Row of books on library shelfA Gold Classics Library Selection


Gold and economic freedom

photo of former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan at conference
by Alan Greenspan

Editor’s note – It may surprise more than a few gold devotees to learn they have an ideological friend in none other than Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan. Starting in the 1950s, in fact, Greenspan was a stalwart member of Ayn Rand’s intellectual inner circle. A self-designated “objectivist”, Rand preached a strongly libertarian view, applying it to politics and economics, as well as to religion and popular culture. Under her influence, Greenspan wrote for the first issue of what was to become the widely-circulated Objectivist Newsletter. When Gerald Ford appointed him to the Council of Economic Advisors, Greenspan invited Rand to his swearing-in ceremony. He even attended her funeral in 1982. In 1967, Rand published her non-fiction book, Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal. In it, she included Gold and Economic Freedom, the essay by Alan Greenspan which appears below. Drawing heavily from Murray Rothbard’s much longer The Mystery of Banking, Greenspan argues persuasively in favor of a gold standard and against the concept of a central bank.

Can this be the same Alan Greenspan who today chairs the most important central bank of them all? Again, you might be surprised. R.W. Bradford writes in Liberty magazine that, as Fed chairman, “Greenspan (once) recommended to a Senate committee that all economic regulations should have fixed lifespans. Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) accused him of ‘playing with fire, or indeed throwing gasoline on the fire,’ and asked him whether he favored a similar provision in the Fed’s authorization. Greenspan coolly answered that he did. Do you actually mean, demanded the senator, that the Fed ‘should cease to function unless affirmatively continued?’ ‘That is correct, sir,’ Greenspan responded.”

Bradford continues, “The Senator could scarcely believe his ears. ‘Now my next question is, is it your intention that the report of this hearing should be that Greenspan recommends a return to the gold standard? Greenspan responded, ‘I’ve been recommending that for years, there’s nothing new about that. It would probably mean there is only one vote in the Federal Open Market Committee for that, but it is mine.'” [2001]


An almost hysterical antagonism toward the gold standard is one issue which unites statists of all persuasions. They seem to sense-perhaps more clearly and subtly than many consistent defenders of laissez-faire — that gold and economic freedom are inseparable, that the gold standard is an instrument of laissez-faire and that each implies and requires the other.

In order to understand the source of their antagonism, it is necessary first to understand the specific role of gold in a free society. Money is the common denominator of all economic transactions. It is that commodity which serves as a medium of exchange, is universally acceptable to all participants in an exchange economy as payment for their goods or services, and can, therefore, be used as a standard of market value and as a store of value, i.e., as a means of saving.

The existence of such a commodity is a precondition of a division of labor economy. If men did not have some commodity of objective value which was generally acceptable as money, they would have to resort to primitive barter or be forced to live on self-sufficient farms and forgo the inestimable advantages of specialization. If men had no means to store value, i.e., to save, neither long-range planning nor exchange would be possible.

What medium of exchange will be acceptable to all participants in an economy is not determined arbitrarily. First, the medium of exchange should be durable. In a primitive society of meager wealth, wheat might be sufficiently durable to serve as a medium, since all exchanges would occur only during and immediately after the harvest, leaving no value-surplus to store. But where store-of-value considerations are important, as they are in richer, more civilized societies, the medium of exchange must be a durable commodity, usually a metal. A metal is generally chosen because it is homogeneous and divisible: every unit is the same as every other and it can be blended or formed in any quantity. Precious jewels, for example, are neither homogeneous nor divisible. More important, the commodity chosen as a medium must be a luxury. Human desires for luxuries are unlimited and, therefore, luxury goods are always in demand and will always be acceptable. Wheat is a luxury in underfed civilizations, but not in a prosperous society. Cigarettes ordinarily would not serve as money, but they did in post-World War II Europe where they were considered a luxury. The term “luxury good” implies scarcity and high unit value. Having a high unit value, such a good is portable; for instance, an ounce of gold is worth a half-ton of pig iron.

