Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gold, silver, and war

In The Good Olde Days, not all that long ago, currency notes could be exchanged for gold or silver at most banks in the Western world. Indeed, in many countries (perhaps all; I don’t know) currency notes began as simple chits issued by warehouses. People got tired of carrying around lumps of metal. Why not park them in specialist warehouses owned by goldsmiths and silversmiths, get their receipts, and carry those around to pay for goods and services? As long as the warehouse-owners were trusted, and their receipts weren’t forged, there would be no problem. Reputation was everything.

A single receipt for a pound of gold or silver might not be easily negotiable, but if you asked the man nicely he would give you twelve receipts each exchangeable for a troy ounce. (12 ounces to the pound. A troy ounce is 480 grains, and a grain is 64.79891 milligrams. Wikipedia is not always reliable on certain international political matters, but I don’t think it would lie to us about weights and measures.)

Why gold and silver? Because there was a limited supply of each metal, and that supply was tightly controlled by tribal or national rulers, who also controlled the manufacture of official monetary coins. A system of coinage wouldn’t have worked with stones (for instance) because anybody could pick up stones along the road, and how would the local rulers control their supply? Central control was essential, if casual panners and miners were to be kept in their place at the bottom of the social ladder.

From earliest times, rulers of clans, tribes and nations insisted on licensing the warehouses, and usually claimed first dibs on the right to borrow or steal the inventory of stored metals. The borrowed gold and silver was used to buy weapons of war, and was repaid out of the loot from conquered towns and cities. From the Roman and Norman conquests of England to the Mongolian and British conquests of India, loot was the main objective. The gold-warehouses did well out of successful wars, and often went broke after unsuccessful ones when there was no loot to replace the borrowed inventories.

Having a vested interest in their borrowers’ success, warehouse-owners tried mightily to see that wars ended in the way that was most profitable for them. As bankers, they still do. Wars are still a major source of profits, both directly (lending to governments to buy weapons and soldiers) and indirectly (lending to armies and weapons-makers). There are huge profits to be made out of invading and occupying foreign producers of oil and minerals, notably in Africa and the Middle East.

Today’s national rulers insist on central control. It can be argued that the bankers today control the rulers; but it is more accurate to say that the bankers are the rulers. They own the legislators.

If you think about it, there is no other reason to wage war, than to obtain loot. The exact form of the loot changes according to circumstances, but in essence it is always something that can produce greater wealth for the looters. Occasionally it is land, but usually it’s something portable.

Invasions and occupations are sometimes reported as being for access to water or harbours or strategic mountains, but those are incidental objectives. Histories tell of wars between religions or cultures, but there has always been a material objective in mind. Today the bullshit is about “the clash of cultures” – Western Christians and Jews versus Eastern Moslems – with the Chinese being held in reserve for the next manufactured clash of cultures.

Today the Western invaders’ purpose is oil and minerals. Easterners haven’t done any invading, lately, but if they ever get around to it, their objectives will be the same – maybe even the exact same oil etc that is being stolen from them now! There will be nothing new under the sun.