fragments of an attempted writing.
Ron Paul praises the Byzantine Empire for its gold standard:

The bezant, however, was minted by.. the Byzantine Empire. For ten centuries Byzantine coins were accepted all over the world, and Byzantium dominated trade for thousands of miles in every direction from Constantinople. Even the royal accounts of medieval England, says Dr. Sutton, were kept in bezants. The Byzantine Empire only declined when it debased the bezant, adding more cheap alloys and removing gold.

I know some folks who must have been absolutely orgasmic upon reading this.

"The Byzantine Empire only declined when..."  Oh boy.  That kind of reminds me of when I was listening to the Dobsonista radio station one Thanksgiving and the radio snake oil salesman was talking about how God cursed the pilgrims in their first couple of years because of their communal system of property and commodities sharing.  Once they switched to a "free market" system, so the Dobsonista said, God began to bless them.


  1. Paul is right... to a point.

    There was kind of another pressure around 1204 which resulted in the immediate and catastrophic decline of the Byzantine currency. While economic factors are increasingly popular in the decline question when it comes to Byzantium, even after the "recovery", there is something amiss about leaving out the reasons for the currency wreckage even if it (perhaps) was a more long-term setback than the actual sack and Latin Empire.

    The economic disaster in Macedonia as the result of landholding becoming concentrated under monasteries could be a fun test case for the Byzantine SCA-cum-Paulite sorts.

    (And this is from someone who, if he votes at all, fully plans to vote Paul in the GOP primary.)

  2. On the other hand, there's the whole matter of profit regulation under the Byzantines. That's not as fun to talk about as a magic gold bullet, though.

  3. Ron Paul is an evil SOB and will do nothing good for this country, he seeks to destroy the freedom of people just as the rest of the republican party.

  4. Adam Parsons:

    Indeed. Or how banking worked, though I'm sure Paul would be happy to talk about that. (Fractional reserve is like the Austrian inner–cultus.)

    j w:

    You should hear him cackle behind closed doors.

  5. as much as you must detest RP for his capitalism, it seems that you at least could appreciate his crusade for sound money (i.e. money with value not chosen by a cabal of bankers) . or no?

  6. Anon,

    Capitalism advanced just fine under the gold standard, and the gold standard seems to not prevent large concentrations of wealth.

    Further, with any of these "let's return to the good old days" economic schemes we have to ask how we are going to manage the return to it. Gold has been rising in price because people are buying it. Who currently owns most gold? How did they get the money they used to pay for it? If the money they used to buy the gold they currently have was gained via exploitation, then that gold they own is not rightly theirs, and should be redistributed. So, these people who want to go back to the gold standard without a massive redistribution of wealth only reinforce and protect a strata of the individual and corporate economic gains made under the current system. No thanks.

  7. It should also be observed that one of the reasons we went off the gold standard was that the differential in gold prices between the various currencies meant that it became possible to buy gold for nothing from the treasury simply by going on a round-robin between the dollar, gold, and some other currency. Gold started to flood out of Ft. Knox before Nixon (the leftist) turned off the faucet.

  8. Owen,

    Those clamoring for the gold standard because they "bought gold" may be really surprised if there ever were a gold standard again (there won't be, not without a huge general economic reorganization). It's been a dirty secret that the various contracts in the gold market are sold on a pretty ridiculous fractional reserve (accusations are as high as saying every ounce of gold is sold one hundred times), and the actual physical holdings of gold by governments are probably lower than generally suspected. The economic collapse anti–gold people fear will happen, not because a standard is inferior, but because the information about how much gold there is and what it is really worth is so obscured. I think everyone would be surprised who wins and loses if a standard were ever re–embraced.

    This is the problem with the modern economy (information distortion & asymmetry) that I think dwarfs all the old disputes. I've heard it said Marx became irrelevant with the advent of the PC; I suspect capitalism–as–it–was became so with the internet*. We just haven't woken up, yet.

    (One minor example: The Keynesian insight that even the Chicago School conservatives essentially agree with that inflation of the monetary supply is needed to spur spending in a recession because it pushes money out of savings is hilarious in the current economy: It's just way too easy for moderately informed investors—which anyone with significant holdings is—to move their savings into other holdings insulated from USD manipulation. This isn't 1930, but we keep on trying to solve its depression. So, unsurprisingly, inflating the monetary supply is just enriching the elite investing class at the expense of everyone else. Of course, these virtual manipulations aren't real wealth creation, but as long as the champagne is flowing, who cares, right?)

