Friday, August 8, 2008


(Week 2 - Friday Aug. 8)

When in 1690, the Colony of Massachusetts began to issue the first paper money by any government in the history of the Western world, how must that act have appeared in the hearts and minds those responsible for carrying it out? Did they see it as merely a straightforward common-sense attempt to solve a practical problem, or did they recognize that it as an unprecedented act of defiance towards the Mother Empire that in the end could only lead to an epic contest over the very rights and essence of sovereignty. The power to print money had been fiercely reserved by whoever deemed themselves to be the sovereign throughout the history of civilization, and any challenges over the matter were swiftly suppressed. In fact, British gold coins were called "sovereigns," lest anyone miss the point.

Massachusetts was only one of many colonial dependencies that were being set up by the British and other European powers throughout the world. Some three-plus centuries have passed since then, and the global order, including the old colonial arrangements, have undergone many transformations. It seems, however, that the territories around the globe that were demarcated as colonies still live in the main with a legacy of underdevelopment, dependency and debt.

The primary exception to this is that band of colonies along the Atlantic seaboard in North America that had the temerity, or the wisdom (as one chooses to view it), to issue their own money in spite of imperial edicts, and, incidentally, grew to be the dominant nation of the world for the last century and a half. Is that a coincidence? Was the exercise of their own monetary power the critical factor that allowed the North American colonies to emerge as a strong and independent nation, as opposed to the languishing disunited even until now in a "third-world" condition?

There are, of course, many complex factors that guide history, and we should be careful about being simplistic or dogmatic about attributing too much to any given one. That said, it still might be fairly argued that the extent to which a people picks up and exercises its right to issue and control its own money has been shown to be a preeminent factor in determining whether nor not it eventually is able to achieve its potential as a nation.

Fast forward from colonial times to 2008. The people of Massachusetts again look out on a bewildering world in which many of them see their sovereignty, present well-being, and hopes for the future threatened. The menacing specter is no longer the British Empire and its Bank of England, but rather a globalist corporate order and private bank-based monetary system. We are yet standing a bit too close to the trees to know precisely what to call the forest, and so there are may views on what this all means and how to characterize it.

Whatever the case, it is growing increasingly difficult to not feel overwhelmed by the onrushing tribulations of the times. But, advised Thomas Jefferson, ". . . follow principle, and the knot unties itself." It may not be too late to emulate our forebears and re-plant the seed principle of the public issuance of public money into our common economic ground. From there, as before, "the knot" just may start to untie itself. We can only hope that the Concord Resolution (or inspired initiatives by others across the land) may in our day and time succeed in effectively re-invoking the world-transforming deed and spirit of 1690. It has to start somewhere.

Richard Kotlarz

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.