Monthly Archives: February 2011

Riegel explains the foundations of economic democracy

I have often referred to E. C. Riegel as a “master of monetary truth.” His insight is astounding, his logic impeccable, and his expression eloquent. In this essay on Economic Democracy, he shows the way out of our present predicament an into a new world of peace, justice and prosperity. I urge you to read the entire essay but I don’t want you to miss his bottom line:

“Once a monetary science develops, it will no more be localized or nationalized than mathematics is today. There opens before the mind, therefore, the prospect of a universal monetary unit and system that will operate without regard for political boundaries. It will have no nationality or politics. None will be coerced to participate. None will be barred. There will be but one monetary language for the world, and a democratic monetary system will unite people everywhere in the universal freedom of exchange.” [emphasis added]

ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY

The End of Monetary Nationalism

E.C. Riegel

Rising from tiny springs of rebellion in the consciousness of primitive men, democracy, like an ever expanding river, deepening and widening, has swept aside all the ancient forms of political government, and with them their pretenses of divine power and aristocratic preference. Its traditional service to humanity, however, has been only that of a negator of tyranny and presumption in the political sphere. In the future, it will be recognized and acclaimed for its more positive service in the economic sphere.

Under the constant challenge of democracy, the modern state has abandoned its former attitude of arrogance and now cloaks its undertakings in such flattering phrases as “democratic government,” “rule of the people,” “equality,” “welfare state,” and so on. These pretenses have been forced upon the state by the very failure of democracy as yet to assume a positive role in the affairs of mankind. The state is a positive organ and, as such, retains the initiative and leadership to which the people must turn for the “remedy” of this ill or that. Though the state is impotent to do more than change one economic ill for another, we cannot blame the demagogy of politicians for promising salvation from all the ills of mankind. This must continue, and the people must go on suffering under the delusion that they can resort to the political means of salvation, until an agency functioning through the economic means is supplied.

The ultimate accomplishment of democracy in the political sphere is the perfection of the rule of the majority. If this be all that democracy can deliver to society, the game is not worth the candle. It is little comfort to the individual, striving to express his personality, to know that democracy has wrested government from the hands of a few and placed it in the hands of a majority. Human aspirations for freedom can never be gratified as long as there is a veto power over self expression, whether imposed by a man on horseback or by means of the ballot box.

Yet the democratic state has no means of functioning other than by popular elections. That being so, the functions of the state must be limited to those public services which are desired by all. Consider the folly of undertaking to express the people’s will in all human affairs by an occasional election at which, in one confused shout, we sound our yeas and nays on a multitude of questions. At the same time, we select representatives to guess what it all means, and to divine from it how to execute our will on hundreds of issues that arise after we have given our confused “mandate.” Is not our boasted political equality but the equality of frustration? Can we have self-government, and at the same time delegate the power to govern? Are we indeed fit for self-government if we accept these delusive exercises as the processes of democracy? Can democracy offer nothing better?

Turn, now, from this sham democratic process offered by the state, with all its trappings of majesty, power, ritualism and futility, to a sphere in which real democratic expression obtains–so far as the state does not stultify it. This sphere of democracy has a true balloting system, whereunder every ballot is the clear and irrevocable mandate of the buyer through which he expresses his will, his aspirations, his freedom, and his personality. In this balloting system, elections are held every hour of ever day. Its voting booths are the market places of the world, its candidates, the goods and services offered by competing vendors. In this balloting system there is no tyranny by the majority. Every voter wins the elections. Whether he chooses the blue label, or the red, or the green, no one is denied his choice. Here every man is a king, and the economic constituency is made up of sovereigns in cooperation.

