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Week Five: Review Drafts
By Lee Trepanier

This week I meet with the students individually to review the drafts of their essays in lieu of meeting together as a class. Although it is time consuming and probably more work, I find this method more effective in ultimately producing better essays: students are forced to write a draft of their essays and then revise it after I critique them. My suspicion is that students haven’t developed the habits of revising their essays with the end result a mediocre essay. Hopefully by forcing students to meet with me with their drafts, they will start to realize that the “first cut” is often a poor essay.

Week Four: Smith & Marx
By Lee Trepanier

 This week we went over selected writings of Smith’s and Marx’s in order to highlight the differences between capitalism and communism. The students seem more receptive to Smith’s idea than Marx’s because Smith paints a portrait that is more practical and realistic to them when compared to Marx. That is, although they are sympathetic to Marx’s goals, the students do not think they can be achieved practically. Economic equality is an admirable goal, but how do you actually achieve it was the reoccurring question for the students when we looked at Marx. Rather than false consciousness, I would attribute this attitude to the practical nature of Americans as well as to their common sense.

Week Three: Tocqueville
By Lee Trepanier

The readings over Tocqueville went well this week. I used Tocqueville’s comments on majority tyranny to illustrate how equality and liberty can come into conflict with each other. The students seem to grasp the concepts; however, they had difficulty applying it to actual public policy, e.g., affirmative action, the Affordable Health Care Act. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that we are making progress on the theoretical front of things, if we are lagging a bit on how to apply these concepts to the actual world.

Week Two: Mill
By Lee Trepanier

The second week concluded with a look at Mill’s defense of freedom of expression as a way for society to reach an understanding of truth. The students seem to grasp the fundamentals of the argument, but it is not clear whether they know how to analyze it in terms of its strengths, weaknesses, and underlying assumptions. My hope is that they will reach that point mid-semester. For the time being, I just want them to get use to reading primary texts and understand what the author is saying. Although this may seem more appropriate for high school, I have found it is not only necessary with the caliber of freshmen we receive but also a useful step for them to engage in analytical thinking and writing later in the semester.

 

Week One: Syllabi & Assessment
By Lee Trepanier

The first week of teaching is finished for my PS 118 (Introduction to Politics) course. It was relatively easy, as on the first day I reviewed the syllabus and handed out the assessment assignment; and on the second day, collected the assessment essays and had the students take the multiple-choice exam on the assessment. The assessment is three pages of reading where students have to write a 400-word response to it and then take a multiple-choice examination. It is mandated by the administration, so I do not have a choice in the matter.

Initially I was not happy that assessment cut into the course time, but now I’m reconciled to it and have incorporated the assessment in the course. Assessment counts for 3% of the student’s overall grade; and I curve the grading favorably to the students. This forces the student to take the assessment seriously. Although it is only 3% of their overall grade, it is the first thing they have to take in the semester and most want to make a good impression on the professor, so the students tend to put a good effort into it.

It’s too early to get a feel of the students, but, as the semester progresses, I’m sure I’ll get a better sense of them.

Teaching Conservatism
By David Kidd

Perplexity, like the Muse, shows up in the most unexpected places. Who hasn’t experienced that moment of bewilderment when asked to explain something that a moment ago seemed so simple? St. Augustine’s complaint could have been uttered about other things besides time: “I know what it is, but when asked to explain it, I no longer know.” So also conservatism: a phenomenon simple enough to figure prominently in speech but slippery enough to resist definition. What is a teacher who wishes to explain conservatism to do, and how can he or she do it without inviting the scorn of colleagues?

The word “conservative” is often hurled rather than said, and, like a catapulted rock, needs to bear very little meaning within itself in order to achieve its end. This probably explains why the word gets used so much. As an epithet, “conservative” means backward (perhaps also willfully ignorant), but the descriptive power of the term is much less important than its ability to designate something as unworthy of further consideration. In this respect, calling someone a conservative is something like calling him or her crazy, as in: “Why doesn’t Lord Whimsy want to live in our Occupy Wall Street encampment and hit overturned buckets with his hands until people we don’t like give us jobs?” “Whimsy’s a conservative.” “Oh. I see. Well, forget him.”

