Blood, Whips & Guns – Or Dollars

“So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns – or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other”

Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged, 1957

Blood, Whips & Guns – Or Dollars

Since first reading this passage it has bounced around the recesses of my mind.  With an intense familiarization visit to Cambodia behind me, I won’t soon forget it.

Khmer Rouge Troops

Khmer Rouge Troops

In 1975, the genocidal Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge revolutionaries seized control of a devolving Cambodia. What was supposed to be an effort to build an agrarian utopia instead rapidly approached apocalypse. An odd side effect of this descent quickly emerged and was reported by the foreign press. Money littered the streets. Citizenry knew better than to collect the cash as it represented everything the new regime detested. Worse, when caught with the currency it would be yet another reason to be arrested, horrifically tortured, and then brought to the killing fields for execution in cruel, unrepeatable ways. So, nearly two decades after Atlas Shrugged was penned, a case in point for money was again provided; to the civilized world it is a welcome tool of trade that replaces blood, whips and guns. To the tyrant, money is a final barrier to ultimate control through blood, whips and guns.

The Restored Royal Palace

The Restored Royal Palace

While the Khmer Rouge was forced from power in 1978 by the Vietnamese military, the nightmare officially came to a close in 1998 after losing its final stronghold. Simultaneously, the United Nations forced the creation of a tribunal to pursue war crime charges against the regime. Shockingly, it took the United Nations to force the process – equally shocking, a large number of the rank and file who did much of the torturing and killing continue to roam the countryside. Many are employed by the military to maintain the still disputed Thai border area. The trials are ongoing and plagued by claims of corruption as well as fears of political interference.

It’s no wonder these people carry much of their wealth on their person in the form of gold jewelry. The parents of the merchant girls pictured below make sure that they, and for that matter their brothers, know the value of savings – in a way that transcends war and time. In the instance of the girls, gold is added to their already substantial necklaces and earrings as they grow older. It is said that most in this country either wear their savings or bury it. This is the way it has been for eons.

Merchant girls signing 'luck' and wearing some of their savings.

Merchant girls signing 'luck' and wearing some of their savings.

The gold is emblematic of this country* which is blessed with many natural resources. In addition to gold, there is substantial confirmed, yet untapped, wealth in industrial materials and agriculture.

So, with abundant natural resources, entrenched savings habits and a population with a median age of 22.6 years, this frontier has reasonable prospects for advancement. A stock market is expected to be soon opened in the capital, Phnom Penh, which will ease a path to further development and stability. In many fascinating ways Cambodia is closely following the recent history of Peru – which has had a spectacular ascendancy in terms of standards of living and investment returns since its emergence from its own madness. While there are some significant differences, this will be an interesting comparison to contemplate in the coming years.

*Cambodia literally means ‘land of gold’.