The Folly of the Fed’s Central Planning

by Ron Paul – Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:Ron Paul

Over the last 100 years the Fed has had many mandates and policy changes in its pursuit of becoming the chief central economic planner for the United States. Not only has it pursued this utopian dream of planning the US economy and financing every boondoggle conceivable in the welfare/warfare state, it has become the manipulator of the premier world reserve currency.

As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explained to me, the once profoundly successful world currency – gold – was no longer money. This meant that he believed, and the world has accepted, the fiat dollar as the most important currency of the world, and the US has the privilege and responsibility for managing it. He might even believe, along with his Fed colleagues, both past and present, that the fiat dollar will replace gold for millennia to come. I remain unconvinced.

At its inception the Fed got its marching orders: to become the ultimate lender of last resort to banks and business interests. And to do that it needed an “elastic” currency. The supporters of the new central bank in 1913 were well aware that commodity money did not “stretch” enough to satisfy the politician’s appetite for welfare and war spending. A printing press and computer, along with the removal of the gold standard, would eventually provide the tools for a worldwide fiat currency. We’ve been there since 1971 and the results are not good.

Many modifications of policy mandates occurred between 1913 and 1971, and the Fed continues today in a desperate effort to prevent the total unwinding and collapse of a monetary system built on sand. A storm is brewing and when it hits, it will reveal the fragility of the entire world financial system.

The Fed and its friends in the financial industry are frantically hoping their next mandate or strategy for managing the system will continue to bail them out of each new crisis.

The seeds were sown with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in December 1913. The lender of last resort would target special beneficiaries with its ability to create unlimited credit. It was granted power to channel credit in a special way. Average citizens, struggling with a mortgage or a small business about to go under, were not the Fed’s concern. Commercial, agricultural, and industrial paper was to be bought when the Fed’s friends were in trouble and the economy needed to be propped up. At its inception the Fed was given no permission to buy speculative financial debt or U.S. Treasury debt.

It didn’t take long for Congress to amend the Federal Reserve Act to allow the purchase of US debt to finance World War I and subsequently all the many wars to follow. These changes eventually led to trillions of dollars being used in the current crisis to bail out banks and mortgage companies in over their heads with derivative speculations and worthless mortgage-backed securities.

It took a while to go from a gold standard in 1913 to the unbelievable paper bailouts that occurred during the crash of 2008 and 2009.

In 1979 the dual mandate was proposed by Congress to solve the problem of high inflation and high unemployment, which defied the conventional wisdom of the Phillips curve that supported the idea that inflation could be a trade-off for decreasing unemployment. The stagflation of the 1970s was an eye-opener for all the establishment and government economists. None of them had anticipated the serious financial and banking problems in the 1970s that concluded with very high interest rates.

That’s when the Congress instructed the Fed to follow a “dual mandate” to achieve, through monetary manipulation, a policy of “stable prices” and “maximum employment.” The goal was to have Congress wave a wand and presto the problem would be solved, without the Fed giving up power to create money out of thin air that allows it to guarantee a bailout for its Wall Street friends and the financial markets when needed.

The dual mandate was really a triple mandate. The Fed was also instructed to maintain “moderate long-term interest rates.” “Moderate” was not defined. I now have personally witnessed nominal interest rates as high as 21% and rates below 1%. Real interest rates today are actually below zero.

The dual, or the triple mandate, has only compounded the problems we face today. Temporary relief was achieved in the 1980s and confidence in the dollar was restored after Volcker raised interest rates up to 21%, but structural problems remained.

Nevertheless, the stock market crashed in 1987 and the Fed needed more help. President Reagan’s Executive Order 12631 created the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, also known as the Plunge Protection Team. This Executive Order gave more power to the Federal Reserve, Treasury, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to come to the rescue of Wall Street if market declines got out of hand. Though their friends on Wall Street were bailed out in the 2000 and 2008 panics, this new power obviously did not create a sound economy. Secrecy was of the utmost importance to prevent the public from seeing just how this “mandate” operated and exactly who was benefiting.

Since 2008 real economic growth has not returned. From the viewpoint of the central economic planners, wages aren’t going up fast enough, which is like saying the currency is not being debased rapidly enough. That’s the same explanation they give for prices not rising fast enough as measured by the government-rigged Consumer Price Index. In essence it seems like they believe that making the cost of living go up for average people is a solution to the economic crisis. Rather bizarre!

