Monday, September 17, 2012

The State Does Not Compromise, and Neither Should We

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

This talk was delivered at the Mises Circle in New York City on September 14, 2012.

The twentieth century was the century of total war. Limitations on the scope of war, built up over many centuries, had already begun to break down in the nineteenth century, but they were altogether obliterated in the twentieth. And of course the sheer amount of resources that centralized states could bring to bear in war, and the terrible new technologies of killing that became available to them, made the twentieth a century of almost unimaginable horror.

It isn’t terribly often that people discuss the development of total war in tandem with the development of modern central banking, which – although antecedents existed long before – also came into its own in the twentieth century. It’s no surprise that Ron Paul, the man in public life who has done more than anyone to break through the limits of what is permissible to say in polite society about both these things, has also been so insistent that the twin phenomena of war and central banking are linked. "It is no coincidence," Dr. Paul said, "that the century of total war coincided with the century of central banking."
He added:

If every American taxpayer had to submit an extra five or ten thousand dollars to the IRS this April to pay for the war, I'm quite certain it would end very quickly. The problem is that government finances war by borrowing and printing money, rather than presenting a bill directly in the form of higher taxes. When the costs are obscured, the question of whether any war is worth it becomes distorted.
For the sake of my remarks today I take it as given that Murray Rothbard’s analysis of the true functions of central banking is correct. Rothbard’s books The History of Money and Banking: The Colonial Era Through World War II, The Case Against the FedThe Mystery of Banking, and What Has Government Done to Our Money? provide the logical case and the empirical evidence for this view, and I refer you to those sources for additional details.

For now I take it as uncontroversial that central banks perform three significant functions for the banking system and the government. First, they serve as lenders of last resort, which in practice means bailouts for the big financial firms. Second, they coordinate the inflation of the money supply by establishing a uniform rate at which the banks inflate, thereby making the fractional-reserve banking system less unstable and more consistently profitable than it would be without a central bank (which, by the way, is why the banks themselves always clamor for a central bank). Finally, they allow governments, via inflation, to finance their operations far more cheaply and surreptitiously than they otherwise could.

As an enabler of inflation, the Fed is ipso facto an enabler of war. Looking back on World War I, Ludwig von Mises wrote in 1919: "One can say without exaggeration that inflation is an indispensable means of militarism. Without it, the repercussions of war on welfare become obvious much more quickly and penetratingly; war weariness would set in much earlier."

No government has ever said, "Because we want to go to war, we must abandon central banking," or "Because we want to go to war, we must abandon inflation and the fiat money system." Governments always say, "We must abandon the gold standard because we want to go to war." That alone indicates the restraint that hard money places on governments. Precious metals cannot be created out of thin air, which is why governments chafe at monetary systems based on them.
Governments can raise revenue in three ways. Taxation is the most visible means of doing so, and it eventually meets with popular resistance. They can borrow the money they need, but this borrowing is likewise visible to the public in the form of higher interest rates – as the federal government competes for a limited amount of available credit, credit becomes scarcer for other borrowers.

Creating money out of thin air, the third option, is preferable for governments, since the process by which the political class siphons resources from society via inflation is far less direct and obvious than in the cases of taxation and borrowing. In the old days the kings clipped the coins, kept the shavings, then spent the coins back into circulation with the same nominal value. Once they have it, governments guard this power jealously. Mises once said that if the Bank of England had been available to King Charles I during the English Civil War of the 1640s, he could have crushed the parliamentary forces arrayed against him, and English history would have been much different.
Juan de Mariana, a Spanish Jesuit who wrote in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, is best known in political philosophy for having defended regicide in his 1599 work De Rege. Casual students often assume that it must have been for this provocative claim that the Spanish government confined him for a time. But in fact it was his Treatise on the Alteration of Money, which condemned monetary inflation as a moral evil, that got him in trouble.

Think about that. Saying the king could be killed was one thing. But taking direct aim at inflation, the lifeblood of the regime? Now that was taking things too far.

Read the rest here.

No comments:

Post a Comment