'The Silver Bomb' Bombs

A gratuitous book review of ‘The Silver Bomb: The End of Paper Wealth is Upon Us’ by Michael MacDonald and Christopher Whitestone (An independently published book, USA, 2012).
This self-inflicted chrissy prezzie arrived (from the UK but not from Amazon) in time to get read over the holidays when, in order to stay married, I didn’t dare leave home to go to my hide-out to get something worthwhile accomplished.  Anyway, as Jd’A has been fickle, the dust is building up again in the library there, and the weather down under here was a pleasant 26 degrees Celsius on Christmas morning and the view of the Poinciana tree covered in bright red blooms over its dark green foliage was stunning from the back deck at home, so that is where I parked myself to deal with this book. What a disappointment!

I should have known it would be, once I noticed that it was independently, or self- published, as there are usually valid reasons why a commercial publisher won’t touch certain manuscripts. At least the book was apparently professionally copy edited, so the prose is grammatical and there are no typos. The page layout is somewhat quirkily idiosyncratic, but one can ignore such things. The real problem is with the content of the book, which has only a little directly to do with the title.
In fact, very little of it is devoted to silver at all - only chapter 8, ‘The Silver Bomb’, beginning on page 127 and going on for all of 17 out of a total of 182 pages, even mentions silver apart from brief historical factoids included in the 40 page first chapter, ‘Why Silver and Gold Are the Money of History’.

So, what is the purported ‘Silver Bomb’ of chapter 8 and the title of the book?  It seems that ‘We are on the brink of an absolute change in the economy of the entire world and particularly in the economy of the American-dominated western empire’, which for some will be an unfolding disaster.  (But,) ‘For others it is the brink of unmatched opportunity as we come face to face with a “cosmic alignment” of the forces of economy and history.’  After a couple more paragraphs emphasising the unique aspects of what is said to inevitably be coming to pass, the authors get to the crux of their contention:  ‘For the few that understand the tremendous opportunity, silver is positioned for a price explosion.  The world is running out of silver.  (Emphasis is in the original, from page 127.)

What evidence is provided for this bold assertion?  More assertions, only, as in: ‘Of all the silver ever mined, which is around 50 billion ounces, only about 1 billion ounces, or 2% of it, still remains above ground, with the rest having been consumed as an industrial metal (page 128), and ‘It is believed that as much as 98% of the Earth’s above ground supply of silver has already been consumed (page 129).  We all know who the principal source is for such beliefs, and I have (sort of) recently posted on the facts of the matter here at Screwtape Files University, to wit: that the great majority of historically mined silver is still in existence above ground, albeit mostly not in the form of readily available bullion.

There was other arrant nonsense here and there in the book on the ‘intrinsic’ value of precious metals that JMG may want to consult with the authors about.  Here is one of the most egregious examples:  ‘They are intrinsically valuable.  That means that they represent a store of value in and of themselves.  There is a certain level of effort and investment required to obtain them that is represented in their value.  The rest of their inherent value is the utility they find in human endeavour and whether or not they are to be found as indispensable, which makes them wanted.  Their value is inside their very molecular make-up which cannot be duplicated.  They are, by cosmic design, the measure of the value of other things’ (page 141).  If anyone out there can tell me what all those words actually convey, I would be grateful.

So, did I learn anything at all from the time I spent quickly reading this book?  Very little that could not be found, on almost a daily basis out there on the internet, including all the blatant clichés.  However, there was one thing I was reminded of (if I actually ever really consciously knew it) from the first, historical chapter, something which we were certainly never taught in our American History classes in High School back in Iowa in the 1950s (for the first three cases, anyway): out of the four US presidents who have been assassinated in office, three (Lincoln, Garfield, and Kennedy) had recently, or were about to introduce monetary policies and actions that directly threatened the ‘moneyed interests’ of the big banks, including the Fed in Kennedy’s case.  Wikipedia tells me that McKinley, the forth, was a proponent of high protective tariffs, supported the prevailing international gold standard against Bryan’s inflationary monetary silver goals, and was murdered by ‘an anarchist’, but that is all I know about him except that he initiated the Spanish America War.

The take-away lesson in all this?  Don’t spend good money to buy a privately published book from unknown authors, despite a seemingly intriguing title, unless you have read a review of it by a source you trust to be able to discern the difference between shit and Shinola.


Beer Holiday said...

I seem to remember Bill Still mentions the assassinations in his anti-silver-and-gold documentaries "Secret of Oz" or "the Money Masters".