It’s not hard to imagine a similar relation to the word within the halls of academia, where surely there are some to whom it seems that studying conservatism is at least a waste of time and possibly worse. Such people may also believe that a conservative teaching about conservatism is unwittingly undermining his or her own subject; that is, by investigating the nature of conservatism, a professor threatens the very thing by which conservatism is derisively considered best protected (viz. ignorance). Nevertheless, to those whose esteem of conservatism is so low, the teaching of a serious college-level class on the subject must seem as absurd and perverse as critiquing the songs of the mentally retarded. It’s just not the sort of thing a normal, well-adjusted person would do. The teacher who attempts it risks funny looks (and worse!) from his or her colleagues.

Thus, the teacher who would teach a course on conservatism may have to surmount formidable prejudices held both by students and by peers. (That teacher will need to perfect the intellectual virtue of winsomeness.) Herein lies one of the most maddening ironies of higher education today but also an opportunity. For the ability to see through prejudice—i.e., critical thinking—is the second most widely touted good that higher education is meant to cultivate. If I were teaching a course on conservatism, I’d call it “Applied Critical Thinking.”

Before the Semester Starts . . .
By Lee Trepanier

With my sabbatical finished in the fall, I am looking forward to teaching next week. Admittedly I was a little concerned that I may lose interest in teaching while on sabbatical; but, thankfully, this did not transpire. Having said that, I do think the sabbatical was well-deserved, as I felt myself not making teaching a priority in the last academic year due to the fatigue of teaching for ten consecutive years.

For the next fifteen weeks I plan to write once a week about my experience of returning to the classroom in teaching PS 118 (Introduction to Politics). I have designed the course as follows: In the first week we review the syllabus and conduct assessment required by the university; weeks two to five we focus on liberalism (Mill, Tocqueville, Smith); and weeks six and seven we look at classical and contemporary political theory (Aristotle and Rawls respectively). From weeks eight to twelve, we examine social contract theory (Locke, Rousseau); and in the final weeks we focus on political ideology (Arendt, Lenin, and Weber). The textbook assigned is a reader of the history of political thought.

I should finally mention something about the type of institution and the character of the students whom I teach. SVSU (Saginaw Valley State University) is a regional, comprehensive, public institution in rural Michigan (two hours north of Detroit). Its focus is primary undergraduate teaching with a few Master’s programs for nontraditional students in the region. Most of the students who enroll at SVSU are white, first-generation college, and work substantially during the school year while receiving financial aid. Quite frankly, most of the students here see education in utilitarian terms and are mediocre in ability and drive. Occasionally you come across one who is exceptionally bright and able, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

So we’ll see how this semester goes. Every semester is different than the previous one, so hopefully it will be productive and enjoyable to both me and the students. Only time will tell.

What I Learned This Semester...
By Devon Atchison

As I finish grading the last of my Final Exams this semester, I am reminded of two things: one, I am a good teacher and my students are learning American History; two, my students didn’t “get it all” and even those who performed the best this semester missed some crucial points about American History, critical thinking, making an argument, using primary sources, or crafting a readable essay. 

 

It is easy to become complacent as a teacher and to continue using the same lectures, the same projects, the same discussion topics—after all, we are so busy teaching, grading, and doing our own research each semester that there seems to be little time to innovate.  And if, anecdotally, enough of our students seem to be “getting it,” or “getting some of it,” what’s the point in changing things up the next time around?

 

While I would love to be a perfect teacher—one who was loved by all, understood completely, capable of inspiring even the most reticent students, and a master of turning my words into the knowledge of others—I know that I will never be a perfect teacher.  Perfection, though unattainable, is still something to continuously strive for and that’s why, at the end of every semester, even though I’m exhausted and burnt out, I make a plan to change at least one thing in each of my classes.  The hope is that one change will help my students connect just a little better, understand the information a little better, critically think a little more, or be just a little better at using the tools of history.

