A young entrepreneur in Kansas City, Missouri, has decided to do something about our faltering monetary system. He's started a corporation that has become, to his knowledge, the world's largest producer of private gold coinage.
The entrepreneur is Conrad Braun, a 1960s' left-wing activist who experienced somewhat of a conversion to individual liberty and economic freedom. His company is the Gold Standard Corporation, a successful business engaged in the buying, selling, and storing of gold. The most significant part of Gold Standard's business is the minting of gold "coins" bearing the likenesses of prominent free-market economists.
From Gold Standard, you can buy a one-ounce piece that honors Col. Edward C. Harwood of the American Institute for Economic Research; a "Hayek Half" bearing the likeness of Friedrich A. Hayek, Nobel economist and an early customer of Gold Standard; a Henry Hazlitt quarter-ounce piece; and an Adam Smith piece containing one-tenth of an ounce of pure gold. The idea of all this is to help customers conduct their daily business in gold and to pave the way for the development of private monetary systems.
Since the one-ounce piece was introduced in November 1978, Gold Standard has sold about 100,000 coins. On a good day they'll do about $200,000 worth of business; on a slow day, $20,000. That's not bad for a young business that was struggling for credibility and survival a little over a year ago.
Customers can also buy, sell, and store gold bullion through Gold Standard. And Braun is experimenting with two new ideas—a "gold transfer" system that allows customers to write checks backed by gold, and a gold credit card that Braun hopes to see in general use someday.
Braun is working for the denationalization of currency. And his defense of that cause is simple, straightforward, and direct. "Existing governments have no interest in providing a sound currency," he declares. "If our governments are unwilling to provide a sound store of value, what choice do we as citizens have but to provide it ourselves?"
"The idea that money should always be in the hands of government is a superstition, like the divine right of kings. Really, I feel we're talking about an idea similar in impact to the American Revolution. I feel that governments have relinquished their rights to rule monetary systems, just like King George III relinquished his right to rule the colonies."
Not surprisingly, Braun has little regard for unbacked paper currency. "The dollar is just what you and I think it is, what we agree it is. It's a promise to pay nothing, because it's not redeemable for anything." Braun sees gold as a relatively stable means of exchange that has endured for centuries. Even now, he observes, the value of gold relative to goods stays within a narrow range. "Let's put it this way," Braun says. "Fifty years ago, you could buy the nicest suit in Kansas City for an ounce of gold. And today, you still can."
But the outspoken president of Gold Standard isn't for a gold standard—at least not a government-mandated standard. "There's an element on the conservative side that's demanded the gold standard for 50 years—and it's never gone anywhere," he says. "The reason is that they want a fiat gold standard, just like we have a fiat paper standard. They don't want to eliminate legal tender laws; they want to force you to accept gold."
"If you want to trade with gold, fine, but you shouldn't force it on other people. The gold standard might not be the best standard; somebody might come up with a better one. By allowing the private marketplace to provide the solutions in the monetary realm, we can develop a sound currency. May the best system survive!"
Braun is convinced that the paper dollar will ultimately self-destruct. But he thinks this crisis can be overcome—if the private sector is allowed to develop monetary alternatives. And that freedom is a real concern to Braun, who feels that government suppression of private currencies will lead to "tyranny, chaos, and war."
How does a 1960s' antiwar radical end up as president of a private gold-minting firm? Braun doesn't feel that his present activities are necessarily antithetical to his previous beliefs. "The gold standard seems like a right-wing issue, but it's not," he says. "Even Karl Marx was for the gold standard. He recognized that people need to have a standard and fair medium of exchange."
Braun feels that his ideals are "pretty much the same" as they were 10 years ago—but his methods have changed. "I no longer believe the ends justify the means. Gold Standard allows me to pursue my ends and use proper means. It's the first time I've done that."
Braun has also developed a strong commitment to individual liberty and freedom, something he doesn't see in the contemporary right or left. This apparent "conversion" came at a turning point in Braun's activism. "I was contemplating taking over a radio station militantly, and I had difficulty formulating what I was going to say. Just how was I going to solve the world's problems? That's when I came up against a real barrier."
Braun was introduced to monetary theory through the works of Col. Edward C. Harwood. Soon, he began to read everything he could find on the history of money. When he was working as a commodity broker in northwest Missouri in the early 1970s, Braun began to wonder if gold couldn't be bought and sold as a commodity.
In early 1977, Braun founded Gold Standard, a corporation designed to help the average investor buy and store gold. The company struggled along until the first coins came out. Today, Gold Standard employs four people and operates out of an unmarked office building on a quiet residential street. "I'm doing this because I enjoy it, I believe it it, and I also hope to make some money," says Braun.
It's been said that virtually all social and economic problems can be solved through a free marketplace. If declining national currencies is one of those problems, Braun is one of the first entrepreneurs to offer an alternative.
Richard Goering is the coauthor of Rebuilding the Future, just published by Peace Press.