Power & Market
In 2015, the Texas State government announced plans to create a "gold depository." At the time, we reported this could be a significant step toward wider use of gold and silver as legal tender by essentially creating a parallel banking system based on precious metals.
The basic idea has always been simple: create a place where gold and other precious metals could be stored. The implications, however, are for far ranging in that over time, such an institution has the potential to function as a bank that could potentially offer the ability to facilitate the use of gold as money.
Existence of the depository opens up the possibilities for users creating a new type of currency in which purchases are made electronically with the backing of the gold in the depository. In other words, one could potentially use the depository's infrastructure to make purchases using gold, and to have gold either directly deposited into another's account, or converted to US dollars and deposited in a conventional bank. Arguably, this is just an electronic version of gold-backed money.
And now the Texas Bullion Depository has opened for business. The Ft Worth Star-Telegram reports :
The Texas Bullion Depository opened in Austin Wednesday, three years after state lawmakers signed off on creating an official place for people to store their gold and other precious metals.
“We’re proud that the nation’s first state-administered bullion depository is now a reality — this is a big day for Texans who want to secure their precious metal assets,” said Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar , who became the depository's first customer this week. “I deposited some gold."
The article notes that gold deposits are verified and insured.
Although administered by the State of Texas, the depository is significant as an institution that provides a means of storing what are potentially highly liquid assets outside the US banking system regulated by the Federal Reserve and the US federal government.
Moreover, as the article notes,
Financial institutions, cities, school districts, businesses, individuals — even other countries — could do business with the depository.
The depository is funded by fees, and in a normal world, this might act as a significant disincentive to using the depository's services. But in a world of enduring near-zero interest rates, the opportunity cost of not keeping money in a bank has become especially low. If banks were paying, say, three percent on savings accounts, cash would look a lot more lucrative. But when banks won't pay even one percent on deposits, you're not missing out on much by putting some wealth in the form of gold into a depository.
Response to the depository in the media has been generally muted outside Texas, although New York lawyer Joe Patrice did see the implications of the depository, and emotionally condemned the idea , claiming that it violated the so-called "supremacy clause" of the US Constitution. Couched placed between several insults directed at Texans, Patrice writes:
Though this does bring us to the actual reason for the bill: a symbolic gesture to convince morons that Texas is an independent realm...Having their own money bin and currency system — writing checks based off stockpiled metals creates, for all intents and purposes, an independent, gold-backed currency — goes a long way toward fluffing the illusion that Texas holds sway over the rest of America.
Of course, the depository doesn't violate any provision of the Constitution, and invoking the phrase "supremacy clause" is just the usual M.O. of people who don't want anyone doing anything anywhere without the explicit approval of the federal government.
If anything, with the depository, Texas is moving in the direction mandated by the US Constitution in which, as Bill Greene notes at mises.org, contains a negative mandate in which “No State shall... make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.”
Not that something is necessarily good because the US Constitution says so. The Constitution was, after all, primarily adopted to increase the power of the federal government. That's why the anti-federalists opposed it.
The state legal tender provision, however, reflects the 18th-century wisdom that government money unmoored to commodity money empowers governments at the expense of ordinary people.
It will be interesting to follow the Texas experience in this regard and see what effect, if any, it has on other state legislatures that have also expressed interest in expanding the use of gold and silver as legal tender. We have already seen a number of states, including Arizona, Idaho, Utah , and Wyoming.
The biggest potential downside, of course, is the risk of the federal government outlawing and seizing gold as it did in the 1930s.
When President Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 11, 1987, it helped put into motion events that would dramatically change the global system. A line of communication was fully opened with an enemy of decades and substantive issues were on the table. Though the summit was initially reported as a failure, with the two sides unable to sign a final agreement, history now shows us that it was actually a great success that paved the way to the eventual end of the Cold War and a reduction in the threat of a nuclear war.
A year later Gorbachev and Reagan met in Washington to continue the dialogue that had been started and the rest is history. Success began as a “failure.”
We are now facing a similar situation with President Trump’s historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. As with the Reagan/Gorbachev meetings, detractors on all sides seem determined to undermine and belittle the opening of a door to diplomacy and peace.
