A Banana Republic With No Bananas

George Washington's picture

Washington’s Blog

Experts on third world banana republics from the IMF and the Federal Reserve have said the U.S. has become a third world banana republic (and see this and this).

Are they right?

Well, let's look at Wikipedia's description of the four factors which make a country a banana republic.

Profits Privatized and Debts Socialized

first feature of a banana republic as "A collusion between the
overweening state and certain favored monopolistic concerns, whereby
the profits can be privatized and the debts socialized."


As I pointed out in November:

Nouriel Roubini writes in a recent essay:

This is a crisis of solvency, not just liquidity, but true
deleveraging has not begun yet because the losses of financial
institutions have been socialised and put on government balance sheets
. This limits the ability of banks to lend, households to spend and companies to invest...


releveraging of the public sector through its build-up of large fiscal
deficits risks crowding out a recovery in private sector spending

Roubini has previously written:

We're essentially continuing a system where profits are privatized and...losses socialized.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb says the same thing:

finishing The Black Swan, I realized there was a cancer. The cancer was
a huge buildup of risk-taking based on the lack of understanding of
reality. The second problem is the hidden risk with new financial
products. And the third is the interdependence among financial

[Interviewer]: But aren't those the very problems we're supposed to be fixing?

They're all still here. Today we still have the same amount of debt,
but it belongs to governments. Normally debt would get destroyed and
turn to air. Debt is a mistake between lender and borrower, and both
should suffer. But the government is
socializing all these losses by transforming them into liabilities for
your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What is the
effect? The doctor has shown up and relieved the patient's symptoms –
and transformed the tumour into a metastatic tumour. We still have the
same disease. We still have too much debt, too many big banks, too much
state sponsorship of risk-taking
. And now we have six million more Americans who are unemployed – a lot more than that if you count hidden unemployment.

[Interviewer]: Are you saying the U.S. shouldn't have done all those bailouts? What was the alternative?

Blood, sweat and tears. A lot of the growth of the past few years was
fake growth from debt. So swallow the losses, be dignified and move on.
Suck it up. I gather you're not too impressed with the folks in
Washington who are handling this crisis.

Ben Bernanke saved
nothing! He shouldn't be allowed in Washington. He's like a doctor who
misses the metastatic tumour and says the patient is doing very well.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calls it "socialism for the rich". So do many others.

Devalued Paper Currency

The second characteristic of a banana republic is "Devalued paper currency in the international community."

Check. Here's a chart of the trade weighted US Dollar from 1973-2009.


And here's a bonus chart showing the decline in the dollar's purchasing power from 1913 to 2005:


Politicians Use Time in Office to Maximize Their Own Gains

The third characteristic of a banana republic is:

-- those in positions of influence use their time in office to maximize
their own gains, always ensuring that any shortfall is made up by those
unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making

Check. As I wrote last month:

Summers, Geithner, Bernanke and Congress like things just the way they are.


Of course they do ... they're bought and paid for:

  • Lobbyists
    from the financial industry have paid hundreds of millions to Congress
    and the Obama administration. They have bought virtually all of the key
    congress members and senators on committees overseeing finances and
    banking. The Congress people who receive the most money from lobbyists
    are the most opposed to regulation. See this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.
  • Obama received more donations from Goldman Sachs and the rest of the financial industry than almost anyone else
  • Summers and the rest of Obama's economic team have made many millions - even in the first few months of being appointed, or right beforehand - from the financial industry

The chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University
(Donald J. Boudreaux) says that it is inaccurate to call politicians
prostitutes. Specifically, he says that they are more correct to call
them "pimps", since they are pimping out the American people to the
financial giants ...

Corruption Remains Unchecked, Politicians Are Only for Show

And the fourth characteristic of a banana republic is:

must be no principle of accountability within the government so that
the political corruption by which the banana republic operates is left
unchecked. The members of the national legislature will be (a) largely
for sale and (b) consulted only for ceremonial and rubber-stamp
purposes some time after all the truly important decisions have already
been made elsewhere.

Check. There's no accountability.

example, former Vice President of Dallas Federal Reserve, who said that
the failure of the government to provide more information about the
bailout signals corruption. As ABC writes:

O'Driscoll, a former vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of
Dallas and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think
tank, said he worried that the failure of the government to provide
more information about its rescue spending could signal corruption.

in government programs is always associated with corruption in other
countries, so I don't see why it wouldn't be here," he said.

