Slow History

Some say that journalism is the first draft of history. No. Real historical forces take a longer time. I’ve been thinking about a couple of things that are under appreciated because they have taken decades to happen. They are very sudden in historical terms, but they creep by unnoticed by the standards of human life.


The Decline and Fall of the British Empire.

I have never heard that term, but it is precisely accurate for the last century. The greatest empire in world history fell in stages to a home country that is in itself struggling to remain together. The Empire was mortally wounded in the First World War, but it didn’t actually fall apart until after World War Two. Say, 1948 to 2015 for the time to collapse. It went from 2.6e7 square kilometers to 2.4 e5 square kilometers and in 2015 almost fell to1.4 e5 square kilometers. A loss of over 99%.

The Empire had over 4 e8 people. The UK today 6.7 e7 for a loss of 85%. The entire collapse has occurred during the life of the present monarch. Now that is a history class worth creating! One wonders if Elizabeth II is aware, or if she has been too busy to take stock.

An illuminating coïncidence is that the decline of the British Empire is coëval with the rise of motion pictures. We can see movies that show the whole collapse. Never before in history has such a collapse been so well documented.

The Reversal of Money

value of dollar over time

From the invention of coins and touchstones about 700 BC until August 16, 1971 money had one purpose: Money was a stable store of value. As sound as a dollar. Mark is mark. $1 == 1 troy ounce of silver. $20 == 1 troy ounce of gold. [If the obvious fatal flaw there is obvious to you, congratulations. Still, it was good enough until the 1880’s.]

In practice sometimes this was subverted. Governments who subverted this principal did so under extreme duress and suffered for it. The theory was flawed, but it was as well thought out as most things. A dollar was intended to buy as much in 1925 as in 1800.

All this changed August 16, 1971. President Nixon broke the link between gold and the dollar. Since then the Federal Reserve has changed the value of the dollar by changing interest rates. The Federal Reserve tries to keep growth constant and unemployment low. It has singularly failed to do so. Determining the actual value of the dollar is difficult and controversial. One can however achieve a close and historically viable approximation by comparing the price of gold.

Today Gold is $1175/ounce. Silver is $15/ounce. Gold is therefore thirty-four times the price it was in 1971. We have done a poor job of maintaining the dollar.

Now we ask the hard question: How does one preserve wealth? Keeping money backed only by people’s gullibility seems foolish. Land is not portable and is susceptible to confiscation. The laws pertaining to gold are invasive and peculiar.

I have no answer, and that is the reversal of 2,700 years.


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