Both Socialism and Populism have been invoked during Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign run and this has led to no small amount of conceptual confusion among the American people – myself included. His rhetoric and record as a senator has been overwhelmingly anti-Wall Street, pro-worker, and, well, popular, so when I heard the label “Socialist” coming from the more conservative side from the mainstream media I thought it was another scare-tactic and then embraced it as a possible cure for our neoliberal malaise of debt-fueled Superimperialism [Michael Hudson’s latest on US Neoliberal Empire]. His brand of Socialism isn’t the type that conservatives would have you believe though, many avowed Socialists have even distanced themselves from Sanders. It came as somewhat of a surprise, but more of a moment of clarity, when Douglas Edwards (@SebastosPublius) tweeted to me that he is not in fact a Socialist but still demands support from the left in the way he steers the conversation in the media away from compromise with wealthy financiers and corporate giants embedded within the political process [How Wall Street Is Burning Democracy].
Bernie Sanders is not a Socialist because Socialism means state ownership of the means of production, the effective nationalization of industry and seizure of the capital, materials, and distribution for a government operating in the name of “the people”, and that is not his platform.
On Bernie as a Socialistic Democrat, or Democratic Socialist (or whatever):
“the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:
I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.” [Source]
This makes Bernie Sanders definitively not a Socialist – and he shouldn’t be. While the battle against the interest of the super-wealthy is just and necessary on our imperiled planet, Socialism never figured out a way of preventing the shoring up of power within a single party after the revolutions they helped accelerate. This consolidation of massive power within a single party is in no way democratic, which is why ‘democratic socialism’ is the term that the Sanders campaign has settled on. These ghosts are too easily conjured up by reactionary apologists for Capitalism and American Imperial supremacy; the problem is that the wrong tradition of thought is being drawn on. It would be a sad state of affairs if Bernie Sanders were defeated over a single label that he doesn’t even own. Perhaps the only recourse for anti-capitalist, humanists, and those fighting for the interests of the great many, when it comes to imagining a just society in economic and political terms, in the recent past has been Socialism.
To be clear here, Socialism is and has been a theoretical framework that challenges Capitalism and seeks to solve its horrendous consequences by reappropriating the wealth, factories, products, etc. and redistributing it. It is not the content of Socialism that people are demanding however, its main strength is in giving people a discourse with which to locate the main actors that are creating so much misery. It is this appeal that has gotten people excited about electing a Socialist president (albeit in a lighter form [Bernie Sanders’ New Deal Socialism]). However, there is another tradition of economic thought that fits in better with Sanders’ aspirations and the 99%’s as well, the only downside is that it has been suppressed from our cultural memory.
The other big word that is seeing a revived by Sanders’ campaign is “Populism”. This word invokes a tradition that precedes Socialism as a body of thought and rallying cry by a few decades in the late nineteenth century – to those who know about it. For a brief time, southern, mid-west, and many northern farmers in the wake of the Civil War were embroiled in a political insurrection against the dominant interests of the financial class in the east and the politicians they controlled. Overburdened by a system called “crop-lien” and without recourse to anything but the two parties who wouldn’t listen to them, they got creative and formed their own party based on their own ideas for how the money system should work. In fact, throughout the entire nineteenth century, and even late eighteenth century, the newly formed United States of America wrestled with itself over how the money system should work, who would benefit the most from it, and what, in general, it’s money would be. In contrast to the Socialists, whose body of thought came from figures like Saint-Simon and was taken up and refined by the Proudhon’s and Marx’s in Europe, the Populists grew organically by burgeoning farmer-activists and American monetary theorists whose ideas didn’t stick in quite the same way. Rather than talking about “the means of production” or “the proletarian working class” (these terms gained in significance and explanatory power during the era of mass industrialization, which had only just gotten underway in the era of Populism), they talked about money more openly as farmers with an urgent need for credit. The image of the “independent farmer” of Thomas Jefferson’s vision was closer to people’s self-identification and they called economic crises “money shortages,” due in large part to the failure of the much reviled banks.