As I noted in October:

William K. Black - professor of economics and law, and the senior regulator during the S & L crisis - says that that the government's entire strategy now - as during the S&L crisis - is to cover up how bad things are ("the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts").


Indeed, as I have previously documented,
7 out of the 8 giant, money center banks went bankrupt in the 1980's
during the "Latin American Crisis", and the government's response was
to cover up their insolvency.


Black also says:


There has been no honest examination of the crisis because it would embarrass C.E.O.s and politicians . . .

Instead, the Treasury and the Fed are urging us not to examine the crisis and to believe that all will soon be well.

PhD economist Dean Baker made a similar point, lambasting
the Federal Reserve for blowing the bubble, and pointing out that those
who caused the disaster are trying to shift the focus as fast as they

The current craze in DC policy
circles is to create a "systematic risk regulator" to make sure that
the country never experiences another economic crisis like the current
one. This push is part of a cover-up of what really went wrong and does absolutely nothing to address the underlying problem that led to this financial and economic collapse.

Baker also says:

"Instead of striving to uncover the truth, [Congress] may seek to conceal it" and tell banksters they're free to steal again.

Politicians are for sale.

And Congress made a big show of passing derivatives reform legislation, but actually weakened existing regulations. In fact, the legislation was "probably written by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs" (two of the biggest derivatives players). In other words, Congress just rubber-stamped decisions which were already made elsewhere.

The same is true with every other piece of financial "reform" legislation which has been passed. See this and this.

It's all for show, folks. Dodd, Frank, Obama and all the other
politicians of both parties (with the exception of a handful trying to do the right
thing) are "consulted only for ceremonial and rubber-stamp purposes
some time after all the truly important decisions [about economic
legislation] have already been made elsewhere"

Without the Bananas

Wikipedia gives some additional background on the term "banana republic":

republic is a pejorative term originally used to refer to a country
that is politically unstable, dependent on limited agriculture (e.g.
bananas), and ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, and corrupt

Well, America isn't dependent on limited agriculture like bananas. But just about the only areas of growth are in the military and in giant companies lavished with buckets of cash and special "favors" by Uncle Sugar.

As one commentator succinctly put it, America has become:

A banana republic with no bananas.

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AnAnonymous's picture

No bananas? But the US has all the bananas in the world. The US is that country that can emit new lines of credit and watch how other countries valorize the new lines of credit by accepting to yield any wealth a society needs to endure against USD.

Buck Johnson's picture

We are a global Durian, we truly are.  We have been a "banana" republic for a few decades now, the problem is that they haven't told us yet.  Actually even if they told us many americans wouldn't  believe it.  They have dumbed the majority of us down so much that they can't use simple logic in dealing with what their problems are truly.  The magic words are religion, freedom, and guns, thats it.  Anything else is just weird noise to them.  I think the reality will hit home when our economy and dollar implodes.  Once it does and people aren't getting their govt. subsidized anything, they will go nuts.

metastar's picture

Wrong. We have bananas. They are in public office issuing banana currency daily. What are we, nuts bananas? (nuts are to be saved for the long cold winter).

Hulk's picture

Politicians are for sale

OK, so let us zh'ers  penny up and buy one, in the name of zero hedge. Bwarney Fwank anyone?

pigpen's picture

Speaking of banana republics - The top ten signs we are living in a banana republic. Enjoy.


Gimp's picture

rhammer1  before asking any tough questions of a government bureaucrat just remember the incident a couple of years ago at the University of Florida when a student tried to ask Sen. John Kerry  a tough question and was subsequently tackled to the ground by campus police with his final infamous words being:


Democracy in action, good old United Banana States of Frutopia.

Dirtt's picture

"You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right"

Respectfully disagree Mr. Lennon. It is this very system in Congress that WE DO WANT TO DESTROY. Grow some balls America. Or have them lopped off by the corruption.

girl money's picture

Proof that there are still very smart minds in this world.  So tragic that this kind of truth and brainpower is ignored in the hallowed halls of the government of the United States of Bananas.

Especially love Taleb when he gets going.  Refreshing.  Need Roubini, Taleb and Black vs Bernanke, Geithner and Bair on Fox Business.  CNBC's ratings have disappeared the farther they've crawled up BHO's behind.  Buh-bye.

Let's have a REAL debate, let's rip the freakin cover off of this cesspool. 

