The Parable of the Cards

"A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain;
And drinking largely sobers us again." — Alexander Pope

Several years ago I published an article that criticized a Nevada bill to mint silver coins. I charged the bill with fraud as a fiat money scheme dressed up in silver.


That article drew an astonishing number of responses—some questioning and intelligent, some appallingly ignorant, and some outright rude. Astonishingly, some of the most ignorant and rude came from people who (I take it) fancy themselves the friends of silver, gold, and sound money. The Internet, it seems, has not made people wiser or more knowledgeable, it has only made propagating ignorance faster and more efficient. As Will Rogers observed, “The trouble with people is not what they don’t know, but that they know so much that just ain’t so.”


No matter how long one studies money, certain fundamental principles remain clear. Chief among those stands this principle, that money must offer value for value, or it will defraud the many and enrich the few. There are, in fact, only two schools of monetary thought. The fiat money school believes that money is merely a social construct, whatever “society” declares money to be. In their view, money in itself is valueless; only artificial social convention gives it value. The value school believes that all money should offer value for value. Money itself must have value in the marketplace, independent of social or government artifice.

Another principle recognised since ancient times by Aristotle (among others) is that unrestricted usury (the taking of interest) is impossible with a sound money system. The fiat system that presently rules us is backed by nothing, of course, but debt. All our money is borrowed into existence, and that single fact determines the entire system and predicts it will inevitably unfold into instability, tyranny, and poverty.


Systems are built of articulated members. What would you think of a mechanic who knew all about carburettors and brakes and air conditioners and transmissions, but had never seen all the parts assembled together into an automobile? Or a chef who had only studied food in cans, but had never prepared a meal? If we only study the members without studying how they fit and work together, we understand only disconnected, unarticulated facts, unrelated to the whole system. We know everything about the parts but nothing about the whole.

Fiat money never appears as an isolated phenomenon. It is not merely a single evil conspiracy to suppress silver and gold, as some seem to think (having drunk too deep at the Internet’s Pierian spring). Seeing only that, they’ve got it all wrong. Rather, fiat money aims always to achieve control over a whole society, indeed, the whole world. It will inevitably enslave a people and transfer all assets into the hands of a few.

Miss this point and you cannot understand fiat money. Like war and death, fiat money always walks hand in hand with debt, usury, income tax, oligarchy, big government, militarism, and, in the end always produces tyranny and impoverishment. Fiat money is not just an isolated enactment, but the jugular vein of a system.

The Parable of the Cards below will illustrate the outcome of borrowing money into existence.


Now hear the parable of the cards.

It came to pass that five men, strangers all, took ship for a distant land. And whilst the ship was in the way, a fierce storm overtook it, and it sank, and all aboard drowned, save the five passengers, who swam to a desert island.

And when they awoke, they traversed the whole island, and found fruit and game in abundance, but very little in the way of entertainment. Wherefore the first stranger, whose name was Everyman, said to his companions, Industry, Finance, and Government, Go to! Truly, we will die of boredom in this place long before starvation gets us. Let us therefore play a game of cards!

And Industry and Finance and Government did smile on Everyman, and rejoiced at this pleasant suggestion. But then sadness overcame them, and their countenances darkened, and Industry said, “Alas, cards have we none.”

Now the fifth stranger, Banker, stood in the coolness of the shadows eavesdropping, and when Industry discovered they had no cards, Banker stepped forward, out of the shadows, and whispered, Let not my brothers be downcast, neither let them fret for want of cards. For behold, said he, pulling a deck of cards from his pocket, See, cards have I in abundance, and I will lend freely, upon execution of certain necessary mortgages, notes, and encumbrances upon all your real and personal property.

And lo! The countenance of Everyman, Industry, Finance, and Government did brighten, and they rejoiced with one another, for they were simple men, and trusted themselves to Banker. For behold, said they, doth he not desire our good, and will he not freely lend us all things, even cards?

Then Banker did lend Everyman, and Industry, and Finance, and Government thirteen cards apiece, but upon this condition, that Everyman and Industry and Government and Finance might borrow the cards for but one hour only, and at the hour’s end each must return to Banker fourteen cards or forfeit. And in return for the thirteen cards loaned to them, every player did execute certain necessary mortgages, notes, and encumbrances upon all their real and personal property.

And Banker had them. And Banker knew it, but Everyman, and Industry, and Finance, and Government had not a clue.

Finance were possessed of fourteen apiece, and with great shew of sadness and brotherly commiseration Banker did dispossess Everyman, and foreclose upon him, and did take his duffle bag, and all his coconut shells, and his flip-flops, and all his clothing, until Everyman stood naked under the sun, as in the day he was born, without a card to his name, and verily, he was out of the game.

Yet were not Government, Industry, and Finance downcast by Everyman’s loss, for in their haste to play cards, they forgot his need, and heeded not the warning of his downfall. So they clamoured to Banker, Give us cards again, that we may play, and make merry, and while away our time in this desert place.

And Banker came close, and said, Brothers, gladly will I lend again, only give me mortgages, notes, and encumbrances upon all your real and personal property. And they did execute the same. And Banker did lend seventeen cards to Industry, and to Finance, and to Government, demanding at the hour’s end the return of eighteen cards apiece. And lo, they did play, and when the game was over, alas, Industry had but fifteen cards, and Government and Finance had eighteen.

And so Banker did foreclose upon Industry, and did take his duffle bag, and his pocket knife wherewith he made clever things for his brothers, and his sandals, and all his clothing, until Industry stood naked under the sun, as in the day he was born, without a card to his name, and verily, he, too, was out of the game, and busted clean flat.

And Government and Finance must play yet again, and Banker must lend to them, and he did, and they did, and Finance met the same fate as Everyman, and Industry, and they gathered themselves together, naked and wretched, under a palm tree, watching Banker and Government play the last hand. And lo, Banker did win, and took from Government all he owned.

Then Government joined Everyman and Industry and Finance, naked under the palm tree, and they lamented the low estate whereunto their borrowing had brought them, and wot not what next to do.

Then Government asked, Brothers, why sit we here idle? For although we be poor, mayhap have we something left we may offer as collateral, and yet play cards again. And the others said, Yea, and Amen, what else have we?

And they approached Banker right humbly, and gat them down on their knees, and entreated him, saying, O Banker, we have nothing left for collateral, but lo! in the future we will once again have stuff, and between now and then we will have stuff, and we will gladly execute in your favour mortgages, notes, and encumbrances on all our future stuff, but only lend us cards, for the boredom of this place surpasseth all bearing, and our souls are like to expire within us if we cannot play cards, and what availeth us life or liberty without cards?

And Banker smiled a great smile, and welcomed this offer, and did cheerfully and quickly offer for their signature mortgages, notes, and encumbrances on all their future stuff, and they did sign. And Banker dealt out cards, and again they played. And in the course of time and cards, Banker did own all the future stuff of Everyman and Industry and Government and Finance. Verily, Banker did own it all, all their goods and their lands and their labours, and their children’s labours, and their children’s children’s labours, world without end. And Banker waxed fat.

And Everyman and Industry and Finance and Government were glad, and did honour to Banker, and rejoiced to serve him, for verily they loved playing cards, and unless they served him, how else could they get cards?

Here endeth the Parable of the Cards.

Originally published May 2003