What collateral do nations use when they borrow? Land and the natural resources on that land – according to John Perkins’ groundbreaking book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman.” Perkins spent years working for global banks that lured third-world countries into taking out huge loans for hospitals, schools, highways, dams and other necessities, as well as luxuries. Superficially, this appeared benign if not altruistic. In reality, according to Perkins, it was ultra-predatory lending aimed only at maximizing corporate profits. Income from loan interest was but the iceberg’s tip. The modus operandi was allowing (convincing?) governments to borrow more than they could repay. When default occurred, the banks confiscated all collateral – for instance land with diamonds, gold, timber or other resources – at a fraction of its market value. They also bought up industries at bargain rates.
While reading Perkins’ book, I took comfort in the “knowledge” that the same things couldn’t happen here in America, where we supposedly didn’t need collateral for our national debt, at least so long as that debt was a tiny fraction our annual GNP.
However, with economies across the globe plunging into recession and perhaps heading into depression, I have to question whether even the USA can keep borrowing without offering substantial collateral. And borrow we must just to maintain our normal economy, to say nothing of funding hundreds of billions of dollars in bail-outs.
If global banks use the same strategy here that they use with third-world countries, one major source of collateral would be the natural resources on America’s federal and state lands.
It was thus with great interest that I read Derry Brownfield’s OpEdNews piece “The SCAM behind NAIS - "Our Land: Collateral for the National Debt." He may be right that the focus is on lands set aside for environmental conservation, such as national parks and heritage sites. However, from an economic standpoint, better collateral would be public lands rich in petroleum, natural gas, coal, hard rock minerals, timber, and other valuable resources on BLM lands, national forests, and the continental shelf. Even if ownership isn’t transferred to the banks, effective control could be surrendered.
All those puzzle pieces fell into place while I was working out a theme for my next book. What a great plot for a conspiracy novel! Now that mid-Eastern countries control banks with more money than Allah, I could imagine them lending America and Americans massive amounts of money for domestic projects, foreign aid and wars. Finally, when America is over-extended beyond all redemption, the global banks would jerk out the rug and bring our economy down like a house of cards – much as the Soviet Union came crashing down after being bankrupted by their war in Afghanistan.
Enriching the credit crisis theme would be sub plots about lobbyists blocking attempts to make America energy-independent, and about dumping untold riches into small wars, and allowing the decay of our physical infrastructure, exporting manufacturing industries overseas, crippling of our public school system, and selling out our leadership in technological innovation by letting our universities train foreign students in critical sciences, math and engineering, while American students watch TV, play video games, and fantasize about “effortless” riches from careers on Wall Street or as music stars and professional athletes. Once countries with cheap labor had enough factories and highly educated personnel, as well as a global fiberoptic web, massive outsourcing would be inevitable. Bye bye the manufacturing capability that enabled America to triumph in two world wars. Bye bye technical leadership in cutting edge technologies such as computer chip and software design and production that will determine who wins the next global conflict. Other subplots would involve global crime syndicates like those documented in books like McMafia (Misha Glenny), Crimes of Patriots (Jonathan Kwitny), Legacy of Ashes (Tim Weiner), and Crossing the Rubicon: Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil (Michael Ruppert).
Writing those parts of the novel would be easy. But where to go from there? Would the global banks buy up America on the cheap, injecting money back into our economy, but ever after controlling our politics through lobbyists? That in turn would give them control of our military and para-military (e.g., Blackwater) to enforce their will here and abroad. Or would the banks simply leave us a smoking ruin, at the mercy of some newly emergent mid-Eastern super power?
Finally, depending on which of those scenarios I chose to follow in the novel, how could we ever regain control of our economy, government, and democracy?
Brick wall. I’m not an economist, a banker or a business mogul. Envisioning the bare bones of the story was easy. But fleshing it out was beyond me; anyway it seemed too far-fetched even for fiction. So I shelved the project, hoping that someone like Tom Clancy would one day come up with a similar idea and develop a first rate thriller.
That’s how far my thinking had gotten as of August 2008. Little did I dream of how far America was already over-extended on borrowing, or how fast and far our economy could plunge. Nor did I imagine that we would funnel hundreds of billions of dollars in bail-out welfare back into the same banks that “managed” the collapse; and then consider giving control of those banks to the Federal Reserve – yet another corporation beholden less to the American public, than to its own stockholders?
Available evidence blames Wall Street’s problems on mistakes and greed by our fellow Americans, not on some global conspiracy. Yet, looked at from a novelist’s perspective, I can’t but wonder whether there’s more going on than meets the eye, and whether evidence against conspiracy is really strong enough to make the novel totally implausible.