Under a true gold standard, moreover, the Fed would have little ability to act as a lender of last resort to the banking and financial system. The kind of liquidity injections it made to prevent the financial system from collapsing in the autumn of 2008 would become impossible because it could provide additional credit only if it somehow came into possession of additional gold. Given the fragility of banks and financial markets, this would seem a recipe for disaster. Its proponents paint the gold standard as a guarantee of financial stability; in practice, it would be precisely the opposite.
Briefly, the classical conception of the “lender of last resort,” spelled out by the English journalist and banking historian Walter Bagehot (1871) during the classical international gold standard era, is an institution that lends reserves to illiquid (but solvent) commercial banks in a period of peak demand for currency or bank reserves, in the extreme during a period of bank runs. Its aims are to prevent regrettable bank insolvencies due to hasty asset liquidations, and to satisfy the public’s demand for currency or reserve money so that the runs cease and the market calms. This seems to be the notion that Eichengreen has in mind.
Assuming that the Federal Reserve exists and is the agency to which the role is assigned, Professor Eichengreen takes a true gold standard to imply that “it could provide additional credit only if it somehow came into possession of additional gold.” That is, the gold standard is not “true” unless it imposes a 100 percent gold marginal reserve requirement on central bank liabilities. This is a highly idiosyncratic understanding of a true gold standard. Peel’s Act of 1844 did impose a 100 percent marginal gold reserve requirement on expansion on the Bank of England’s note-issues, but the Bank could still provide additional credit by expanding its deposit liabilities. Indeed the Bank is generally understood to have acted as a lender of last resort during the Baring Crisis in 1890, while Peel’s Act was still in place.
A 100 percent gold marginal reserve requirement on all central bank liabilities would constrain last-resort lending. But imposing such a rule on the central bank is not required to have a true gold standard, and indeed having a central bank is not even required. A gold standard, again, is generically defined by gold serving as the medium of redemption and medium of account, not by any reserve requirement imposed on a central bank. The United States was on the classical gold standard without a central bank from 1879 to 1914. During that period, private clearinghouse associations acted as lenders of last resort to their member banks (Timberlake 1984). So a central bank is not even necessary to have a lender of last resort.
Eichengreen (2011) argues that “confidence problems are intrinsic to fractional-reserve banking and why an economy with a modern banking system needs a lender of last resort.” But as noted in Section 6 above, confidence problems are minimal if no legal restrictions prevent banks from adequately capitalizing and diversifying themselves.
Today’s economic conditions reflect a fiat monetary system held together by many tricks and luck over the past 40 years. The world has been awash in paper money since removal of the last vestige of the gold standard by Richard Nixon when he buried the Bretton Woods agreement — the gold exchange standard — on August 15, 1971.
Since then we’ve been on a worldwide paper dollar standard. Quite possibly we are seeing the beginning of the end of that system. If so, tough times are ahead for the United States and the world economy.
In terms of public policy, though, we favor honest money. It works out better for more people. And there is a moral dimension to the question of honest money. This was a matter that was understood — and keenly felt — by the Founders of America, who almost to a man (Benjamin Franklin, a printer of paper notes, was a holdout), cringed with humiliation at the thought of fiat paper money. They’d tried it in the revolution, and it had been the one embarrassment of the struggle. They eventually gave us a Constitution that they hoped would bar us from ever making the same mistake.
Publisher's Note: Originally released in June/July of 1991, this detailed report discusses Jacques Rueff's economic theories and applies them to modern economic events.
By John D. Mueller
Rueff Restates the Quantity Theory of Money
... Rueff argued that the real problem with the monetarists is not that they focus too much, but rather too little on the supply of money; namely, they assign too little importance to the concrete mechanisms by which money is actually created. Most monetarists adopt the convention that the government can control the nominal supply of money, while demanders of money control its value. Rueff pointed out that under a properly functioning monetary system, even the nominal supply of money is determined by people’s demand for it.
"The economist defines money as a medium of exchange. It is the token we supply in order to effect payments for the goods we demand. Money is especially a standard like a yardstick – a unit of measure by which we value and price economic goods. Money units express prices which are the vital information necessary for efficient exchange. Money is surely a store of value."
“Here’s the short story: The U.S. has exited from financial crisis: Asia and Europe have not,” wrote Rana Foroohar in TIME at the beginning of this year. “China, the second largest economy in the world, is pretty much where the U.S. was five years ago – deeply in debt...Japan, where...
Some critics of gold (and of the gold standard) are concerned by the environmental toxicity of the cyanide now used to extract gold from ore. This process may be about to change to something much greener.
Flow chart courtesy of Professor Abrol Kakharov
In the gold-mining process, the precious...