The neocons demand that North Korea give up all its bargaining chips up front in return for vague promises of better relations with the US. Yet in the post-Libya era no serious person would jump at such an offer. Their biggest fear is that peace may break out and they are doing everything to prevent that from happening. Conflict is their livelihood.
I also find it disheartening that many Democrat opponents of President Trump who rightly cheered President Obama’s efforts to reach a deal with Iran are now condemning Trump for opening the door to diplomacy with North Korea. Did they genuinely support President Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Iran, or did they just prefer the person who happened to occupy the Oval Office at the time?
The issue is about policy versus politics and I am afraid too many Americans of all political stripes are confusing the two. Many Americans, it seems, would prefer that we continue down the path to a potentially nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula because they do not like the current US president. Does that make any sense? Has politics come to over-rule our common sense to the point we would go against our own interests and even our own lives? Let’s hope not!
The truth is, talking is always better than threatening. Just like trading is always better than sanctioning. Detractors on both sides miss the point while they desperately try to make political points. The current thaw with North Korea began with that country’s participation in the Olympic games in South Korea. From that point, North and South Korea came to see each other as neighbors rather than enemies. That process will continue regardless of what comes from the Trump/Kim summit and it is a process we should cheer.
Hopefully this historic Trump/Kim meeting is the beginning of a dialogue that will continue to dial back the tensions. Hopefully we can soon remove the 30,000 US troops that have been stationed in South Korea for seven decades. One thing Washington must do, however: stay out of the way as much as possible so as to allow the two Koreas to continue their peace process.
Tate Fegley, a 2018 Research Fellow, joined the Tom Woods show to discuss the perverse incentives that exist with government law enforcement, and how the private market would be a better approach to police services.
To read more from Tate on the topic, check out his Mises Institute author page.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is known for dressing up in ridiculous costumes. His latest? A defender of free trade.
Over the weekend, Trudeau took to Sunday morning news shows to criticize the Trump Administration’s tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. He called the decision “insulting,” noting that “there are no two countries that are as interconnected, interdependent…You sell more things to us every year than to UK, Japan, and China combined.”
Of course Trudeau’s criticism of the new tariffs is valid, protectionism is bad for everyone but special interest groups they protect. The problem is that Trudeau’s own policies are hard to reconcile with his new found appreciation for free trade.
Canada’s Supply Management System is a perfect example of agricultural protectionism – and a policy that has received the full endorsement of Justin Trudeau. The program involves an impressive collection of bad government policies, including direct subsidies, price fixing, supply regulation, and high tariffs on international imports. In a 2014 article on Canada’s agricultural policy, Predrag Rajsic illustrated the incredible amount of regulation that exists in milk production:
For example, for the past 40 years, the production of milk in Canada has been legally regulated at the federal and provincial levels. At the federal level, production is limited to about 79 million hectoliters per year. Each province has a strictly defined share in the total national production that cannot be exceeded.
For the whole system to function, milk can be produced only by a farmer that is registered with a provincial marketing board. Every farmer is allowed to supply a precisely defined quantity of milk, which is referred to as a quota. A farmer may increase his quota only if another farmer is willing to sell his quota. The exchange of quotas is also regulated in detail and must be approved by provincial marketing boards. Currently, farmers are willing to pay more than $30,000 in exchange for transfer of rights to increase their dairy herd by one dairy cow. However, the soaring quota prices have created barriers for new entrants into the industry. A person that wants to start a small dairy farm first needs to pay more than $1 million just to be allowed to produce milk. These barriers to entry have triggered quota price controls in Ontario and Quebec, the major dairy producing provinces. The price controls, in effect, have reduced the willingness of farmers to sell their quotas. Now the Ontario milk marketing board is offering quotas at subsidized prices to a limited number of new entrants (i.e., not more than ten per year).
Canada’s Supply Management System has faced its biggest internal challenge recently from Maxime Bernier, a member of parliament who sought the leadership nomination of his Conservative Party. Last year he wrote an article praising Trump’s criticism of the protectionism scheme, noting the cost it has for Canadian citizens:
Canadian families, especially low-income ones with children, suffer because of the hundreds of dollars in extra cost they need to pay each year to support this system. Isn't it unfair?
I'm also sorry for the Canadian producers protected from competition by this cartel. It's actually very unfair for some of them, too.