JohnKing's picture

I saw banana republic when looking at the crooked Bernanke, Paulson, Ken Lewis fraud that was perpetrated and apparently still covered over. When a handful of elite are above the law, you have a banana republic. Investment is fleeing (who will invest in a game rigged against you)...that is all that matters.

Problem Is's picture

"A banana republic with no bananas."

Excellent Summation

I particularly like the dollar chart since 1913... I have to disagree on the bananas though...

Politician approved TBTF banks have sodomized each of us with a banana up the ol' exit vent...

It is NOT a Left Right Thing

Before worthless corrupt duplicitous a-holes like Dodd, Frank and Obummer... it was worthless corrupt duplicitous a-holes like Paulson, Bush and Gramm... before that it was worthless corrupt duplicitous a-holes like Rubin, Summers and BJ Clinton...

Well you get the point...

weinerdog43's picture

Well said.  The endless left-right bickering is an excellent distraction while TPTB empty the till.  I'll also throw in the traditional media as well for not only failing to report what's important, but their lowering of the general discourse.  Bickering scores more rating points than long stories on how the country is being hollowed out.

mchandler@ameritech.net's picture

They have unraveled most of the constitutional boundries. But they still haven't quite figured out how to disarm the American people. I hope it makes them nervous.

tony bonn's picture

as always george, you provide the most incisive and valuable insight of all commentators on zh (in company with smartknowledgeu).

i would only add that the usa is a totalitarian banana republic. and kalki makes a superb point.

and isn't it quite appropriate that the usa is governed by an indonesian citizen at this banana moment?


Kalki's picture

One of the Symptoms of a banana republic is that politicians get a lot of air time. When I immigrated from India to the USA in the late 80s, 30 minutes of news on Indian tv was dominated by 25 minutes by politicians inaugarating this or that. In the US, Ronald Reagan was hardly seen on TV. Then came Bush sr, and I saw a small increase, mainly due to the first Iraq war. Then came Clinton and I saw even more of him mainly due to the first WtC attack and Lewinsky scandal. Then came Bush jr and I saw another major increase due to 911, economy etc. Not only that, I saw other pols and their advisors even more on tv(Karl rove etc). Then came Obama and I cannot flip channels without seeing his face. On my last trip to India, in 30 minutes of news, politicians were there for hardly 10 minutes. We've imported the banana culture, make no mistake. Kalki<\p>

the grateful unemployed's picture

i want to disagree with you, in the particular. Reagan was on television a great deal. He also brought back the 'fireside' chat on radio, but Reagan, despite his carefully managed media persona, was not part of a personality cult. Bush Sr. landed on TV because of Gulf War I, and he was a below par personality. He made odd and offhand remarks, he vomited on the President of Japan at a state dinner. He spit when he said Saddam Hussein, and said upon losing the election, "don't Cry for Me Argentina.."

Clinton practised certain mannerisms which suggested he was part of a personality cult, particularily the Lewinsky scandal, which he later said, he did, because he could do it. Power for effect. Bush Jr. manifested the full range of behaviors a leader in a personality cult would express, secrecy, arrogance, derision. He openly espoused radical religious ideas, and he wielded power, primarily because he could. If you recall those scenes of Noreiga waving a machete at a political rally, you start to feel deja vu. The bully pulpit is exhibit A in the transformation, and many analysts said, that Reagan represented the 'Latinization' of American politics, the two party system in Mexico is the ruling party, and the party which is out of power, which is fair definition of how the two parties behave today.

Bush Jr. was on television less than just about any other President, but his use of television was carefully used to promote the idea that the people are blessed because their dear leader is even speaking to them. W really sealed the deal, but it was Obama which brought it fruition.

Obama has promoted personal and racial issues to a degree that would suggested impeachment in an earlier time. There is of course the Reaganlike, gosh shucks line which he lays down to keep the rubes fooled, but his face on the poster, red and blue really says a great deal. It could just as well be hanging on a wall in some Central American city. A personality cult figurer embellishes his role a military leader, he speaks in derisive or hectoring tones, and he is unable to separate himself from the role he plays. Since a statue for a living leader like Hussein, is a bit ostentatious, the system figures out other ways to reward personality cult leaders, such as giving them the Nobel prize, without consideration for their achievements.

There is of course a lot of vitriol aimed at Obama, and he panders to our Sunday school morality when he brushes it aside, but the anger is based on this shadow figure, the leader of a cult of sorts, who has already had us drink the kool-aid (the mandatory health insurance bill).

the personality cult is alive and well in the Bananamerican Republic

colonial's picture

George, good info, wrong headline, misplaced analysis. 

