Book Review: What Has Government Done To Our Money?

What Has Government Done To Our Money? by Murray N. Rothbard

The answer to this question is somewhat obvious.  What has government done to our money?  Screw it up.  And that is precisely the answer gives in this modest book of about 100 pages.  As someone who has thought and even occasionally read about the problem of currencies [1], I do not find the author’s arguments in favor of the gold standard particularly persuasive.  That said, I do find the author’s comments about the way that government has screwed up monetary policy as effectively as it has screwed up every other aspect of human life very persuasive.  Indeed, one wonders if currency reform in general is just a fig leaf to cover the general libertarian ideal to gut government in general and keep it to very narrow boundaries.  And while I am no libertarian myself, I certainly understand that governments have screwed up monetary policy any time they have gotten involved in it, largely because governments are run by people who do not know what they are doing while seeking short-term gains at the cost of long-term suffering and misery for the very people they express a desire to help.

This book makes for fairly grim and unpleasant reading, although I did read it mostly late at night, so I only have myself to blame for whatever nightmares it caused.  At a bit more than 100 pages of large paper with fairly large text, this is not a particularly long book, thankfully.  After a short introduction (1), the author talks about money in a free society, examining the value of exchange, barter, the question of money supply and hoarding and coexisting moneys like gold and silver (2).  Then the author moves into his main argument about government meddling with money by looking at inflation, monopolistic behavior, debasement, coinage, and the removal of government checks on runaway inflation (3).  After this the author gives a generally enlightening and grimly humorous discussion of the monetary breakdown of the west through nine phasis from the classical gold standard of the long post-Napoleonic peace (1815-1914) to various attempts at floating currency or using a bullion standard that limited forex trading in gold to institutional traders and governments to the current post-Bretton Woods period of fluctuating fiat currencies (4).  The author appears to be of the belief that the gold standard itself would stabilize currencies, although this is perhaps a first step to a larger goal of libertarian behavior.

This book provides ample discussion of the fact that government cannot be trusted with a monopoly over monetary policy.  Unfortunately, those of us whose low levels of trust are more pervasive than that of the writer will understand that government cannot be trusted in particular because people cannot be trusted in general.  Whatever system exists of either finance or government or indeed anything else, there will be corrupt people who will want to rig that system in their favor and screw everyone else over.  The reason we have governments and regulation at all is because people have shown themselves to be corrupt and exploitative, and the general decline of conscience in our society has, by the predictable operation of Colson’s law, led to the increased proliferation of regulations and police in order to deal with the essential lack of goodness in human nature.  If we cannot trust governments to avoid inflating currencies to worthlessness, then the reasons we cannot do so is because both people and governments as a whole have ruinous levels of debt and because it is easy to print money little by little than to deal with the harder and more beneficial aspects of fiscal restraint on either the micro or macro level.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: What Has Government Done To Our Money?

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    Reblogging for future reference.

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