Book Review: The Euro

The Euro is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project by American economist Joseph Stiglitz. The book makes a case against many of the policies pursued by European leaders thus far and recommends several alternatives, including further integration, a flexible euro, and the exit of one or more members. The book is divided into twelve chapters which explore different aspects of the problem and possible solutions.

A short preface details Stiglitz’s view of the economic problems of Europe as being largely attributable to the creation of a single currency zone without the creation of other institutions that are found in other such places elsewhere in the world. He compares the euro to the gold standard, repeating the flawed mainstream view that deflation is bad. His Keynesian approach to economics and thoroughly statist worldview is apparent from the beginning. That being said, Stiglitz appears to want to solve problems and correctly identifies some people and institutions as being uninterested in doing so.

The opening section begins with a chapter that expands upon the preface and outlines the rest of the book. There is little here that is not covered in greater detail later, so let us move on. In Chapter 2, Stiglitz argues that the poor results of the euro should have been expected because economic integration of this sort cannot come before political integration. Here, he contends that military might no longer shapes outcomes as it once did, but this is dubious because nothing short of a nuclear exchange that no one wants could have stopped the United States from conquering and colonizing Iraq if that had been the intention and American leadership had used its full power. So too for Russia in Ukraine and Crimea. His responses to other arguments for a single currency make more sense. He states the fallacious mainstream position on public goods, claiming without logic or evidence that it is impossible for markets to provide basic research and common utilities. This amounts to a confusion of collective action with state action. Even so, Stiglitz does recognize that localization is better than central planning from afar, though his disdain for German policies makes him inconsistent on this point. He then turns to economic integration, discussing the importance of German history with hyperinflation and its prominent role in modern Europe for understanding the European Central Bank. Next, Stiglitz writes about effect that a shared currency has on economic integration, which is mixed. Like many Keynesians, he accuses the market of failure when this is actually impossible; such events are actually failures of government, resources, or individual people. He also regards economics as scientific, even though the scientific method cannot be applied to subjects in which counterfactuals are so important but also unobservable. As usual, the word ‘neoliberal’ says more about the person using it than anything else. He concludes by arguing that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, even though he argues elsewhere in the book against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy.

Europe’s lackluster economic performance since the 2008 crisis is the subject of the third chapter. Stiglitz begins by claiming that Keynesianism is a success because it has lengthened business cycles and shortened downturns, but it has also made the downturns that do occur so much worse that markets were better off before such interventionism. Much of the chapter consists of empirical data for Europe since 2007. When discussing unemployment, he seems not to recognize that unemployment benefits subsidize a negative behavior and will thus produce more of that behavior. Stiglitz relies upon the Gini coefficient when discussing inequality, which is a faulty metric because it measures pre-tax income rather than after-tax consumption. This causes it to exaggerate the amount of income inequality. His detailing of the long-term adverse effects of recession in terms of destroyed human capital is largely correct, but he again recommends interventionism that tends to worsen such problems. He also takes the position that the state should protect those at the economic bottom, though almost every economist would avoid social Darwinism on this front. Stiglitz then commits a fixed pie fallacy by arguing that trade surpluses necessarily cause trade deficits elsewhere, when the reality is quite different. He concludes by correctly noting that the counterfactuals help critics of the euro, and that there is no better explanation for many of Europe’s troubles than sharing a common currency across uncommon societies and economies.

The second section argues that the euro suffers from a flawed initial design. In Chapter 4, the requirements for a single currency region to be successful are considered. Here, Stiglitz uplifts full employment and market stability as goals while denouncing those who favor economic freedom as a “lunatic fringe.” This leads him to contemplate a false dilemma between national control of money and supranational control. He blames market fundamentalism (which he calls neoliberalism) for the crisis of 2008, despite the fact that markets were altered by central bankers in such a way as to cause the crash, which he all but says elsewhere. In explaining the differences between the United States and the eurozone, Stiglitz highlights the freer movement of Americans, the identity of Americans at the national level rather than the state level (at least in modern times), and the federal nature of monetary and fiscal stimulus. He is correct to say that there must either be “more Europe” or “less Europe,” but sides with the former. He describes the Keynesian theory of business cycles, but makes no mention of the Austrian theory. Stiglitz then repeats the tired fallacy that austerity caused the Great Depression and the current malaise, rather than central bank shenanigans and tariff policies. His blame for the gold standard is similarly misguided. He somewhat fixes an error from the previous chapter by clarifying that trade imbalances are not a problem if currency exchange rates can change to compensate for them. He straw-mans the laissez-faire position on unemployment by saying that it views unemployment due to market adjustments as good rather than as simply necessary. Stiglitz then gets a few points correct: low wages undermine worker morale and productivity, falling wages may not amount to falling prices if firms are worried about their solvency, and monetary stimulus has a breaking point at which interest rates cannot be lowered further. But he again blames the private sector for being excessive when it is only reacting to perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. There is little to fault in Stiglitz’s explanation of why currency areas are prone to crisis except for the preceding error, but it never occurs to him to simply not have such an area. The chapter ends by repeating many of the fallacious arguments from the previous chapter concerning trade surpluses and deficits.

The fifth chapter considers the economic divergence of the eurozone countries. Stiglitz argues in favor of institutional frameworks to prevent the need for bailouts, as well as funds to make depositors whole and provide bailouts. This ignores the moral hazard created by such a regime that causes bankers to take excessive risks, as well as the powerful incentives that an absence of protection would have on depositors to act responsibly and hold bankers accountable. His view of regulation is starry-eyed, missing the entire concept of regulatory capture. This is especially striking, given his focus on institutional capture in the following chapter. Stiglitz rightly complains of capitalized gains and socialized losses among bankers. In his consideration of other sources of divergence, he again fails to consider the possibility of turning over infrastructure to private development, instead proposing expansion of the European Investment Bank, which is certain to become another statist boondoggle. His view of knowledge markets is flawed in the same manner as his view of economies; it fails to account for the distortions that statism necessarily causes which lead to various types of failure. He concludes the chapter by showing how policies in the eurozone have caused greater instability, but cannot seem to avoid blaming the private sector for responding to the incentives imposed upon it.