It is ALWAYS a mistake to look at something happening in the US and compare it to lesser economies.  The only analysis that should matter is an examination of what happened when the sun never set on the British Empire.  Or the fall of Rome.  These United States lead the world.  We have the leading economy, the largest Army.  We are the "light" of the world.  We forget that sometimes.  

We have led the world since WW2 specifically because of a fantastic relatively free enterprise system.  We are killing this free enterprise system and allowing the federal system, (The State,) to take control.  This is the fundamental problem. 

How does this manifest itself?  Take healthcare.  Foolish analysis always mentioned the Canada model, or France.  There is NO comparison.  In the history of the planet, no country has attempted, (or been as foolish,) as to mandate a healthcare system that seeks to fairly represent the needs of 300 million people.  What we just did with healtcare is quite literally insane.  I had no problem with the federal system applying a safety net of some fashion, but to mandate care on this level?  It is hubris on a stunning level. 

The same can now be said for financial services reform.  We are monkeying around with the largest most complex financial markets and are doing so with a mortally wounded financial services sector and a political/federal system run by people who have not only never worked a day in their collective lives in the financial world, but have never had anything like a "real job" in their collective lives. 

Has the planet gone mad?  What is even more depressing is that no Republican, (even in theory Mitt Romney,) can seem to explain this to the American people.

The analysis should not be about a bananna republic.  It should be more akin to Nero watching Rome burn. 

Hulk's picture

Great read Colonial. Always like your analysis...

You must be in the trenches..

Shameful's picture

No Republican can explain it, you ever hear of man named Ron Paul? 

colonial's picture

I know Ron Paul and his staff, he doesn't get it.  I wish he did

WaterWings's picture

Eh? What?

Do tell.

I think you know less about Dr. Paul than everything in your first post. He has already explained it to the American people - but only those with ears to hear, and eyes to see, are even capable of recognizing his warnings for what they are.

Just about every other politician out there can't even name three of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, let alone their behavior in application throughout US history.

GoldSilverDoc's picture

1) Given that we know that centralized control of an economy doesn't work - for instance, the Soviet Union - why does the Fed continually try to control the most important aspect of the economy, the money supply?

2) Who benefitted most from the bailouts, given that we have higher unemployment now than before, but record bonuses for Goldman Sachs and other bankers last year?

3) Why did the chairman of the fed lobby congressmen, before his reappoinment - which is a clear violation of law?

4) Why did the fed buy assets which it is not allowed to buy by law?

5) Who is benefitting most from the fraud of fractional reserve banking, and how can I get in on it?

trav7777's picture

Why are we all asking questions we already know the answers to?

The centralization of money isn't about efficiency, it's about profits for the people who control it.

Sergeant Pepper's picture

"And Congress made a big show of passing derivatives reform legislation, but actually weakened existing regulations. In fact, the legislation was "probably written by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs" (two of the biggest derivatives players). In other words, Congress just rubber-stamped decisions which were already made elsewhere"


Interesting that the custodian of all the Cash collateral that gets posted by every market participant on ICE Trust platform (biggest CDS Central CP) is none other than JP Morgan eh ?!


Surprized this fact not mentioned more widely - think about it - Initial Margin Posted by both sides of contract....$trillions of notional.....no Interest paid while short-term Libor is zero.....hmmmmmmm yum yum

brown_hornet's picture

Pineapple production was moved from Hawaii to Indonesia.

verum quod lies's picture


Yes, but I was trying to be positive (although some are still grown there); but please don't let the kids find out or they will cry. I mean, a banana depublic without bananas, we must do better than that.

rhammer1's picture

Tomorrow at 11:00 AM the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is speaking at West Virginia University and taking the students "tough" questions. 

I, as a student at WVU and religious reader of Zerohedge, would like to ask the Zerohedge community for a list of "tough" questions for Mr. Jeffery Lacker.

I will be given the opportunity to ask any and all questions.  What should I ask him?

Any questions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks ahead of time.  Let's come up with some good stuff.

trav7777's picture

This is the single most important question:

If/when the real economy can no longer grow, what happens to a system of money based upon debt?

AnAnonymous's picture

What happens?

