Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You’re the Fed chairman — now what?

What follows is shameless self-promotion.

In 2008 I self-published The Flight of the Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman named Preston Mathews.  On a stormy Halloween night Mathews does a Friedman helicopter drop from the cockpit of his biplane over the fictitious town of Morrisville, Virginia, then flies to his nearby farm and plows his two-winger into the ground at the foot of his barn.  For months Mathews had spent weekends painting a mural on his barn that depicted the federal reserve note as a tool of piracy.  He had kept the mural cloaked when he wasn’t working on it.  

The government, headed by President Gage and his chief henchman Hawkins, announces Mathews’ death as a tragic accident.  They praise him publicly for his work as Fed chairman while ushering in a full-blooded Keynesian as a temp replacement.  

But there are problems with the government’s narrative.  Pictures are showing up on the web, one of which shows the crash site with the mural clearly illuminated by the flames of the burning plane.  And the mural — what was the Jolly Roger doing on the dollar instead of Washington’s face?  Is that a message or the work of vandals?  Another picture shows Mathews beaming a smile while standing next to his plane, with the words “barbarous relic” spray-painted on the rear of the gold-colored fuselage.  And it finally emerged that some crackpot in a biplane flew through lightning and showered Morrisville with hundred dollar bills shortly before the crash.  And though Mathews is officially dead, there are leaks about the absence of any remains.  

As the underground narrative picks up speed the government struggles to discredit it every way possible.   

My goal was to reach readers who would never, ever pick up a monograph depicting the federal reserve for what it is, a government-licensed counterfeiting monopoly.  But they might get caught up in an intriguing story and maybe learn a thing or two.  

Readers can sample the opening of the book through Amazon’s Look Inside feature.   Below is an excerpt from Chapter 8.

* * * 

Treasury Secretary Benjamin Levy didn’t like his job.  He didn’t mind so much heading up the collection of tributes to the government because it was a dirty job and someone had to do it.  Government, he believed, was a necessary evil that could only be funded by some form of systematic theft, such as overt taxation.  But God, how he loathed the politics! . . . . 

Gage had picked Levy on Hawkins’ recommendation, and Hawkins liked Levy for his military background, his name, and the fact that he was physically fit and slim.  Levy, at 54, was in fact a fitness center spectacle.  At five-foot eight and 155 pounds, he could pump out 100 repetitions of a 100-pound bench press at the Treasury’s gym, shower, then swim a mile in the Olympic pool alternating between the Australian crawl and the racing backstroke.

On the day after the latest Dow Drop, Levy met with three senior officials from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and decided afterward he was in desperate need to shoot something.  The meeting had not gone well.  His subordinates had presented spineless non sequiturs about how Mathews acquired $100,000 in hundred dollar bills for his Trick or Treat flight over Morrisville.  

Their spokesperson was a short middle aged man named Riley who spoke so quietly Levy had to strain to hear him.  He was perfect for the job because he always spoke that way, and Levy could never accuse him of being suppliant, though that’s how he came across.  He remembered being in a room reading a report once while Riley and a clerk were in an adjacent office with the door open.  It was comical.  He could hear the clerk fine and Riley not at all.  The clerk would ask a question then moments later ask a follow-up question with no intervening answer, at least not one Levy could detect.  It was as if the clerk were talking to himself.

Along with the others, Riley had at hand a bottle of water, a perennial element of every meeting Levy held.  Riley clung to his for support.  “At this point in our investigation,” he said in his barely audible style, “it appears he took the money without our knowledge and without proper authorization.”  He cleared his throat.

Levy couldn’t help smile.  “So, Preston Mathews robbed the B.E.P?”

Riley glanced for support at his two colleagues, cleared his throat again, and turned back to Levy.  “We don’t have enough information to rest comfortably with that conclusion.  We can neither affirm nor—“

“—Are we in the habit of leaving money lying around?”

“Ah, no, sir, we’re not. . .  Our security procedures are unsurpassed.  This is the first blemish on our record.”

“The first what?”


“But you’re reasonably sure the money left when he did.”

“As far as we can tell, yes.”  Levy felt an urge to throw something at him, to see if he would at least raise his voice in protest.

“So tell me: How does one man EVER walk out of the B.E.P. with a hundred thousand dollars?”

Riley cleared his throat and took a sip of water.  His voice rose a bit in volume.  “One man doesn’t, sir, unless he’s the Fed chairman.”

“The Fed chairman . . . ?”

“He’s next to God.” 

