The Goldbug Variations


Whatever else Victor Sperandeo and Alvaro Almeida’s Cra$hmaker may be, it’s proof that not every geek subculture gets the sprawling, portentous, cinder-block-size heroic novel it deserves. True, the three-volume Lord of the Rings, in all its meticulously imagined, morally schematic glory, does rather suit to a T the inner life of its archetypal fan, the adolescent computer nerd. And naturally, if the 600,000-word pro-capitalist agitprop of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged didn’t exist, the overgrown high school debate team that is the American libertarian movement would have to invent it. But what subculture deserves a 1572-page, self-published didactic thriller aimed at thoroughly exploring the intricacies of the U.S. monetary system and exposing the inherent tyranny and corruption lurking therein? What geek constituency could possibly be worthy of the mad ambition behind Cra$hmaker — “a novel of love, death, and the Federal Reserve”?

In principle, of course, it’s a book for sound-money cranks. An ultra-wonky libertarian sub-subculture, the sound-money crowd stakes its ideological identity on the proposition that today’s paper currencies, backed only by government debt and the laws that make them legal tender, are the fraudulent cornerstone of the welfare state. By printing money at will, goes the logic, the government raises revenues that citizens would never pay knowingly, through the hidden tax of inflation. The full argument is complicated, but the proposed solution isn’t: Also known as goldbugs, sound-money cranks demand a return to the days when money had to be mined before it was minted. Where your average libertarian fetishizes the Bill of Rights as the only part of the Constitution that really matters, goldbugs cling to an even smaller patch of text: Article I, sections 8 and 10, enshrining gold and silver as the exclusive coin of the realm.

Needless to say, the last 100 years have not been a great century for sound money or its adherents. While the legal definition of money was a political hot button throughout the 19th century, it hasn’t really made headlines since 1933, when the domestic gold standard was finally abolished and über-economist John Maynard Keynes declared it a “barbarous relic,” effectively banishing its partisans to the far margins of civic discourse.

Lately, though, the torch of resistance has passed to a newly spirited sound-money cult, energized in part by the decline of Keynesianism, but perhaps even more by the increased visibility of the Federal Reserve System under celebrity chairman Alan Greenspan (himself once a fierce goldbug and Ayn Rand acolyte). Bent on toppling the Fed and its crypto-totalitarian funny money, the new goldbugs gather around Web sites and newsletters trading theories, moral support, and even their own privately issued forms of gold-backed paper and electronic currency. But perhaps nothing indicates more clearly the rising prominence of the sound-money agenda among the black-helicopter set than the latest JFK conspiracy theory making the rounds. The new prime suspect? The Fed, which allegedly set up the hit after Kennedy signed an order initiating the dollar’s return to a silver standard.

And now, unto this ferment comes Cra$hmaker. What it brings to the sound-money scene certainly isn’t new information. The tendentious arguments that spill forth from the characters’ mouths — interminable Socratic dialogues laden with economic theory, constitutional law, moral philosophy, and heaping platefuls of American and European history — are nothing a hardcore goldbug can’t find more usefully packaged elsewhere. This is ground well tilled in, for instance, G. Edward Griffin’s not quite entirely paranoid The Creature From Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve, and in James Ewart’s coffee-table book Money, which traces the historical progress of U.S. monetary perfidy in loving reproductions of coin and currency (available online for five grams of 100 percent gold-backed e-goldTM).

But for pure, unrelenting wish fulfillment, Cra$hmaker stands alone in the sound-money canon. Indeed, almost as much as The Lord of the Rings, this book is fantasy, transporting its readers not to a realm of dwarves and wizards but to a goldbug Bizarro World in which sound-money advocates aren’t cranks but colossi, feared by the powerful and cheered on by the masses. Our hero, self-made Wall Street millionaire Dominic Ancona, happens to be a man whose idea of blowing a person’s mind is to ask a waitress, “Do you take Federal Reserve Notes?” and then enlighten her by smugly pointing out the label on every piece of U.S. currency. Improbably, such profound dorkiness doesn’t stop Ancona from laying the Fed low with a brilliant act of financial sabotage, or leading an electoral takeover of Congress and the White House on the strength of such soul-stirring rallying cries as “sound money and honest banking.”

Other scenarios from the parallel universe of every goldbug’s dreams include: Greenspan à clef Albert Grunwald’s deathbed repentance for having sold out his sound-money principles for a taste of the Fed’s unholy power (“I’m an accomplice to one of the most terrible crimes in American history,” he rasps); his villainous successor Allen Stillwell’s liberal deployment of the “Devil’s Hand,” a spooky gesture he learned in the shadowy Masonic order it turns out all Washington insiders belong to; and of course the reduction of various economic experts to sputtering, impotent rage in the face of the goldbugs’ invincible arguments. But whether all this adds up to a good time for the fans is an open question. Stopping every two or three pages for another 10 or 12 of explanatory dialogue, Cra$hmaker‘s action moves at a pace even the most ardent goldbug may lose patience with.

In the end, then, the readers likely to get the most out of this long, strange trip may well be those of us who, unlike the average sound-money nut, have never come so close to the edge of consensus reality that we fell off. These days, critics rightly swoon for the paranoid poetics that haunt the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, and their like. Yet for all the lysergic beauty of these authors’ works, none feels as convincingly as Cra$hmaker like a plunge into the manic, grinding anxiety of the true conspiracy theorist. The urgent compulsion to lay out the evidence, repeatedly and at length; the hidden truths that can never quite be confirmed; the obsessive fantasies of vindication. It’s all right here in Cra$hmaker, just a wrong turn or two from the prosaic, universal insight that money rules the world. There but for the grace of God go all — and there, by the grace of Cra$hmaker, we can all now go for a visit.