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4. The United States’ Return to a Sound Currency
With Washington politicians and Wall Street pundits the problem of a return to the gold standard is taboo. Only imbecile or ignorant people, say the professorial and journalistic apologists of inflation, can nurture such an absurd idea.
These gentlemen would be perfectly right if they were merely to assert that the gold standard is incompatible with the methods of deficit spending. One of the main aims of a return to gold is precisely to do away with this system of waste, corruption, and arbitrary government. But they are mistaken if they would have us believe that the reestablishment and preservation of the gold standard is Economically and technically impossible.
The first step must be a radical and unconditional abandonment of any further inflation. The total amount of dollar bills, whatever their name or legal characteristic may be, must not be increased by further issuance. No bank must be permitted to expand the total amount of its deposits subject to check or the balance of such deposits of any individual customer, be he a private citizen or the U.S. Treasury, otherwise than by receiving cash deposits in legal-tender banknotes from the public or by receiving a check payable by another domestic bank subject to the same limitations. This means a rigid 100 percent reserve for all future deposits; that is, all deposits not already in existence on the first day of the reform.
At the same time all restrictions on trading and holding gold must be repealed. The free market for gold is to be reestablished. Everybody, whether a resident of the United States or of any foreign country, will be free to buy and to sell, to lend and to borrow, to import and to export, and, of course, to hold any amount of gold, whether minted or not minted, in any part of the nation's territory as well as in foreign countries.
It is to be expected that this freedom of the gold market will result in the inflow of a considerable quantity of gold from abroad. Private citizens will probably invest a part of their cash holdings in gold. In some foreign countries the sellers of this gold exported to the United States may hoard the dollar bills received and leave the balances with American banks untouched. But many or most of these sellers of gold will probably buy American products.
In this first period of the reform it is imperative that the American government and all institutions dependent upon it, including the Federal Reserve System, keep entirely out of the gold market. A free gold market could not come into existence if the administration were to try to manipulate the price by underselling. The new monetary regime must be protected against malicious acts by officials of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve System. There cannot be any doubt that officialdom will be eager to sabotage a reform whose main purpose is to curb the power of the bureaucracy in monetary matters.
The unconditional prohibition of the further issuance of any piece of paper to which legal-tender power is granted refers also to the issuance of the type of bills called silver certificates. The constitutional prerogative of Congress to decree that the United States is bound to buy definite quantities of a definite commodity, whether silver or potatoes or something else, at a definite price exceeding the market price and to store or to dump the quantities purchased must not be infringed. But such purchases are henceforth to be paid out of funds collected by taxing the people or by borrowing from the public.
It is probable that the price of gold established after some oscillations on the American market will be higher than $35 per ounce, the rate of the Gold Reserve Act of 1934. It may be somewhere between $36 and $38, perhaps even somewhat higher. Once the market price has attained some stability, the time will have come to decree this market rate as the new legal parity of the dollar and to secure its unconditional convertibility at this parity.
A new agency is to be established, the Conversion Agency. The United States government lends to it a certain amount, let us say one billion dollars, in gold bullion (computed at the new parity), free of interest and never to be recalled. The Conversion Agency has two functions only: First, to sell gold bullion at the parity price to the public against dollars without any restriction. After a short time, when the mint will have coined a sufficient quantity of new American gold coins, the Conversion Agency will be obliged to hand out such gold pieces against paper dollars and checks drawn upon a solvent American bank. Second, to buy, against dollar bills at the legal parity, any amount of gold offered to it. To enable the Conversion Agency to execute this second task it is to be entitled to issue dollar bills against a 100 percent reserve in gold.
The Treasury is bound to sell gold—bullion or new American coins—to the Conversion Agency at legal parity against any kind of American legal-tender bills issued before the start of the reform, against American token coins, or against checks drawn upon a member bank. To the extent that such sales reduce the government's gold holdings, the total amount of all varieties of legal-tender paper sheets, issued before the start of the reform, and of member-bank deposits subject to check is to be reduced. How this reduction is to be distributed among the various classes of these types of currency can be left, apart from the problem of the banknotes of small denominations, to be dealt with later,3 to the discretion of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board.
