Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Monetary Reformer's Interpretation

of The Lord of the Rings

by Richard C Cook (May 24 2007)

The film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, produced by Peter Jackson of New Zealand, ranked with Star Wars as one of the most popular cinematic events of all time. The strength of its appeal derived perhaps from its faithfulness to the letter and spirit of J R R Tolkien's literary masterpiece.

Not the least of the fascination of both the books and their cinematic depiction was the irony whereby the horrendous evil of the disembodied eye of Sauron, aided by the traitorous wizard Saruman and the legions of cruel and hideous orcs, threatened to destroy Middle Earth, while the task of averting catastrophe lay with a gentle hobbit bearing to the demon's lair a ridiculously small token of power, a single golden ring. Of course men and hobbits had helpers, including the angel-like elves, plus the enlightened wizard Gandalf, ever-loyal to the forces of light and good.

Tolkien never said what exactly the story was supposed to mean. But such ambiguity is expected in great symbolic art. It does not detract from the validity of the genre that collects its force from transmitting through symbols the psychic energy and racial memories from what Jung called the collective unconscious.

Two generations of students and scholars have been guessing at the meaning. Filmmaker Jackson and his colleagues had too much integrity to try to explain it, except in general terms, where so many others had speculated. Besides, the meaning of art can often be understood with the heart and soul, even where the mind draws a blank.

Regardless, everyone senses that The Lord of the Rings is a parable of our times, where the twin forces of creativity and destruction are both so powerful and where the jury is still out over whether we can harness the forces of science and technology for human good or whether we will destroy ourselves through warfare, disease, or some ecological catastrophe like global warming.

There have been countless predictions of worldwide catastrophe in recent decades. Many believe that today's wars in the Middle East prefigure an Armageddon, nuclear or otherwise. Whether or not The Lord of the Rings has parallels in the events of years past or today, it has secured its own place in the doom-and-gloom literature of our age.

One thing that is clear about The Lord of the Rings is that the virtues most highly prized are loyalty among companions and courage in the face of death. Time and again the cause seems lost. Time and again men, wizards, elves, dwarves, and hobbits must pluck up their courage and choose to move forward in the face of almost certain defeat. Time and again fate intervenes at the last possible moment, until Frodo succeeds in passing the final test and the evil ring is swallowed up in the cauldrons of fire deep within Mount Doom.

Then, deprived of its minuscule but never-explained linchpin of power, the entire world of evil instantly self-destructs and Middle Earth is saved. We see at the end that life at its core is good and evil merely a shadow.

I am a monetary reformer, so I will assert my author's prerogative, as have so many others, of putting forth a theory of "what it means", leaving the reader to decide whether my interpretation is plausible or not. My interpretation of The Lord of the Rings may recall that many believed L Frank Baum's masterpiece The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900 was a monetary parable.

According to this interpretation, the evil spell over Oz symbolized the bankers' control of gold (measured in ounces = oz) which they abused to constrict the currency during the depression of the 1890s when many farmers and merchants were forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy.

The Cowardly Lion was viewed as representing William Jennings Bryan. He had made his renowned speech at the 1896 Democratic national convention in Chicago where he exclaimed, "You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold!" But he was criticized for doing little of a practical nature to bring about the progressive monetary reform agenda of the time.

Later, Baum's book was made into the most famous motion picture of all time, The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland. The film appeared in 1939 at the end of the Great Depression which was another American tragedy with monetary causes. Due to lack of a circulating medium of exchange, men stood in soup lines unable to find work while the factories that might have employed them had shut down.

Today people are starting to realize that again we have an economy in crisis and that again the causes are monetary. We have stagnating employee incomes, rapidly increasing control of wealth by the very rich, a middle class in decline, growing poverty, collapse of our manufacturing job base, a bursting housing bubble, resurgent commodity inflation, soaring but shaky stock prices, and capital markets dominated by predatory equity and hedge funds. Increasingly, China and other foreign nations are purchasing US business assets.

It's all capped by a gigantic private and public debt burden that is growing exponentially. Debt is threatening to bring the entire system down in a crash that not only could exceed the Great Depression but has been likened to the downfall of another debt-ridden behemoth - the Roman Empire. Every day it becomes more clear that the trouble stems from a rotten financial system that enriches the financier elite at the expense of everyone else.

The crisis has been brewing for decades. After the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gained enough control over money and credit for the US to recover, but he never carried out full-scale monetary reform. From the 1950s on, the banking system maneuvered to tear itself away from the controls - and low interest rates -imposed on it by FDR's New Deal. What we have today is the result of that long-term victory of the bankers over the producing economy.

A key event was the 1979 to 1983 recession when the Federal Reserve crashed the economy with interest rates over twenty percent and wrecked our public and private infrastructure.

By the end of the decade of the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations had left us with a brief recovery ending in another recession, an unregulated financial sector, destruction of the savings and loan industry, the era of junk bonds and leveraged buyouts, and the anemic "service" economy which continues today.

The economic story of the Clinton administration which came next was largely one of enormous foreign investment and the rise and collapse of the bubble. Finally, we have the George W Bush economy and the possible death-knell of economic democracy in the United States.

Throughout these disasters, we should be looking hard for the footprints and fingerprints of the Federal Reserve which has largely been the creature of the private financial interests since it was created in 1913. It was then that the US Congress ceded its constitutional authority to "coin money and regulate the value thereof" to the private financiers who are the real power behind the monetary throne.

