Economist Judith Shelton was interviewed on June 11, 2014. She talked about her appearance on Booknotes on April 9, 1989 where she discussed her book The Coming Soviet Crash.
Good morning. Today is Wednesday, June 11, 2014, and we are interviewing author Dr. Judy Shelton, who appeared on Booknotes on April 9, 1989, to discuss her book, The Coming Soviet Crash. Good morning, Dr. Shelton.
Thank you so much for bringing us into your home.
Oh, it's my pleasure. I'm honored to be part of this project. Do this interview.
So how did your book come to be on Booknotes?
I didn't know. I received a call out of the blue, and when I heard C-SPAN mentioned, I was very interested, and I was a great admirer of C-SPAN and Brian Lamb. I was excited to do it, but I don't know what led to it. I just felt fortunate.
Well, you were the third author interviewed on C-SPAN, which is pretty spectacular.
So you probably had no way to judge what the show was like at all.
No, I wasn't familiar with it. I heard it would be an hour. I thought really? ... because I considered my topic potentially boring. On the other hand, I was grateful for the chance to elaborate on some numbers and implications that didn't really lend themselves to sound-bite type interpretation.
Sure. Did you prepare for your interview on Booknotes?
I'm trying to think. I wasn't very media savvy at the time. I'm still not. So I think I just probably mentally prepared in terms of, can I state what it's about in fairly short sentences? I have a tendency to run on, but that's the only way I can recall.
The interview was in April. When did the book actually come out?
It had been published in January that year.
So it was very soon after it had been published.
Yes, it was.
And you were, I believe you talked in the interview that you were actually trying your best to get all the information from 1988 into the copy.
That's right. And I admit with some, I guess I call them counterparts--Soviet accountant/finance analysts--who through some joint arrangement through central intelligence, they had decided to do an exchange as Russia--or as the Soviet Union--was kind of going through this transition period. Everyone was suspicious on both sides. But I was asked to be part of the US group that met with these Soviet finance types who all worked for the Soviet government. And I showed them a galley copy, I think in December of '88. And they passed it around and whispered a little, and then they started nodding and they confirmed it. And that was really the first time I had some confidence that the interpretation was truly accurate and up to date because they said, "Yeah, that's what we're beginning to acknowledge among ourselves."
That must have been scary going out on a limb like that because you were saying things no one else or very few people were at the time. And you were investigating the Soviet Union in a way, very few Sovietologists or Kremlin watchers were doing.
Well, I have to say that's kind of true. And maybe it was in some ways it was good to not be coming from that same world because I think the big problem among Sovietologists was the group think and their safety and numbers. And I really wasn't from the class of economists who were counting barrels of oil or bushels of wheat. I was looking at the financial statements, the internal budget documents published by the Soviet government, so it was a two-fold problem. One you're looking at numbers versus economic production. You're looking at financial statements as if they were a corporation. And second, those numbers were extremely deceptive. But once you broke the key, then everything just poured out of the numbers because you could recognize a plug figure and phantom revenues and all of a sudden it became very clear that that plug was getting larger and larger. And once you identified that plug as a budget deficit, you could say this country, if it were a corporation, would not be viable much longer. They were going bankrupt.
So I have to unfortunately bring it back to Booknotes. What do you remember most about, most from your appearance on the program? And if you could describe if you recall what the offices were like or what the studio was like or anything like that?
I remember it being very dark and just sense of a third-degree light on me. I was very conscious of my hair being quite bushy that day as I am now. As I say, I wasn't used to. I wasn't polished. But I will say that Brian Lamb, even though it was chair to chair and I probably was nervous, he was so personable that I remember thinking within a minute or two, he's really asking. This is as if I'm talking to someone who says, "Oh, you wrote a book?" "Oh, yes, it's kind of interesting. Now, what are you saying?...because that's not what everyone else is saying?" And pretty soon I forgot that we were in this room with cameras and lights, but I was talking with Brian Lamb and he was interested. And that's what I remember.
Booknotes hour-long format differed greatly from most of the network television interviews which lasted three minutes or less. What do you think are the benefits and/or drawbacks of this longer format for the author and for the viewer?
