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Thursday, 16 December 2021

What the Globe and Mail Won't Publish

Sour Grapes 

Over the years, a couple of my readers have suggested I should aspire to a larger audience by publishing in the mainstream media.  Admittedly, I have made a couple of feeble attempts to be noticed, but when I became aware of a feature in the Globe and Mail called "First Person" where individuals are offered the possibility of  publishing in the paper (for zero remuneration), I thought this was my opportunity to either promulgate my blog in a legacy press or create a sour-grapes moment when the editors declined to publish my submission.  "Sour grapes" wins again.  Here is the article:


How I Became Obsessed with Money and China

In retirement from my position as a professor of English, I knew I wouldn’t miss the turgid prose that passed for peer-reviewed research in postmodern humanities or the administrative duties that every alert academic scurries to avoid.  Contact with students and the vain apprehension that some young people were actually interested in what I had to say: these were hard to give up.  My solution was to maintain at least the illusion of teaching by starting a blog.  A few clicks on Google Blogger, a bit of word processing, a pseudonym, and voilá: I was a blogger.  When I got really serious, for an annual payment of $17.00, I became the owner of the domain name thesourgrapevine.com.

My original intention was to host a whistle-blower site to reveal what went on behind closed doors at universities, but I soon digressed into politics and economics.  I covered my digressions with the by-line “Education is everything.  Everything is education.”

How did I become obsessed with money and China?  The answer begins with the philosopher Karl Jasper’s claim that “failure and breakdown reveal the true nature of things.”  Leonard Cohen put it more poetically:  “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” A more homespun version: we should celebrate the child who breaks her toys.  She’s figuring out how they work.

The breakdown which provoked my money obsession was the collapse of the financial markets in 2008.  Wall Street’s massive failure led me to seriously question, for the first time in my life, how the economy worked, how finance and monetary policy worked. Ultimately, I drilled down to the bedrock, Ding an sich/thing-in-itself of it all:  money.  How is it created and distributed?  How do banks lend money that they don’t have? Is money really just imaginary?  Is it really just a yardstick whose only purpose is to measure debt? As I recorded the pursuit of these questions in my blog, I realized that the generator of my writing had become the overarching question:  how could I not know this?  My research into the existential and ontological question of money told me I wasn’t the only one who didn’t quite understand what it was.

         

In everything I read, from conspiracy theories to government websites to Jacob Goldstein’s Money: The True Story of a Made-up Thing to Mark Carney’s Value(s): Building a Better World for All, I found the reiterated, mind-boggling fact that most of the money in the world is created out of nothing by private banks.  How is this possible?  How could I not know this?  Isn’t this something every ten-year-old should know?  I felt both sheepish and vindicated to discover a lesson on the Khan Academy homework website demonstrating the mathematical formula for how every $1000 introduced into the system by the Federal Reserve allows private banks, using the fractional reserve system, to create $10,000.  How money is created might be a mystery to Boomers, but the next generation of ten-year-olds will know the facts by heart and in detail.

Learning about money, I also discovered something about the nature of obsession—or maybe it’s just me.  I have a significant cohort of friends who are accountants, bankers, and financial advisors—men I consider to be experts on money.  Whenever I presented my newfound discovery that private banks created money, there was general staring off into the middle distance and rolling of eyes.  I pressed on with multiple blog posts and email messages. Other than silence, the responses were obfuscations, sarcasm, denials, jokes, and a stalwart defense of the banking system.  If someone had simply told me, “Yes, it is a well-known fact that banks create most of the money in the system,” my obsession might have been tempered.  But no one ever did.

The breakdown at the core of my second obsession occurred on December 1, 2018, when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei on a warrant from  Richard Donoghue, the former chief litigator of CA Technologies, who had recently become a US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  I accepted as irrefutable fact the claims of Canadian politicians that extradition was a “judicial process” immune from political interference.  As a researcher trained in the concept of “best evidence,” meaning you don’t quote a second-hand source if the original document is available, I went looking for the Canadian Extradition Act which, as it happens, is available online.  What I discovered was a lie.

The lie I discovered was significant, of dire consequence for some Canadians.  But it wasn’t a good lie.  It wasn’t an ambiguous, complicated, shades-of-grey kind of lie.  It was an obvious, explicit, easy to uncover, baldfaced lie.  The lie is that in Canada, by law, extradition is a judicial, non-political process.  The Canadian Extradition Act is explicit that, at every stage, extradition is a political decision to be made by the Minister of Justice.  

Could I have misinterpreted what I read?  The “Treaty on Extradition Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America” (available online) does not override the Canadian Extradition Act. Still, interpretation can be a slippery business. I kept searching and eventually discovered “USA v. McVey (1992)” in which the Supreme Court of Canada was required to rule on the question of whether extradition from Canada was a judicial or a political decision.  The Justices agreed that an extradition judge had limited powers to deal with discreet points of law, but extradition from Canada was, by statute, assigned to the executive branch of government—meaning it had to be decided by a politician, the Minister of Justice.

How could Canadian politicians repeat, unchallenged, that there can be no political interference in an extradition case when the law clearly says the opposite?  Rather than questioning, Canadian journalists bragged about how we are “law abiding” while carefully avoiding any citation of the law by which we were supposedly abiding.  

Since our arrest of Meng and China’s retaliatory arrest of the two Michaels, we have been repeatedly warned that China is a malign threat to all that we hold dear.  Knowing that it was possible for Canada to ignore its own laws and keep the lie of “judicial, non-political” extradition afloat for three years, how do I judge the veracity of media claims about China?



My obsessions have recently coalesced.  In Has China Won?, Kishore Mahbubani notes that the US dollar is a “fiat currency” (meaning there is no underlying commodity guaranteeing its value) and the “global reserve currency” (meaning countries need US dollars to trade with one another).  Mahbubani argues that being the fiat reserve currency allows the USA to address both trade and fiscal deficits simply by producing more paper/pixel dollars, and it is a mistake to risk this incredible privilege by weaponizing the dollar.  Josh Rogin, on the other hand, in Chaos under Heaven, writes that the USA’s best weapon against China is money, and should be used more ruthlessly.  And so my obsessions continue.



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