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Historic gold agreements

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

1944 – Establishment of the IMF

The first international agreement on gold came with the signing of the International Monetary Fund’s articles of agreement in July 1944.

The IMF was created in order to rebuild the global monetary system after the Second World War, and its articles laid down that all member countries should establish ‘par values’ for their currencies in terms of gold, or in terms of the US dollar which was itself pegged to gold. One dollar was valued at 0.888671 gram of fine gold, or US$35 an ounce.

The agreement confirmed the price of gold as established by President Roosevelt in 1933, and gold became the foundation of the first international monetary system established by international agreement. It was the ‘glue’ that held the system of exchange rates together.

To give the new IMF usable resources to enable it to start lending, members were also required to pay 25 per cent of their subscription to the Fund in gold. Members had to buy and sell gold at the fixed price, plus or minus a margin set by the IMF. Gold was the ultimate reserve asset.

This requirement and the growth of membership resulted in IMF holdings of gold rising to 153 million ounces by 1975, at the time worth US$21 billion.

1960s – Central banks try to stabilise gold prices

In 1961, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ among central banks – known as ‘The Gold Pool’ – was established to hold the price of gold close to the then official price of US$35 an ounce.

The previous year, the price had risen to US$40 per ounce following panic buying of gold during the US presidential race and a speculative attack on the dollar. According to the Bank of England, “this state of affairs threatened the whole structure of exchange relationships in the western world”. The bank, with the support of the US authorities, sold gold on a substantial scale to bring the price down “to more appropriate levels”.

In October 1961, following a further speculative flurry, the central banks of Western Europe agreed to cooperate with the New York Federal Reserve Bank to stabilise the market.

A period of coordinated gold purchases followed the change of market conditions. However, the Cuba missile crisis of July 1962 triggered record demands for gold on the London market, which was again met by official selling. The objective throughout was to “avoid unnecessary and disturbing fluctuations in the price of gold in the free market”.

The Bank of England’s conclusion on this experiment was that “the knowledge that the central banks were working together in the gold, as well as in the exchange markets, has helped to maintain public confidence in the existing international monetary structure”.

The central banks abolished The Gold Pool in 1968, agreeing that they would no longer supply gold to the market but transact only among themselves at the official price. This established a two-tier system – one for private transactions, where the price fluctuated according to supply and demand, and the other for official transactions.

This agreement lasted until November 1973, when the price of gold was allowed to move freely, following the suspension of dollar convertibility into gold—the end of the gold standard—in August 1971.

1978 – The IMF attempts to write gold out of the system

In the late 1970s, the United States led an attempt to remove gold from the international monetary system. The Second Amendment of the International Monetary Fund’s articles was intended to achieve this aim by barring members from fixing their exchange rates to gold and removing the obligation on members to conduct transactions in gold at the officially mandated price.

The amendment followed the failure of previous attempts to establish a new international monetary system, including the inability of European countries to force the United States to either settle its deficit in gold, or else devalue the dollar against gold.

Not only did the United States refuse to keep gold in the system, it then led a crusade against gold—while being careful to keep a very large strategic stock of gold in its own reserves, sealed off from the outside world.

Symbolising the plan to drive gold out of the system, the IMF was instructed to dispose of 50 million ounces of its gold stock of 153 million ounces. It achieved this partly by sales to the market and partly by giving some gold to members.

Ironically, this exercise had the effect of spreading gold much more widely through the international community than ever before, and gave many countries a new interest in the gold market. Few countries showed any inclination to sell the gold handed to them, and in the vast majority of cases it continues to sit on their books.

Ext.: World Gold Council.

GOLD STANDARDS III

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

I have discussed in Gold is Money, and the previous Gold Standards I and II the advantages of understanding that gold is not a commodity, that it is money that serves the usual purposes of money, as a store of value and a means of exchange, but with the vital difference that it also serves as a standard unit of measurement. The latter function is owed to its intrinsic qualities.

However, in Paper Money Collapse, Detlev Schlichter expounds Carl Menger’s view that gold, like all other things that people have found a use-value for, can indeed be considered a commodity, at least in historical terms. (I have looked at this book twice before in Gold Money A Currency of the Past and What Are Banks For?)