In the early stages of a developing money economy, several media of exchange might be used, since a wide variety of commodities would fulfill the foregoing conditions. However, one of the commodities will gradually displace all others, by being more widely acceptable. Preferences on what to hold as a store of value, will shift to the most widely acceptable commodity, which, in turn, will make it still more acceptable. The shift is progressive until that commodity becomes the sole medium of exchange. The use of a single medium is highly advantageous for the same reasons that a money economy is superior to a barter economy: it makes exchanges possible on an incalculably wider scale.

image of Queen Elizabeth touring Bank of England gold roomQueen Elizabeth II views stacks of gold as she visits Bank of England gold room with Prince Philip,
Duke of Edinburgh (December 13, 2012) in London, England

Whether the single medium is gold, silver, seashells, cattle, or tobacco is optional, depending on the context and development of a given economy. In fact, all have been employed, at various times, as media of exchange. Even in the present century, two major commodities, gold and silver, have been used as international media of exchange, with gold becoming the predominant one. Gold, having both artistic and functional uses and being relatively scarce, has significant advantages over all other media of exchange. Since the beginning of World War I, it has been virtually the sole international standard of exchange. If all goods and services were to be paid for in gold, large payments would be difficult to execute and this would tend to limit the extent of a society’s divisions of labor and specialization. Thus a logical extension of the creation of a medium of exchange is the development of a banking system and credit instruments (bank notes and deposits) which act as a substitute for, but are convertible into, gold.

A free banking system based on gold is able to extend credit and thus to create bank notes (currency) and deposits, according to the production requirements of the economy. Individual owners of gold are induced, by payments of interest, to deposit their gold in a bank (against which they can draw checks). But since it is rarely the case that all depositors want to withdraw all their gold at the same time, the banker need keep only a fraction of his total deposits in gold as reserves. This enables the banker to loan out more than the amount of his gold deposits (which means that he holds claims to gold rather than gold as security of his deposits). But the amount of loans which he can afford to make is not arbitrary: he has to gauge it in relation to his reserves and to the status of his investments.

When banks loan money to finance productive and profitable endeavors, the loans are paid off rapidly and bank credit continues to be generally available. But when the business ventures financed by bank credit are less profitable and slow to pay off, bankers soon find that their loans outstanding are excessive relative to their gold reserves, and they begin to curtail new lending, usually by charging higher interest rates. This tends to restrict the financing of new ventures and requires the existing borrowers to improve their profitability before they can obtain credit for further expansion. Thus, under the gold standard, a free banking system stands as the protector of an economy’s stability and balanced growth.

When gold is accepted as the medium of exchange by most or all nations, an unhampered free international gold standard serves to foster a world-wide division of labor and the broadest international trade. Even though the units of exchange (the dollar, the pound, the franc, etc.) differ from country to country, when all are defined in terms of gold the economies of the different countries act as one — so long as there are no restrainta on trade or on the movement of capital.

Credit, interest rates, and prices tend to follow similar patterns in all countries. For example, if banks in one country extend credit too liberally, interest rates in that country will tend to fall, inducing depositors to shift their gold to higher-interest paying banks in other countries. This will immediately cause a shortage of bank reserves in the “easy money” country, inducing tighter credit standards and a return to competitively higher interest rates again.

A fully free banking system and fully consistent gold standard have not as yet been achieved. But prior to World War I, the banking system in the United States (and in most of the world) was based on gold and even though governments intervened occasionally, banking was more free than controlled. Periodically, as a result of overly rapid credit expansion, banks became loaned up to the limit of their gold reserves, interest rates rose sharply, new credit was cut off, and the economy went into a sharp, but short-lived recession. (Compared with the depressions of 1920 and 1932, the pre-World War I business declines were mild indeed.) It was limited gold reserves that stopped the unbalanced expansions of business activity, before they could develop into the post-World War I type of disaster. The readjustment periods were short and the economies quickly reestablished a sound basis to resume expansion.

But the process of cure was misdiagnosed as the disease: if shortage of bank reserves was causing a business decline-argued economic interventionists — why not find a way of supplying increased reserves to the banks so they never need be short! If banks can continue to loan money indefinitely — it was claimed — there need never be any slumps in business. And so the Federal Reserve System was organized in 1913. It consisted of twelve regional Federal Reserve banks nominally owned by private bankers, but in fact government sponsored, controlled, and supported. Credit extended by these banks is in practice (though not legally) backed by the taxing power of the federal government. Technically, we remained on the gold standard; individuals were still free to own gold, and gold continued to be used as bank reserves. But now, in addition to gold, credit extended by the Federal Reserve banks (“paper reserves”) could serve as legal tender to pay depositors.

