Bill Bonner

Science and technology have produced many wondrous breakthroughs. But there are some things it cannot improve. A kiss from natural lips is still the lover’s choice. Baby formula proved no match for the real thing. Ersatz money is a flop too. That last item is not so much a fact as a prediction.

The first modern competition between gold and paper money ended like the pre-modern ones. Gold won. Herewith, a short summary:

A rogue, John Law, was the protagonist of the story. He killed Beau Wilson in a duel. Then, he went on the lam…first to Scotland…then to Amsterdam…and finally to Paris. Like Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke, he made himself useful to people in high places – in this case the Duke d’Orleans, who needed money. Law had a way to get it:

“I have discovered the secret of the philosophers’ stone,” he is said to have remarked, “it is to make gold out of paper.”

We need to look no further. Law may have been good with figures; it was at philosophy that he failed. A thing cannot be both one thing and a different thing at the same time. It is either gold. Or it is paper. Rarity and durability give gold value – as money. Paper’s most conspicuous properties are just the opposite – it is common…and has a tendency to curl up and blow away.

Law’s new, easy money helped France to an economic recovery – or so it seemed. But in the end, the philosophical error caught up with him. Gold has real value. If you can create it at will, why not create more of it? It was just a matter of time before he had created too much. Soon, there was an angry mob outside Law’s office on the Rue Quincampoix. People who held his paper gold had come to see it in a different light. Where once they cherished it as paper gold…now they despised it as nothing but paper.

Law’s scheme increased France’s money supply – including banknotes and shares in his Mississippi company – by 300%. Prices in Paris doubled between 1718 and 1720. Then, when the new money system began to give way, the Duke d’Orleans “cranked up the printing press.” By 1721, Law’s money was worthless. “Banque” was a dirty word in France for the next 200 years.

The current experiment with paper money began on the 15th of August 1971. Henceforth, said Richard Nixon, foreign countries that wished to exercise their right to trade US dollars for gold could drop dead. From that point forward, the dollar was worth only what someone would give you for it. Philosophers held their breath. But nothing happened. Many have died since, waiting for the dollar to succumb first. Still, the millstones of monetary history may grind slowly, but the more slowly they grind, the more fingers they pinch.

The new paper money standard allowed for a worldwide credit boom – just as in Paris following the establishment of Law’s scheme. The US created dollars. Its citizens spent them. The dollars accumulated as reserves all over the world…and every central bank raced to keep up. Soon, the exporters were producing too much. The importers were consuming too much. And there was too much money and credit everywhere.

The Japanese economy was the first to blow up – in 1989. The tech sector on Wall Street was next to go – in 1999. Finally, in 2007, the planet-wide bubble popped. Suddenly, the whole world was Japan. And now, every nation in Christendom, to say nothing of the others, is following Law’s example. All issue paper gold – in the form of bills, notes, and bonds – as if they were the Banque Royale. Europe is estimated to need $2.2 trillion in deficit funding this year. America will need at least a trillion more. If the depression deepens, maybe $2 trillion. How long can this go on? Where will it lead?

“There are no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion,” wrote Ludwig von Mises. “The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as a result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”

On Tuesday, the S&P rating agency issued a warning. If Japan continues in the direction it is going, it will have Hell to pay. Japan leads the way into the future. And into a monetary minefield. Her current deficit – a record – is more than her tax revenue. And her public debt is nearly 7 times as great. Her feet grow larger.

No natural life survives the lifecycle. And no paper currency standard has ever survived a complete credit cycle. It is just a matter of time until we hear the explosion and see body parts flying.

Regards,

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success in numerous industries. His unique writing style, philanthropic undertakings and preservationist activities have been recognized by some of America's most respected authorities. With his friend and colleague Addison Wiggin, he co-founded The Daily Reckoning in 1999, and together they co-wrote the New York Times best-selling books Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. His other works include Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Lila Rajiva), Dice Have No Memory, and most recently, Hormegeddon: How Too Much of a Good Thing Leads to Disaster. His most recent project is The Bill Bonner Letter.

Recent Articles

The Awful Way Social Security Might Be “Saved”

Dave Gonigam

The US Social Security program is complete mess. The funds needed to pay these benefits are quickly drying up, and agreeable solutions are in short supply. But all is not lost... There actually IS a viable way to "save" Social Security. But as Dave Gonigam explains, you're probably not going to like it. Read on...


Important Facts You Need to Know the Ebola Outbreak

Stephen Petranek

This summer, the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded hit sub-Saharan Africa. But the greatest danger, as Stephen Petranek explains, is that the virus will have a chance to mutate into a form that spreads more easily. And if that happens, there will be far reaching consequences - from both a health and an investment side. Read on...


Laissez Faire
A Free Way to Turn Your Unique Skill Into Real Money

Chris Campbell

Everyone in the world has a unique talent or skill that someone else might find useful. Whether it's editing video, speaking Spanish or even eating paper, chances are there is someone out there willing to pay for what you have to offer. Today, Chris Campbell shows you one way to find those consumers and how to make your skill work for you...


The End of the “Gun Control” Bull Market

Greg Guenthner

For the last few years, gun enthusiasts have been concerned that the Feds would find a way to block their access to firearms. Now those fears appear to be subsiding... and so do gun sales. Greg Guenthner explains how to navigate this market in the coming months and years. Read on...


The Most Important Trait of Any Successful Resource Investor

Henry Bonner

The gold mining sector is one of the most difficult areas of the market to navigate successfully. But there is money to be made here. Henry Bonner sits down with one of the giants of this industry and picks his brain about how to find winners in this market and the four things every great investment has in common. Read on...