MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Doug Casey on Currency Debasement and Cultural Degradation

Posted by M. C. on August 5, 2021

Doug Casey: There is a relationship. It’s perhaps not directly provable as cause and effect, but there’s a high correlation between junk money and junk culture. And it’s not just a question of arbitrarily changing taste.

https://internationalman.com/articles/doug-casey-on-currency-debasement-and-cultural-degradation/

by Doug Casey

International Man:  How instrumental do you think the debasement of their currency was to the eventual fall of the Roman Empire? How did it affect their culture?

Doug Casey: In ancient pre-industrial societies—just like today—you became wealthy by producing more than you consume and saving the difference.

One of the best things about money is that it allows an individual to set aside capital, the product of his labor, in a form that retains value. A farmer, for instance, can’t save fruit from year to year, nor can a baker save bread. Sound money is critical for lasting gains in wealth and economic progress. Sound money is why wealthy societies become dominant, and a reason other societies are poor and ripe for conquest and domination.

Rome provides a meaningful long-term template. The Roman government, in search of revenue, started debasing the denarius under Nero in the 1st century, taking it from 90% silver to 75%. As late as the reign of Marcus Aurelius, which ended in 180, the denarius was still about 75% silver. By the end of the 3rd century, it was pot metal that was simply plated with silver. The 3rd century was notable for numerous coups, civil wars, assassinations, and secessions. There are plenty of reasons political chaos goes hand in hand with economic chaos; they reinforce each other.

Roman coins weren’t worth saving by the middle of the 3rd century, and the collapse of the currency was a major cause of the collapse of the empire. In some ways, sound money was even more important in ancient times than it is today because they didn’t have sophisticated banking, financial markets, credit, accounting, or ways of measuring the rate of currency depreciation. Physical cash was king.

Currency inflation creates chaos, whether in a relatively primitive economy like that of the Romans—where there was still a lot of barter. Once the rulers found they couldn’t depreciate the currency anymore, direct taxes went up substantially, but it became hard to collect them simply because the currency had no value. The soldiers didn’t like being paid with worthless tokens. This is why after the reign of Aurelius, the next century was a time of civil wars and general chaos. There was no new construction of roads or public buildings. Those who were able holed up at their country estates, which were internally self-sustaining. It was the beginning of feudalism, a foreshadowing of the coming Dark Ages. By the accession of Diocletian in 295, Rome had lost all touch with its republican roots and had become an oriental-style despotism.

Is Rome a distant mirror to today’s West? It’s entirely possible, even likely.

International Man: What parallels can be made today with the US in terms of monetary debasement and overall degradation?

Doug Casey: The parallels are very direct. We can just look at the pictures on the coins.

During the Roman Republic, the consuls didn’t put their images on the currency. The coins bore images of the gods, heroes, or personifications of various virtues. Julius Caesar was the first ruler who dared put his own image on a coin. It amounted to free advertising.

Caesar signed the death warrant for the Roman republic, followed by Augustus, his adopted son, who was the first actual Roman emperor. From that point until the end, all Roman coins featured the image of the current ruler.

In the US, we didn’t have a picture of a president on a coin until 1909, when Lincoln was deified and put on the penny; before that, pennies featured an Indian. All the other coins had allegorical images, as did Roman coins during its republic. After Roosevelt was elected in 1932, however, things changed. The coins all featured past presidents. Washington replaced a walking Liberty on the quarter in 1932. Jefferson replaced the Indian on the nickel in 1938. Roosevelt himself replaced the image of Mercury on the dime in 1946—that was a big step since he was so recently dead. Benjamin Franklin replaced Liberty on the half dollar in 1947.

Since Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson were basically mythical-level presidents, I suppose an argument can be made for their images on money—but it was unwise since they were really just politicians. And Lincoln had the nerve to have his picture placed on a $1 bill in 1861.

Kennedy replaced Franklin on the half-dollar in 1964. Replacing allegorical symbols, or long-dead founding fathers, with recently deceased politicians is a sign of degradation. We haven’t yet put a current ruler on the coinage, but we’re getting close.

Of course, gold was the first to go, in 1933, with the accession of Roosevelt. Then in 1964, all silver was removed from coins. Current coins look like silver, but they aren’t. It’s a subtle fraud, symptomatic of the entire US—and world for that matter—monetary system. Technically since, then, the discs you may have in your pocket are tokens, not coins. Coins have value in themselves; tokens have no intrinsic value. Then in 1982, the penny—which had been 95% copper and 5% zinc—was changed to zinc with a copper wash on it.

The trend of money has been negative since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, followed by World War I. Currency debasement and war underlie the ongoing moral and economic bankruptcy of the West.

The next step will be the removal of coins from circulation. Few are still worth enough to bother picking up from the ground. They’re no longer even useful in parking meters or video games. It costs three cents in metal to create a zinc penny and eight cents for a nickel. Both are entirely useless. But all coins are on their way out, to be replaced by digital currency.

This has interesting societal implications because kids won’t be able to collect coins anymore. It’s hard to save money digitally. Digits aren’t tangible, and kids like real stuff if they’re trying to save. Taking the physical reality out of money devalues the concept of money itself.

International Man: Much of the spectacular art, music, and architecture in recent history was created in times when the average person used gold and silver coins as money.

Do you see a relationship between the use of hard money and culture?

See the rest here

Be seeing you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: