"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." ~ Douglas Adams
Silver: The Precious Metal That Spurred the Conquest of a Continent
The Spanish Conquistidors called it--or "plata"--silver plate, and this lusty band of amoral conquerers burst upon the New World for the exact same reason we now burst upon the treasure laden Persian Gulf. If the Spanish could corner the silver mines in Mexico, Bolivia and Peru, they could control an enormous supply of wealth and perhaps the world. Silver was the oil of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, and a single Bolivian silver mine contained the comparative wealth of Kuwait in its day.
The precious metal demanded warships and thousands of stout men, earlier versions of our own Special Forces, to wrest that wealth away from the original possessors and carry it back to Spain. Although considerable Spanish silver plate was shipped back to Spain, an enormous quantity was hijacked by English buccaneers. Hurricanes and uncharted reefs intercepted as many ships, dooming the heavily-laden vessels and their crews to watery graves and a footnote in history. In 1715, an entire Spanish treasure fleet foundered on the shores of Florida, where coins are still found to this day. The rape and plunder and subsequent disaster provides a moral lesson to philosophers and historians today--and enjoyable leisure activity to intrepid old fellows with metal detectors. Spain--grown fat and sassy with New World wealth--took on the English fleet less than a hundred years after Columbus stepped ashore, and the costly defeat of the Spanish Armada, to storms and superior fighting forces, punished the once proud world power.
By some estimates, half of the coins in Colonial America were Spanish reales (pictured, circa 1538). They were used not only as coins but also as a trading, bartering or hoarding commodity, as one would use silver or gold bars today. Silver was the oil of its day; the economy of the New and Old World both depended on it. Indeed, Spanish dollars were made legal tender in the United States by an Act of February 9, 1793, and were not demonetized until February 21, 1857.
Today, the mines of Mexico and Bolivia are mostly played out--as depleted yet deadly as the uranium that increasingly poisons Iraq. Potosi's silver tears may lie at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea or in that recently minted one ounce silver round you hold in your hand bearing the slogan "Life, Liberty,Happiness"--or perhaps even in the 1804 US silver dollar (pictured), valued at more than a million dollars--US paper.
Spain is a wonderfully peaceful and democratic country at present with few imperial designs, although with a long, bloody legacy still remembered throughout South America 200 years after their empire crumbled. That silver bullion you hold as an investment may have been held by a Spanish governor, Aztec warrior, Indian slave, English buccaneer or treasure salvor--or all of them at different times through the years.
A number of Spanish treasure ships have been recovered--like the Spanish galleon, Atocha--and they provide another moral lesson. Treasure is difficult to have and to hold, and the coveted wealth often goes not to the powerful but to the lucky. The idiot kings of Spain, (like our own mad rulers), brazenly hatched a master plan, but a former chicken farmer named Mel Fisher reaped the reward in the Atocha's case, after many years contesting the state.
After all, the fate of nation-states is like the wind that drives hurricanes ashore; they begin meekly, with a gentle breeze and with sound principles, lofty ideals billowing sails, but build into fierce storms of cynicism and overt hostility, to smash everything in its path. The plundered treasure, whether oil or silver, lies scattered in the sand--or in the hands of those long since removed once the storm passes.
Should we invest in silver, as our own insatiable nation-state plunders the oil wealth that does not belong to us? By all means. Or should I say emphatically:
BUY ALL MEANS!
Each citizen is a ship engaged in free trade. The Conquistadors and the Buccaneers represent the powerful State aligned with special forces determined to plunder and ruin the peaceful, law-abiding citizen. Wise is he who recognizes this fact and--while patriotic--must oppose the tyrannical power of the State, either morally or financially, to protect himself from ruin.
Investigate each broker as you would examine a candidate campaigning for your vote. If the Northwest Territorial Mint gives you a better deal than Kerry or Bush, then by all means, vote with your feet! Run, do not walk, to those who would serve your interests, and ignore those with empty promises. As Patrick Chkoreff observed: "The Northwest Territorial Mint sells one ounce silver coins at just $0.65 over spot--and that includes shipping and insurance. At today's silver spot, that $0.65 premium is just 9% over spot. If silver goes higher, the percentage goes even lower. That's about the best deal I've seen." Does Kerry or Bush offer anything as favorable?
The Conquistadors of government sent swift boats to plunder the citizens abroad and taxpayers at home, with mad schemes disguised as sound foreign policy. Under the harsh light of common sense, these schemes have as much value as clad coins. Should you support anyone who offers you a bad investment risk, who strives to gain the presidency, in a mad quest to ruin the dollar even further with continuous imperial ambitions? The plundered Spanish treasure did not go into the pocket of the peasantry but into the coffers of the king, nor will the plundered wealth from the Persian Gulf go into your pocket. Imagine then holding a sackful of paper dollars when the devil of deficit spending is due--as a look at German inflation (1914-1924) would indicate.
The Spanish Conquest wrecked the Inca and Aztec civilizations in an endless, mad quest for treasure--and morally bankrupted Spain for centuries--much as is happening to America by our thinly disguised resource grab in Iraq. One day--when petrodollars are about as common as pieces of eight--we shall be remembered throughout much of the world as the American Conquistadors.
I recall an interview I conducted with a former Special Forces legend who remarked, "I believe Junior-Bush ordered US forces into Iraq as a chess move to counter the threat of the EU and the Euro. If OPEC demanded payment in euros vs. Dollars, America, with our dependence on China and other Third-New World Order, slave-labor nations, could end up as a ghost nation." Considering the 14 "enduring bases" the Pentagon has planned in Iraq, this well-considered worldview would seem to indicate the occupation is more for resource extraction than liberation. Potosi on the Tigris.
A woman wrote to me, after reading my earlier column--Buy Gold--Before They Sell Out--that she had bought gold weeks or months before I wrote that piece and that gold had gone down. I wrote that essay, principally, to shed some light on the state of the US dollar, driven downward by decades of wasteful imperial schemes that enrich only a few while fatally wounding our countrymen and our currency. Those who expect a quick buck on their investments should sign up with Bechtel or Halliburton, or perhaps enlist as a conquistador-for-hire in Iraq now that fewer jobs exist here at home for energetic young men. If instead you possess a few more scruples, follow the advice of canny brokers and play the ratio. Inform yourself; knowledge is power and trust is something you put in God rather than in governments.
However, most indicators do point to a re-evaluation of the US dollar and a boost for precious metals. Readers should be aware that I am only an educated layman and claim a limited range of powers as an idiot savant. According to Don Stott, metals broker, "The price of silver today, at even a shade under $7 per ounce, is far from its cost of production, in all but the largest, richest, and best developed mines in the world. The price of copper has gone from roughly $70 to $115, and silver, which is a usual by-product of copper mining, hasn't followed, percentage wise. Why? I don't know, but can such a situation continue? If silver "catches on," or is needed, like copper evidently has, can silver remain at under $7, or will it blossom? I think up, without doubt. Silver has been in the doldrums for far too many years, and its time has come."
Silver, the precious metal that helped launch and then further finance a bloody conquest of a continent is ready in the wings if the dollar wavers. Ironically, the Spanish pulled out of the latest treasure grab. In the next few years--if the treasure ships bearing black gold do not founder--we shall see if the prize was worth the pursuit. The perfidious lesson of silver--the legacy of resentment lasting almost 500 years--may contain the first tangible yet tragic clues to our sinking ship of state. Keep your eye on silver.