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GOLD IS MONEY: DOES IT HAVE A PRICE?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

I recently looked at the question of why there has been no price rise in gold commensurate with Central Banks’ buying? This was raised at this year’s Money Week conference and caused some puzzlement. But perhaps there is another way of looking at the issue, one found in James Turk’s and John Rubino’s The Coming Collapse of the Dollar (see an earlier mention Gold and Permanent Value).

At the very beginning of their book, they insist that gold is money. “Generally, when gold is mentioned in the financial media, people refer to its ‘price’. This is incorrect, because gold is not a commodity like oil or eggs. […] And since we don’t talk about the ‘price’ of euros or yen, but instead discuss their exchange rate, in this book we treat gold in the same way, as in ‘gold’s exchange rate was $410 per ounce on December 31.’”

Gold is not a commodity?

It is often assumed that money has three basic functions: it serves as a store of value, a means of exchange and can itself be exchanged. If this latter function is a true function of money, then this means that money is a commodity along with its other two functions.

Now, it is not true, as Messrs Turk and Rubino claim, that “we don’t talk about the ‘price’ of euros or yen”, because we do. The Money Changers not far from me advertise their wares on electronic price boards, and against the currencies on offer are ranged two columns: “We Buy” and “We Sell”. It is very common to talk of the prices of currencies and to treat them as commodities: it is possible to make money by watching the exchange rates and converting into favorable currencies and back again, making a profit on the way. (It is probably safest to do this in a Swiss bank, as a friend of mine used to do.)

We also speak of cheap money and dear money: what do we mean? Cheap money is when monetary policy is loose, people are exhorted to borrow and encouraged to do so by low interest rates; dear money is when policy is tight and lenders aren’t lending or only cautiously, and interest rates are concomitantly high. Is interest not, therefore, the “price” we pay for the money we have borrowed? While Turk and Rubino assert that we talk of exchange rates rather than prices, it would seem odd, would it not, if we were to talk of the exchange rate of pounds for pounds that we pay for bank loans? And if “the price of money” in terms of interest makes better sense when dealing in and with a domestic currency, and “exchange rate” makes better sense when we are swapping unlike for unlike, even if it is still currency rather than oil or eggs, then where does that leave gold: as a commodity or as not a commodity?

Assets and Exchange

However, this is not to be pedantic; sometimes it pays to split a hair, and in the case of the puzzle referred to in the first paragraph, it may be highly instructive to do so.

For Turk and Rubino point out two other incontestable matters, which throw a lot of light on this vexed problem of what money actually is and therefore how it behaves and we must speak of it. In the first place, if money is not to be considered a commodity, it is indubitably a standard of value – “a generally agreed-upon measurement used to express the price of goods and services.” And this measurement is of the same order as other standard units of measurement: feet and inches, pints and gallons, ells and yards, perches, furlongs and chains. Some of these units have been abolished or fallen into disuse, but as standard units of measurement – and here is the rub – they do not change over time. An ell has ever been an ell, even if no longer used; nor do we change our feet daily.

Now it follows from this that, when it comes to a unit of measurement that is a medium of exchange, that is money, “only money can extinguish an exchange for some good and service. That is, an exchange is extinguished when assets are exchanged for assets. If you accept a money substitute (for instance dollars) when you sell a product, the exchange is not extinguished until you use those money substitutes (those dollars) to purchase some other good or service.”

We begin to get to the heart of the matter: money substitutes. These are what cause the confusion, because by definition they are not money itself only its token or emblem. We take for granted that money takes the form of currency, and are liable in our paper age to therefore confuse “money as currency” with money itself. But currency as such is merely the instrument of exchange unless it also happens to be specie: that is, if gold (and/or silver) is the standard unit of value and gold passes in the form of gold coins, then there is no distinction between the standard of value (gold) and how it is represented (gold coins): the currency IS the money.

Furthermore, if the most important function of money is as a standard of value then it is possible to say that money is not a commodity, though it is still a store of value and a medium of exchange. To illustrate the point about units of measurement (standard of value) Turk and Rubino point out the unchanging nature of gold: “A gram of gold has bought roughly the same amount of wheat since the Middle Ages.” (A similar point is made about ounces of gold, Pharaonic oxen and contemporary oxen in “Gold, A Different Point of View”.)

