Actually, why CAN’T I copy money?

Amidst all of the controversy over copyright and censorship, I think it’s important to look at the arguments FOR copyright–for example breaking down this argument for SOPA/PIPA:

…99% of the world does not have the time, the inclination, or the technological capacity to counterfeit money. By creating those techniques, raising the barrier to “sharing the government’s money”, the anti-copying instruments that are enforceable around the world, is that “censorship?”

Framed in that way, we see a different view of the debate.

Is it “censorship” if the US government undertakes action with allies to shut down printing presses that are printing US money or any other country’s money? Why is that not censorship but “obviously” about a defensible property right that cannot be shared?  Such questions change the debate and make us view it from a different angle.

I would like to counter this pro-PIPA/SOPA argument at its very root–the “‘obviously’ defensible property right that cannot be shared.” Actually , why CAN’T I copy money? The Federal Reserve is doing it–Ben Bernanke is certainly doing it! I came across an interesting article from the Dollar Vigilante today:

[In response to an article] “Feds Seek $7 million in Privately Made Liberty Dollars“.

The news story is only about 10 paragraphs long yet it has dozens of logical absurdities.  Even in the Headline is one.
According to the headline, part of the reason they want to seize these dollars is because they are “privately made”?  Yes, we wouldn’t want to compete with the private Federal Reserve banking cartel!

And I know the Constitution is passé in the US, nowadays, but how in the world can this man be in trouble for making silver coins?  The constitution states:

No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts

He is in trouble because he is making currency out of gold or silver yet, the Federal Reserve, another private organization, is not doing anything wrong by making paper currency NOT backed by gold and silver coin?

Apparently, the thing they “got him on” was the following:

Federal prosecutors successfully argued that von NotHaus was, in fact, trying to pass off the silver coins as U.S. currency. Coming in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50, the Liberty Dollars also featured a dollar sign, the word “dollar” and the motto “Trust in God,” similar to the “In God We Trust” that appears on U.S. coins.

Ignoring the fact that the dollar sign was originally used for Spanish and Mexican pesos and was stolen by the US to use for its dollars and the fact that the word dollar actually comes from the word thaler which was a silver coin minted in Bohemia, according to the Feds, he was trying to pass off coins, made of silver, worth more than $35/ounce, as quarters, which are now made from 92% copper and 8% nickel, and worth $0.06 in metal value.

Trying to “maintain” the right to counterfeit money is wrong–for any economy, government, or individual. I believe the same for any censorship. According to Steven Saville of The Speculative Investor:

Take the example of monetary inflation (creating new money out of nothing). Monetary inflation is institutionalised counterfeiting, which means it is a form of theft. Although it is (or at least should be) intuitively obvious that the economy could never, under any circumstances whatsoever, benefit from an increase in the amount of theft, it is unlikely that someone without a grounding in Austrian economics would be capable of understanding or explaining, in practical terms, exactly why this is so. After all, during a financial crisis it can seem as if a shortage of money is a large part of the problem and that ‘greasing the wheels’ with more money is just what’s needed to get us through the rough patch.

To fully appreciate why monetary inflation is always a practical problem rather than just an ethical problem, you have to understand the relationship between money-supply changes and the boom-bust cycle (“Austrian Business Cycle Theory”). More specifically, you have to understand that the most important adverse effect of monetary inflation is not the reduction in the purchasing power of money that it eventually leads to, but the distortion it causes in relative prices. These relative price distortions lead to widespread mal-investment and the large-scale destruction of wealth. Think of how much wealth was ultimately destroyed by the monetary-inflation-fueled boom in US residential real estate. The reduction in the dollar’s purchasing power is trivial in comparison.

Maybe the economy would benefit from all of us making our own money, just to take the “‘obviously’ defensible property right” away from the one percent holding it. Any censorship is not only wrong, but harmful.

Final food for thought–watch this video about the surprising history of copyright.


11 thoughts on “Actually, why CAN’T I copy money?

  1. I think that if the market were flooded with independent currencies we’d have serious economy issues.

    And if that was a legitimate picture of the ‘Liberty Dollars’ on The Swash site, then it definitely resembles American coinage.

    • I think that the market being controlled by an unconstitutional fiat currency is the reason we ALREADY have “serious economy issues” 😉 Every single fiat currency throughout all of history has eventually returned to zero value–if everyone were printing their own money it would just get there more quickly and have a more painless recovery. (No hard feelings if you disagree though~!)

  2. Thanks for putting together informative post. It certainly seems to be a controversial topic and which a great many of us are under informed – myself included. I recently heard an interview with an American law professor who is writing a book on the meaning and history of money – apparently this is a topic that hasn’t been given much scholarly attention.

    Though Professor Desan doesn’t deal with the matters raised here, given your interest in the topic, you might consider giving a listen to the February 17 episode of Electric Politics. I’d be interested to hear your take on what Desan and George Kenney talk about.

  3. Pingback: Copy Paste? | ekhlami

  4. Dear Mummy Brown Paint,
    Thanks for the link to my post and using it for the presentation. I am really pleased that someone found it useful, even if they disagreed. 🙂 The key issue was not really SOPA or PIPA, or ACTA (I have blogged about that elsewhere as you have pointed out correctly. The issue was about framing the arguments.
    One point I would make is that copying money *could* be a copyright infringement if it has copyright. There are artists who receive small payments for their work in designing the currency, which in itself is a fascinating field, so there are some copyright issues. However, the real issue around copying money is not the copying (which for some countries is legal) per se, rather it is the *use* of the copied money. For example, I can photocopy a dollar so long as I enlarge it and make it not appear to be legal tender. Were I to copy a US dollar for use, that would fraud. I would be trying to pass off my dollar as a real dollar. Thus, the crime would be fraud rather than copyright infringement or censorship.
    Thanks again for the cool blog post and I am glad my post proved to be of interest and use.

    • Hello Lawrence!
      Thanks for your reply–I found your article very interesting, and certainly wasn’t arguing against your main point at all. I quite agree that framing arguements is important. I am just presenting the idea that since the US dollor is un-constitutional, and as such is already fraudful. The important counterpoint to “framing an arguement” is knowing details that disagree with your framework.
      Again, thanks for the article!

      • Hey, thanks for the reply. I misread your post. Sorry. I see the point now. On the dollar constitutionality issue, is that viable? By that I mean the power of government to create money is not going to change. Also, we will need a currency to avoid having to trade in cows or buckskin (again). Moreover, if we have a different money, instead of dollars, the government will still have power to taxe and will use its seigniorage.

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