By Julian Dibbell
Thirty miles south of Florida's Cape Canaveral lies the town of Melbourne, home to the Action Gun pistol range, where, on a balmy Thursday afternoon, James Ray stands calmly firing round after Glock 9-mm round at a photocopied image of Adolf Hitler. Ray supplied the target himself. He purchased it on the Web site of one of his favorite nonprofit organizations (Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership), and its ideological content is not what you'd call subtle: Against the background of a standard ring target, the Führer stands in full Sieg heil mode, his arm up high and his sternum right in the bull's-eye, above a caption that reads ALL IN FAVOR OF GUN CONTROL RAISE YOUR RIGHT HAND. By the time Ray has had enough of the Glock, the target is nicely perforated. Then he picks up his .44 Magnum hand cannon and blows Adolf pretty much to bits.
Yes, Jim Ray is a gun freak. But as it happens, the purpose of today's visit to the pistol range is not to huff powder fumes or celebrate the Second Amendment. He's here to show that there's a type of money you can believe in without also having to believe in the authority of the state. He's here to offer a glimpse of a world in which wealth resides ultimately not in flimsy pieces of government-issue paper but in rock-solid slabs of $279-an-ounce metal. He's here, in short, to demonstrate the vanguard of monetary technology: a 5,000-year-old form of cash called gold.
Or in this case, e-gold, the world's first 100 percent precious metal-backed Internet currency, with which Ray pays for his outings at the gun range and a lot more besides. The private currency was launched five years ago and is now operated by two separate but tightly linked companies: e-gold Ltd., incorporated in the Caribbean island state of Nevis as a holding company for the system's assets, and Gold & Silver Reserve, headquartered in Melbourne, which takes care of everything else. Both are closely held and managed by e-gold chair Douglas Jackson. In addition, Jackson has forged a partnership with Islamic entrepreneurs to launch e-dinar, which is foreign owned.
Jim Ray works for G&SR as "lead evangelist." He draws his monthly salary in e-gold; each gram sitting in his Web-based account gives him title to a gram of real gold held in vaults in London and the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes he trades his e-gold for e-silver, e-platinum, or e-palladium - the other, far less popular, metal-backed currencies offered in the e-gold system. More often, he trades it for US dollars through G&SR's OmniPay exchange service or one of the couple dozen independent exchange providers who make their living selling e-gold for dollars, marks, yen, and other national currencies at the standard 4 to 6 percent markup over the spot price of gold. But otherwise, he spends the stuff like cash, giving it straight to whoever will take it.
And people do. Ray's .44, his Hitler target, the bullets in his Glock - all were paid for with instant, online transfers to the sellers' e-gold accounts. And when he settles up today at the Action Gun cash register, he'll have this afternoon's $18 shooting fee charged to his tab, which he'll pay in e-gold when he gets back to his desktop. He'll point, he'll click, he'll type in some account numbers and a password and, in the blink of a clock cycle, approximately 2 of the 1.7 million grams of solid gold in the system's reserves - a gleaming hoard of 141 brick-sized ingots - will change owners.
"It's the only foreign currency without a nationality," says e-gold's Jackson. On an average day, his company's clients make 8,600 transactions, trading roughly $1.6 million worth of e-gold for goods, services, and cash worldwide. Those numbers are more than double what they were 18 months ago, and so are most other statistics. As of November, there were 287,965 accounts in the system, up from 134,150 at the beginning of 2001, and the amount of emetal in those accounts, worth more than $16 million, was close to twice what it had been the previous November. In a sector littered with the corpses of failed online currencies and other exotic emoney systems - Beenz, Flooz, DigiCash, CyberCash, CyberCent - e-gold is quietly thriving.
Ray calls it "the little payment system that could" - the operative word, of course, being little. The company's financials ($5.47 million in revenue; 114,000 funded accounts) are Popsicle-stand caliber compared with the figures posted by emoney media darling PayPal, with its $80 million to $100 million in revenue and its 10 million customers. But with fewer than two dozen employees and a marketing budget close to zero, Jackson's corporate structure runs lean and, as of the summer of 2000, profitable. The company finally got its first competitors in 2001 - GoldMoney, E-Bullion, 3PGold, OSGold - attracted to the gold-backed digital currency space by low barriers to entry and the smell of black ink.