  9. Ari,


    I listened to this lecture on Youtube a year or two ago (don't ask me who the speaker was - I didn't know him and don't remember his name) which was about the technology used in the transfer of capital today and how this has radically changed the manner in which wealth moves in the last 30 years or so. It was fascinating. After describing the technologies themselves and the way that they have transformed business life, this guy goes on to say that models used to analyse business activity and/or the movement of capital that are older than 30 years are essentially useless today. He also talked about ways in which those technologies are changing, and the speed at which they are changing, suggesting that the models of business analysis on hand today will be obsolete in ten years, assuming the technologies continue to advance.

    The speed with which capital moves today is simply out of control (my opinion, not the speaker in question's). When listening to this lecture I couldn't help but think of how Neil Postman would have drawn connections between these technologies that move vast amounts of capital in seconds, and the now common occurrence of a billionaire watching a news release on TV that gives him an inkling and with the nearly immediate click of a few buttons on a computer making transfers of wealth that can effect many thousands of persons. I think Postman would drawn the many connections between these technologies and the effects on "ordinary" persons. We think it is hard for most decently paid working class and middle class persons to stay in just 2 or 3 locations over the working period of their adult lives today, but the technologies behind the movement of capital only stand to make it even harder in years to come. There is wage instability, employment instability, and the like will only increase, and dramatically so, as capital moves about faster and faster. The speaker in question connected these technologies to the impulse toward privitization - the culture of socio-economic power is now technocratic, and there is a sort of institutional "nakedness" when you have the administration of a given body that is not being "directed" by these sorts of technologies.

  10. - cont'd -

    Keeping Postman in mind, when considering the causes of the current recession, I wonder if we couldn't rightly say that the technologies behind finance and trading and other capitalist activities today did not make the practices which caused the recession inevitable. It is technologies (computer programs, algorithms, etc.) that have allowed for the extremely complex systems of liability leveraging. Technologies allow for the fast and efficient "bundling" of loans and trades and investments, etc. Technologies allowed for the quickie analytic tools used to very efficiently (and incorrectly as it often turned out) classify and analyse loans, etc. It begs the question of how you make use of these technologies without the phenomenon of the sorts of practices that ruined the economy. Those practices seem to be a natural outgrowth of the technologies themselves. If you have these tools, and you have this speed and efficiency at hand, you are going to use it, and this naturally leads to the sort of human behaviors seen leading up to the recession.

    I honestly don't know what the answer might be - mandatory "slow down" mechanisms on the technologies themselves? So what does that mean? A trader sees on CNN that there has been an earthquake in India and he has to wait 24 hours or 1 week before pulling assets out? I think the growth of these technologies and their use is correspondent to the meaning and identity of capitalism itself and is another example of it undoing itself. If mankind manages to not annihilate itself, ultimately there will be no choice but to have a controlled economy. This is one area I think libertarians most naive - they have little understanding of the fundamental, even ontological perhaps, changes that the more recent technologies bring about. They point out that Plato hated writing and the doomsday opinions of some concerning the printing press, but I don't think these sorts of defenses have a realistic view of the results of this exponential increase in the speed of transactions and analysis and what it means for actual human lives.

  11. Owen,

    I don't think you can put "slow down" mechanisms on trading as such; that just creates more situations for the connected to manipulate regulations for competitive advantage against small–holding investors and everyone else—one thing I feel that modern Marxists are usually slow to embrace is how regulation's advantages to the powerful don't just hurt smaller bourgeoise investors, but also non–investing classes as well. They think some sort of action against that top will destroy it and vindicate the regulation, which seems like a waste, and creates more of the critical information gaps I think are the real worry.

    What you need, rather is a "nuclear" option, which are very strict, very serious regulations on the banking industry as a whole, which would force a remarkable slow–down and decrease misinformation and information asymmetry in the marketplace. Furthermore, living in an increasingly information–based economy, we also need to seriously look back over patents and IP as a way of increasing competition and freeing information. I don't think this goes far enough at all, but it's still remarkable to see a millionaire be honest about the damage patents do, and he does a good job explaining the insanity of process patents, which I doubt a lot of interested people even know exist.

    The other side to this coin, though, will probably end up being media, not market controls. I'm not sure what those would look like in practice,

    Obviously, certain other industries will need some sort of intervention to fix them. Simply cutting Monsanto off of the government teat will likely destroy American agriculture while we're waiting for a post–Monsanto order, which is unacceptable.