 

And every few semesters, I make a conscious effort to do something drastic.  In my Student Learning Outcomes assessments over the last year, as well as anecdotal evidence from student assignments, I realized that my students grasp of primary sources—what they are, how to use and analyze them—is still incredibly weak.  I spend a decent amount of time on what primary sources are and how to use and analyze them in the first couple of weeks of each semester, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.  So this semester, five colleagues of mine came together with me to build a pilot program for the Spring semester.  Our plan is to emphasize and focus on primary sources every week in some way—to keep primary sources on our students’ minds each week and to practice using and analyzing primary sources each week.  We designed sixteen different assignments or activities—one for each week of the semester—and we all plan on integrating these assignments and activities into our courses next semester.

 

We don’t know if this is going to work.  It might be a total success (that’s my hypothesis); it might end up with our students in the same place they were this semester (fat chance, but you never know!).  Whatever the result, however, I am excited to try something new this semester, to innovate, to freshen up my classes in order to better reach my students and meet their educational needs.  With the final strokes of my red pen being permanently inscribed on the last of the Blue Books, and as my weary mind excitedly (but exhaustedly) puts this semester to bed, I find energy and motivation in what lies ahead next semester… taking another tiny step toward perfection.

Reflections of a young professor
By Anonymous

 

I have officially leapt from the frying pan. After something of a nail-biting year on the market at the University of Texas, Austin, I took a job at the end of the summer that unexpectedly opened up at Morehead State University in Morehead, KY. My wife and I were visiting family in Arkansas when I accepted the job; we had two weeks to go back to Austin, pack up our three-bedroom apartment (we have 3 children), and move to Kentucky. Classes started the next week, and I was reassigned classes for which other professors had drafted syllabi and ordered books. So it was a very hectic transition.

In an effort to ease some stress, our department chair assigned me some online teaching, which would allow the ability to work from home more this fall. That’s been very helpful, but it’s also made me acutely aware of the real deficiencies of online education. Some previous blog posts have touted the benefits of careful analysis and reflection that discussion boards can facilitate in an online class. I can see that this kind of use of discussion boards might have some advantages over extemporaneous class discussion. That assumes, however, that the class size stays relatively small. Liberal use of discussion boards for large classes (I’m teaching a course of 60 students) simply generates more grading of written work than is manageable. No doubt this is a problem of class size, not a deficiency unique to distance learning. On the other hand, the limitations of online education accentuate the problems of large class size. Students are more isolated and have even less access to a professor’s help in understanding and processing the material. Inversely, professors are robbed of the ability to spark interest and reflection in students through well-delivered lectures. Students are effectively left, according to Oakeshott’s distinction, to review and memorize what technical knowledge they can, bereft of the practical knowledge they might acquire by observing and learning from a serious teacher.

Of course, it seems that greater isolation is precisely what many students are after. I was surprised to learn that many of my online students are full-time undergrads at MSU, apparently attempting to minimize their investment in general education courses by inserting another degree of remove. Or perhaps they are motivated by the slightly more benign desire for a convenient schedule. Either way, allowing this kind of use of online education serves only to reinforce in students’ minds that nothing particularly important is going on in the classroom. Their ability to jump through educational hoops with the least amount of personal investment possible confirms that this is in fact all they are doing—jumping through hoops. So whatever the legitimate uses of distance learning (and I would be willing to concede that there are some), it’s clear to me that how it is being employed by many students only intensifies its limitations and further undermines the real business of higher education.

On a more positive note, my in-class experiences have been more encouraging. I’ve been pleased with the students’ real desire to learn and their engagement with the material (a lot of this dissimilarity, I realize, is a function of the difference between teaching an intro course and an upper division course for majors). It’s a very satisfying experience to lead students through a set of problems, help them see where the difficulties lie and why they’re important, and to assist them in thinking things through carefully. But I’ve also been struck by what a real challenge good teaching is. I had done enough teaching already (and learned from enough fine teachers) not to expect to be able to step into the classroom and immediately bedazzle a class with my pedagogical artistry. However, I’ve also been amazed at how many stars have to align in order for a class to come off as I’d like it to, and how many of those factors are at times simply beyond my control.

