Prison reform: Apparently it’s a bad idea to put everyone in jail?

The U.S. has a problem.

Um, everyone is in jail.

WorldIncarceration

Oops, we imprisoned everyone.

How did this happen? What caused it?

Well, let’s look at the historical data.

ImprisonmentRate

(Source)

More people have been incarcerated since 1980 than ever before in U.S. history, and if this policy worked, you would think we would have a lower homicide rate that correlates.

HomicideRate

(Source)

But it doesn’t correlate.

Here is an overlay of the two for better comparison.

PrisonOverlay

Despite the dramatic rise of incarceration rates since 1980, it was a whole decade later, not until 1990, that it took for homicide rates to go down.

I chose homicide rates instead of say, violent crime rates because it is a better indicator of crime than property theft or all criminal activity combined. People tend to report murder and there is better documentation of that particular crime than something like domestic violence or rape.

Who is in prison?

incarcerationdemographics

 

  • Black men make up only 13% of the US population, but constitute 40% of prisoners. (Source, Source)
  • In contrast, white men make up 64% of the US population, but make up 39% of the incarcerated population. (SourceSource)
  • Men make up 50% of the population and yet, they are 82% of prisoners. (Source)
  • 64% of jail inmates have a mental health problem (Source)

 

What crimes are being committed?

crimebyoffense

Overwhelmingly, violent crime is the #1 reason for imprisonment.

What can be done to reform prisons?

  1. Rehabilitate the prisoner
  2. Make sliding scale bail

1. Rehabilitate the prisoner

In a 20 year study on prisoner rehabilitation, evidence was shown that a program of “cognitive behavioral therapy,” reduced recidivism rates in prisoners. The findings are as follows:

  • Without treatment, 82% returned to prison
  • With treatment, 61% returned to prison

With treatment we see a drop of 21% in recidivism rates. (Source)

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Briefly, CBT is changing your unhelpful or dysfunctional thought patterns in order to reduce negative or unwanted actions or emotions. Healthy thought patterns are taught to the client, as well as effective emotional regulation skills. The idea is that when thoughts are changed, behaviors and emotions follow.

For example:

Rob has a problem with how to effectively manage his anger. His girlfriend made a comment he perceived as offensive, so he punched a hole in the wall of their home. Rob feels terrible about scaring his wife and damaging the house.

Rob sees his therapist who suggests they do a “behavioral experiment.” Next Rob gets angry, the therapist suggests he physically leave the room, and try to distract himself from thinking about what he is so angry about, until he feels calmer. Then, at his next session, he compares how the experiment went.

Next session, Rob comes in and he explains that he carried out the behavioral experiment when his wife upset him again. He explains that when he got angry, he left the room and played solitaire on the computer until he calmed down. Then he returned to his wife, and while he did raise his voice, he did not resort to violence this time.

The therapist asks him how the experimental behavior went compared to his status quo reaction to anger. He admits that it went much better in the experimental condition because he didn’t feel regret that he had gotten violent or scared his wife. The therapist asks if he would give the technique a try again next time. He agrees that he would be open to trying the experiment again in the future.

This is a very simplified example, but it provides an idea of what cognitive behavioral therapy might look like in a particular instance.

Rehabilitation is not without controversy though. Many people find it morally wrong to offer easy access to mental health care for prisoners, when non-prisoners don’t get the same benefit.

I have a few things to say about that.

For one, I think everyone should have easier access to mental healthcare, prisoner or not. That is a failing of government as well as our culture as whole. $23,000 is spent per prisoner on incarceration facilities, per year. Over the past 20 years, this spending has increased and outpaced spending on essential government services such as education and public assistance. (Source) It begs the question, if we spent the money being funneled into prisons on non-prisoner social services, would we see a decrease in crime rates?

We don’t have an answer to that because it hasn’t been done, but isn’t it worth trying something other than continuing the status quo?

2. Make sliding scale bail

Bail as it is currently being utilized discriminates against the impoverished.

For example:

James allegedly possessed cocaine and is in jail awaiting trial. His bail is set at $25,000. Luckily, James has his own paper business and has enough money to pay some of the bail, which makes him less of a credit risk to the bail bondsman that gets him out. He can also pay back the bond because he has a high enough income.

Chris is not so fortunate. He also allegedly possessed cocaine and is in jail awaiting trial. His bail is also set at $25,000. The problem is though, Chris works as a temporary laborer and only has $500 to his name. The bail bondsman is less likely to give him the full bond considering his employment is spotty, he doesn’t have very much up front cash, and he is a high credit risk. He’s also unsure if he will ever be able to pay back the $25,000 to the bondsman anyway. Chris has little choice and stays in jail until his trial begins.

People like Chris make up an overwhemingly large percentage of those imprisoned. In New York city alone, 31% of non-felony defendants stay in jail because they cannot post the $500 bail. (Source)

After getting out of jail, people like Chris are less likely to be able to find a job or keep the one they had. Employers don’t tend to want to hire people who have a criminal record. It also difficult to find housing because of the same reason. This increases the likelihood that the ex-prisoner, guilty or not, is going to end up homeless.

Another thought I couldn’t find much research on was, does going to prison make an otherwise functional citizen more likely to commit crime?

My intuition tells me that it does. Prisons are more likely to breed violence or abuse and I have a hard time believing a person is not negatively impacted by that. I imagine going to prison is a trauma and like most people who experience trauma, there are repercussions. I think people coming out of any abusive environment are at higher risk of becoming abusive themselves.

If people like Chris were given a reduced bail, according to their income level, he would be less likely to be at risk for committing criminal acts because he would spend less time in the highly mentally disruptive prison environment.

Bail was originally supposed to exist to reduce the likelihood that someone was a flight risk by exchanging their money for their freedom before their trial. Presently, it allows people with money who are dangerous to be set free and those with less money who are not dangerous to be imprisoned, as well as, potentially creating more prisoners out of those who are jailed and poor, but innocent of their crime.

