22 July 2018

DIPPING INTO THE MAGIC PURSE


S D Tucker. False Economies; The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time. Amberley, 2017.

I have a vague memory from when I was about five or six, of reading an Enid Blyton story where one of the characters had a magic purse which always contained one penny, no matter how much the young girl who found it had spent. By the time I was seven or eight and managing my own pocket-money I realised that this was no basis on which to build a viable economic system. This revelation seems to have been missed by many of the people whose economic theories S D Tucker describes in this book.
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One person who seemed convinced by the Enid Blyton theory of economics was a character who will be known to many Magonia readers for his other activities, Gabriel Green. Green was a UFO contactee from the Adamski era of ufology, and founder of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, as well as twice US Presidential candidate. In the Contactee tradition, Green’s space-people were benign creatures who wanted only to help us poor humans achieve our full potential as part of the Intergalactic Community. One way of doing this was by the abolition of all taxation.

This involved the Magic Purse, which he called ‘Prior Choice Economics’. Under Green’s system all the money you earned in your lifetime would just keep adding up in your bank account, no matter how much you spent from day to day. At the end of every month, you would have not only the money you earned that month, but also all the money you had ever previously earned, plus all the things you had bought with this magic money! Green’s Space Brothers explained this would be done by means of an enormously complicated, bureaucratic accounting system, and something which in retrospect looked remarkably like the QVC shopping channel. 

At least with getting one prediction more or less on the mark, Green [right] satisfied the ‘stopped clock’ theory, something which few of the other people in this book managed. One such was the poet and friend of Mussolini, Ezra Pound. Influenced by the sight of workmen in the US Mint literally shovelling thousands of silver dollars into counting machines. Pound’s father worked as an assayist in the Mint, and it seems that in the nineteenth century it was perfectly acceptable to take your kids into the secure vaults of the US Treasury for a little treat.

Gold and silver had no real value, according to Pound, but was simply hoarded in vast amounts by plutocrats, rather than circulating and allowing a fairer distribution of goods. What was needed was what he called ‘vegetable money’ - money which would rot away if not used. Pound rather hoped that rich people would use their rotting vegetable money to buy things of more permanent value, like works of art and, er, poetry. Inevitably for Pound, as for many others in this book, the one thing which prevented this Utopian scheme from becoming reality was the International Jewish Conspiracy. 

The idea of money losing it’s value – negative inflation - was the basis for a number of small-scale experiments, particularly in the Depression era, made use of the idea to provide a viable means of exchange in specific areas, and keep money circulating and working, rather than being stored in bank-vaults. It worked rather like the ‘local pounds’ which are used in some towns in Britain. The difference was that these local banknotes gradually lost their value over time. Although it worked well-enough over a small area for a limited period, introducing it on a larger scale, as was tried in some American states, proved less successful.

As an aside, it has always struck me as rather unimaginative that these local ‘Totnes Pounds', ‘Brixton Pounds’, etc., are offered at a 1-to-1 exchange rate to the pound sterling. Surely a rate of local £1.00 to sterling £0.95 would encourage more people to take up the scheme and cause money to flow into the local area, as well as just circulate around as at present. On the other hand this idea might qualify me for a mention in any second edition of Mr Tucker’s book.

Common to a number of the economic theories outlined here is the idea of a ‘Citizen’s Income’, a fixed amount which is paid by the state to every citizen for simply being alive. This idea has supporters on both the Left-wing of politics, where it is seen as the state providing for the basic necessities of life for its citizens, over to the Right, where it is envisioned as a way of scrapping most welfare payments and doing away with an entire sector of government administration. Basically however it is still the Magic Purse.

Besides the economics and unsuccessful Presidential campaigns of Gabriel Green, there are a number of other ways in which the world of fringe economics and Forteanism collide. Many of what are now considered mainstream ‘green’ economic ideas can be seen to have developed from some very mystical characters in the 1920s and 1930s.

E.F. Schumacher, author of the once-influential Small is Beautiful – still a key eco-text – drew many of his ideas from the thoughts of Rudolph Steiner, another advocate of ‘vegetable-money’. In 1955 Schumacher, at the time a senior economist with the National Coal Board, was commissioned by the UK government, to advise the Burmese Government on its programme of economic development and modernisation. His main conclusion, outlined in a paper entitled Economics in a Buddhist Country, was basically, ‘don’t’. Modernisation, he said was “evil, destructive and uneconomic”. Resources, he proposed should be dissected away from the cities to the countryside in order to develop economic self-sufficiency. Rural cottage industries could provide for the nations needs.

The Burmese Government however, rejected these proposals and sent Schumacher packing, perhaps for the better when we see how such ideas have played out in places such as Cambodia and North Korea.

Other fringe characters who find themselves in this volume include John Hargrave, founder of the less well-known but better intentioned KKK, the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, a well-meaning organisation which seemed to combine elements of the Hitler Youth (vigorous marching, uniforms and banners) and J. R. R. Tolkien (nature rambles, folk-songs and beautiful calligraphy). Eventually this morphed into the Social Credit Party of the UK, whose most notable act of political activism was throwing a can of green paint at the door of 10 Downing Street.

One individual who was impressed by Hargrave’s economic theories was Henry Norman Smith, editor of The Illustrated Carpenter and Builder, who somehow managed to get himself adopted as Labour Party candidate for Nottingham South and actually served as MP for ten years. On election he began making speeches in the House of Commons attacking Labour Party policies. No change there, then.

A number of the ‘economists’ described here seem to have and obsession with bodily functions and excrement. Alfred W. Lawson, for instance, proposed that the Earth was a organism made up of tiny living atoms called ‘menorgs’. By manipulating these menorgs it would be possible to direct the planet’s flatulence – expelled via the South Pole – and pilot the Earth through space. A concept which echoed some of the ideas of the Russian Cosmicists from the late nineteenth-century.

He was another proponent of a Social Credit type economy he called ‘equaeverpoise’, and which again involved people being given more-or-less unlimited amounts of free money. Attempts to introduce this system were however again opposed by a shadowy international conspiracy, which at least this time, Lawson was anxious to emphasise, was not Jewish, just a non-denominational plutocracy of men with top hats, white shirt-fronts and tail-coats.

Nearly all the economic systems we read about here are variations on the hobo’s dream of the Big Rock Candy Mountain: “And the birds and the bees, and the cigarette trees, the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains”. They are part of our endless search for Utopia, the perfect, pure land, where poor, failed mankind is remodelled into a new humanity fit for the new society.

Peter Rogerson, in his last published piece for Magonia, expressed it like this: “for surely all the worst crimes are committed in the name of purity and pure lands: pure religion, pure nation, pure race, new model pure people, a pure world cleared of ‘human pollutant’, pure souls freed from organic bodies, pure lands that no actual-existing human being is ever pure enough to inhabit.”

Fortunately, with just a couple of dreadful exceptions, none of the dreamers in this book ever got the opportunity to put their pure theories into practice, and as the author shows, for those few who did, it ended in tragedies on an inhuman scale. – John Rimmer.

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