Well, I mentioned that. And I did do a couple before and then many after the interview with Brian Lamb that were very short. "Oh, and now we have our expert and they'd ask three questions and thank you so much and goodbye." And I guess the good thing for me and maybe for the viewer is I had to try to hone down the points to a fairly comprehensible statement and that's good discipline. The longer format really allows you to get into the process so that I think it gives more integrity to whether the research was legitimate in the viewer's mind. And then also more time to sort of tease out the implications. And then having to explain those, it helped me keep bringing it back to What did the data suggest? What do we infer from that? How should we change our behavior in accordance with that? For the viewer, I suppose I can get very boring because I saw myself as an accountant, not the most exciting topic, but the numbers and then the policy implications did, I think, affect the viewer because it ended up saying that US taxpayers are financing defense against the Soviet Union, but the numbers show they're going bankrupt. Why do we want to preserve them? And why are we making loans to them? So then I think people start saying, "Well, yeah, that's a good question." I hope they were saying that.
And I think if you look at the interview, Brian Lamb was asking you the big questions, what does this mean? But he was also asking you the tiny questions. What if I'm a citizen in Moscow and I want to buy a can of Pepsi Cola? How do I do that? Where does the money go? That question was amazing to me because that's the kind of thing. Let's say you're at Thanksgiving and your uncle comes up to you. "Hey, you wrote this book. You must think you're pretty smart. What does that come down to? Explain it to me." And there was Brian Lamb really daring me to give the concreteness the detail to say, "You're talking about the Soviet currency, the ruble. We know that US companies are selling goods in the Soviet Union. You're trying to say something about their currency versus ours. So how does that work?" And I found myself on camera having to walk it through. And in a way that would make sense to, I would never call Brian Lamb average. I think he's quite extraordinary, but he was demanding it in terms of, "I'm not an expert, so make this make sense to me." And that turned out to be important to me as well because you have to be intellectually vertically integrated if you're going to tackle a subject where you think there are policy indications. If you can't take it to that level of, "Alright, if I'm a US company and I sell and I get a ruble, am I using it to buy products in the Soviet Union or am I doing it for political reasons? What is my purpose? Should I be subsidized doing it?" He made you walk it through and take the concrete all the way to the policy suggestive aspects of that analysis. And I think part of the issue at that moment in time was that the American public, the capitalistic American public, was seeing 300 million new consumers. And of course, as you state in your book, they had a lot of money sitting around that they had nothing to spend on. And so I could see the average American saying, "What's wrong with getting them cans of Coca-Cola that they can spend their rubles on? What harm does it do?" Well, that's why I think he gave me a chance to explain one, their money is not authentic, saved purchasing power that they legitimately earned. These were like, even Russians called it, "ruble trash," paper trash. These were little tickets handed out to a Soviet public who had gone along with the idea that they would say, they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work. Because you couldn't use those rubles. They didn't really translate as money into the capacity to buy goods. The consumer goods weren't available because the government emphasized spending on military infrastructure, space program, everything to glorify the government and power at this really basic level and at the expense of the consumer. So we were looking on this as if those rubles would then translate into purchasing power here. No, they were just the money for the government. The people had piled up that was meaningless to them and would be meaningless to anyone receiving it. So then you're just basically giving them consumer goods for nothing. And if you want to say in the name of humanitarian, "All right, we'll give you jeans or whatever else Soviet citizens might demand," but what you were really doing is taking pressure off the Soviet government who absolutely neglected the consumer sector who cared so little for the individuals who made up the Soviet population under communism, they were truly working cogs. And I think they sensed it. And as a result became even quite materialistic. So we were allowing the Soviet government to buy them off with Western goods and keep the whole thing operating. And that is what I was saying. Do we want to do that so that the government can continue to build up the military machine and then US taxpayers, not only bailing out the government by buying off the workers with goods, and then we pay to defend ourselves. I think that came out quite nicely in the interview.
So judging by the extensive marginalia, in some of his books, it appears Mr. Lamb read them thoroughly before the interview. I will have to state for the record though that your book has no marginalia. And what we think is that he didn't start making actual physical notes in the book until later. But it was pretty obvious he had read the book quite thoroughly and quite critically. Do you find this normal for interviews? And does it change the interview experience?