In Chapter 6, Stiglitz examines the European Central Bank. He begins by saying that open markets and free competition can efficiently allocate resources only in the presence of adequate government regulation. This is a contradiction because an absence of government regulation defines an open market with free competition. His arguments concerning the inflation-only mandate of the ECB and the problems it causes would be much stronger if the Austrian business cycle theory were anywhere to be found in the book. His description of events in Chile under Pinochet does not agree with the long-term result of economic prosperity relative to the rest of South America and neglects how much worse conditions would have been under Salvador Allende. His claim that markets are supposed to be efficient and stable are a straw man; instability in the form of creative destruction and inefficiency by some metrics rather than others are inherent in a market economy. Stiglitz correctly writes that monetary policy is always a political question, pitting creditors against debtors for control of the central bank. But he leaves unclear how democracy is supposed to hold central bankers accountable. He also must not know any libertarians, or he would know that some people have proposed taking away spending power from governments to ensure that they do not misbehave. The chapter ends with a history of fashionable central bank policies over time and what was wrong with them from a Keynesian perspective.

The next two chapters delve into the Greek situation in particular, as Greece has suffered a more severe economic crisis than any other eurozone country. The seventh chapter explores the effect that the Troika’s policies had on countries in crisis. Stiglitz accuses some European leaders of acting in bad faith by purposefully attempting to punish governments with different political views from their own, which may be accurate. He continues his misguided attack on austerity, though it has more merit against what Europeans have actually done than against real austerity. He correctly explains the problem with primary surpluses, but then commits the broken window fallacy by embracing Keynesian multipliers. Stiglitz accurately diagnoses the problems of increasing taxes, but seeks to aid governments in collecting them rather than encourage economic freedom and stronger property rights. He describes his ideal system of property taxation in the same tone that a proud and unrepentant thief might use to boast of his crimes. Although he is correct to say that particular moves toward privatization and economic freedom may produce adverse results in particular contexts, this is a justification not for state intervention, but for undoing even more statism so as to remove the problematic context. Stiglitz notes that the hegemony of American military power has put Europe into a Pax Romana problem in which it cannot fend for itself against a real threat, but advises that this problem be worsened in the name of fiscal restraint. He compares reductions in pensions to wage theft when the two are clearly different. It is the responsibility of workers to figure out that they are being offered terms which may be impossible for the employer to meet in the future and practice caveat emptor. As for bank bailouts and debt restructuring, Stiglitz describes the situation well except for his faulty view of austerity.

Chapter 8 delves into structural reforms in Greece that made matters worse. Again, Stiglitz’s views of austerity and democracy corrupt an otherwise sound analysis of trivial and counterproductive actions taken by the Troika. He claims without proof that industrial policies are required to advance countries that are lagging behind in technological development, neglecting that markets are not doing this because they are either disallowed from doing so or are assuming that the state will do this for them. He criticizes intergenerational transmission of advantage and seeks to use the state against it, when it should be championed as both eugenic and important for maintaining a natural aristocracy. Stiglitz argues for a price on carbon emissions and claims that the private sector will not address climate change, when again the state has kept this from happening. He finishes by discussing counterfactuals, which is interesting given his empiricist thinking on economics.

The final four chapters deal with various proposals going forward. In the ninth chapter, Stiglitz offers his advice for fixing the eurozone. As before, he embraces what Henry Hazlitt called “the fetish of full employment” as the goal of his policy proposals. Much of the content of the chapter rehashes proposals from previous chapters. He seeks to create common deposit insurance and common resolution while abolishing place-based debt within the EU. This will create moral hazards and work against people who wish to escape debt slavery inflicted upon them by their ancestors. He calls for wages to be raised in countries with surpluses, which will lead to unemployment in those countries as workers whose labor is not worth higher wages are laid off. He fundamentally misunderstands precious metals, failing to understand their role as a store of value and medium of exchange, even if no longer officially used in such capacities. Stiglitz seeks to make the financial sector and other corporations serve society, but fails to recognize that the organs of a statist social order inherently and irrevocably serve themselves at the expense of the society. The shortsightedness of markets of which he complains is actually caused by the institutions that he seeks to use to solve the problem. One of the few sound recommendations made in this chapter is the creation of a super-Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure to quickly restructure debt. He goes on to propose that EU taxes be based on citizenship, and that some of the proceeds be used for foreign aid or resettlement of migrants, further impoverishing and culturally endangering Europeans.

Chapter 10 examines the possibility of what Stiglitz calls “an amicable divorce,” in which countries exit the eurozone. He considers the example of Grexit, or Greece returning to its own currency that he calls the Greek-euro but would probably be called the drachma, as it was before the euro. He proposes that Greece create a new electronic currency to ease concerns over producing coins and banknotes, stop tax avoidance, bring everyone into the financial system, and facilitate the ability of central banks to create credit. Stiglitz fails to consider that people are likely to reject such a system in favor of cryptocurrencies, which have all of the benefits of such a system without most of the drawbacks, and that such a system could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens. His view of credit indicates magical thinking, although this is quite common in modern financial circles. He again blames the private sector for problems caused by politicians and central bankers, while ignoring peer-to-peer lending as a substitute for modern credit systems. Stiglitz describes a potential system of credit auctions which could be abused with much the same ease as the current system. He admits and supports what should be abhorrent to any decent person: that fiat currencies are ultimately given value by extortion in the form of taxation. Stiglitz correctly says that a new Greek currency would enable them to devalue it to correct trade imbalances, but his proposed system of trade tokens for the same purpose would be redundant. He equates deflation with a deficiency of aggregate demand, neglecting the possibilities of an abundance of supply or improvements in efficiency and/or quality. His description of currency change as a debt restructuring is insightful. To end the chapter, Stiglitz considers the alternative of Germany leaving the eurozone, though it is unlikely that they would give up their current position of power so willingly. This segues into the topic of the next chapter, which is a flexible euro consisting of several subdivisions.

