The Best, most honorable and ethical political office-holder I know (State Representative Jerry O’Neil of Kalispell, Montana, who also happens to be one of the most constitutionally rigorous elected officials of the 21st century) has raised one of the oldest and most contentious constitutional issues in the modern history United States: what IS constitutional currency? Jerry O’Neil Wants to be paid in gold and silver coin.
Although I am very partial to strict construction and enforcement of the constitution as written (especially in clear and unambiguous terms), I also understood that gold and both finite and useless on the one hand, and randomly and irrelevantly distributed in relation to other productive human activities, on the other. (The huge concentration of the world’s gold in 16th Century Mexico, mid-19th century California, the late 19th century Yukon in Canada, or late-19th/Early 20th Century South Africa never meant that those were the ideal places to live in the world; in fact, the abundant gold in those places led to MANY economic, socio-cultural, and political problems).
The key question in whether to endorse the gold standard is this: if the potential production of human labor is unlimited and infinite, how can the compensation of human labor justly be limited and finite? On the other hand, Gold is real in the sense of being substantive, tangible and universally recognizable in human cultures all over the world, its recognition as “precious” does not depend on any particular bank or government or even any particular cultural formulation.
But still, as the Confused but Gold-Rich Aztec told the Gold-hungry Spanish invaders: Gold is not edible. Gold has no universal practical applicability. So it is not as useful as cotton, iron or steel. But neither cotton, iron, nor steel are as easily rendered into currency as completely useless paper, which is totally dependent upon individual banks or governments.
I like to point out that the English word “pecuniary” (matters of or relating to money) is closely related to Spanish “Agro-pecuaria” (the general field of 4H-Agricultural Fairs—“Field & Cattle”). Our Ancient Indo-European Ancestors up through Roman times knew only one common currency and that was Cattle. (The Greek preferred “Sheep” and I’m quite fond of Lamb…). With all due apologies to vegetarians, NOTHING serves better as currency than Cattle (and “Sheep” and “Goats” are also subsumed under Spanish “Agro-pecuaria“).
If you’re down to your last one pound gold-bar during a war, you may FEEL rich, but if you can’t exchange the gold-bar for food, because of the war, you’re going to starve. But as an alternative, imagine, if you will, that you’re a neutral non-combatant, in the middle of that great war, down to the your last 16-32 head of cattle (the approximate market value in cattle of one gold bar at present rates, depending on the breed and quality of the cattle), you can not only survive the war without speaking or trading with anyone (assuming you have a few rudimentary tools to butcher and cook your own animals), you may actually end up “richer” at the end of the war even if you’re not trading with any of the combatants, if you care not to slaughter your female cows, take care of the calves, and keep a minimum of one healthy and happy bull around at all times.
In addition to their widely prized meat, cattle can be used while living as agricultural implements (non-gas-guzzling, in fact gas producing, tractors), their skins can be made into leather for clothing and furniture and their bones and horns can be made into all manner of tools and ornaments. As a matter of fact, it was a famous and glorious moment in my graduate career at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology when Dr. Stephen Williams, then eponymous Peabody Professor, stumped me at my oral exams by showing me an bovine foreleg bone, heavily striated on one side, heavily compressed on the other, with two holes at distal and proximal ends. I had identified every other piece of Peabody Museum arcana he could throw at me, but I finally gave up on this one: it was a VIKING ICE-SKATE, made of cattle bones. Try making anything more useful than a paper aeroplane out of Federal Reserve Notes, I dare you…..
Montana State House of Representatives
REP. JERRY O’NEIL SESSION COMMITTEES:
HELENA ADDRESS DURING SESSION: TRANSPORTATION;
PO BOX 200500 RULES; and
HELENA, MONTANA 59620-0500 LOCAL GOVERNMENT
985 WALSH ROAD
COLUMBIA FALLS, MONTANA 59912
406-892-7602; 406-892-7603 FAX The Big Sky Country oneil@CenturyTel.net
November 12, 2012
State of Montana Legislative Services
Central Services Office
Post Office Box 201706
Helena, Montana 59620-1706
Re: Legislator Compensation
Dear Legislative Services:
Last week I was re-elected to serve the people of House District 3 as their Representative in the Montana Legislature. Once again it will be my privilege to take the oath of office, promising to obey and protect the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Montana.
When campaigning, some of my constituents informed me I was not honoring my duty to uphold and defend the United States Constitution. The area of their concern is the prohibition, contained in Article I, Section 10, that states, “No state shall – – make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts – -.” They ask me how I, a policy maker for the State of Montana, can ignore this clear constitutional prohibition.
Over the 10 years I have previously served in the legislature I have considered this a trivial matter that would show me to be out of step with our national rulers if I made an issue out of it. I did not want to be branded as a fanatic over an issue of no consequence.
Today I am looking at this issue in a new light. When I was going to my constituents homes I agreed with them the most important issue for the coming legislative session will be to protect them from the economic debacle hanging over our heads.
With just a cursory look at history we know a country that lives beyond its means faces dire consequences. Having a $16,000,000,000,000 national debt is a warning sign we can only ignore at our peril. Having such a debt and allowing it to increase unchecked is an invitation for national suicide.
It is very likely the bottom will fall out from under the U.S. dollar. Only so many dollars can be printed before they have no value. The Keynesian era of financing government with debt appears to be close to its demise.
If and when that happens, how can we in the Montana Legislature protect our constituents? – The only answer I can come up with is to honor my oath to the U.S. Constitution and request that your debt to me be paid in gold and silver coins that will still have value when the U.S. dollar is reduced to junk status. I therefore request my legislative pay to be in gold and silver coins that are unadulterated with base metals.
I am not asking for you to give me gold and silver American Eagles at their face value of $50.00 and $1.00, but rather at their current market prices that today are $1,801.00 and $35.28. Hopefully this will be an example for our Montana citizens and prompt them to also have some of their own wealth in money that has intrinsic value.