“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
Washington, D.C. (Accredited Times) – The Accredited Times has often warned its readers about threats in the world, including racism, sexism, and Islamophobia. But one threat continues to menace the world perhaps more than any other: the threat of hoarding.
Hoarding has a long, disturbing history. We need to learn that history or else we will be condemned to repeat it.
I. Case Study # 1: FDR Successfully Combats Hoarding in Great Depression America
The most famous historical experience relating to hoarding involved progressive President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As the Accredited Times noted in a previous examination of the subject, President Roosevelt issued an executive order in April 1933 shortly after taking office “forbidding the Hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States.” The executive order criminalized hoarding under penalty up to ten years’ imprisonment, plus a $10,000 fine — equivalent to roughly $200,000 today.
After issuing the executive order, President Roosevelt and the Secret Service aggressively pursued hoarders.
In April 1935, an undercover government agent sneaked into a New York store owned by David Baraban and his son Jacob Baraban. While there, the agent witnessed a transaction in which a dangerous individual criminally sought to pay $9 for an item of scrap gold — a felony under Roosevelt’s edict. With probable cause to believe that the Barabans had committed a felony, government agents raided the Barabans’ business and found a hidden box of hoarded gold coins. The investigation also found a cigar box full of gold scrap metal. The government seized the Barabans’ gold and charged the Barabans with conspiracy to defraud the United States. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision joined by famous progressive judge Learned Hand, upheld the seizure.
Other gold hoarders around the country faced similar government stings. In April 1939, Secret Service agents worked with local police and state mining agents to smash a gold hoarding ring led by jewelry merchant/criminal Gus Farber, arresting thirteen in New York, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, while seizing at least $24,000 in illegally hoarded gold.
In 1935, progressive activists on the Supreme Court upheld President Roosevelt’s hoarding edict and related decrees in a series of 5-4 Supreme Court decisions. As explained by Professor Gerard N. Magliocca of Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, the Court did so because the “higher law” of “necessity” trumped boring conventions like the “constitutional text or judicial precedent”. The living Constitution compelled the Court to punish hoarders and punish them severely.
Thanks to President Roosevelt’s aggressive prosecutions of hoarders, the United States safely exited the Great Depression in December 1941, just eight years after the public had elected Roosevelt as President and just twelve years after the Great Depression had begun. The economy ran smoothly from that point on as a result wartime production, which drastically increased the average American’s standard of living, as all wars do.
II. Case Study # 2: Ancient India Destroyed By Hoarding
Looking back further in history, we see that not all countries had the benefit of progressive leaders like President Roosevelt. Most notably, the same fate eluded a city-state in ancient India — the seaport of Muziris.
Around 2,000 years ago, Muziris flourished off the coast of modern-day Kerala, India. Its main product? Piper nigrum, also known as black pepper — the King of Spices. But instead of distributing the pepper equitably amongst People of Color, as modern economists advise, local merchants resorted to crude capitalism, trading pepper predominantly for gold coins and bullion. The decision doomed Muziris and destroyed the Indian economy for millennia.
Muziris initially experienced a short-term boom from the pepper-gold trade, with trade primarily involving Muziris and the Roman Empire. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder in his work Natural History called Muziris “the first emporium of India”. According to the Akananuru, a classic collection of Tamil poetry from the era, Muziris was “the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Periyar, river of Kerala, arriving with gold and departing with pepper.” Another poem describes Muziris as the city with “gold deliveries, carried by ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats.”
“This was a centre of paramount importance for Roman trade,” said Federico De Romanis, Associate Professor of Roman history at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. “What made it absolutely unique was the considerable amounts of black pepper exported from Muziris. We are talking about thousands of tons.”
According to Pliny, Rome had an annual trade deficit with India of 50 million sesterces — roughly 500,000 gold coins — largely arising from trade with Muziris.
“Muziris was entirely dependent on foreign, especially Roman, demand for pepper,” De Romanis said.
Energized by capitalistic animal spirits, merchants hoarded gold that they so desperately desired in a Saturnalian frenzy of bourgeois lust. Gold flowed into Muziris. Pepper flowed out. Temples and vaults filled with gold, and the fetishism of commodities immiserated the Indian proletariat who had neither spices nor gold.
Then Muziris disappeared without a trace.
Muziris seems to have disappeared shortly after the rise of Islam in the area, but no one knows for sure. Only one explanation answers why Muziris disappeared: hoarding.
In 1945, shortly after President Roosevelt’s death, a series of archaeological excavations began in an effort to locate ancient Muziris and to learn more about the history of the ancient seaport — why it rose, why it fell.
In 1983, archaeologists discovered a large hoard of Roman gold coins at a site thought to be ancient Muziris. The people had left. Only the hoarded gold remained.
Hoarding remains a serious threat to civilization. Some people laugh about hoarding. They think it’s a big joke. The truth is it’s not a joke. It’s deadly serious.
Progressives like President Roosevelt had it right. Muziris had it wrong. Anyone caught hoarding should be arrested, charged, and punished to the fullest extent of the law.