OWS – End the Fed?

October 16, 2011

At the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, there is a small and vocal contingent that consistently stakes out the northeast corner of the park.  They hold signs and distribute clever tokens advocating the elimination of the Federal Reserve Bank, a return to the gold standard, and the opening up of currency to a ‘free market.’  I’ve spoken with a couple of them, and they are articulate and intelligent.  This recalls to my mind, once again, the quip by George Orwell that, Some ideas are so stupid only an intelligent person could believe them.

Okay, there are a lot of criticisms you can make of the Fed:  from the right, that it is too easy on the money supply, ‘printing money’ to pay for wars and welfare, or to bolster employment; and from the left, that it is too tight with money, preferring to worry about inflation more than unemployment.  These criticisms are about how the Fed does its job, not whether it should exist.  For most of American history, the tight money guys, the economic elite and the bankers have had their way.  They’re the ones who created the system, after all.

What is truly striking and bizarre about this group is that they see themselves as populists, seeking to free America from the tyranny of the banking cabal.  They cry about how the Fed is “debasing the currency,” or “making our dollars worthless!”  This, in a time when inflation is extremely low, interest rates are too, and many are worried about deflation!  They see the common man as oppressed by the banking community, rightly so, and their solution?  The gold standard!  Have they not heard of William Jennings Bryan, the great 19th century populist, and his speech about how the Eastern money men “shall not crucify the American people on a cross of gold!”  (He wanted a silver standard.)

As John K. Galbraith describes in his book Economics in Perspective, in the chapter called The Separate Personality of Money, during much of American History, the general population favored easy money.  (True, so did absolute monarchs, who used it to fuel their wars once they learned how – John Law and the Mississippi Bubble being Exhibit A)  They wanted paper money, they liked inflationary monetary policies – it made their debts less crushing!  They, the Jacksonian Democrats, and Andrew Jackson attacked Biddle and the Hamiltonians for their planned National Bank because they knew it would end their free use of paper, and impose a gold standard.  The West was settled with paper money. So why are these End the Fed folks carrying signs praising Andrew Jackson?  They are against the Fed for totally different reasons!

One fellow I spoke with also was upset that the Fed has a monopoly on printing money.  He’d like there to be ‘free money,’ another Jacksonian idea.  This seems in rather stark contradiction to his desperate desire to keep inflation and debased currency at bay.  After all, if a variety of currencies are available with which to pay one’s debts, wouldn’t the natural tendency be to use the worst currency available and keep the best for yourself?  I believe this is Gresham’s Law.  So, am I missing something, or are these people intellectually incoherent?

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OWS: The Beautiful and the Arcane

October 16, 2011

At the Occupy Wall Street site yesterday, I saw some people wearing a small enamel lapel pin with this design.  I searched in vain for the man who was giving them away – I want one!  It beautifully expresses the facts of income and social inequality in a clean, concise, and compelling graphic.  Bravo to the designer!

Occupy Wall Street + Walter Benjamin +Pauline Christianity = Anaphoric Solidarity.  Whaa?  One of the strangest amalgams of intellectual systems I’ve come across, represented at OWS by two young men at a small table in the center of Zucotti Park.


Occupy Wall Street

October 3, 2011

I work a block or two north of Zucotti Park where the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has been going on.  When I checked it last time, a couple of weeks ago, there was a young woman holding up a sign saying, “Blame Barney Frank!”  Hmm…better choose your targets more carefully, sister, is what I thought.  Today, the crowd, many of them encamped, was much larger, and the slogans were various.

A generally scruffy bunch – goes with sleeping outside in a park, I guess – some with pretty wacked out messages.  A wondering crank denouncing adultery was on his own.  More common were protesters against The Federal Reserve System, fiat money, central banking generally, and so on.  This group is heavily influenced by the intellectual wing of the anti-establishment wave, some of which sloshes in the Tea Party’s cups, and is libertarian, pro-silver, and a bit loony as far as I can tell.

Most of the people were simply angry at the usual and well documented offenses of “Wall Street.”  Oversize-bonuses for CEOs while people get evicted from homes; hand-outs, bailouts, guarantees, and golden parachutes for the financial élite while most people hunker down and suffer.  The capture of government and politics by the super-rich, and so on.  One sign that I liked a lot said, “Lay off CEOs, not teachers.”  Pretty good idea, pretty simple.

There was a man there making buttons with a T-shirt that said Un-Locke America, and had a picture of venerable John Locke with an international ‘NO’ sign on top of his face.  “A pretty smart guy, but a schmuck,” is how the man described the granddad of British Empiricism and the intellectual godfather of our American bourgeois revolution.  In particular, he took issue with Locke’s ideas of natural rights, and property rights being prior to all governmental arrangements.  That was all a convenient assumption for a 17th century philosopher to make, and so very congenial to his patrons and his class.


You are here!

November 11, 2010

[One indisputable benefit of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations has been to put this graph into the mainstream of public discussion, at least a little bit.  Note: 11/21/11]

You will never see this graph in any presentation by a Democratic or Republican political candidate.  I wonder why?