The Greenback Party argued a strong case for a more flexible currency that was not controlled by debt-wielding banks and their “gold-backed” banknotes and they preceded the Populists, who accepted their critique and broadened it to a larger swath of Americans. This by-and-large forgotten body of thought and history is far better suited for Bernie’s campaign to invoke. Not only is populism “made-in-America” but it has a penetrating critique and solution for how to deal with the vice-grip that bankers and investors hold on the greater population in terms of both politics and, via their debt-money, economics. There is no better place to look for a solution to what to do after Sander’s “political revolution” than America’s own history, coming straight from the masses of early American farmers themselves and the proposal for a money system that galvanized them.
The Sanders campaign has rightfully taken up the anti-Wall Street sentiment that has swept through the nation because they are the ones standing most directly in the way of meaningful change. Lack of access to cheap credit and the reliance on bankers as the producers of money-for-debt are (I would argue) the single biggest barrier to altering business as usual and healing the planet of its growing fever [James Hansen’s latest report on Climate Change]. The greater left neglects the most crucial aspect of economics (money) by remaining within the entrenched mindset of materialist political economy (rooted in the works of David Ricardo, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Marx) and the Socialists who derived much of the fundamental tenets of their thought from. Heck, if a modern day politician starting talking about Greenbackism and reforming the money system in the way that Americans used to, it could completely change the political landscape in a time when both political parties and their congress people are reviled by a great majority of the population but [Poll Ratings], for lack of a popular base and a robust third party organization, are unable to see beyond. This is the political climate in which Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have risen through parties that do not want them to win but enjoy far more support among their base than any other candidate they could groom.
Having heard a bit about the Populists and their monetary reform crusade, I picked up one of its brief histories by Lawrence Goodwyn on a tip from and activist friend. I would highly recommend giving it a read, for Goodwyn gives a detailed account of a grassroots movement and explains what we would call the monetary theory that they relied on to save them from their destitution. In what follows I would like to give an even more brief summary of the Populists, focusing on the systematic machinations of early American money and how they would have changed it had they been successful.
[Goodwyn, Lawrence. The Populist Moment. Oxford University Press, 1978 (link)]
The Populist Party rode to major success in the elections of early 1890’s that shook up the GOP, at the time as the Democrats controlling the South, forcing the Democratic Party to absorb them through political trickery or become fractured. They got William Jennings Bryant to run for president for the Dems on a platform of monetary reform, but their message had been water-down to merely expanding the money supply with silver bullion instead of releasing the nation’s money from the grip of bankers entirely. Silver would become the wedge that split the Populist Party and their radical (by our standards) monetary theory that would have released money from the illusion of a metallic backing. Originally, the Populists wanted to bring back the Greenbacks that President Lincoln had issued to finance the Civil War without the help of banker’s high interest loans (25-35% – a nearly impossible sum to repay on such a large principle) and to allow credit to flow into the cooperative exchanges that the farmers had established to get better prices for their crops. Nothing else they wanted or could create could work when the eastern financier elites and the merchant bulk supply purchasers they were in league with could simply choose not to do business with them until their cooperatives were broken apart and the purchasing prices lowered. The farmers, journalists and movement organizers of the populists knew this through experience and strategy meetings: the only way to put a stop to their desperate poverty was to reform the money system and wrest the production of money from the hands of wealthy financiers. It was a battle so vitally important to the soul of America that the victor was not satisfied with controlling the levers of money with their banks but insisted on destroying the very memory of the battle and the ideas they employed for fear of their resurrection. Think that’s too strong? Read the Hazard Circular written by the London financial capitalists for their American counterparts meant specifically to obscure the money question in politics and divide the population against itself before they figure it out. [The History of the Hazard Circular]
The major constraining force acting immediately on the farmers of America after the Civil War was the above mentioned “crop-lien” system. It was by-and-large this system that kept farmers poor, disempowered, and sent many fleeing out west or into the cities to escape their debts. Merchant supply houses controlled credit in the rural towns by lending out tools and materials needed to start a small farm. The amount due to the creditors very often exceeded what farmers were able to gain from the crops they produced on their land at the harvest. The problem was interest, and its accrual crushed indebted farmers:
“Acted out at as thousand merchant counters in the South after the Civil War, these scenes were so ubiquitous that to describe one is to convey a sense of them all. The farmer, his eyes downcast, and his hat sometimes literally in his hand, approached the merchant with a list of his needs.. The man behind the counter consulted a ledger, and after a mumbled exchange, moved to his shelves to select the goods that would satisfy at least a part of his customer’s wants. Rarely did the farmer receive the range of items or even the quantity of one item he had requested. No money changed hands; the merchant merely made brief notations in his ledger. Two weeks or a month later, the farmer would return, the consultation would recur, the mumbled exchange and the careful selection of goods would ensue, and new additions would be noted in the ledger. From early spring to late fall the ritual would be enacted until, at “settlin’-up” time, the farmer and the merchant would meet at the local cotton gin, where the fruits of a year’s toil would be ginned, bagged, tied, weighed, and sold. At that moment, the farmer would learn what his cotton had brought. The merchant, who had possessed title to the crop even before the farmer had planted it, then consulted his ledger for a final time. The accumulated debt for the year, he informed the farmer, exceeded the income received from the cotton crop. The farmer had failed in his efforts to “pay out” – he still owed the merchant a remaining balance for the supplies “furnished” on credit during the year. The “furnishing merchant” would then announce his intention to carry the farmer through the winter on a new account, the later merely having to sign a note mortgaging to the merchant the next year’s crop. The lien signed, the farmer, empty-handed, climbed into his wagon and drove home, knowing that for the second or fifth or fifteenth year he had not paid out.
