Blogs: Ralph J. Benko
One of the themes for the Akan gold counterweights is the electric mudfish.
Image courtesy of AfricanMasks.info
Spark From The Deep by William Turkel has this to say about the fish upon which this counterweight is modeled:
The electric catfish also played an important role in the west African kingdom of Benin, which flourished in what is now southern Nigeria between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries CE. Animals were frequently depicted in the sculpture of Benin, where they were used to represent the overlapping boundaries of the human, nonhuman, and supernatural. The "mudfish" had a prominent part in this iconography. The attributes of different African catfish were combined into a chimera or composite that could variously discharge electric shocks, sting with venomous spines, and breathe and "walk" on land. In its latter capacity it served to exemplify utility to humankind. The "mudfish" is the freshest, most robust and most delicious of all fish and is considered very attractive and desirable," the anthropologist Paula Ben-Amos wrote. "It represents prosperity, peace, well-being and fertility through its association with the water, the realm of the sea go, Olokun." Some catfish aestivate in the mud of dry streams, breathing air until the rains seem to bring them back to life. This aspect of the mudfish made it a symbol of power and transformation.
One need not lean on superstitious or pre-modern thought to appreciate how apt was the use of the image of a mudfish to serve as the model of a counterweight for gold. History shows that the gold standard, too, recurrently has brought prosperity, peace, and well-being to humanity.
Gold, empirically, has done so better than any other currency systems tried from time to time. And, to wax slightly rhapsodic, there are many signs that the gold standard's own period of estivation now may be coming to an end.
The scale counterweights for measuring gold from the Ashanti of Africa are beautiful artifacts. This writer possesses a number of them.
Image courtesy of Africard.ch
The Wikipedia describes these weights this way:
Akan goldweights were used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa, particularly for weighing gold dust which was currency until replaced by paper money and coins. They are referred to locally as mrammou and the weights are made of brass and not gold. Used to weigh gold and merchandise, at first glance the goldweights look like miniature models of everyday objects. Based on the Islamic weight system, each weight had a known measurement. This provided merchants with secure and fair-trade arrangements with one another. The status of a man increased significantly if he owned a complete set of weights. Complete small sets of weights were gifts to newly wedded men. This insured that he would be able to enter the merchant trade respectably and successfully. Beyond their practical application, the weights are miniature representations of West African culture items such as adinkra symbols, plants, animals and people.
Scholars use the weights, and the oral traditions behind the weights, to understand aspects of Akan culture that otherwise may have been lost. The weights represent stories, riddles, and code of conducts that helped guide Akan peoples in the ways they live their lives. Central to Akan culture is the concern for equality and justice; it is rich in oral histories on this subject. Many weights symbolize significant and well-known stories. The weights were part of the Akan’s cultural reinforcement, expressing personal behaviour codes, beliefs, and values in a medium that was assembled by many people.
Anthony Appiah describes how his mother, who collected goldweights, was visited by Muslim Hausa traders from the north. The goldweights they brought were "sold by people who had no use for them any more, now that paper and coin had replaced gold-dust as currency. And as she collected them, she heard more and more of the folklore that went with them; the proverbs that every figurative gold-weight elicited; the folk-tales, Ananseasem, that the proverbs evoked." Appiah also heard these Ananseasem, Anansi stories, from his father, and writes: "Between his stories and the cultural messages that came with the gold-weights, we gathered the sort of sense of a cultural tradition that comes from growing up in it. For us it was not Asante tradition but the webwork of our lives."
There are a number of parallels between Akan goldweights and the seals used in Harappa. Both artifacts stabilized and secured regional and local trade between peoples, while they took on further meaning beyond their practical uses.
Given the power of culture over politics, even in a modernistic utilitarian age such as ours the propensity for gold and its artifacts to take on "further meaning beyond their practical uses" can be said to represent a modest additional factor in favor of the gold standard. "Central to Akan culture is the concern for equality and justice." So, too, should these be central to ours.
The Grover Cleveland Library's website features both President Cleveland's progressive nature...
Campaign Poster, 1888, for Cleveland-Thurman ticket,
courtesy of Wikipedia
... and his confident support for the gold standard.
Grover Cleveland, a progressive in the truest sense of the word.... was the last of the Jeffersonian presidents (1885-1889, 1893-1897). Before that, as Mayor of Buffalo, he helped fight the corrupt political machine, or “ring” as it was then known, and its patronage and pork barrel politics. In a campaign speech, he said, “It is a good thing for the people now and then to rise up and let the office holders know that they are responsible to the masses.” Cleveland was so successful fighting the machine that he was elected Governor of New York in 1882. Cleveland’s Jeffersonian philosophy as President was described by historian John V. Denson:
Cleveland stood for sound money and the gold standard, and he was opposed to the protective tariff. He advocated the increased respect and sovereignty of the States as a check on the power of the central government. Cleveland generally supported the ideas of a limited federal government and the strict construction of the constitution, a free-market economy, and the separation of banking from government.