How does this argument work? Menger, says Schlichter, that “money could only have come into existence as a commodity”. It was not the creation of the State, there were no issuing authorities; money arose from mutual trading activities in which all commodities had a use-value. Without that use-value, no commodity was worth anything. Schlichter explains:

“For something to be used, for the very first time, as a medium of exchange, a point of reference is needed as to what its value in exchange for other goods and services is at that moment. It must have already acquired some value before it is used as money for the first time. That value can only be its use-value as a commodity, as a useful good in its own right. But once a commodity has become an established medium of exchange, its value will no longer be determined by its use-value as a commodity alone but also, and ultimately predominantly, by the demand for its services as money. But only something that has already established a market value as a commodity can make the transition to being a medium of exchange.”

Gold the Supreme Embodiment of Value

This anthropological-historical understanding of the emergence of money puts the market, trading, at the heart of the valuation process. Which, in turn, reminds us that the ultimate source of value, what something is worth, is its value to the parties, few or numerous, who engage in the transaction. So what in turn is required of a monetary medium, a currency, is a value that as far as possible stands outside that arbitrary subjectivity. Money itself, whatever its currency embodiment, is an attempt to render value objective in that the currency can be used in any exchanges, unlike bartering.

So in turn, the more objective the currency can become, the more it can become a standard (and this is where it is easy to see why it therefore becomes a unit of measurement), the more reliable, the more valuable that currency unit becomes.

And again, in turn, it is easy to see why gold quickly established itself as the supreme embodiment of exchange value: “it is no surprise that throughout the ages and through all cultures, whenever people were left to their own devices and free to choose which good should be used as money, they most always came to use precious metals.”

Gold is Money

Historically then we can enlarge Turk’s and Rubino’s contention that gold is not a commodity, not at least a commodity like oil or eggs, by allowing that the currency standard will have had a life as an object with use-value until other properties lead people to realise that it may have a value above its use-value. People have become familiar with these properties until it is singled out in use as being dominated by these properties and becomes money.

And the dominant characteristic of gold is its stability: soon all other characteristics were subordinated to this one, thereby changing not its nature but its purpose.

Of course, gold can be re-commodified as jewellery or ornament, as Jocelyn Burton, gold– and silversmith, demonstrates in her extraordinary work. People will always have these uses for gold, which are not intrinsically opposed to its properties as money: jewellery after all carries a premium and can, somewhat philistinely perhaps, be regarded as a form of storage, but then this form of storage shares with gold coins the property of portability.

And money can be re-subjectivised, in the past by mutilating it, clipping and shaving gold and silver coinage; and in the present of course the rolling of the printing presses with paper money has made money supremely subjective, its value becoming volatile and it storage properties destroyed.

It may be objected that we have little ancient anthropological evidence for this process, but we do not need to rely upon this as merely an explanation of what “must have happened”, we need only look at how those living in a territory with a devalued currency deal with the depredations of their government: in the twentieth century they have singled out dollars. When I asked an acquaintance from Zimbabwe how Zimbabweans coped with all those noughts, he laughed and said: “We just use dollars.”

The idea that money, and gold as money, emerged from the free trades of people going about their ordinary business also helps explain the deep disdain for gold in today’s political establishment: the idea that people are incapable of looking after themselves has become rooted in modern political thinking.

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

BANKING FAILURES

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

 Banks are businesses like any other (in principle) but the regulatory frameworks constructed to “oversee” them in fact legislated banks out the consequences of operating in the private sector. The question inevitably arises therefore: what were the kickbacks?

They were obviously not such as obtained in the media, where for decades newspapers have espoused political causes and backed parties and politicians. Yes there were some ultimately certain relations that proved fairly poisonous for democracy – one thinks of Murdoch and Blair for example. The Browne/Balls-Banker axis was more fundamental, more insidious and more toxic than the media-politician axis, if only because the latter was transparent, in the sense that we could see some at least of what was going on and newspapers made no bones about their political stance.

Banks had traditionally been independent of the state (remember: the Bank of England was only nationalized in the late 1940s). The media-state “interface” had always been the more obvious and troublesome one: censorship versus boosterism – no surprise there. Journalists and politicians after all have a lot in common.

In other words, what the LIBOR arrangements, if guessed correctly by The Spectator, amounted to were not merely a conscription of the banks by the state, but the willingness of the former to be so co-opted. So where does that leave Barclay’s decision not the take the Queen’s shilling? And the subsequent vilification of Bob Diamond?

