INFLATION-DEFLATION IS THE PROBLEM, & COMMAND THE SOLUTION:
Abstract: A situation similar to the one we have today developed in the Third Century of Imperial Rome. Rome’s economy had outgrown its currency. There were three solutions to the problem. One was chosen by the Tang, paper. Another by the Franks, invasion.
Rome, under Diocletian, unable to grow the currency, chose the third way. Command and control of a barter economy. So, ironically, those who advocate the gold standard in the USA, such as Paul Ryan (candidate VP) are partisan of a Soviet style economy. Instead we have to make banks and financiers regurgitate the money they create just for themselves.
Starting in the Third Century, Rome, the world’s largest economy, was increasingly run on the gold standard. With disastrous results.
Gold Solidus: JULIAN THE PHILOSOPHER EMPEROR.
Caption reads: FLavius CLaudius IVLIA NVS (Flavius Claudius JULIA NUS) P P AVG (Princeps Populus AUGustus). VIRTVS EXERCI-TVS ROMANORVM (Strength Roman Army). (Pearl-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust right.)
A Franco-Australian collaboration on Greenland ice cores showed that from 366 BCE to after 36 CE, a period when Rome was at its peak, 70 percent of the global atmospheric lead pollution came from the Roman operated Rio Tinto mines in southwestern Spain (that can be seen from some characteristic isotopes ratio).
The Rio Tinto mining region was the richest source of silver in Antiquity. Some 6.6 million tons of slag were left by Roman smelting operations there. Rio Tinto was exploited by slaves with extremely short life spans. It was a vision of hell, the sky was black, fires everywhere, to the horizon. The rio ran red, still does.
The Romans worked Rio Tinto until Rio Tinto was exhausted with the technology they had (shortly after 36 CE). The mine re-opened in recent times, with powerful machines replacing slaves (and ‘Rio Tinto’ is well known to precious metal investors).
The demand for silver increased dramatically after precious metal coinage was introduced in Greece around 650 BCE (although Sparta insisted to use iron for coinage: that was paper money, Fiat Currency, Spartan style). Ionian Greece, in particular Phocaea, and Lydia used Electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold, silver and other metals.
Interestingly, judging from the Greenland ice cores, the peak of Roman mining pollution was in 79 BCE. That is nearly two centuries before the maximum of the extent of the Roman empire under Trajan (originally a Spanish general) and his successors, the Antonine emperors. 79 BCE was not the peak of the Roman economy, that was reached later. But it is about when Sulla became dictator. This is an important hint.
Just when the commons ran out of coinage, greedy plutocrats monopolized worth. A co-dependency pattern repeated nowadays.
The smelting of lead-bearing ore declined sharply after the fall of the Roman Empire but gradually increased during the Renaissance of the Middle Ages. By 1523 CE, the last year for the Greenland ice analysis, atmospheric lead pollution had reached nearly the same level recorded for the year 79 BCE, at the Roman peak.
So what happened? Rome used three precious metals: gold, silver, and copper. The first was used to make a coin, the Aureus, renamed the Solidus under Diocletian.
The Roman currency crisis of the Third Century was caused by Rome being, de facto, on the gold standard. The Romans had run out of the most precious metals to make small coins with. That left a currency too small for the growing Roman economy. Diluting the precious metal content of the coinage commoners had to use was no solution: it created obdurate inflation (while the gold solidus kept on being made and used for another 7 centuries, it was used only for big transactions).
Diocletian and his colleague “solved” the crisis with a command barter economy. In other words, Diocletian invented the Soviet system. So ironically, that is what going back to the gold standard would force the economy into.
Around 284 CE, the Roman economy had become too big for the amount of currency that could be created from precious metals. Emperor Diocletian solved this with a command barter economy. Even armies started to get paid in kind (say with food instead of coinage; that led to a de-professionalization of the army; soldiers had to marry and live with their families; the Franks under Charles Martel, four centuries later, would re-professionalize the army by getting precious metals in churches).
