Yesterday afternoon, I attended the meeting at the House of Commons that I flagged up here a few days earlier. It was a fairly low key affair, attended by about thirty people or more. Not being a regular attender of such events, I can’t really be sure what it all amounted to. Things happen at meetings that you don’t see. Minds get changed, in silence. Connections are made, afterwards. You do not see everything.
But what I think I saw was this.
The first thing to clarify is that this was the Detlev Schlichter show. Steve Baker MP was a nearly silent chairman. Tim Evans was a brief warm-up act. Schlichter’s pessimism about the world economy was the heart of the matter. He did almost all the talking, and I believe he did it very well.
It’s not deliberate on his part. Schlichter just talks the way he talks. But his manner is just right for politicians, because he doesn’t shout, and because he so obviously knows what he is talking about, what with his considerable City of London experience, and that flawless English vocabulary spoken in perfect English but with that intellectually imposing German accent. He foresees monetary catastrophe, but although he has plenty to say about politics, and about how politics has politicised money, he is not trying to be any sort of politician himself. Basically, he thinks they’re boxed in, and when asked for advice about how to change that, he can do nothing beyond repeating that they are boxed in and that monetary catastrophe does indeed loom. But what all this means, for his demeanour at events like this one, is that he doesn’t nag the politicians or preach at them or get in any way excited, because he expects nothing of them; he merely answers whatever questions they may want to ask him. He regards them not as stage villains but as fellow victims of an historic upheaval. Despite the horror of what he is saying, they seem to like that. He didn’t spend the last two months cajoling his way into the House of Commons. He was simply asked in, and he said yes, I’ll do my best.
Present at the meeting were about five MPs, besides Steve Baker MP I mean, which is a lot less than all of them, but a lot more than none.
One, a certain Mark Garnier MP, seemed to be quite disturbed by what he was hearing, as in disturbed because he very much feared that what he was hearing might be true. Mark Garnier MP is a member of the Treasury Select Committee, which I am told is very significant.
Another MP present, John Redwood, was only partially in agreement with Shlichter. He agrees that there is a debt crisis, but doesn’t follow Schlichter to the point of seeing this as a currency crisis. In other words, Redwood thinks we have a big problem, but Schlichter thinks the problem is massively bigger than big.
Redwood was also confused by Schlichter’s use of the phrase “paper money”, by which Redwood thought Schlichter meant, well, paper money. Redwood pointed out, quite correctly, that paper money that has hundred percent honest promises written on it, to swap the paper money in question for actual gold, is very different from the paper money we now have, which promises nothing. Redwood also pointed out that most of the “elastic” (the other and probably better description of junk money that Schlichter supplies in the title of his book) money that we now have is mostly purely virtual additions to electronically stored bank balances. We don’t, said Redwood, want to go back to a world without credit cards or internet trading! All of which was immediately conceded by Schlichter, and none of which makes a dime of difference to the rightness or wrongness of what Schlichter is actually saying; these are mere complaints about how he says it. Such complaints may be justified, given how inexactly “paper money” corresponds to the kind of money that Schlichter is actually complaining about. But Redwood seemed to imagine that what he said about what he took “paper money” to mean refuted the substance of what Schlichter said. Odd.
For me, the most interesting person present was James Delingpole. (It was while looking to see if Delingpole had said anything about this meeting himself that earlier today got me noticing this.) The mere possibility that Delingpole might now dig into what Schlichter, and all the other Austrianists before him, have been saying about money and banking was enough to make me highly delighted to see him there, insofar as anything about this deeply scary story can be said to be delightful. But it got better. I introduced myself to Delingpole afterwards, and he immediately told me that he considered this the biggest story now happening in the world. So, following his book and before that his blogging about red greenery, Delingpole’s next Big Thing may well prove to be world-wide monetary melt-down. I would love to read a money book by Delingpole as good and as accessible as Watermelons. If Delingpole’s red greenery stuff is anything to go by, the consequences in terms of public understanding and public debate of him becoming a money blogger and a money book writer could be considerable. So, no pressure Mr D, but I do hope you will at least consider such a project.