When business in the United States underwent a mild contraction in 1927, the Federal Reserve created more paper reserves in the hope of forestalling any possible bank reserve shortage. More disastrous, however, was the Federal Reserve’s attempt to assist Great Britain who had been losing gold to us because the Bank of England refused to allow interest rates to rise when market forces dictated (it was politically unpalatable). The reasoning of the authorities involved was as follows: if the Federal Reserve pumped excessive paper reserves into American banks, interest rates in the United States would fall to a level comparable with those in Great Britain; this would act to stop Britain’s gold loss and avoid the political embarrassment of having to raise interest rates.

The “Fed” succeeded; it stopped the gold loss, but it nearly destroyed the economies of the world in the process. The excess credit which the Fed pumped into the economy spilled over into the stock market — triggering a fantastic speculative boom. Belatedly, Federal Reserve officials attempted to sop up the excess reserves and finally succeeded in braking the boom. But it was too late: by 1929 the speculative imbalances had become so overwhelming that the attempt precipitated a sharp retrenching and a consequent demoralizing of business confidence. As a result, the American economy collapsed. Great Britain fared even worse, and rather than absorb the full consequences of her previous folly, she abandoned the gold standard completely in 1931, tearing asunder what remained of the fabric of confidence and inducing a world-wide series of bank failures. The world economies plunged into the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

With a logic reminiscent of a generation earlier, statists argued that the gold standard was largely to blame for the credit debacle which led to the Great Depression. If the gold standard had not existed, they argued, Britain’s abandonment of gold payments in 1931 would not have caused the failure of banks all over the world. (The irony was that since 1913, we had been, not on a gold standard, but on what may be termed “a mixed gold standard”; yet it is gold that took the blame.)

But the opposition to the gold standard in any form — from a growing number of welfare-state advocates — was prompted by a much subtler insight: the realization that the gold standard is incompatible with chronic deficit spending (the hallmark of the welfare state). Stripped of its academic jargon, the welfare state is nothing more than a mechanism by which governments confiscate the wealth of the productive members of a society to support a wide variety of welfare schemes. A substantial part of the confiscation is effected by taxation.

But the welfare statists were quick to recognize that if they wished to retain political power, the amount of taxation had to be limited and they had to resort to programs of massive deficit spending, i.e., they had to borrow money, by issuing government bonds, to finance welfare expenditures on a large scale.

Under a gold standard, the amount of credit that an economy can support is determined by the economy’s tangible assets, since every credit instrument is ultimately a claim on some tangible asset. But government bonds are not backed by tangible wealth, only by the government’s promise to pay out of future tax revenues, and cannot easily be absorbed by the financial markets. A large volume of new government bonds can be sold to the public only at progressively higher interest rates. Thus, government deficit spending under a gold standard is severely limited. The abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit. They have created paper reserves in the form of government bonds which — through a complex series of steps — the banks accept in place of tangible assets and treat as if they were an actual deposit, i.e., as the equivalent of what was formerly a deposit of gold. The holder of a government bond or of a bank deposit created by paper reserves believes that he has a valid claim on a real asset. But the fact is that there are now more claims outstanding than real assets. The law of supply and demand is not to be conned. As the supply of money (of claims) increases relative to the supply of tangible assets in the economy, prices must eventually rise. Thus the earnings saved by the productive members of society lose value in terms of goods.

When the economy’s books are finally balanced, one finds that this loss in value represents the goods purchased by the government for welfare or other purposes with the money proceeds of the government bonds finance by bank credit expansion. In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holding illegal, as was done in the case of gold. If everyone decided, for example, to convert all his bank deposits to silver or copper or any other good, and thereafter declined to accept checks as payment for goods, bank deposits would lose their purchasing power and government-created bank credit would be worthless as a claim on goods. The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves.

This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists’ tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists’ antagonism toward the gold standard.