Sometimes I’ll walk into the classroom having over prepared, knowing exactly what I want to get across and how I intend to do it, yet the whole lecture/discussion seems to be a laborious crawl from point A to point B. Other days I’m much less confident about what I’m trying to do, but the ideas just all seem to fall into place, the students get it, and real learning takes place. I know that part of this is just the nature of learning; it’s always peaks and valleys, flashes of insight amidst a lot of muddling through. It also strikes me that this is simply a neophyte’s introduction to acquiring a very complicated skill. At first you have to concentrate on every little detail to get it right, e.g., figuring out at what level to pitch the material, coming up with interesting illustrations, knowing where discussion will be helpful and how to elicit it. It’s easy to fumble the details before their execution becomes second nature. Other times you or the students or both just aren’t “on” that day or for some other reason aren’t fully engaged. Recognizing and figuring out how to effectively counteract those contextual factors takes a lot of work. So I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the labor and practice that being an excellent teacher will require. I’m sure it will get easier as I master the details, but it’s a long-term project.

Over the desk in my study hangs a large needlepoint tapestry of a Bengal tiger that my grandfather stitched when I was a young boy. I’ve come to see the piece as a metaphor for my own work as a scholar and professor. The tapestry is 23” wide and looms 4’ high. I’ve calculated that my grandfather put over 248,000 stitches into that tiger. This was no paint-by-the-numbers piece either. Grandad had an artist friend paint the tiger onto a piece of canvas from a favorite photograph; then he personally picked out dozens of shades of threads to match the colors. Often he meticulously spliced threads together to achieve a precise hue. My uncle tells me that Grandad worked for years finishing the project. He’d come home from a day’s work as a surgeon and sit hunched over his magnifying glass putting in one stitch at a time, day after day. It began with a burst of enthusiasm, no doubt, but it was only completed by diligent, precise, labor. He got sick and tired of the stitching, my uncle tells me. But he pressed on with it because he loved the beauty and power of the beast and knew that the finished product would be a thing of beauty. Indeed it is. 

As Good as Gold: American Financial (In)Security
By Anonymous

Our relationship to fiat currency has now spanned many decades, creating attitudes and habits which one might collectively call a “culture of addiction.”  This culture has gradually and surreptitiously blinded us to the realities we are facing; therefore, it is perhaps best to illustrate the subject using an area that our society still recognizes as a patently unhealthy form of dependence – drug addiction.  The analogy proves to be rife with parallels that indicate how very far we have fallen from the understanding of our Founders.

Several years ago, a film called Trainspotting depicted the lives of heroin-addicted youths living in squalor in a depressed area of Scotland.  Setting aside the film’s other shortcomings (which are arguably considerable), the movie provides a remarkably astute depiction of the psychology of addiction.  At first, the drug is sought as a source of pleasure, an elixir to transform life’s sea of troubles into a sparkling rivulet.  Although the addicts are in fact living in dilapidated circumstances and are rapidly losing all prospects for the future, the drug is sought as a “fix” to these problems, a magic wand that induces a fantastical condition of unimaginable ease. With reality concealed behind a screen of artificial wellbeing, the addicts are unaware that the real conditions around them are steadily deteriorating.  One day, they awake from the daze to discover that the infant daughter of one of the addicts has died, her cries unheard while they slumbered in the dreams of the entranced.  When reality thus rears its ugly head, instead of facing an increasingly overwhelming situation, it is time for another “fix.”  Instead of taking the drug for pure pleasure, the addicts now seek the Lethe-like liquor to banish their thoughts of the downward spiral engendered by the habit itself, thus suppressing their awareness of the consequences incurred “while you were sleeping.”  This self-destructive cycle is the epitome of addiction, which is defined as “any substance use or reinforcing behavior that has an appetitive nature, has a compulsive and repetitive quality, is self-destructive, and is experienced as difficult to modify or stop” (Orford, 1985).