The best treatment for mental health distress we have to date

A word on the DSM and it’s credibility: It is my opinion, as someone actually at a university who is studying mental health care, is that there is scientific evidence being incorporated more and more into the DSM. But, diagnosis in general is considered by many, past and present day, in the mental health industry as possibly unnecessary, and possibly even damaging.

For example, regardless of if you have schizophrenia or not, regardless of if it’s mostly genetic, the treatment that is most effective doesn’t drastically change. Cognitive behavioral therapy has the most research behind it, and has now been shown to be more effective than medication for a long, exhaustive list of disorders.

Here is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in a simple, easy to understand visual. Although it includes a vast array of techniques, this is a good 101.

CBTgraphic

(Source)

Basically, boiled down for time, everything affects everything. An event happens > followed by thoughts > followed by emotions, behavior, and physical reactions. So the thinking is, you can’t control the situation, but you can alter your thoughts. And thinking alternative, evidence based thoughts, actually tends to make people healthier. This reduces the negative emotions, behaviors, and physical reactions that result from the event and the thoughts.

CBT is solution focused and action oriented. Instead of looking for unconscious meaning behind behaviors and diagnosis, Behaviorism (part of CBT) thinks of something for example, depression, as a connection between a feared stimulus, an avoidance response. This results in a conditioned fear. Cognitive therapists think conscious thoughts influence behavior. The Cognitive and Behaviorist approach were combined to create what we now call Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (Source)

What are some CBT techniques?

Some coping skills that are taught in CBT are challenging or debating patterns and beliefs, and replacing them with healthier patterns and beliefs.

For example, some unhealthy thoughts might be overgeneralizing, looking for evidence of the negative only, minimizing positives, and catastrophizing. Coming up with more realistic explanations or cognitions decreases emotions distress and self-defeating behavior. (Source)

Other techniques are distraction, imagery, motivational self-talk, relaxation, minimizing negative or self-defeating thoughts, slow exposure to anxiety-provoking events, and goal setting.

This causes cognitive restructuring. The brain has neuroplasticity and can change. CBT actually modifies the neural circuits involved in regulation of negative emotions and fear extinction. It is able to change dysfunctions of the nervous system. This was discovered using neuroimaging techniques on neurobiological changes related to CBT before and after treatment. (Source)

These are some of the condition CBT has shown to be effective for:

  1. mood
  2. anxiety
  3. personality
  4. eating
  5. addiction
  6. dependence
  7. tics
  8. psychotic disorders
  9. schizophrenia
  10. fibromyalgia
(Lambert MJ, Bergin AE, Garfield SL (2004). “Introduction and Historical Overview”. In Lambert MJ. Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (5th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 3–15)

CBT in the short term is equivalent in effectiveness as medication. Long term, it is superior to medication. In a meta-analysis (comparison of many studies), after 16 weeks of treatment, 58.3% of patients felt relief from depression, versus 57.5% for the antidepressant. Later, medication patients were switched to placebo over the course of 12 months. The CBT group discontinued therapy except for 3 “booster sessions” over the course of the same 12 months. After 1 year, 76% of patients on the placebo relapsed into depression, while only 31% of CBT clients relapsed into depression. (Hollon SD et al, Arch Gen Psychiatry 2005;62(4):417–422)

What causes autism and what is the most effective treatment?

First of all, how does autism manifest?

Behavioral: inappropriate social interaction, poor eye contact, compulsive behavior, impulsivity, repetitive movements, self-harm, or persistent repetition of words or actions
Developmental: learning disability or speech delay in a child
Cognitive: intense interest in a limited number of things or problem paying attention
Psychological: unaware of others’ emotions or depression
Also common: anxiety, change in voice, sensitivity to sound, or tic

Autism rates have been going up since we first started diagnosing it as autism.

AutismPrevalence

Why is this?

Initially, we want to say it’s because something is causing it to grow in number. Which might be true, might not be true, there is still research being done on the topic. But something that is interesting to note is diagnosis has changed since 1975.

What is the DSM and who writes it?

The DSM was originally created from collecting census and psychiatric hospital statistics, as well as a United States Army manual.

However, it is controversial.

The National Institute of Mental Health criticizes the manual as being unscientific and subjective. They state that the DSM has a lack of reliability because unlike physical symptoms such as heart disease or AIDS, the measures are on a consensus of clinical symptoms and not any objective laboratory measure. “In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever.

More and more, psychologists are finding the “biopsychosocial model” to be a more accurate representation of mental distress. The idea is that there are more than just a hand full of superficial criterion that make up mental health. It used to be that biology was considered the biggest factor at play, but these days, with all of the newest research coming out, we are finding that it’s more complex than that, and many, many factors contribute to it.

Here are some examples

BioPsychoSocial

(Source)

The DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychological Association, is the Bible to the medical community. It is used to diagnose mental disorders.

And it’s changed over time.

DSM-I (1952) Autism-like symptoms were first classified as, “childhood schizophrenic“.

DSM-II (1968) The diagnostic criteria for childhood schizophrenic became broadened to include, “autistic, atypical, and withdrawn behavior.”

DSM-III (1980) “Infantile autism” was now included. Only 6 characteristics were listed and all must have been present in order to receive the diagnosis. “These changes in the field yielded a rapid increase in the number of individuals being diagnosed with autism” (Factor, Freeman, & Kardash, 1989)

DSM-IV (1994) Subtypes were added to the autism diagnosis. It grew from 6 to 16 symptoms and only 6 were needed for diagnosis. Now “qualitative impairment of social interaction” was included. It also included repetitive behavior, an impairment in communication. Onset must have been prior to age 3 though.

Here are other symptoms that were listed:

  1. lack of social or emotional reciprocity
  2. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic lanaguage
  3. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.

DSM-5 (2013) Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, which were previously considered as part of the autism spectrum, were removed.