The product's appeal? "Fundamentals," says Ray. For online consumers, especially those making international purchases, e-gold offers an ease of use and a degree of anonymity that credit cards can't match. And for some merchants, of course, the only selling point e-gold needs is that there are people who want to spend it. After a German customer inquired about e-gold, Vince Lee, president of TealPoint Software, added the payment option. "It's not a big part of our business," admits Lee, whose company is probably the largest of the couple hundred mostly mom-and-pop operations that take e-gold online. "But in this climate, you can't really afford to turn any customers away."
Ray argues, though, that the advantages for merchants go further. A transaction fee of 1 percent, capped at 50 cents per spend, comes in well under the 2 to 5 percent fees charged by credit card companies. And as for that bane of online businesses, the credit card chargeback, e-gold is a silver bullet. Unlike almost any other form of online payment, e-gold clears instantly and finally, with no chance for the spender to cancel after the fact. Or as Ray puts it, "When you get paid, you stay paid."
Still, Ray knows better than to pretend that these are the only reasons most e-gold users have bought into the system. Or even, perhaps, the main ones. For most consumers, the ability to reverse online credit card charges is decidedly a feature rather than a bug. And if you're going to pay a nickel for every dollar you turn into e-gold - as the going rate of exchange requires - you're probably not doing it because you want to help some online merchant save the same nickel in transaction fees. More likely, you're doing it at least in part for the one thing e-gold offers that no other digital payment system before it ever has. You're doing it for the gold.
Which is to say, you're doing it for any of the complex cultural, psychological, and above all political reasons that make gold, in Ray's words, "the most emotional spot on the periodic table - never mind plutonium."
As a onetime Libertarian candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, Ray is well aware, for instance, that a large percentage of e-gold's early adopters come from the ranks of the laissez-faire radicals for whom gold has long been an icon of economic freedom from government. Others are goldbug investors, desperately bullish on the metal despite years of declining prices. Still others come to e-gold via e-dinar, looking to honor Islamic financial commandments and subvert the Western economic system.
Finding bits of 141 bars of gold circulating on the Net is a little like a coelacanth, a financial fossil come to life. Don't be fooled. E-gold is hotter than plutonium.
But all the same, Ray insists gold's philosophical baggage doesn't stand in the way of its being a technically superior currency. It frustrates and baffles him, for example, that the only advocacy groups currently taking e-gold donations on their Web sites are outfits like his cherished Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership or the cyber libertarian Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I would love," he says, "to go up to some offensive antifreedom group like Handgun Control Inc. and say, 'Look, you morons: You're taking plastic. They're taking a percentage out. Take e-gold and sell it for a profit. It's better money! Even if you're not a libertarian, it's better money.'"
Ray sighs, as if summoning the patience to wait for civilization to catch up with him. "Gold," he says, "has always been better money."
There are those who would beg to differ - among them, the most influential economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, who 78 years ago declared the gold standard a "barbarous relic," unfit for the complex monetary demands of modern economies. In Keynes' now widely held view, the problem with pegging currencies to fixed amounts of gold was that it limited government's ability to adjust the money supply, which among other things made economic crashes much more brutal than they had to be. The onset of the Depression drove the point home, and central banks spent the next 40 years gradually weaning themselves off gold. Finally, in 1971, President Richard Nixon pulled the plug on the world's last metallic national currency: the gold-backed dollar. Ever since, the major currencies have all floated anchorless, backed only by "the full faith and credit" of their issuing governments.
Encountering 141 solid bars' worth of gold-backed currency circulating on the Internet, therefore, is a little like hauling a wriggling, gasping coelacanth up from the bottom of the sea: It's a financial fossil come to life, calmly going about its existence despite decades of expert consensus that it couldn't be anything but dead.
Don't be fooled, though. The convergence of gold and the Net - of the oldest of low tech and the newest of the high - isn't nearly the freak encounter it appears. When Douglas Jackson first conceived of e-gold in 1995, he had barely heard of the Internet. Likewise, when longtime gold-market analyst James Turk founded GoldMoney last February - Jackson's most serious competition - he was making good on a concept he'd started thinking about in 1979, back when he still doubted that the technological infrastructure to support it would exist in his lifetime. But both men knew as soon as they encountered the Net that their currency belonged there - and not least because classic gold money and the core mechanisms of the Internet are in fact strikingly analogous technologies.
The international gold standard was one of the technical wonders of the highly globalized late-Victorian era - a sophisticated, elegant mechanism for transmitting value from one end of the civilized world to the other. National monies existed, of course, but in effect were just local network protocols running on top of the internetwork layer that connected them all. Or as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell has put it, "Currencies were just names for particular weights of gold." The dollar, for instance, was fixed by statute at 23.22 grains (about one-twentieth of an ounce), the pound sterling at 113.0016 grains, and so on. Local payments were made in local units, but all cross-border deals ultimately were settled through international bank-to-bank shipments of the universal currency - bullion.
