Economics

Big Brother loves you!

“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Benito Mussolini

Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will have noticed the accelerating trend towards interventionist policies and assertive state action all around us. This is not a conspiracy theory circulating on the internet. It is a phenomenon that is now so blatantly obvious that it makes the headlines in the highbrow pro-establishment media: The Economist and the Financial Times are talking openly about the trend towards “repression” and “national capitalism” as if it was simply the latest fashion in crisis management. A century ago, Randolph Bourne pointed out that “war is the health of the state”. It turns out that so is economic crisis.

Politicians, bureaucrats and many of their claqueurs in the media have drawn conclusions that are conveniently in their own interests: to them the crisis is evidence that things cannot be left to the markets, to consumers, to greedy bankers, and the spontaneous interaction of the public. If the state does not regulate and control everything, chaos ensues. We need more government. More control. More regulation. More oversight.  Politicians and bureaucrats need more power.

Conveniently, the public believes it was greedy bankers and ‘unfettered capitalism’ that brought us down. But cheap credit through state fiat money and the systematic subsidization of the housing market are not features of the free market but of politics. The present mess is the result of decades of institutionalized monetary debasement and the accumulation of public debt. These policies have left us with bankrupt welfare states and overstretched banks, yet none of this has diminished the enthusiasm of politicians and bureaucrats to give us more of their medicine.

Let’s not forget that it was politicians and their central bankers, with the intellectual support of ambitious but misguided economists, who got rid of the gold standard. They considered the gold standard an inconvenient monetary straitjacket that was best replaced with a system of limitless fiat money under central bank control. Limitless money allowed unrestricted bank credit creation and state deficit spending. Once that system was in place, it was politicians who accumulated all that public debt and issued the deluge of unfunded and unkeepable promises that pit large sections of society against one another. And it is the central bankers who happily funded this gigantic debt bubble for decades with cheap credit.

After 40 years of fiat money the world is in a deep and deepening financial crisis. Excess levels of debt, weak and overstretched banks and distorted asset markets – all of this marks the inevitable endgame of a system based on persistent monetary debasement. But politicians and central bankers are merrily undeterred. “Nothing that cannot be papered over with more paper money!”

Authoritarianism needs ever more authorities

So the problem is not with the policy establishment but with us, the masses. We need to be controlled better. Mr. Martin Wheatley, inaugural head of the UK’s new Financial Conduct Authority, told the Financial Times last week that his agency will “step into the footprints of investors – who cannot be counted on making rational choices.” Apparently, we, the consumers and savers, cannot be trusted with our own money. We need someone to tell us what we should or should not buy. But don’t worry. Mr. Wheatley assures us that his interventions into our financial affairs are based on the latest insights of science, namely the latest research in “behavioural economics.”

Part and parcel of this trend is the global fight against cash. Authorities want to monitor and record ALL your transactions. They don’t want you to use cash. Ever more countries restrict the amount of cash you can take across borders (noticed the signs at airports?), and in Italy and Spain, proposals are being discussed to limit the amount of cash citizens can use for individual transactions. “Cash has been a problem for a long time” the UK’s top taxman, Dave Hartnett, told The Daily Telegraph last week. Hartnett wants the citizenry to stop giving cash to their cleaners, gardeners, and to small tradesmen and other potential tax cheats and economic criminals so that they can no longer avoid paying taxes. Hartnett’s vision of Britain is a society of snoops and denunciators. “Households have a duty to ensure that other people do not evade paying their share of tax. The people who are worried about it should use our whistle-blowing line to tell us. We are getting better and better at finding people who receive cash.” Nice touch. A tinge of the former GDR’s Stasi culture for the British way of life?

The beauty of a big state is apparent to Mr. Hartnett: “Tax provides the funding to run the country.” Really? No, I don’t think so. It is rather Mr. Wheatley’s irrational savers and Mr. Hartnett’s tax-avoiding cleaners, gardeners and shopkeepers who are running whatever is still functioning in this country, the productive, independent middle class, who are able to and do look after themselves and their children, but who are also forced to fund the largely parasitic class of self-deluded authoritarians with their wasteful government projects.

Decent citizens don’t use cash. Cash is used by tax-cheats, terrorists, drug-dealers and child pornographers. Once this is established it will be a short step to severely restricting or even banning the withdrawal of cash from bank accounts. As all banks will soon anyway be mere branches of the ever-expanding central bank, which prints the money to keep the nominally private banks alive, all transactions will then be just electronic bookkeeping adjustments at the state central bank. All financial transactions will then be entirely transparent to the authorities. “Irrational” behaviour can be identified early and – eliminated.

Whatever you may think of Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, it is deeply troubling how quickly and easily this organization was crippled by Visa and Mastercard cutting it off from its donors. This gives you a taste for where we are going.

Fiat money and central banking are incompatible with free banking, with a system in which banks are independent capitalist enterprises. But more than that, fiat money and central banking are incompatible with capitalism and a free society. Central banking is central planning.

Hey, who is boss?