Stiglitz uses Finland as a counterexample against those who claim that profligacy in southern Europe is to blame, rather than the structure of the eurozone. Most of his argument here is correct, except for his view of austerity. His proposal in this chapter is to have several eurozones with fluctuating exchange rates, which could be brought closer together over time as political integration occurs, eventually resulting in economic integration. The details are borrowed from the previous two chapters. Though more likely to succeed than the proposals in those chapters, it is also the least likely to be adopted. Stiglitz correctly recognizes that having a single currency area is an interference in the market in and of itself, monopolizing exchange and interest rates in the area, but cannot seem to fathom that his flexible euro proposal also does this on a smaller scale. He claims that it can be better not to simply rely on prices for the allocation of resources, but does not explain how to solve the local knowledge problem or the economic calculation problem in a superior manner. He also says that history shows free banking to be a disaster, when the truth is quite the opposite.

The final chapter sees Stiglitz review many themes from previous chapters, but he also covers topics which are barely mentioned elsewhere. He denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe, which are only trying to resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. So much for the “democratic accountability” that Stiglitz extols in the same breath. He blames right-wing economic ideology for rising inequality in the United States beginning with the Reagan administration, but incomes really began to diverge ten years earlier, when Nixon ended the gold standard. Stiglitz expresses a desire to preserve the Enlightenment values of Europe, but cannot comprehend how letting in migrants with distinctly anti-Enlightenment values will jeopardize that mission. On the issue of trade policy, he understands that free trade is not always best for all parties involved, as it can destroy important societal arrangements that prevent conflict. But then Stiglitz incredulously asks how one could have expected that Europe’s leaders would create such economic dysfunction, with massive unemployment and lack of economic security. The answer is that a proper amount of cynicism would require such an expectation.

Overall, the best thing that can be said for the book is that it is not an effort made in bad faith. Stiglitz correctly identifies many of the problems with the current state of affairs in Europe and seems to want to help, but his proposed solutions are thoroughly misguided. Despite his palpable disdain for Milton Friedman and other Chicago School monetarists, he suffers from one of the worst of their faults: a desire to solve the immediate problems set before him combined with a lack of broader perspective. This leads him to propose a banking system which could be used to terrible effect against political dissidents, tax collection schemes that would indicate criminal intent in any non-statist context, and forced political integration by means of stealth and subterfuge. He also seems to believe that everything would be fine if only state power were used by the right people to implement the right policies. It never occurs to him that the power itself might be the problem. The Euro is an interesting case study in leftist economic thought, but those looking for real solutions to Europe’s economic woes should keep looking.

Rating: 2.5/5

On Consumerism, Corporatism, Time Preference, and Modernity

Consumerism

Capitalism is often blamed for consumerism. It is almost a certainty that whenever leftists run out of other arguments, they will make an argument related to consumerism. Consumerism is almost universally despised by people who have higher ideals, so it is easy to point out consumerism and then act as if it is an argument against capitalism. One reason for this is that socialism, the other major economic system in the modern world, eventually leaves people with nothing to consume, so capitalism is an easier target. But socialists make multiple critical errors in blaming capitalism for consumerism. While it is certainly true that capitalists benefit from a consumer culture, and that the capitalist system will not be toppled when people are attracted to consumer culture, this does not mean that capitalism as a system of free enterprise and private property is by necessity a cause of consumerism or oriented around consumerism. Furthermore, the capitalist class itself will be subject to consumerism and themselves be as hurt by it as anyone else.

When we look at why people engage in consumerism, we can see several major trends that cause consumerism. The first is having a corporate structure when it comes to enterprise. This means that for there to be consumerism there must be people who advance consumerism. There would be no consumerism if there were no beneficiaries of consumerism, and honest businesses do not need consumerism. Corporations are not honest businesses, as they hide behind a legal fiction created by the state. Without corporate structures, which are entirely constructed by the state, there is no party who would advance consumerism. Second, there must be people who are willing to engage in consumerism. Whereas people who have their lives figured out and have purpose beyond themselves do not turn to consumerism, these must be people who have nothing better to do than to consume. Such people see their lives as a series of capital transactions in which they seek immediate gratification. Consumerism cannot develop within healthy societies where people have cares beyond their own immediate interests. Third, consumerism requires that these people have money, as they cannot consume without first gaining access to a sufficient amount of capital. Thus, consumerism requires an abundance of consumer goods and services. Fourth, there must be a high social time preference within the society because people need to seek immediate gratification to value consumerism instead of being personally disgusted by engaging in consumerism. Finally, it is not only necessary that people have personal abundance, but that the capital structures that produce consumer goods are well-maintained. These capital structures will be maintained when people consume, but high time preferences will necessarily cause a form of stagnation, as there is insufficient investment to facilitate growth.