Gold Is Money

We can begin to see how the question that puzzled the Money Week conference might be viewed, and in particular what gave rise to it, the observation that since the “price” collapse, central banks had been buying gold hand over fist and yet the price hadn’t moved. If gold is not a commodity, but is rather money, is the unit of measurement for value, then to look at gold as having an exchange rate is very fruitful: what it now tells us is just how bad the dollar is. If the unit of measurement doesn’t change, and the number of dollars or pounds that are measured against it is greater or smaller than it was, say, yesterday, or an hour ago, we are being told something about the currency, in this case a money substitute, and not the gold.

It is easy to grasp what is going on when gold goes through the roof, but we need to change our metaphor: gold has stayed where it was, it just takes more dollars or pounds (which, remember, today are money substitutes) to exchange for an ounce. Now, adopting Turk’s and Rubino’s vocabulary, the exchange rate of the dollar against gold fell in April, though it was still high compared to four or eight years ago. In the following weeks, notwithstanding the boom in the purchase of gold coins (away from ETFs) and the purchases of central banks, that exchange rate remained stable: commodities don’t behave like that, especially not scarce ones. So we were instead being told something about the dollar. The unit of measurement wasn’t behaving obdurately. Therefore, was what happened in April, not a calamity for gold, but a respite for the dollar?

Prices versus Exchange Rates

In considering how we speak about value and prices and fiat money and borrowing and cheap and dear money, it might concentrate the mind if we did indeed speak of the “cost” of a loan, the “price” the bank charges us for lending, or perhaps selling, to us. My bank lends me (sells me) £5,000 pounds over three years, with total interest of £760, and everybody commends me on my bank – what a reasonable rate of interest! But if instead I was to boast that I had bought £5,000 for £5,760, well, that wouldn’t seem such a good deal. It is because it is repayable over a term (over which of course, thanks to inflation, the inevitable accompaniment of money substitutes, it will in fact be costing more) that one doesn’t quite realize what has been “exchanged” or “bought”.

This of course raises the intriguing possibility that in getting our nomenclature as much as our metaphors backwards in speaking of money, we are indulging in loose talk, and that this in turn may be a result and feature of fiat money systems.

In What is Money? I raised the issue of the relation between money, value and property:

“The idea that money is a realisation of value inherent in property means currency is the result of a property holding system which, to be realisable, must have clear title. Then, on the basis of that title, the value of the asset can be ascertained and then realised as capital which then has a representational form as currency. That is, money as a representation of value, as a means of realising that value and being a store of that value is the result of a legal system that can render property fungible – that is, that the asset can be more than one thing.

“This, of course, means that property is a form of savings, and that savings are therefore at the root of money. […] The failure to realise the necessity of savings and their wider functions in a workable economy is at the root of the financial crisis.”

And the hostility to savings translates into hostility to gold and the failure to understand it as a unit of measurement. Turk and Rubino are right: gold is not a commodity and in realising this we may start to understand the dense fogs of the currency wars.

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

THE GOLD SPOT: FDR’S BOILED EGG

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

The Gold Spot is a regular feature in which Mark Rogers excerpts a passage from his reading as the Text for the Day and then comments on it.

Extract from THE FORGOTTEN MAN: A NEW HISTORY OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION by Amity Shlaes, Jonathan Cape, London, 2007

October 1933

They met in his bedroom at breakfast. Roosevelt sat up in his mahogany bed. He was usually finishing his soft-boiled egg. There was a plate of fruit at the bedside. There were cigarettes. Henry Morganthau from the Farm Board entered the room. Professor George Warren of Cornell came; he had lately been advising Roosevelt. So did Jesse Jones of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Together the men would talk about wheat prices, about what was going on in London, about, perhaps, what the farmers were doing.

Then, still from his bed, FDR would set the target price for gold for the United States – or even for the world. It didn’t matter what Montagu Norman at the Bank of England might say. FDR and Morganthau had nicknamed him “Old Pink Whiskers”. It did not matter what the Federal Reserve said. Over the course of the autumn, at the breakfast meetings, Roosevelt and his new advisers experimented alone. One day he would move the price up several cents; another, a few more.

