January 1, 2004
Once upon a time, my father bought Time magazine every week, as I do now. He paid 20 cents per issue; Im paying $3.95. In my teens I bought paperback editions of Shakespeares plays for 35 cents each; now they cost about five bucks.
Im no economist; these are just some of my rough indices of how prices have risen in my memory. Things in general now cost ten to twenty times as much as they used to. Dont even ask about groceries or cars. If prices increased 1000 per cent overnight, wed notice. Spread over decades, it seems natural. We hardly notice, let alone suspect mischief.
Whats going on? Is America under the sway of an enormous counterfeiting ring? Thats one way to put it. The funny money operation is formally known as the U.S. Government.
The money supply is now managed by the Federal Reserve System, which was created in 1913 and was supposed to protect the dollar from inflation. It obviously hasnt quite worked out as planned. Or maybe it has, but the public wasnt let in on the real plan. Somebody must benefit from the constant sapping of the dollar, but dont look at me.
Originally the dollar was more than a piece of paper with some presidents face on it. It was a fixed amount of precious metal. When paper money came in, you could demand, and get, solid gold or silver for it.
Over time, the government took the dollar off the gold standard, meaning that it was now just a piece of paper. Most people were a bit foggy about that anyway, since they were used to paper money and supposed it had some intrinsic value. In fact, its only value now lay in its relative scarcity; it was no longer a promise to pay in precious metals.
All this would have shocked the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, who authorized Congress to coin money, not private bankers to print the stuff. The eventual decline of the dollar is just what they would have expected when the Constitutions prescription was abandoned, which amounts to counterfeiting dollars with the permission and encouragement of the government itself.
Our forebears would have seen this as a moral issue a government conniving in the defrauding of its own citizens. But we accept it, take it for granted, dont get riled up, any more than sheep get indignant about being sheared.
The chief business of the U.S. Government today is fleecing us through taxes, spending, creating debt, and ensuring that were paid in shrinking dollars. It may look like a conspiracy, but Im inclined to think its just the aggregate result of the doings of men who are at once powerful and weak, venal and short-sighted, taking the path of least resistance for men in their position.
And if the public puts up with it, why not? Are your grandchildren going to be furious at having to pay off huge debts bequeathed to them? Probably no more furious than you are about the national debt youve been paying off all your adult life.
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I cant really get angry about it myself, even though I sense whats happening to us every time I notice another price increase. I almost admire the people who do make a fuss about it, but there are so few of them that they sound crazy, like Ezra Pound ranting about international financiers.
No, its hard to make a melodrama out of a slow process. The government is less like a bank robber who storms in with ski mask and pistol than like a timid little bank clerk who quietly, over the years, embezzles a large fortune without setting off alarms or getting caught.
That timid clerk may look like nobodys idea of a criminal, but he may be an all-the-more-effective enemy to trusting people just because theyd never suspect him of breaking the law. Why, they assume he shares their concern about the general moral deterioration of society! Crime has no better mask than outward respectability. And a man who sticks up a bank for $50 is more noticeable than a man who embezzles a million bucks over many years, while carefully fixing the books.
So when the government tells us its protecting us from the worlds most ruthless criminals, we ought to wonder if perhaps we need to be protected from criminals a little closer to home. The chances of your being harmed by terrorists are mathematically minute. The chance of your being robbed by your own government? Thats easy: 100 per cent.
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