Friday, November 18, 2011

Some Clarification on the Nature of Money

Money is a greatly misunderstood thing, despite the fact that people use it every day.  There are many competing theories and opinions regarding money.  I will not address these philosophical issues here, but wish only to discuss a few characteristics of money systems that people should know and understand.  In the course of my studies I have encountered many commonly held opinions about money the bases of which appear greatly mistaken.  There are those who believe, for example, that a return to so-called "honest money" is what we need to bring economies back to good health.  As far as such a statement goes I may be able to agree, but they are not sufficient as they fail to define terms.  To that some answer with calls for a return to the "gold standard" as if that alone were a sufficient remedy.    My goal here is to clarify some of the commonly held misconceptions relating to the basics of money systems.  To that end I reproduce here a response I wrote in another forum to a member calling for the collapse of the economic system.  In the course of that response I endeavored to clarify a few aspects about monetary systems that many people appear not to understand well, if at all.  My responses are the non-boxed passages of text.

Originally Posted by
[Occupy Wall Street] as a whole, is going to destroy the global economy, and [the protesters] don't even care..
Quote Originally Posted by View Post
I hope so.  The global economy is a lie as it is anyway.Verily and forsooth do you need to dispense with this opinion, for it is based in sheer and utter madness.
On the whole I would call this close enough to truth on one hand. On the other, however, the lives of billions of people depend on that lie. To hope for the sudden dissolution of this unspeakably corrupt and rigged system of economic empire is to hope for the deaths of perhaps as many has half of those people, perhaps even more. You cannot just tear down this house of cards. It must be taken down piecemeal and at a rate such that the market is sustained so that people do not starve, freeze, and die of disease and violence. Seriously, you and all who think like you had better get clued on this because your families and friends stand to be among those meeting their makers in exquisitely unpleasant ways if this system comes down in a flash-cut.

I fully agree with you that the lie must be put to rest, but in a controlled fashion and not at the velocity that only violent revolution and natural catastrophe provide.  Hoping for collapse is likely suicidal and I strongly recommend you think about that very carefully and re-task those hopes to something that is not likely to end up with yourself either dead or dying.

 What do you think re-introducing the gold standard would do?
It depends largely on how it would be reintroduced. But yes, even so someone would be taking it in the neck in some way and degree. It is a sore corner into which the money-masters have painted us all. This table could, however, be turned on them with enough determination, support, and a smart strategy backed with an incredibly well contrived plan of action. I am not very optimistic that this has much chance of occurring.

 But you know what? it'd be worth it. After the correction took place, prices would drop and the national and world economy would get back on a sure footing as the dollar came to a stable legitimate worth.
After the correction, I would give your chances of being alive not much better than 50%.

 In the long run you and your children would have less dollar bills, but each bill would be worth much more and having more buying power.
This may or may not prove the case because the truth will be predicated on how the monetary system were implemented and administered in the wake of such a correction, assuming those of us left were not living in the fifth century. But even if we assume the best happens, which is not really so very likely given a cursory peek at the human record on such matters, what you claim is still irrelevant because the key question upon which "wealth" turns is purchasing power. If I have 1/10 as many dollars but my dollars are worth 10 times more, my net position is not improved and may well be actually worse, depending on how pricing follows the changes in currency. But in the best scenario, I am as wealthy after as I was before. The ONLY way I improve my lot, all else equal (e.g. pricing is perfectly synced with the monetary correction), is if my purchasing power increases. For example, if I have 1/10 as many dollars but each is worth, say, 11 times as much, then I have experienced a ten percent gain in purchasing power in general terms.

But that is not necessarily good news because in that case presumably the same may be said for everyone else. If purchasing rises by ten percent, then prices will rise as demand outstrips supply. The factor that stands to be our salvation here is if spending does NOT rise in proportion to the nominal rise in wealth that such a correction represents. That is, the nominal rise in wealth will strengthen and stabilize the broader economy if people take that incremental rise in wealth and SAVE IT.

The true reason that our fiat currency system has failed is PRECISELY because we SPEND all the money we "print". There isNOTHING wrong with fiat money per sé. The problems arise from mismanagement of such money systems, which reduces them toMERE CURRENCY SYSTEMS. Were the dollar competently and honestly administered, it would be an utterly fabulous store of wealth, at least under nominal living conditions (asteroid doesn't strike earth and so forth). This is what people do not understand about money, even many of those in these forums. The purpose of money is to act as a wealth sink. Its precise form, e.g. coin and paper, are nothing more than mediums of exchange. So long as the amount of that medium accurately reflects the real value it is supposed to represent from one day to another, used toilet paper could serve the purpose. The reason gold has been successful is that it CANNOT BE COUNTERFEITED save by the most difficult means (e.g. tungsten salting). The reason the fiat dollar has been a failure in terms of the stated role of money as a store of value is that the ratio of money units (dollars) to the units of real value represented keeps climbing and this is due almost entirely to the endless pyramiding of newly borrowed funds that has been used to finance our unwillingness to do without. Government funds a billion different programs that produce zero or less return, not to mention endless warring which represents the ultimate example of the glazier's fallacy. Banks have borrowed endlessly to provide, propagate, and perpetuate economically unsound financial instruments (e.g. most derivatives, as well as the various "bubbles") via the conduits of the various investing operations. They provide the means to investment companies to in turn provide to end customers every manner of snake oil and other stupidity that springs forth in the wakes of market fits of spontaneous and unbridled avarice.

It is not, therefore, the fiat money system per sé, that causes the problems we see, but rather our corruption as people and as nations. Rome had a stable gold standard as was also found in Byzantium, yet those systems came crashing down in the end. Was it because gold was not a good standard? No. It was due SOLELY to human corruption that lead to the debasement of the monies until they became nothing more than hollow currencies. The ONLY difference between material standards (e.g. gold) and pure fiat monies is that the latter makes it easier to debase the store of value because there is no material manipulation required, not even a printing press today, but only a ledger entry. THAT is the root of the money problem and NOT the standard on which a given money is based. Any monetary system can be corrupted, as has been demonstrated apodictically on innumerable occasions throughout the history of human economic affairs. End corrupt and inept management and ANY money system will serve well.

 The government couldn't afford international illegal wars and expansive policing powers.
Sure they could. They would just have to work a lot harder for them. In time, however, you would perhaps prove correct because debasement is readily detected where an open and accessible material standard is used, in which case the only remaining question would be whether people would tolerate the perfidy. Sadly, the human record there provides nothing much in the way of good promise for future possibilities. I would suggest, however, that such a standard would be completely closed to the public. So here we see that a gold standard is not enough to better guarantee honest money. That money must of necessity be CONVERTIBLE ON DEMAND. It is the issue of convertibility that is is a necessary element in sound money based on precious metals. Without it, there is nothing to prevent bad things from going on behind closed doors.