Coming For Your Savings
Before we look at the coming wave of asset confiscations, let’s stroll through some notable episodes of the past, just to make the point that government theft of private wealth is actually pretty common.
• Ancient Rome had a rule called “proscription” that allowed the government to execute and then confiscate the assets of anyone found guilty of “crimes against the state.” After the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, three men, Mark Anthony, Lepidus, and Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, formed a group they called the Second Triumvirate and divided the Empire between them. But two rivals, Brutus and Cassius, formed an army with which they planned to take the Empire for themselves. The Triumvirate needed money to fund an army of its own, and decided the best way to raise it was by kicking the proscription process into overdrive. They drew up a list of several hundred wealthy Romans, accused them of crimes, executed them and took their property.
• In the mid-1530s, English king Henry VIII was short of funds, so he seized the country’s monasteries and claimed their property and income for the Crown. As historian G. J. Meyer tells it in The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty:
“By April fat trunks were being hauled into London filled with gold and silver plate, jewelry, and other treasures accumulated by the monasteries over the centuries. With them came money from the sale of church bells, lead stripped from the roofs of monastic buildings, and livestock, furnishings, and equipment. Some of the confiscated land was sold – enough to bring in £30,000 – and what was not sold generated tens of thousands of pounds in annual rents. The longer the confiscations continued, the smaller the possibility of their ever being reversed or even stopped from going further. The money was spent almost as quickly as it flooded in – so quickly that any attempt to restore the monasteries to what they had been before the suppression would have meant financial ruin for the Crown. Nor would those involved in the work of the suppression … ever be willing to part with what they were skimming off for themselves.”
• Soon after the French Revolution in 1789, the new government confiscated lands and other property of the Catholic Church and used the proceeds to back a new form of paper currency called assignats. The resulting money printing binge quickly spun out of control, resulting in hyperinflation and the rise of Napoleon.
• During the US Civil War, Congress passed laws confiscating property used for “insurrectionary purposes” and of citizens generally engaged in rebellion.
• In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, president Franklin Roosevelt banned the private ownership of gold and ordered US citizens to turn in their gold. Those who did were paid in paper dollars at the then current rate of $20.67 per ounce. Once the confiscation was complete, the dollar was devalued to $35 per ounce of gold, effectively stealing 70 percent of the wealth of those who surrendered their gold.
• In 1942, after entering World War II, the US moved all Japanese citizens within its borders to concentration camps and sold off their property. The detainees were released in 1945, given $25 and a train ticket home – without being reimbursed for their losses.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, various kinds of capital controls and asset confiscations have become common. A few examples:
• Iceland required that firms seeking to invest abroad get permission from the central bank and that individual Icelanders get government authorization to buy foreign currency or travel overseas.
• Greece pulled funds directly from bank and brokerage accounts of suspected tax evaders, without prior notice or judicial due process.
• Argentina banned the purchase of U.S. dollars for personal savings and required banks to make loans in pesos at rates considerably below the true inflation rate.
• The US Fed proposed that money market funds be allowed to limit withdrawals of customer cash in times of market stress.
• Cyprus, a eurozone country, responded to a series of bank failures by confiscating 47.5% of domestic bank accounts over €100,000.
• Poland in September responded to a budgetary shortfall by confiscating the assets of the country’s private pension funds without offering any compensation.
• Spain was recently revealed to have looted its largest public pension fund, the Social Security Reserve Fund, by ordering it to use its cash to buy Spanish government bonds. Currently 90% of the €65 billion fund had been invested in Spanish sovereign paper, leaving the fund’s beneficiaries dependent on future governments’ ability to manage their finances.
Now for the big one, reported by Automatic Earth on Saturday October 12:
That just leaves door number three, demonize the successful and take what they’ve accumulated. Recall from the historical list that opened this post that governments like to pick on members of society who 1) have lots of money and 2) have lots of enemies or can easily be framed for crimes. This time around it will be “the rich” who are living well at the expense of the rest of us. The trick will be to define “rich” down far enough to make possible the confiscation of middle-class IRAs and 401(K)s, since that’s where the real money is.
Interesting that the build-up to asset confiscation is coinciding with a coordinated take-down of gold and silver, the two assets that will be hardest to steal when the time comes.
John Rubino, co-author, with GoldMoney’s James Turk, of The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit From It (Doubleday, 2007), and author of Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green-Tech Boom (Wiley, 2008), How to Profit from the Coming Real Estate Bust (Rodale, 2003) and Main Street, Not Wall Street (Morrow, 1998). After earning a Finance MBA from New York University, he spent the 1980s on Wall Street, as a Eurodollar trader, equity analyst and junk bond analyst. During the 1990s he was a featured columnist with TheStreet.com and a frequent contributor to Individual Investor, Online Investor, and Consumers Digest, among many other publications. He currently writes for CFA Magazine.
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