Such was the crop-lien system. It constituted a new and debasing method of economic organization that took its specific form from the devastation of the Civil War and from the collapse of the economic structure of Southern society which had resulted from the war… The South had become, in the words of one historian, a “giant pawn shop.”
The furnishing merchants, able to get most of their goods on consignment from competing Northern mercantile houses, bought supplies and “furnished them on credit to farmers, taking a lien on the farmer’s crop for security. Farmers learned that the interest they were paying on everything they consumed limited their lives in a new and terrible way; the rates imposed were frequently well in excess of 100 percent annually, sometimes over 200 percent. The system had subtle ramifications which made this mountain of interest possible. At the heart of the process was a simple two-price system for all items – one price for cash customers and a second and higher price for credit customers.” (p.21-22)
This crop-lien system was the mechanism that suppressed farmers and kept them “dirt poor.” It was the ability to charge a higher rate for customers buying on credit and their control over access to the tools and materials that the farmers needed that allowed the merchants to gouge their debtors with a near endless cycle of repayment. Under these desperate circumstances, farmers began to organize.
The farmers of the South formed an alliance in 1878 and slowly encouraged other counties and states to form their own “suballiances” locally. Two innovations helped pick up momentum for the Farmer’s Alliance: the consolidation of the farmer’s crop into a single storehouse that would then sell to the merchants collectively at a higher price instead of individually, and a traveling lecture circuit that would arrive at community centers (churches) and educate the farmers on how the new method of ‘bulking’ would help them. The lecture circuit would double as a uniting force between the suballiances and it gave them a venue to promote the idea of Greenback money and a new idea coming from the Populist Farmers Alliance movement called the “sub-treasury plan.”
Before jumping into the substance of these ideas and how they would reverse the farmers fortunes, as well as the nature and production of money in America, a brief history of the Greenback dollar will help set the scene and give some context for why so many Americans demanded monetary reform. For besides the lack of access to cheap credit, farmers were fetching a smaller price for their goods on the market simply from the change in value of the currency. The Eastern financial class – those wealthy bondholders – wanted to ensure their government bonds had the highest value, regardless of how much of a burden this put on the rest of the country via a shrinking supply of money. Goodwyn summarizes complicated money policy and competing interests very well and is worth quoting again at length:
“In technical language that millions of Americans would try to comprehend over the next two generations, “specie payments” had been “suspended.” Two months after the Treasury ceased paying coin for its obligations, Congress, under relentless wartime spending pressure, authorized the issuance of “legal tender treasury notes” to cover obligations. Because of the color of their ink, the notes soon became known as “greenbacks.” By the end of the war some $450 million of these treasury notes were in circulation, having contributed to wartime inflation, greater commercial liquidity, and prosperity.