The reference to “reinforcing behavior” suggests how such a cycle can arise within the life of whole cultures. The relationship between the addicts described above and fiat currency might appear to be a staggering leap, but in fact it is too close for comfort. Americans appear to live in a world of prosperity – our immediate environment seems to be brimming to the full with products, appliances, home furnishings, and luxury goods.  To our eyes, we see a superabundance of slick automobiles, high-tech computers, “smart” phones, and other extravagant contraptions that all seem to say back to us, “it is well.”  If anything, our world appears too glutted; as the cultural critics tell us, materialism is on the rise because we are encircled by an enchanted ring of shining commodities.* It seems unimaginable that our prosperous surroundings might tumble to the floor like a theatrical backdrop at the close of a play.  But we have been moving steadily closer to this reality, all acting our parts in the desperate hope that the show will go on forever. 

It should have been taken as a significant warning sign when the vast majority of the props for our drama became marked with the label “made in China.”  The cheap, imported goods of slave labor have helped to conceal our economic condition.  It should be equally disturbing that, although we own gadgets and gizmos galore, we often do not own the very homes in which we live – even with two parents working full time, the mortgages take decades to pay off, and they are increasingly defaulted.  Thus the ownership of our most significant purchase is largely an illusion; put in feudal terms, we are tenants.  Where our grandparents could truly own a house and a car, with food on the table and leisure time for a “Sunday drive,” all on a single father’s salary, today both parents work longer hours, max out credit cards, borrow and mortgage and refinance until our heads spin.  Merely calculating what we owe often requires a hired “debt specialist.”  The revolution occasioned by the internet and technological advancements should have produced an increase in productivity that catapulted our economy forward.  Instead, it only helped us to keep up the pace on our financial gerbil wheel and to mask the actual conditions in which we are living. Like those faltering aristocratic families of old, we still appear to be living the high life according to outward signs, but the real wealth has been eroded within.  It is only a matter of time until appearances catch up with reality.

However, the “fixes” to which we are addicted are not primarily our credit cards and mortgages.  It is understandable (if unwise) for individuals to intuit that their labor ought to be producing substantial fruits, and to turn to loans in order to obtain the lifestyle they have “earned.”  The national addiction is a larger phenomenon, relating to the choices of policymakers.  When we unhinged our currency from its stable anchoring in gold, we gave politicians the ability to win votes by making promises which they couldn’t pay for through taxes alone; these costs could only be defrayed by printing reams and reams of paper money, essentially creating a welfare system based on debt.  As a result, each dollar lost something of its value through every subsequent generation.  This is a slow and steady form of property confiscation, which is especially threatening to the middle class.  We are saving and bequeathing in depreciating funds; our dollars melt in our hands.  When money is created faster than goods and services (whose value it is supposed to represent), prices are driven upwards.  This is a fundamental economic axiom – such laws function whether we desire to believe in them or not.  The man who refuses to believe in gravity and jumps off a bridge can cry out “so far so good” while he falls through the air, but in the end, the reality of the earth’s laws will be painfully evinced. 

The corrosive effects of “acceptable” inflation have been hidden from us by manipulative Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs), which keep changing their starting dates or selectively omit areas of consumption in order to paint a deceptively rosy picture.  For example, the most recent CPI had the official inflation rate at 3%, but the calculation excluded food and energy – both of which are central to economic life.  When these two areas are factored in, the current rate is closer to 15%, or five times higher.  When the President of the NY FED spoke to a crowd in Long Island recently, he reported the “good news” that today you can buy an iPad2 that “costs the same as an iPad 1 that is twice as powerful.”  But food prices have been rising since 2009, and he happened to be speaking to a crowd that watched their grocery bills – one person asked “When was the last time, sir, that you went grocery shopping?” Another exclaimed, “I can’t eat an iPad.”  The modern financial system permits a great deal of confusion and smoke-and-mirrors to manipulate the press and public opinion. The debasement of statistics has accompanied the debasement of the dollar.  But some realities are simply too self-evident to be hidden from common sense. “The rich man is wise in his own eyes, but the poor who has understanding sees through him” (Proverbs 28:11).

