“So you think money is the root of all evil?” That is the question the wealthy, dashing copper magnate Francisco d’Anconia asked at the beginning of his famous “money speech” in Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. D’Anconia was addressing a roomful of people who seemed confused about the meaning of money.
Sixty-two years later, the meaning of money is once again seriously misunderstood, and Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, has stepped in–Francisco d’Anconia-like–to set the record straight.
In the new one-hour documentary, In Money We Trust? (2018), which recently aired on Maryland Public Television, Forbes looks at the 2500-year history of money to make the connection between money and human flourishing.
The documentary is based on the book Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy–and What We Can Do About It, co-written by Forbes and Elizabeth Ames. The book was originally published in 2014 and has been updated as a companion to the documentary. I recommend watching the documentary, then reading the book to learn more. Forbes and Ames strip away the layers of misleading connotation and define money narrowly and correctly as “a fixed measure of value.” Far from the root of all evil, money, in a fixed exchange rate system, is the basis of trust that makes flourishing possible. Commerce, relationships, institutions, and culture–all depend on it.
The documentary makes clear that trust is implicit in money. Throughout history, as long as money was tied to the gold standard and the value of money remained stable, people exchanged value for value, confident that their transactions were honest. Prosperity and social stability followed.
It is not money, but the manipulation of it, that causes problems. “Unstable money is the quickest way to turn a society upside down,” remarks John Tamny, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom. Every time a government removes their currency from the gold standard, every time central banks resort to stimulus and quantitative easing, people suffer. “When you change the value of money, you’re stealing property without due process of law, without a commercial transaction,” Forbes explains.
Forbes and others are especially critical of the Federal Reserve System, arguing that the Fed’s interference in the economy is unfounded and detrimental. According to Tamny, “An economy can’t overheat. An economy is a collection of individuals. Can an individual overheat by doing better year after year?” Brian Domitrovic, chair of the history department at Sam Houston State University echoes this claim, asking, “Where is the crisis?”
In addition to Forbes, Tamny, and Domitrovic, the documentary features a number of noteworthy experts: Lawrence Reed, Jack Weatherford, Dylan Grice, Nathan Lewis, Judy Shelton, James Grant, Roger Lowenstein, Mark Skousen, Adam Fergusson, Amity Shlaes, Alan Greenspan, Mervyn King, Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, Steve Hanke, George Gilder, Seth Lipsky, Fred Roeder, and Barry Eichengreen.
Forbes makes a strong case for a fixed exchange rate system and advocates a return to the gold standard. With the value of money fixed, money created going forward would have a stable value and allow individuals to flourish and prosper at their own rate without restricting the size of the economy.
“Money, ultimately does depend on trust,” George Gilder concludes.
In Money We Trust? was produced by Paul G. Sanderson and written and produced by Elizabeth Ames. It was funded in part by Mutual of America, the Foundation for Individual Liberty, The Washington Examiner, BNSF Railway, Jeff Yass, and Joe Ricketts.