One morning, FDR told his group he was thinking of raising the gold price by twenty-one cents. Why that figure? his entourage asked. “It’s a lucky number,” Roosevelt said, “because it’s three times seven.” As Morganthau later wrote, “If anybody knew how we really set the gold price through a combination of lucky numbers, etc., I think they would be frightened.”

By the time of his inauguration back on March 4, everyone knew that Roosevelt would experiment with the economy. But no one knew to what extent. Now, in his first year in office, Roosevelt was showing them.

Comment: In the Spring of 1922 a conference was convened at Genoa, Italy to find out ways of returning to the gold standard; this was the first attempt to do so since the Great War of 1914-1918. This conference gave birth to the “gold exchange standard”, which in truth was not really a gold standard because as James Rickards explains: “Participating countries agreed that central bank reserves could be held not only in gold but in the currencies of other nations; the word ‘exchange’ in ‘gold exchange standard’ simply meant that certain foreign exchange balances would be treated like gold for reserve purposes.” The consequence of this was that the burden of gold standard would be put upon the shoulders of those nations with the largest gold reserves, which in practice, of course, meant overwhelmingly the United States. The gold price was to be maintained at US$20.67 per ounce, and other nations held dollars as proxies for gold.

One problem with this attempt to establish the gold standard was the desire to return it to pre-War prices, which of course had been entirely set by the markets and, without government intervention or multilateral international committees, or central bank involvement, had been remarkably stable in the period of the classical standard 1870-1914.

Gold (and silver) coins and bullion had ceased to circulate with their accustomed frequency since the beginning of the war, and exchanges of paper for gold were subject to hefty minimum quantities, with the consequence that only the central banks and the commercial banks, with a few of the ultra-wealthy would be using gold bullion. Other notes would be used by everybody else, redeemable through government promises to maintain parity with gold. While this in theory meant that paper was de facto a promissory note with redeemable properties, effectively the gold itself vanished into the vaults of central banks.

And of course, central banks were now involved in gold in ways that they neither had been, nor had there been any necessity that they should have been, under the classical gold standard.

The stage was set. When FDR conceived of the idea that the dollar should be devalued against gold  almost as soon as he assumed the Presidency, “hoarding” of gold was banned. The Executive Order was issued on April 5, 1933; fifteen days later the export of gold from the U.S. was forbidden; nine days thereafter American gold mines were compelled to sell their gold only to the Treasury and at prices determined by the “customer”, the Treasury, which means that American mines were nationalized in all but name.

As of October 1933, FDR began to buy gold in the open market. He had already confiscated over 500 metric tons of the stuff from private hands, at the official price, giving America the largest “hoard” of gold in the world, and FDR’s market activities were, of course, designed to push the price up as a consequence of this monopoly.

So there we have it: a strange path indeed from the attempt to re-establish the, or at least, a gold standard, to the U.S. being given the responsibility of maintaining the price, through the Depression and the decision to devalue the dollar, the theft of private citizens’ gold giving the President an edge in the market place, thus ending up with Roosevelt sitting in bed with a boiled egg, determining the price of gold on a whimsy: monetary policy had become a bull session!

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

THE GOLD SPOT: GOLD THE REFERENCE POINT

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

The Gold Spot is a regular feature in which Mark Rogers excerpts a passage from his reading as the Text for the Day and then comments on it.

Extract from CURRENCY WARS: THE MAKING OF THE NEXT GLOBAL CRISIS by James Rickards, Portfolio/Penguin, New York, 2011

The continuation of the trend toward a diminished role for the dollar in international trade and the reserve balances begs the question of what happens when the dollar is no longer dominant but is just another reserve currency among several others? What is the tipping point for the dollar? […]

Barry Eichengreen is the preeminent scholar on this topic and a leading proponent of the view that a world of multiple reserve currencies awaits […] the plausible and benign conclusion that a world of multiple reserve currencies with no single dominant currency […] this time with the dollar and the euro sharing the spotlight instead of the dollar and sterling. This view also opens the door to further changes over time, with the Chinese yuan eventually joining the dollar and the euro in a coleading role.