Not normal. It was, I would say, and again, this was early in doing anything for the media. But subsequent appearances have made it clear to me that's highly unusual. I think people read a book jacket. Maybe they read a review. So you get asked the same questions over and over. With Brian Lamb, I felt that he had read it, had thought about it, challenged me on a few things, wanted to know what prompted me to even write it. That's not a usual question. How did I get from my education to doing, to being an expert on this so that I'm saying, "Are you questioning?" No, I mean it was all a really human conversation, thorough and comprehensive. And I recall at the end he went through the recommendations that I made in the book and really asked me to explain each one. And I'm sure no other interview or even got that far along in the book to see what those specific recommendations were.
I think he wanted to be sure and get those in the interview because they were so, I don't want to use the term "provocative," but they were challenging.
They were challenging for me. In fact, when I first wrote the book, it was all about the analysis. It was my editor who said--Grant Ujifusa at The Free Press, he was great--he had told me as a writer since I'd never written a book before. I said, "How long should it be?" And he said, "How long should a dog's legs be?" And I'm like, "What?" And he says, "However long it needs to be." And then I said, "Well, how do I go through all of the statistical and the financial analysis part?" And he said, "You take the reader by the hand and you start to cross the stream and you say, 'Step on that rock there.'" And they do. And he said, "Oh, now step here and you bring them with you." And I said, "What should my voice be?" Because I read that. What author's voice is important. He said, "You're not Henry Kissinger." And he said, "But you're not just some little superficial journalist." He says, "You know this stuff. You're doctorates in finance and international economics. You can read financial statements. You've been studying Russia on the Soviet Union." "Who can tell this story? Tell it your way." And so that was... That told me that I needed to proceed with the analysis. But then when I got to the end of the book, what I thought was the end, that same editor said, "Okay, now so what?" "You said the Soviet Union, are you saying they're going bankrupt?" Well, I'm saying they can't keep doing what they're doing and we shouldn't be a party to it. Are they going bankrupt? Yeah, they're not going to be viable. No, they can't. I think so unless the West bails them out. And then you're saying, "You're saying the Soviet Union is going to go bankrupt." I'm like, "I don't see how they can avoid it." Then he got into, "Well, then what should the West be doing?" And then I found the book led me to working with even the Defense Department, which I never anticipated. I was an economist, even a green eyeshade accountant. And all of a sudden the Defense Department was saying, "Well, it's a sick bear." Right? Yes, I could say. Yes, it's a sick bear. Well, do you think that sick bear is going to lash out and its death throws or is it going to recede to a corner and go quietly? Because that tells us what kind of posture we don't want to provoke a sick bear, but should we offer it some kind of comfort? And I found myself involved in war gaming and I would be asked to play the Soviet Minister of Finance and all these interesting things to an academic. But suddenly it did have implications for how the Cold War was going to resolve itself or play out badly.
Well, your book came out at a very interesting time because just months later, just bare months later, the Poles had their round table in their election and then of course the Berlin Wall fell. And everything... the dominoes started tumbling. How did that change? I mean, what did that feel like to all of a sudden be able to say, "I told you so." I mean, this is exactly what they said was going to happen, or almost exactly.
It was really gratifying. I mean, I was relieved. I was relieved. And a friend from the Wall Street Journal who had been very supportive and I think they'd run an op-ed that I wrote about this brought me a piece of the wall right after the Berlin Wall fell. He'd been there and he delivered it. But not everyone was happy. Ironically, I was at a conference and I found people from the intelligence community backing me into a corner and saying, "Why are you saying the Soviet economy is falling apart?" Because now our government will say, "Why should we be spending money on defense?" And then we got into an argument on numbers because I thought CIA numbers showed the economy more viable than it was. And I said, "We knew it was in trouble, but we didn't put that in the statistics." And I said, "Well, then why publish anything?" If you can't, I mean, just say this for reasons of security, we're not going to put numbers on the Soviet financial performance or Soviet financial condition. Then I testified before Senate Foreign Relations and Pat Moynihan. I remember because everyone else was listed that day, the witness list, Professor Solon, so Dr. Solon, so when I was proud, I was Dr. Solon. So when he got to me, he called me Miss Shelton. And then he said, "You're very young, and you don't understand that when you assert that the Soviet Union is going bankrupt, that now the whole military industrial complex will be angry that you are taking away the rationale to spend so much money for defense." But I remember thinking, just because the Soviet economy is going bankrupt doesn't mean they're less dangerous. It was just inconceivable to Americans that an economy going bankrupt wouldn't cut back on defense. What they couldn't appreciate, the Soviet Union was prepared to spend a third of their economic resources to preserve military, not just equality, but even have some strategic advantages against the United States. They were prepared to just let people have nothing, and that was what I was trying to document. This is an indication that they're down to the nubbins, but it doesn't mean they're less dangerous. So I would say some people were saying, "Oh, she's right." Some of my colleagues, I would say, in a big, grudging way. But others said, "Oh, this is going to cause us to spend less." So I tried to emphasize that is not what you should take from this. They are not less dangerous because they're going bankrupt. We may have a window to manage this properly. I would give credit to President Reagan and the policies he put in place to manage the end of the Cold War in such a "thank God" peaceful way, because it could have been way different. It could have played out in a completely different scenario.