Hawkins called and invited himself along before Levy could escape.  As far as their secretaries and the rest of the world were concerned, Hawkins and Levy were taking a little afternoon R & R at Levy’s West Virginia ranch near White Sulphur Springs, hunting wild turkey.  But Levy had no interest in shooting birds.  He had his maintenance workers nail together some boards and prop them up to resemble the side of a barn.  At Levy’s direction, one of them slapped some paint on the wood to approximate a U.S. dollar with a Jolly Roger in the center.  They then hauled it to the bottom of a small rise near the edge of some woods, and Levy proceeded to blast it to bits with his Winchester 12-gauge shotgun. 

Hawkins declined to join him and stood back watching while drawing slowly on a Cuban Robusto, amused at the way the gun kicked the rawboned shooter with each trigger squeeze.  When the shooting ended they retired to Levy’s den around a pool table, where Levy accepted Hawkins’ offer of a Robusto and poured them some JD No. 7 on the rocks.

Levy dragged pensively on his cigar and blew the smoke out.  “So, you want me to attack Morrisville, Virginia,” he said.

“Just show up with some guns.  A little gathering for the evening news.”

“What’s wrong with garnishing their taxes?”

“Nothing, of course.  But we also need a little show.”

“Flex some muscle.”

“You got it.”

Levy flicked his cigar at an ashtray.  “You’re feeding the enemy.”

“No, we’re restoring public confidence.”

“The public wasn’t confident, they were intimidated.  They’re still that way.  Showing up with troops when none are needed will convey weakness.  You have nothing to gain by squashing Morrisville.”

“General, there’s a fire burning.  We need to squelch it.”

“It’s a campfire.  It’ll burn itself out.”

Hawkins moved closer to Levy.  “Mathews had a plan.  We don’t know exactly what it was, but we’re pretty sure it’s not finished.  He apparently has confederates, and his dramatic exit has won him more than a few sympathizers.  A quiet announcement about garnishing Morrisville’s taxes will soothe the public’s resentment, but they need reminding about who’s in charge.  They need to see power.  The markets have to see power.  They have to know we damn well mean business.”

“Is Gage behind it?”

“One hundred percent.  Along with every bank and investment house on Wall Street.”

Levy sighed.  “I’ve put on shows before.  I could always make a speech, bring along a goon squad.”

“They need to feel the heel, Ben.  All people do, whether they’re a free people like ours or the other kind.”

“Feel the heel.”  Levy smirked.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing.  Just thinking about my purpose in life.  The older you get, the more you like to think you had one.  I became a military man to defend freedom.  Now I’m the damn Treasury secretary . . .”

“So what’s the problem?  You’re defending your country in a different way.”

“I was wondering what I’m defending it against.”

“Has the JD affected your brain?  You just spent a half-hour blowing his damn dollar to bits.”

“I needed to hit something.  I’m not sure I picked the right target.”

“Ben, listen: You’re defending the country against crucifixion on a cross of gold.  The yellow metal almost put us out of business in the 1930s.  We don’t want to repeat a mistake of that magnitude.  There is not a single reputable economist who supports a gold standard.  It’s dangerous, it’s a threat to prosperity.  It will reduce a modern economy to ashes -- that’s the real symbolism in Mathews’ crack up.  You’ve got to stand up for the way things work now.  And that takes a show of muscle.”

Levy flicked an ash that wasn’t there and shook his head slowly, confused.

“Look, Ben, the people need to see us as more than paper shufflers and lawmakers.  We can’t defend civilization with words alone.  We need guns.  We need rugged men willing and able to use those guns.  And the people need to see these guys.  If we don’t have the guts to get tough we might as well turn the country over to the fascists.”

“You don’t feel at all hypocritical?”

“Hell, no.  Why should I?”

“Jesus, Tom.  Mathews did for Morrisville what he’s been doing for the whole of government and the big banks.  That doesn’t  bother you?” 

“No, for Christ’s sake!  The government’s held to different standards.  Everyone knows it and accepts it.  Government is force.  Our methods, therefore, are expedient.  We give up lucrative careers in the private sector to keep this country together, by any means possible.  I’m not bothered by anything we have to do or say.  Don’t get Jeffersonian on me.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were about to.  Talk about hypocrites, the author of the Declaration of Independence was a goddamn slaveholder.  But we took our cue from Honest Abe.  With the smart use of force we’re setting the world free.  A few people get roughed up along the way, maybe, but what the hell.  That’s a lesson all the great presidents learned, and all the others didn’t.”

“Government is force.  How stupid of me to forget.”

“Well, we don’t post it on billboards.  People like to think they’re acting on their own volition.”  Hawkins sighed.  “So, General, can we count on your help?”

“Sure, hell.  I’m a soldier.  I do what my superiors tell me, whether I like it or not.”

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