So while Alan Greenspan was being knighted and Ben Bernanke was named Time’s Person of the Year, “After 1998, other rich countries’ mortality rates continued to decline by 2 percent a year. In contrast, U.S. white non-Hispanic mortality rose by half a percent a year. No other rich country saw a similar turnaround,” conclude Angus Denton and his co-author and wife Anne Case.  

“Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause,” says Deaton, “Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” he added. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

So while are white people killing themselves either slowly or quickly? Writing for The Atlantic Olga Khazan points to financial strain. While the Greenspan and Bernanke Fed exploded the money supply and lowered interest rates under the guise of making people’s lives better, with low rates making borrowing and the payments on homes, cars and gadgets people desire more affordable.

But while Americans lived it up in the here and now, Khazan points out many middle-aged people haven’t saved enough for retirement, so, “All of this is crashing down on Boomers, who were raised on the promise of the American Dream.”

Nobel winner Denton and Case explain,  “After the productivity slowdown in the early 1970s, and with widening income inequality, many of the baby-boom generation are the first to find, in midlife, that they will not be better off than were their parents.”

Financial insecurity weighs heavily on US workers because most depend not only the discipline to save but upon financial savvy to build wealth in their defined-contribution retirement accounts.

There are no sure things and Americans were given a lesson, good and hard, about foolproof investments when the housing market, that was never supposed to decline, crashed in 2008. Easy money and increasing home values were believed to be perpetual and average Americans bet their lifestyles and lives on it.

The fact is most people aren’t financial wizards. For many, balancing a checkbook is the equivalent of solving a Rubik’s cube, yet central bankers force us to play the stock market and entice Joe and Jane Lunch Bucket to leverage up that box they occupy. However, the human brain was constructed for fleeing danger, not excelling at speculation and understanding the vagaries of debt instruments.

Yes, those houses that people hold so dear are just boxes says Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) to his protogè Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) in 99 Homes. “Big boxes, small boxes, it doesn’t matter,” says Carver. “It only matters how many boxes you have.”

The stone cold Carver says more than once, “Don’t get emotional about real estate,” Of course “99 Homes” is an emotional roller coaster (mostly hurtling down) from opening to finish. A homeowner who preferred a bloody end to hearing Carver’s eviction demand opens the film.

Nash and his family are kicked to the curb (literally) by Carver and two sheriffs, who know their eviction speeches by heart and don’t take no for an answer. In a split second, Nash, his young son, and mother go from being homeowners to trespassers in full view of their friends and neighbors. For those that have been there and the empathetic, it’s hard to watch.

Similar scenes get played out again and again, with the talented and driven Nash working for Carver, first as handyman, then as deliverer of bad news.  Confused Alzheimer patients, normal working stiffs, and sweet, good-natured retirees all fall victim to Greenspan’s crash, with only the banks and GSE’s receiving Bernanke’s bailout.

Carver makes it clear to Nash that he will play the system and not let the system play him in a speech every bit as memorable as Gecko’s “Greed is good” or Blake’s “Always be closing.

Government money was trickling down and Carver had cash-for-keys scams ready to scoop up his share. He has Nash remove air conditioners and pool pumps, shoot pictures of the faux thievery so Fannie and Freddie bureaucrats far, far away would cut checks to replace the equipment that was safely stored away for later sale.  Nash receives a cut of the action with the belief he is doing good in a worthy cause to get his home back.

However, Nash’s crisis of conscience has him constantly on edge. Not until he’s outed as a forecloser at the budget motel where his family is living does his mother get an idea of how he makes the great money he has rolling in. He takes no pride in what he does and the danger of dealing with emotionally distraught homeowners becomes real enough for him to give in and begin carrying a loaded pistol as his boss does. And when he’s told to deliver a forged document to the court he breaks down.

Although the movie maker doesn’t point it out, the distress and moral ambiguities displayed  in “99 Homes” are the Fed’s creation. As Guido Hülsmann explains in The Ethics of Money Creation,  the creation of money beyond what the market would create–inflation in the form of fiat money–“is an inherently unstable way of producing money because it turns moral hazard and irresponsibility into an institution. The results are frequently recurring economic crises.”

Wall Street’s plunge into mortgage-backed securities was an example of what professor Hülsmann describes,

This is especially the case with managers of large corporations who have easy access to the capital markets. Their recklessness is often confused with innovativeness. Because credit springing from fiat inflation provides an easy financial edge, they have the tendency to encourage reckless behavior of the chief executives.

Writing at the height of the real estate bubble, Hülsmann explained,

Consider the current (2006) U.S. real-estate boom. Many Americans are utterly convinced that American real estate is the one sure bet in economic life. No matter what happens on the stock market or in other strata of the economy, real estate will rise. They believe themselves to have found a bonanza, and the historical figures confirm this. Of course this belief is an illusion, but the characteristic feature of a boom is precisely that people throw any critical considerations overboard. They do not realize that their money producer—the Fed—has possibly already entered the early stages of hyperinflation, and that the only reason why this has been largely invisible was that most of the new money has been exported outside of the U.S.

“99 Homes” is set in post-crash Florida, 2010 or thereabouts. The apocalypse of the crash is seen everywhere, it is as Hülsmann described “fiat inflation leaves a characteristic cultural and spiritual stain on human society.”

These were just normal folks, not wheeler-dealers, who were always told the best investment was to buy a house. The easy credit spigots opened and seemingly everyone got sucked in.

“The mere fact that such credit is offered at all incites some people to go into debt who would otherwise have chosen not to do so,” Hülsmann writes. “But easy credit becomes nearly irresistible in connection with another typical consequence of inflation, namely, the constantly rising price level.”

Saving is thought to be futile.  And who can make money consistently in financial markets? Instead, “As soon as young people have a job and thus a halfway stable source of revenue, they take a mortgage to buy a house—whereas their great-grandfather might still have first accumulated savings for some thirty years and then bought his house with cash.”

Seven years of the Fed’s zero interest rates have left savers earning nothing, keeping many on the job. As for the housing market, Diana Olick writes7.4 million borrowers were still ‘seriously’ underwater on their mortgages at the end of June, according to RealtyTrac.”

Even the guy who has the (wrong) answer to everything, Paul Krugman, admits, “the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America. But it clearly is, with troubling consequences for our society as a whole.”

In Walk Away I cite the work of  University of Arizona’s Prof. Brent White who in his paper “Walking Away: The Emotional Drivers of Strategic Default,” wrote that the elderly, the highly educated and those with high credit scores are more likely to walk away.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s Ms. Kahzan explains “The least-educated are worst off: All-cause mortality among middle-aged Americans with a high-school degree or less increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2013.”

Maybe Nobel winner Krugman hasn’t figured it out, but the fact is, the Federal Reserve’s money machine has created a casino economy producing a few winners like the fictional Rick Carver, and millions of losers whose profound despair can only be salved with drugs, drink or death.