Opinion

The Great Debate

Will Jared Loughner discredit the gold standard?

By Chadwick Matlin
January 11, 2011

By Chadwick Matlin
Matlin, a guest contributor, is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

Jared Lee Loughner used the American dollar like the rest of us. He used it to pay for classes at Pima Community College, he used it to buy a handgun and he used it to pay for a taxi to the Safeway where he shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others on Saturday.

But apparently the dollar is a currency he despised. Loughner’s YouTube videos are consumed with the idea of creating a “new currency,” one that is nothing like our current, Federal Reserve-controlled greenback. In “Hello,” he writes, “my ambition — is for informing literate dreamers about a new currency.” (All of Loughner’s videos are composed of text or diagrams. He never appears.)

What “new currency” implies is unclear. He seems to oscillate between a new currency backed by gold and silver, and one that allows the individual complete control. But it’s evident that monetary policy was one of Loughner’s many pet peeves. Past violent psychopaths have had their tics — John Hinckley thought he could impress Jodie Foster by shooting Ronald Reagan, John Wayne Gacy dressed as a clown — but Loughner appears to be the first obsessed with the particulars of monetary policy.

In a video called “Introduction: Jared Loughner” he writes, “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver!” But then later, in the same video, he also suggests that it’s not a gold standard he’s after, but a personal one. “Every human who’s mentally capable is always able to be treasurer of their new currency,” he writes in the same video. Later, he speaks about creating a “new language” in the same terms he uses to describe a “new currency.”

What any of this means is difficult to say. Based on his videos and friends’ accounts, he is clearly a man not in control of his faculties, a deficiency that led to the slaying of six innocent people, and the wounding of 14 more. He seems to operate on a logic all his own — a logic that is in part on display in the numerous, confused proofs he posits in his videos.

But if we can’t divine Loughner’s motives, we can better explain the larger monetary context that seemed to influence him. Loughner picked up threads of two different subcultures: one that demands the Fed stop manipulating the dollar, and the other that seeks to remove the Federal government from manufacturing currency altogether. This is not to say that these monetary subcultures drove Loughner to kill. But it does suggest they were two of his ideological sanctums.

The idea of a gold-backed dollar will be familiar to Ron Paul supporters and anyone older than 78. That many years ago, the country determined how many dollars could be in circulation based on how much gold it possessed. This, theoretically, would help prevent total financial collapse, since the currency would always be rooted to something tangible. The dollar was so pegged to gold that Americans could use gold as legal tender. Then, in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt seized private stashes of gold, and in 1971 Richard Nixon explicitly uncoupled the dollar from gold.

Now, the Federal Reserve can print money whenever it likes, a technique it — and most economists — says it needs to react to an ever-changing economy. Ron Paul and other monetary critics worry that will lead to inflation — if the Fed spools $600 billion into the economy whenever it feels like it, that will surely come back to bite us in the ass. The answer to controlling inflation and the deficit, according to Paul and others, is to get us back on the gold standard. Never mind the practical complications like those outlined in this November 2010 piece from Slate. They’re short-term problems that are far less painful than the long-term ones we all have coming. The most important thing is that the government, and all the corruption and greed that comes with it, is removed from the till. That’s the kind of libertarian ethos that Loughner’s videos sometimes advocate.

And then there’s the other, more chaotic “new currency” that Loughner hints at — one in which we are all able to be treasurers of our own currency. While few have advocated individual coinage, there have been scattered attempts at local currencies. For years, Bernard von NotHaus was the economic architect behind “Liberty Dollars,” silver coins that local merchants in some like-minded communities would accept in place of dollars. (Ron Paul eventually made his way onto the coin as a kind of honorary hero/mascot.) Von NotHaus was arrested by the FBI in 2009 for producing a currency that impersonated the U.S. Mint’s.

For advocates, a side benefit is that it breaks up the federal government’s monopoly on currency. For those who believe markets can solve everything, creating competing currencies only leads to further benefits, perhaps including the downfall of one not backed by gold. In Virginia, a state representative wants the commonwealth to start its own currency. He suggests that the state should look into creating a competing currency because “the Federal Reserve System’s currency is not redeemable in gold or silver coin or the equivalent in bullion,” which contributes to “the ever-increasing instability of the Federal Reserve System.”

Currency activists aren’t going to wilt away just because a mass-murderer is associated with some of their views. With the Tea Party’s rise, they have far more reputable spokespeople for their agenda.

But Loughner certainly won’t help them find more respect among the broader public. There are plenty of gold standard activists, and plenty of people who want to create a competing currency to the dollar. But only one of them shot 20 people. He — not the activists’ new currency — is the one to truly fear.

Chadwick Matlin, a freelance journalist in New York City, is a former associate editor of The Big Money. He is on Twitter and can be reached at Chadwick.Matlin@gmail.com.