In orthodox financial circles favoring “gold monometallism” the postwar problem was one of ending “suspension’ and achieving “resumption” by retiring the greenbacks and returning to a redeemable currency of hard money. The currency “contraction” that necessarily would follow might be painful for various members of the society, especially debtors, but only as the painful cleaning of a wound was essential to ultimate health. At the heart of the banker’s approach was an understanding of gold and silver money not as a medium of exchange, but as a commodity that had “intrinsic value.”…
However, bankers and other creditor-bondholders had a more specific motive for specie resumption. The currency had depreciated steadily during the war, and, having purchased government bonds then, they, understandably, looked forward to the windfall profits to be made from redeeming their holdings in gold valued at the prewar level. A governmental decision to begin paying coin for its obligations would mean that, though the Civil War had been fought with fifty-cent dollars, the cost would be paid in one-hundred-cent dollars. The nation’s taxpayer would pay the difference to the banking community holding the bonds. Bankers marshaled a number of moral imperatives to support their case. They argued that they had supported the war effort – albeit with depreciated money – by buying government securities on the assumption that the postwar dollar would be returned to “par.”… Bondholders and the Eastern financial community – the two terms were more or less interchangeable – further argued that resumption would encourage saving, investment, and economic growth by assuring holders of capital that the dollar would have “long-term stability.” The country would be placed on a “sound” footing Finally, the banker’s case was patriotic: the nation’s honor was at stake.
Some practical difficulties intruded, however. A return to hard money could only be accomplished in one of two ways – both quite harmful to a great number of Americans. The first was to raise taxes and then employ the proceeds to redeem wartime bonds and to retire greenbacks from circulation. This, of course, would contract the economy abruptly, driving prices down, but also depressing business severely and increasing unemployment, perhaps to socially dangerous levels… Any immediate attempt to “resume specie payments” would have quickly exhausted the nation’s gold supply through an unfavorable balance of trade.
The second method of contracting the currency spread the resulting economic pain over a longer period of time. The government could merely hold the supply of money at existing levels while the population and the economy of the nation expanded, thus forcing general price levels down to a point where it was no longer profitable to redeem paper dollars in gold to finance imports. In due course, this is what happened.
To the nation’s farmers, contraction was a mass tragedy which eventually led to the Populist revolt.” (p.10-13)
The main cause for the lack of money available to the people and their resulting plight was the interests of the wealthy bondholders. These people bought these bonds from the government with the hopes of receiving a good return on their investment after the war. After all, the North could have lost the war and those bonds, as a result, would be useless without a government to pay them. But they could have received a return on their money at a depreciated value, while the rest of the economy would have performed far better in an environment where money was more abundant and expanded along with the expansion of commerce in general. Instead they used their resources to obtain the maximum value of their bonds and then buy up greenbacks and destroy them, phasing them out of existence and retaining control of the issuance of money within the banks. The common interest of this stratum of society, together with their high education, vast wealth, and leisure time, allowed them to out-maneuver a vast majority only a few of which could understand what was happening to them.
While the bondholders got the most out of their bonds, the resulting contraction of the economy would drive down the price of the goods that the many farmers were selling, like cotton. Simply selling one’s goods in American dollars brought a smaller return thanks to the contraction of money. The farmers didn’t have much money in savings accounts, their money came to them at the harvest time when the purchasers came to town. A contracted money supply means less money spread out to cover over greater commercial activity. So, if you had money, it appreciated; if you had to sell goods to earn money to then buy other goods (or settle debts), the price at which you had to sell was lower.
The Populists would change this situation by mobilizing their lecturers to explain just how these financiers were diminishing the value of their crops by contracting the money supply. They would also promote a solution that would give them hope for democratic control over the money system in their sub-treasury idea, which seized on the existing memory of the greenback and the latent power of the government to issue its own currency and spend it into existence instead of borrow it from banks. The crux of the matter went to the very heart of what money is. One could even say it went to the heart of how America would be run as a country, with economic democracy (via control of money supply and its issue) or economic oligarchy. The bankers wanted their “sound money” (gold-backed banknotes issued by their fractional reserve method) and the Populists wanted “flexible money” that would come into existence by the government’s own initiative and be more plentiful.
“The debtor philosophy offered another way of stabilizing prices. By reducing the content of the dollar to one-half its prewar figure, the nation could have simply accepted the fact that the currency had lost one-half of its purchasing power, frankly and rather painlessly acknowledging that currency devaluation had taken place during the war. Granted that such a solution would remove the windfall profits that bondholders anticipated from the return of the old standard, it also avoided the multiple hazards to the rest of society implicit in the objectives of “sound money” bankers.
