The Rise of the Barter Economy
by Peter Schiff
Imagine a day when you go to buy a quart of milk, ask the price, and the cashier says, “that’ll be a tenth ounce silver.” As the US dollar’s decline accelerates, several efforts around the country are trying to make this vision a reality.
Historically, paying for items in silver or gold was actually quite common. We happen to live in an unusual time and place where generations have grown up trading exclusively in paper. While my parents still used dimes made of silver, we have now gone several decades with no precious metals in any of our official coinage. But this system of money by government fiat is unsustainable.
While the practice of bartering precious metals directly for goods and services has continued on a small-scale over the last few decades, the 2000s saw the beginning of organized efforts to revive gold and silver as money.
THE LIBERTY DOLLAR
One such effort was spearheaded by an eccentric mintmaster from Hawaii named Bernard Von Nothaus. He called his project the Liberty Dollar, and it centered on privately minted gold and silver rounds as well as deposit certificates for precious metals held in his firm’s vaults.
I had many reservations about how the project was implemented – coins were minted with a fixed US dollar amount at which they were supposed to circulate, the dollar amount was well above the spot price of the metal, and authorized “distributors” were allowed to pocket the difference (which often resulted in buyers paying far higher prices for their gold than what they would have paid had they simply bought, say, Canadian Maple Leafs instead) – but I believe Nothaus’ idea was a good one, even if the product was over-priced. Tellingly, despite the obvious flaws, public participation grew steadily from 1998 until 2007, when federal agents raided the Liberty Dollar’s offices on trumped-up charges of counterfeiting.
Really, they were charging him with competing with the US dollar’s monopoly privileges by offering a better product. It’s important to note that the case against Nothaus was built around his coins looking similar to official US coinage (though no one actually mistook Liberty Dollars for US currency), and not around encouraging people to use precious metals as circulating money.