Posts Tagged ‘sound money’

Without cash, gold can have no monetary role

September 24, 2009 1 comment

Cashless Beast

Cashless Beast

Although the topics of the Cashless Society and the Gold Monetary Standard have been discussed previously on this and other sites, we feel that further discussion on these pressing issues is warranted.

The Cashless Society

Earlier we speculated that there might be a glorious return to sound money, such as a precious metal standard. But you can forget about gold as a real standard to moderate the issue of money. Not because it’s not a good idea. A gold standard is a fantastic idea, but it will not come about, because the finance industry has something else in mind. We all know it’s coming, but it has been somewhat forgotten as a discussion point. Yes, we mean the Cashless Society. Every monetary transaction is moving to electronic form.

Back in 2007, credit card Visa chief Peter Ayliffe predicted that a cashless society (in the UK) would come into being by 2012. It may not seem like a sure thing, but the timing of such a prediction is worth making a note of. The problems of electronic transactions at the moment are that financial institutions are making too much money from surcharges and fees, keeping cash as a more attractive way to buy small to medium priced products than plastic. During the current artificially created economic crisis, there has been a contraction of credit, but the idea of eliminating cash is still high on the agenda, even at the UN. The impediments to a universal cashless system can be removed overnight: remove fees on electronic transactions, and impose unreasonable fees on obtaining or depositing cash. Within a couple of years the system will be locked in, and nobody will take cash any more.

Introduced as part of the national e-Governance initiative, the e-Purse, embedded on national ID and resident cards, is the first of its kind in the region. Implemented by the Royal Oman Police (ROP), in association with the Information Technology Authority (ITA) and BankMuscat, the national e-Purse project will revolutionise cash transactions.

“Being an identity card, the e-Purse always remains with citizens and residents. Whenever e-Purse is used, the identity of the user is verified and the government can track each transaction. The support from ITA to the e-Purse project is in line with the directive of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said to enhance e-government services in Oman,” [Dr Salim Al Ruzaiqi, chief executive officer, ITA] added.

The cashless society is a government’s dream. Tax evasion becomes practically impossible, resulting in substantial gains in tax revenue. In theory, the purchase of dangerous substances and weapons becomes more easily traceable to individuals, making criminal activity increasingly difficult. Except for bartering, which is difficult to conduct on a large scale, the economy becomes completely accountable. Not a cent is lost, and society becomes unable to avoid policy changes. No more armoured cars, bank robberies, muggings, bribes, illegal drugs, and so on. All of this has been claimed by proponents of the cashless society. They tend not to mention certain other obvious points which might coincide with this phenomenon, such as the storage of personal information together with the electronic money devices (be they cards or some other form of identification), such as medial information, license details and biometric data. They are already being introduced.

The cashless society would likely accompany the introduction of a single world currency. Without the need to exchange physical coins or notes, all money becomes completely arbitrary. All money would reside on computer accounts, can be given any unit value, and can be created or destroyed at will (unlimited credit). Potentially, all money could reside on a single supercomputer, to save energy.

Banks are especially poised to benefit:

“Banks are very excited about replacing cash. Smart Cards give them the opportunity to make some big bucks off interest-free loans from their customers. Once a customer transfers credit to a cash card, the bank can stop paying interest but gets to hold on to the cash until it’s billed by a merchant. If 100 million people used a card with an average of only 10 unspent dollars on it, the banks would reap $1 billion a day of interest-free money to invest.” (Forbes Magazine, 1998)

Then of course is the argument for the implantation of microchips, or some other physical and permanent means of identification. The technology is indeed ready and has reached a mature status. It is only society that is not yet ready.

The truth of the matter is, of course, different. Many of the arguments in favour of the cashless society are false, where the truth in many cases is diametrically opposed to what is claimed. So what problems might exist with the Utopian dream of universal electronic funds transfer?

Most of the logistic problems are covered elsewhere, and can be easily thought about. Aside from the fact that private transfer of money becomes impossible without the involvement of the universal infrastructure, the other problems are identical to those that plague electronic money transfers already. Identity theft is the biggest problem, and it continues to occur as computing systems become ever complex and bug-ridden.

From our point of view there are three major threats to ordinary people arising from a cashless monetary system. Some of these can already be appreciated, if you just imagine your life suddenly without any access to your credit or bank cards.

(Out of) Control

Could it be said that the quality of governance is directly proportional to the likelihood that the governor is deposed should he or she fail to perform? The easier it is to block the government, the better.