Now, in order for diagnosis, a person must show all symptoms of social interaction and communication impairment, and additionally, 2 signs of repetitive behavior.

Asperger’s Syndrome has also been added under the umbrella of the autism spectrum.

So this is at least part of the responsibility for why incidence of autism have gone up. The diagnostic criteria has changed to become more broad. It’s not clear in the research if autism prevalence is also going up besides diagnostic criteria changing.

A word on the DSM and it’s credibility: It is my opinion, as someone actually at a university, who is studying mental health care, there is scientific evidence being incorporated more and more into the DSM. But, diagnosis in general is considered by many, past and present day, in the mental health industry as possibly unnecessary, and possibly even damaging.

For example, regardless of if you have autism or asperger’s, regardless of it being genetic, the treatment that is most effective doesn’t drastically change. Applied Behavioral Analysis has been shown to be more most effective, and the sooner the treatment is received, the better.

The most effective treatment for autism: Applied Behavioral Analysis

Specifically the Lovaas model, is a type of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) created by a psychology professor at UCLA. It incolved breaking down skills to their basic components, rewarding positive performance with praise and reinforcers, and then generalizing skills in a natural setting. The results are gaining language, academic, and basic living skills, while some children can even fully recover!

Applied behavioral analysis includes this model as well as data collection and replacement behavior strategies in order to understand and change behavior.

The evidence for effectiveness

EffectivenessOfABA

As you can see in the graph above, Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention has been shown to be superior to the control group of children who did not receive the treatment. In 47% of children receiving the treatment for an average of 40 hours a week, they were placed in regular classroom and considered, “indistinguishable” from their peers in follow-up studies.

The unfortunate part of this highly effective treatment is that the estimated cost for 40 hours of treatment a week is about $4,000 a month, with an average yearly cost of $40,000. However, many, many healthcare providers providing a sliding scale payment system based on the income of the family coming in for services.

Now. The biggest question we all have. What causes autism?

Just like the biopsychosocial model, there is not one cause of autism.

  1. It seems to be mostly genetic. It tends to run in families, or the families have related disabilities. It is not a single gene that contributes, and scientists and researchers are currently looking for irregular segments of genetic code. Genetics is currently considered the most significant cause of autism spectrum disorders. Studies of identical twins have shown heritability to be 90%. However, most cases of ASD have no recent evidence of family history

GenetisADS

(Source)

2. Brain shape and structure. Brain scans have shown a different shape and structure of the brain than neurotypical children.

3. Certain medical conditions such as fragile X syndrome (found in 20% of boys with autism), tuberus sclerosis, congenital rubella syndrom, and phenylketonuria.

4. Some ingested harmful substances during pregnancy.

5. De novo copy number variation (CNV) is when deletions and duplication occurs in DNA. This gene has been shown to contribute to 5-10% of cases of ASD.

6. Coding protein mutations are observed in approximately 20% of individuals with autism.

7. Age of the father, because sperm and eggs tend to mutate and wear down as they age. Chromosomal abnormalities also increase with age. ASD children of men over 40 years or older were 5.75 times more likely to have ASD after controlling for year of birth, socioeconomic status, and maternal age. Maternal age was not found to be associated with ASD, but is associated with chromosomal abnormalities.

Egg abnormalities increase with age 

EggAbnormalities

(Source)

MenBirthDefects

(Source)

8. Prenatal causes: in a meta-analysis of 40 studies, it has been connected that autism is also contributed to pregnancy such as diabetes, bleeding, psychiatric drugs, and stress.

9. Out of all the non-genetic factors for infectious processes, prenatal viral infection seems to be the principal cause of autism. Exposure to rubella or cytomegalovirus are viruses that activate the mother’s immune response and greatly increases the risk for autism, as well as schizophrenia. If this happens earlier in pregnancy, the chances increase.

10. Fetal testosterone levels in amniotic fluid have exhibited in several reports to be a contributor. This may also explain why boys are more likely to develop ASD than girls. One hypothesis is that it moves brain development closer to ability to see patterns, analyze complex systems, and diminishes communication and empathy. These behaviors are shown in individuals with autism.

11. Lead blood levels are significantly higher in autistic children than neurotypical children, some think this is what leads autistic children to develop pica, eating things such as chalk, glue, or dirt. However, it is not known for sure.

Things that do not cause autism

  1. Vaccines. Study after study after study has not proven a single connection between vaccines and autism. One or two particular studies showed a correlation but they were debunked, and the people who made the studies had their medical licenses taken away for fraud. Most children are diagnosed with autism around the same age that vaccines are introduced, leading parents to believe the vaccine is the cause of ASD. There is no sound evidence of this.
  2. Mother’s age is not correlated with autism.
  3. Ultrasounds
  4. Other things that do not cause autism: gastrointestinal (even though autistic children are more likely to have GI symptoms than atypical children) or immune system abnormalities, “vaccine overload”, allergies, exposure of children to drugs, mercury, dental fillings, infection, certain foods, or heavy metals. (Source, Source)
  5. Mothers not being affectionate with their children. (Bettelheim B. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. Free Press; 1967.)

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Why I fucking love talking about inflation, deflation, banking, the Great Depression and GOLD

Did you see this shit?

1280px-US_Historical_Inflation_Ancient

(Source)

I love old graphs. The farther back they go, the better. That way, you can get the big picture perspective on a subject. The problem with a lot of graphs is people think if they see a big line go up on a graph over the course of 5 years, that means something really, really bad happened or is going to happen. The truth is, 5 years is usually not enough data to make a generalization.

If a broker claimed that, if I invested with them, I would get a return of 150% because they had made that over the course of 5 years, I would tell them to fuck off and ask what they made in the previous 50 years. 5 years doesn’t tell you shit about an investment.

As you can see in the chart, historically, deflation and inflation were, most of the time, balancing each other out. But sometimes it’s not.

Why is that?

