Romance and Central Banking

When I first moved to Paris I lived in the 14th arrondissement on rue Daguerre, a cross street between avenue du Maine and avenue du Général Leclerc. This is a lively street with a pedestrian zone, full of restaurants and shops. Just off rue Daguerre on rue Gassendi, across from the Zango Bar, was a unique place named for its address, the “24 bis” (“bis” means a second house or shop with the same address). It seemed to me it was a claptrap addition to an adjacent building no bigger than a moderate sized living room. It consisted of a small stage and about twenty chairs. There was no toilet, so if in need one went across the street to the Zango. On Friday and Saturday nights live music was offered with a glass of wine or a can of Heineken, all for 3€. This was an incredible deal for Paris where at that time the equivalent price of just a pint of beer was often $10. On the walls each week were exhibited the work of a local artist. I heard all kinds of music there but the most memorable, because I had never heard it before, was jazz manouche (it was usually a guitar duo a lot like this). The proprietor was named Auguste. My impression was that he was 60 years-old and an over-drugged  ex-hippie. But that is pure speculation. He was soft spoken and very nice to me. I always wondered about the finances of this enterprise. How could Auguste make a profit? It couldn’t. Like a mirage, it was out of business after only about one year.

I found the 24 bis because I was alone in Paris and the sound of live music was inviting. The fact that it was about 100 feet from the door of my apartment building meant I dropped in virtually every weekend. In the small space, a break in the music was like being at a party without knowing anybody. But one night during a break I did meet an attractive Parisian woman. In fact, she was a journalist for one of the state television channels covering social and economic stories. We were married at the Mairie du 14eme, a 5 minute walk from the 24 bis, 15 months after we had met there. The miracle of our relationship is that while she was a glamorous French television reporter, I was a nerdy, American, engineering professor wearing cheap, ill-fitting clothes and a sweater vest; that is, I was very far from the ideal romantic Parisian man. Furthermore, I had never been adept at romance. I did not get her number that first night and the story of our mutual courtship is for another day. I had taken the feminist propaganda to heart. My approach is to treat women with respect, like all other human beings. My old fashioned American understanding of seduction is the manipulation of another to obtain sexual favors. It is very different for French women. Seduction for them is a good thing, but what they call seduction is what I would call romance. That is, what they want, maybe what all women want, is not to be treated like everyone else; but to be treated special.

What does all of this have to do with central banking? I think what was especially attractive to me that night was that I might discuss economics with this economic journalist. Okay, that is strange, but in hindsight I think it is true. Throughout our relationship I would interject the pernicious role of central banks and their monetary policies in the discussion. Everything from the price of apartments in Paris to the price of art to war and to economic inequality. But I know I was tedious because within 30 seconds of my mentioning a central bank my wife needed to go to the toilet. It was like clockwork. During the hours in the delivery room waiting for our daughter to be born I described Mises’ Regression Theorem, the nature of fiat money versus real money like gold, etc. on the theory that this would make her ready to deliver just like she would go to the toilet. I even got her to agree to Louise as one of our daughter’s middle names in honor of Ludwig von Mises. However, in all those years I never felt I had made any impact on her regarding the importance of monetary policy.

Now we are an old married couple. It has been several years since my wife quit the state television channel and started a freelance career, proposing projects for magazine shows and short (one hour) documentaries. I have almost continuous conversations with her about these projects where I often give my conceptions of how a particular story might be told. Her response is virtually always negative to my suggestions, especially as I often suggest reporting on some aspect of monetary policy in relation to her subject. Thus, I was astonished when the other day my wife said she was thinking of proposing a project on central banking.

Of course I wholeheartedly agreed it was a great idea. I even think France is ready to learn about central banking since the Covid debacle. The current president of the European Central Bank is a French woman, Christine Lagarde. Even I do not understand how the French National Bank works with the ECB; that is, how this European agency has so much control over everyday life in France.

I once quoted Theodore Dalrymple, “We in Anglo-saxonia are hypocrites about sex, but in France they are hypocrites about money.” The French think as the Compass Catholic Ministries explains, “One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10. Many people quote this verse as, “Money is the root of all evil.” The verse actually reads, “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” Money is simply a tool, like a hammer.  Tools have no intrinsic value – they are neither good nor evil.  Saying money is the root of all evil is like saying that a hammer is evil.” I disagree with the last point; real money is more than good. It is a foundation of civilization itself through the distribution of labor and a storage of wealth allowing for the future. However, fiat money issued by central banks is at least the root of many evils, including war, wealth inequality, systemic theft and a live for today attitude that degrades civilization.

In the development of a documentary a key choice is the person or persons to make the story. A documentary is often simply a book turned into a filmed report. Bob Murphy, a solid economist with a dry wit, and Saifedean Ammous, an intellectual entrepreneur with charisma and verve both crossed my mind. It is interesting that Murphy and Ammous independently have had long form discussions with Jordan Peterson. But in my opinion, the overwhelming choice to base a French documentary on central banking is Dr. Guido Hülsmann. He is among the most proficient Austrian economics scholars working today. He teaches at the University of Angers in France so he is fluent in French. I wrote a review of his magisterial biography of Mises, The Last Knight of Liberalism. A great basis for a documentary would be Hülsmann’s The Ethics of Money Production. The title says it all, it provides the basics about money and central banking and includes the all important message that these practices are immoral. This book was published in 2008 so a new documentary could update the story with coverage of the incredible inflation of the last 15 years that accompanied the great recession and Covid, the emergence of Bitcoin and other crypto currencies, the potential of central bank digital currencies, and the exit of Russia from the global currency system.

Alas, my wife has now cooled on the idea. She has convinced herself again that the topic is too complicated for television. Finally, before some wiseguy comments that this article is also about Bromance and Central Banking, okay I own up to it. But living in France I am interested in anyone who speaks English and is interested in Austrian economics.

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