The obsession now is to get price inflation up to at least a 2% level per year. The assumption is that if the Fed can get prices to rise, the economy will rebound. This too is monetary policy nonsense.

If the result of a congressional mandate placed on the Fed for moderate and stable interest rates results in interest rates ranging from 0% to 21%, then believing the Fed can achieve a healthy economy by getting consumer prices to increase by 2% per year is a pie-in-the-sky dream. Money managers CAN’T do it and if they could it would achieve nothing except compounding the errors that have been driving monetary policy for a hundred years.

A mandate for 2% price inflation is not only a goal for the central planners in the United States but for most central bankers worldwide.

It’s interesting to note that the idea of a 2% inflation rate was conceived 25 years ago in New Zealand to curtail double-digit price inflation. The claim was made that since conditions improved in New Zealand after they lowered their inflation rate to 2% that there was something magical about it. And from this they assumed that anything lower than 2% must be a detriment and the inflation rate must be raised. Of course, the only tool central bankers have to achieve this rate is to print money and hope it flows in the direction of raising the particular prices that the Fed wants to raise.

One problem is that although newly created money by central banks does inflate prices, the central planners can’t control which prices will increase or when it will happen. Instead of consumer prices rising, the price inflation may go into other areas, as determined by millions of individuals making their own choices. Today we can find very high prices for stocks, bonds, educational costs, medical care and food, yet the CPI stays under 2%.

The CPI, though the Fed currently wants it to be even higher, is misreported on the low side. The Fed’s real goal is to make sure there is no opposition to the money printing press they need to run at full speed to keep the financial markets afloat. This is for the purpose of propping up in particular stock prices, debt derivatives, and bonds in order to take care of their friends on Wall Street.

This “mandate” that the Fed follows, unlike others, is of their own creation. No questions are asked by the legislators, who are always in need of monetary inflation to paper over the debt run up by welfare/warfare spending. There will be a day when the obsession with the goal of zero interest rates and 2% price inflation will be laughed at by future economic historians. It will be seen as just as silly as John Law’s inflationary scheme in the 18th century for perpetual wealth for France by creating the Mississippi bubble – which ended in disaster. After a mere two years, 1719 to 1720, of runaway inflation Law was forced to leave France in disgrace. The current scenario will not be precisely the same as with this giant bubble but the consequences will very likely be much greater than that which occurred with the bursting of the Mississippi bubble.

The fiat dollar standard is worldwide and nothing similar to this has ever existed before. The Fed and all the world central banks now endorse the monetary principles that motivated John Law in his goal of a new paradigm for French prosperity. His thesis was simple: first increase paper notes in order to increase the money supply in circulation. This he claimed would revitalize the finances of the French government and the French economy. His theory was no more complicated than that.

This is exactly what the Federal Reserve has been attempting to do for the past six years. It has created $4 trillion of new money, and used it to buy government Treasury bills and $1.7 trillion of worthless home mortgages. Real growth and a high standard of living for a large majority of Americans have not occurred, whereas the Wall Street elite have done quite well. This has resulted in aggravating the persistent class warfare that has been going on for quite some time.

The Fed has failed at following its many mandates, whether legislatively directed or spontaneously decided upon by the Fed itself – like the 2% price inflation rate. But in addition, to compound the mischief caused by distorting the much-needed market rate of interest, the Fed is much more involved than just running the printing presses. It regulates and manages the inflation tax. The Fed was the chief architect of the bailouts in 2008. It facilitates the accumulation of government debt, whether it’s to finance wars or the welfare transfer programs directed at both rich and poor. The Fed provides a backstop for the speculative derivatives dealings of the banks considered too big to fail. Together with the FDIC’s insurance for bank accounts, these programs generate a huge moral hazard while the Fed obfuscates monetary and economic reality.

The Federal Reserve reports that it has over 300 PhD’s on its payroll. There are hundreds more in the Federal Reserve’s District Banks and many more associated scholars under contract at many universities. The exact cost to get all this wonderful advice is unknown. The Federal Reserve on its website assures the American public that these economists “represent an exceptional diverse range of interest in specific area of expertise.” Of course this is with the exception that gold is of no interest to them in their hundreds and thousands of papers written for the Fed.