A lot of the time, it’s because of war and other forms of government influence. For example, in the chart, you can see around when WWII started and ended there was inflation, followed by a ton of deflation. Inflation and deflation work like weights on an old scale. If the market was a conscious brain, it would always be striving for balance, or as economists call it, equilibrium.

What goes up, must come down.

If you have a monopoly on the currency, though, then you can control it… at least most of the time. Most governments do this with some form of a central bank. Several small, island nations don’t have central banks though. (Source)

Equilibrium is a beautiful economic concept that makes me think of birds flying in formation without needing to talk to each other, or order in chaos, or even just human nature.

Equilibrium is the balance between the forces of supply and demand. It’s the point in a chart where the price is equal to the quantity.

Here’s a hot pic:

economics5

But along with market equilibrium AND human nature, comes the exceptions and the outside forces that can effect it.

Like, an entity, such as a government, that has a legal monopoly on currency. (Source) For example, the Federal Reserve in the U.S., instituted in 1913. They can set incentives to cause banks to lower or raise interest rates and they are the only ones allowed to print/inflate/deflate the currency. Which has been paying the bills for a long time. It has also been paying for the rapid rate American imperialism around the world.

And I think people might like it that way.

Having a national bank that is both private and public does have its advantages. For instance, people don’t know they’re being “taxed” in a way. The government doesn’t have to raise taxes, cut spending, or borrow from elsewhere to afford things. They can inflate the currency, by printing more of it into the marketplace, making it less valuable.

Here’s an example:

Say I have 3 Babe Ruth baseball cards and there’s only 100 in the world. It’s a rare baseball card, so it’s worth a lot of money. There were only 100 printed in the world. But say whoever prints baseball cards decides to print 1 trillion Babe Ruth baseball cards. Then what happens? Suddenly, my 3 Babe Ruth baseball cards are worth less money now, because all my friends on the block also have 3-5 Babe Ruth baseball cards. Now nobody is interested in buying a Babe Ruth baseball card, and there are so many of them, so people start using them as kindling for fires, because they’re more valuable as kindling.

That’s what happened, except with currency during the Weimar Republic (Germany). It would take wheel barrows full of paper currency to buy a loaf of bread, it was worth so little. So some found it more valuable to burn for warmth. That’s an extreme example of inflation: hyperinflation. But it hopefully shows an easier understanding of the concept.

money_to_burn

Historically, this happens a lot during wars. I’m pretty sure, because war is really, really expensive to fund. War isn’t the only reason, by far though.

WarAndInflation

War means inflation will go up, usually, because they go off the gold standard to “afford it.”

US_Unemployment_1890-2009

Always being at war makes unemployment a thing of the past!!!… Maybe?

What do gold and silver coins have to do with anything?

Everything.

Throughout history, since 600 B.C. to be more exact, (source) people have been using gold and silver on and off as currency. Off during times of war, when inflation is needed to pay the expenses of the war, and back on when the money becomes worthless because inflation has become too high.

The cool thing about commodities, like gold, is that the one that holds it value the most usually out competes the other monetary forms over time, historically. (Source) Hence, it’s historical popularity.

Lydian Lion coin. The world’s oldest coin, from what is now known as Turkey.

LydianLionCoin

This is an example of how it would work.

I would go to the bank with my paper $1 bill. Legally, I could go to my banker and say, I’d like to take out the equivalent of 1 paper dollar’s worth of silver. The banker would then weight out the silver, and give me the equivalent of 1 U.S. dollar piece of paper’s worth of silver, a certificate. I could then turn around and use it to pay for some groceries or something, or I could do the reverse.

I could go to the bank with my silver, and say, I’d like to get as much paper dollars as I can for this ounce of silver. Then, in return, the banker would give me a $1 paper bill, which I could then go buy groceries or something with.

And most people preferred to carry around the paper rather than a piece of metal. Just for convenience sake. Kind of like how plastic credit cards are easier than carrying around $1,000 in paper dollars these days.

Modern banking and the fractional reserve system

One of the issues I think will be seen as primitive in the future is how we have done banking historically.

I’m a fan of full-reserve banking, regardless of the doomsday naysayers who are akin to fortune tellers. And when I say full-reserve banking, I am meaning banks have to have an account with your name on it, and keep that money in your account on hand.

Wait a minute, banks don’t actually HAVE my money in my bank account?

No! It’s loaned out to other people! Complete strangers!

Which leads us to…

Modern banking, fractional reserve banking, which began with gold and silver roughly like this, in the 17th century:

Someone would go to the banker with something valuable they had, such as silver, which can be made into things or used as a store of value abstractly, like we do with paper currency. The banker would hold it for me and I would pay him to store it there, much like a storage unit.

That is full reserve banking.

But after 100 people did that, the banker would be left with storage unit after storage unit of valuable assets, just sitting there doing nothing.

So, he gives some of my silver to another person. The banker will charge that person interest, a borrowing fee, that builds and builds the longer he goes without paying it back, plus the fee/interest. The banker will get a cut AND I won’t have to pay the storage fee anymore.

That sounds like a deal.

The borrower goes out and buys materials to build a fishing net. Suddenly, he can catch way more fish to feed his family AND there’s fish left over to sell to others who don’t have nets or maybe aren’t very good fishermen but they’re good at something else they’d like to spend time doing. In exchange, people are giving the borrower money that not only pays back the amount borrowed, but ALSO the interest/banker’s fee, and ALSO more money (profit).

Everybody’s happy.

And that’s how it’s still done today, except with paper currency, not tied down by any value instrument at all. We call it fiat money and fractional reserve banking.

(Source: Money facts; 169 questions and answers on money – a supplement to A Primer on Money, with index, Subcommittee on Domestic Finance; U.S. Congress. House. Banking and Currency Committee.)

What the hell is fiat money?

Fiat money is a government mandate on what is declared legal tender. It is given a government determined value and is not tied to anything, such as a store of value, a commodity, anything. It is not representative money like gold certificates.

