Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Matter of Opinion

The Irish financial/economic crisis continues to draw the attention of the world . . . right after the latest sports scores and Eva Longoria's divorce scandal, of course. Less than two days after assuring the Irish people that there would be no bailout, Brian Cowen is assuring the people that there is "no question of loss of sovereignty." ("'No Question of Loss of Sovereignty', Says Taoiseach," Irish Independent, 11/18/10.) It's just our opinion, of course, but we think there's a faint possibility that Ireland's sovereignty — such as it is — might possibly be in danger. This is not merely from the bailout, but from the fact of the colossal debt, a danger to any country's sovereignty.

He was only an American, he's now dead, and he went against the belief that a national debt is a national benefit (strike three), but we tend to agree with the analysis of Henry C. Adams in his book, Public Debt: An Essay in the Science of Finance (1898). As he pointed out in opposition to the late 19th century populist belief that the government should back the currency with debt in order to stimulate the economy to recover from the Great Depression I (1893-1898),

The facts disclosed permit one to understand how deficit financiering, carried so far as to result in an interchange of capital and credit between peoples of varying grades of political advancement, must endanger the autonomy of weaker states unable to meet their debt-payments. Provided only that the interests involved are of sufficient importance to make diplomatic interference worth the while, the claims allowed by international law will certainly be urged against the delinquent states, and the citizens of such states may regard themselves fortunate if they succeed in maintaining their political integrity. (Henry C. Adams, Public Debts, An Essay in the Science of Finance. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1898, 28-29.)
Mr. Cowen ignores this warning, and continues to assure everyone that "It will be the sovereign decision of the Irish Government on behalf of the Irish people that will decide what shape any package would be where we can decide that's in our best interests." (Irish Independent, op. cit.) Adams's take on this?
As self-government was secured through a struggle for mastery over the public purse, so must it be maintained through the exercise by the people of complete control over public expenditure. Money is the vital principle of the body politic; the public treasury is the heart of the state; control over public supplies means control over public affairs. Any method of procedure, therefore, by which a public servant can veil the true meaning of his acts, or which allows the government to enter upon any great enterprise without bringing the fact fairly to the knowledge of the public, must work against the realization of the constitutional idea. This is exactly the state of affairs introduced by a free use of public credit. Under ordinary circumstances, popular attention can not be drawn to public acts, except they touch the pocket of the voters through an increase in taxes; and it follows that a government whose expenditures are met by resort to loans may, for a time, administer affairs independently of those who must finally settle the account. (Adams, op. cit., 22-23.)
English translation: any time the government can finance itself without taxation — for the good of "the people," of course — duck and cover. Both your national and personal sovereignty are in grave danger. As Adams explained,
The great danger to self-government in the United States lies in municipal corruption, and municipal corruption is in large measure traceable to the manner in which cities have used their credit. For American readers, this reference to local government is a pertinent illustration of a most dangerous political tendency of deficit financiering. . . . The tendency of foreign borrowing is in the same direction as that of domestic borrowing. As the latter obstructs the efficiency of constitutional methods, so the former tends to destroy the full autonomy of weak states. The granting of foreign credit is a first step toward the establishment of an aggressive foreign policy, and, under certain conditions, leads inevitably to conquest and occupation. (Ibid., 25.)
Evidently Adams had the common sense belief that you can't go on consuming or spending forever without actually producing something.  The astonishing thing is that people actually seem to be buying into Mr. Cowen's baffling Bernankisms. Not only the powers-that-be, but genuine people seem convinced that you can get out of debt by going deeper into debt, and that you don't need to worry about production, employment, or ownership as long as the government's finger is firmly on the button of the central bank's printing press.

Consequently, the Irish situation is seen as the potential trigger for a continent-wide falling of the financial and economic dominoes. Portugal is seen as the next likely place for a similar crisis, while the "solution" imposed on Greece is timed to fall apart in 2013 when the current system of aid to "Eurozone States" expires ("Irish Head Toward Bailout; Portugal Next in Line?" Associated Press, 11/18/10), or a lot sooner if the debt-backed supply of credit starts to be a little too much to bear.

It's enough to make anyone start echoing another Adams, John this time, and demand to know just how far things have to go before people begin paying attention to the Just Third Way and its potential to solve the underlying problem by implementing Capital Homesteading. As the John Adams character snarled in the musical 1776, "Good God! What in the hell are you waiting for?"


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