The motivations for a cashless society are really those of making the government of the population easier (for government) and not to ‘enable’ or ’empower’ ordinary people. Supposedly, it would cost less to collect taxes, to police fraud, to run after escapees, because all you need to do is look up the individual’s number and instantly you can see practically every interaction the person has had, each hour of each day. Tracking the movements of people becomes a trivial matter. It’s no secret that even the rudimentary magnetic strips on credit cards can be read from a distance, particularly at doorways if the appropriate magnetic coils are installed (which, in most first world retail stores, they are).

Any electronic device designed to act as a portable electronic wallet will also serve as an access key and unique identifier. It is merely natural progression to bundle passport, wallet, driver’s license, medical alerts and personal details into one key, which is synchronized both locally (on the person) and centrally (on the supercomputer). The same can be rigged to allow key-less entry to house, car, workplace, and airport departure gate. The benefits are a seamless, keyless, paperless, and no-touch life from the apartment door, to the secure car-park, into the car, into work, through the shops, to one’s overseas holiday, and all the purchases and movements there, and back. All of this can be achieved with a single microchip, either as a card, embedded in a wristwatch, or implanted under the skin.

The great weakness of a centralized, integrated and unified key system is that people can be ‘unplugged’ instantaneously and effortlessly, even arbitrarily. Physical papers, a wad of cash and a set of metal keys is a robust, low-tech and  redundant way of doing things, yet the tiny gains in convenience of electronic keys (and money) come at great personal risk, because the power is completely out of the hands of the individual. Any failure of the supporting infrastructure is a total failure. It can happen at the hands of a disgruntled or corrupt employee, a hacker or an out-of-control government. The temptation to abuse such a system is immeasurable. If it can happen, it will happen.

In essence, by “holding” all of an individual’s money for him, the electronic monetary system robs the individual of all of his power. This is the ultimate form of population control. In particular, since populations now live in cities and are totally dependent on common infrastructure for their survival, the cashless society permits any kind of political and social change to be effected with no way for people to resist effectively, nor to organize against the system without being found out at a very early stage. The cashless society has the potential to transform what today appears to be a free society into a prison that is tighter and more oppressive than has existed in any totalitarian system in the past, including the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Black Box Economy

It is already problematic that the vast majority of money that is “out there” exists in the form of electrons on magnetic and solid state devices, and not as tangible wealth. We read in the news about billions of dollars being “wiped off” stock markets, and trillions of dollars sitting “on the sidelines”. All of it is meaningless sensationalism, and only illustrates the absurdity of fiat money. The fact that central banks can magic trillions of dollars of new funds into the economy in the space of a few seconds, and that the supply of credit is limited only by people’s willingness to borrow, means that the number that represents your life savings can be wiped out in seconds, by the sudden dilution of the global money supply (to name but one example). The fact that company shares are mostly traded by computers, with the value of shares fluctuating every millisecond as a result of computer algorithms and not human decision making, makes the whole business of market investment a farce.

There is no way of being certain, in an electronic economy, that anything is real. There is not necessarily any paper trail to account for the volume of transactions that exists, and a corrupt elite (which, conveniently enough, already exists) can line its pockets with limitless money, with no way of detecting or proving the crime. Forensic information can be planted or removed all too easily. Without cash, there is no way for an individual to opt out of the system by holding his money in physical form. In a cashless society, there remains only one certainty: hard assets. Everything else will have made the full transition to becoming make-believe.

In many ways, the electronic economy reflects the modern approach to morals. There is great emphasis on civics, and on the conduct of individuals in public (looking good in public), but there is no emphasis on personal moral integrity and the proper conduct of thoughts and deeds in one’s private realm. Modern society encourages personal moral depravity, and teaches a perfect hypocrisy, whereby people in public behave impeccably, yet frequently their private lives are as corrupt and vile as can be imagined. An electronic economy looks squeaky clean on the outside, but there is no telling what manipulation, corruption and wholesale theft is going on beneath. There is also no way to trust the individuals maintaining and governing the monetary infrastructure, since they are as likely to be soulless, amoral and opportunistic as society itself has become.

The Apocalyptic Vision

It is easy to laugh at religious zealots when they harp on about St. John’s Apocalypse, on things such as the Mark of the Beast, and so on. In their rush to sell a message they don’t understand, they undermine the value of the Sacred Texts, leading others to miss out on the wisdom contained therein. We quote the passage that appears to be relevant to the idea of the cashless society:

And he shall make all, both little and great, rich and poor, freemen and bondmen, to have a character in their right hand, or on their foreheads. 17 And that no man might buy or sell, but he that hath the character, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast. For it is the number of a man: and the number of him is six hundred sixty-six.

