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The Best Argument for the Gold Standard

With President Donald Trump’s apparent plans to nominate Stephen Moore and Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board, attention has turned once again to the gold standard, a policy option once advocated by both men. Trump himself has expressed admiration for the gold standard.

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Historical data indicates that industrial production volatility was not higher before 1914, when the U.S. was on the gold standard, compared to after 1947, when it mostly wasn’t. And there are similar results for the volatility of unemployment. That’s not quite an argument for the gold standard, but it should cause opponents of the gold standard to think twice. Whatever the imperfections of a gold standard might be, monetary authorities make a lot of mistakes, too.

Furthermore, in the broader historical context, including the more distant past, the gold standard doesn’t look so bad. The age of the gold standard (and sometimes silver standard, and sometimes bimetallism) in the 19th century was largely one of peace and economic growth, running from 1815 until World War I. The fiat money era that followed was a disaster, as the 1920s brought monetary chaos, competitive devaluations, and even some hyperinflations and deflations, a few of which were driven by the desire to restore the old gold par at incorrect rates. It would have been better had the world managed to keep its gold-centered monetary order of 1913.

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Even the Bretton Woods arrangement, which has a good record in terms of stability and growth, involved gold convertibility of a sort, albeit with no domestic convertibility and lots of pressures to discourage actual conversion from foreigners. Once the tie of the dollar to gold broke entirelyin the early 1970s, inflation and interest rates were high and again monetary chaos followed. From the vantage point of, say, 1979, some form of gold standard really did seem better.

What was not obvious then was that monetary policy was going to be so good and so stable for the next four decades, albeit with a number of mistakes. Today’s case for the gold standard is based on the view that these recent decades of good fiat money management are a historical outlier and cannot be sustained. [...]

Read more at Bloomberg. Article by Tyler Cowen