Here’s what’s weird though.

Fiat money has been used throughout history, and always fell out of favor and crashed due to inflation.

To put it in historical context, the world using fiat currency, as it does now, is not new, and it has only been since 1971 that we’ve been 100% using fiat money. Other countries had fiat currency around for sometimes as long as 100 years and sometimes only 20 years.

It has crashed before throughout history, and that doesn’t mean it can’t crash again. I think people get the idea that the government will take care of everything and smarter people are in charge so things like economic collapse won’t happen anymore.

Silly.

What goes wrong historically with banking

Now the banker is making the same deal with 70 of the 100 customers he has storing valuable assets in his storage (bank) where he is loaning out their assets in return for more money.

But I want my valuable asset (silver) back. Maybe I want to use it to make jewelry, maybe I want to give it to someone who desires it in exchange for something I desire like bananas or a massage. Anything.

No problem.

So the banker goes to get my silver. But he already lent it out to someone else who is using it and he’s waiting for them to pay it back.

Now the banker is faced with a dilemma.

He decides to borrow another customer’s silver to give to me while he waits for the silver/money to come back from the person who is borrowing my original silver.

What?

Things just got more complex.

What if 70 out of 100 people do that though? What if 70 out of his 100 customers wants their assets back?

Well, he just doesn’t have them.

And that’s the problem with fractional reserve banking. People eventually want their money/silver/valuable assets back at their convenience. They don’t want to wait on someone to pay back the banker who can then pay you back. And if 70 of the 100 people who are customers want their assets back all at once, the banker doesn’t have the assets to give it to them, and the bank goes bankrupt, has to close, and everyone has lost the assets AND money they put in.

That’s a run on the banks.

That’s what that looks like historically, that’s what it looked like during the Great Depression, and that’s what that looks like in modern day banking. BUT it’s a little different in modern banking and money.

The government requires banks to carry a certain, very small amount of deposits, only 4-6%. But we also have FDIC insurance, which is where the government guarantees that up to $250,000, you will be able to take your money out of your account, whenever you want, because they have the power to print limitless amounts of money, in case the bank doesn’t have it.

Regardless, throughout history, we keep doing it over, and over and over and the same thing happens: bank failures aka banks go bankrupt. There are long periods of time where they don’t go bankrupt, but eventually, they do.

BankFailures

That’s a financial fraud to me. It’s the same idea as Social Security and insurance. There’s no Social Security account with your name on it, holding all the money you’ve paid into it throughout your life. The money you are paying now goes to the people collecting Social Security NOW.

Insurance and social security requires a pool of more money coming in than is going out. A legal ponzi scheme, that if a private company does, they go to jail.

Which is why social security is about to become insolvent too, if something isn’t done to fix it, by someone much smarter than me.

SocialSecurity

If I run a bank and everyone is dropping off silver or gold, and more are dropping off assets than they are taking out, everyone looks like they’re getting richer. There’s more to lend and more profit can be made potentially and everyone is betting on more and more people to drop off their valuables, which the customer eventually plans to take out and retire on.

That’s what happened during the Great Depression.

Everyone who had invested their pennies or fortunes, depending on who you were, thought profits would go up forever, that the country was in a new age of progress, and so they invested more and more.

In 1913, the Federal Reserve Act instituted the Federal Reserve, and reduced the amount of gold backing the dollar had from 100% to 40%. This caused a fuckton of inflation.

Inflation made the economy look great. Everyone was getting credit and loans at unbelievable interest rates. Cities seemed to be built in a day. Everyone was getting jobs right off the boat, everyone saw their standard of living go up from where they had been before, and the stock market was booming. There seemed to be an endless supply of capital. Capital meaning something that increases the ability to make something. For example, a construction truck to build a house, or investment money from your uncle, or the stock market, or a credit card.

However, what goes up, must come down.

Eventually people wanted to collect and the money wasn’t there.

It started when Great Britain didn’t have the tax revenue to go to WWI, so they went off the gold standard.

Bold, underline, put. in. red. Blame the Brits!

There was a (compared to how we know it turned out later) “small” run on the British sterling, which caused Britain to put in exchange controls on their money that weakened the gold standard greatly, and caused a huge amount of inflation, because gold being tied to a currency stabilizes it so there’s not too much inflation.

UKInflation

Side note about how a gold standard works:

There is a limited amount of gold in the world, except what hasn’t been mined yet in the ocean, because the world doesn’t know how to mine for it yet. Because there’s a limited amount of gold, the price is relatively “fixed”. When tied with paper currency, we can, for example, say 1 piece of paper equals .5 ounce of gold, and we can keep it that way, because the price doesn’t fluctuate very much, without government intervention. But, that’s usually the way it goes.

Anyway, back to WWI and Great Britain and how them going off the gold standard started the Great Depression.

This worked like a domino effect on the American economy and then in the rest of the world later. I imagine because the history and economy of America and Britain are intertwined moreso than we were, at least at that time, with other countries.

So everybody panicked and took their money out of the stock market and the banks all at once in response.

Overnight, banks went bankrupt and the stock market had the biggest crash it had ever seen before.

This is an inflation adjusted, long term historical look at the stock market in the U.S.

StockMarket

Look! The stock market will go up forever!!!… Maybe?

As you can see, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably witnessed worse crashes happening to the stock market than the Great Depression. Isn’t that crazy to think? But more about that in another post.

Deflation during the Great Depression

The Federal Reserve responded to the crash by raising interest rates, in the hopes of increasing the demand for dollars. This just made the situation worse, as raising interest rates causes more deflation!

People started hoarding their money. They couldn’t trust to put it in the stock market or the banks because they could lose it. Businesses had to stop hiring and had to lay people off because they lost all their money that was in the bank. They had to close their shops because the investment money dried up when it was lost in the stock market. As people took their money out of the banks, there was less paper money in the marketplace, which made it more valuable. People didn’t spend what they had very much and knew it would be more valuable the next day anyway so they continued to hold onto it.