Today, in a world just now returning to Gilded Age levels of economic interdependence after a century of hot and cold global warfare, the closest thing we have to a universal money is the US dollar. But as with most proprietary standards, many argue, the dollar introduces costly inefficiencies into the system - from the distorting influence of US monetary policies on non-US markets to the simple fact that final clearance of dollar payments still takes place only during East Coast banking hours.
Clearly, says Turk, if the Internet is going to become the engine of global commerce it's cracked up to be, it needs a currency it can call its own - a currency as nonproprietary and international as the Internet itself. "And gold seems to be the logical candidate," he says, "because after all, that's gold's traditional role. It's international money."
But if gold does good things for the Internet, says Jackson, the Internet does even better things for gold. E-gold isn't your great-grandfather's gold standard. It's new and improved, Jackson argues, fortified by the rigor of free-market discipline and the openness of digital networks. And if you think that's no big deal, well, Jackson - a 45-year-old former oncologist and entirely self-taught economist - would like you to know that his invention represents "an epochal change in human destiny" and "probably the greatest benefit to humanity that's ever been thought of."
How so? Invulnerable to government manipulation and subject to the kinds of market forces only a worldwide, 24/7, open-ended network can bring to bear, e-gold promises not simply better money but the best: a money supply kept so straight and narrow that it has room for neither bubbles nor crashes. And "this," as Jackson is fond of claiming, "fixes something that's been screwed up since before the pharaohs." After millennia in which the boom and bust of the business cycle has washed ceaselessly over human affairs - playing havoc with the lives of rich and poor and even now blackening capitalism's good name - e-gold has arrived to still the waters. E-gold is here to bring capitalism to a kind of perfection.
Not that it's a foregone conclusion. Some of Jackson's closest business colleagues, after all, like to think e-gold might actually bring capitalism to its knees.
It's a hot high noon in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Faint, muggy breezes are blowing in off the Persian Gulf; and in the shopping malls, Mercedes dealerships, and air-conditioned Starbucks of this deliriously prosperous city-state, loudspeakers are discreetly broadcasting the muezzins' call to prayer.
The call can also be heard, if you listen hard enough, inside a 12-foot-square, steel-and-concrete-walled storage vault located in Dubai International Airport's heavily guarded cargo-holding facilities. But if you're inside the vault, your mind is probably on other things. Like, for instance, the $7.5 million worth of precious metal piled up around you: five flat bars of chrome-bright palladium; two large plastic jars full of powdery platinum sponge; 160 fat, tarnished loaves of silver; and - on a single shelf, laid out one next to the other like babies in a maternity ward - 58 slender, radiant bricks of 99.9 percent pure gold, about 400 troy ounces each and altogether worth more than $6.5 million.
These assets represent nearly half of the e-gold system's physical reserves, and there are, arguably, sound business reasons for storing them in this part of the world. Dubai, sometimes called the Switzerland of the Middle East, offers the financial sophistication of a major commercial hub, the low overhead of a mostly immigrant labor pool, and the high security of a politely authoritarian mini-monarchy.
But the truth is, the gold is here because Allah commanded it. Or at any rate, because the passionate believers behind e-dinar - the network's Muslim-friendly frontend - believe He did. When Douglas Jackson and the e-dinar principals began the negotiations that culminated in e-dinar's September 2000 launch, Jackson was told up front that a proper Islamic currency requires a proper Islamic country as its base. Obligingly, he moved some of the company's existing assets from ScotiaBank in Canada to Dubai's Transguard repository (the rest remains with J. P. Morgan Chase in London) and even rewrote his governance contract to give e-dinar a limited veto over bullion transfers out of the vault. In return, e-dinar agreed, in effect, to help market the e-gold system to the world's 1.1 billion Muslims.
The pitch? Late one night in the lobby of one of Dubai's five-star hotels, a 46-year-old Muslim named Abdalhasib Castiñeira lays it out, sipping chamomile tea as he outlines a brief theology of money and calmly prophesies the downfall of the worldwide capitalist imperium.