What is missing in Eichengreen’s optimistic interpretation is the role of a systemic anchor, such as the dollar or gold. As the dollar and sterling were trading places in the 1920s and 1930s, there was never a time when at least one was not anchored to gold. In effect, the dollar and sterling were substitutable because of their simultaneous equivalence to gold. Devaluations did occur, but after each devaluation the anchor was reset. After Bretton Woods, the anchor consisted of the dollar and gold, and since 1971 the anchor has consisted of the dollar as the leading reserve currency. Yet in the post-war world there has always been a reference point. Never before have multiple paper reserve currencies been used with no single anchor. Consequently, the world […] is a world of reserve currencies adrift. Instead of a single central bank like the Fed abusing its privileges, it will be open season with several central banks invited to do the same at once. In that scenario, there would be no safe harbour reserve currency and markets would be more volatile and unstable.

Comment: It is hard to fathom such an unrealistic expectation of lead currencies, swilling about supporting each other and every other currency, as being somehow optimistic and benign; Rickards is not saying that he thinks they would be by using these terms, he is pointing up the authors of these expectations as hailing them as benign: what could go wrong, we’re all good chaps…aren’t we?

Rickards’s view is of a piece with Gustav Cassel’s point (quoted in Gold on the Outbreak of the Great War), that “the responsibility for the value of the currency, in cases where the gold standard has been abandoned, must exclusively lie with those in whose hands rests this provision of the means of payment.” The point being that this is an astonishing level of trust to put into the institutions of government, not just moral trust, but a trust that the necessary calculations, observations and measurements can be made consistently and continuously to keep things afloat and stable. The euro is a very good object lesson that both these sorts of trust are misplaced, which is putting it mildly…

From an Austrian School point of view, the goodness of the humans in charge is irrelevant: it is the utterly impossible nature of the task that is the stumbling block. But it is just there, of course, that the immoral temptation to swing things to the state’s advantage comes to the fore – again as shown up by the euro.

Where there is no reference point, no anchor, no solution is feasible… which is why we keep getting  more of the failed nostrums. Which leads on to a very interesting observation: why taxes must go up in an economic world divorced from the gold standard.

Politicians are incapable of managing monetary affairs (see the article linked to below on The Mess We’re In: Why Politicians Can’t Fix Financial Crises). The gold standard prevented them by and large from acting on economic hubris. Unconstrained by gold, bewildered by their failures, corrupted by their power, they turn to the one nostrum that lies unfailingly to their hand: taxation. That is why it is found important at times of high and progressive taxation to denounce “avoiders” as selfish cheats who won’t do their bit for their fellow citizens (see my The Moral Dilemma at the Heart of Taxation). So the gold standard not only prevented printing money, it also held down taxation. Another reason to vote for gold!

For the raison d’être of these articles on goldcoin.org read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

For background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

For a series of articles on the pernicious effects of progressive tax regimes: THE MORAL DILEMMA AT THE HEART OF TAXATION

For a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

2012: Tax, the Euro and the Gold Standard: A Roundup

Monday, January 7th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

Tax

In a move practically designed to prove my assertion that the Inland Revenue is behaving more like the Stasi than a branch of democratic government, it was announced on Friday 4 January that the H.M.R.C. was publishing the names and photographs of some of the worst tax “cheats” of the previous year. Yet the lack of clarity persists: “The Government invested £917m in tackling tax evasion, avoidance and fraud in 2011-12, with an additional £77m planned over the next two years. ‘Most people play by the rules and pay what they owe, but HMRC is cracking down on those who don’t,’ said Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke. ‘We hope that publishing these pictures will help get across that it always makes sense to declare all your income, and tax dodgers are simply storing up trouble for the future.’”

While the news report does give details of an overtly criminal gang, the persistence in lumping together criminals on the one hand and dodgers and avoiders on the other is deeply worrying; the latter are people who have committed no crime. Until and unless the law is specifically changed the pursuit of those who legally avoid paying tax is a direct assault of the rule of law. And it will not do to pass legislation criminalising avoidance: avoidance only takes place because the tax code is too large, too multifarious, too unfair and too confiscatory. It would be an even graver assault on the rule of law if criminalising legal behaviour was to be the government and parliament’s preferred option rather than a serious overhaul of the tax code. But then expecting that is like expecting the EU’s commissioners, politicians and bankers to sort out the euro mess.

The Euro

Where is the promised resolution to the Euro crisis, specifically the problems in the first place of Greece? The European Stability Mechanism merely defers the inevitable, but true to form, the EU’s political class is congratulating itself that “something is being done”.