All of this compounded on itself and made the deflation even worse, a deflation spiral downward.

Look at the Great Depression and how peoples’ incomes dropped after the stock market crash.

GDPPerCapita

With no gold standard holding us back, growth in the economy will go up forever!!!… Maybe?

In 1934, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act, devaluing gold to 40% of its real value. Probably because they were hoping that devaluing gold would cause people to hold less gold, and inflate the currency more. That’s just conjecture though.

Unemployment: Great Depression vs. Great Recession

15% of the GDP was lost during the Depression, compared to the 1% that was lost during what is now called the Great Recession of 2007-08. 25% of people during the Great Depression became unemployed. 1 out of every 4 people you knew was unemployed. Compared to the Great Recession, which had a top unemployment rate of (by the government numbers) 5%. I think it was higher, however, because most sources I have read have stated such. Some saying it almost reached the height of the Great Depression.

Here is an alternate unemployment rate measurement. The larger measurement that shows a larger unemployment rate includes long term and short term discouraged workers, who were taken out of the official government measurement as recently as 1994.

UnemploymentRate

How America got out of the Great Depression: War

In 1934, the government nationalized all gold by ordering the banks to give their gold supply to the U.S. Treasury. They also suspended exchanging paper money for gold.

They raised the maximum income tax rate from 25% to 79% and the minimum income tax rate went from .375% to 4%. To put it in perspective, currently the maximum income tax rate is 55% and the minimum is 0%. Regardless, raising the income tax didn’t help get the country out of the Great Depression. Neither did President FDR’s New Deal. Not even a blip on the recovery radar.

IncomeTaxRates

And then World War II broke out.

The U.S. used to have a defense policy, meaning, don’t attack unless attacked first. Then the Japanese government bombed Pearl Harbor, and that sounded the alarm that it was time to go to war.

I think culture cannot be underestimated when it comes to things that seem to be laws like laws of economics. Americans, having seen their country under attack and fellow citizens killed in cold blood, became focused on justice and patriotism.

Men seemed less concerned about the huge national debt and new hefty taxes and instead ran to their local government offices asking what they could do to help the war effort. Sometimes this meant enlisting, sometimes this meant signing up for a large government contract.

The war was good for employment

As more men enlisted in the military and more businesses began to switch from whatever they were building before to war goods, unemployment numbers began to decline sharply from 25% to under 10%. Not only that, but as men were going to war, businesses, who had previously fired women who were working if their husbands already had jobs, were employing a whole 50% of the population (women) that they hadn’t been employing before. So then the employment numbers looked REALLY good. Everybody seemed to have a job, and a good job, a manufacturing job that produced real “stuff,” unlike the services based economy we have now.

There was more money entering the marketplace, trading hands within the country and outside of it, growing the economy. Or at least looking that way.

Women, employment, and equality

It is my opinion that the war also helped raise women’s standards of equality.

It used to be that men worked all week and handed over their paychecks to their wives on payday, so that she could pay the bills, go grocery shopping, and use it to basically run the household, while he headed to the bar to kick up his feet with his male pals at the end of the week. The women raised the children, the men helped make them, maybe played with them for a while, but mostly spent all their time working long hours, trying to do their part to contribute to the household.

I think both roles are respectable, and I cannot say for sure which one was more difficult because I never lived that life, but from what I have read, women didn’t really have the glory the men got, regardless of how much work they put into the children and the household at large.

Now, with WWII, they were more independent, making their own money, not relying on a man financially, which is currently the #1 reason women stay in abusive relationships with men today. They are dependent on them financially, or at least feel stuck. I think financial freedom, whether you’re a woman or a man, can also contribute to your social freedom. Maybe that’s just my American values seeping out subconsciously, but that’s at least what it seems like to me.

The social stigma of a woman having a job, while not eliminated, was reduced, because everyone was so focused on the values of justice and patriotism, which seemed to override previous values that a woman’s role is to be head of household, except on her tax return. In that case, the man is head of household.  So again, doing the work without any of the glory that a man got.

Now women could physically, practically prove they were just as capable as men by literally doing the work men had previously done. Which in my opinion, subconsciously planted seeds in people’s minds that women could possibly be capable of doing things men could do and sufficiently.

How did the government pay people to fund the war?

They went $321 billion more in debt.  They taxed, spent, inflated, and borrowed.

Federal_Debt_Held_by_the_Public_1790-2013

This is U.S. debt in terms of percentage of GDP

It’s hard to see that well because the bottom chart is zoomed out but do you see how closely it matches in with the very first inflation/deflation graph I showed you?

1280px-US_Historical_Inflation_Ancient

I overlaid the U.S. historical inflation rate with the inflation adjusted price of gold to see if there was a correlation. I know it’s hard to see clearly but it was the best I could do. To me, the peaks and low points seem to line up the closer we get from the 1970s on.

InflationDeflationGoldIA

What happened in 1970? 

The country went off the gold standard completely. This caused inflation to rise, and stay inflated for what looks like the longest amount of time since 1650. It seems that as inflation rose to high levels again, the price of gold skyrocketed. Also in 1970, it became legal for private ownership of gold again. The high spike might be due to that too. It’s hard to say because there are so many variables someone smarter than me would have to control for.

What happened in the 1980’s that caused the price of gold to drop so drastically?

The central bank raised interest rates and gave incentives to banks, who typically do the same thing when the Federal Reserve does something. It’s a complex process that involves buying treasury bonds that I would love to cover in a different post.

As interest rates rose, it made less sense to own gold. It made more sense to hold on to your money and put it in savings. People sold their gold because it was at an all time high and became very wealthy if they sold at the right time.

How deflation is bad

The bad part though, was that GDP shrunk. There was less money going around in the marketplace. Business didn’t hire as much because it made more sense to hoard the money, considering it could be more valuable later. The unemployment rate went up.