It is essential for the reform suggested that the Federal Reserve System should be kept out of its way. Whatever one may think about the merits or demerits of the Federal Reserve legislation of 1913, the fact remains that the system has been abused by the most reckless inflationary policy. No institution and no man connected in any way with the blunders and sins of the past decades must be permitted to influence future monetary conditions.
The Federal Reserve System is saddled with an awkward problem, namely, the huge amount of government bonds held by the member banks. Whatever solution may be adopted for this question, it must not affect the purchasing power of the dollar Government finance and the nation's medium of exchange have in the future to be two entirely separate things.
The banknotes issued by the Federal Reserve System as well as the silver certificates may remain in circulation. Unconditional convertibility and the strict prohibition of any further increase of their amount will have radically changed their catallactic character It is this alone that counts.
However, a very important change concerning the denomination of these notes is indispensable. What the United States needs is not the gold-exchange standard but the classical old gold standard, decried by the inflationists as orthodox. Gold must be in the cash holdings of everybody. Everybody must see gold coins changing hands, must be used to having gold coins in his pockets, to receiving gold coins when he cashes his paycheck, and to spending gold coins when he buys in a store.
This state of affairs can be easily achieved by withdrawing all bills of the denominations of five, ten, and perhaps also twenty dollars from circulation. There will be under the suggested new monetary regime two classes of legal-tender paper bills: the old stock and the new stock. The old stock consists of all those paper sheets that at the start of the reform were in circulation as legal-tender paper, without regard to their appellation and legal quality other than legal-tender power. It is strictly forbidden to increase this stock by the further issuance of any additional notes of this class. On the other hand, it will decrease to the extent that the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board decree that the reduction in the total amount of legal-tender notes of this old stock plus bank deposits subject to check, existing at the start of the reform, has to be effected by the final withdrawal and destruction of definite quantities of such old-stock legal-tender notes. Moreover, the Treasury is bound to withdraw from circulation, against the new gold coins, and to destroy, within a period of one year after the promulgation of the new legal gold parity of the dollar, all notes of five, ten, and perhaps also twenty dollars.
It does not require any special mention that the new-stock legal-tender notes to be issued by the Conversion Agency must be issued only in denominations of one dollar or fifty dollars and upward.
Old British banking doctrine banned small banknotes (in their opinion, notes smaller than £5) because it wanted to protect the poorer strata of the population, supposed to be less familiar with the conditions of the banking business and therefore more liable to be cheated by wicked bankers. Today the main concern is to protect the nation against a repetition of the inflationary practices of governments. The gold-exchange standard, whatever argument may be advanced in its favor, is vitiated by an incurable defect. It offers to governments an easy opportunity to embark upon inflation unbeknown to the nation. With the exception of a few specialists, nobody becomes aware in time of the fact that a radical change in monetary matters has occurred. Laymen, that is 9,999 out of 10,000 citizens, do not realize that it is not commodities that are becoming dearer but their tender that is becoming cheaper.
What is needed is to alarm the masses in time. The workingman in cashing his paycheck should learn that some foul trick has been played upon him. The President, Congress, and the Supreme Court have clearly proved their inability or unwillingness to protect the common man, the voter, from being victimized by inflationary machinations. The function of securing a sound currency must pass into new hands, into those of the whole nation. As soon as Gresham's law begins to come into play and bad paper drives good gold out of the pockets of the common man, there should be a stir. Perpetual vigilance on the part of the citizens can achieve what a thousand laws and dozens of alphabetical bureaus with hordes of employees never have and never will achieve: the preservation of a sound currency.
The classical or orthodox gold standard alone is a truly effective check on the power of the government to inflate the currency. Without such a check all other constitutional safeguards can be rendered vain.