In his book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washingto, 2008), Mark Steyn makes the following observation: “The progressive Left can be in favour of Big Government or population control but not both. That mutual incompatibility is about to plunge Europe into societal collapse. There is no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital – and that’s before anyone invented unsustainable welfare states.”

Thus a decline in the European demographic, which was predicated on the welfare state providing for all and giving a better standard of living which in turn is often taken to mean fewer children, is ensuring that the welfare state is collapsing while its beneficiaries demand more – see, for example, the Greek reaction to “austerity”.

But was “Europe” on any of its models ever going to be sustainable? In an interesting article from an old Encounter that I recently picked up, much food for thought suggesting that the answer was no from the beginning is to be found in an article by François Bondy, The Sick Man of Europe is .. Europe (Encounter, Vol. X, No. 6, June 1958). While he is talking about NATO, rather than the emergent political arrangements that would eventually become the EU as we know it, it must be remembered that The Europeans leapt under the NATO nuclear and military umbrella on the specific assumption that the Americans would be footing the bill; this in turn, allowed France to pursue her squalid little colonial war in Algeria, while allowing them all to begin that slide into welfarism, the effects (or rather, defects) of which are now manifest. Bondy says this of the relations that the Europeans and the Americans thought they were entering into at the time:

The truth is that, in essentials, the West Europeans have relied on the United States for their defence, and that N.A.T.O. is the instrument, not of a partnership, but of a receivership.” [My emphasis]

That note of insolvency struck right at the very beginning!

He also goes on to be very prescient about how things would fall out: “A great and present danger would arise out of an unequal division of privileges, responsibilities, and burdens among the European states; this inequality could generate new national hatreds and rivalries, and make of Europe simply a greater Balkans.”

Which is exactly how to describe the quite deliberate plan to bring this state of affairs about through the melding of the “hardcore” euro currency countries into a fiscal “heartland” for the EU. He goes on to ask: “Balkans or Switzerland? Perhaps neither goal is likely to arouse enthusiasm in the citizens of that Europe which discovered the modern world, established it, and ruled it for so long. But Balkanisation will only be the fate of those who are themselves ready for it, and prefer to be a shrunken power rather than a small state.”

And this was said in 1958.

And the gold standard, what has that to do with welfarism?

The Gold Standard

“The abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit. … The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves. This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists’ tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty understanding the statists’ antagonism toward the gold standard.” (Quoted in, The Coming Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit from It, James Turn and John Rubino, Doubleday, New York, London etc., 2004)

Well said, that man! But who was that man? No less than Alan Greenspan, whose views clearly cover the span between what he said in 1966 in an essay, “Gold and Economic Freedom”, and his own genial oversight of “an unlimited expansion of credit”, no doubt thinking the while that this was because this had to be done to counter the expansionist ambitions of the welfare statists, but with, inevitably, the same result.

But as a succinct description of what in effect has happened in the banking crisis, his first sentence is spot on, and this may yet be revealed as not only the way the crisis evolved, but of the very motor at the heart of it, the politically expedient manipulation of the LIBOR.

And the future of the gold standard? We shall see if the Utah sound money scheme catches on in other States in the U.S.A. And we shall see if the arguments for its return start stacking up in the minds of those whose minds need to accommodate it. But the really serious question is if Basel III, if, when, implemented does turn out to be a tentative restoration outside the political system, and if indeed it does turn out to be a de facto gold standard, how will the politicians react?

Basel III is difficult to interpret, and so far this year the main news about it is that the Reserve Bank of India has declared that it is to defer implementing it for at least a few months.

How strange it is that the most perceptive remarks about Europe’s decline and the warning about the welfare state’s destruction of wealth should have been made in 1958 and 1966 respectively. History indeed is a gold mine!

For more on tax go to: STARBUCKS AND ALL THAT TAX, which also contains a link to a brief summary of my arguments and a link to all the previous articles on tax.

