(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
This interview was first published on March 7, 2012
Editor’s Note: Longtime Casey readers know that governments are waging a “War on Cash.” In today’s Weekend Edition, Casey Research founder Doug Casey explains why this is a huge threat to our financial privacy …
Louis James: Doug, we’ve had a lot of questions from readers about the apparent push governments are making to go to paperless currency – all electronic, no cash. Do you think that’s likely, and what would be the implications?
Doug: I think it’s probably inevitable. It’s not just cash, but the whole world is becoming increasingly digital. Credit cards already work very well all around the world, and everyone in the world, it seems, will soon have a smartphone – or at least everyone who might have any cash.
But it’s not just a question of evolving technology. Governments hate cash for lots of reasons, starting with the fact it costs a couple of cents to print a piece of paper currency, and they have to be replaced quite often. As the U.S. has destroyed the value of the dollar, they’ve had to take the copper out of pennies, and soon they’ll take the nickel out of nickels. Furthermore, with modern technology, counterfeiters, including unfriendly foreign governments, can turn out U.S. currency that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. And the stuff takes up a lot of space if it’s enough to be of value. So sure, governments would like to get rid of tangible currency. They’d like to see all money kept in banks, which are today no more than arms of the state. But it’s not so simple: numbers of people trust neither banks, most of which are insolvent, or – most of which are on their way to their intrinsic values.
L: Hm. On the technology front, when I was in central Africa a few weeks ago, plastic money was accepted happily everywhere I went – Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, and Kenya – though not by street vendors yet. And I had access to the Internet everywhere I went, even in the middle of the jungle…
Doug: Yes, the move towards digital currencies is already happening, and not just as a result of government efforts. Remember Bitcoin. And, as you know, I’m a big fan of GoldMoney, which is leading the way to a sound digital currency. Although GoldMoney has bowed to government pressure and has suspended its service allowing customers to transfer funds among one another; it’s another sign of the times…
L: Yes, and GoldMoney is not the first attempt, nor will it be the last. We should mention to new readers that you are an investor in GoldMoney.
Doug: The world’s going to digital currencies is in part a good thing, because it’s convenient. But it’s definitely a double-edged sword, because of government involvement in the field. If it were a strictly market phenomenon, I’d have no problem with it. It’d be just another choice. But if the state runs it, it would reduce people’s choices – and privacy. But that’s entirely apart from the fact that government – and I know this assertion will be shocking to most readers – has no business creating currency or minting money. Money, of all things, should be a purely market phenomenon. Government, as an institution, inevitably and necessarily corrupts everything it touches. Money is far too important to be left to the tender mercies of the state.
L: Sure. A completely digital currency would be an unlimited license to print and spend. Need to give people more welfare? Just tap a few keys, and it appears in their bank accounts. Need to buy more missiles? Just a few more taps on the keyboard… But the privacy issue is even scarier: Digital money would seem like Big Brother’s dream come true. They wouldn’t even have to send their minions out to go through people’s trash. They could see everything anyone ever spent money on and where they were physically when they did it, search for activity nearby, and much more, just by having computers report the details of people’s accounts.
Doug: Exactly. They would justify it with a host of phony excuses ranging from the so-called War on Terrorism to the so-called War on Drugs. Maybe they’ll tie it in to their disastrously failed War on Poverty. As the War on Islam heats up, one front will be an attack on the excellent Muslim Hawala system, which allows cheap and reliable transfer of money between countries; that system, which is kind of a private SWIFT network, is excellent for evading FX controls. Ironically, Islamic countries are some of the very worst perpetrators of currency controls.
L: Maybe that’s why the informal network exists in the first place? But yes, they gotta stop those evil money launderers from washing their money and hanging it out to dry…
Doug: Don’t get me started on “money laundering.” It’s a completely artificial crime. It wasn’t even heard of 20 years ago, because the “crime” didn’t exist. Now, everyone speaks of it as though it were a real crime, like murder. It’s ridiculous, and further proof of the totally degraded state of the average person worldwide, absolutely including U.S. citizens – what we used to call Americans. The government proclaims something as a law, and “sheeple” robotically assume it’s part of the cosmic firmament. If an official tells them to do or not to do something, they roll over on their backs like whipped dogs and wet themselves out of fear. The War on Drugs may be where “money laundering” originated as a crime, but today it has a lot more to do with something infinitely more important to the state: The War on Tax Evasion.
Incidentally, not that a U.S. citizen can open an account with a Swiss bank anyway any longer -except with at least seven figures and loads of paperwork – but now the policy in Switzerland is to insist that clients prove that their funds are all tax paid. The situation is out of control. And the world’s governments are increasingly working together to make sure no one slips through the net.
