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The Mystery of Banking (Large Print Edition) Paperback – Large Print, January 1, 2010
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Q - So should you buy this book?
A - Yes.
Q - But really, I wasn't a finance major; who should buy this book?
A - Anyone who hasn't read it, but is capable of doing so. You do not need to be versed in finance or macroeconomics. Murray will teach the necessary economics along the way, or point you to related sources for further understanding when necessary. (Side note - for those who are truly unfamiliar with "Austrian" theory or would like a wonderful primer on economics, I can think of no better place to start than Henry Hazlitt's timeless classic "Economics in One Lesson".) As far financial literacy goes, understanding this book would deal quite a blow to many who may think of themselves as so called financial experts. For how could one truly be a financial expert, but yet have no real understanding of money whatsoever.
Q - What will you learn?
A - Why money in itself is so important. Why the current central banking system is so harmful to those of us not employed on Wall Street, at the Fed, or in the upper echelon of the Washington élite. What fractional reserve banking is, how it works, and why it couldn't exist in a truly free market. You will also learn a great deal of the history of banking in the United States (as well as Great Britain), and will quickly see the utter fallacy in criticisms of Austrian Business Cycle theory (don't worry if you don't know what this is) on grounds that attempt to argue that monetary inflation couldn't have caused nineteenth century business cycles, as obviously the Fed didn't exist yet.
Q - Is this really just a long drawn case for the Gold Standard?
A - Some reviewers thought so. I would say that interpretation fails to see a thing for what it is, and is a 10 foot view of 30,000 foot subject. To paraphrase Albert J. Nock, that understanding implies literacy without the true ability to read. Without making the whole case here, I would simply state that the real point centers on the evils of government control of money and interference in the financial system, and more directly the evils of fiat government money not backed by production. Assuming this simply was an argument for the gold standard on its face, this still wouldn't be a real knock against the book. Even simply explaining the gold standard, requires some thorough treatment, as the term "gold standard" used by Steve Forbes is very different from the system Ron Paul would be referencing by the same (or similar) terminology. Now, all that being said, gold and silver are the historical examples we have of how the government's ability to inflate can be severely limited or controlled. (Debasing metal doesn't offer the ability to create trillions from thin air). Does that mean money would have to be gold in a truly free market? Nope.
Murray Rothbard is plain spoken, easy to understand, and most importantly a true polymath genius. He takes what should be an absolutely powder dry subject, and makes it not only understandable, but interesting. I always shiver a bit when I read book reviews with statements along the line of "this should be required reading for students, voters, citizens, etc.", yet it is difficult to overemphasize the true importance of the ramifications of this subject. A nefarious magic trick has been played on most of the world to convince us that bank notes are money, and do not have to be backed by anything other than the full faith in credit of the central government. Wealth requires production, you can't spend your way to riches, and microeconomics is economics. We have paid, and will continue to pay a burdensome price for our failure to understand the mystery of banking.
One deficiency is the books sole focus on American finance ( the Fed ). I would have liked an analysis of the disastrous developments of the Euro zone, in particular the enormous unemployment level and the accompanying destruction of savings. Also, the book could be more convincing if graphical demonstrations of various statistics would have been used.
Reading the book, I became interested in the so-called Austrian school of economics, whch is associated with names like Mises and Hayek. Professor Rothbard is the outstanding modern representative of this school, which apparently tries to develop economic theory from a set of basic and simple axioms, and build around it. The difference to most current approaches seems to me that it is axiomatic, and therefore similar in ansatz to Newtons mechanics, while the non-axiomatic approaches are like the Ptolemaic approach of fitting data to some observations.The difference is that Newtons theory applies to any planetary and any solar system, even to galaxies, whereas Ptolemaic epicycles fit well the movement of just one body; any other body must be fitted anew. The mainstream of economists seem to follow the Ptolemean procedure, and every decade or so we get a new set of gurus with a new aspect to pop up, and a new set of proposed fittings. ( like the sudden plethora of money supplys M1, M2, M3,.. ). You may disagree with some axioms and theorems of Rothbard, but at least there you have a hard logical base for argument.