Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The Russian Central Bank recently announced that until the end of June, it stands ready to buy gold for rubles at the exchange rate of 5000 rubles per gram of gold. The move has been hailed as revolutionary, heralding a regime change from fiat currencies. If only that were true.
It would be revolutionary if the Russian Central Bank made a two-way market in rubles and gold. Sellers of gold to the central bank will get back rubles, but no one can exchange rubles for gold. The ruble will still be a fiat currency. A central bank or government that sold gold for its own currency at a fixed rate would be returning to the gold-exchange standard, which prevailed in many nations during much of the 1800s and early 1900s. Right now, such a move would be so revolutionary it would upend the global financial order.
A reminder: Government and Central Bank-Led Revolutions is a book whose thickness is measured in nanometers. Traditionally, revolutions are directed against them. Under a gold-exchange standard, you don’t need a central bank, which is why monetary bureaucrats hate it. You need a gold repository and someone to print the gold-backed currency. Politicians hate it because they can’t spend currency they and their central-bank flunkies have wished into existence. If they had to spend real money—gold or silver—it would be bye-bye welfare and warfare states, and they would be the inconsequential hacks they’re supposed to be.
Since the end of the gold-exchange standard, during the reign of central banks and bankers, we’ve had two world wars (and the third may have begun), a massive transfer of resources from the productive to the unproductive, and a proliferation of government promises that will never be kept. Cheap credit has promoted private indebtedness, kept zombies companies alive, blown up asset bubbles, and diverted economic activity from production to finance.