“What Englishman will give his mind to politics as long as he can afford to keep a motor car?” (George Bernard Shaw)
It was Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, who fondly referred to the Victorian era as “an Antonine Age”. This period, which commenced with the rule of the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius (138–161 A.D.), was regarded as a cultural and imperial high point. It was a time from antiquity when Rome enjoyed unrivalled pre-eminence and triumphal self satisfaction. Small wonder then that the swashbuckling Winston looked back to Britain’s own version of those halcyon days and offered his lamentation for their passing:
“This was the British Antonine Age. Those who were its children could not understand why it had not begun earlier or why it should ever stop”.
Of course, it was during the twilight of Queen Victoria’s reign when the modern automobile first appeared, following the development of a four-stroke gasoline engine by Karl Benz. This was another blow to the horse, and a more emotional one than that which had already arisen from the burgeoning railroads. The train after all was, and indeed remains, a ‘collectivist’ mode of transportation. Conversely, the horse was a distinctly ‘individualistic’ conveyance. So it was with much pathos that a creature, with who man had enjoyed such a close working relationship over millennia, found its role, its importance, threatened by this new and personalised form of transportation. Like Boxer, the amiable old beast in Orwell’s Animal Farm, a use by date was approaching for many a four legged friend.
To the discerning there is an ominous symmetry in Churchill’s “Antonine Age” approaching its Nemisis, just as the motor car was emerging. The Carcodgers would argue that, ironically, the future ‘death warrant’ of motoring, for the ordinary person, was close to being signed at that time. This is despite the fact that cars during the late 1800s were largely preserve of the very wealthy. Well, as Mark Twain once reminded us, whilst history may not repeat it can sometimes “rhyme”. Thus, as the cost of filling a motor car with fuel starts to exclude a growing number of people from driving, perhaps motoring will again become largely the preserve of the very wealthy?
The Carcodgers hypothesis that “the future death warrant of motoring for the ordinary person was close to being signed at the time”is reposed on the fact that Victorian Britain operated under the classical ‘gold-standard’. Put simply, this constrained the creation of money by politicians and other vested interests. That standard collapsed in 1914 with the outbreak of The Great War. Some of more cynical disposition would suggest this was a remarkable coincidence, coming so soon after the United States money supply was effectively privatized via the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.
The most pernicious effect of the above, but something that is not well acknowledged, is the fact that abandonment of the gold-standard opened the door to deficit financing of globalised war on a massive scale. It is thus no coincidence that the century of fiat money, the twentieth century, was the bloodiest so far in human history. Compare and contrast with the joys of Fiat motoring! Yet gold-standard abandonment also introduced something else – the potential for extreme ‘currency event’ inflation. The Victorian era had been characterized by periods of relatively benign deflation and the main beneficiaries of this were ordinary working people. Indeed, Sir Herbert Maxwell Bart MP, in his magnificent 1897 review for the Queen’s Sixtieth Jubilee, noted:
“Mere quotations of figures will not make clear the increased share of the national wealth which now finds its way into the pockets of the working classes, because of the unprecedented cheapness of all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life (intoxicants alone excepted) has raised the buying power of wages in a degree which cannot be estimated.
Sir Herbert goes on to quote the analysis of the researcher Mr W.H. Mallock, who had undertaken extensive analysis of British wages from 1851 to 1881, and notes:
in those thirty years the wage-earning class had increased in number from 26,000,000 to 30,000,000 or 16 per cent; while the wages paid to them had increased by nearly 100 per cent. In fact the income of the working classes in 1881 was about equal to that of the whole nation in 1851, with largely increased purchasing power, owing to reduction in prices”.
For a long time the effects of the radical twentieth century denunciation of gold as a “barbarous relic” and the associated ‘demonetization‘ were not tremendously evident. Other writers have noted in the past that Pound Sterling lost around 99% of its purchasing power during the twentieth century, but most of this occurred in the latter half. Conveniently, trade unionists and Middle Eastern despots were available to be blamed as price rises took off in the 1970s and, in a further endorsement of Mark Twain’s observation that history thymes, Bedouin types are again being blamed today. Struggling to find enough money to fill up? – blame Colonel Gadaffi. In particular, the ‘old-chestnut’ about “high oil prices causing inflation” is wheeled out ad nauseam and an overwhelming proportion of the population readily falls for this. The Carcodgers would stress that very few people are able to identify the primary mechanism by which they are being robbed of their incomes and their savings, because all emphasis is placed on values in paper money terms. Thus the average English person or Kiwi today earns many more Pounds or Dollars than they did in the 1970s, yet the actual purchasing power of their incomes has generally fallen. This is why it frequently takes two adults to achieve, via full-time work, what just one ‘breadwinner’ could manage some decades back. Moreover, this decline in real incomes is further ‘masked’ by the fact that China has emerged in recent times as a low cost manufacturer of last resort. Unfortunately you cannot eat cheap electronic goods – or fuel your vehicle with them.