In the Seventh Century the Tang dynasty in China solved the problem in the modern way, by creating a “fiat currency” from paper notes. (It would lead to catastrophic inflation under the Yuan, six centuries later, and a reversion to metal, when the silver from Potosi became available). In the Eight Century, the Franks solved the currency problem for their growing economy by going where the Romans had not dared to go, and seizing silver mines in Eastern Europe.
For all its grand philosophy and thinking, Athens would probably not have amounted to much, if not for its silver mines. It’s actually the discovery of a new silver mine that allowed Themistocles to propose to build a 200 trireme fleet to fight off the Persians with. Thanks to her silver, Athens could buy a lot, including wheat far away, in the Black Sea region (hence the far flung Athenian empire).
We are presently in a crisis similar to what struck Rome, a dearth of money for the real economy. Indeed, banks have diverted money creation away from the real economy, which is starved of investments (that is money and credit, from banks, for private industry).
The situation is even worse in Europe. In the Eurozone, states are supposed to be borrowing from banks. And the banks are unwilling to lend, as they have better things to do with their money, such as investing in derivatives. The result is a dearth of Euros (relative to the size of the Eurozone economy) and an overvaluation of the euro relative to the USA Dollar.
At least in the USA, the UK and Japan, central banks create as much fiat currency as needed. it’s all backed up by the mighty Pentagon, creating a virtuous, and, or vicious circle (depending upon one’s perspective).
In early 2011, Mr. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, a warning: “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens, than debase its currency.”
Never mind that France clung to the gold standard in the 1930s much longer than the USA, Britain and Nazi Germany, with disastrous results. This essay demonstrates something even more insidious that a country can do to its citizens: not having enough currency. And this is what is happening now. So Mr. Ryan is as wrong as wrong can be.
The unwillingness of banks to lend to the real economy, and the division of the economy between real and virtual makes us presently suffer both from deflation (in the real economy) and inflation (in the fake economy)
The way out is to print more, but, using command to send money that is created to the real economy and not to the fake world of derivatives and the like (as is presently happening). A good way to start is by taxing financial transactions, just like any other transaction is taxed in the real economy. The French financial transaction tax passed in France on August 1, 2012.
However banks did not fall on the heads of the French. According to The Economist, August 18, 2012, the French real estate market is still twice more overvalued than the British real estate market. In Britain, finance reigns, contributing 10% of GDP, in endless conspiracies.
And the other great temple of greedy financiers who give society meaning, the USA, sees, according to The Economist, a real estate market undervalued by 20%. Thus the real estate index is at 80 in the USA, and 145, in France.
Now remember that the wealth of common people is mostly in real estate. Hence a country where finance is repressed, such as France, sees much more wealth going to commoners than it does in the USA.
Some are sure to come up with GDP per capita at this point, and point out that the USA GDP is larger than the French. But that means nothing: a country with more traffic jams and expensive health care and education will see a big GDP, just like somebody with dilated cardiomyopathy, will have an enormously enlarged heart.
(Moreover the French GNP numbers are 10% higher than the GDP numbers…)
And it gets worse, because the French true ownership rate is higher than that of the USA. There is only that much wealth to go around (as the Gini Index observes). If most of the wealth goes to plutocrats, it does not go to the People, and vice versa.
Conclusion: The People on which the Wall Street empire reigns is naked, and that is because the financiers stole it. At least, relative to the French. Everything is relative, as long as there is life and it breathes… A Soviet style economy, as unknowingly advocated by the likes of Mr. Ryan, would bring with it the attending ominous fate of tyranny and theocracy (Stalin, Ibn Saud, Putin, etc.)
To come back to the situation in Rome, the increasing debasement of the Denarius, the common currency, relatively to the 80% pure gold Solidus could have been solved by introducing paper money. But that would have required a stronger state. It was, precisely, an occasion to get a stronger state. The Tang were able to organize a paper money currency, precisely because they had a strong state, with formidable sovereigns such as empress Wei.
Rome did not seize the opportunity to go to paper money. instead Rome went for theocracy, and its living descendants are Putin’s Russia, and various Islam theocracies, wobbling between cretinism and civil war.
And thus what the fanatics of the gold standard are proposing is actually a weaker state. It does make sense: most of the right wingers in the USA who are for the gold standard are also proposing to weaken the state.
They much prefer the jungle, and its law.