L: Gotta keep the cattle in line.
Doug: That’s right; the U.S. has sent swarms of agents all around the world to bully and cajole bureaucrats in other countries into giving them access to bank account information and to impose income taxes in places that didn’t have them. In Uruguay, where I was last week, for example, there was no income tax two years ago. Now, there is. And they’re trying to do the same thing in Paraguay. That’s about the last personal income tax holdout among the larger countries of the world.
L: When I was in Paraguay last, they had passed an income tax law, but it was being blocked from implementation by the legislature itself, on procedural grounds. I was told that since all of the legislators are deeply corrupted, none of them want to have to account for their income, and that’s why the measure will never be implemented. “Never” seems a bit optimistic, but it reminds me of your call to make corruption your friend. At any rate, why would the U.S. government care if other countries have income taxes – so they can have tax treaties with them?
Doug: I’m sure that’s part of it. A bigger part may be that countries with high tax burdens want so-called tax harmonization, so it’s less tempting to businesses and individuals to leave their borders and go where they can benefit from a lower tax burden – or pay no taxes at all. Governments all around the world, in spite of their differences, share a concern about their income streams – especially since most of them are absolutely bankrupt now – and their bureaucracies work together closely when it suits them. For example, the reason why you get asked if you are carrying more than $10,000 in cash on you when you board an international flight these days, even in a tiny African or South American country, is that it’s an OECD standard that’s been…enthusiastically encouraged. When it first started, it was only $3,000, but that generated too much work for them, so they raised it to $10,000. But all the bad ideas in the world now seem to be coming out of the U.S.
You know, up until the Bank Secrecy Act of 1971, Americans didn’t have to report foreign bank accounts or brokerage accounts. Reporting income generated by such accounts was required, but the existence of the accounts themselves was not required. The rules and reporting requirements have now become so draconian that most foreign banks don’t even want to see a U.S. taxpayer darken their door, let alone open an account for one. It’s a cancer, spreading out from the U.S.
L: So, is this trend inevitable? At some point will Big Brother know everything about all transactions?
Doug: Yes. And if they can’t get everything they want from you off your cell phone, which will probably also become your wallet with a digital credit card app at some point in the near future, they will be able to monitor everything physically via the swarms of tiny spy drones they will flood the skies with. The technology will soon make this cheap as dirt, and computational power is increasing rapidly to the point where it will be possible to process all the images.
L: Only if the people don’t divulge everything they are doing and whom they are doing it with on Facebook and Twitter.
Doug: Ah, yes, Facebook, the CIA’s most successful covert op. I idiotically opened a Facebook account some years back because someone convinced me it would be a good way to keep in touch with old school friends I’d lost touch with. Now, I get scores of people who want to friend me every month, and I know very, very few of them. It will be one-stop shopping for Homeland Security to round up the usual suspects when they feel the time is right. I hate Facebook and never use it for anything. I wonder how many of my Facebook friends are actually government stooges out looking for somebody to railroad…
L: A sobering thought.
Doug: I have to say that the prognosis for privacy is very grim. The only possible saving grace I can see is that the snoops may end up with information overload, most of it worthless or irrelevant. That’s what seriously impeded the East German and Romanian secret police. But with computer technology getting better and better, there’s not much reason to believe Homeland Security will be buried the way the Stasi was with its primitive technology.
I really see no way to stop this trend, nor hide from it – at least in the U.S. or Europe. There’s one thing, however, we can hope for: The coming collapse of the modern nation-state. This will happen, sooner or later, in Europe and North America, at least. This is a possible bright side of the building worldwide financial collapse; it might bring down Big Brother…although it’s more likely, I’m afraid, that he’ll redouble his efforts to control everything. Unfortunately, the immediate aftermath of that collapse is likely to be very unpleasant, especially for those in the most developed and powerful countries.
The best way to insulate yourself from this, therefore, is to live in a country whose government doesn’t have the power, financial resources, or technical ability to do these things. As per our last conversation, Africa might be a good place to get out of harm’s way, but it’s a bit too far off the beaten path for my taste and has way too many problems. That’s why I like Latin America.
Doug Casey is a multimillionaire speculator and the founder of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting during economic turmoil. Doug’s book, Crisis Investing, spent multiple weeks as number one on the New York Times bestsellers list and was the best-selling financial book of 1980. Doug has been a regular guest on national television, including spots on CNN, Merv Griffin, Charlie Rose, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, and NBC News.
Doug and his team of analysts write The Casey Report, one of the world’s most respected investment advisories. Each month, The Casey Report provides specific, actionable ideas to help subscribers make money in stocks, bonds, currencies, real estate, and commodities. You can try out The Casey Report risk-free by clicking here.