This academic effort by subsidized learned professors ensures that our college graduates are well-indoctrinated in the ways of inflation and economic planning. As a consequence too, essentially all members of Congress have learned these same lessons.

Fed policy is a hodgepodge of monetary mismanagement and economic interference in the marketplace. Sadly, little effort is being made to seriously consider real monetary reform, which is what we need. That will only come after a major currency crisis.

I have quite frequently made the point about the error of central banks assuming that they know exactly what interest rates best serve the economy and at what rate price inflation should be. Currently the obsession with a 2% increase in the CPI per year and a zero rate of interest is rather silly.

In spite of all the mandates, flip-flopping on policy, and irrational regulatory exuberance, there’s an overwhelming fear that is shared by all central bankers, on which they dwell day and night. That is the dreaded possibility of DEFLATION.

A major problem is that of defining the terms commonly used. It’s hard to explain a policy dealing with deflation when Keynesians claim a falling average price level – something hard to measure – is deflation, when the Austrian free-market school describes deflation as a decrease in the money supply.

The hysterical fear of deflation is because deflation is equated with the 1930s Great Depression and all central banks now are doing everything conceivable to prevent that from happening again through massive monetary inflation. Though the money supply is rapidly rising and some prices like oil are falling, we are NOT experiencing deflation.

Under today’s conditions, fighting the deflation phantom only prevents the needed correction and liquidation from decades of an inflationary/mal-investment bubble economy.

It is true that even though there is lots of monetary inflation being generated, much of it is not going where the planners would like it to go. Economic growth is stagnant and lots of bubbles are being formed, like in stocks, student debt, oil drilling, and others. Our economic planners don’t realize it but they are having trouble with centrally controlling individual “human action.”

Real economic growth is being hindered by a rational and justified loss of confidence in planning business expansions. This is a consequence of the chaos caused by the Fed’s encouragement of over-taxation, excessive regulations, and diverting wealth away from domestic investments and instead using it in wealth-consuming and dangerous unnecessary wars overseas. Without the Fed monetizing debt, these excesses would not occur.

Lessons yet to be learned:

1. Increasing money and credit by the Fed is not the same as increasing wealth. It in fact does the opposite.

2. More government spending is not equivalent to increasing wealth.

3. Liquidation of debt and correction in wages, salaries, and consumer prices is not the monster that many fear.

4. Corrections, allowed to run their course, are beneficial and should not be prolonged by bailouts with massive monetary inflation.

5. The people spending their own money is far superior to the government spending it for them.

6. Propping up stock and bond prices, the current Fed goal, is not a road to economic recovery.

7. Though bailouts help the insiders and the elite 1%, they hinder the economic recovery.

8. Production and savings should be the source of capital needed for economic growth.

9. Monetary expansion can never substitute for savings but guarantees mal–investment.

10. Market rates of interest are required to provide for the economic calculation necessary for growth and reversing an economic downturn.

11. Wars provide no solution to a recession/depression. Wars only make a country poorer while war profiteers benefit.

12. Bits of paper with ink on them or computer entries are not money – gold is.

13. Higher consumer prices per se have nothing to do with a healthy economy.

14. Lower consumer prices should be expected in a healthy economy as we experienced with computers, TVs, and cell phones.

All this effort by thousands of planners in the Federal Reserve, Congress, and the bureaucracy to achieve a stable financial system and healthy economic growth has failed.

It must be the case that it has all been misdirected. And just maybe a free market and a limited government philosophy are the answers for sorting it all out without the economic planners setting interest and CPI rate increases.

A simpler solution to achieving a healthy economy would be to concentrate on providing a “SOUND DOLLAR” as the Founders of the country suggested. A gold dollar will always outperform a paper dollar in duration and economic performance while holding government growth in check. This is the only monetary system that protects liberty while enhancing the opportunity for peace and prosperity.

Article originally posted at The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Real Money

submitted by jwithrow.Money

Journal of a Wayward Philosopher
Real Money

December 4, 2014
Hot Springs, VA

The S&P is buzzing around $2,069, gold is back up over $1,210, oil is checking in just under $67 after OPEC announced that they would not cut production, bitcoin is hanging around $373, and the 10-year Treasury rate is checking in at 2.29% today.