Comments
16 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

If I made a Youtube video in detail about what I believed needed to happen to win the super bowl and then did this terrible crime would all of the media blame sports and the super bowl for it? How Ron Paul is being associated with this nut job is ridiculous. Any one who knows dr. Paul or his values knows that there is something wrong with this picture. As far as the tea party to be blames for this is just as ridiculous. Individuals are responsible for there actions not large groups of people who have political views. Come on!!!

Posted by RShawn | Report as abusive
 

This is immature – but I love that guy’s name is von NutHaus!

My experience with mentally ill folk is that they just find something to latch on to – it doesn’t matter what it is to them. So if everybody agreed on national monetary policy, he would have just found something else – airlines, clothing manufacturing (just two mentally ill people I know offhand). What to do about the mentally ill and how to figure out who might turn violent is a different matter and much worthier of time than looking at what this dude hapepned to have latched on to.

Posted by daized1979 | Report as abusive
 

Is the author genuinely concerned that ridiculous association fallacies may be committed, or is he committing one himself? This paralipsis seems only to be aimed towards generating search hits linking a congressman to a mass murder suspect.

After all, in rummaging through Loughner’s disoriented ramblings, clearly the antecedent ideology to the Tuscon killing spree was the *gold standard*. And clearly the manifesto to blame is that of Ron Paul, which doesn’t even appear on the suspect’s summer reading list, and which calls for nonviolence, peace overseas, and that bloodiest of concepts, sound money. Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, both of which call for violence and political overthrow, and both of which appear as early brushstrokes of our currently incomplete picture of Loughner, are probably just dust on the screen for an investigation of ideological influence. When you hear hoof beats, think zebras!

The author must also feel greatly relieved to have had all his homework done for him in that November 2010 article on Slate. It spares him an evening of having to read the rebuttal to all the aforementioned points and more, as they were made in 1962:

http://mises.org/daily/1829

Posted by sweed84 | Report as abusive
 

Its weak and unscrupulous journalist that would borrow morbid interest in the pathetic murderer of the day to make a lame point about the economy. Grow up!

Posted by cravat | Report as abusive
 

This is certainly poor journalism. Not only is this article in poor taste, but the author clealry has no understanding of the situation. As many well-known psychiatrists have speculated, I myself agree that this man suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia. What this disorder causes is a series of fixations on which the patient cannot move past. It is quite clear to me that the issues of currency and grammar were just that to this man. They became thoughts that he could not escape from and which his mind would build upon in unnatural and unhealthy ways. This thought process is a symptom common to schizephrenic patients, and really has nothing at all to do with his political position. To be frank, this man was not nearly well enough to even have a clear ideological view on anything. His thoughts were scattered, unclear and feuled by a disease, NOT POLITICS!!!

Posted by Krissssy | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Matlin, I suggest you educate yourself on the nature of the Federal Reserve and the currency now in circulation. We aren’t using the “American dollar” anymore, and haven’t since the mid-1960s. As for Jared Loughner discrediting the gold standard, that’s preposterous: The guy is a left-wing pothead nut-job, and NOTHING he says or has said should be taken seriously by anyone.

Posted by user8192 | Report as abusive
 

This truly crazy person killed a bunch of inocent people. It’s really scary that anyone could be killed out of the blue for no reason, but it seems to be a fact of modern life. Now liberal journalists are trying to link this nut to conservatives. Isn’t this the same type of exhorting the journalists are accusing the “right wingers” of?

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

I forgot to mention, that this crazy man professed that among his favorite books were the works of Karl Marx, something that many on the left have a kinship with, so report that also.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

For all I know, the guy did it because his neighbor’s dog told him to. Nobody is waiting for the facts. That’s what investigations are for. Left-wing? Right-wing? How about bad wiring?

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive
 

While you admit, eventually, that Loughner “is clearly a man not in control of his faculties”, your cherry-picking of quotes contrives to make him appear much more lucid than is actually the case.

Here’s part of the text of his “How to:Your new currency!” video:
“If I’m possessing 0 new coins, and add 0 new coins to the new money system then my treasury is 0 new coins. I’m possessing 0 new coins, and add 0 new coins to the new money system. Therefore, my treasury is 0 new coins. 0(coins) + 0(new coins)=0(treasury).
If I’m possessing 0 new coins, and add 1 new coin to the new money system then my treasury is 1 new coin. I’m possessing 0 new coins, and add 1 new coin to the new money system. Therefore, my treasury is 1 new coin. 0(coins) + 0(new coins)=0(treasury).”
Etcetera.
Ron Paul this is not. It isn’t even Dick and Jane, although I have to admit that the maths is impeccable.

