Politics & Media
Aug 09, 2023, 05:57AM

Monopoly Money

Faith and credit are dangerous.

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Blaming the big riot here in Manhattan on YouTube “influencer” Kai Cenat seems as unfair as, well, blaming J6 on Trump. I mean, they were both perhaps playing with fire, but just as Trump told his minions to protest peacefully, Cenat told the hordes of his fans they were in Union Square to receive the free PS5 game systems he was handing out, not to start a general fistfight and vandalism spree. Sometimes the masses aren’t as smart and well-behaved as their leaders.

Mayor Adams isn’t pinning all the blame on Cenat (though Cenat faces two counts of inciting a riot and one of unlawful assembly)—but Adams isn’t quite willing to say the mob was a bunch of maniacs who are fully to blame for their own actions, either. He suspects outside agitators from places far beyond the City. I just hope we don’t emerge from all of this with common discourse subtly blending the terms “influencer” and “agitator,” or else the censors and controllers will have made us even more inclined to accept the authoritarian idea that anyone with a voice is potentially dangerous and must be restrained, or at least closely watched.

I suppose the truth about the PS5 riot, to paraphrase a friend of mine reacting to footage of the L.A. riots of 1992, is that to a lot of opportunistic people, the slogan of the revolution is, “Hey, check it out! Free VCR!” I only wish 21st-century New York City were more civilized than 20th-century L.A.

But if people are rioting now over PS5s, what I really find myself wondering is how they’ll handle it when they’re fighting not over electronic entertainment but basic foodstuffs? What will Union Square look like when the dollar completely collapses? Abstract economic warning signs such Fitch’s recent downgrade of the U.S.’s credit rating will in time yield more concrete, visible-in-the-streets downgrades.

You can’t say the devaluation of the dollar will never happen. It’s been happening in slow motion for decades: more printed dollars spewed out rapidly without much concern for whether those dollars are correlated to the slower, steadier growth in underlying wealth. In time, each individual dollars means less and less. The economy notices eventually, the world notices, even if economically illiterate politicians refuse to.

Nowadays, those politicians won’t receive much helpful advice from the intellectuals, either. They’re just as detached from reality. Writers at The New Republic and other leftist venues actually wanted the government to print the mythical/hypothetical trillion-dollar coin and walk it over to the treasury as a cheap-technicality trick for avoiding the last governmental debt-default deadline. Insane—as if that wouldn’t send a message and set a precedent even more dangerous than default: the illusion of a world without economic consequences.

But then, that’s the illogical and imaginary world inside most liberals’ heads all the time, forced conformity to which is slowly unraveling our real-world civilization. As I lamented three months ago, the adherents of “Modern Monetary Theory,” some of them found in high places, basically think government can print endless amounts of money without negative consequences through this one simple trick: Government can give the new dollar bills to projects vastly more productive than anything going on in the stupid, wasteful private sector. (This trick sounds easier to pull off to people who passively behave as if there’s basically only one currency in the world anyway and government can inflate it at will.)

It sounds much easier to treat the money supply as infinitely and arbitrarily elastic if you just assume, like a communist, that government is brilliant at finding the right things to do with all that new-made cash, in ways that dopey old manufacturers and customers would never dream up. Government is just too bashful to work its genius magic upon the world most of the time, that’s all! With a little more coaxing, it can finally start spending us into paradise, like a generous person who suddenly realizes he can feed the neighborhood by cutting that one small pizza into 100 slices instead of just a stingy eight. What were we—and the people running the currency-printing presses—waiting for all this time, silly? At a meeting of writers from the leftist magazine Jacobin in Brooklyn, you could probably say things like this with a straight face and still be thought rational.

And with the money supply roughly doubling over the past 10 years, those money-printing-magic optimists have basically gotten their wish. Enjoying it? Meanwhile, Federal Reserve staffers who are high enough up the chain of command will privately confess, half-jokingly, that they don’t even really keep track of their own expenses, since they can have their pals print to cover it in a pinch. Far from the money overlords being the responsible ones, they’ve already absorbed into their personal behavior the underlying economic ethos coming soon to a street near you, that money is “meaningless,” not a marker of real wealth.

It can be, should be, and in some stunted way is a marker of real wealth, which is why people for now trust enough to keep trading with it. But I wonder sometimes how long that would last in a real crisis. It’s not just the leftists who think currency is partly hokum, after all.

Anarchist Robert Anton Wilson, libertarian Ayn Rand, and even the kids on South Park in a lecture-like scene during the 2008 financial crisis have all flirted with the notion that money is a symbol of fleeting, psychological forces that could in principle vanish if people stopped believing (or in Rand’s case, stopped understanding that the dollar is an objective indicator of U.S. reliance on gold and capitalism). Do they really understand money’s concrete role as a marker and metric of real, tangible wealth any better than the leftists and MMT adherents do? Does the average goldbug even really get it, or do most of their kind just know gold is harder to digitally erase or set on fire than currency is?

In any case, if the combination of right-leaning currency naysayers (who are mostly harmless but may inspire bank runs or flights to exotic currencies) and the far more directly-destructive center/left-leaning currency printers, inflaters, and redistributors (who treat money as if it’s nonsense conjured out of thin air) ever convinces the general public that money is truly meaningless because there is, at least in terms of financial stability, no tomorrow—none with predictable patterns of exchange and metrics of value, anyway—some people will react by resorting to barter and be very poor but alive, at least for a while, and others will quickly resort to “PS5 giveaway protocols”—but not over PS5s alone. Then the melee will extend far beyond Manhattan’s Union Square.

—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on Twitter at @ToddSeavey

  • Since the dawn of civilization there has rarely if ever been a generation that has not been adversely affected by the destructive blight of the violent mob. Mobs often start out as an assembly of people gathered together for a common cause such as a peaceful protest and then emotions get heated, tensions escalate and the gathering takes on a life of its own and devolves into an angry and violent mob that leaves bloodshed, property destruction and innocent victims in its wake. Amidst the chaos opportunists jump in to exploit the situation and expand the carnage ..14th Century English poet John Gower who was witness to mob violence in his own time summed it up well with the following quote " There are three things that are merciless when they get out of hand, Water, Fire and the Mob."

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