This voting system is the elective process over which the house of economic democracy must assert its exclusive sovereignty. It dispenses with the legislative process, for it is governed not by man-made laws but by a natural law that cannot be broken or biased by any man. This law, which provides absolute equity, is the natural law of competition, or, better, the law of cooperation, since it automatically rewards him who cooperates and withholds rewards from him who does not. The house of economic democracy requires no constitution and no executive or judicial mechanisms. These powers reside in the buyer, who exercises them by the simple criterion of self interest. As the whole consists of its parts, so the exercise of these powers by buyers in endless variety and circumstance compounds the social order in perfection.

Every power of the state must arise either by delegation from the citizen, or by usurpation. If we but give the matter a little independent thought, we can see that the money power can neither be delegated to the state as agent, nor exerted by it as principal. It can reside only in the same place where resides the productive power, and can be exerted only in association with the bargaining power. These powers belong not to the government, but to the individual; for he alone can produce wealth, and he alone can express selectivity and exercise the bargaining power in the market place. Professed money springing from any other source is pure counterfeit. It is a menace to the social order, which is utterly dependent upon the functioning of true money.

We all know that the rise in men’s living standards from primitive times to the present has come about through the specialization of labor, which is made possible by exchange, and that this in turn has been facilitated by the use of money. But do we realize that, without the guidance of the money-pricing system, we would lack all cue as to what products we should apply our specialized labors to? Production and exchange constitute a vast cooperative system wherein the cooperators are mostly strangers and usually remote from one another. Most of civilized man’s energies are devoted to the production of things for which he as an individual has no direct use. His only way of knowing that some other individuals have use for his product, is by the reaction of the market to his product in the form of a money price. The money-pricing system is the antenna of exchange, constantly keeping the cooperative mechanism responsive to demand and supply, by bringing together those buyers and sellers who at any given moment have mutual interests–and in the process regrouping and realigning those interests.

As we pass money from hand to hand, we give little thought to the delicate precision with which it preserves the equity of economic democracy and advances the social order. Every transfer of money registers an impulse on the market that changes the price of some commodity or commodities. These registered prices give the signal for more or less production of the commodities affected, thus keeping human energy, which is the generator of values, intelligently applied. This readjustment is in progress every moment of the day and night. This is the dynamics of social progress, constantly rewarding the efforts of those who conserve human energy and remain responsive to the buyer’s will, and punishing those who do not. If there can be omniscience on earth, here it abides, and it is this all-seeing eye that political planners would sacrifice for the blind directions of bureaucracies.

It is through the preservation and perfection of the monetary system that economic democracy will demonstrate its potential for human welfare. In this way it will avert the disaster that is now threatened by the attempt of the state to exercise a power it cannot command. The challenge is by no means difficult if we ignore the jumble of complexities that have been written about money. Let us forget the false premise of political money power. Let us endeavor neither to reconcile the irreconcilable, nor by some protective device to legitimize the illegitimate. The establishment of a nonpolitical monetary system is but an undertaking in accountancy.

In renouncing the political money idea, we abandon the idea of monetary nationalism. Trade is homogeneous; it knows no nationality, race, color, creed, or caste. Moreover, a truth is universal. Once a monetary science develops, it will no more be localized or nationalized than mathematics is today. There opens before the mind, therefore, the prospect of a universal monetary unit and system that will operate without regard for political boundaries. It will have no nationality or politics. None will be coerced to participate. None will be barred. There will be but one monetary language for the world, and a democratic monetary system will unite people everywhere in the universal freedom of exchange. [emphasis added]

Riegel’s books can be downloaded here. His Valun Mutual Money Plan can be found here on this site.–t.h.g.


Money, “Free Trade” and “the China Problem”

Professor Antal Fekete is an expert on the real bills doctrine and the gold standard. He is someone whose knowledge and insights I respect. This article, which appears on the SilverSeek.com website, draws important parallels between the opium wars of the 18th and 19th centuries and the current trade imbalance between the west (especially the US) and China. It’s the same game of looting but with somewhat different details.

