Jim Grant Explains the Gold Standard, by Ryan McMaken

Gold standards impose discipline on governments and their monetary systems, which is why governments and monetary mandarins hate the gold standard. From Ryan McMaken at mises.org:

Earlier this month in the Wall Street JournalJames Grant explored the latest academic attack on the gold standard — this time in the form of One Nation Under Gold by financial journalist James Ledbetter.

Not that the establishment economics profession needs another book trashing gold. Among the university- and government-employed PhDs who hand down their wisdom about economics from on high, few have anything but disdain for the yellow metal.

RELATED: “The United States of Insolvency” — An Interview with James Grant

Grant knows this all too well and notes:

As if to clinch the case against gold — and, necessarily, the case for the modern-day status quo — Mr. Ledbetter writes: “Of forty economists teaching at America’s most prestigious universities — including many who’ve advised or worked in Republican administrations — exactly zero responded favorably to a gold-standard question asked in 2012.” Perhaps so, but “zero” or thereabouts likewise describes the number of established economists who in 2005, ’06 and ’07 anticipated the coming of the biggest financial event of their professional lives. The economists mean no harm. But if, in unison, they arrive at the conclusion that tomorrow is Monday, a prudent person would check the calendar.

Nevertheless, the gold standard has a reputation for being dark and nefarious. It’s backward and limiting, and the sort of thing one ought to associate with crucifixion, as implied in William Jennings Bryan’s famous Cross of Gold speech.

But, as Grant sums things up, it’s not as complicated as all that:

What was the gold standard, exactly — this thing that the professors dismiss so airily today? A self-respecting member of the community of gold-standard nations defined its money as a weight of bullion. It allowed gold to enter and leave the country freely. It exchanged bank notes to gold, and vice versa, at a fixed and inviolable rate. The people, not the authorities, decided which form of money was best.

The gold standard was a hard task master, all right. You couldn’t devalue your way out of trouble. You couldn’t run up a big domestic budget deficit. The central bank of a gold-standard country (if there was a central bank) was charged with preserving the convertibility of the currency and, in a pinch, serving as lender of last resort to needy commercial banks. Growth, employment and price stability took their own course. And if, in a financial panic or a business-cycle downturn, gold fled the country, it was the duty of the central bank to establish a rate of interest that called the metal home. In the throes of a crisis, interest rates would likely go up, not down.

To continue reading: Jim Grant Explains the Gold Standard

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