The bureaucracy is annoyed. The public is not giving it enough credit for its excellent management of the economy. The public is still pessimistic and concerned about banks and the overall direction of the equity market. Okay. So the government just stops them from acting on that pessimism. Show them who is boss:

In France, Spain and Belgium the government has ruled that shares of financial companies cannot be shorted. In Italy you are banned from shorting any stocks. Shorts on stock indices are banned in Italy, France, Belgium and Spain. Is this arbitrary? Of course it is. But the real measure of power is if you can use it arbitrarily. Make it clear to people what you, the government, likes or dislikes. Then you ban what you don’t like.

Government is not voluntary association, contractual cooperation and trade. “Government is essentially the negation of liberty” (Ludwig von Mises). “Everything a government does rests on the use of force. No law actually is a law unless it is backed by the threat of force.” (George Reisman). And a government that is digging itself an every deeper economic hole will, in its growing desperation, apply force ever more readily. Count on it.

But what does the sovereign do, the democratic masses? Well, they obey. Like obedient sheep they stand patiently in line at airports in the UK, the USA, and elsewhere, calmly watching their six-year olds being padded down by security personnel. And they happily pay their Starbucks Coffee and the pack of cigarettes (as long as we are still allowed to smoke somewhere) at Tescos with their debit cards, or buy everything on the internet, leaving for whatever they do a perfect paper trail, a seamless record kept forever. “It is so convenient. And I have nothing to hide.”

And, naturally: “the government is here to help, so why not cooperate with the government? After all it is still a democratic state.” Every four to five years each of us has an opportunity to cast a vote of infinitesimally small importance to decide which of two gangs will get almost unlimited power over the ever growing state apparatus, and this, it seems, is to many sufficient compensation for handing over control of their lives and property to others. Stimmviehvolk is how an incredibly prescient Friedrich Nietzsche described them more than a hundred years ago: voting cattle.

Prosperity through money printing

The persistent debasement of money in the modern state fiat money system is an obstacle to the smooth operation of the market, the production of wealth and the growth in prosperity. It keeps the middle class in bondage as its efforts to save and gain financial independence are constantly undermined by the official policy of inflationism. But the central planners and central bankers and their apologists among journalists and economists tell us that it is exactly the other way round: “Prosperity through monetary debasement” is Big Brother’s slogan, and he has spokespeople with outstanding academic credentials to explain this absurdity to the masses. In November 2010, MIT and Princeton man Ben Bernanke, the U.S. government’s money-printer-in-chief, wrote this in the Washington Post when explaining to the less educated why creating $600 billion out of thin air and massaging yields on government debt down was a clever policy:

Easier financial conditions will promote economic growth. For example, lower mortgage rates will make housing more affordable and allow more homeowners to refinance. Lower corporate bond rates will encourage investment. And higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.

Well, that was 14 months ago. As it turns out, manipulating the economy by artificially lowering rates (lowering rates not by saving but by simply printing money) has not started a virtuous circle. Such manipulations come with nasty unintended consequences, and after a few decades of such a policy the accumulated unintended consequences far outweigh whatever short–lived growth blip money debasement may have manufactured otherwise. None of this has anything to do with healthy growth and a functioning free market economy.

But it is important that those in positions of authority do not admit that they are clueless. They never make mistakes. Their policy is never wrong. They simply need to do more of the same – and then even more. As I write this, the Fed is, of course, preparing another round of quantitative easing, and so is the Bank of England. And the ‘economists’ on Wall Street and the City of London cheer them on.

The debasement of paper money certainly continues.

4 comments to Big Brother loves you!

  • I can’t say I agree with your support for a Gold
    Standard but a brilliant article nonetheless, illustrating as it does the entirely anti-social nature of the State.

    Great stuff, thank you.

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    Mr Dean if you do not wish to use gold as money (unlike Detlev Schlichter I am not tolerant of the word “standard” in these matters – it allows for such credit-money bubbles as that of Ben Strong of the New York Federal Reserve in the late 1920s, but credit-money bubble that led to the crash of 1929) then do not use gold as money.

    No one is forcing you to use gold (or any other commodity) as money. It is simply a matter of not trusting the state and its FORCED fiat money system – are you saying that you do trust this system?

    As for the article….

    Yes – first rate.

    It clearly shows that distinction between “economic freedom” (free enterprise) and “civil liberties” (a distinction to dear to the hearts of the establishment left) is an illusion.

    As Murry Rothbard used to say “human rights are property rights”, interventionism in economic life INEVITABLY leads to the decline of civil liberties.

    This the Italian liberals (almost the opposite of modern American “liberals”) who Mussolini despised and defined his “Fascism” in opposition to, understood.

    Modern trends in government are not “just” economically bad (based upon an utterly false account of the causes of the present crises – for the truth see such works as Thomas Woods “Meltdown” and Thomas Sowell’s “Housing: Boom and Bust”, as well as the works of Detlev Schlichter himself).

    The present trends in government (in so many countries) are a MORAL EVIL – and they must be faught as such.

    • Robert Sadler Robert Sadler

      I have to say, I do not support a gold standard either. Rather, money production should be returned to the market. If the market selects gold and silver as the money so be it (as it has historically). But a gold standard is merely one step removed from the system we have now and still allows for Gov’t monetary manipulation and the economic crises that follow.

  • Croydonius

    Great article. Thank you Mr Schlichter and the Cobden Centre, people are listening.