The above is of exponentially growing importance to car lovers for a number of reasons. Whilst the most obvious factor relates to the financially painful business of ‘filling-up’ there are other important considerations. The Carcodgers would stress that the abandonment of sound money does not simply deliver monetary consequences via ‘currency event‘ induced inflation. Of great importance is the associated loss of personal liberty, and Britain is an excellent example of this as it morphs towards being a police-state. If we accept that the motor car is both a powerful symbol of individual liberty, and a consumer of a valuable commodity (oil), then the Carcodgers would argue we have a big problem under a 100% fiat money standard. The further, in chronological and philosophical terms, we move from the global abandonment of gold as a monetary stabilizer then the more unfavourable the topography becomes for the average motorist. The Carcodgers are thus unsuprised by recent news that the EU plans to ban petrol and diesel vehicles from major urban centres by 2050. This speaks volumes for a culture of fiat money authoritarianism and the elitism it always brings in its wake.
Money, it must be stressed, is no more than a medium of exchange. If there is some constraint upon the supply thereof then the prospect of such money preserving its capacity for exchange is likely to be enhanced. Yet if such money can be simply created, in unlimited quantities and out of thin air, then can we really expect each unit thereof to buy as much oil over time? After all, oil must be extracted, refined, and distributed before the motorist can fill the tank of their beloved motor. Yet fiat money does not even need the printing press these days – a click of a computer mouse will do. In our April commentary “I-RATION-ALL. A review of the high petrol price illusion” the Carcodgers explained what has happened to oil prices since the United States hammered the final nail into the coffin of ‘gold as money’ in August 1971. What particularly disturbs is that the average motorist is probably now in a much worse position than they were in the 1970s to offset current monetary trends. Back then unemployment was much lower and it was possible to negotiate, at least to a certain extent, compensatory pay rises for monies increasing debasement. Today, with stratospheric unemployment (and even greater underemployment) it is very difficult for the average person to obtain a worthwhile increase in annual remuneration.
So the Carcodgers would argue that the progressive abandonment of gold’s monetary role, a scandal that ironically began at the beginning of the motoring era, is a critical but largely unrecognized factor in the exploding costs of motoring today. Yet, as we mention above, we also live in an era when the motorist is facing much more that a pure monetary burden. Thus the Carcodgers suspect that the current situation is a greater threat to the motorist than that which occurred some decades back. Could it even portend the end of ‘motoring for the masses’? After all, during the ‘oil crisis’ of the 1970s filling up the Morris Marina (or that ‘transport of delight’ the Fiat 131 Mirafiori) was a wallet wounding phenomenon, but that was largely it. The only cloud on the horizon, if the senior Carcodger’s memory does not fail him, was the prospect of a new ‘ice-age’. Today, the financial pain of ‘filling-up’ occurs against the additional topography of a ruling elite that does not seem to think the average motorist should be allowed a car at all. Apparently the general public, in wanting no more than to get from A to B in their own private conveyance, are causing (or more correctly were causing) ‘global warming’. Now the nomenclature has changed to the all encompassing ‘climate change’ – otherwise known “as having a bob each way”.
The expedient use of the ‘climate change’ argument, to advance the interests of a bullying global elite, seems to the Carcodgers consistent with the sort of authoritative trend change that always occurs in the later stages of an unsound money era. The automobile is a powerful symbol of individualism, freedom, and progress. It is thus unsurprising to find it the target of those who, rest assured, are unlikely to be found ‘practicing what they preach’ by giving up such a desirable mode of transport for themselves. Thus, going forward, the motorist faces a constraining ‘pincer’ begat of both currency event inflation and ‘elite proscription’.
The Carcodgers are not suggesting that implementing a 100% gold standard would deliver motoring Shangri La. Yet, given the historically close relationship between oil prices and gold, such a change would facilitate a more transparent and stable cost environment. Honest money would also confront, and hopefully confound, those global elitists who know full well that the era of dollar hedgemony is reaching its Nemisis. The Carcodgers would suggest that is why they are so keen to tax carbon – because their fiat money scam is being exposed by the burgeoning price of gold and, of course, oil. It is a twentieth century anachronism now approaching its ‘use by’ date. A substitute is thus urgently needed. Enter ‘climate change’ and its extraordinary capacity for facilitating the wholesale plunder of populations as they are told that their living standards and mobility must be ever more ruthlessly constrained – in order to save the planet. If you love the motor car, and the simple freedom and enjoyment that it brings, then the Carcodgers would suggest that there is no better thing you can do than to support the growing calls for the gold-standard.