By Kimberly Carter Gamble

I used to live with a great magician. He did magic tricks for parties, and for impromptu gatherings we’d have around the house. When guests would clamor to learn how he tricked them so well, he always declined to answer, saying to do so would violate The Magician’s Oath. The Oath, which was introduced over 2,400 years ago by the Greek Father of modern magic, Charlatates, was an agreement among magicians not to divulge the secrets of their trade, a way to collectively protect their art and in many cases their livelihood.

Even though my friend never told me how he did his tricks, by virtue of proximity and repetition, I was able to figure out a few of the sleight of hand moves he made. I realized first and foremost that to unpack the trick, I had to stop looking at what he was showing me, and instead look for what he was doing while I was distracted by his show.

Thirty years later I’m reminded of these sleight of hand techniques as I sit in the airport terminal on my way home from visiting with my daughter, reading headlines that proclaim a strong economy, a stock market boom (prior to the recent Dow Jones drop), and the value of the dollar at an all time high.

The gentleman next to me, with whom I strike up a conversation, asks,

“How can there be a financial collapse when the economy is booming?”

I start to wonder, if this man had been alive during the Depression of 1929, would he remember the “booming economy” that preceded that fall? Then again, he is old enough to remember the boom that preceded the tech bubble that burst in 2000, and the boom that preceded the housing collapse in 2008. Come to think of it, I can’t recall a single financial collapse that wasn’t preceded by an inflated bubble. So why is the pattern so elusive? My memory catapults back to my years with the magician, and how easy it was for me to be mesmerized by his skillful sleight of hand.

If it were just the entertainment of magic, I’d happily stay quiet and not bother with the awkward conversation likely to ensue if I venture to keep this conversation going. But I feel sad about how many people get screwed in these collapses, how the whole boom and bust cycle that we’re entrenched in seems to be a calculated “pump and dump” scheme of which this nice man and millions of others are going to bear the brunt.

So instead, I dive in:

“Do you know what a pump and dump scheme is?”

He suggests we look it up on our smart phones, to get a “real” definition.

“Pump and dump” is a form of fraud that involves artificially inflating the price of an owned stock through false and misleading positive statements, in order to sell the cheaply purchased stock at a higher price. Once the operators of the scheme “dump” sell their overvalued shares, the price falls and all but the initial investors lose their money.

“Pump and dump” is making money on creating and bursting financial bubbles. According to my research, this practice is not only legal, it’s rampant. And this manipulation is not just happening with stocks, it’s going on in all kinds of markets, including with currencies themselves. Meanwhile, the economic sleight of hand reels in vast numbers of believers, risking their retirement funds, their homes, and their lives.

What’s the evidence that we’re in the midst of a pump and dump cycle?

Here’s what occurs to me as we sit talking, waiting for our plane:

Despite all the “Quantitative Easing” (printing money, the pump part of currency pump and dump) and low interest rates, there is no substantive indicator that the dollar has any value other than what the Federal Reserve simply says it has. A strong economy? The actual purchasing power of the U.S. dollar has declined by 98% in the 102 years since the Federal Reserve was established.

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