In fact the whole system of institutionalized debt oppression may be deeply unconstitutional. The preamble to our Constitution stipulates a system of law that will "promote the general welfare". Banking laws that have the opposite effect of promoting the benefit of the few over the well-being of the many should be subject to court review.

So should the presumed authority of the Federal Reserve to destroy property and income values through interest rate policies that enhance bank profits while disrupting commercial activities. Interest rate increases carried out by the Federal Reserve are often implemented to fight the inflation originally created by financier investment bubbles. This is what happened with the housing bubble when the last unlucky home purchaser to hold property before the Fed pulled out the carpet from under the economy was the one stuck with an overpriced asset and an unpayable mortgage.

Moreover, the fifth and fourteenth amendments provide that neither the federal government nor the states may deprive a person of "life, liberty, or property without due process of law". This language should also prompt the courts to review legislation that undermines economic democracy, makes it impossible for much of our population to earn a decent living, and subjects debtors to unreasonable conditions to declare bankruptcy. The provision in the 2005 bankruptcy "reform" legislation that makes it impossible ever to write off student loan debt, for example, should be declared unconstitutional.

We are now paying the price of neglect as much of our population sinks toward the status of what the Roman Empire institutionalized as debt slavery. We are still looking for a William Jennings Bryan to declare that mankind shall not be destroyed by being cast into the abyss of debt. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong places. Maybe the one we should be seeking is a hobbit.

Here's how I see today's crisis reflected in The Lord of the Rings:

The evil disembodied all-seeing eye of Sauron: Whatever devils sit atop and rule the international financial system which is profiting from so much economic and financial chaos.

Mordor, the realm of Sauron: The international banking and financial system in all its aspects and the world of war, oppression, and economic ruin it has created over the last century, when hundreds of millions have been slain through useless wars and upheavals over power, ideology, money, and control of resources.

The ring of power: The ability of credit to grow exponentially at compound interest, aided over time by fractional reserve banking, so that debt now threatens to devour the entire world of the producing economy.

Mount Doom, where the Dark Lord's ring of power was forged: Any bank, brokerage house, or other financial institution where money is lent at usury.

Sauron's ally, the evil wizard Saruman: The talented and highly-educated economists, scholars, and journalists who have sold themselves over the past several generations in the service of the monetary elite.

Isengard, the tower where Saruman resided: The economics departments of many universities, the business and editorial sections of most major newspapers, and the many think tanks which favor and further the dominance of the monetary overseers.

The orcs: The foot soldiers who have sold themselves to perpetrate and enforce the power of the monetary controllers, including some of the current leaders of the United States government.

The world of men: The world of men.

King Aragorn: Unique ability of a man, through self-sacrifice, to act in human life as an impartial channel for good.

The dwarves working as miners and craftsmen in the mountains: The owners, managers, and employees of legitimate businesses, the cream of whose labor is skimmed by usury finance.

The elves: The artists and poets of the world who behold, dumbfounded, man's inhumanity to man through financial oppression.

Gandalf: The small number of enlightened people who have helped mankind evolve toward a higher monetary vision, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and C H Douglas (1879-1952), the Scottish founder of the Social Credit monetary reform movement.

The hobbits: The ordinary, unknown people (us!) who just want to live and let live and who have guessed the secret of the ring of compound interest and fractional reserve banking. They realize that once the ring is dropped into the fire of understanding the oppressive system that is destroying mankind will collapse, allowing a new age of humanity to begin.

In making these comparisons I realize that when Tolkien sat down to write he did not necessarily set out to call the world banking system on the carpet. In fact his own father was a banker. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1892 where his family was living because his father Arthur was engaged in starting a branch for the home bank headquartered in London.

Still, Britain has been home to a monetary reform movement for a long time. One early figure was the writer G K Chesterton, whose brother A K published a magazine named "Candour" to which Tolkien subscribed. According to Stephen Goodson, a South African monetary reformer who inherited Tolkien's copies of "Candour" from a relative, Tolkien had underlined the following passage in red:

"There should only be one source of money: one fountainhead from which flows the nation's blood to vitalize commerce and industry, ensure economic equity and justice and safeguard the welfare of the people ... In other words, it has always been and still is our contention that the prerogative of creating and issuing the money of the nation should be restored to the State".

Tolkien was a sensitive man. As a poet and writer he was attuned to the enormous clash of forces which so often figured in twentieth century history. There has been virtually non-stop war on a worldwide scale since 1914 as nations and ideologies have fought for dominance. But embedded within this history is a deeper struggle for human freedom within all ideological systems where individuals have tried to be true to themselves in the face of the overwhelming organized might that would destroy them.

In my opinion, it is the conflict between economic democracy on the one hand and the domination of worldwide usury finance enforced by political power on the other that most reflects the struggle for human freedom today and that will determine the survival of any human civilization that is worth having.

Perhaps the recurring clash of the forces of individual freedom versus organized repression also had some bearing on producing the psychic atmosphere which became through Tolkien and Peter Jackson an epic of men, dwarves, elves, wizards, hobbits, and demons.

Richard C Cook is the author of We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (2009) and Challenger Revealed: An Insider's Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age (2007). He is a Washington, DC-based writer and consultant who, in addition to NASA, taught history and worked in the US Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House and spent 21 years with the US Treasury Department. His website is at (this URL may no longer be available)

Bill Totten


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