Readers curious as to why articles of this nature should be appearing on a gold investment website should read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS

And for background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

And for a review of one of the most important books on the financial crisis published last year: THE MESS WE’RE IN: WHY POLITICIANS CAN’T FIX FINANCIAL CRISES

PUNISH BENEFIT CHEATS

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

DO DEALS (IF YOU MUST) WITH SO-CALLED TAX EVADERS

By Mark Rogers

After all the froth over tax evasion, in a remarkably short space of time the taxman is doing a deal: “Hundreds of tax evaders … will escape prosecution and keep their identities secret under immunity deals offered by Revenue & Customs,” reported The Times on Friday, 2nd November, in a front page story. The idea is not to waste Court time and further expense if so-called “secret account-holders” simply stump up their taxes and pay penalties. There has already been one prosecution for “serious fraud” and there will be a select few more.

The newspaper also quotes a former taxman who now works for a law firm as saying: “It is those at the lower end of the social scale who go to prison. There is no immunity for benefit cheats.”

In a development in Greece, a journalist who published 2,000 names of Greek “secret account-holders”, which include industrialists, financiers and politicians, was acquitted of breaching privacy laws, after the prosecution offered no witnesses. The journalist Kostas Vaxevanis is quoted, in a separate story on page 8, as suggesting that the list detailed “groups of people stealing from the Greek state”.

The HMRC deals are being offered to those British people who turned up on a list of account holders at a Swiss branch of HSBC, which list was stolen two and a half years ago by an employee of the bank – thus violating bank-client confidentiality – which was given to the then French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde (now head of the IMF). She in turn gave HMRC 6,000 names of UK citizens (500 of whom have so far been investigated for fraud).

HMRC, Evasion and the Mis-spending of Savings

Before looking at the moral dilemmas of what has recently happened, and in particular the unfortunate view of Mr Vaxevanis, let us look at some of the more straightforward economic practicalities.

HMRC is assuming that the Lagarde list contains people who do not have a cash flow problem i.e., the deals, which as noted save precious court time, are possible because both the tax and the fines are assumed to be achievable. A deal, to work, requires the agreement of both parties as to what is feasible, whereas justice demands that one party has justice visited upon it in the name of the law, as pursued by the aggrieved party.

As it is deals that are being offered, the back taxes and the fines must come out of savings. This gets to the heart of the problem, which is that among the reasons for the evasion in the first place is the perception that the state misapplies resources, and therefore the taxing of successful businessmen is to mis-spend savings which would otherwise have been applied as investments. This is also another reason, of course, for not sending the majority of these so-called evaders to jail: they are after all a productive element in any economy, producing goods, services and jobs. The problem of UK taxpayers’ assets being held abroad is the simple recognition that the tax regime is too onerous in the UK and that government wastes money.

Deals and assets

So there is at least a tacit recognition that these individuals play a productive part in economic life. What is required is the further recognition that when a tax regime becomes too complex, and the welfare state, which inevitably requires big government, is all-pervasive, then the problem is the government, not the so-called evader.

But these deals usher in another confusion. Hitherto, most of the fuss has been about legal tax avoidance (as discussed for example here, Cowboy Accountants – or Lone Rangers?). Now it transpires that the Lagarde list exposes the problem of hidden assets. This is indeed only, from an anti-Keynesian point of view, the reverse side of the problem of the initial evasion, the hidden assets being on the Keynesian view “hoardings”.

This is the operation of Gresham’s Law in the welfare state economy: bad money/bad monetary policy driving out good money, either into Swiss bank accounts, or, as another aspect of the tax furore initiated by the Chancellor revealed, into good works – this was the attempt by the Chancellor to cap charitable giving; this attempt revealed that many rich donors, who use the tax exemption schemes drawn up by HMRC, actually give more to charity than the exemption is worth!

Whistleblowing? Accountability?

The term “whistleblower” entered the political lexicon largely to describe a civil servant who has come across corruption and incompetence in government and decides to risk all by exposing it – the biggest two in the UK in recent years being the utter incompetence of the immigration department and the corruption of the MPs’ expenses scandal.

So why is the private employee of a private institution being called a whistleblower for sneaking on his employer’s clients? The answer lies in the vexing view of Vaxevanis, the Greek journalist who believes that asset hiders are “stealing from the Greek state”.

That is the welfarist assumption in a nutshell: that private citizens’ money actually belongs to the state. However wasteful the state, and however much that waste prompts the operation of Gresham’s Law, those who avoid taxes, in the hope that more productive times might return (after all, with interest rates so low, why invest?), are branded thieves – for hanging on to their own money.