All unbacked currencies are mortal, and ours has been showing very poor vital signs.  Historically, this process is perennial, which is one reason why the truth it reflects ought to be considered an axiomatic principle.  Consider the fate of the British half-penny, which was originally produced with real silver in the medieval period.  It had a Christian cross on the front, and the penny was extremely valuable, so much so that it was frequently broken in half along the lines of the cross in order to facilitate purchases. When they started minting actual “halfpennies” in the 13th century, these were also made out of silver.  But over time, the coin was made a little smaller, with a little less purity, then with a little copper, then with more copper than silver.  By the 1800s, copper had fully squeezed out silver. In 1984, the halfpenny was discontinued, having lost all value.  The same fate awaits paper money when it loses its anchoring in bullion – in 1924, the German paper mark was changed over, with 1 trillion marks exchanged for 1 new reichsmark. In 1946 in Hungary, it was 400 quintillion pengoe for one new forint.  In 1985 in Argentina, it was 1,000 peso argentinos to one austral, which was again subdivided into 100 centavos in 1991.  In Russia, the Leninists had tried to eliminate currency altogether (one of Marx’s goals), but at the point of utter financial ruin, they adopted a gold standard in the 1920s, and the economy improved under the gold-backed chervonet.  However, the lesson was soon forgotten; as Judy Shelton documented, by the time of Gorbachev billions of unbacked rubles were being printed, which precipitated the collapse of the Soviet empire.  At the time of collapse, few people understood the true extent of the crisis in Soviet Russia due to “skillful discrepancies and omissions that disguise[d] the true condition of the internal budget” (Shelton, 1989).  Does this sound familiar? The list could go on; entire charts are devoted to the mortalities of currencies once they begin to lose their mooring in bullion.

We are no exception to this trend – in terms of the constant dollar, with a true CPI applied, the dollar is now estimated at a pitiful three pennies of its 1940 value.  (Hence the luxury and illusion offered by the nominal dollar, which is preferred to the harsh realism of a constant dollar.)  By some estimates, the dollar, once the glory of the globe at the end of WWII, had lost 86% of its official purchasing power by the beginning of 1985.  This degenerating trend is also readily visible in the history of coins; in the 1930s, the copper penny could purchase hard candy, and silver coins had real purchasing power -- at least until silver coinage ended in 1964.  Today, it is difficult to find goods to buy with our coins. However, the older coins minted with real silver still have purchasing power: in 2008, a dime from the 1930s still contained $1.42 worth of silver, the quarter was worth $3.55, and the half-dollar contained $7.10 of silver.  Even the humble penny of yore contained two and a half times its face value in copper.  (These numbers would be roughly three times higher today, as the price of silver has continued to increase.)

We have the most sophisticated mechanisms with which to paint over our reality, which will eventually shatter despite all of the tranquilizing words of public relations experts, no matter how often they are repeated throughout the press. We might be addicted to infusions of new currency, but we are equally dependent upon the subtleties of high finance to confuse our way to delusive victory.   But every new asset bubble is waiting to burst; every “toxic asset” will eventually seep through the cracks and poison its surroundings.  These truths make our recent haggling over the debt reduction appear like rearranging desk chairs on the Titanic.

Our Founders understood that the printing of unbacked currency was a “passion” which could grip the appetitive masses.  They had seen the economic patterns described above in microcosmic form within the several states under the Articles of Confederation.  The series of paper money crises typically originated when debtors struggling to make loan payments pushed their state legislatures to create an unbacked paper money.  The creditors, whose contracts specified payments in gold, silver or barter items, naturally rejected a valueless currency.  As a result, the debtors pushed further for odious “stay laws,” which postponed or even cancelled debts.  Next came the imposition of “tender laws” and “ex post facto laws,” which forcibly compelled creditors to accept the fiat currency, regardless of what their contracts had specified.  The most egregious example was Rhode Island, where the legislature was dominated by indebted farmers who first circulated paper money, then made its acceptance mandatory, and finally allowed debtors to discharge debt by depositing some amount of money in a court and posting an advertisement in the newspaper to that effect. An exodus of creditors from the state of Rhode Island ensued. Horrified by the direction in which the state was tending, the Rhode Island supreme court declared the paper-money law unconstitutional; in response, the legislature threw the court out of office and replaced the justices with more accommodating individuals. 

