Power & Market

Bring Back Gold!

Bring Back Gold!

In these days of rampant inflation, it’s imperative that we return to the gold standard—and the real thing too. By this I mean the classical gold standard, not the so-called “gold exchange” standard, and with no fractional reserve banking, just as the great Murray Rothbard wanted. In what follows, I’ll discuss some of the economic issues below, but it’s important to realize that it’s a moral issue as well.

I spoke about the difference between the classical gold standard and the fake gold standard. This might seem a technical issue, but it’s one of vital importance. Joe Salerno, the leading contemporary Austrian School authority on monetary economics and Academic Vice President of the Mises Institute, explains:

“The historical embodiment of monetary freedom is the gold standard. The era of its greatest flourishing was not coincidentally the 19th century, the century in which classical liberal ideology reigned, a century of unprecedented material progress and peaceful relations between nations. Unfortunately, the monetary freedom represented by the gold standard, along with many other freedoms of the classical liberal era, was brought to a calamitous end by World War I.

Also, and not so coincidentally, this was the “War to Make the World Safe for Mass Democracy,” a political system which we have all learned by now is the great enemy of freedom in all its social and economic manifestations.

Now, it is true that the gold standard did not disappear overnight, but limped along in weakened form into the early 1930s. But this was not the pre-1914 classical gold standard, in which the actions of private citizens operating on free markets ultimately controlled the supply and value of money and governments had very little influence.

Under this monetary system, if people in one nation demanded more money to carry out more transactions or because they were more uncertain of the future, they would export more goods and financial assets to the rest of the world, while importing less. As a result, additional gold would flow in through a surplus in the balance of payments increasing the nation’s money supply.

Sometimes, private banks tried to inflate the money supply by issuing additional bank notes and deposits, called “fiduciary media,” promising to pay gold but unbacked by gold reserves. They lent these notes and deposits to either businesses or the government. However, as soon as the borrowers spent these additional fractional-reserve notes and deposits, domestic incomes and prices would begin to rise.

As a result, foreigners would reduce their purchases of the nation’s exports, and domestic residents would increase their spending on the relatively cheap foreign imports. Gold would flow out of the coffers of the nation’s banks to finance the resulting trade deficit, as the excess paper notes and checks were returned to their issuers for redemption in gold.

To check this outflow of gold reserves, which made their depositors very nervous, the banks would contract the supply of fiduciary media bringing about a monetary deflation and an ensuing depression.

Temporarily chastened by the experience, banks would refrain from again expanding credit for a while. If the Treasury tried to issue convertible notes only partially backed by gold, as it occasionally did, it too would face these consequences and be forced to restrain its note issue within narrow bounds.

Thus, governments and commercial banks under the gold standard did not have much influence over the money supply in the long run. The only sizable inflations that occurred during the 19th century did so during wartime when almost all belligerent nations would “go off the gold standard.” They did so in order to conceal the staggering costs of war from their citizens by printing money rather than raising taxes to pay for it.

For example, Great Britain experienced a substantial inflation at the beginning of the 19th century during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when it had suspended the convertibility of the British pound into gold. Likewise, the United States and the Confederate States of America both suffered a devastating hyperinflation during the War for Southern Independence, because both sides issued inconvertible Treasury notes to finance budget deficits. It is because politicians and their privileged banks were unable to tamper with and inflate a gold money that prices in the United States and in Great Britain at the close of the 19th century were roughly the same as they were at the beginning of the century.

Within weeks of the outbreak of World War I, all belligerent nations departed from the gold standard. Needless to say by the war’s end the paper fiat currencies of all these nations were in the throes of inflations of varying degrees of severity, with the German hyperinflation that culminated in 1923 being the worst. To put their currencies back in order and to restore the public’s confidence in them, one country after another reinstituted the gold standard during the 1920s.

Read the full article on LewRockwell.com. 

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