While I don’t agree that a new gold standard is the solution, I recommend Prof, Fekete’s article because it provides the kind of historical perspective that is necessary for understanding what is really going on between China and the west. Rather than a gold standard, I think the world needs an objective, non-political standard of value based on a defined assortment of basic commodities. That is something I’ve written about in all of my books.–t.h.g.

Silver and Opium

By: Professor Antal E. Fekete

– Posted 16 February, 2011 Source: SilverSeek.com

The opium wars do not belong to the glorious episodes of Western history. Rather, they were instances of shameful behavior the West still has not lived down. Mercantilist governments resented the perpetual drain of silver from West to East in payment for Oriental goods (tea, silk, porcelain) that were in high demand in the Occident, facing low demand in the Orient for Occidental goods. From the mid-17th century more than 9 billion Troy ounces or 290 thousand metric tons of silver was absorbed by China from European countries in exchange for Chinese goods.

The British introduced opium along with tobacco as an export item to China in order to reduce their trade deficit. Under the disguise of free trade, the British, the Spanish and the French with the tacit approval of the Americans continued sending their contraband to China through legitimate as well as illegitimate trade channels even after the Chinese dynasty put an embargo on opium imports. Because of its strong appeal to the Chinese masses, and because of its highly addictive nature, opium appeared to be the ideal solution to the West’s trade problem. And, indeed, the flow of silver was first stopped, and then reversed. China was forced to pay silver for her addiction to opium smoking that was artificially induced by the pusher: the British.

Thus silver was replaced by opium as the mainstay of Western exports. In 1729 China, recognizing the growing problem of addiction and the debilitating and mind-corrupting nature of the drug, prohibited the sale and smoking of opium; allowing only a small quota of imports for medicinal purposes. The British defied the embargo and ban on opium trade, and encouraged smuggling. As a result, British exports of opium to China grew from an estimated 15 tons to 75 by 1773. This increased further to 900 tons by 1820; and to 1400 tons annually by 1838 — an almost 100-fold increase in 100 years.

Something had to be done. The Chinese government introduced death penalty for drug trafficking, and put British processing and distributing facilities on Chinese soil under siege. Chinese troops boarded British ships in international waters carrying opium to Chinese ports and destroyed their cargo, in addition to the destruction of opium found on Chinese territory. The British accused the Chinese of destroying British property, and sent a large British-Indian army to China in order to exact punishment.

British military superiority was clearly evident in the armed conflict. British warships wreaked havoc on coastal towns. After taking Canton the British sailed up the Yangtze River. They grabbed the tax barges, inflicting a devastating blow on the Chinese as imperial revenues were impossible to collect. In 1842 China sued for peace that was concluded in Nanking and ratified the following year. In the treaty China was forced to pay an indemnity to Britain, open four port cities where British subjects were given extraterritorial privileges, and cede Hong Kong to Britain. In 1844 the United States and France signed similar treaties with China.

These humiliating treaties were criticized in the House of Commons by William E. Gladstone, who later served as Prime Minister. He was wondering “whether there had ever been a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover Britain with permanent disgrace.” The Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston replied that nobody believed that the Chinese government’s motive was “the promotion of good moral habits”, or that the war was fought to stem China’s balance of trade deficit. The American president John Quincy Adams chimed in during the debate by suggesting that opium was a “mere incident”. According to him “the cause of the war was the arrogant and insupportable pretensions of China that she would hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of the relations between lord and vassal.” These words are echoed, 160 years later, by president Obama’s recent disdainful pronouncements to the effect that China’s exchange-rate policy is unacceptable to the rest of mankind as it pretends that China’s currency is that of the lord, and everybody else’s is that of the vassal.

The peace of Nanking did not last. The Chinese searched a suspicious ship, and the British answered by putting the port city of Canton under siege in 1856, occupying it in 1857. The French also entered the fray. British troops were approaching Beijing and set on to destroy the Summer Palace. China again was forced to sue for peace. In the peace treaty of Tianjin China yielded to the demand to create ten new port cities, and granted foreigners free passage throughout the country. It also agreed to pay an indemnity of five million ounces of silver: three million to Britain and two million to France.