Certain prominent, doctrinaire, left-leaning public intellectuals show relentless hostility to the gold standard. That said, and as President Cleveland demonstrates, there is no inherent tension between progressive political ideals and the gold standard.
Indeed, the gold standard's ability to foment a climate of equitable prosperity may be as crucial to the effectiveness of social democrats as it is to classical liberal republicans. It is a policy option by nature as appealing to Democrats as to Republicans.
As Cleveland himself once said, "I would rather the man who presents something for my consideration subject me to a zephyr of truth and a gentle breeze of responsibility rather than blow me down with a curtain of hot wind."
Hillary Clinton is a Democratic Party titan, co-chair of a powerhouse philanthropy, former Secretary of State and United States Senator, and former FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States), among other things. It is interesting that, in 1999, while First Lady, Mrs. Clinton made some Remarks at the Sorbonne referencing the world monetary system.
Secretary Clinton courtesy of Wikipedia
She reportedly stated that
“We have lived with the benefits, for 50 years now, of the agreements that were made at the end of WWII, coming out of Bretton Woods to create new financial architectures. Today, we have outlived the usefulness of that particular set of arrangements. And we now have to face up to creating a new architecture that will help us tackle runaway global capitalism’s worst effects; ensure social safety nets for the most vulnerable; address the debt burden that is crushing many of our poorest nations.”
These are remarks atypical for a First Lady.
They clearly signal a keen intellect -- implicitly referencing the world monetary and financial system's importance for the economy. They candidly present her commitment to social democracy.
They elide the fact that while Bretton Woods' World Bank and IMF persist, its fundamental architecture of a gold-exchange standard unilaterally was abrogated by the United States on August 15, 1971.
More to the point, while pointing to noble objectives they do not address what "new architecture" she might have in mind. They are just the opening for a conversation that gold standard proponents, should she resume her public career, very much should welcome.
Gold Dinar with image of standing Caliph, ca. 695 AD
Courtesy of the British Museum
Financier and author James G. Rickards wrote a 2012 best selling book, Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis. Politico's Mike Allen described it as “One of the most urgent books of the fall.” Rickards wrote:
“[T]he lab’s Warfare Analysis Laboratory, [is] one of the leading venues for war games and strategic planning in the country. … It was for this purpose, the conduct of a war game sponsored by the Pentagon, that about sixty experts from the military, intelligence, and academic communities arrived at APL on a rainy morning in the late winter of 2009. … [T[he only weapons allowed would be financial — currencies, stocks, bonds, and derivatives. The Pentagon was about to launch a global financial war using currencies and capital markets instead of ships and planes?”
Rickards' projected currency war would not be the first such in history.
As part of his policy to unify the various regions under Islamic rule, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (685-705CE) introduced the first Umayyad gold coins at a time of discord between the Umayyads and Byzantines over the merits of Islam and Christianity. The early coins were struck either in 691 or 692; the Byzantine emperor was angry and refused to accept the new Arab gold currency, renewing the war between the Arabs and the Byzantines.
The new Islamic currency that was first coin to carry an Arabic inscription.... On... the reverse, the Byzantine cross was replaced by a column placed on three steps topped with a sphere. In the margin surrounding the design the testimony of Islam was written in Arabic: "In the name of God, there is no deity but God; He is One; Muhammad is the messenger of God."
The Byzantine emperor Justinian II responded to this challenge by striking a new solidus with the head of Christ on the obverse and on the reverse an image of himself robed and holding a cross.
Caliph Abd al-Malik's response was to issue a new dinar in 693. ... Once more, the Byzantine emperor responded by striking a new coin similar to that of the Arabs, which greatly displeased Abd al-Malik. ... After he introduced this coin, Abd al-Malik issued a decree making it the only currency to be used throughout Umayyad lands. All remaining Byzantine and Arab-Byzantine pieces were to be handed to the treasury, to be melted down and re-struck. Those who did not comply faced the death penalty.
"[T]he Byzantine emperor was angry and refused to accept the new Arab gold currency, renewing the war between the Arabs and the Byzantines." History shows that the first actual currency war took place over a thousand years ago. Will there ever be another?
Only time will tell.
BY RALPH J. BENKO: