Death and dying
by John Myers
“Your prognosis is terminal.”
When I heard t hose words I looked around my doctor’s private examining room hoping he might be talking to someone else. It wasn’t to be.
I didn’t want to look like an idiot, but of the million thoughts per-second zigzagging thorough my brain, the primary one was: “What does terminal mean?”
That was two months ago. I tried to argue with him as one might argue with God. I could get a second opinion, but I had already seen two doctors with the last one sending me to this kid in a stethoscope. He is considered the city’s liver wunderkind.
“But I’m not a drinker,” I argued, as if that might change his diagnosis. “I have maybe a few beers a week.”
“Not all kidney failure is caused by alcohol,” the doctor said. And he added, “You take lots of Tylenol?”
He had me. I once read that Tylenol can be bad on the liver. I had also read that gas barbecues sometimes blow up. I had zero concern about either. But the fact is that for decades I have been taking fistfuls of Tylenol every day.
Five years ago the family doctor told me I had arthritis. Nobody was handing out prescription pain pills, so, you’ve got it, I took more Tylenol.
I wish I could give you an ending to this story, but then again some things are better unknown. What the doctor said is that “I had either months or years.” He could just kill me now and do away with the suspense. Of course he couldn’t collect his fee then could he?
This is a very personal story I’m sharing with you, and I have been told that I may experience bouts of depression.
I talked to my wife about sharing this with you and was surprised with her answer because she is a very personal person. But some of you have read me for almost eight years and I felt an urge to tell you this truth. There is also a good analogy to my illness and I thought it worth writing.
Plowing into Tylenol is a killer of persons like fiat money is a killer of all empires.
Once, when I was 14, my father asked me to check “the cash balance” on the money. It was 1971.
I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained the details to me. We lived on a farm, so my dad drew me a map of the corner of the field where we had a backup water-pump.
There, in a cellar 25 feet in the ground and beneath the blowing snow above me, my flashlight beam found an old rusted paint can. Inside of it was a stash of Canadian bills rolled in an elastic band and sealed in plastic wrap. I counted it as ordered and found it was $50,000! I was shocked. I had never seen anything close to that much money, and certainly did not believe my dad had that much.
Years later, I learned that my dad was afraid of a devastating recession that would initiate a massive bear market in stocks. He was wrong about an overall economic collapse, but he was right about the bear market in stocks.
In 1971 the total M2 money supply was less than $2 trillion. By 1980 it was $12.4 trillion.
As for the Dow, it had gone from less than 5,000 in current inflation-adjusted value to 2,500 in inflation-adjusted money. Translated to constant money, the Dow had lost half its value. Only with the election of Ronald Reagan as president was the Dow able to break through levels set in 1966 — the end of 14 years of stagnation which in constant dollars saw the Dow’s decline.
The guns and butter policies of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the total detachment of the dollar from gold and the OPEC oil embargoes had left the U.S. economy hurting. So it began printing money the way I was swallowing Tylenol.
And just as it took away my pain short-term, it helped the U.S. economy in the short term. But every time it hurt a little more the government printed a little more money. Long-term the Tylenol was killing me and I didn’t even know it. And long-term money printing was killing the U.S. economy.
Nothing new in ancient corruption
Debasing the money is at least as old as the Roman Empire which introduced its basic currency, the silver denarius, in 211 BC. The coin was 95 to 98 percent silver, and it remained relatively stable until around 64 AD. It financed the Roman Empire to its apogee.
But there were armies to maintain, infrastructure to build and lands to be conquered. Expenditures outstripped income. The simple solution was the devaluation of the money by reducing the silver content within the coin.
By the end of Emperor Trajan’s reign, around 117 AD, the denarius had been debased to only about 85 percent silver, down from Tiberius’ 97.5 to 98 percent (14-37 AD). By the age of Marcus Aurelius, in the year 180, it was down to about 75 percent silver. In Septimius’s time it had dropped to 60 percent. By far the worst Roman Emperor was Caracalla, a leader with a blood-lust who was also corrupted by his endless avarice. He cut the silver content to just 50 percent.
It was the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire, but many other empires over the centuries would also collapse, ruined by reckless currency manipulation.
And now the United States is being killed off by elected leaders who care only for their notoriety and wealth — and who are richly rewarded — while they carelessly add debt to a county that already owes $19 trillion. Nineteen trillion!
I got started writing about the markets in 1981. Federal debt was at the cusp of $1 trillion. At the time, I was reading the work of people a lot smarter than me who said that if we ever hit $2 trillion, the bond and equity markets would collapse, that all that debt would kill the country. It did not. At least until now it has not.
But people often take years or decades to die. And eventually, empires die, too.
I’ve had to accept the inevitability of my own death. I’ll bet not one in 50 people have contemplated the death of America as we know.