House Majority leader Dick Armey, has
    announced that he will not run again. It is clear what is coming:
    a bipartisan extension of government control over the capital markets,
    which will match the extension of government control over the communications
    system through the Homeland Security system. NBC needs to do a one-hour
    special, “Take the Constitution and Run.” Somehow, I don’t expect
    to see this.

    CONCLUSION

    The vultures are circling. They appear to be feasting on corpses,
    but they will soon produce an assembly line of corpses: the picking
    away of our liberties. The voters will go along with this.

    This is not the pathway to Dow 36000.

    July
    31, 2002

    Gary
    North is the author of Mises
    on Money
    . Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
    For a free subscription to Gary North’s twice-weekly economics newsletter,
    click
    here
    .

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