January 1, 2004

by Joe Sobran

     Once upon a time, my father bought TIME magazine 
every week, as I do now. He paid 20 cents per issue; I'm 
paying $3.95. In my teens I bought paperback editions of 
Shakespeare's plays for 35 cents each; now they cost 
about five bucks.

     I'm 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. Don't even ask about groceries or cars. If prices 
increased 1000 per cent overnight, we'd notice. Spread 
over decades, it seems natural. We hardly notice, let 
alone suspect mischief.

     What's going on? Is America under the sway of an 
enormous counterfeiting ring? That's one way to put it. 
The funny money operation is formally known as the U.S. 

     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 hasn't quite worked out as planned. Or maybe it 
has, but the public wasn't let in on the real plan. 
Somebody must benefit from the constant sapping of the 
dollar, but don't look at me.

     Originally the "dollar" was more than a piece of 
paper with some president's 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 Constitution's prescription was 
abandoned, which amounts to counterfeiting dollars with 
the permission and encouragement of the government 

     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, don't 
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 we're paid in shrinking dollars. It may 
look like a conspiracy, but I'm inclined to think it's 
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 you've been paying 
off all your adult life.

     I can't really get angry about it myself, even 
though I sense what's 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, it's 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 

     That timid clerk may look like nobody's idea of a 
criminal, but he may be an all-the-more-effective enemy 
to trusting people just because they'd 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 it's protecting us 
from the world's 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? That's easy: 
100 per cent.


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