Democratizing the Money Issue

Robert Kuttner has a fantastic piece on creditor-debtor conflicts in several contexts (sovereign, consumer, current, historical). For Kuttner it alls points to a need to "democratize the money issue," by which he means returning the money issue–creditors' interests versus debtors' and whether credit would be cheap or dear–to the forefront of national politics. Kuttner reminds his readers that the money issue was perhaps the foremost issue in late 19th century US politics. Remember Bryan's Cross of Gold speech? The monetary policy debates that led up to the creation of the Fed (an attempt to depoliticize monetary policy) were inextricably tied up with the Progressive politics that busted the trusts and paved the way for a regulatory state, setting the tone that lasted in one form or another through the 1970s. I think there's a lot of cause to reexamine the money issue and the intersection of consumer finance, monetary policy, and political power. But there's a real problem in figuring out how to talk about it. It's a sure-thing dead-end if one starts to talk about the Fed and monetary policy as a first move–it just brings out the crackpots. (Why don't the gold standard folks–who are hardly the nuttiest of the bunch–recognize that gold is just as much of a fiat value as paper or wampum? Absent consumption value, it's all fiat.) Another major obstacle is that few people think of themselves as debtors, even though they are deeply leveraged. The modern American consumer seems quite different in this regard than the Western farmer of 125 years ago, who was very conscious of being a debtor and of the cost of credit. I'm not sure how one gets the money issue to be part of a national dialogue, but I think Kuttner's piece is an important step in getting us there.

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