Corporatism

It is undeniable that the modern economy is largely driven by giant corporate structures, and it is similarly undeniable that these corporate structures are based on making as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. Making profit is not inherently bad, but it is necessary to account for time preferences. The strategy used by megacorporations once they have attained their status is not to build up a honest reputation and a good name as valuable providers of quality services, but rather to profit in the moment and then leverage this profit for future gain. This is why many corporations operate in debt; they hope that they can be propelled by their profit and obtain investors by providing the potential for returns. This has much to do with the nature of corporations. Corporations are entities partially separate from the people and property legally represented by them. They shield people from personal responsibility, which creates a wide range of perverse incentives. If businesses were fully accountable, then there could not be such a large amount of corruption within them or such a high time preference by them. Without the ability to sustain debt through lack of responsibility, businesses would have to lower their time preferences.

Not only does the state indirectly advance predatory business practices in allowing corporate structures to take shape, the state also directly allies with corporations. Whereas attempting to create a corporation without involving the state will have no effect, incorporation is a government program and a corporation is a public-private partnership. Furthermore, politicians are funded by corporations, and corporations get special benefits from the state as a return on their investment in political connections. The result is that the state has been overtaken by corporate power, and the two work symbiotically in order to enhance their parasitism upon the rest of society. The largest corporations need their licenses, privileges, regulations, and other such competition-stifling measures to maintain their position, while the state needs to have control over the economy to maintain its position. Corporations are the only entities that can truly ensure that the economy is not outside the state. The entire modern political system is based on a mutual reassurance between corporations and the state, and separating the two at this point will cause an economic collapse.

At the highest level of business, the image of the humble CEO or board manager who does what needs to be done is a misconception; the people who run megacorporations are not the most virtuous people. Big business is not oppressed, and is not some heroic figure from an Ayn Rand novel who is fighting against the state for the freedom to compete in the free market. Rather, through regulatory capture, big business uses state power to oppress small businesses and individuals who seek to compete with them. For these reasons, the corporation is a fundamentally anti-capitalist institution.

Time Preference

There are the situations in which the state directly incentivizes high time preferences. People who are struggling financially are far easier to control than those who are financially secure. By contrast, when people save money and accumulate wealth, they are less influenced by the state. The state can make use of this to artificially create and expand a consumer culture by inflating away savings. This is done by printing fiat currency that loses its value over time, then watching people impoverish themselves by using that currency. People may have an abundance of consumer goods, but they are constantly struggling financially and feel as if they are much poorer than they are. These reckless spending habits that are bound to impoverish the spenders are extremely beneficial to the state and the politically connected corporate elites. Furthermore, the state can tax people more on their purchases if they spend beyond their means. It will also create more possibilities for taxing artificially successful businesses when they inevitably expand due to the calculation with inflationary currency being favorable towards them. However, this is unsustainable and always results in an economic contraction. Unfortunately, the state can also exploit this by picking winners and losers, bailing out favored megacorporations, creating new social welfare programs, and expanding the grip of central banking over the economy.

Having high time preferences also leads to an economy based on debt, in which people spend more than they have, and both governmental and private institutions support this spending. Banks earn most of their income from this overspending and from people who are unable to pay them back in full. Due to this over-reliance on debt, the population as a whole is saddled with debt that can feel impossible to ever pay off, which can cause them to lose their motivation in life. The population will be easier to control by both the state and the banks that run this debt-based economy, as the agencies who provide the debt for the economy are the agencies who make the reliance on debt possible. Easy debt also leads to price inflation, as there is more market demand without a corresponding increase in market supply.

People get addicted to debt when they need to spend more than they have. However, this results in a problem when a person’s available collateral shrinks in comparison to their debt. They will eventually hit a wall where they can take no more debt unless and until they pay off their old debt. This is a debt trap in which people must repeatedly take on new debt to pay off old debt, all while interest accumulates and clearing their debt is impossible. This keeps people from being able to prosper, and the number of people trapped under such a burden is increasing. This, in turn, causes much greater class divides, as lower-class individuals who do not keep a store of capital that they can use for various ventures will be unable to make profitable investments. They will always be subject to one boss or another and will never experience true independence.

None of this is the fault of a capitalistic economy, but rather the high time preferences exhibited by the consumerists. On the contrary, capitalism is the most benevolent aspect of this situation, as it punishes the destructive habits of consumerism. These people are stuck in poverty not because of capitalism, but because of their own consumption habits amplified by state interference. Their lack of advancement is not an unfair punishment, but rather a sign that they should change their ways. This requires a particular mindset of growth and improvement that is most often stunted by public education and the degenerate culture which most people inhabit. This mindset requires that people actually trust the market signals they receive instead of seeing capitalism as a repressive entity. Escaping poverty requires a willingness to do what must be done instead of waiting for someone else to provide a handout. People who blame capitalism for holding them down while engaging in mindless consumerism are as children who eat too much candy, become ill, and also complain that they have too little candy.

Modernity

The modern society allows people to live a life without meaning. It removes church as a higher spiritual goal, community as a higher social goal, family as a higher personal goal, and even denies the importance of individual goals that a normal person might have. Through the lens of modernity, it is better to remain free and untethered rather than have a family. Looking out for one’s own interests at an individual or group level is derided as selfishness that ignores the greater good of society or hateful racism. By society, modernists do not refer to the disaffected small villages or the impoverished sections in urban communities that are in the greatest need of strong and healthy communities. Instead, they almost exclusively refer to a central state and imply that people are only worthwhile when they work for the state or when they work for nothing of value. They only see the state as a representative of society, with the only acceptable substitute to focusing on the state being pure hedonistic nihilism. Ironically enough, this mindset is most often heard coming from people who oppose capitalism on the basis of it being anti-social.

People are thus left without a greater meaning to work towards. They are left not providing for themselves, their family, or something else they hold dear. People are left as freely floating agents who are reduced to nothing other than consumers, and material pleasures are the only things that allow these people to tolerate the otherwise meaningless lives that they lead. They are not some great paragons of modernity, but rather embody the lowest state of rot and decay.