Seems to crop up a bit.

duggo said...

Great review. Obviously not a book to buy unless you suffer from not being able to fall asleep quickly.

A sleeping-draft with little side-effects except a mild feeling of futility.

Slow Loris Larry said...

So, duggo, where downunder here are you?

If you want to let me know, but privately, send a message to l.crissman@griffith.edu.au



duggo said...

Hi Larry
I've made a note of your email for future ref when I have something useful to write (which is not very often)
I'm an Anglais living on the Cote d'Azur in the socialist paradise of France which is strange really as my leanings are slightly right of Genghis Kahn.
My wife, who is an expert amateur genealogist keeps telling me that a few years back we could have got free passage to Oz for stealing a ladies handkerchief. Now I'd have to pay full whack and get our relatives in Sydney to vouch for us. Times do change.
I'm a fan of PM and Screwtapes especially when you get a bit controversial and start putting a "bit of stick about". It seems to me there is a lot of hype, hot-air and justification going on in the PM World especially Silver.
As for books I wish someone would write a book like Joel M Kauffmann, Ph.D. has done on the "medical industry". It's call Malignant Medical Myths. Everyone should read it.

costata said...

If anyone out there can tell me what all those words actually convey, I would be grateful.

I think it's a cry for help.

Slow Loris Larry said...

@ costata:

To paraphrase Feynman's autobiography, "Surely, Mr. Costata, you must be joking?".

6li2h said...

'They are intrinsically valuable. That means that they represent a store of value in and of themselves. There is a certain level of effort and investment required to obtain them that is represented in their value. The rest of their inherent value is the utility they find in human endeavour and whether or not they are to be found as indispensable, which makes them wanted. Their value is inside their very molecular make-up which cannot be duplicated. They are, by cosmic design, the measure of the value of other things’ (page 141). If anyone out there can tell me what all those words actually convey, I would be grateful.

You asked for an explanation.

In a way, this passage is about itself. On the surface, it suggests that silver has three sources of value: the labour and resources expended to acquire it; its utility, based in its "designed" physical properties; and its demand, which in the text is probably linked to its monetary history. The three sources of value thus bear the imprimatur of God, nature, and history, woven into one eternal golden braid. The universe itself has appointed silver to be the measure of all things. Thus, its value is intrinsic.

But ideas like this are also fundamentally about words and ideas with intrinsic value. Ironically, the gold standard of ideas is the gold standard itself: the intrinsically convincing is reflected in the intrinsically valuable; each buffs a shine on the other. To question the linkage opens the door to ontological and epistemological terrors. Skepticism, or even a decent standard of evidence, undoes a whole array of comforting master narratives.

Passages like the one quoted reflect a kind of rhetorical bimetallism: if you have low standards of logos to begin with, then ethos and pathos are all that's needed for intrinsically valuable words. Plainly, this is just the logic of fundamentalism.

Incidentally, isn't it becoming increasingly clear that graphene will soon surpass one of silver's "intrinsic," supposedly god-given, nature-kissed physical properties?

Slow Loris Larry said...


Thanks for the explication. A little too 'post-modernist' for my liking, but certainly clever.

My basic problem, as a retired cultural anthropologist, is that I am not just agnostic but downright atheist when it comes to intrinsicality of any kind at all, including graphene's for that matter.

Of course, having some background in hard science as well, I would not deny that real things have inherent physical properties - you can carry silver coins around in your pocket and they ring when pinged, unlike graphene which has rather different physical properties.

My problem with 'intrinsic value', is that as with all values, like beauty, they only exist in the mind of the beholder and attributor to things (and other people, and ideas and experiences).

In other words, values are what particular people attribute to things, or actions, or circumstances, not any actual property of those things, etc., in and of themselves, whether that value is calculated and expressed in monetary terms or other utilities or defects.

Anyway, seems to me that claiming that precious metals are intrinsically valuable is just the flip side of claiming that 'you can't eat gold' or silver, or even graphene. In other words, it is just a cliché that may resonate with some folks but doesn’t actually convey any meaning that has real world consequences.

6li2h said...

Quite agree. Your relativist and discourse-friendly point of view, however, makes me wonder why you would object to a postmodern approach.

As you suggest, the author is confusing the categories of innate property and intrinsic value. Clearly, value is a function of social consensus, while properties are, I suppose, a function of scientific consensus regarding currently-known physical attributes.

