Some of my previous articles touched on a major obstacle to the return of gold as money. I suggested that many of the people best able to aid gold’s fight are also smart enough to make an easy living off the fiat system. This topic deserves additional treatment. There is more going on than meets the eye.
The subject came to mind recently when I was thinking about one of my favorite Heinlein novels, Orphans of the Sky. The book raises fascinating questions particularly relevant to gold supporters. Set onboard an ancient starship, the story’s protagonists confront problems well known to true monetary scientists. Although written in 1941, it foreshadows our current plight and offers valuable insights for our cause.
Heinlein imagined far-sighted men conceiving and launching a massive expedition to colonize another star. Given the immense journey length, they intended the crew to found a sustainable society on the ship. Only after many generations would descendents of the original “colonists” complete their ancestors’ mission.
Designers compensated for the anticipated inexperience and artificiality of upbringing in those born aboard, but tragedy struck regardless. Crewmen mutinied and killed the officers, thereby initiating a dark age in the midst of mankind’s highest technological achievements. Although critical equipment still functioned and surviving inhabitants retained a stable civilized order, their offspring grew increasingly ignorant.
With no readily accessible windows to view the deep space outside, future generations came to regard the ship itself as the entire universe. Eventually, even the smartest people on board never understood their environment was a ship at all.
Does this sound depressingly like the evolution of prevailing views on the nature of money and banking? That money is paper or binary code memory rather than gold? That central banks always existed, and must survive lest our economy implode? That inflation is unavoidable, and actually beneficial in small amounts? And that illiteracy and innumeracy hinder most people’s critical analysis of such orthodoxy?
What useful ideas can we take from the story? The leadership of the book’s closed society maintained control by hoarding surviving knowledge and burying the ship’s origins. With the passage of time, the rulers themselves came to be born ignorant. Heinlein’s heroes pieced together the true story and sought to regain their birthright.
But they faced difficulties in explaining it to potential allies. For example, the ship’s hull being impervious to available tools, how could someone imagine what was on the other side, or why the mental exercise was worth the effort? And if a prospect could grapple with such ideas, would he simultaneously overcome the fear naturally accompanying this line of inquiry? Similarly, today few people have the inclination or courage to imagine a world without the Federal Reserve or fiat money.
And this is a big part of our problem. We are asking people to become real pioneers, when for generations they have not had to think hard on new ideas or solve life-and-death problems. Those rare remaining elders who experienced the Great Depression are ignored or ridiculed when they talk of prudence and restraint.
It is a daunting task for someone to face reality squarely when neither they nor their parents ever had to do so. Much easier, unfortunately, to decide to aim for personal security through the artificial intervention of government, either as a recipient of state favors or as a successful player of the political power game.
On the other hand, we are not too far along the road to a medieval society. And the internet helps our cause greatly. Windows to the true, wider reality of our world are mere seconds away from someone with even a moderate determination to learn.
This is why we gain the best odds of success by making the idea of gold money less frightening through education. Unfortunately the typical man today fears the unknown more than his familiar, sad existence under fiat money. Nevertheless, showing him how greater choice and self-reliance lead to a better life in the long-run is our winning approach. Education is our best weapon.
Orphans’ heroes eventually succeed, though not exactly in the way their ship’s designers intended. The book’s final scenes are incredibly moving, as the characters experience viscerally just what it means to confront the bewildering, dizzying unknown and struggle to gain a psychological foothold.
As gold’s standard-bearers our obstacle course is different, but it also can be completed, especially since we have the advantage of history as our guide. Let us keep up the fight. Following in Heinlein’s footsteps, Spider Robinson had one of his characters sing some memorable lines about encouraging oneself in a great undertaking:
It would not be so lonely to die if I knew
I had died on the way to the stars.
May each of us, long-time hard money booster or new student, not only maintain our optimism, but also, more importantly, fear nothing.