Ezra Pound: Prophet?
by Cassie, Publicity Assistant
A. David Moody is Professor Emeritus of the University of York and the author of Ezra Pound, Poet: Volume 1: The Young Genius 1885-1920. In the following piece, Moody looks at the Pound’s opinions on democracy and the economy, showing us that Pound’s opinions in the 1930s line up fairly well with the pundits of today. This piece is also timely since October 30th is Pound’s birthday and he died on November 1, 1972.
I am finding it hard to pin down a feeling I have these days as I read the pundits on the current financial crisis and hear echoes all the time of what Ezra Pound was writing in the 1930s and being called a crank for his pains.
“The provision of finance is a utility, just like the distribution of water and energy. Yet this public good is in the hands of private sector managers who have done a disastrous job.”1“The City has become a ghetto where greed (never mentioned) is all but an absolute good.”2 “Financiers have organized themselves so that actual or potential losses are picked up by somebody else—if not their clients then the state – while profits are kept to themselves.”3 “There is a chance to make finance once again the servant of the public, as it should be.”4 “The Bank of England can directly create sterling assets (that is, print money) if it needs to”—i.e. it does not have to “borrow” from the banks it has just had to bail out.5 “[The government] pays interest to private organizations for the use of its own credit . . . So that actually the government is getting itself into debt to the banks for the privilege of helping them to regain their stranglehold on the economic life of the country.”6
Pound might have written all of those things, if in his own terms. “Leveraging” was not a current term in the 1930s, so he used plain terms: banks were lending money they did not have, to their own profit and the public’s loss. As early as 1919 he was trying to understand how it was that, in a democracy, power to secure to the people “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was not with the people, but with those few who owned and controlled the people’s credit and who were capable of exercising it against the common interest. And he was already arguing that it is the function and responsibility of the state, that is, of the government appointed by the people, to create and to regulate the nation’s credit, and to prevent it being usurped by private interests (see volume 1, pp. 371-6).
Pound’s prophetic critique of anti-democratic capitalism became a major theme after the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s—and it led to his being falsely accused of being himself anti-democratic. But in this time of financial crisis, and with it being near to the anniversaries of his birth and death (born 30 October 1885; died 1 November 1972), it is fitting to celebrate the now undeniable fact that, while he did go wrong in some ways, Pound was fundamentally right about the damage done to the whole society by unrestrained greed in the financial system, and about it being the responsibility of governments to issue and to control credit. It would be a good moment to read and to take the point of his cantos 31-51, particularly those about the American bank wars of 1829-35 and 1863.
employing means at the bank’s disposal
in deranging the country’s credits, obtaining by panic
control over public mind” said Van Buren
(Ezra Pound, Canto 37)
1. Guardian (London), editorial comment, 9 Oct. ’08
2. Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudberry), City solicitor, Guardian 16 Oct. ’08
3. Will Hutton, Observer (London), 27 Jan. ’08
4. Larry Elliot, Economics Editor, Guardian (London), 15 Oct. ’08
5. Gavyn Davies, partner in Goldman Sachs, Guardian (London), 9 Oct. ’08
6. Senator Bronson Cutting, New York Times, 20 May 1934 – from a speech Pound commended.
“Banking should be treated as a utility.”
(Martin Wolf, Financial Times)
“The reckless greed of the few harms the future of the many.”
(Will Hutton, Observer (London), 27 Jan. ’08)
“The sin of usury, diluted in the 1500s, should be brought back—usury, reaping that which one did not sow.”
(Ann Pettifor, political economist, Guardian (London), 11 Oct. ’08)
“It is not money that is the root of the evil. The root is greed.”
(Ezra Pound, Gold and Work, 1944)
“Hopefully our democracies are strong enough to overcome the power of money and special interests.”
(Joseph Stiglitz, formerly Chief Economist of the World Bank, Guardian (London), 16 Oct. ’08)
“The state can lend money.”
(Ezra Pound, Canto 78)
“It is an infamy that the STATE in, and by reason of, the very act of creating material wealth should run into debt to individuals.”
(Ezra Pound, New English Weekly, 5 July 1934)