A gaunt, neatly bearded Spaniard, Castiñeira is marketing director of the Islamic Mint, a private institution dedicated to reviving as international currency the coinage described in the Koran - the gold dinar and silver dirham. He has placed on the table before him two small gold coins inscribed with Arabic scripture. The Islamic Mint makes them and they represent, says Castiñeira, the Islamic virtues of fair trade and honest value. Give someone a piece of gold, the argument goes, and you give him a real asset whose worth has endured throughout millennia. "Whereas this," he says, pulling a crisp US hundred-dollar bill out of his wallet, "is just a promise." Put your faith in it, and you submit to a system ultimately controlled by governments and corporations, a system that when it collapses - "all empires fall sooner or later," he says - will take the dollar down with it.
"But if you hold this," he says, picking up one of the gold coins and weighing it thoughtfully in his palm, "you are free."
The coin in Castiñeira's hand contains 4.25 grams of gold, just as the dinar did in the time of the Prophet. Likewise, and by no coincidence, the e-dinar's primary unit of account is also 4.25 grams of gold. Officially, the Islamic Mint and e-dinar are separate organizations, but they're actually the off- and online divisions of a single project, joined by ideological and personal ties.
E-dinar's British COO, Yahya Cattanach, and his family share a communal condo with Castiñeira in the comfortable Jumeirah district of Dubai. The company's Spanish president, Umar Ibrahim Vadillo, is also the president of the Islamic Mint. And finally, uniting all three men - as well as e-dinar's Swiss CEO, Malaysian CFO, and German CTO - is one crucial biographical datum: All are high-placed members of the Murabitun movement, a modern, Western offshoot of Sufi Islam and possibly the only religious sect in history whose defining article of faith is a financial theory.
There aren't too many Murabitun in the world; they number probably in the thousands. But they are avid proselytizers, supported in part by Dubai's royal Maktoum family, and they've established significant communities in Germany, England, South Africa, Indonesia, and Spain (though none is quite so impressive, perhaps, as the Murabitun outpost in Chiapas, Mexico, a community of 600 local Indians converted in the midst of the Zapatista uprising). Scattered though they are, community leaders see one another often, convening regularly in the small Scottish town of Achnagairn, home to the movement's founder and patriarch, the 71-year-old Sheikh Abdalqadir As-Sufi.
For most of his life, the sheikh went by the proper Scots name Ian Dallas. In the 1960s, he worked as an actor and promoter, making the scene in London and Paris and hanging with Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles, and other hippie icons. Increasingly disillusioned with the counterculture, Dallas wound up in Morocco, where he met the Sufi spiritual leader Sheikh Muhammad ibn al-Habib and became a Muslim. Sheikh Muhammad had a vision: The modern revival of Islam, he believed, would come from, as he put it, "the people who pee standing" - from Westerners. Ian Dallas, now Abdalqadir, was anointed to take the lead. "Go to your land and see what will happen," Sheikh Muhammad told him, and he went.
Back in London, Sheikh Abdalqadir slowly gathered acolytes from among the drifting spiritual seekers of the day. Murabitun legend has it that pop star Cat Stevens (later Yusuf Islam) got his first exposure to Islam from Sheikh Abdalqadir, when both of them used to hang out at T. Rex singer Marc Bolan's house. Others became hardcore followers, donning djellabas and turbans and helping the sheikh shape Murabitun belief into a curiously worldly mysticism - a radical Islam tinged with elements of classic European anarchism, moderate feminism, refined anti-Semitism, and dense Heideggerian phenomenology.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s, however, that the members of the Murabitun truly began to set themselves apart from the run of post-hippie spiritual movements. Sheikh Abdalqadir came to believe that if there was anything a group of Western Muslims was best positioned to contribute to the world, it was an Islamic cleansing of the global financial system. And so he set his closest followers - in particular Umar Vadillo - the task of studying classic Islamic texts on money, with a view to drawing out their modern implications. The result, published in 1991, was the "Fatwa Concerning the Islamic Prohibition of Using Paper-Money as a Medium of Exchange."
"You want to be radical? You don't need to blow up the bank, just burn your bank account. For that you need an alternative. What is the alternative? E-dinar."
In the wake of fatwas sentencing Salman Rushdie to death and launching Osama bin Laden's terrorist jihad, Vadillo's sounds almost comically wonky. But make no mistake: This is an extreme document. The Bible condemns the financial practice of usury, certainly, and Islam does so even more firmly, prohibiting as haram, or unlawful, not only excessive but any interest charges on debt - a stricture that generally requires orthodox Muslims to leap through awkward theological hoops just to keep their money in a bank. But what Vadillo objects to, and in no uncertain terms, is modern money itself. "After examining all the aspects of paper money," he writes, "in the Light of the Qur'an and the Sunna, we declare that the use of paper money in any form of exchange is usury and therefore haram."