Mr. Lamb asked about an author's research and writing methods. Do you believe the reading public finds these details about the practice of writing interesting, and do you think other authors or publishers find them interesting?
Yes, both because probably many members of the public who would watch a program like that have a book in them or care about policy. And I think all writers are extremely curious about how other people write, how are they motivated, get sound, how many words a day, what's their discipline, how many hours, where do they do their research, how do they turn that into something else? I know I'm certainly fascinated by how other people write the process of getting the idea and then carrying it all the way through. I think people are interested in those details.
Mr. Lamb frequently asked his guest's biographical questions. Did that surprise you? Is that generally different from most author interviews you have?
It did surprise me and it's way different. I think there's sort of this implicit idea that in an interview there's kind of a mask. I mean, you're your professional self. And he's his professional self. And you don't go into the personal or break that barrier. So I remember being kind of, "Oh, he asked me." "Well, what does your husband do?" And how did you get from your PhD at the Stanford? If he knew every step of my educational background, where'd you grow up?" And it sort of is a little bit disorienting. And then it's kind of relief because then you have to sort of shed that professional demeanor and go, "Oh, yeah, I'm from LA. Y'all, my folks are there." And it turns it into a much more personal conversation. Were there any questions that he asked that really surprised you? Well, the one about how does this work in the Soviet Union with the Ruble? Because I had to think fast, but it was a good check on me to see if I knew what I was talking about. And I later felt, "Okay, I got through that, all right." But yeah, when he, it surprised me that he was interested in kind of, well, you've written this book, but were you scared to write it? How do you go from studying this and then learning about that? And it was not the usual, "I take your professional status for granted." Kind of an interview.
I think also because you came at this not just being a Soviet scholar or not just being a financial analyst, but being a bit of both, I think that made it very unique.
Well, the good part about that, maybe the strength is, yes, you get the hybrid vigor. But on the other hand, I could have felt insecure. I had not been steeped in the Sovietology consensus of that community, although I consulted with many. At the same time, I wasn't really just a corporate head. I always had my allied field during my PhD program was international economics. So I was very interested in countries, but sort of combined it with a financial analyst point of view, but dealing with a whole economy of a foreign country. And then I just had always been interested in Russian literature, Russian language. So I guess I had been tracking the Soviet Union. And then it's when everything came together that I thought, "That's worth checking out how much longer they're going to be able to be the Soviet Union."
So my next question is, did you watch Booknotes before? I mean, there had been what? Three episodes before you, because one of the first book took several episodes.
Honestly, I had no idea. Not seeing that.
But you had seen C-SPAN. Could you tell me about what you thought of C-SPAN?
Well, I just thought the idea of it was pure democracy. When you could see, I mean, he would just show you what was happening. The camera would tell the story. He didn't tell you, right? That's the ultimate. That's what they tell someone writing fiction. Show, don't tell. And he would show government at work. He would let you see an empty chamber, but someone pontificating before a microphone. And I thought that, and maybe that translated now that I think of it, from your questions to his style, to bring out the personal, not just have this sort of cosmetically perfected presentation of how government works. But really to say, "Here, we'll show you. The camera's on, and we're panning, and here's this guy, and here's where he is, and here's the situation, and you decide how that's working." And I think that's what I admired. Pure transparency, democracy, utter bipartisanship, without Gail. I mean, I just saw him as the quintessential American citizen, saying, "I have an interest in everything my government does, because it's my government, and it relates to my life. It's not a fixation like so many people in DC. It's more I could live anywhere in the country, but I vote. And I want to know foreign policy, domestic policy. Let's talk about these things. That's how he came to it. I love that."
