Gold and the Return to "Sound Money"

19-gold.gifThe desire for economic stability has made many people nostalgic for a return to simpler times. No one has done a better job of dumbing it down for the masses than Ron Paul.
His message is simple: abolish the Federal Reserve (love the support from the Mises “Institute”) and return to sound money.
But nothing is ever simple. The devil is always in the details, so if you’ve hungered for real and substantial analysis, check out the research papers by Matthias Morys. His work was featured at the Austrian National Bank Workshop 13: The Experience of Exchange Rate Regimes in Southeastern Europe in a Historical and Comparative Perspective.

  • The Emergence of the Classical Gold Standard
    This paper asks why the Classical Gold Standard (1870s – 1914) emerged: Why did the vast majority of countries tie their currencies to gold in the late 19th century, while there was only one country – the UK – on gold in 1850? The literature distinguishes a number of theories to explain why gold won over bimetallism and silver. We will show the pitfalls of these theories (macroeconomic theory, ideological theory, political economy of choice between gold and silver) and show that neither the early English lead in following gold nor the German shift to gold in 1873 was as decisive as conventional accounts have it. Similarly, we argue that the silver supply shock materializing in the early 1870s was only the nail in the coffin of silver and bimetallic standards. Instead, we focus on the impact of the 1850s gold supply shock (due to the immense gold discoveries in California and Australia) on the European monetary system. Studying monetary commissions in 13 European countries between 1861 and 1874, we show that the pan-European movement in favor of gold monometallism was motivated by three key factors: gold being available in sufficient quantities to actually contemplate the transition to gold monometallism for a larger number of countries (while silver had become extremely scarce in the bimetallic bloc, which was the single most important currency area in terms of GDP), widespread misgivings over the working of bimetallism and the fact that gold could encapsulate substantially more value in the same volume than silver (i.e. coin convenience). In our view, then, the emergence of the Classical Gold Standard was imminent in the late 1860s; which European country would move first – which is often erroneously attributed to Germany – is of secondary importance.
  • Adjustment under the Classical Gold Standard (1870s-1914):
    How Costly did the External Constraint Come to the European periphery? (PDF)
    This paper asks whether following a system of fixed exchange-rates is more difficult for poor countries than for rich countries by drawing on the European experience under the Classical Gold Standard (1870s – 1914). Conventional wisdom has that peripheral economies had to “play by the rules of the game”, while core countries could get away with frequent violations. We construct a data base unique in terms of frequency and the number of countries included. Drawing on the experience of three core economies (England, France, Germany) and seven peripheral economies (Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Norway, Serbia, Sweden), this paper shows that a careful analysis of the data tells otherwise. Our findings, based on a VAR model and impulse response functions, suggest that the average gold drain differed substantially across peripheral economies, with Austria-Hungary and Italy playing in a league with Germany and France rather than with the other peripheral economies. We also show that some peripheral economies enjoyed enough “pulling power” via discount rate policy to reverse quickly any such gold outflow. In essence, while the experience of some peripheral economies under gold was poor and hence normally short-lived, the experience of other peripheral countries resembled more those of the core economies. Our findings suggest that real economic performance and monetary performance are less closely intertwined than conventionally thought.

Nikolaus Wolf also had something to say…

  • What Europe’s exit from gold in the 1930s says about the euro
    In 1929, tightening monetary conditions in the US reduced capital outflows to the rest of the world and forced deficit countries to tackle their imbalances. This put countries on the gold-exchange standard between Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, adherence to the system – neither imposing capital controls nor devaluing the currency – implied a painful increase in real factor costs and reduced international competitiveness. On the other hand, unilateral steps towards devaluation or capital controls risked diminishing confidence in the stability of the national currency. And such confidence was highly valued in European countries that had just experienced a hyperinflation, had not yet established any track record of monetary policy, or just badly needed foreign capital for domestic development.
  • Central Bank Gold Reserves: An Historical Perspective Since 1845
    This paper examines the evolution of central bank gold reserves in the wake of the great gold rushes of the mid-nineteenth century, when for the first time gold really became a widely circulating monetary metal in the pockets of millions of people in many countries, as well as being held increasingly by central banks and treasuries.