This view of the vexing Vaxevanis reverses the idea of accountability – as I have remarked before, the state needs to be very sure that taxpayers are getting value for money before accusing citizens of being in effect criminals (and see here for further implications for constitutional government).

Real cheats

Which brings us back to the idea that there are two modes of justice: one for the rich, even when they save their money against government waste, incompetence and malfeasance, and another for those poor who cheat on the benefits system. It is however, wholly commensurate with the idea of justice that the latter are punished: they have devised ways to make claims on hardworking taxpayers’ money to steal what does not belong to them. As the actions of HMRC have implicitly acknowledged, all that “evaders” and “hoarders” have done is to hang on to more of what is actually theirs.

A benefit cheat is breaking the criminal law, a long-sanctioned element of the English Common Law. A tax avoider is simply breaching legislation, often passed in fits of class antagonism “against the rich”, that allows the state to snatch a portion of his wealth, that allows the state to believe that all our incomes belong to it – see the Orwellian notion of “the taxpayer’s allowance”.

This is a morally corrosive view, which leads to constitutional vandalism. That, not tax evasion, is the real problem of our times.

Readers curious as to why articles of this nature should be appearing on a gold investment website should read: GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS 

And for background on the writer: CONFESSIONS OF A LAW AND ORDER ANARCHIST

GOLD AND THE KEYNESIAN GROUPIES

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

By Mark Rogers

A discussion of Gold: Adjusting for Zero by Daniel Brebner and Xiao Fu, Deutsche Bank, London, 18 September 2012

2008 did not just happen. The financial squalor of recent years is the culmination of several long-standing factors, the most important being cultural, the “group think” of the Keynesian consensus. To begin with the analysts’ conclusions: while their report explains that a return to the gold standard is feasible, they are not sanguine that it will happen:

“The world economy has, over the past century, morphed into a highly integrated, government dominated system guided by conventional wisdom (group think). The self-reliant individualism of the free market has been left behind in favour of a ‘new age’ of coddled consumerism. Culturally this represents a very powerful force … one which minimises creative options/solutions to economic impasses.” (p. 16)

“Many economists shudder at the notion of a gold standard; this is understandable given the school of thought to which most adhere: Keynesian or Keynesian derivative.” (p. 14)

High on the list of Keynes groupies who are in powerful positions is Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve: it would take a conversion of Damascene proportions to get him to change his view of gold, and where he leads, many other central bankers and finance ministers willingly follow.

The authors of the report are therefore to be congratulated for their sombre realism in discussing this issue.

Zeroing in

As we approach Keynes’s ideal of 0% interest rates, “[m]oral hazard continues to be encouraged … The financial system in fact remains oriented to encourage further leverage and risk-taking.” This has an important consequence that goes a long way to explaining the crises that engulf us: investment is made simpler “in the sense that one only needs to look to what is ‘easiest’ rather than what is ‘right’.” If probity is at a discount, and an extravagant one at that, then why should politicians and policy makers even care about the consequences of their decisions? The Libor scandal (here and here), for instance, is an almost inevitable consequence of such moral insouciance.

A pertinent consequence for investors of quantitative easing is, as the report points out, the increasing price of gold. This is in fact simply another version of Gresham’s Law: as bad “eased” money increases so true value is driven into gold, forcing its price upwards given its relative scarcity. This is not to say that quantitative easing is good for gold, that is, easing does not contradict their assertion that a return to the gold standard is desirable given that this would prevent any such easing. It is simply a recognition of the fact that bad money always has this consequence: a return to the gold standard would be a restraint, allowing money to have a secure measure of value and preventing the arbitrary manufacture of money that destroys value.

Human Effort

The most remarkable aspect of this report is not the advocacy of a return to the gold standard – after all others are making the same case. What is interesting is the space the authors devote to the fons et origo of value: human effort. They devote two and a half pages (9-11) of what is after all a very short analysis to this concept and make this extremely important point: “if capital is stored effort, then debt is borrowed effort: either someone else’s or your own estimated future output.” The effect of exceptionally low interest rates is therefore to devalue your future effort by selling it to yourself, if you borrow, at a discount.

It is in this context that a return to the gold standard must be judged as essential: the moral hazard that the authors identify as being at the heart of the crisis cannot be allowed to continue.

The full report is available here.