How deflation is good

The Federal Reserve was destroying dollars to make the currency rarer, and and it became more valuable. Foreign countries bought U.S. dollars in the hopes that they would gain more value tomorrow.

How inflation is bad

The reason they raised interest rates was to control the inflation rate that people were afraid was rising too fast and too high.

High inflation means higher prices, especially on commodities such as food and energy, which is why oil prices went up to very high levels in the 70’s and the government had a failed policy of rationing, which is also something I’d love to cover in another post because this one is already incredible long.

CPI

In 1970, the U.S. went off the gold standard, remember? Also, inflation has stayed up since then. Prices have also gone up.

High inflation discourages savings because the money becomes less valuable over time, and if the inflation rate is higher than the interest rate you would get on a savings account, the money’s value gets eaten away and there’s no real incentive to keep saving.

How inflation is good

Inflation is good for paying off debt and racking up debt because you can pay it back with inflated dollars. There’s more money in the marketplace going around, printed by the Federal Reserve and expanded by the banks. Say I have a student loan debt of $8,000 in 1980. By the time I pay it off in 2000, 20 years later, my income is $50,000 and $8,000 seems like nothing, so I pay it off.

Here’s another interesting one on the price of gold historically.

Notice that when inflation goes up, the price of gold goes up. That’s because paper dollars are becoming less valuable and gold is staying relatively the same, since there is a more fixed amount of gold in the world than paper. I will show you what it looks inflation adjusted too.

GoldPriceHistorically

(Larger)

This one is inflation adjusted gold prices. Notice also how when interest rates go down, gold prices go up. That’s because the currency becomes more volatile, so people will buy more gold, increasing its value, because there’s less gold in the marketplace, and gold becomes a more stable, reliable place to store your money over a long term horizon.

InflationAdjustedGoldPrices

And here’s historical interest rates.

long-term-interest-rates-us

And here are interest rates overlaid with gold prices.

GoldInterestRates

The one exception to gold prices going up and down with interest rates was during the South African and Yukon discoveries of gold. That makes sense to me because finding a fuckton of gold is going to make everyone start buying up all the gold they can get for free, by mining it. So when regardless of when interest rates went down, the price went up. That seems to be the only time though.

However, there was also the discovery of gold in California and Australia in the mid-1800s. I wonder why interest rates went up AND gold prices went up at the same time. You would think with more gold circling the marketplace, the price would go down, because of inflation.

Well, let’s see how much gold was actually mined, and how much it was worth at its height, and how much was actually found. That way we can determine if the amount found was enough to flood the marketplace and reduce or increase the price.

California

California_Gold_Production

$2,000,000,000. 2 billion!

It seems to me that California and Yukon didn’t find all that much gold. So I guess my hypothesis is right that interest rates are almost always matching up with the the price of gold.

Australia

I couldn’t find a graph for it, but they found a measly $2,000,00o in today’s dollars.

Yukon

Yukon

South Africa

I find this number hard to believe, but the value of the gold found in South Africa was, $750,800,531,800. Wow, $750 billion.

Worth more than over all the gold in the world ever found, COMBINED, by 1930.

GoldSouthAfrica

And that, my friends, is why interest rates didn’t affect gold prices during the South African gold rush. It flooded the market with gold, causing the price to increase when it was discovered, and crash harshly once it was all mined, because there was more in the market place, which caused the price to go down. It became worth less because there was much more of it in the economy.

 

The short story of Bernie Madoff OR The biggest fraud in history

Bernie Madoff ran an investment firm that required more money coming in than was going out. He cut huge checks that were hard to believe, because the whole thing was too good to be true.

Then the financial crisis happened around 2008, and people started taking their money out of their investment accounts because they were losing 37% of what they had put in. However, when people went to pull their money out of their accounts, they couldn’t, because it didn’t exist in the first place.

Bernie Madoff became a great scapegoat to the government and population at large. The judge, in fact, said that “the message must be sent that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll.”

Bernie Madoff became the face of the near end of capitalism, and a show of how greedy capitalism makes people do morally bad things.

And what he does was truly horrible.

It was fraud, plain and simple, which we already have laws on the books for. But when it came to prosecuting him, the government used him to set an example, and he was sentenced to a ridiculous 150 years in prison and restitution of $170 billion.

Not to say he didn’t deserve a big punishment, but murders have an average punishment sentence of 20 years. I think after everyone lost their savings and retirement in the 2007-08 financial crisis, people wanted blood, revenge, and justice to make themselves feel less helpless.

So that is the short story of the biggest fraud in history.

The fucking economy

This is how you get more government social programs and safety nets:

1. Raise taxes, which will reduce growth in the economy because people  won’t have enough hours, which leads to not enough wages to go spend and create more jobs and it would reduce the number of jobs because people will have less money to pay them.

Here is a diagram showing how tax is dispersed and deadweight loss of efficiency arises.

TaxDeadweight

2. Cut spending on important programs, especially social security, medicaid, and/or medicare because they by far take up the vast majority of the budget and we already can’t pay for it without loans from china and japan AND taxes.

Here’s a goddamn graph. We’re completely reliant now on government spending.

BushTaxCut

Largest federal spending we can’t afford anymore:

HousingSpending

 

And tax revenue that’s not enough to pay the bills

USTaxShortfall

Income taxes and taxes on businesses make up the majority of the revenue. Corporate taxes may seem low but the U.S. corporate tax is the highest out of all the developed nations.

TaxRevenue

3. Inflating the currency by printing more so there’s more money in the marketplace, which pays the bills, and makes us look like we can pay our bills, but it really just makes the money less valuable, which really hurts poor people the most, because they go to buy food, and $1 can buy a loaf of bread instead of a loaf of bread and milk like they could have before the printing of the money.

With inflation, we can go into debt FOREVER!!!