For Booknotes, Mr. Lamb intentionally worked on a minimalist studio setting, so that the viewer's focus would be entirely on the author being interviewed. This is very different from network TV, for example. What do you think are the pluses and minuses of such an approach for the interviewee and for the viewer?
I think you're very conscious of being on camera. I mean, maybe I found that a little bit intimidating, but not too bad. It's also nice. It's a great compliment that they're looking at your face and your response, and you know that your body language is going to give away any insecurities. But I think it's healthy. I didn't realize how stark it was until I saw the final tape. Then I could see my own feelings and responses play out on my face. But that's different too. It's not a big made up. I don't know. Phony, phony, your 32nd presentation.
The Booknotes series focused entirely on nonfiction books published between the late 1980s and 2004. What do you think might be the advantages of an 800 book collection with just this focus?
From when to '88 to 2004? Wow. Well, I think the advantages are, I mean, if you want to learn from history, it would really be interesting, I think, to go through and see how many of those policy books, nonfiction, largely policy-oriented books, I think. It seems like you pick those kinds of books or culturally oriented. Did they really reveal any useful insights? What was their interaction with history as it ended up playing out? Because he gave a platform to individuals such as myself to really challenge us to lay out what we were saying in a book. I mean, how many books get published a year? He was giving you this amazing opportunity to say, "Here's what mine's about." And maybe that's why he focused on why were you compelled to write it? How did you write it? What are you saying? I think it's extremely valuable to go back and see the relationship of these ideas and where they subsequently proven, disproven, helpful or antithetical to the way things played out or should have played out.
So, Brian Lamb and C-Span had a rule for Booknotes that authors could only appear on the program one time. If asked, would you have returned for another interview?
Oh, sure. In a minute. Yeah. It was exciting. And I felt very grateful. I mean, I was squeamish and I cringed watching it at many instances. But overall, it was one of the greater opportunities and privileges. And it really meant a lot. And I will say, though, I guess it was, it was Booknotes was over, but five years ago. So 20 years later on his show Q&A, he did have me back. And I remember so many line was, "I haven't seen or heard anything from you in 20 years." And then I had to explain, "Well, I am out of a hermit, but I do put work out there. I've had quite a few pieces of the Wall Street Journal." But then I didn't want to my own horn too much. But I thought, "That's neat. I was happy to be asked back." And he made me review some segments from the Booknotes show. And we sort of jointly said, "Hey, that turned out to be kind of right on." So it was fun.
Was there a difference in sales or national attention for your book after you discussed it with Brian Lamb on Booknotes? And how about critical reception?
Yeah. Well, I think that probably did spur a lot of the interest. Was Booknotes the first interview you did? I think I might have done one two-minute segment on a Washington show. I did a really early one on CNN. That was my first, I think. But I'm talking a two or three minute, "Oh, and a new book by a new author says we should maybe not be helping the Soviet Union. What do you say?" And I go, "Why don't think maybe we should? They might be going broke. Is that right? Thank you so much." Well, it's always way different with him. But then I found an organization sent copies of the book to every member of Congress, both houses. Then two senators, Democrat, Republican, hosted a reception at the Capitol. The book went to cabinet secretaries. I found myself getting personal handwritten notes from Richard Nixon, who took a great interest in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I involved in these war gaming exercises, finding myself working with people from the defense community. I think he is noting the book so early on in combination with, as you say, things Gorbachev was doing and then what was happening in Poland and seeing the Berlin Wall come down. And all of these events then made it possible to go back and take a closer look at the book. But it was Brian Lamb who had conducted that in-depth interview. And maybe people could see it, were prompted to read it. I never tracked sales. It's funny because it was always meant to be, or initially meant to be as a postdoctoral project. I had a fellowship from Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And the original title was The Impact of Western Capital on the Soviet economy. I mean, dull, technically dull. By the time I wrote it up and I had a New York publisher at the urging of the Hoover Institution, I thanked them. They said, "This really, there's public interest. You have our permission to turn this into a retail book, policy book." That's very unusual. Very unusual because my whole fellowship was based on this dry paper, but they said things are happening. And yes, so they even set me up to meet with publishers in New York. And I was delighted a couple had interest. But when I saw the title, I even had, I thought, a catchy title. I wanted to call it In the Red. Because they were going bankrupt, but also we were making loans to recipients in the Soviet Union. So I thought that was as catchy as could be. Well, no. They wanted the coming Soviet crash. I was so embarrassed. This was to me sensationalist. I knew that in the scholarly community, I would now be dismissed as a showboat, popularist, and lose credibility. You asked how it affected my reputation. I think the scholarly community can be very tough. And maybe it's a mixture of, if I say resentment, that sounds. But everyone's a little jealous of carving out their niche. And I was sort of a newcomer. And so there was a little bit of that. And once you write a book that's popular, then it sort of presumes you don't have the full academic integrity somehow. Because if you can make this understandable to the public, you must not be dealing at the proper scholarly level. And I don't believe that. Just the opposite. If you can't make your case to the public, you probably don't have a case to be made or you don't know what you're talking about. So see that Brian Lamb made you pass that test. So bottom line, I don't know what the sales were, but no doubt. Because the rights to an Italian version were bought. And my publisher was deliriously happy. German, the UK. So I know the sales were good. And then my next book, three or four years later, came out. But in the meantime, my same publisher, the Free Press, said, "Whatever you want to write about this, it's fine." And I'd gotten a $5,000 advance for the Soviet book. And I was so concerned about delivering. And they gave half at the beginning and only half after it was out. But the next advance was more. And the sales were pretty good.
