All We Like
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.