Brief Encounters with Austrians

Fiat Currency. Fractional Reserve Banking. Collectivism. Curse words as familiar these days on the Intertubes as socialist or liberal used to be at Baptist church suppers. Disciples of the Austrian Holy Trinity  — Hayek, Von Mises, and Rothbard — are everywhere these days, and everywhere eager to counsel us that any houses we build in the future must be paid for, not with electrons and promises, but with actual money — you know, hard money, money you can bite down on, money that you can toss up in the air like Scrooge McDuck, and actually feel it hit you on the head when it comes down. They’re having none of this stuff that any government can conjure on a computer, and any central bank can issue. They claim that civic virtue is what’s driving them, but I suspect that they’re just out of breath chasing events that they don’t understand, and consequently need a rest more than they need our attention.

Yes, hard money would certainly slow things down for a time. People who presently have access to hard money, or can imagine themselves having access to it in the future, think that this would be a Good Thing, inasmuch as it would a) give them more leisure to lecture us on eternal verities, and b) keep the political fantasists and other rabble at bay until better security measures could be devised.

They’re wrong, of course. It’s not just that they’d have to put down the masses of people pissed at being forced to give up their iPads and go back to grubbing on somebody else’s acreage all day with only a dish of oaten gruel as their reward at the end of it. They’d also have to figure out how to finance a dozen nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and accompanying battle groups to replenish the gold they’d frittered away producing goods that no one but themselves had enough hard money to buy.

So what else is on offer, and who’s offering it? These days, business as usual, of the kind prescribed by Wolfgang Schäuble on the far side of the Atlantic, or Hank Paulson closer to home, has about it the unmistakeable odor of wishful thinking. Slightly left technocrats agree, and offer us Keynes instead. They swear it’s because his theories work, but I suspect that at least part of their enthusiasm arises from the notion that adopting his theories would put them in charge again, which for them, if not for us, is reason enough. Revolutionaries are still trying to exhume Marx — brush the grave-mold off his burial suit, put a little touch of rouge on his cheeks, they say, and  he’s good to go again. With all due respect for what he accomplished in his day, I doubt it.

We need to do better than this. What do we mean by freedom? What do we mean by prosperity? Is capitalism — any form of capitalism — really essential to either? Who’s minding the store anyway? I can’t really blame the Hayekians for asking similar questions, but when it comes to answers, I’d as soon consult my local astrologer.