This deliberate humiliation of China by the Western powers contributed greatly to the loosening and ultimate snapping of the internal coherence of the Qing Dynasty, leading to the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), the Boxer Uprising (1899-1901) and, ultimately, to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.

The present trade dispute between the U.S. and China is reminiscent of the background to the two Opium Wars. Once more, the issue is the humiliation and plunder of China as a “thank you” for China’s favor of having provided consumer goods for which the West was unable to pay in terms of Western goods suitable for Chinese consumption. The only difference is the absence of opium in the dispute.

Oops, I take it back. The role of opium in the current dispute is played by paper. Paper dollars, to be precise. In 1971 an atrocity was made that I call the Nixon-Friedman conspiracy. To cover up the shame and disgrace of the default of the U.S. on its international gold obligations, Milton Friedman (following an earlier failed attempt of John M. Keynes) concocted a spurious and idiotic theory of floating exchange rates. It suggests that falling foreign exchange value of the domestic currency makes it stronger when in actual fact the opposite is true: it is made weaker as the terms of trade of the devaluing country deteriorates and that of its trading partners improves. Nixon was quick to embrace the false theory of Friedman. No public debate of the plan was permitted then, or ever after. Under the new dispensation the irredeemable dollar was to play the role of the ultimate extinguisher of debt, a preposterous idea. The scheme was imposed on the world under duress as part of the “new millennium”, shaking off the “tyranny of gold”, that “barbarous relic”, the last remnant of superstition, the only remaining “anachronism of the Modern Age”. The ploy was played up and celebrated as a great scientific breakthrough, making it possible for man to shape his own destiny rationally, free of superstition, for the first time ever. Yet all it was a cheap trick to elevate the dishonored paper of an insolvent banker (the U.S.) from scum to the holy of holies: international currency. The fact that fiat paper money has a history of 100 percent mortality was neatly side-stepped. Any questioning of the wisdom of experimenting with is in spite of logic and historical evidence was declared foggy-bottom reactionary thinking.

The amazing thing about this episode of the history of human folly was the ease with which it could be pushed down the throat of the rest of the world, including those nations that were directly hurt by it, such as the ones running a trade surplus with the U.S. Their savings went up in smoke. The explanation for this self-destructing behavior is the addictive, debilitating and mind-corrosive nature of paper money, in direct analogy with that of opium. The high caused by administering the opium pipe to the patient (read: administering QE) had to be repeated when the effect faded by a fresh administration of more opium (read: more QE2).

If the patient resists, like China did in 1840, then a holy opium war must be declared on it in the name of the right of others to free trade. 170 years later a New China once more demurred against the paper-torture treatment it was subjected to by the American debt-mongers and opium pushers.

But beware: if the West starts another Opium War, this time it is not China that will be on the losing side.

Reference: Opium Wars, Wikipedia, June 29, 2010.

UN Secretary-General urges sustainable development and equality

UN News Service. 15 February 2011 –Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for a “revolution” in how the world defines prosperity and relates to nature, based on the twin pillars of a sustainable development that breaks with the profligacy of the past and an equality that embraces empowerment for all.

“We need to reinvent what we mean by progress,” he told students and faculty at the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, where he received an honorary doctorate. “For most of the last century, the world burned its way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences.

“Those days are gone. In the 21st century, supplies are running short and the global thermostat is running high. The old models are not just obsolete, they are dangerous.”

In an address that reprised some of the major themes he elaborated in a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, Mr. Ban stressed the global nature of the challenges and the need for a global, multi-national response.

“We are living in an era of transformation, of sweeping changes in the global landscape, with new economic powers emerging, disasters striking with greater force, the impacts of climate change growing ever clearer, drug trafficking and organized crime syndicates that at times seem capable of outgunning legitimate police forces,” he declared.

