“Did not the Pope send all the Princes in Christendom upon a Fools Errand, to gain the Holy Land…”*

*from Yorkshire-born clergyman Edmund Hickeringill’s “Priest-craft”, 1705.

Natasha Frost & Gwynn Guilford wrote in Quartz on July 3, 2019:

“The once-fringe fantasy of a return to the gold standard is creeping back into the mainstream.

It has long been dismissed as a fool’s errand, on par with abandoning the Federal Reserve and other trappings of the modern economy. Mainstream economists deride it almost without exception. Reintroducing the gold standard would “be a disaster for any large advanced economy,” says the University of Chicago’s Anil Kashyap, who connects enthusiasm for it with “macroeconomic illiteracy.” His colleague, Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, struggles with its very underlying principle: “Why tie to gold? Why not 1982 Bordeaux?”

Yet the idea that every US dollar should be backed by a small amount of actual gold is more popular than economists’ opinions might suggest. Advocates include members of Congress and president Donald Trump. Enthusiasm for a return to the gold standard has become more prominent since Trump’s most recent nominees to fill the vacant Federal Reserve governorship have endorsed a return. The first two—Herman Cain and Stephen Moore—both dropped out of consideration, but the third, economist Judy Shelton, announced today in a Trump tweet, may be the most ardent in her support.

Last year, Shelton called for a “new Bretton Woods conference,” akin to the 1944 meeting that established the post-war economic order, perhaps to be held at Mar-a-Lago, where a return to the gold standard could be considered. “We make America great again by making America’s money great again,” she wrote in the journal of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Since 2011, at least six states have passed laws recognizing gold and silver as currency; another three are presently contemplating bills of their own. The surprising success of Ron Paul, a Texas Republican Congressman and ardent gold bug, in the 2008 and 2012 elections showed the potency of these ideas among the electorate. In its 2012 and 2016 campaign platforms, the Republican Party called for a commission to investigate the viability of a return to a gold standard system. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill including such a commission in both 2015 and 2017, but both times the proposals died in the Senate. Last year, Alexander Mooney, a Republican representative from West Virginia, took that a step further when he introduced a bill proposing a full-on return to the gold standard. (The bill has no cosponsors and, unsurprisingly, has gone nowhere.)

Today, with inflation unusually low and stable, the gold standard is a tougher sell than it once was. But as trust in American institutions wanes, there is renewed support for money backed by something tangible, not the say-so of the government. If inflation picks up once again, a solid base of gold standard evangelists is ready to take it mainstream. That a supporter of the gold standard may yet wind up on the Fed’s board of governors is yet more evidence that the idea’s prospects are shining brighter than they have in many years .

Money depends on trust—the faith that it will hold its value so that, when the time comes to spend it, it will be accepted without question in exchange for what the holder expects it to be worth. Inflation eats away at that value. 

In modern times, governments are often a culprit behind inflation. Since they enjoy a monopoly on printing money, they can issue new currency at virtually no cost. But governments are run by vote-seeking politicians, who might print more money to juice short-term growth needed to win re-election, inadvertently causing inflation to flare up later. This quandary isn’t theoretical, and has happened with surprising frequency throughout history. To cite a recent, prominent example, US president Richard Nixon bent to this temptation (pdf) during his 1972 re-election campaign—contributing to the breakout of inflation that ravaged the American economy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

There’s a seemingly easy fix: Take the power of money creation out of the hands of politicians. According to the monetarist theory popularized by economist Milton Friedman in the 1970s, preventing inflation requires fixing the supply of money. The gold standard, by limiting the dollars the government can print to the weight of gold it holds in reserves, is one way of doing so…”

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