I think it’s a safe bet that nobody else will quote this,or any other of the less lucid parts of Loughner’s videos, since it messes up all the silly little theses which are based on Loughner being rationally influenced by and supportive of some coherent ideology.

Posted by MTGradwell | Report as abusive
 

Chadwick Matlin was obviously up against a deadline when he wrote this.

I’ll bet investigators could find irrational ramblings and ‘inappropriate’ content during a review of his hard-drive and personal files as well.

Is this really the significant issue involved here, or is Mr. Matlin trying to create one? Let’s let experts and the courts determine Loughner’s motives and mental strengths or limitations.

Matlin’s ‘pot stirring’ here serves no worthwhile purpose.

Posted by Publius1791 | Report as abusive
 

Unfortunately I think the new currency he is hinting at is bullets. His writings seem to demonstrate the consequences of the doublethink that is required to operate in modern society. He appears to espouse the gold standard and a new currency at the same time out of a desperate attempt to resolve the dilemma. In this case he did not have the knowledge nor guidance to find a socially acceptable solution and reverted to the animal instinct of using violence as currency.

Posted by vox9 | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who thinks this guy is right wing or left wing is deluded or just a pundit and a worthless piece of work. He’s psychotic.

Posted by CPA1976 | Report as abusive
 

This piece is very bad journalism–not the sort of class work that Reuters used to be known for. Others have covered just some of the reasons. One needs to wonder WHY this piece was included. Does Reuters feel they have to discredit someone? Did someone, say George Soros, order them to?
The Gold Standard, or the Gold Exchange Standard as it became at the beginning of the 20th century, is a more complicated subject than the author predumably lets on–or knows. Same goes for the putative defenders of the Gold Standard. Few remark on the 40% increase in the world’s gold supply 1890-1914; a gold inflation due to new ore discoveries (South Africa, Australia & Alaska) plus a new processing method’s (the cyanide process) making low-grade ores commercially feasable. That is a big factor in making the Gold Standard work so well. Even then a growing economy led to tight supplies of currency/circulating medium and money leading to frequent panics in America; the solution which was starting to be reached before the Fed’s founding in 1913 was “contra-accounting” what we know today as checks. Think of it–a check is your own currency acceptible only to the extent of your character; as J. P. Morgan put it, character matters more in a transaction than collateral or the ability to pay, for “a man I could not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom”.
So, Reuters, shape up. Get somebody decent to do blogs for you.

Posted by Redshield | Report as abusive
 

well this is what i think of this post,- money we are using now is a symbol of the resources we posses. money/notes/coins without gold or what it represent is just a worthless piece of paper. or like a monopoly game money. worth nothing..jared thought so also. this is what is the discussion is about “Is the U.S government printing money without value?”. if it is isn’t it a global offense. who’s monitoring the value of the money? if the notes have no value, we can give is any value you like. it just makes no sense..right..

Posted by niyan | Report as abusive
 

I hope it is not because I am going mad but it seems to me that Loughner’s use of the language of currency to refer to language is interesting and may perhaps be useful for explaining Derrida’s deconstruction.

Derrida is well known for being particularly obscure and perhaps even more so than Loughner.

Derrida criticises the Western philosophy of the sign, which in Husserl or Saussure for instances, consists of signifier and signified, that latter being an idea. The Saussurian model is easiest to state. I have an idea. I choose an appropriate signifier, such as the word “choose,” and I write it here. You then read my word choose and somehow replicate or at least understand the idea that I wanted to express.

Derrida claimed that this duality of the sign is merely a belief. It may be an essential belief, but nevertheless it does not really conform to the reality of the situation. He claimed essentially that the world is not-dual, that there is not another realm of idea, “signifieds” (Saussure) or irreels, (Husserl) transcendental entities, very akin to Plato’s ideas.

Okay so what is Derrida’s new model of the sign? In place of the idea, he argued I think that signification is always a standing in place of something else. In a sense they are simply exchanged for other things. Thus rather than there being a “difference” between the signifier and the signified, there is a “differal” or “differance,” the chain of predicted exchanges, standing in place of, in the the future.

I don’t know if I have understood Derrida at all correctly but this latter notion of “differance” seemed particularly opaque.

However, it seems to me that Loughner’s analogy between fiat currency and language presents a good way of explaining the “differance” that Derrida espouses. I.e. that we presume that our words gain their meaning and value by being pegged to ideas, in the treasury of the mind (and if shared, “the mind of god”) but in fact our language is a fiat currency backed up only by the expectation of future exchange – differance.

I am not sure how to quote Loughner, or even whether I should if this is the analogy he was making then I find it a persuasive and explicative one.

The tragedy that he caused was of course horrible. I do not mean to suggest any merit whatsoever to his acts. He appears to me, layman, to be insane.

Posted by timtak | Report as abusive
 

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