USInflation

Consumer Price Index broken down

CPIFood

But the world banks and the people who make the biggest investments are firm believers always having moderate amounts of inflation and I’m more middle of the road.

I’m not for or against inflation and/or deflation. I think it’s best when it’s balanced. When $1 = $1 instead of $1 being able to buy $2 worth of food or $1 being able to buy .25 cents of food.

The 1960’s. The golden age of wealth, the closest to not to much inflation, not too little, and the baby boomers having it pretty sweet.

1960sinflation

3. But the economy will save us! GDP growth will go up forever!!!

RealGDPgrowth

(Source)

Oh.

Hey wait a minute… 

If GDP growth has become smaller since 1960, and the average these days seems to be 4%… and the average inflation rate is 3.22%… that means… 4%-3.22% = .88%… THE ECONOMY IS ONLY REALLY GROWING AT .88% PER YEAR OH MY GOD SOMEBODY TELL THE PRESIDENT!

GDP growth WOULD increase tax revenue due to an increase of income. Too bad our inflation rate is too high for that to happen.

Trade offs

So you see, this is why I think there are trade offs and pros and cons to both inflation and deflation.

I don’t know of a time in history that it was ever popular to have a balanced rate of inflation.

What’s so bad about deflation, Federal Reserve, World Bank and IMF?

With deflation, the currency is more valuable and can buy more things and it encourages savings which people do because their money will be more valuable tomorrow than it is today, so it’s a good idea to keep it in a bank account earning even more valuable with interest. People produce higher quality things, not plastic made in China, though they’re working on it.

Have you ever seen a coat that was made in the 60s? They would last forever. People would go to get alterations to tailor them to their bodies, and they knew how to sew when holes eventually did get in them, because it was more cost effective to learn to sew at home and repair things, than just throw it away and get a new one, because it’s so cheap and then when THAT gets a hole in it, throw that away because it’s essentially worthless.

I think capital is best when it comes from BOTH savings and credit and a little of both. Savings shrinks the growth of the economy though. People spend less money because they’re saving their money so they can do things like earn interest and start a business or have retirement money for their future.

Interest rates and real GDP growth looks a whole lot like supply and demand. (IS stands for Investment-Savings and LM stands for Liquidity Preference-Money Supply) In my ideal economic fantasy world, these things meet at equilibrium.

InvestmentSavings

So wages do get lower because people are hoarding their money and there are less jobs to go around because the money isn’t being spent on hiring new people. But prices go down so poor people can afford more food. And in a contraction of credit, jobs in inefficient sectors are going to more efficient sectors. (Horse and buggy, anyone?)

It’s like inflation is giving people a sugar cube when they have cancer and telling them it will help. Sure, sugar tastes good, but the bitter medicine (deflation), actually helps cure the disease. The governments of the world like to feed us sugar cubes and tell us it’s medicine, when really we need the bitter medicine.

Imagine I got a loan to have a horse and buggy business. They didn’t sell well because of an auto saturated economy. Now, there’s a bust in the natural business cycle, and the credit is drying up. People are becoming wiser that horse and buggy is the wave of the past. So people stop buying and they save their pennies for a more expensive but more practical car. The horse and buggy operation either chooses to foreclose, or they go into the automobile industry to stay afloat.

Pros and cons

There are pros and cons to inflation AND deflation and anyone who tells you there’s not is drinking the kool-aid (which is most people probably).

With inflation, the currency is less valuable, poor people’s wages do go up, but it just looks like they’re getting wealthier because the money is worth less and you have to spend it fast because it’s not going to be as valuable tomorrow. So it looks like the economy is growing and everybody’s happy.

But poor people can buy less “stuff” like food, and their bills are higher, and wages are worth less.

DollarValueFed

The above shows how the inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve have decreased the value of the dollar down to pennies. That’s from decades of inflation.

But inflation does encourage people to invest because they have a larger quantity of money so they spend it on opening a business and lenders are more willing to lend to people with lower credit scores because they are making a shit ton off the interest of people’s credit cards and loans and shit. It does encourage debt though, which is why we live in a debt-based economy.

4. Borrow and get in debt.

Here’s who owns all our debt

LoansFromChina

(Source)

Basically we live on inflation, debt, and ponzi schemes like medicaid, medicare, social security, banks, and the financial industry in general and we’re all fucked and there’s nothing the 3 of us reading this can do about it. I love you.

The myth that babies should cry it out

“Let the baby cry it out.”
– some parent somewhere probably

The idea of “cry it out” is that if you picked up a baby every time it cried, it would create a dependency on the parents and grow up to be clingy and have attachment problems as an adult.

But in fact, letting a baby cry it out, i.e. leaving it alone and not picking it up, is what actually causes insecure attachment, leading to the adult behaviors of fear of abandonment and separation anxiety.

The second form of attachment is called avoidant attachment, which is also caused by not picking up babies when they cry. This is shown in children who seem detached and uninterested in their caregiver.

Picking up a baby when it cries actually promotes secure (i.e. healthy) attachment, leading them as adults to choose secure partners and understand how to have a healthy relationship.

You cannot spoil a child by loving it too much.

What causes SIDS?

This value begins to screw us up the very first day we are born. When I was taking lifespan developmental psychology in college, I came to the realization that collectivist cultures, with all the problems that come with it too, seems to me, in my personal, worthless opinion, to have it more together than the US.

Hear me out before screaming.

One example, is that the Western world likes to have their babies sleep in cribs in another room, probably because of the cultural value of privacy. But most populations around the world sleep in the same bed as their children, on a hard surface, with the baby lying on its back, which some researchers think partially contributes to their lower cases of SIDS. Japan has the lowest rates of SIDS out of all the industrialized nations, New Zealand being the first.

“Adoption of bed-sharing and room-sharing practices appears to be saving Pacific infants’ lives, even though the New Zealand Cot Death Association has discouraged bed-sharing and not actively promoted room sharing.” – Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health