They have to pay $24,000 to $40,000 a cow to their protection racket for a piece of paper giving them the right to produce a certain quantity of milk – and that's before paying for the cow itself! Even when they run a very efficient farm, they cannot grow and sell to foreign markets. That's the price to pay for not allowing foreigners to sell here.
It is encouraging to hear such passionate defenses of free trade being made by both international leaders and news pundits as a result of Donald Trump’s tariffs. Unfortunately, the actions of those leaders – both in the past and present - undermine their rhetoric. If Justin Trudeau really believes that tariffs between the US and Canada are an insult to both countries, then he should lead by example.
Until then, Trump is right to call out his hypocrisy.
Back in the 2008 presidential race, I explained to then-candidate Rudy Giuliani the concept of “blowback.” Years of US meddling and military occupation of parts of the Middle East motivated a group of terrorists to carry out attacks against the United States on 9/11. They didn’t do it because we are so rich and so free, as the neocons would have us believe. They came over here because we had been killing Muslims “over there” for decades.
How do we know this? Well, they told us. Osama bin Laden made it clear why al-Qaeda sought to attack the US. They didn’t like the US taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict and they didn’t like US troops on their holy land.
Why believe a terrorist, some responded. As I explained to Giuliani ten years ago, the concept of “blowback” is well-known in the US intelligence community and particularly by the CIA.
Unfortunately, it is clear that Giuliani never really understood what I was trying to tell him. Like the rest of the neocons, he either doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to get it. In a recent speech to the MeK – a violent Islamist-Marxist cult that spent two decades on the US terror watch list – Giuliani promised that the Trump Administration had made “regime change” a priority for Iran. He even told the members of that organization – an organization that has killed dozens of Americans – that Trump would put them in charge of Iran!
Giuliani shares with numerous other neocons like John Bolton a strong relationship with this group. In fact, both Giuliani and Bolton have been on the payroll of the MeK and have received tens of thousands of dollars to speak to their followers. This is another example of how foreign lobbies and special interest groups maintain an iron grip on our foreign policy.
Does anyone really think Iran will be better off if Trump puts a bunch of “former” terrorists in charge of the country? How did that work in Libya?
It’s easy to dismiss the bombastic Giuliani as he speaks to his financial benefactors in the MeK. Unfortunately, however, Giuliani’s claims were confirmed late last week, when the Washington Free Beacon published a three-page policy paper being circulated among National Security Council officials containing plans to spark regime change in Iran.
The paper suggests that the US focus on Iran’s many ethnic minority groups to spark unrest and an eventual overthrow of the government. This is virtually the same road map that the US has followed in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and so on. The results have been unmitigated disaster after disaster.
Unleashing terrorists on Iran to overthrow its government is not only illegal and immoral: it’s also incredibly stupid. We know from 9/11 that blowback is real, even if Giuliani and the neocons refuse to understand it. Iran does not threaten the United States. Unlike Washington’s Arab allies in the region, Iran actually holds reasonably democratic elections and has a Western-oriented, educated, and very young population.
Why not open up to Iran with massive amounts of trade and other contacts? Does anyone (except for the neocons) really believe it is better to unleash terrorists on a population than to engage them in trade and travel? We need to worry about blowback from President Trump’s fully-neoconized Middle East policy! That’s the real threat!
Originally posted at the Ron Paul Institute
Austrian economists have an great frustration of not being able to quickly change public policy in the short run despite having great theoretical insights on economics and policy. However, we know that in the long run that we can help change public policy when we can use scientific insights and theories to change public opinion or ideology which in turn changes public policy. A good case in point is cannabis or marijuana which has been illegal nationally since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which became a prohibition and eventually landed cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug in the same class as heroin. America was exposed to a century of propaganda against cannabis. Most famously, movies in the 1930s such as Reefer Madness made fictional claims that consuming cannabis could turn good people into murderers, drive them insane and result in their death. In 1972 only 12% of Americans supported legal cannabis. This experience has ruined millions of lives and it will surely go down in history as one of the greatest blunders in human history.
Of course more recently many states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis. Now more that 62% of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana and almost no one opposes medical marijuana. Scientists have long been leery to weigh in on this issue. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed his position to endorse cannabis and that probably changed many peoples minds. Today we have the announcement that Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the prestigious British Medical Journal confirmed the journal's position that illegal drugs should be legalized and regulated from a public health perspective. I chronicle economists written views on drug policy here.