Conclusion

Consumerism is caused by progressivism, corporatism, and impatience. Capitalism is nowhere near the root cause of consumerism. Free enterprise and private property do not create such a propensity to consume over doing more meaningful things. The reason why consumerism is such a prevalent phenomenon is not because there is too much capitalism, but because people lack self-restraint or purpose and are encouraged by the state to live in such a manner.

On the Supply Objection to the Gold Standard

Since the gold standard was abandoned in 1971, many people have sought to return to such a standard in order to combat inflation and rein in central banks. Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking present several criticisms of this approach. One of these criticisms is particularly nonsensical, but occurs with increasing frequency: that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. Let us address this question from a scientific standpoint, return to economic matters, and address the claimed effects.

Physical Limits

Let us begin by finding the absolute limit of what gold can do for a monetary system. As the United States dollar is the world reserve currency at the time of this writing, it makes sense to use it as the currency to peg to gold. The smallest unit of gold is the atom, and the smallest unit of dollars is the penny. The most extreme possible case would be to set one penny equal to one atom of gold. What would this look like in practice? Any basic text on chemistry can lead us to the answer. The only stable isotope of gold is Au-197, and its molar mass is 196.967. This means that in about 197 grams of gold, or 6⅓ troy ounce coins of the type minted by many governments and private mints, there will be Avogadro’s constant of atoms, which is 6.022140857×10^23. Setting one penny equal to one atom of gold, this is $6.022×10^21 or $6.022 sextillion easily fitting in one’s hand.

This amount of money is so large that people cannot truly understand it due to the lack of a frame of reference for it. Few people will handle anything beyond millions of dollars at any point in their lives. Large businesses may deal with billions of dollars. The most powerful governments have budgets in the trillions of dollars. According to a History Channel documentary, the dollar value of the entire planet is in the quadrillions of dollars, checking in at $6,873,951,620,979,800, and subtracting Earth’s gold content leaves $6,862,465,304,321,880. As the limit of one penny per atom allows one to hold the current market value of a million Earths in one’s hand, it is clear that science imposes no physical limit to make a gold standard infeasible.

Another useful exercise is to try setting the value of all available gold equal to the value of the rest of the planet. The total available gold content at present amounts to 186,700 metric tons. Defining this amount of gold to be worth the above figure of $6,862,465,304,321,880 gives a gold price of $36,756.64 per gram or $1,143,259.40 per troy ounce. This is very expensive by current standards, but current standards do not come close to economizing the entire planet. The actual price would therefore be far lower than this, but this exercise is useful for setting an upper bound.

Current Prices

Perhaps critics of restoring sound money mean to say that the gold standard could not be reintroduced at current gold prices. In this, they are correct; at the time of this writing, gold trades at $1,284 per troy ounce. Multiplied by the 186,700 metric tons of gold available, this gives $7.707 trillion of gold-backed currency, which is not enough for the United States economy, let alone the entire world. The solution, then, is to devalue fiat currencies to fit the available gold supply. According to the CIA World Factbook, the gross world product in 2015 was $75.73 trillion. Covering this with the available gold gives a gold price of $12,616.75 per troy ounce, which is an order of magnitude above current prices, but not outlandish.

Possible Effects

Gold has gained several practical applications in recent times, particularly in medicine and technology. Critics claim that returning gold to monetary use would devastate these industries, along with the jewelry industry. In each case, critics are overreacting. Research toward creating substitutes which work nearly as well in electronics is promising. Gold salts in medicine have numerous side effects, monitoring requirements, limited efficacy, and very slow onset of action. Finally, there is no particular reason why we should care about an industry that produces impractical novelties to the extent of protecting it through fiat currency. It would be better to free up jewelers to do something more productive and helpful to others.

The other major criticism is that returning to a gold standard will cause a harmful episode of deflation. Paul Krugman writes,

“[W]hen people expect falling prices, they become less willing to spend, and in particular less willing to borrow. After all, when prices are falling, just sitting on cash becomes an investment with a positive real yield – Japanese bank deposits are a really good deal compared with those in America — and anyone considering borrowing, even for a productive investment, has to take account of the fact that the loan will have to repaid in dollars that are worth more than the dollars you borrowed.”

But those who are less willing to spend or borrow are necessarily more willing to save, which will allow them to spend more later or fund new businesses and investments. There is also the matter that one cannot hold out forever; one must eventually purchase goods and services. That the technology industry thrives despite producing the most deflationary goods shows that there is nothing harmful about this. It turns out that the value of using a current computer over the next year is worth more than holding out for a more powerful computer next year. It is also true that holding out for more food next month does not work if one cannot survive until then without food now. One may object that this would concentrate wealth in the hands of those who can hold out, but this is a feature rather than a bug because it redistributes resources to those who have been good stewards of resources.

Those who have already borrowed face a larger debt burden in a deflationary environment, and though creditors experience an equal gain, creditors are unlikely to increase their spending to offset the reduced spending of debtors. But again, this is a feature rather than a bug because it incentivizes saving over borrowing while pushing some debtors into default, thus punishing unwise lenders with loss of principal and unwise borrowers with bad credit ratings.

With falling prices, profits and wages usually have to fall as well. But profits are a function of prices and costs, which are also prices. This leaves profits largely unaffected on a percentage basis. Wages are prices as well, and the need to cut nominal wages in a deflationary environment could both incentivize firms to release their worst employees and provide pushback against minimum wage laws.

Finally, there is the belief that the sort of deflation that may be caused by returning to gold would cause a recession. But the above rebuttals deprive this problem of any mechanism by which it might occur. In fact, the empirical evidence suggests that deflation is linked to economic expansion, as occurred in the United States during the 19th century. The only period in which a correlation between deflation and depression does appear is the Great Depression (1929-34), and this may be linked to the central bank policies of the 1920s, which fraudulently inflated the money supply beyond the set gold exchange rates of the time.

