It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
Politicians — elected officials — are street smart rather than book smart.If you care about influencing government policy it helps to know how they think.Forbes contributor Nathan Lewis argues that:“Too much is done today on the oral tradition. That is, literally, what it is. In this post-Gutenberg age, we have some better alternatives.“Thus, we need […]
Bitcoin has been making headlines for months now. Extreme price fluctuations have sparked a vigorous debate: Is it a currency or a scam? Is Bitcoin viable in the long-term, or are we witnessing a bubble waiting to burst?The answers to these questions are simple: Yes, Bitcoin is a currency, but we cannot know if it […]
The Silk Road was an undercover website where you could buy or sell illegal goods — drugs mainly. I believe passports were changing hands for about $6,000, and I understand weapons were also sold, but that was ceased in response to the spate of shootings in the U.S. over the summer. The essence of the […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Now, this is sheer entertainment. The Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve has addressed the great monetary question of our day. A researcher has taken a detailed look at the prospects for market-based crypto-currency, with a special focus on Bitcoin. It concludes that Bitcoin is not a viable replacement for the dollar. The report includes […]
The standard version of how money came to be goes like this: First, there was barter. (A handful of nails for a pint of ale!) Then, along came various forms of money. An evolutionary derby eventually crowned gold and silver as the supreme money. And finally, credit (or debt) was born. This is the apex […]
2013 represents another turning point in the demise of the American Empire. If you view it in economic (rather than ethical or moral) terms, the high water mark of Empire was probably in the late 1990s.But the Internet bubble and bust marked an important turning point. It coincided with the birth of the euro, a […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
My community in the Deep South prides itself on friendship, community feeling, and an overall happy spirit. So it was a bit strange for all of this to be utterly smashed and obliterated in the course of a few calamitous weeks in which friend turned against friend, colleagues became antagonists and enemies, and families were […]
A new assessment of state pension obligations suggests the problem is even worse than it already appears.How much worse?EMPTY COOKIE JAR: Pension liabilities are worse than many states’ official figures indicate.Using a more conservative method of accounting for financial gains in the marketplace, there is a $4.1 trillion gap between assets and liabilities — known […]
I dreamed I saw Bernard von NotHaus, alive as you or me.Said I, “But Bernard, you’ve been jailed two years.”“I never was,” said he.Bernard has been the called the Rosa Parks of the alternative money movement. More than 10 years ago, he had this idea that he would make his own money — not the […]
One of the key pillars to returning money to the people, as Ron Paul mentions in a new edition of The Case for Gold which will be released this week for free to Laissez Faire members, is to undo government’s monopoly on money creation. None of us can imagine what that would be like because the government has held such a monopoly in modern times.
But money is no different than anything else. It benefits from the spirit of enterprise. Competition is good. Competition leads to product innovation. It ensures product quality. In contrast, as with any monopoly provider, the government’s money product has denigrated over time. Since 1971 the U.S. dollar has no backing. The coinage has gone from gold to silver to an alloy of copper and zinc.
The quarter, for instance, was minted in 100% silver on and before 1965. Now the quarter is 91.67 percent copper and 8.33 percent nickel. Pennies are 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper. Could plastic coins be in our future?
As evidence that the market is seeking a sounder currency, the digital world has developed a currency that is getting attention and use, Bitcoin. Bitcoins have no central issuer but are administered through a decentralized peer-to-peer network that began in 2009. There are somewhere around 10 million bitcoin in existence and more will be released until a total of 21 million have been created by the year 2140.
Bitcoins is the currency of the online black market. For instance, The Silk Road (Amazon of the illegal drug trade) only accepts payments in Bitcoin. The European Central Bank observes in a new report that “It operates at a global level and can be used as a currency for all kinds of transactions (for both virtual and real goods and services), thereby competing with official currencies like the euro or US dollar.”
It is not the best or final answer to the monetary problem but it does serve as evidence that market desires something better than what governments are giving us. And yet even adherents to laissez faire recoil at the idea of private money providers.
In his book Good Money, as published by the Independent Institute, George Selgin points out that Herbert Spencer was one of the few classical liberals to question the state’s control of money.
Spencer said that Gresham’s Law (bad money drives out good) only applies when government’s force people to use debased or inferior coins. Spencer believed, “the opposite tendency–a tendency for good money to drive out bad–would prevail if coinage were left to private enterprise,” writes Selgin.
But what would it be like to have private coinage? That’s what Selgin’s very engaging book is all about. Indeed, the University of Georgia economics professor has written the definitive story of the private coinage market of 1775 to 1821 England. The historical episode had been known by specialists but this is the first general, in-depth treatment of a very exciting real-life example of private coinage.
Gresham’s law did drive all good silver coins out of the country. While the market was 13 pounds of silver to a pound of gold, Britain’s great recoinage set the ratio higher. Master of the mint Isaac Newton attempted to stem the tide, lowering the ratio to 15 ¼ to 1, but that was still too high. “So silver kept right on flowing east…,” Selgin writes, to, quoting Thomas Southcliffe Ashton, “grace the bodies of women in India, to provide votive offerings in the temples of China, or simply to swell hoards in these far-off places.”
While the royal mint ran out of silver, people still needed small change. The government couldn’t supply the demand and private business stepped in, making for a compelling “story of the initiative of local authorities, companies and individuals in the face of state ineptitude,” according to Roger Scott Whiting, whom Slegin quotes.
This is not a story of the government granting a protected minting contract to a single crony. From 1787 to 1797 there were 20 coin manufacturers serving 200 known clients. Nearly all the mints were located in the bustling industrial city of Birmingham, described by Edmund Burke as the “great toyshop of Europe.”
These entrepreneurs didn’t even need to devote most of their businesses to creating good money. A handful were button makers, a couple were metal rollers, a few were die sinkers, there was a copper miner and a toy maker. Selgin explains that Birmingham manufacturers had the reputations of being “Jacks of all trades.”
The commercial coining story played out in three acts. Initially, leading industrialists dominated the market. Then new competition appeared. Finally a craze in token collecting took off. This led manufacturers to make even more attractive tokens. And the upshot was that the private coinage became of such high quality it was nearly impossible to counterfeit.
“In short,” writes Selgin, “counterfeiters played less havoc with the commercial coin regime than they played with the regal coinage.”
Far from a disaster, the commercial coin market was like any other. Inferior coins weren’t accepted and their manufacturers were forced out the business. And while copper coins became lighter over time, this compensated for rising copper prices. Commercial coinage did not fall prey to Gresham’s law like state monopoly coins.
Good history is as important as good money. It provides a firm foundation for understanding the world. George Selgin has done us a tremendous service enlightening us with a little-known story that has so many important lessons. Lessons that provide the answers to solve so many of today’s monetary problems.
Like public schools, the post office, and so many other government monopolies, it’s time to consider alternatives to the state’s money monopoly. Good Money is a good read to relieve the anxiety of wondering what a state-free monetary system would be like.
Laissez Faire has the last remaining copies of the hardback. It includes an eye-popping gallery of some of the most beautiful coins I’ve seen — entirely the product of private enterprise. This is probably the last chance to buy this classic in this form.