The Media is the Message

You hear a lot about ‘moral decline’ these days.

What’s a moral decline and what causes it?

The Decline part is easy. It means to ‘gradually slope downward’. Moral is another story. A good definition might be, “what is considered right and good by most people, or general agreement on a standard of right behavior”.

Can we agree to define the term ‘Moral Decline’ as a downward slope in what is regarded by most people as right and good behavior?

There are statistical measures that suggest we aren’t in moral decline: Longer life spans, average income, stock market performance, and infant mortality.

On the other hand, numbers on economic growth, debt, divorce rates, out of wedlock births, bankruptcies, suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, SSRI uptake inhibitor prescriptions, malnutrition, poverty, and ‘inequality’, suggest decline.

Then there’s television, movies and radio.

People screaming at each other on ‘news shows’. Fires. War. Terrorism. Zombies. Meth dealing teachers. Evil nuns and priests. Marauding motorcycle gangs. Anti heroes with confused ‘moral’ compasses. Don’t forget the body count. Heads being chopped off. People being shot and stabbed. Swords. Daggers. Guns! Witches casting spells. Men and women burned at the stake. Hands being chopped off, naked wenches being impaled. Evil characters that are good. Good characters that are evil. Paranormal reality shows. Entertainers performing satanic ceremonies.

Viewers are eating this stuff up, thrilled to watch mayhem and cheer the lamentations of the less fortunate, and we haven’t even discussed the commercials! Notwithstanding the flying monkeys and dead people hanging in the trees along the Yellow Brick Road, I think it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way since Dorothy and the Tin Man.

Why is this happening?

Could the reduction in the value of the US Dollar, contribute to our perception of moral decline? Could slow and sure currency debasement be the root cause of a slow and very real moral decline?

In 2012 it took twenty three dollars and some cents to buy what one dollar bought back in 1913. Coin News reports this is a cumulative inflation rate of 2262.8%.

Some say America is ‘The New Rome’. This is a pretty dense topic, which I love. For example, Gibbon’s masterpiece ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ is six dense volumes and takes a long time to read, despite the fact that Gibbon is wonderfully satirical, judgmental and oh so very British. By the time you get to Justinian, you start to nod off.

My Dad, a food technologist, said he thought the Rome’s moral decay could be traced to lead poisoning. Anyone who has sampled Bob Guccione’s work on the subject will agree that the Roman elite had a morality problem!

Lectures from Yale university’s Paul Freedman are absolutely wonderful. However these lectures take a lot of time, and I want to watch Breaking Bad Season 5 again. Freedman cautions us not to make these kinds of broad assessments, so I don’t offer currency debasement as the cause of the fall of the Rome, just one of them. A big one.

Many historians do agree though, that two of the factors in the fall of Rome were debasement of the currency, resulting inflation and excessive taxation. These policy decisions left the empire too weak to defend itself. Can currency debasement be a major factor contributing to unease? Can something you feel but just can’t put your finger on, be caused by punching holes in coins? Can years of bad monetary and economic policy cause moral decline?

The dollar is a medium of exchange; Media. Of course media is designed to carry a message. In the case of the dollar, we get the message when we make a transaction. While the dollar’s message is subtle, subtle messages are often the most powerful.

Our dollar is worth a fraction-of-a-fraction of what it used to be. With every transaction the message we receive is our dollar buys less than it used to. Do you think people’s attitudes and their behaviors might be negatively influenced over time?

How do you think a whole society responds to a negative, subliminal message? Might such a message produce a sort of resignation?

What happens when that message sinks in over time? Pessimism. Hopelessness: A malaise; A difficult to diagnose and nonspecific illness? The idea that nothing really matters? A downward decline in a social agreement of what is right and good behavior? An unwillingness to defend even the most nonthreatening concept of morality.

As a society, we want people to be “honest, and upright and clean”, to quote Bonnie ParkerWe want our kids to get an education, land a good job, settle down, marry and have kids. We want them to be happy and good citizens.

The decline of our dollar over the last one hundred years is one of our greatest and most dangerous problems, and it is invisible. I don’t see too many politicians with a platform for returning the US Dollar to the value it once had. Yet many of those politicians rail about morality.

In my podcasts with Forbes’ John Tamny, (105 and 106) John talks about the need for a stable US currency, and the positive effects that would have for our economy.

I have come to believe that a stable and stronger dollar — a dollar perhaps based on precious metals, not the mysterious workings of the temple priests at the Federal Reserve — might also have a positive long term benefit on the moral actions of our people.

It’s something to think about.

Then again, the new season of Madmen is about to start, and I want to see what kind of mischief that drunk Don Draper has gotten into.

Gotta go!