Conclusion

While a free market in money would be the most desirable condition from a libertarian perspective, returning to a gold standard is a superior option to that of allowing fiat currency and central banking to continue as they are. The concerns about a lack of gold supply for returning to a gold standard are without merit, and the fears of deflation and devastation to industry are unfounded.

25 More Statist Propaganda Phrases

In the discourse of statists, there is a group of phrases of which one or more tend to be present in nearly every argument. The previous listing of twenty-five such phrases was a major hit, so here are twenty-five more of the most common phrases that statists use in their arguments. As propaganda has a tendency to be repetitive, some of these phrases contain the same logical fallacies, and will therefore have similar refutations. As such, the phrases are ordered so that earlier rebuttals also apply to some later phrases.

  1. Give back to the community”

This phrase is used by people who want business owners to support local charities or help the needy directly. There is nothing wrong with this sentiment. In fact, it is more likely to be efficient and effective than a government welfare program, and it is certainly morally superior. Private charity operations must compete for donations, which incentivizes them to be more efficient and effective in their efforts. They also have a better sense of who can be helped out of poverty versus who will only exist parasitically upon the good will of others. But the phrase ‘giving back to the community’ is misguided and dangerous.

That one is giving back something to people implies that one has taken away something from those people. This can lead to a perception of legitimate business owners as thieves who do not rightfully own what they have, when the truth is quite the opposite. To the extent that businesses in a free market thrive, they do so by voluntary trade. They give customers what they want at prices they deem reasonable. The customer wants the business owner’s products more than he wants his money, while the business owner wants the customer’s money more than he wants his products. They trade assets and both are improved from their subjective points of view. As such, a business is always giving to the community, and its profits are evidence of the value that its customers have received from the business.

If the charitable nature of business ended there, it would be good enough, but there is more. A successful business will be able to employ people. This allows people to accept a constant rate of payment for work done without having to take on the capital risks of starting and running a business oneself. Additionally, this gives the poor and the mentally deficient, who cannot start their own businesses, a path to prosperity and a sense of dignity.

The idea that such benevolent activity to improve one’s community is somehow exploitative of that community is nothing short of communist propaganda and should be rejected as such. Businesses that donate to charities are not ‘giving back to the community’; they are giving the community even more.

  1. Pay your fair share”

Phrases 2-7 are used by progressives who want to intervene in the market economy and make the wealthy pay more taxes. This is wrong on two counts. First, taxation would be considered robbery, slavery, trespassing, communicating threats, receipt of stolen money, transport of stolen money, extortion, racketeering, and conspiracy if anyone other than government agents behaved identically. An objective moral theory must be consistent, so it can be no respecter of badges, costumes, or affiliations. What is immoral for you and I to do must also be immoral for government revenuers to do. Second, the rich already pay the vast majority of the tax revenue collected, while many poor people pay nothing. If “pay your fair share” is to be logically consistent, then all of the poor should be taxed at least to some extent.

  1. Income inequality”

The income inequality generated by a free market is a feature, not a bug. People have different degrees of expertise, intelligence, and motivation, which results in different ability to earn income. This results in the people with the most resources being the people who are best at acquiring, defending, and properly investing those resources. This ultimately benefits everyone because it allows innovations to move past the initial stage, at which only the rich can afford them, and become inexpensive enough for mass adoption. To the extent that income inequality is a problem, it is due to state interference in the form of currency debasement and regulatory capture.

  1. Society’s lottery winners”

This is an open insult to the hard work that business owners have put into their firms to make them successful. A lottery winner invests money in a manner which one may expect to be wasteful and happens to get unearned wealth. A business owner invests both money and labor in a manner which one may expect to be productive, and some earn wealth.

  1. You didn’t build that”

The idea behind this phrase is that someone else built the infrastructure upon which a business relies in order to interact with its customers and make profits. But those who use this phrase make an unjustifiable logical leap from there to assert that a business owner should pay taxes to the state in return for that infrastructure. The problem is that the state monopolizes the infrastructure and forces people to pay for it, in many cases without regard for how much they use it, if at all. People should pay for what they use, but it is immoral to force people to pay for what they are forced to use. In a free society, the infrastructure would be privately owned and voluntarily funded. Those who say that the state must provide infrastructure, and in turn that people must pay taxes for it, have an unfulfilled burden of proof that they frequently shift, committing a logical fallacy.

  1. Gender pay gap”

Those who obsess over this issue point to an overall disparity in pay between men and women and conclude that some kind of unjustifiable gender discrimination must be occurring. But to some extent, a gender pay gap results from the natural differences between the genders. Intelligence testing shows that while the average intelligence level is almost the same for both genders, the standard deviation is much higher for males. This means that geniuses and dunces are both disproportionately male, which females are more likely to be of average intelligence. This makes sense from an historical perspective; in traditional societies, some men were planners and inventors, other men were manual laborers, and women were the support staff for both groups. (There were occasional deviations from this, but they were the exception and not the rule. The NAXALT objection is a sign of political autism and should be denounced as such.) As the highest-paying jobs tend to require great intelligence, and people with great intelligence tend to be male, it follows that a gender pay gap would result. Males tend to have more strength and toughness than females, and the nature of human procreation makes males more disposable. This grants males an advantage in taking high-risk jobs which have hazard pay bonuses, resulting in a gender pay gap. Behavioral differences between the genders, which are also partly genetic in origin, produce a difference in the ability to negotiate for higher salaries.

Another problem with the progressive narrative on gender and pay is that they look only at the aggregate and do not compare like cases. When two workers in the same profession who are equal in every measurable way except for their genders are compared, such disparities do not appear. In some cases, women even earn a few percent more than men when this is taken into account. Part of the reason for the aggregate pay gap is that women choose to work in different fields from men, and these fields do not pay as much.