Her statement in full:
Some numbers in this week’s journal bear reflection. The war on drugs costs each UK taxpayer an estimated £400 a year. The UK is now the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis, yet recreational and medicinal use are criminalised. Scotland has the EU’s highest rate of drug related deaths, double that of 10 years ago. The global trade in illicit drugs is worth £236bn, but this money fuels organised crime and human misery. Why should it not instead fund public services?
A growing number of countries are taking a more enlightened route, say Jason Reed and Paul Whitehouse (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1999). In Portugal, where non-violent possession of drugs has been decriminalised, consumption hasn’t increased but drug related deaths have fallen considerably. In the Netherlands, the USA, and now Canada, regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues.
Meanwhile, in the UK vast sums are spent on prosecuting individuals and trying vainly to interrupt the flow of drugs into cities, carried along “county lines” by vulnerable children. Reed and Whitehouse speak for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which calls for legalisation and regulation. They say that the money could instead be spent on quality control, education, treatment for drug users, and child protection. Revenues could be diverted from criminal gangs into government coffers.
When law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalised, we have to listen. So too when doctors speak up. Last month the Royal College of Physicians took the important step of coming out in favour of decriminalisation, (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1832) joining the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform (doi:10.1136/bmj.j3461.)
This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad. It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime. In their Editorial, John Middleton and Jonathan Shepherd say that the UK’s epidemic of gun and knife crime is in part due to the increased availability of fentanyl and crack cocaine (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1967). The UK government’s newly released Serious Violence Strategy acknowledges the link between drug prohibition and violence, but it proposes spending £40m on prohibition related policies. Reed and Whitehouse say it will do nothing to tackle drug related crime.
The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalise, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard.
One of the few positive things in the ill-named USA FREEDOM Act, enacted in 2015 after the Snowden revelations on NSA domestic spying, is that it required the Director of National Intelligence to regularly report on its domestic surveillance activities. On Friday, the latest report was released on just how much our own government is spying on us. The news is not good at all if you value freedom over tyranny.
According to the annual report, named the Statistical Transparency Report Regarding Use of National Security Authorities, the US government intercepted and stored information from more than a half-billion of our telephone calls and text messages in 2017. That is a 300 percent increase from 2016. All of these intercepts were “legal” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is ironic because FISA was enacted to curtail the Nixon-era abuse of surveillance on American citizens.
Has the US government intercepted your phone calls and/or text messages? You don’t know, which is why the surveillance state is so evil. Instead of assuming your privacy is protected by the US Constitution, you must assume that the US government is listening in to your communications. The difference between these is the difference between freedom and tyranny. The ultimate triumph of totalitarian states was not to punish citizens for opposing its tyranny, but to successfully cause them to censor themselves before even expressing “subversive” thoughts.
We cannot celebrate our freedom or call ourselves an exceptional nation as long as we are under control of the kind of surveillance that would have turned the East German Stasi green with envy. We know the East German secret police relied on millions of informants, eager to ingratiate themselves with their totalitarian rulers by reporting on their friends, neighbors, even relatives. It was a messy system but it served the purpose of preventing any “unwelcome” political views from taking hold. No one was allowed to criticize the policies of the government without facing reprisals.
Sadly, that is where we are headed.
Our advanced technological age provides opportunities for surveillance that even the most enthusiastic East German intelligence operative could not have dreamed of. No longer does the government need to rely on nosy neighbors as informants. The NSA has cut out the middleman, intercepting our communications – our very thoughts – at the source. No one who calls himself an American patriot can be happy about this development.
Not even the President is safe from the surveillance state he presides over! According to a news report last week, federal investigators monitored the phone lines of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, even when he was speaking to his client – the president!
An all-powerful state that intercepts its citizens’ communications and stores them indefinitely to use against them in the future does not deserve to be called the leader of the free world. It is more the high-tech equivalent of a Third World despotism, where we all exist subject to the whim of those currently in political power.
Edward Snowden did us all an enormous favor by risking it all to let us know that our government had come to view us as the enemy to be spied on and monitored. If we are to regain the liberty that our Founders recognized was granted to us not by government, but by our Creator, we must redouble our efforts to fight against the surveillance state!