Are bankers inherently dishonest or do politicians persuade, even force, the at least more craven of the bankers to become so?

After all you don’t have much choice after you’ve been nationalized – and the legislation that exempted bankers from the commercial consequences of failure was effectively a form of nationalization.

Nazi-style socialism

It needs to be strongly emphasised that when Mr Anthony Blair persuaded the Labour Party to abandon Clause Four, the nationalization of the means of production, in favour of “market forces”, he actually was trading in the Communist version of Socialism for the Nazi version of Socialism which was to leave industrial and commercial productive forces in private hands but surround them with state interference and legislation. This is not market forces.

For a brilliant analysis of the banking problem as caused by the regulatory framework – not, it must be insisted upon, bad or lax regulation but the fact of the regulatory regime existing at all – please read the last of the three links below, and then go out and buy the book!

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

EDMUND BURKE ON THE CULT OF THE STATE

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

They must be worse than blind who cannot see with what undeviating regularity of system, in this and in all cases, they pursue their scheme for the destruction of every independent power … The design is wicked, immoral, impious, oppressive: but it is spirited and daring. It is systematic; it is simple in its principle; it has unity and consistency in perfection. In that country entirely to cut off a branch of commerce, to extinguish a manufacture, to destroy the circulation of money, to violate credit, to suspend the course of agriculture … does not cost them a moment’s anxiety. To them the will, the wish, the want, the liberty, the toil, the blood of individuals is nothing. Individuality is left out of their scheme of Government. The state is all in all.

Letters on the Regicide Directory 1796

Quoted by Christopher Booker and Richard North as the epigraph to their book The Castle of Lies: Why Britain Must Get Out of Europe, Duckworth, London 1996

For an article by Mark Rogers on the cult of the state, click here.

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

AND THE ECONOMIC FORECAST IS…

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

By Mark Rogers

… predictable.

What leads Chancellors of the Exchequer, and their counterparts in other countries, to make upbeat forecasts of economic recovery, growth and general well-being? After all, compared with the losses sustained by the economy over the financial crisis, any notional “recovery” still leaves the economy lagging behind where it used to be. Nevertheless, these routine, formal, upbeat statements are made, which then are revised downwards in time for the next upbeat statement.

One obvious cause of these statements is the habitual electoral vanity of politicians in a modern democracy. The public, it is presumed, wants good news on the economic front – and so, when making statements that are going to be given prominence by the media, good news is what the public gets. With news coverage at daily saturation given the nature of the contemporary media, such statements are made far more often than they need be – or at all. There is little of course that can be done about this, but one should note that the demand for policy statements comes from the media not the public; the Westminster bubble that is the world inhabited by the self-enclosing group that is the modern politician and his media cohort is largely immune to political actuality nowadays – with one rather hilarious consequence.

In their boon Nudge (Penguin, London 2009), Thaler and Sunstein observe the habit of people to conform to what they expect or understand other people to be doing: if expectations of a certain behaviour are perceived to be low, or indeed people are told that they are low, then most people will, out of inertia, simply comply and thus are status quos maintained.

They comment: “Note to political parties: If you would like to increase turnout [at elections], please do not lament the large numbers of people who fail to vote.”

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

STATE WORSHIP AND THE ANTI-GLOBALIZATION MOVEMENT

Friday, December 28th, 2012

By Mark Rogers

Globalization: what is it but an activity that is as old as civilization – simply a modern name for trade? Joseph Addison’s paean to its virtues stresses the civilizing effect it has, bringing together merchants from every clime and culture, who, in furthering their own mutual interests, enhance everything from landscape to palates to manners and morals.

So why is it scorned and despised by so many, especially in the rich west?

Martin Wolf in “Why Globalization Works” (first referenced here) provides a useful list summarising the attitudes of the anti-globalizers, the first three of which I will deal with in this article. His summary is an accurate one of these views, so equally accurately does he indicate their incoherence.

“The critics make the following more or less specific charges against market-driven globalization.

“It destroys the ability of states to regulate their national economies, raise taxes and spend money on public goods and social welfare.

“In the process, it undermines democracy, imposing in its place the rule of unaccountable bureaucrats, corporations and markets.