These dramatic passages are full of symbolism and, to some extent, allegory. Throughout the last two millennia, people have tried to torture the words to fit the situation of the day. The lesson we draw from the passage is that the restriction to trade, imposed on individuals because of a religious or political attribute, is always a bad thing. The point to be taken from the Apocalypse, however, is that the predictions apply to the entire world, not just the situation in one or another country at a given time. The point of our article, in part, is that the cashless society is a phenomenon which is capable of being imposed globally, perhaps over the space of a decade or so.

If the G20, for example, met for another “crisis meeting”, and decided, once and for all, to coalesce their currencies, they may simultaneously claim that it is cheaper not to issue any notes or coins, but to issue electronic keys, as described above. Once some heavyweight economies adopt the idea, all else will follow, or face the sword. The scenario is plausible, even though in 2009 it still seems like a pipe dream.

It ought to be noted that think tanks that guide global policy have attitudes which resemble those described by St. John.

In the closing plenary session of the [San Francisco, 1996] forum, philosopher/author Sam Keen provided a summary and conclusive remarks on the conference. Among the conference participants, said Keen, “there was very strong agreement that religious institutions have to take primary responsibility for the population explosion. We must speak far more clearly about sexuality, about contraception, about abortion, about the values that control the population, because the ecological crisis, in short, is the population crisis.

Cut the population by 90 percent and there aren’t enough people left to do a great deal of ecological damage.”

It’s had to imagine just how so many people could be killed without leaving the planet itself uninhabitable, but there is no limit to human ingenuity. There is also, clearly, an insanity at work that makes Nero look like a dull boy.

Gold Has No Place

To go back to material matters, we think once again of gold. Even if a single world currency is purportedly based on a precious metal, because this currency is likely to be cashless, the metallic standard is nothing more than an empty promise. You are trusting the same men in the same suits who are this very day swindling the planet without rest. Just as there is no living soul within the body of the modern man (in a suit), there can be no golden heart to an electronic currency.

We conclude that whatever actions can be taken to limit the progression towards the elimination of cash, should be taken. More importantly, however, it behoves every person to consider the implications of such a system coming about, and to have contingencies in place (a topic in its own right).

Here Comes Sound Money

Fiat Money Failure

Fiat Money Failure

Our suspicions, just a day or two ago, that gold may not be the metal of choice in a standardised (non-fiat) monetary system, grow stronger today. Russia is likely to take the “palladium standard” as the basis of the Ruble. But first, a short history of alternative toilet paper.

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, in Brezhnev’s era, the edition of Pravda (possibly the most inaccurately named newspaper in history) featuring his speeches was highly prized, not for its content, but for its utility as toilet paper. The Brezhnev editions went so much further than the regular rag. The main disadvantage of newsprint was that it had to be folded and cut, and that it left a nasty black residue on the skin. Things improved somewhat with the dissolution of the Union and the debasement of the Ruble. Rubles were softer, smoother and pre-cut to a convenient size. Users of it still complained of the ink running and the occasional tear during use. Plus, it didn’t come in rolls.

Today, however, things are looking different. Pravda is no longer such a worthless read, and the Ruble is no longer looking like always being such a waste of dead tree. The State Duma’s speaker made this statement:

“We could offer the world the Russian ruble made of palladium. It would be a very strong currency. One may recollect the golden ruble, which Russia had during the tsarist times. It was a freely convertible currency and was circulating very well”

That gold is not the only choice for a standard monetary unit is not a new idea in the least. Silver has also been touted as being a worthy candidate, but both metals are abundant, really, and far too much of these metals exists in the public arena for there to be a fair transition to a new currency basis. Discussion around the Internet still revolves mainly around gold, which is still highly regarded as the currency standard of first choice, although in reality things are not so clear cut:

Goldbugs and Fiatbugs are actually sort of similar; both insisting that it’s an “either-or” situation where gold and paper are mutually exclusive. That’s hogwash. Anything that is able to achieve widespread recognition as a medium of exchange is a viable currency, be it gold, silver, paper, or sand dollars. Empirical evidence shows us that gold has had quite a successful run as a widely recognized form of currency, and suggests that it will continue to enjoy status as currency into the future, despite fiatbugs’ protestations to the contrary.

Palladium is just another one of the group of metals (including gold, silver, platinum) which could be used in minted coins and as the metallic strip in notes. It is already used in Canadian currency. Its price is very highly, currently at around US$250/oz, it was at over US$1000/oz at the beginning of the 21st century.

Russia’s favouritism for Palladium is, of course, because Russia is one of the world’s major sources of the metal, alongside South Africa. It is, therefore, unlikely that other nations would take Russia’s lead and take on the same precious metal as their currency base. This could be a very good thing:

If Russia takes on Palladium for its currency standard, and other nations choose not to (as they well should), it may save the world from a single world currency and the grip of the IMF.