Book review

The Web of Debt

Ellen Hodgson Brown, J.D. Third Millenium Press, 2007 ISBN 978 0 9795608 0 4

Subtitled "The Shocking Truth About Our Money System – The Sleight of Hand That Has Trapped Us in Debt And How We Can Break Free", this book details just that. It can be highly recommended to sceptics of the need for money reform.

It starts by describing how the real-life story of the USA and the world parallels the story of ‘the Wonderful Wizard of Oz’’, L Frank Baum’s allegory published in 1900 with the intention of waking people up to the reality of the money-power controlling them (but slightly modified in the 1939 film of it). Nearly all of its 47 short chapters are prefaced by quotes from this tale.

Written in plain English for the ‘uninitiated’, it explains technical terms in footnotes as they arise, and is extensively referenced. It details meticulously the ongoing scheming, right from its inception, to subvert the USA to relinquish Congress’s power to ‘coin money’ to the private banks by means of the ‘fractional reserve’, and the results of this. It refers back to Colonial times and the fight against the Bank of England-inspired prohibition by Britain of the very successful use of Colonial Government-issued paper currency – which directly lead to the War of Independence; and out to the international dealings, and other countries’ experiences.

Ellen covers a vast field of related issues: Lincoln’s successful ‘Greenbacks’ and the Southern states’ over-use of government-issued paper in the civil war, the gambling on stocks, hedge funds, derivatives and foreign currency exchanges, ‘bear raids’ and ‘short sales’, etc.; and the deliberate promotion of gold as a base for a money supply, as justification of the ‘fractional reserve’ system we ‘enjoy’.

She looks at the issue of usury, and concludes that interest-charging is in itself unobjectionable, if at modest rates, but that when charged on loans of money created out of nothing, as banks do, it is disastrous in its consequences, and has by now built up such debts that it is on the point of collapsing the entire system – as is now coming to be recognised by increasing numbers of informed commentators. She notes that ‘by 2006, combined personal, corporate and federal debt in the United States had reached a staggering 44 trillion dollars – four times the collective national income, or $147,312 for every man, woman and child in the country. The United States is legally bankrupt ...’

The various experiments with alternative/local currencies are also examined in some detail, and their benefits and limitations expounded. Muslim efforts to create an interest-free system are also described.

She then considers alternatives for national currency, and possible and existing arrangements for international trade, with or without an international currency. She rightly dismisses suggestions for using gold as either currency, or a base for one, concluding that a ‘fiat currency’ based on the productive capacity of the community it serves and issued by a public body answerable to that community is the best form of money. She then describes various ideas for reform based on this idea.

This is the part of the book I found most controversial, partly because she appears to envisage the government continuously issuing new currency, in part by spending and in part by lending at interest, arguing that the interest income so gained could replace taxation – and thinks ‘Public borrowing is the natural determinant of monetary growth’ ! – she does not envisage the eventual existence of a perpetually circulating medium of exchange, with government income being based on user-fees, rent, resource and environmental taxes used both for revenue-gathering and for their direct effect on behaviour and resource-use, and with very little need or inclination to borrow. – something which was regarded as a last resort in my childhood!

She uncritically accepts as valid the official government objections to James Robertson’s proposal for Creating New Money, since she appears to envisage a continuing need for extensive use of borrowing.

She sums up: ‘The pieces of the monetary puzzle have been concealed by layers of deception built up over 400 years, and it has taken some time to unravel them; ... The global web has been spun from a string of frauds, deceits and sleights of hand, including ...’ [19 headings].

She sees the need for widespread awareness of the need for reform to build sufficient pressure on the legislature to force it through against the lobbying/bribing/
funding power of the banks and corporations and their control of the media, and sees the Internet as the main hope of generating it, given this corporate grip on other media.

She does not address the issue of climate-change, and only touches on ‘peak oil’ as one of the looming causes of the breakdown of the financial system. The potential effects of introducing Citizens’ Incomes are not considered.

However, this is perhaps unfair comment on a book which covers so much, in so much detail and is so meticulously referenced. It is to be highly recommended to all sceptics, or simply the uninformed, on the need for money reform. Read it; then join in the debate on what is the best way to reform, and just how to introduce it!

– Brian Leslie