How about those prices at the pump, huh? Some resource analysts think that oil won’t remain this low for long. They point to the fact that several OPEC nations are dependent upon high oil prices to run their social welfare states and suggest that, coupled with increased demand over the coming winter, oil will be forced to climb back up the ladder. Other analysts suggest there are numerous oil companies still profitable at current price levels thus supply will remain strong and oil will hang around current prices for longer than expected.

We can’t know which analysts are right and which are wrong but we do know that numerous well-run resource companies have seen their stock price hammered as a result of oil’s decline while the S&P has continued to escalate up its stairway to heaven. Speculators may see this as the best opportunity to get into resource stocks since 2009. Natural resource prices are especially cyclical – low prices drive marginal producers out of business which reduces supply and leads to higher prices which attract marginal producers back to the industry. Booms lead to busts which lead back to booms. Those disciplined enough to buy the bust and sell the boom tend to do well in the resource sector.

Speaking of natural resources, it is the rejection of real money backed by precious metals that, more than anything, has led to the disturbing macroeconomic trends we have been analyzing recently.

In October we examined fiat money and realized that it has always been a major drain on society when implemented throughout history. We agreed fiat money is any currency that derives its value from government law and regulation and we noted that legal tender laws are what force the public to use the government’s money rather than the market’s money.

The academic economists would have you believe we have a complex and sophisticated monetary system. They would suggest that you cannot possibly understand it so you may as well leave it to the experts. The economists will use strange terminology when discussing the economy in newspapers and on television in order to confuse and bore you. Want to know their little secret?

Our economy operates mostly on fake money.

I know, it sounds ridiculous. How is it fake money if you can spend it? That’s exactly what makes the fake money so insidious – you can’t tell that it’s counterfeit.

I will attempt to explain myself by asking a simple question: where does our money come from?

Take your time, I will wait…

If you said “from thin air” then you are the winner! For the last forty years or so our money has been loaned into existence. The Federal Reserve loans new money to its member banks and to the U.S. Treasury and the new money then eventually finds its way into the general economy. Where did the Fed get this money to lend? It created it! From nothing. Ex nihilo nihil fit.

But wait, it gets better. This same process takes place every single time a bank originates a new loan. Say you go get a mortgage to purchase a new home. The bank supposedly lends its deposits to you at interest to finance your home. But this isn’t entirely true. First, the bank is only required to have a fraction of the loan in reserve – roughly 10%. So if your mortgage is $100,000 the bank is required to have at least $10,000 in deposits to support the loan. But does the bank actually take that $10,000 and give it to you? Of course not! That $10,000 in deposits stays right where it is. It could be spent tomorrow if the depositors took a trip to Vegas. So where does the money come from to finance your home?

Hint: it’s the same answer as above.

So you get $100,000 in fresh new money and give it to the seller in exchange for the house. The seller uses your new money to pay off his mortgage and often there is a little bit leftover. The seller calls this profit and puts it in his account and the economy’s money pool gets a little bit bigger: there is now more money in the system then there was before you financed your house.

The economists use terms like ‘M1’, ‘M2’, and ‘money multiplier’ to make this seem like a complicated system but as you can see it’s pretty simple. It’s just a journal entry and a few clicks of the mouse and… PRESTO!

No one noticed a little extra money sneaking into the system here and there at first. But the rate at which new money entered the system increased dramatically as the money supply grew. Forty years later we are starting to see the ill-effects of exponentially expanding credit-based money. This credit expansion has distorted all aspects of the economy because money is half of every transaction. Financial planning and analysis is extremely difficult if no one knows what one unit of money will be worth from one year to the next. It’s always apples to oranges.

So where did our money come from before the fiat money explosion? Money has taken on many different shapes and sizes throughout history but if you go back just a little bit in modern history, say to the mid-19th century, you will probably find yourself using the market’s choice for real money – gold and silver. A little bit later – the late 19th century or so – governments muscled their way into the money business and, instead of just minting gold and silver coins, they created national currencies but they fully backed these currencies with gold or silver. While fully convertible, the currencies operated much like real money but it didn’t take long for governments to reduce the real money backing. They found this so pleasant, they eventually got rid of all currency ties to real money altogether!