Well, did your experience with Brian Lamb and Booknotes cause you to rethink any of your own approaches or assumptions regarding your research or writing?
I think it reinforced that that was the right way to go. I think it made me feel that if I had earlier been concerned about sensationalizing an academic topic, Brian Lamb's interview made me realize that's the whole point. When you say something's popular, you mean people are interested, they're reading about it, and they recognize that it may have meaning for them personally. And so that, I would say, became the standard for sure. And he just made me feel like, yes, be able to explain why an American should care about this. And it starts with why should they pay to buy this book? Or he listened to you for an hour to talk about it. What have you been working on after this book? And which works are you most pleased with and why? I have been working on international monetary reform. And my next book was called Money Meltdown. And I continue to be so interested in that. Right after the Soviet book, I thought about when Russia became a new country. And we were all pretty excited with Yeltsin coming to power. I mean, I saw a chance to help Russian people who I liked throughout get out from under this oppressive totalitarian government. So I was really trying to come up with currency proposals for Russia and fix the ruble first. And that's what a lot of the correspondents with President Nixon was about, which is ironic because under President Nixon we lost the only orderly international monetary system we've had since World War II, the Bretton Woods system. And I'm a big believer that not having an international monetary system, well, it's immoral. I mean, I think money should be a human right, sound money. I really have a problem with governments manipulating the value of money. I think it interferes with true free trade. I think it undermines capitalism and rule of law and belief in free markets and free people. So I mean, I must have a theological sense of honest sound money. I guess I would call it Jack Kemp's unfinished agenda. We should almost have a global goal standard. Whatever it takes to let everybody have a meaningful measure of their activity and the value of goods and services. And so you can really have an open global marketplace. So that to me, I'm most proud and I'm now up to. I've had in the last seven years, 28 opinion pieces published in the Wall Street Journal on the editorial page. I am most proud of those articles. There seems to be an audience. Sometimes you get written off as fringe and other people say that's profoundly liberal, that the value of money should be as an honest measure of human output, of human savings, so people can plan for the future. And so I'm most proud of articles with a capitalist manifesto was won, or free markets need a sound money foundation. So those, I produced a little pamphlet called The Guide to Sound Money for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Very proud of that. As I say, I think the most pressing problem in the world before we have the next international financial crisis would be to build a true international monetary system that worked for everyone. So I'll get off my box. But you're not calling for a single global currency. Well, in a Mendelian sense, I mentioned Robert Mundell, I think. He won the Nobel in 1999. He was really the architect of the supply side revolution. Yes, when the world was on an international gold standard in the classic era of late 1800s up through the beginning of First World War, every country had their own currency, but they had to back it by being on a gold standard. So no one was forcing the rules and regulations. It was automatically a discipline that was self-imposed if a country became a member of the gold standard, if it would convert its currency on demand into a certain fixed weight of gold. So the whole world, all of these countries, including Russia, of course, had free trade based on what effectively was a common currency. Because if every national currency is convertible into gold at a fixed weight, then all of those currencies are convertible into each other at fixed value. So effectively, it's a common monetary unit of account for all trade. And that was an era of such great advances, true productivity that helped people improve lives and extended lives and made them richer. And it was free trade based on this common currency which was self-disciplining. And I compare that to now where I think inequality of wealth is a big issue, but what's causing it around the world? Global stock markets are record levels. The inequality, I think, is because central banks are playing monetary favorites. If you already have financial assets, you are making out like a bandit. Every time this quantitative easing, whether or not China, the US we've had, the European Union, the values are going up in the stock market, but are real wages going up? No. So I see that feeding all the resentments, the political tensions associated with inequality. And I say central banks are demoralizing people because they're undermining the way free markets should work and undermining everyone's ability to save money, a moral virtue, and have it be a store of value. So that, to me, is the number one problem. A new international monetary system based on sound money, based on rules, and the least political way to establish a rule for the value of money would be to invoke a modern version of a gold standard.