Bah, a divide between people who consumed through debt and took a sizeable share of the good old times and people who did not consume debt and took a much less sizeable of the good old times (if the times ever be good for them, old yes though)

Through inheritance, one category will be better off than the other.

bokapita's picture

The question:

Just recently in the UK a cache of gold artefacts more than 1000 years old has been discovered in a farmer's field. The gold itself, let alone the value of the artefacts, is worth millions.

It is obvious that if in 1000 years time a box of dollar bill is unearthed, they will no value whatsoever, even had they not decayed to dust - which they would have.

Gold has endured as a stable measure of value since civilisations have existed, while the dollar's buying power has fallen by a factor of about 94% in 100 years. As is it the Federal Reserve's policy to allow the dollar's buying power to depreciate; who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged by this policy?"

RichardENixon's picture

"I will be given the opportunity to ask any and all questions."  Don't count on it, but you might try this one: Why is the Fed buying things that are outside of its mandate?

WaterWings's picture

Why are we taught in school that inflation[ary theft] is a good thing?

Why is it in history that the penalty for debasing the value of a currency by inflating the money supply was punishable by death?

Why does the Federal Reserve system have regional banks when only one is needed to house the printing press?

Who owns the Federal Reserve, exactly?

Why are we forced by law to pay our taxes in Federal Reserve notes, instead of real money like silver and gold which cannot be counterfeited, as set forth in the Constitution?

litoralkey's picture

Here is a good example this week of the depth of banana-republicanism we have already fallen:

"Obama Attends Non-Existent Soccer Game?"



"With all of the technology that people have -- iPhones, Blackberries -- not one person took a photo of Obama? And the press didn't get a shot of him getting into his vehicle? Obama loves the cameras, and this is what he looks like at his daughter's soccer game.

Even three days later, there are still no pictures of the president from Saturday's game. The USA just disarmed to Russia, Poland's president and 95 others were killed hours before, and there were many international leaders in Washington, D.C. for the nuclear summit set to begin on Monday, April 12.

And we shouldn't raise even more questions on his whereabouts? According to the MSM, the answer is yes."


halvord's picture

No, we just think you're an idiot.


Everyone knows Obama was off with his alien lizard nest brothers on Molt Day.

WaterWings's picture


Too bad a lot of people these days think you're racist for pointing that out.

Jim B's picture


Move along folks, nothing to see here.



SheepDog-One's picture

Most valuable item in a banana republic- a good battle rifle and lots of food for it.

trav7777's picture

Yep...100% true, because the Junta never has any rifles.

Oh wait, they do.

You ever been in a gunfight with, say, 10 people armed as well as you are?  Yeah, you're posting, I know the answer.

Kreditanstalt's picture

YES! We have no bananas...we have no bananas TODAY...!

Actually, I kinda thought the song line was referring to FASB, "extend & pretend", mark-to-fantasy or something...rather apropos considering all the B.S. going on

But you know what?  They DO say that there is an easy way to tell which are banana republics...they are the ones in which the statues change every election... 

Marvin_M's picture

"...come Mr. tally man, tally me bananas...daylight come and me want to go home...

- Ben "Banana Boat" Bernanke


verum quod lies's picture

It seems beyond question after TARP, TBTF, and related events/policies. Anyways, keep your powder dry and chins up, I still don't buy into the moral relativity cr_p that all countries, people, etc. are the same (i.e., there is no such thing as absolute morality of any kind); also we do grow some nice pineapples in Hawaii.


Marvin_M's picture

What our nation has become mocks the courageous and inspired people who risked everything to create a model for humanity... the hijackers of this ideal should hang their heads in shame...otherwise they should just hang.


"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America"

islander's picture

The Hatian Stock Market is booming. Wow. So is Americas. Both great places to live, if you take out the standard of living and use a capitalist mindset .



williambanzai7's picture

 I have spent a considerable amount of business time in places like Indonesia, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Thailand, PRC, Russia and Vietnam. I started my career on the American high horse. Now I am thoroughly convinced we should keep our hypocritcal mouths shut and let the world do its own thing. We are not a banana republic, we are a global durian.




nevadan's picture

I had to look this one up.

durian: the edible fruit of a tree, Durio zibethinus, of the bombax family of southeastern Asia, having a hard prickly rind, a highly flavored, pulpy flesh, and an unpleasant odor. 

So is this something you might want to eat but you have to hold your nose while doing so?

Sudden Debt's picture

banana's with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolat sauce....MMmmmmhh.....

Internet Tough Guy's picture

Banana republics display political instability; expect it.