Naturally, you can't comply with the fatwa merely by paying with plastic instead of paper. Paper money is a usurious cheat, Vadillo argues, largely because it has become "nothing but a pure symbol with no reality attached except the imposition of law." And since that same unreality undergirds the entire monetary system, the only honest way to escape its taint is to strive for the entire system's destruction. The fatwa, in short, is a call to financial jihad, and the struggle, Vadillo predicts, will be an unconventional one. Muslim information warriors will hack into banking networks and "transfer money at random." They will create dummy companies and "absorb debt that will never be paid back." They will "raid" the diamond and gold markets, which, according to Sheikh Abdalqadir's way of thinking, represent the hoarded wealth of the world's great usurers, the Jews.
But these are tactics for a war that has yet to come, and may not ever. For now, and before all else, there's one thing Muslims everywhere need to do to hasten the end of the paper-currency regime and with it the demise of capitalism, the liberation of Islam, and the restoration (insh'allah) of the caliphate: They must work together to create a righteous alternative. They must bring back gold and silver as a standard medium of exchange.
What was Douglas Jackson thinking when he hooked up with these guys? If he could have looked into the future, would he have guessed that, at the start of 2002, the world's attention would be riveted on pan-Islamic radicalism and its links to, among other things, obscure international money networks? And if so, would he still have steered his own obscure international money network into so close a partnership with the Murabitun?
Probably. So far, Jackson's only second thoughts about the e-dinar deal have been to wonder just how much appeal the Murabitun's financial extremism really holds for the average Muslim. "The jury's still out," he says somewhat ruefully, noting that in a year of operations the funds held in e-dinar accounts have barely added up to a single bar of gold. For this and similarly mundane reasons, Jackson was already looking to loosen e-dinar's connection to the e-gold system months before the World Trade Center collapsed, and he insists the political mood since then hasn't added any urgency to the task.
And why should it? In the weeks since September 11, investigators have painted a pretty clear picture of the kind of networks they think al Qaeda & Co. are moving their money around in, and it doesn't include anything as Net-savvy as online payment systems.
And even if it did turn out that al Qaeda funds have passed through e-dinar, one thing's for sure: The Murabitun wouldn't be thrilled to hear it. For years they have publicly proclaimed their contempt for terrorists of every stripe, and in the wake of the September attacks, their stance has only hardened. Shortly after 9-11, Sheikh Abdalqadir issued a declaration excoriating Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The attacks themselves he condemned as horrific and, more to the point, futile. "Bombing a building which houses a magical wealth system, which has no physical reality but remains simply electronic impulses in the digital archives of computers, far from attacking or weakening the system, strengthens it," wrote the sheikh. "A true study of the Qur'an and the Sunna shows us that capitalism will not be abolished on the battlefield but in the marketplace where it is practiced."
"Look, we are against terrorism more than Bush is," Vadillo explains via email. "You want to be radical? You don't need to blow up the bank, just burn your bank account. And for that you are going to need an alternative. What is the alternative? E-dinar."
That's not to say Jackson shouldn't be worried about tainted money coursing through the e-gold system - or that he isn't. But what troubles him most are the Ponzi schemes: Hundreds of online pyramid scams have made e-gold (because of its convenience and because it offers bilked users no way to cancel charges) their payment system of choice.
It gives some sense of how much these operations have contributed to e-gold's bottom line to know that, to this day, the single largest holding in the e-gold system - $1.1 million in gold, 8 percent of total reserves - sits unclaimed in an account belonging to an alleged Ponzi that shut down a year ago. As for more recent activity, Eric Gaither of Gaithman's, one of the leading independent gold-currency exchanges, guesses that "at least 50 to 60 percent of e-gold" transactions are headed into or out of what he and others sometimes euphemistically call HYIPs (high-yield investment programs) or simply games. Other reputable exchange providers put the figure between 30 and 90 percent. "Frankly," says Steve Foerster, former CTO of G&SR and currently COO of Dominica-based gold currency 3PGold, "without online games right now there would be no gold economy."