“It amounts to an abdication of power by benevolent democratic governments in favour of predatory private corporations.”

Underlying assumptions

The first thing to notice about these attitudes is the underlying assumption that the modern democratic state is benevolent and rational and that its primary function is the regulation of the economy in order to tax the productive and furnish what are laughably known as “public goods and social welfare”.

The second underlying assumption is that modern democracies are accountable, and that it is corporations and markets that somehow are not. On the contrary, the collapse of accountability is manifestly evident in the euro crisis and the concomitant collapse of the European project, yet far from behaving in a responsible, accountable manner, the politicians are desperately trying to cling onto their power and privileges.

In the U.K. we have seen how politicians brazenly justified their expenses, in the process demonstrating their ignorance of the legal system. In one of the more scandalous moments of that preposterous saga, when one of the overtly criminal M.P.s was on trial and facing the prospect of jail if convicted (which he duly was), more than one hundred M.P.s wrote the judge a letter to try and influence the outcome of that trial, pleading with the judge not to sentence him to prison. One simply does not do this to an English common law judge: he duly ignored them, but that it was possible for so large a number of M.P.s to bring themselves to behave in this way shows a sorry disregard for our constitution – but then, at least since the Second World War, that disregard has become increasingly the parliamentarians’ mode of proceeding.

Markets, on the other hand, are engines of accountability, through bankruptcies and competition. That we may not see those who run companies, and anonymity is largely how free societies function, they are nevertheless under the remorseless pressure of their customers and competitors to provide the goods and services desired.

State Worship

The most important thing about these assumptions is that they amount to an unquestioning assumption that the state is the proper director of human affairs, and that ordinary humans are not – the ordinary person is not trusted, and the greater his wealth, the less trustworthy he is deemed. This is a preposterous view, and a dangerous one. I have quoted before Paul Johnson’s dictum that the ability of the state to wreak great evil has been amply proved; whether it is capable of good is open to considerable doubt.

Take two recent stories in the press. I have dealt with the first already in several articles about tax avoidance, the latest twist to which is the transformation of a parliamentary committee, the Public Accounts Committee, which is meant to hold the government to account, the proper function of M.P.s, instead turning on taxpayers and in accusatory mode devising ways to hold the public to account. We had also earlier seen how H.M.R.C. was devising means to use schools to snoop on tax avoiders.

A yet more recent story of the government turning on the people is the revelation this week of a costly scheme to monitor every child taken to an A. & E. Department for signs that its parents are trying to hide evidence that it is being abused. The National Health Service, that is, is being turned into a Stasi-like instrument to intrude into family life. This gross violation of privacy is based on an illusion. After the prominent publicity given to the deaths of battered children such as Jasmine Beckford, Victoria Climbié and Baby P, public inquiries were held. In spite of the detailed evidence in the findings of specific neglect at best, malign acquiescence at worst, combined with ignorance and lack of care, on the part of the social workers, each inquiry came to the same conclusion: that there had not been sufficient sharing of information between the relevant branches of the state.

So now in the fullness of time, some bright spark in the government has seen how the NHS can be turned into an information gathering and disbursing scheme – entirely neglecting two essential facts: the male abusers of infants are not the children’s natural fathers (mothers may hide the evidence of abuse, but this is because they are either mentally deficient, as Baby P’s showed every sign of being, or simply scared) – this is common knowledge, but is routinely overlooked. The second is that a highly abused child is more likely to be imprisoned at home than be taken to hospital. When a social worker did manage to get Jasmine Beckford and her sister into hospital, the police were adamant that they should not be returned. The social worker over-ruled them, and the police acquiesced (why they didn’t take advantage of that hospitalization to arrest the step-father I have never understood).

There is ample evidence that when the state reaches a certain size, and has acquired powers of intrusion into daily life by nationalizing health and education, its functionaries become a coterie, acting in their own interests at the expense literal and figurative of the general public. That the state in this form should be trusted with our welfare is belied by history, the same history that shows the most dangerous religion ever invented is the cult of the state.

Re-inventing the wheel

The present writer indeed agrees with those who object that globalization “destroys the ability of states to regulate their national economies, raise taxes and spend money on public goods and social welfare” and hopes that destruction proceeds apace. To quote the American commentator Michael Ledeen: “Faster please!”