To greenbackers, the case for a fiat currency was completely persuasive because the nation needed an expanding monetary system to keep up with population growth and commercial expansion. Greenbacks were “the people’s currency, elastic, cheap and inexportable, based on the entire wealth of the country.” As this study of American populism reveals, the greenback cause was a many-faceted phenomenon, sometimes put forward in arguments which were opportunist and ephemeral, but more frequently presented in a coherent analysis that attained a level of advanced social criticism.
Whatever the short-run economic equities, the greenback critique of American finance capitalism – should it ever gain a mass popular following – constituted a political issue of the first magnitude.” (p.12-13)
So it didn’t take long for the disgruntled farmers to realize that their difficulties in production under the crop-lien system were connected to the system of money production itself. Their crops were fetching a lower price than they should have if the money supply had grown with the growth of the economy. On top of that, the furnishing merchants controlled the books by which farmers’ debts were calculated, charging usurious interest rates on their loaned out materials. This kept farmers in a gigantic territory oppressed by monetary policy and the creditors who provided them with what they needed, only at high interest. Solutions existed, but without a method to organize and act in concert the farmers were at the mercy of their creditors.
The Farmers Alliance changed this with their army of lecturers and suballiance system that gave the lecturers a place to travel to speak with and listen to the farmers. Together they created a movement culture that successfully brought people a sense of their own worth in common and instilled hope for a new system that would benefit them. They began the process of bulking their cotton together in large storehouses to get their higher prices and even allowed farmers to take out credit from these exchanges secured on future crops. Bringing their crops together in these storehouses gave suballiances a direct benefit to their cooperative efforts, but the constant antagonism from the wealthy merchants seeking a lower price kept their existence tenuous. They remained too small to help enough of the population and in order to expand they needed credit. It was in this situation that Charles Macune introduced his idea of the “sub-treasury” monetary system, an idea that could link the cooperative storehouse bulking practice with the flexible, non-metallic currency idea of Greenbackism.
“In arguing for changed relations between “different classes,” Macune suggested a conscious raising of the stakes above those being gambled in the cooperative movement. Macune’s plan called for federal warehouses to be erected in every county in the nation that annually yielded over $500,000 worth of agricultural produce. In these “sub-treasuries,” farmers could store their crops to await higher prices before selling. They were to be permitted to borrow up to 80 per cent of the local market price upon storage, and could sell their sub-treasury “certificates of deposit” at the prevailing market price at at time of year. Farmers were to pay interest at the rate of 2 per cent per annum, plus small changes for grading, storage, and insurance. Wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye, rice, tobacco, cotton, wool, and sugar were included under the marketing program.
The plan carried far-reaching ramifications for the farmer, the nation’s monetary system, and the citizenry as a whole…. In effect, Macune had replaced the high-interest crop-mortgage of the furnishing merchant with a plan that mortgaged the crop of to the federal government at low interest. It thus provided the farmer with the means to escape, at long last, the clutches of the advancing man and recover a measure of control over his own life. For the farmers of the South, both black and white, the sub-treasury plan was revolutionary.” (p.109-110)
It was an ambitious plan, to say the least. It was an appeal for the country’s money to be injected into the farmer’s local exchange directly, instead of through a bank intermediary that got to lend out its gold-backed banknotes. The treasury would issue greenback dollar bills and lend them to the cooperative exchanges on the future market value of the crops that were stored in their warehouses. No longer would there be a lack of credit flowing to farmers who produced real goods but couldn’t fetch a decent price for them. The money system would be brought under democratic control in the sub-treasury plan, with a large portion of the supply of money determined by farmer’s needs instead of entirely controlled by who banks believed was a worthy investment. Small farmers were left out of bank lending and without an injection of money directly from the source of money minting and printing, the government, they were left to the pawn-shops of furnishing merchants – unbanked and without access to cheap, non-usurious credit.