    But everything I mention is really a bunch of barroom banter: the democratic system is utterly broken and cannot be fixed. Western nations are becoming increasingly ungovernable and unable to face tough problems.

  12. Ari,

    Small holding investors now control a pittance of the markets, so I'm not sure, on a macro economic level, that it matters much what effects them.

    Is your nuclear option akin to a renewed Glass–Steagall Act on steriods?

    Given that I believe property is theft (with the usual caveats), I'm generally supportive of the idea that intellectual property is theft.

    If every Monsanto related food item were made illegal tomorrow, then, yes, lots of people would starve. But the Monsanto changes are so relatively recent that there are still a fair amount of farmers out there who know how to farm with pre-Monsanto technologies. There has also been a hell of a lot of contra-Monsanto technology developed in recent decades, and there are think tanks and independent ag groups out there who could quickly disseminate that technology were they given the sorts of gov't funds Monsanto has access to. It's conceivable right now that a post-Monsanto overhaul of ag could happen within a decade's time, but in another 20 years that won't be possible so easily as the vast majority of farmers and ag workers then will not remember a pre-Monsanto ag world.

    I agree that the democratic system is broken beyond repair.

  13. Owen,

    It doesn't matter to the markets, but it certainly matters to them and the people who can aspire to that status. While I don't think retirement accounts were created to create a class of low–information investors who could take the brunt of downturns, that certainly seems how things are playing out.

    Glass–Steagall primarily reduced risk by using the government as a guarantor. I mean, it's right there in the name of FDIC: It's an insurance plan, with all the problems that implies. It let the banks engage in even riskier fractional–reserve practices, knowing USG had them covered. The other provisions, such as regulating interest rates, were aimed at protecting the banking system primarily, any effect they had in protecting everyday persons was incidental. I think other Glass–Steagall provisions, like separating commercial and investment banking, only have had the effect they do in the current regulatory regime. So if you're talking about a practical plan, sure, maybe, but I don't think any practical plan is going to have much effect. You need to limit or eliminate fractional reserve and create real clarity regarding interest practices. I may be a one–note person, but I think the economy is now all about information, and clarity is thus the greatest friend of stability. (As for the woes of our working class, I think this would get us farther than Marx. But what Buchanan and his ilk don't realize is that transportation changes still make this a very different world.)

    I'm disappointed to see the "property as theft" line appearing; that isn't even one you see much from academic Marxists anymore. Probably because it describes no possible world.

    Well, what I meant to suggest is that you would need some sort of positive intervention in the short–term other than the negative intervention of simply castrating Monsanto.

    I have a piece that I've been mulling over for a month or so as a "genealogy of Marxism", because I think the roots of a lot of this divide are philosophical controversies and for certain types of "natural" conservatives, a Hegelian political order is the one remaining attractive option, and Marxism is the only remaining acceptable/coherent version of one.

  14. Ari,

    "Property is theft" is from Proudhon, not Marx, so it should be no surprise that Marxists don't make much use of the phrase, anarchism being a petit-bourgeois fancy, etc. All I mean by the phrase (the caveats) is that I don't believe that the means of production (on any scale) or the control of services should be owned by individuals or for profit corporations. The idea that a cure for cancer could be "owned" horrifies me even more.

    Say you eliminate fractional reserve. How then, in your schema, do we see a redistribution of that wealth unfairly taken hold of (by a small percentage of persons) by those who held the keys to capital during the last 30+ years?

  15. Owen,

    It may be from Proudhon, but you don't have to be overly coy about its use in Marxist rhetoric over the years. What are "the means of production"? They're a political class of goods, which gets politically defined. Even if used to a good end, the rhetoric simply masks the actual actions. If you say "X is a good that should be public", you have to define why that good is a public good. If you throw it under the broad category of a "means of production", you can demand a more flexible sort of ideological support. It's a near–infinitely expandable or collapsable class.