Joseph Addison was right to see in the mercantile classes of his day the great benefactors of mankind: we in our day have seen the “benevolence” of the state in action, not least in those developing countries the anti-globalizers weep for where state aid has created destitution, and where restoring trade and expanding markets have repaired the ravages of that aid.

Not for the first time in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries have we been required to re-invent the wheel – under the baleful glare of those who think it shouldn’t have been invented in the first place.

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

POLITICS CORRUPTS PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY

Monday, December 17th, 2012

By Mark Rogers

In one of my earliest articles for this website, I broadly condemned the corruption of the British political elite and centred that attack on the professionalization of Members of Parliament and delegated legislation. The irony of these two assaults on our constitutional liberties is that at the same time as recognizing membership of the House of Commons as a paid profession, Parliamentarians ceased to be Parliamentarians and instead delegated their responsibilities to the government. The latter sits in Parliament as of right as being composed of elected MPs, and the upshot of this is that the ancient privileges of the House, which one protected it from the executive, are now used to protect the executive from the House!

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, in his book The Strange Death of Tory England (first referred to here), puts some numbers of these derelictions.

He quotes the Tory grandee Julian Amery: “When I was young, a man would go into parliament because he was somebody. Now a man goes into parliament to become somebody.” That this is not a nostalgic grouse is borne out by some significant points. There are fewer by-elections, which means that MPs hang on to their seats. “During the parliament of 1918-22 there were108 by-elections, in 1931-5 there were sixty-two, in 1992-7 there were seventeen and in 2001-5 there have been six, which is to say the number has plummeted from a yearly average on twenty-seven to fifteen to three to one and a half.”

There is the failure to use Commons procedure to bring down governments or throw out Prime Ministers. Wheatcroft comments: “Every British government between 1837 and 1874 fell following a vote in the House of Commons, a golden age when parliament really was master of the executive. During the twentieth century that happened just twice. … By the late twentieth century, politics had become a trade, and a well-rewarded one; being an MP was a nice little earner.”

The salary of an MP, as I argued in the article linked to above, is the original source of the corruption. At one time parliament was full of people who had outside interests in many fields, and therefore the House of Commons was truly representative of the electorate. While a Register of Members’ Interests exists, that register is a farcical indication of where we stand now: members should have outside interests, in the real economy, deriving their income from those interests and not in an underhand way (which the register is designed to forestall). They would then have a better grasp of the likely impact of the legislation they so sloppily pass on the wider economy. With universal franchise, the House ought to be full of plumbers and electricians, booksellers and oilmen, housewives and chocolate factory owners et al… Instead we have, by and large, a dreary litany of lawyers and trade unionists.

The other source of the “nice little earner” are the expenses MPs may claim, both legitimately and as well as illegally, even criminally as the expenses scandal revealed. These are accompanied, in Wheatcroft’s words, by “perks, handshakes or severance pay [severance pay!] for MPs who lost their seats, and pensions, which would once have been considered a grotesque idea but which were now an accepted mark of that professionalization. If MPs acted as they had so often in the past, and voted openly to bring down a government, it would be likely to precipitate a general election, when many of them might lose their seats and no longer be able to pocket those expenses.”

An interesting gloss on this problem is Wheatcroft’s comment on a puzzlement that Roy Jenkins voiced in his biography of Gladstone. In the nineteenth century prime ministers found it difficult to keep their Cabinet ministers who kept resigning for apparently trivial reasons, but in the twentieth century, when a minister should clearly go, it is hard to persuade him to. This, says Wheatcroft, is simply another manifestation of the professionalization of political life. Cabinet ministers in the nineteenth century had lives beyond politics with other sources of income (even though MPs were not paid, ministers were handsomely emolumated).

With nothing else to do, the modern MP sits in Parliament, incompetently overseeing the drafting of legislation that is incoherent and unnecessary, unaware of the impact of such legislation because only tangentially connected to the world outside politics, and unwilling to hold the executive to account for fear of losing pay and perks. A sorry but true description of the Mother of Parliaments in her descent to being the whore of a venal democracy.

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

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"For a mountaineer, the important things are the effort, the posture and the muscles. The rope that holds him serves no purpose when everything works but it gives him a sense of security. In the same way, all gold does is ensure confidence; it's a safe haven."