One of the big advantages to using real money is that it tends to maintain purchasing power over long periods of time. You can expect real money today to be roughly as valuable as real money ten years from today. You could actually save this real money if you wanted to! Saving leads to capital formation which can drive steady economic activity without the need for massive credit expansion which always results in booms and busts.

There are numerous other advantages to using real money but wife Rachel will fuss at me for making this post long and boring as it is so we will have to come back to them in a later entry.

More to come,
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Joe Withrow
Wayward Philosopher

For more of Joe’s thoughts on monetary history and real money please read “The Individual is Rising” which is available at http://www.theindividualisrising.com. The book is also available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Fiat Money Undermines Society

submitted by jwithrow.Fiat Money

Journal of a Wayward Philosopher
Fiat Money Undermines Society

October 14, 2014
Hot Springs, VA

The S&P is checking in at $1,878 today, gold is up to $1,234, oil is down to $85, bitcoin is up to $403, and the 10-year is now down to 2.20%.  All in a day’s work, I suppose.

Autumn is truly a beautiful season.  There is a gentle, crisp breeze in the air up here in the mountains of Virginia and a myriad of red, orange, and yellow leaves dot the landscape.  As we await Maddie’s entrance, wife Rachel and I will spend the day making homemade apple cider to celebrate such a fine season!

Last week I suggested that fiat money always seems to undermine the morality and stability of society throughout history.  Let’s examine this a little bit more today.

First, we must be clear about what fiat money is.  Fiat money is any currency that derives its value from government law and regulation.  The word ‘fiat’ is Latin for “let it be done”.  Essentially, fiat money is what the government says is money.  Once decreeing something as money, governments usually force people and businesses to use whatever it is through legal tender laws.  Fiat money has taken different forms throughout history.  Today we primarily use electronic credit-based national currencies (U.S. dollars, Euros, Yen, etc.) as our fiat money.  We still use fiat paper currency also but we are gradually transitioning away from this form of money.  Here in the United States we use “Federal Reserve Notes” as our paper currency.  Take a look at what the bills in your wallet say to confirm this.

Societies, to the extent that you can pinpoint a beginning and end to them, have not started out with fiat money.  Historically, society starts out with free-market money – usually gold, silver, or some other valuable commodity – and then unwittingly moves to fiat money as its government becomes more and more corrupt.

Rome was using a pure silver “denarius” at the beginning of the 1st century, A.D.  Roman emperors then learned how to ‘print’ money by melting down their silver coins, adding cheap base metal into the mix, then re-minting the denarius with a lower silver content.  This enabled them to mint more silver coins than they had melted down, but the denarius was no longer pure silver.

The denarius was 85% silver by the year 100.  By 218, the denarius was down to only 43% silver content.  And by year 244 the denarius contained only .05% silver.  This meant that each Roman denarius coin could purchase 99.95% less than what it could originally purchase!  In other words, everyday prices were 99.95% higher for Romans in year 244 than they were in year 1.

So why in the world did the Roman emperors debase their currency so much?  Why, for great wars, great public works, and to enrich themselves, of course!  You have read all about the Roman Empire in the history textbooks.  Maintaining an empire requires soldiers and soldiers require food, water, and payment.  Oh, and weapons.  This gets more and more expensive as the empire gets bigger and bigger.  I bet you have read about the coliseum too – it was very expensive to build and maintain.  Who was going to pay for it all?

The emperor certainly wasn’t about to curtail his lavish lifestyle to chip in.  Instead he turned to dishonest fiat money: he melted down silver coins and made more of them with a lesser silver content.  Then he paid the soldiers and workers and pretended like nothing was different about the money.  As the currency was debased, Roman society got poorer and the government became more corrupt.  Eventually the Roman Empire became impoverished and collapsed.

Looking farther east, Marco Polo documented the use of fiat money in China:

“You might say that [Kublai] has the secret of alchemy in perfection… the Khan causes every year to be made such a vast quantity of this money, which costs him nothing, that it must equal in amount all the treasure of the world.”