This is fun. Unfortunately, unfortunately, I have to get you back to Booknotes. So in your estimation, what has been the lasting impact of Booknotes in the then contemporary American society and perhaps in subsequent times?
Well, I think what you're doing is really important, having an archive, and that, to me, would be the testimonial and have a lasting impact. People can refer back to it. I don't know. Is there anything like Booknotes on now where they have an in-depth? They do have book TV. Book TV. It's not quite as in depth. It's not just Brian Lamb doing it. He brought a personal integrity to it and a curiosity that I don't -- I mean, what is its impact? I mean, I would love to say that everyone else is emulating that, but I don't know if they can. I mean, I think it was -- that was a special era due to his singular efforts. And I'm sure he brought many policy insights or would-be insights to the attention of the public. And how that then played out, I don't know. I think the archive will help preserve that. And only people reviewing it now, maybe after some of that history has passed post 2004, will be able to say, "Oh, that book did affect policymakers or did affect public opinion." So do you think there is a need not just to do these sorts of interviews, the Booknotes sort of interviews, but to have a central clearing house where people can go and see the program? Oh, sure. Absolutely. Could you imagine that that's part of the equation that's left out is the central gathering where everyone can see it at the same time? Well, I guess when -- I mean, when he was doing it, everyone who tuned in was seeing it, and that had a direct impact. I suppose if now if it's in the archives, you will have individuals in their own time, maybe watch things in depth. It won't have the impact of it hitting the world or that segment of the world that's watching. At that moment, under those circumstances, at that precise point in history. But that was extremely valuable. But having the archive, I mean, that has to be the next best thing. And of course, all the interviews are online. And can people categorize them by subject? Or is it by -- see, that's invaluable. And the transcripts are available. I think that's invaluable. I think that is real research. That's -- people who go back to the raw data, and that can be a raw transcript, and unearth something based on actually reading it. Yeah, I mean, I'm so happy that's being preserved.
Well, is there anything -- I've reached the end of my scripted questions. But I'd like to know, is there anything that you would like to add regarding the Booknotes program, C-SPAN or Brian Lamb?
Well, God bless Brian Lamb. I know he's won numerous awards. The ultimate awards is a great citizen. He's done such a service for America at a time when I don't think anyone was doing that. And I don't tune -- even to this day, whenever I look at C-SPAN 1 or C-SPAN 2 or any C-SPAN programs, I just think, what a great idea. And, goodness, he did that. Shine a light on the way our government works. I'm a big fan of Thomas Jefferson, and I just think he would be smiling. And the Booknotes program was sort of the evolution, because the country is evolving, and history keeps moving forward. And his willingness to open up ideas, processes, democracy at work, allowing free inquiry of topics affecting the government, and then bringing that into public view. Everything that Jefferson wanted for this country, you know, Brian Lamb was helping to make happen. Wonderful.
Well, Dr. Shelton, thank you for agreeing to do this oral history interview and for sharing with us your experience on this groundbreaking television interview program. Thank you so much.
Thanks so much.