Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, there was frenzied talk about WMDs — weapons of mass destruction. When it was later determined that Saddam Hussein possessed neither chemical nor nuclear weapons, the White House was furious at critics who wondered aloud if the entire WMD claim was actually a fabrication.

The Iraq invasion turned out to be a colossal mistake in terms of lost lives and heavy expenditures that sharply raised the federal budget deficit. However, few realize that the Bush administration made a far bigger miscalculation: They launched what you could call weapons of mass exploitation — WMEs — that have all but decimated the U.S. economy.

Think of these financial weapons as pain meds that never fix your underlying medical problem, but simply mask the symptoms until it may be too late for treatment. They seem to address the problems of unemployment and dwindling family incomes while putting our economy deeply in debt and making the rich richer. Most nations have deployed these WMEs, but various American administrations have been exceptionally adept at it.

Because these weapons get talked about in terms of “fiscal policy” and “monetary policy,” the public’s eyes glaze over. But if you stick with me through some pretty simple equations, the experts won’t be able to fool you anymore.

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