The Death of money: Is the dollar about to collapse?

An exaggerated and tendentious report into the demise of western capitalism concludes with some barmy investment advice. Reviewer Howard Davies is not impressed.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 19 May 2014

One cannot help having a sneaking admiration for people who are very sure of themselves and convinced that everyone else is a fool, an incompetent, or both. Arsene Wenger is one such: all referees who award yellow cards or penalties against Arsenal are blind or prejudiced.

Without their malign interventions, his team would be in its rightful place at the top of the Premier League.

James Rickards (The Death of Money's author) is firmly in the Wenger camp. He knows for certain that all the economists and central bankers in positions of influence over the world's financial system are deluded. 'The Federal Reserve does not understand that money creation can be an irreversible process,' he says in his critique of quantitative easing. The central banks of the US, the UK and Japan are perpetrating 'the crime of the century'.

They are using outdated, unrealistic models and have failed to learn from history. Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, David Lipton of the IMF and others are 'extraordinary in the incompetence they displayed', and have left 'financial devastation' in their wake.

But, unlike Wenger, with his mock-professorial, more-in-sorrow demeanour, Rickards is an angry man, and maintains a high-octane prose performance over 300 pages. In spite of that, at times one loses his drift.

While the introduction promises to explain why the dollar is about to collapse as a global currency, bringing the world's financial system down, chapter one takes us back to 9/11 and asserts that insider traders knew in advance about the attack on the Twin Towers and made a killing on airline stocks. I haven't seen that argument advanced seriously since I wandered around the Occupy demonstration in front of St Paul's.

He believes that the US authorities are preparing to handle the social disorder that may follow the financial collapse he foresees. He exposes the rise of 'neofascists' in US politics. Michael Bloomberg is one such: 'His attempted ban on large sweetened sodas in New York City was a typical state-power exercise at the expense of liberty.'

More seriously, the state is building a fearsome arsenal of armoured personnel carriers, 'flash-bang grenades and high-tech battering rams' to respond to unrest.

This may seem a long way from the coming collapse of the world monetary system, and indeed it is. But the byways an author chooses to explore may be as revealing as his principal argument. In this case, they do nothing to strengthen his credibility.

Insofar as I can follow his thesis, it is roughly this. The original sin committed by the US government was the breaking of the link between the dollar and gold in 1971. Since then, there has been fiat money creation on an incontinent scale.

Currencies have become unstable: the dollar, in particular, is chronically weak (there are no charts or graphs to demonstrate these points). The financial crisis was an inevitable consequence of these trends. Since then, the major central banks have been flooding the world with more money in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 1930s, when tight money policies turned a recession into a depression.

But QE is not producing the consequences desired. The recovery is weaker than it should be; indeed, he sees almost no recovery at all: 'The economy is broken, and inflation is on its way.' Or, he says at other points, deflation is on its way. No matter, the consequences will be the same: a collapse of the dollar-based world financial system, with economic and social devastation to follow. Governments will be obliged to crack down. The outlook for sweetened soda addicts, in particular, is bleak.

So embedded in The Death of Money (a foolish title) is a serious point, but to say that central bankers are unaware of it is silly. The exit from QE will be fraught with difficulty, as we already saw when the Fed began to taper its asset purchases. Forward guidance has proved to be a fragile instrument of policy.

But Rickards has nothing useful to say about how to manage this process. He favours, instead, a return to the gold standard. Quite how we would get there without bringing the world economy to a grinding halt is not explored.

Instead, he ends with some investment advice. You should buy gold, land and fine art. The last of these is justified in an interesting way: 'A $10m painting that weighs two pounds is worth $312,500 an ounce - over 200 times gold's value by weight.'

For this penetrating insight, Penguin will relieve you of £14.99, or about £1.20 an ounce.


The Death of Money The coming collapse of the international monetary system

James Rickards

Portfolio Penguin, £14.99

PS. by special request of the author, here's a link to buy the book

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