“Today’s challenges have global reach. No single country or group, however powerful, can deal with them alone. We must work in common cause not just as a matter of pragmatic burden-sharing, though that is reason enough. We must find common solutions because we share a common future.”

He noted that Peru and Latin America as a whole can see the consequences of climate change with Andean glaciers melting and sea levels rising, potentially disrupting the ecosystem of the Galápagos and threatening the very existence of some Caribbean nations. “Climate change leads us down a path that no longer works – a path of the past. We need to build paths to the future. That means de-coupling greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth through energy efficiency,” he said.

But the second pillar of the required revolution is also vital. “We cannot talk about sustainability without talking about equality,” Mr. Ban said, noting that as the fastest growing country in South America Peru has made impressive progress toward such Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as reducing poverty, providing better access to primary education, and making advances in income distribution.

“At the same time, let us remember: inequality is not just a question of how much of the proverbial pie one has; it is about ensuring that all are involved in the baking and all can share in the feast. Participation and social cohesion are crucial parts of the picture.”

That entails empowering farmers’ organizations and civil society groups, consulting indigenous people on land issues, and empowering Latin America’s women, with fighting violence against girls and women a priority, he added.

“At the same time, for vast sectors of the region’s population, especially young people, democratic and macro-economic stability has not translated into tangible improvements in their daily lives,” he stressed. “Social cohesion is firmly on the agenda. But it remains to be seen whether reforms can happen fast enough. “Indeed, we should worry about the slow pace of change. We should all be concerned when people say they would sacrifice democracy for economic and social progress. It is not just possible to have both – in the long run, it is essential.”

At an earlier news conference after talks with President Alan García, Mr. Ban praised Peru’s efforts in trans-Pacific integration, in addressing climate change and in closing the digital divide as “examples that provide lessons for all nations.”

Dutch Central Bank orders pension fund to sell its gold

The Associated Press reports that central banks are becoming ever more intrusive as they attempt to prop up failing political currencies, this time the Euro. By ordering private entities to divest their gold holdings, the central bank accomplishes a number of things: (1) it will suppress the market price of gold, (2) it will prop up the euro, (3) it will support government bond sales at artificially low interest rates (This particular pension fund holds most of its assets in the form of German and Dutch government bonds, and presumably will use the proceeds from its gold sales to add to those holdings).

When central banks can tell private entities how to invest their resources, they ratchet up their economic and political control to new heights. It’s looking ever more likely that governments will demand that private citizens surrender their gold holdings, as the U.S. did in 1933.

Pay Pal Wars—Some Important Lessons for Entrepreneurs

I’ve just finished reading PayPal Wars: Battles With eBay, the Media, the Mafia, And the Rest of Planet Earth. Written by former PayPal director of marketing, Eric Jackson and published in 2004, this book gives a detailed account of the company’s development and growth from its earliest days to the time just after its sell out to eBay in July of 2002.

It tells of the revolutionary vision of PayPal founder, Peter Thiel, highlights pivotal decisions, and describes the major, obstacles, and challenges that PayPal encountered on its way to becoming a dominant force in online payments. Besides challenges from a bevy of competitors, the company had to contend with “clashes with credit card associations, the banking lobby, state regulators, foreign Mafioso, and litigation-happy lawyers.”

Jackson’s book is both an engaging tale and a valuable resource for entrepreneurs of all stripes. There are many lessons to be learned from the Pay Pal experience about what it takes to bring a significant innovation to market and to scale. I strongly encourage social entrepreneurs especially to read at least the first chapter (“The New Recruit”) and last chapter (“Sell Out”), as well as the Epilog.

The picture which Jackson paints in his telling of the PayPal story suggests to me the urgent need for social entrepreneurs and champions of the common good to find new ways of creating business enterprises that do not depend upon conventional business models or Venture Capital financing.

I substantial portion of the book is available to be read online at Google Books. You can also see a detailed description and reviews of the updated paperback edition (2010) at Amazon.com.

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