This was not the freedom of “self-government”; it was expropriation of property en masse.  Without the sophisticated jargon and confusing complexities of contemporary economics, the state’s shenanigans were plain for everyone to see. Hence the expression of genuine concern in Federalist #10 about a “rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.”  In fact, the thinking behind the Constitution was in large part prompted by the disastrous experience of fiat currencies.  So frightening was the specter of unbacked paper money that one Convention delegate said that granting the federal government the power to issue it “would be as alarming as the mark of the Beast in Revelation.” The experience of fiat currencies rendered the prospect of a Constitutional Union more inviting -- as an escape from irresponsible fiscal policy.  As the Federal Farmer, one of the Anti-Federalists, observed:  “Our governments have been new and unsettled; and several legislatures, by making tender, suspension, and paper money laws, have given just cause of uneasiness to creditors... The conduct of several legislatures, touching paper money, and tender laws, has prepared many honest men for changes in government, which otherwise they would not have thought of....”**

The Federal Farmer was correct, for Article I, Section X of the Constitution specified that no state could “emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”  Our Founders might have lacked the highfalutin lingo of modern specialists, but they understood the fiscal responsibility imposed by currencies backed by bullion.  We need this kind of responsibility desperately today, more than we need all the sophisticated theories in all the economics books that have ever been printed – many of which were proven wrong by the very history our Founders witnessed.  After seeing the results of the States’ experiments in unbacked currencies, our Founders sought to prevent the patently irresponsible behavior that has now resulted in a debt that has no ceiling and an oncoming collapse which will seem to have no end.

Our cultural habituation to the presence of fiat currency has inured us to the dangers posed by these unbacked notes of promise.  If we want to wake up from this decades-long dream, we need people with the moral fiber required to face our present reality.  They will need to look at the status of the dollar in constant terms, recognize our true economic condition, and work to shift us efficiently and swiftly onto banknotes convertible to gold.  The effects will be manifold – firstly, this change will greatly help the status of the dollar around the world.  Following this monetary realignment with gold, an era during which a slow process of savings and capital rebuilding should ensue, which will lead us to a true economic recovery, rather than the sham “recoveries” announced in the media every few months.  Regaining our solvency will require hard work, moral courage and steadfastness.  It will be tempting to reach for another “fix” during the period of withdrawal.  Furthermore, as Franz Pick observed years ago, after “decades of maltreatment of the nation’s money, the vested interests of inflation have become too powerful and too influential.  They have absolutely no desire to see their financial empires and attendant political privileges dismantled by such an obscene thing as a monetary unit, stable in purchasing power as well as in foreign exchange value” (1986). After the banking elite has been deprived of its mechanisms for currency manipulation, as a people we must not behave like the debtor farmers, but willingly submit to the fiscal responsibility imposed by convertibility to gold.

Unless we seek within our breasts to find men and women capable of this challenge, we might be doomed to relearn these lessons through history, and she is an utterly merciless teacher.  We have been violating economic laws as inexorable as gravity for decades now, and it is nearing the time when we shall witness the consequences.  The curtain is about to drop, but no deus ex machina is going to swoop in at the last moment to save us from our tragedy.  We are compelled to save ourselves.  If we fail in this effort, our negligence is tantamount to that of the lamentable addicts with which this post began, and our children will suffer -- they will breathe their first breaths and last gasps in poverty -- because of our collective delinquency.

 

* By “cultural critics,” I refer to writers like Walter Benjamin (especially his Arcades Project) or virtually anyone from the neo-Marxist camp. In fact, I believe that materialism has theological and philosophical roots.  Although capitalism provides a form of expression for the elevation of the material plane over spiritual life and philosophical truths, it does not in fact create that hierarchy of values. The excessive consumerism witnessed today belies much deeper, more foundational issues.

** This Anti-Federalist was speaking out of concern that the states were tarnishing the name of democracy with their poor management of currency, and thereby preparing the way for the Federalists.

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