He continues:

“Population and trade had greatly increased, but the emissions of paper notes were suffered to largely outrun both… All the beneficial effects of a currency that is allowed to expand with a growth of population and trade were now turned into those evil effects that flow from a currency emitted in excess of such growth.  These effects were not slow to develop themselves… The best families in the empire were ruined, a new set of men came into the control of public affairs, and the country became the scene of internecine warfare and confusion.”

The same thing happened in France when John Law introduced fiat paper currency in 1716: the currency was inflated into oblivion and the society was impoverished.  And in Weimar Germany in the 1920’s – it got to the point where Germans were using paper marks to heat their furnaces!  Argentina has followed suit a couple times in the late 1900’s.  Zimbabwe was one of the wealthiest countries in Africa until its government ramped up the printing presses in 2008 and implemented price controls.  It wasn’t long before civilized society was wiped out in Zimbabwe and people could no longer get enough food and water for themselves.

Do you notice a trend?

Fast forward to present day: the U.S. dollar has lost 98% of its value since the Federal Reserve was implemented in 1913.  Much of this devaluation has occurred since all ties to gold were removed in 1971.  What has happened to our cost of living?

Technology has also boomed since 1971 such that the means of production and distribution are much more efficient today than ever before.  It seems to me this scenario should have reduced the cost of living for everyone.  But has it?  It wasn’t that long ago when an average American household consisted of only one wage earner.  This one income was enough to provide a high quality of life for the family while the spouse stayed home to raise the kids.  Most households now require two incomes just to get by.

The American standard of living is going in the wrong direction and this is largely due to fiat money.  Further, the fiat money is used primarily for the same things it has always been used for throughout history – war, public works, and the enrichment of the political class…

I will leave it there for today but I hope my point was made.

Until the morrow,

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Joe Withrow
Wayward Philosopher

For more of Joe’s thoughts on the Great Reset and regaining individual sovereignty please read “The Individual is Rising” which is available at http://www.theindividualisrising.com.  The book is also available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Money is an Illusion

submitted by jwithrow.Money Illusion

Currently we use fiat currency as money, but this money is just an illusion. If you doubt this then ask yourself the question: what is money?

Yes, you know what money does – it buys things. But what is it? Is it a green piece of paper with numbers and words and some symbols printed on it? Is it a card with your name, a string of numbers, and a bank logo on it?

Or is that just a piece of paper and a piece of plastic?

Fiat money is not wealth. That runs contrary to everything that our consumerist society has told us, but it is the truth. Fiat money is simply a medium of exchange which can then be used to acquire wealth, but the money itself is nothing more than a tool.

Historically we have used gold and silver and notes backed by gold and silver as money. Our fiat currencies today serve the same purpose as historical gold and silver money but there is one major difference – fiat currencies can be created arbitrarily from nothing. And the central banks of the world are now creating these fiat currencies out of thin air in increasingly massive quantities.

This is the biggest secret of the 1% – fiat money is an illusion that is available in abundance.

While fiat money can be created out of thin air, the value of existing money necessarily diminishes as new money enters the economy due simply to the concept of supply and demand; the market adjusts to account for the new money in circulation. We see this loss of value primarily when we go to use our money – the loss of monetary value is experienced as an increase of prices for goods and services.

While market forces are a factor in the price adjustments of goods and services in differing locations and industries, inflation results in price increases across the board. So the grocery store is not arbitrarily charging you more for food – your dollar just does not buy as much as it once did.

The Federal Reserve creates money every month with its quantitative easing programs and its purchases of Treasury Bonds. The new money then flows to the Wall Street banks that “sell” their toxic mortgage backed securities to the Fed and it flows to the federal government that “sells” their bonds to the Fed. This new money then flows into the economy when the banks lend it out to customers and when the Feds make their purchases from government contractors.

This is inflation.

Now this is not to say that bank lending is a problem – it is a key element in a capitalist economy. The problem occurs when the money being lent is not capital that has resulted from production and savings but rather funny money that has been conjured into existence.

Money is an illusion and it is only valuable as long as it is perceived to be valuable.

Fiat money is now little more than an idea and a few digits on a computer screen. To illustrate this: think about what would happen if everyone went to their bank tomorrow to cash out their deposits.

So if you think of money as an idea and not as a tangible asset, you will come to the realization that it takes nothing but an idea to obtain money but that money must then be exchanged for tangible assets in order for it to be converted into wealth.

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