    If you say a good is unfairly gotten, you have to know who it was taken advantage of. Theft has to be the subtraction of someone else's goods, but what largely has been "robbed" by the financial class these past few years has been potential not actual goods. We have a conception of how to handle this in civil cases, but what's the class, how do you assess the damage? Perhaps it could be done, but this is all strictly pie–in–the–sky stuff, which is why practical political questions don't interest me like they used to. The more interesting struggle is about the larger questions of what society and state are supposed to be for, because we clearly have lost any coherent conception of them. Ron Paul is out there on the stump telling people that collapse is probably inevitable and his voters should be ready to be the ones taking charge of a new society. No matter what you may think of Mr Paul's politics or person, that's a lot more honest than the hope of a revolutionary plundering (there really is no un–weighted word to use here to describe what I mean to describe) of the existing order.

    I don't believe in such a revolutionary settling of accounts, because it can never be what it wishes to be. It cloaks our desire to be the ones in power (however sublimated) with the righteousness of the last judgment. A little more honest ambition with some old–fashioned civilitas would do us good.

  16. Ari,

    Oh please. The means of production have been economically defined by plenty of folks, Marxists and non-Marxists alike. That the definitions sometimes differ is neither here nor there with regard to this discussion.

    Ron Paul is a two bit Texan Lew Rockwell hack. That someone as well read as you would put such weight in him is disappointing. His appeal to some sort of Jeffersonian ideal in which we can speak with confidence about such things as property rights and wealth and the Pure Meaning of the Constitution is as simplistic as popular Marxism (your reading of it anyway).

    Its always interesting to me that someone such as yourself, who looks to the Ron Pauls and Lew Rockwells in terms of ideology, perspectives so bent on people getting what is rightly and fairly due to them, then turns perturbed when it comes to a "revolutionary" setting of scores. You cannot have a massive transfer of wealth and a huge accumulation of it by a very few and then smugly act as if a few technical alterations of the system are the best we can do, "well, we can only handle fairness within these parameters, gov't will only fuck things up after all." Please, this is an appeasement that makes Neville Chamberlain look like an activist for freedom.

    The conception of the old–fashioned civilitas, as paleos and traditionalists and other fringe conservatives like to conceive of it, corresponds to human orders built on exploitation and lies (often enough kept under the rug). It will never return because no one with half an intellect can believe the mythos with a straight face anymore. From here on out, "traditional" orders are going to have to be much more straight up with regard to their brutality and their insatiable appetite for expendable persons.

    And as for actual over potential wealth, good grief.

  17. Owen,

    Actual versus potential wealth is a class easily recognized. I think the example most immediately available is contract disputes with athletes because the details are so exhaustively covered, but maybe that's just from having lived in Philly for nearly two years.

    The "means of production" are not identifiable in any way that doesn't potentially expand to any goods at all. I think my challenge is relevant: Why cannot the desired goods to be redistributed be defined as public? Why instead define an expandable class as the object of redistribution? The various Marxist definitions for the class always turn on either some set of obfuscatable dialectical relations or are simply expedient.

    I think you misunderstand the degree to which I look to Paul. I have a lot of affection for him, but I don't much look to him & the LvMI for answers, just as the least bad thing going in American democratic politics right now. The LvMI people are an important part of my teenage years, but not of my adult ones. I take my rooting interest nostalgia for what it is, but Paul is still honest in a way no one else is in this race, or was in the last one. That I think Paul would be a practical improvement over the other GOP runners is not saying I think he is anywhere near my theoretic optimum.

    I'm not interested in libertarianism as an ideology of fairness or human rights—it's nothing more than one extreme of the two streams of Enlightenment thought, with Marx as the heresy at the end of the other. I don't hate liberalism in the abstract (which divides me from the paleocons and the internet–reactionaries), but I do think of it as ideologically played–out. When it comes to economics, I am an Austrian eccentric, I just think I'm willing to go where the liberal convictions of most Austrians make them halt. (I re–read "Capital" this past year, and have turned back to "Human Action" this past week. von Mises, like Marx, is interesting even when he is wrong, I just think he just happens to be less wrong. I think the reasons are fundamentally philosophical, but I need a better grasp on the historical scholarship on Hegelianism before I can really draw out this point.)

    Civilitas may have never existed (wasn't aware the paleos were running around with the term, either), but it certainly was attempted. That said, there will always be the ruled and the rulers. That is never going away. I think it is best to be honest, rather than to dissemble either in a democratic or communistic fashion about the possibility of it being otherwise. Hierarchical relations are natural; nothing I've ever seen in life or history or philosophy has convinced me otherwise. Regimes which seek to deny this are as much if not more brutal and effective at creating such expendable persons—as the last hundred years should demonstrate for us all.

  18. Ari,

    I have replied in a post above:


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