For his part, Jackson vigorously denies HYIPs account for anything approaching a substantial portion of e-gold traffic. "These are piddly-ass little things," he says. "When you actually run one of these things down, they're pathetic." Still, he concedes, they're a PR liability, and he and his staff have been working hard to squeeze them out of the system. They've instituted "know your customer" rules to identify suspected swindlers, and they've cooperated amicably with law enforcement. When SEC staffers came to G&SR's offices last May to review the accounts of one of the biggest e-gold schemes ever - the self-styled "Christian-based humanitarian organization," E-Biz Ventures, shut down after allegedly inflicting losses of $8.5 million on investors - they were welcomed with coffee, bagels, and a conference room of their own. J. Chris Condren, the attorney charged with recovering E-Biz investors' money, has only good things to say about e-gold. "They've answered every question we've asked them, they've responded to every subpoena, every request for information."
Still, Jackson sometimes seems almost baffled that anyone could care who uses e-gold and why. It's all the same for him, for instance, that most users haven't a clue about the profound macroeconomic consequences he sees in e-gold. "They could be doing this for the dumbest reasons, we don't care," he says. "All we need is a growing circulation." For Jackson, the only thing that really seems to matter is what happens when the circulation gets big enough for e-gold to matter. Will he be proved right or not? Will e-gold bring about an epochal change in human destiny or won't it? And if it does, will anybody still care that once upon a time e-gold was a currency beloved of gun freaks, Sufi anarchists, and Ponzi schemers?
"You're going to have to make a personal judgment," says Jackson. "Am I some sort of dipshit visionary, you know, that's got some idea, but what I'm really doing is just sort of facilitating all kinds of sleazy stuff? Or in fact is this vision one that is achievable?"
So which is it? Take your time. And if you really want to get a handle on the question, try the following experiment. Go out and find a 400-troy-ounce gold bar, like the ones stored in the e-gold vault in Dubai, and pick it up. You'll learn something interesting about gold: It's heavy.
Maybe you think you knew this already. Maybe you know gold has a specific gravity of 19.3, and that this means it's 19.3 times heavier than water. Maybe you also know gold is heavier than any element known to humans prior to the 18th-century discovery of platinum, and almost twice as heavy as lead. But until you've held 400 ounces of it in your hand, you've probably never grasped just what sort of heavy this stuff really is. Relative to its modest size, the 27.5 pounds in a standard gold bar is so much weight it's nearly impossible to accept that gravity alone accounts for the force you feel as you lift it. You're tempted to attribute some additional, almost metaphysical, power to the metal - as if the gold brick in your hand weren't just undeniably real but a gleaming avatar of reality itself.
And whether or not Douglas Jackson actually thinks of gold that way, he sure tends to act like he does. Beneath the scaffolding of what he calls his "unassailable economic logic" lies the true foundation of his vision: the self-assurance of a man convinced he's discovered something as genuine as it gets in a world ruled by fiction and cheats.
This is why, despite Jackson's efforts to position his system as a serious financial player - a rival to the major currencies of the world - little e-dinar remains Jackson's closest corporate partner. Maybe Jackson wants to fix capitalism and maybe the Murabitun want to finish it, but both, at bottom, pursue a truth that isn't so much economic as it is spiritual. Both see in gold a purity that transcends the machinations of the merely mortal.
Which at least answers part of Jackson's question: Is he some sort of dipshit visionary? Well, no more or less, really, than Sheikh Abdalqadir As-Sufi, the Scottish redeemer of the Muslim world. As for whether Jackson's vision is in fact achievable - let's just say the odds of e-gold effecting an epochal change in human destiny are probably not much better than e-dinar's odds of bringing back the caliphate.
But both may be better than you think. Last June, Mahathir Mohammed, the irascible, authoritarian prime minister of financially beleaguered, mostly Muslim Malaysia, called for the formation of an "Islamic trading bloc." Like the Euro Zone, the bloc would have its own currency, yet with a twist: The "Islamic dinar," as Mahathir proposes calling it, would be backed not by anybody's faith and credit but by gold. As it happens, Mahathir seems to have gotten the idea for the gold dinar from none other than Jackson's associates among the Murabitun. If the proposal flies then there is a more than negligible chance that e-gold could become the base-money system for an economic community stretching from Indonesia to Morocco.
"I want to jump on that," Jackson says of the opportunity. Already Vadillo and the sheikh have met with Mahathir to make the pitch, and Jackson hopes to fly to Malaysia soon to drive it home.
Of course, convincing a major world leader to put the monetary fate of a billion people in the hands of a retired oncologist from Melbourne, Florida, is not going to be easy work. But Jackson doesn't seem to mind the challenge. "That's going to be an especially fun project over the next few months," he says. "I'm gonna have a lot of frequent-flier miles."
Julian Dibbell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of the MOO memoir My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World.
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