Monday, December 10, 2012

sign of decay

There are any number of ways to measure the health and vitality of governments and societies. One of the simplest and most foolproof is to take a close look at a nation's coins.

From time immemorial, robust societies have had governments which minted 90-percent silver coins, like this beautiful denarius from the Roman Republic. These things were durable, and the specimen shown here looks pretty good despite its age -- 2,137 years.

The dime-sized coin was the foundation of Roman currency, and as the society weakened and the power of government declined, it was gradually debased until it reached the point where there was so little of value in it that it had to be withdrawn from circulation.

Under the rule of the Senate, denars contained four and a half grams of silver, or 1/72nd of a Roman pound. By the time Rome formally became an empire the weight was down to 39.6 grams, or 1/84th of a pound. The decline in integrity after that was slow, but steady.

The last 90% silver coins minted in the US came out in 1964 -- dimes, quarters, and halves. If there are any Roosevelt dimes in your pocket right now with dates of 1964 or earlier, you can take them down to the local coin shop and get about $2.35 each for them.

The last 90% silver dollar, the Peace Dollars, were minted in 1935.

If you hold a 1964 US quarter in one hand and a current one in the other, you'll quickly notice that the only similarity is the size. The present-day coins feel like those little plastic discs we played with as kids.

The same thing has happened to our government and our society. The root word is "base," as in base-metal coinage, and when you've reached de basement there's literally no where to go but up.

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