Graphene is an interesting case. Its electrical conductivity is vastly superior to silver's, so its existence is potentially a kind of "Origin of Species-esque" existential threat to the silver church, via the silverogosphere truism that our electronic age is wedded to silver by necessity (and thus silver has supposed intrinsic value). The really interesting thing is that graphene was only discovered 8 years ago. We may well be in the age of the semiconductor circa 1948, or uranium circa 1939, or plastic in the bakelite era. It will be interesting to see what the "intrinsic value" of carbon is in 10 years. Maybe I should reserve TMcarbonreport.com now and beat the rush.

Warren James said...

Great review Larry, quite enjoyed it and the discussion following.

Speaking of silver bomb, it doesn't look likely Wynter has reached her/their $50/ oz price call (31st Dec). Oops.

@6li2h, fully agree we are on the cusp of a new age, will be interesting to see what comes about. Room temperature super-conductors would be a nice start ...

Hope everyone has a good 2012 new Years eve, see you in 2013!

Slow Loris Larry said...

@6li2h Just in case you are really interested:

My basic bias against postmodernism derives from having witnessed how those ideas and styles came to dominate academic discourse, not just in the humanities but in most of the social sciences, and social/cultural anthropology in particular, during the 1970s and continuing down to the present day.

When I would raise objections to some egregious bit of 'word play' being passed off as profoundly insightful analysis of cultural meanings, I would often be accused of being a 'naive realist'. I would counter by insisting that there was nothing naive about my attempts to relate cultural understandings and beliefs to real world situations and their consequences, quite the contrary in fact. But then I was not as politically ‘sophisticated’ as many of my academic colleagues, either.

If asked to explain my understanding of how individual human social behavior is generated and monitored, I would invoke a 'cognitive-structural' approach that owes much to Chomsky’s linguistic theory of deep structures of understandings underlying and generating actual utterances which can (often, at least) be decoded reasonably accurately by others who have learnt a similar grammar that will allow them to map the noises other folks make with their mouths (along with accompanying expressions and gestures) onto appropriate underlying meanings in their own minds.

Note that this is a fundamentally mentalist approach - I do believe that what matters in human behavior is 'all in our minds', at least when normal human social behavior is concerned. (If you, or anybody, thinks something is not 'normal', just leave it out of your formal analysis - there will still be plenty left to account for.) Of course, external reality can affect the functioning of our minds, as when hormonal balances are off, we imbibe or inhale mind altering substances, or for that matter, if someone puts a bullet in our brain.

The complexity and hard-wiring of our human brains, as opposed to those of other animals, allows a normally functioning person to maintain a mind that can produce highly elaborated theories about the reality people must deal with in order to survive, or for that matter just for fun if physical conditions as mediated by technology are benign.

Basically, cultural understandings and the behaviors they generate, can be viewed as emergent systems for dealing with external realities such as acquiring food and shelter from particular environments, and including such perhaps unusual circumstances as long droughts or newly aggressive neighbors.

Ultimately, the ideas (theories) people use to deal with their perceptions of the realities their lives are constrained by are what produces the successes or failures of societies. In other words, as a social/cultural anthropologist basically interested in the way human ideas generate behaviors in order to adapt, or fail to adapt, their societies to their various natural and social environments, I am just not that interested in postmodernist analyses, however clever, that ignore physical realities.

6li2h said...

I'm not really a postmodernist; I just play one on TV.

I don't fundamentally disagree with much of your position, but I think you're a Hegelian and I'm a "Marxist" in the specific and limited sense of Marx's critique of Hegel's model of history. In short, you suggest (I think) that ideas give rise to social institutions or maybe even the material basis of social interaction, whereas I would argue that the reverse tends to predominate: social formations are a map of prior and continuing organizations of power and resources. That's not a clever inversion that evades sober reality, but just a different understanding of the way the world works.

Granted, in a ninny's hands, pomo/ poco/ poststructural/ feminist philosophies are terribly tempting to self-indulgence; like playing blues guitar, postmodern theory is the easiest thing in the world to do badly. But feminism, after all, has a point, and one need only look to former British or French colonies for corrollaries from the politics of race. It's equally easy simply to shrug off or justify as "natural" or "physical reality" what is actually (or also) material relations solidified into various social institutions.

I am not at all ascribing such a conservative and unsophisticated point of view to you, by the way. But if academic postmodernists make annoying academic colleagues, I would suggest that staunch "realists" who are also unwitting ideological fabulists are equally annoying, and equally dangerous. (Again, no reference to you specifically.)