Although baseless misogyny (and misandry) do occur, its elimination would only reduce the gender pay gap; it would not result in equal pay.

  1. Social justice”

The idea of social justice is that the state should ensure fair distribution of wealth and social privileges, equal opportunity, and equality of outcome. The implication is always that the current conditions are socially unjust. This idea has several major problems. Who defines what is fair, and why should they be allowed to define it? If opportunities and outcomes should be equal, who must make them equal? If an injustice is present, who is the subject of the injustice?

Fairness is a subjective concern, and should therefore be determined by those who are closest to an interaction, i.e. those who are directly involved or affected. As long as all parties to a interaction participate voluntarily and no external party is aggressed against, all involved may deem the interaction fair and the matter of its fairness should be considered resolved. But in social justice rhetoric, the idea of fairness is an excuse to stick one’s nose in where it does not belong and interfere in matters which are none of one’s business. Because doing this successfully involves initiating the use of force against peaceful people and all wealth and privilege can be traced back to a series of interactions, social justice perverts the idea of fairness into something intrusive and unfair.

Equal opportunity and equal outcome are advocated by right-wing and left-wing ideologues, respectively, but both of these are erroneous. Neither can exist without not only a redistribution of wealth, but a leveling of cultural norms and a medical erasure of genetic differences between people, for all of these give some people advantages over others. The resulting inequality of opportunity will necessarily cause an inequality of outcome. All of these measures require initiating the use of force against people who do not wish to be made equal in these senses. Thus, social justice twists the idea of equality into something which must be imposed by unequal means, as the state and its agents are legally allowed to do that which is disallowed for other people and organizations to do.

Ultimately, social justice is not a form of justice at all because there is no subject by which an injustice can be committed. Proponents of social justice will say that a collective is the victim, but this is impossible because collectives do not exist. To exist is to have a concrete, particular form in physical reality. To say that collectives exist is beg the question of what physical form they take, as all available physical forms are occupied by the individuals which are said to comprise the collective. Thus there is no collective existence apart from the existence of each individual said to comprise the collective. Those who advocate social justice cannot point to an individual victim of social injustice, but they seek to create a multitude of victims of real injustice.

  1. Level playing field”

This phrase is used by regulatory busybodies who see an innovation and decide to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” In any sort of activity, some people will always have an advantage over others, whether it is a first mover advantage, a better idea, better marketing, greater intelligence, etc. The truth is that there can be no such thing as a level playing field, and that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

  1. Our Constitution”

Phrases 9-14 are used to foster a sense of collective identity. The idea that a constitution is “ours” assumes that a collective exists and has ownership of the constitution. As explained earlier, collectives do not exist apart from the existence of each individual said to comprise the collective. Additionally, to own something is to have a right of exclusive control over it. Part and parcel of this right is the right to physically destroy that which one owns. As governments would use force to stop anyone from attempting to destroy the constitution either literally or figuratively, the citizens are not the de facto owners of a constitution.

  1. Our shared values”

Although any recognizable social group will come together to further a certain set of shared values, this phrase is frequently abused by statist propagandists to create a sense of nationalism. In modern nation-states, there tend to be few (if any) shared values across the entire population. To the contrary, it is usually the case that large subcultures within the nation hold values which are diametrically opposed to each other, as well as to the values which are espoused by the ruling classes. To make matters worse, whatever constitution or other founding documents may be in use are frequently cited by all sides in the cultural conflict as a means to justify their own views and attack their opponents.

  1. Our fellow (insert national identity)”

Much like the previous phrase, this is used to lump together people who may or may not fit together by constructing a common identity around them which may or may not have any basis in reality. The implication is that even if people within a nation have disagreements, they are still part of the same collective. This is not necessarily the case because disagreements between subcultures within a nation can grow to a point at which they are no longer able to peacefully share a system of governance. This necessitates a peaceful parting of ways, and the unwillingness of political leaders to allow this to happen results in political violence and civil wars.

  1. That is un-(insert national identity)”

As sociologists are so fond of telling us, an in-group will attempt to clarify its boundaries by othering some people, i.e. defining them as part of the out-group. This is done for purposes of ideological purity as much as for any other reason. Politicians and pundits use this phrase in an attempt to define certain ideas as being out of bounds of the allowable range of opinions. But just as a nation has no existence apart from the individuals comprising the nation, a nation has no ideals apart from the ideals of the individuals comprising the nation. Thus, to tell a person of national identity X that they hold un-X ideas is a contradiction of terms.

  1. National interest”

There is no such thing as a national interest apart from each individual person’s interests because there is no such thing as a nation apart from each individual person. Because a nation will invariably contain individuals whose interests contradict each other, the idea of a national interest is false by contradiction unless everyone in a nation can agree upon a certain set of core interests.

  1. Shared sacrifice”

When government and central bankers interfere with the economy and cause a recession, both typically intervene with fiscal and monetary stimulus programs. As Keynesians, they do not understand that they are only sowing the seeds for another boom and bust cycle. When this happens, politicians and their minions will call for “shared sacrifice.” This phrase really means that they wish to pass off the costs for the mistakes of the ruling classes and the politically-connected wealthy onto the entire population rather than let natural selection eliminate the incompetent from the ranks of politicians, central bankers, and speculators. Of course, the people never get a proper return on their forced investment; rather, it is heads they win, tails you lose.

  1. Rights come from the government”

This phrase is used by progressives who wish to justify their view of the role of government, but it is contradictory. If rights are given by the state, then they can also be taken away by the state. But a right is not something which can be taken away by someone else; it can only be forfeited by the right-holder by violating the equivalent right of another person. This contradiction necessitates a different source for rights, such as argumentation ethics.

With the theoretical argument refuted, let us turn to practical concerns. Progressives claim that government is necessary as a defender of our rights, for the most brutish person or gang may rule and violate our rights otherwise. But a government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. A government is funded through taxation, which violates private property rights. Its laws are enforced by the threat of arrest, fines, imprisonment, and possibly execution, which violates liberty, property, and possibly life rights. A rights-protecting rights-violator is a contradiction of terms, and the state is just such a brutish person or gang that the progressives say we need safeguards against. Note that although they have a burden to prove that this territorial monopoly is required in order to protect rights, they never do so. At best, they will ask for counterexamples, but this reliance upon historical determinism only shows their lack of courage and imagination to think beyond what has been to see what can be.

  1. We get the government we deserve”

This phrase commonly appears in the media immediately following an election, particularly after a result which entrenches the current system and fails to produce the changes which are invariably promised (which is to say, nearly always). The way that this phrase is used by the media is an example of victim blaming, as the people are going to continue to be violently victimized by agents of the state and the media is saying they deserve to be.

However, one could also interpret this as a call for revolution; in the words of Frederick Douglass, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” There is a case to be made that if people are unwilling to abolish the state by force even though they could, then they deserve to suffer the consequences of their inaction.

  1. Pay your debt to society”

This phrase is used by commentators on criminal justice issues as a euphemism for serving time in prison. The problem with this phrase is that society cannot be a victim because it does not really exist; each individual person exists. A crime must have a definite victim; an individual and/or their property must have been aggressed against. Any debt incurred by a criminal should be payable to that victim, not to all people living within a geographical area.

  1. Rule of law”

This phrase is used by people who try to justify the state by fear-mongering about what could happen without it. But the truth is that rule of law is fundamentally incompatible with a state apparatus. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law. The law does not rule them. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law is to have no state.

  1. Law-abiding citizen”

This phrase is frequently uttered by the common person as a sort of virtue signal that one is a good person. But whether abiding the law makes one a good person is dependent upon the nature of the law. In a statist society, the law is a collection of opinions written down by sociopaths who have managed to either win popularity contests or murder their competitors and enforced at gunpoint by thugs in costumes. When most people commit several felonies every day because the laws criminalize a vast array of activities which do not threaten or victimize anyone and purport to legitimize the victimization of the citizen at the hands of the state, a law abiding citizen is not a goal to which people should aspire.

  1. Common sense regulations”

This phrase is used by people who wish to restrict economic and/or personal freedoms on the grounds of some public good. But their proposed regulations often defy common sense, not that common sense provides an accurate understanding of reality. The purpose of this phrase is to demonize opponents of a proposal as lacking good sense without having to make a logical case for the proposal.

  1. Corporate citizen”

This phrase is used by people who wish to hold businesses accountable to various laws and regulations. It has its roots in the idea of corporate personhood, the idea that a corporation has rights and responsibilities similar to those of a person. This is wrong because a corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business executives from liability. It is not an extant being with moral agency, as a real citizen is. If the object is to hold people fully accountable for their actions, then corporations must be abolished and full liability for one’s crimes must be restored.

  1. Don’t waste your vote”

This phrase is used by supporters of major-party candidates who wish to suppress votes for minor parties. However, the definition of a wasted vote is a vote which does not help elect a candidate. In an indirect election, such as the United States presidential election, only electoral votes matter. Therefore, all popular votes in such a contest are wasted unless there is a law which prevents faithless electors. In elections in which popular votes directly determine the outcome, all votes for losing candidates are wasted, as well as all votes for winning candidates which went above the amount necessary to win. Thus, the percentage of wasted votes in a race may be given as

W = 100% − (Second highest vote percentage)% − 1 vote,

which will be at least 50 percent unless only two candidates receive votes and the winner wins by only one vote.

  1. This is the most important election of our lifetime”

This phrase is used by the establishment media in the hopes of increasing voter turnout. It is a combination of pleading, manipulation, and crying wolf that is completely nonsensical. It assumes that elections matter, requires impossible knowledge, and contradicts physics.

For the ruling class in a democratic state, elections are just tools of social control that provide the populace with meaningless participation in a process in order to convince them that criminal conduct performed under color of law is legitimate because “they voted for it.”

In order for the upcoming election to be the most important of our lifetime, it must be more important than every future election in which current voters will vote. But the future is unknown and unknowable until we arrive at it.

It is known that altering a system at an earlier time gives it more time to develop differently, resulting in greater changes. As such, at least in terms of how different a counter-factual world in which a different candidate took office might be, the most important election of any person’s lifetime should be their first one.

  1. Freedom isn’t free”

This phrase is used by supporters of government militaries and their military-industrial complexes to stir up emotional support for soldiers, defense spending, and the occasional foreign invasion. But the fact that freedom must be defended at a cost does not mean that a government monopoly military is necessary or proper for that task. There is a logical gulf between the two that most people cannot even see because governments have monopolized military defense for millennia, but it is there. To simply jump across it without attempting to explain why a private, voluntarily funded, non-monopolized form of military defense would be insufficient is philosophically invalid.

  1. We need to have an honest conversation”

This phrase is used by politicians and their propagandists when dealing with controversial political issues which tend to go unaddressed for long periods of time due to their third rail nature. But politicians have a tendency to either do nothing about such issues or to uniformly disregard the will of the people. The real purpose of this phrase is to set a trap for both the mainstream opposition and political dissidents. Either can be tricked into believing it acceptable to venture opinions which are outside of the Overton window, for which the establishment can then attack them as unreasonable extremists. In some cases, it is a way for authoritarian regimes to find out who to violently suppress. As such, it is best to rebuke those who make such a claim.