by Gary Christenson, Miles Franklin:
Intense sunshine beamed down upon the canyons of Wall Street, illuminating potholes, dark alleys, secrets and mass delusions. Most people paid no attention because phones, the impeachment circus, Facebook posts, stock prices, and money worries distracted them.
It was a normal day.
I took a random walk down Wall Street, checked my phone for useless news and accidentally stepped into a cosmic wormhole or time-warp.
Perhaps it was only a deep hole in the sidewalk.
Like Alice, I fell head over heels, and dropped my precious phone. My New York financial world faded, and blackness enveloped me.
To my surprise, I landed softly on my feet in a huge underground cavern with marble floors and dim glowing lights. Stunned by the silence instead of New York street noise and pollution, I stared in awe at the blemished walls of the cavern. It smelled like ancient mold and burnt toast.
Was I safe? What creatures lived in the cavern? I heard scurrying noises and worried about blood-sucking parasites.
Moments later a man emerged from the interior. His suit and shoes suggested immense wealth. A self-satisfied smile, balding head, facial hair, and intelligent eyes reminded me of a former head of the Federal Reserve. “Hello, I’m an artificial intelligence machine programmed to guide you on a tour of our facility. You may address me as Mr. Robot.”
Creepy! His voice sounded contrived, like a married politician lying about a mistress and a $20 million payoff. “Where am I?”
“Oh, sorry. You’ve arrived in Never Never Fed Land, an imaginary world, but similar to the world you left. Let’s begin your tour. Follow me.”
He led me through a grey stone archway toward a black door labeled One, stopped and smiled. “Inside this door the Fractional Reserve Banking Magic Money Machine operates day and night. It is our finest achievement. Watch and I’ll demonstrate.” Mr. Robot plucked a briefcase off the floor. He opened it and showed me stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills. “This case contains one million dollars. I printed them last night. Now observe our magic.”
He opened the door and tossed the case inside the room. I peeked inside and smelled sulfurous fumes and brimstone odors. Flames surged behind monstrous machines. Hideous screams from inside the room frightened me. I retreated several paces.
“Don’t worry. We have everything under control. You’ll soon see the magic.”
To my surprise, a short bald creature with pale blotchy skin and a large forehead emerged, pushing a cart that held ten identical briefcases. The creature glared at me and announced, “Sir, here are your ten million newly created dollars. May fractional reserve banking live forever.” He left the cart and ten million dollars, turned and marched into the room.
“I told you this was a fabulous process. Insert one million and a moment later they return ten million.” He pushed the cart toward an elevator, pressed the “Up” button, and shoved the cart into the elevator. “We do it hundreds of times every day. The elevator takes the new dollars to our affiliates on the earth’s surface.”
Mr. Robot smiled at me, but his eyes looked glassy and crazy. Perhaps an algorithm in his programming needed updating.
“Now I’ll show you room two. We call it the “Hypothecation Room.” He led me deeper into the cavern and I followed, intrigued.
At door two he stopped and said, “Inside I’ll show you a modern marvel.” Another self-satisfied smile crossed his face, but his eyes widened into a deranged stare.
Mr. Robot unlocked the door and waved me inside. I was unimpressed. A single bar of gold sat on a steel table in the center of the room. A small computer screen blinked at me from a nearby desk. He said, “That is a 400-ounce good delivery gold bar with 99.5% purity. It’s worth $600,000 dollars in today’s market, and far more in coming years.”
This bored me. “So what? And how do you know it’ll be worth more in coming years? Gold is gold.” I thought this room and his excitement were a waste of time.
“You don’t understand the big picture. We print dollars in room One, which means we devalue all existing dollars. That was true fifty years ago, is true today, and will stay true in coming decades. The bar of gold will sell for a million dollars soon, and eventually ten million dollars. It’s just a matter of time and how rapidly the creatures in room One print new dollars.”
“Okay, so everything costs more. Old news.”
Mr. Robot gleefully rubbed his hands together and pointed at the computer screen. “There is the rest of the story.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You see one bar of physical gold. Now watch this.” He pressed a button on the keyboard and a nearby printer spit out a stack of official looking certificates. “We have one hundred certificates that assure the bearers they own this bar of gold. Some banks sell or lease the same bar a hundred times and never deliver it. This bar has sat here for decades, but we’ve printed and sold many certificates.” He flashed a fiendish smile.
I was skeptical. “This scam actually works? You sell the same bar of gold a hundred times, collect payments from a hundred people and never get caught?”
“We make the rules. Brilliant isn’t it? Occasionally we have a problem, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. The dollars arrive by the truckload, we shove them into room number One, conjure even more dollars, and keep the game moving. We lift the new dollars in the elevator, make people happy, and the Wall Street economy booms. We sell lots of paper gold and seldom mess with the real stuff.” He waived me forward.
I walked behind him feeling stunned. I mumbled, “How do they keep this nonsense working?” That’s when I realized the price I had paid for financial ignorance and my addiction to distractions.
Mr. Robot stopped and looked at me. “You look overwhelmed. I could show you other rooms, but it’s time we moved into the museum section of our cavern.” He took a left turn and said, “Follow me.”
We walked to a room marked Museum Room Six. He pressed a button, and the door slid open. Glass display cases held hundreds of paper currencies. “Here you see a display of dead currencies. People used them for daily purchases until governments replaced them or they became worthless.”
I asked, “What happened?”