Home > political-economy > The Golden Grimace (Part Six: The Dollar as a system of global despotism)

The Golden Grimace (Part Six: The Dollar as a system of global despotism)

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

Steven Wright

This is the whole mystery of paper money: it is worthless, yet it is readily accepted in exchange for things of value – even things of great value.

China, for instance, routinely ships large quantities of goods to the US in return for dollars. These dollars have no value whatsoever. Even large quantities of dollars – quantities of a scale that can only be seen in the trade between nations – are, no matter how large, absent any value at all. One hundred billion of a thing which has no value is equally without value – it is, in fact, a very long string of zeroes.

This is important.

Before 1933, if your employer gave you $100 in wages in return for your capacity to work, and you then exchanged this very same $100 for a bag of groceries, the end result was that $100 of value moved from the hand of your employer to yours, and then from your hand to the grocer’s. Gold was not, and is not today, an easy thing to get one’s hands on – some mines today extend two miles down into the crust of the Earth. It takes many hours of intensely stressful work, under inhospitable conditions, to produce a very small quantity of the metal.

The movement of money from your employer’s hands to yours, and then from your hand to your grocer’s was serious business. Aside from normal fluctuations in the supply of and demand for labor power, by exchanging $100 of gold for your labor power, you and your employer were agreeing that the work required to produce that sum of gold was equal to the work required to produce your labor power. By exchanging $100 of gold for groceries, you and your grocer were agreeing that the work required to produce your labor power and the work required to produce that sum of gold were each equal to the contents of the bag of groceries.

If we now perform this same thought experiment with paper money, an incredible incongruity results: now the value of your labor power is equated to 100 paper dollars that has no value of its own, and the value of the groceries are equated to the value of this same 100 paper dollars, namely, zero. This also implies that the value of the total exports of China to the United States last year is no more than that of your bag of groceries!

No one before 1933 would have argued that the work required to produce $100 of gold, the work require to produce your labor power, and the work required to produce a bag of groceries were equal to the value of the total exports of China to the United States in 1932 – however small this value might have been that year. The exchange of paper dollars for Chinese exports, however, implies that, in fact, this must be true.


As we stated before, you are a slave made to dance to the tune of your slave-masters.

But, you could not pick their names out of a telephone book if your life depended on it – even if they were presented in bold print with a big red circle and an arrow pointing to them. Picking them out would, of course, require that you realize you are a slave in the first place. But, on this count, you are a hopeless failure.

Unlike previous civilizations, our own requires, above all, that slaves actually believe they are not slaves. And, it is as equally important, that this illusion be materially true. The slave must not only think she is free, she must, of necessity, actually be free, precisely because her freedom is the materially authentic form of her enslavement.

But, before we get accused of spouting some metaphysical bullshit, let us say this directly: As a free person, selling yourself into slavery must be a rational choice, and it must be rational to view this self-enslavement as freedom. This necessary condition of our particular mode of slavery is expressed in paper money. Even were you to accept the argument that paper money stamps you as a slave, this recognition of the significance of paper money in no way changes your circumstances: namely, that your very physical existence requires this worthless piece of paper.

Further more, the fact that gold is freely bought and sold, yet remains a mere commodity, no different in this regard than, for instance, toilet paper or the conscience of your congressperson, and incapable of displacing a worthless symbol of itself in order to resume its station as money, presupposes the absolute necessity of your self-enslavement – that your very capacity to convert the natural world into the means of life is now intimately and irretrievably bound up with the collective productive capacity of humanity and no longer has an independent existence. There is no longer any possibility of a separation between your individual productive capacity and that of mankind as a whole – that, in any case, this capacity is useless to you unless it is united with the collective capacity of society – this fact is demonstrated by the debasement of money.

What is true for your own case must, therefore, be true for China – and Greece, Spain, Italy, Brazil. To the extent that these nations accept dollars as the world reserve currency, and routinely exchange their national products for it, these goods are the product of a single global labor power. That national currencies can and must be exchanged for dollars – that it, in fact, serves them as the necessary vehicle currency between all the other national currencies of the world – presupposes that the national governments who issue these are completely subordinated to a handful of oligarchs on Wall Street.

The dollar, in its role as reserve currency, is, therefore, not only the completion of the debasement of the labor of one country – its absolute subjugation to the most mercilessly predatory gang of psychopaths in one nation – it is the Full Spectrum Dominance of this murderous clique over every country where it holds sway, and of the sum total of all labor in all nations at once and absolutely.

With this condition, the use of gold as money is a redundancy – a superfluous anachronism.

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