“The status that the sub-treasury plan came to have in reform ranks is revealing. For, to put the matter as quietly as possible, Macune’s plan was democratic. Or, to put it in archaic political terminology, it was breathtakingly radical. Under the sub-treasury, the power of private moneylenders to decide who “qualified” for crop loans and who did not would have been ended. The contracted currency, the twenty-five year decline in volume and prices, would have ended in one abrupt – and democratic – restructuring. The prosperity levels of 1865 would have been reclaimed in one inflationary – and democratic – swoop. Most important of all, the sub-treasury addressed a problem that has largely defeated twentieth-century reformers, namely the mal-distribution of income within American society. By removing some of the more exploitative features embedded in the inherited monetary system, the sub-treasury would have achieved substantive redistribution of income from creditors to debtors. Put simply, a more democratic monetary system would have produced a more democratic sharing of the nation’s total economic production.” (p.301-302)
Based on these ideas, the insurgent farmers from the American South and Mid-West formed the Populist Party and wrote The Omaha Platform that would outline the central tenets of their political aspirations. [Source] With the success of many of their campaigns to get congressmen, governors elected to office under their party, the Democrats took notice and set to co-opt their message and support base. They pushed the idea of re-monetizing silver (which had already been the currency standard in America from 1792 until the Civil War [Coinage Act of 1792]), an idea that would not have structurally changed the flow of money in the country but only expanded it. Even with the added support coming from the recently absorbed Populist Party, the Democrats lost the big election of 1896 to the Republican McKinley.
After the Party fell apart, more banking crises would erupt as they had been in the previous decade. An especially bad banking crisis occurred in 1907 and set the stage for the secretly concocted Federal Reserve Act. The Fed would not solve the problem of periodic bank failures and depressions, but would strengthen the biggest bank’s interests structurally. Nobody has been able to move congress to enact reform of the money system democratically, though the Populists and the ingenious sub-treasury plan came the closest to anything outside of the existential threat of war to making it happen. They had a vision, a base of voters and organizers, and a culture that could be legitimately laid claim to. Their ideas strongly resonated with a huge number of Americans but through cooptation, smears in the newspapers, and an expensive and unprecedented election campaign, so grand and effective that it would set the standard for all subsequent presidential campaigns, the Populists were defeated. The patriotic flag-waving supporters of McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryant with a gushing of campaign money to squash even the Democrats’ weak idea of monetary reform: a bimetallic standard that would have still kept the bankers at the levers of money production.
It is far too late to get someone like Bernie Sanders to switch gears and start talking about what would seem like an obscure history lesson in democratic movements. Any lessons taken from the Populist Party and their struggle would have to be superimposed on the body of thought that is more familiar to everyone than to try and start from scratch. The ideas of the Greenback and Populist Parties are close to another more modern body of thought called Sovereign Money spearheaded by Joseph Huber [website] and Positive Money [website] in the UK. The point within the context of a President Bernie Sanders prospect is that we should be talking about (he should get us to talk about) socializing money, not all the industry in the country, but the money system. Socialize money! Don’t socialize the means of production, socialize the means of producing money! This would not require nationalizing the big banks but removing their ability to control the money supply and how they are allowed to allocate it through issuing Federal Reserve Notes instead of United States Notes and collecting interest on nearly all the money in circulation. We could give everyone the option of having a bank account at the Federal Reserve: our very own “sub-treasury system” for a modern economy.
The challenges that face organizing for a major Socialist reform/revolution have been well documented in our precarious gig-economy. [Gig Workers Need the Power to Organize] One simple fix to the money system would relieve great pain around the world by removing the ‘too-big-to-fail’ status of mega-banks within the economy and allowing the ultra-rich to loose money on their bad bets instead of ruining enter countries. [Greece: Austerity for the Bankers] This question of who would control the money was once the single biggest issue on the minds of the American people, spurring the largest of social movements and riots. [Read: William Hogeland’s Founding Finance] The only problem is that we have forgotten this heritage and the textbooks won’t point students in the right direction. An unfortunate historical fact is that we have few images of the Populists and their deeds to draw on, making it difficult to imagine their movement.
As an alternative to the mainstream histories of great statesmen and classical economists, Socialism is only a good start. Throw in some financial literacy, a good theory of money [Read: Geoffrey Ingham’s The Nature of Money], and a President unrestrained by financier-capitalists and politics might start to get exciting again.
Until then, one-quarter the country will getting gouged by payday lenders, check-cashers, and their creditors in general, [Financial Services for the Unbanked] [25% of Americans have negative net worth]and over half of the country will not be able to raise $400 dollars at any given time without going into debt or selling their possessions. [Fed Report]