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Image of row of books at libraryA Gold Classics Library Selection


A Layman’s Guide to Golden Guidelines
for Wise Money Management
Gresham’s Law, Say’s Law, Rule of 72, Marginal Utility, Diminishing Returns, Regression to the Mean, Unintended Consequences, Murphy’s Law, Occam’s Razor, Law of Attraction, Law of Polarity, and more

by R.E. McMaster, former editor of The Reaper newsletter

Ed Stein cartoon graphic of bad money driving good into hiding

There is an old saying that not all that glitters is gold — as in the gold coins many of you have held in your hands. There is another kind of gold that inhabits the practical wisdom of the ages. In today’s “go-get-’em,” “read-it-and-forget-it” world of everyday web browsing, it can be a challenge to separate the run of the mill from the meaningful. It is with that thought in mind we offer this compendium of the rules and laws of finance and investment by long-time market analyst R.E. McMaster. Formerly the writer/editor of the widely-circulated The Reaper newsletter, McMaster is known for his occasional forays into the realm of economic philosophy and history. I think you will agree with me that these skillfully condensed descriptions are indeed meaningful — a wellspring of knowledge worth reading, re-reading and passing along to friends and family, especially the kids and grandkids.

(Illustrations by Ed Stein)

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Britain’s Gold Sales ‘a Reckless Act’
(Sir Peter Tapsell’s speech before the House of Commons, June 16, 1999, on the partial sale of United Kingdom’s gold reserves)

We do not update our Gold Classics Library often, but when we do we try to choose items that have a timeless quality.  This latest selection certainly meets that standard. It comes to us unexpectedly as a by-product of research for the recently published article, The Power of Gold Diversification, and with the kind permission of the United Kingdom Parliamentary Archives.

Photo of Sir Peter Tapsell addressing UK's parliamentMany associate Britain’s sale of nearly 60% of its gold reserves in 1999 with the beginnings of gold’s secular bull market. The government’s rationale for the sale, as explained by then Economic Secretary to the Treasury Patricia Hewitt, was to “achieve a better balance” in its reserves by going to foreign currencies.  Sir Peter Tapsell took the opposite tack.  “The Chancellor [of the Exchequer] may think that he has discovered a new Labour version of the alchemist’s stone,” he argued, “but his dollars, yen and euros will not always glitter in a storm and they will never be mistaken for gold.”

History’s indisputable verdict is that Tapsell was correct and the British government wrong.  The ensuing nearly two decades featured a global financial crisis, low-to-zero-percent interest rates, scrambling central banks, and the consistent depreciation of global currencies against gold. Currencies did not glitter in the storm, and they could not have been mistaken for gold which rose relentlessly from $287 per ounce at the time of his speech to the current price of over $1500 (at one point reaching almost $1900 per ounce in 2011).  Though his speech before the House of Commons failed to stop the sales, it goes down as one of the most eloquent appeals ever made on the merits of gold ownership for nation states and individuals alike.

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Who owns and controls the Federal Reserve
by Dr. Edward Flaherty

“Is the Federal Reserve System secretly owned and covertly controlled by powerful foreign banking interests? If so, how? These claims, made chiefly by authors Eustace Mullins (1983) and Gary Kah (1991) and repeated by many others, are quite serious because the Fed is the United States central bank and controls U.S. monetary policy. By changing the supply of money in circulation, the Fed influences interest rates, affecting the mortgage payments of millions of families, causing the financial markets to boom or collapse, and prompting the economy to expand or to stumble into recession. Such awesome power presumably would be used to benefit the U.S. economy. Mullins and Kah both argued that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is owned by foreigners. Although the New York Fed is just one of twelve Federal Reserve banks, controlling it, they claimed, is tantamount to control of the entire System. Foreigners use their command of the New York Fed to manipulate U.S. monetary policy for their own and, as Kah asserted, to further their global political goals, namely the establishment of the sinister New World Order.” – From the author’s preface.

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A Gold Classics Library Selection


Money and politics in the land of Oz
The extraordinary story behind the extraordinary story of
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”

by Professor Quentin Taylor, Rogers State University

Year in, year out, Money and politics in the land of Oz is among our most highly-visited Gold Classics Library selectionsHere is the extraordinary story behind the extraordinary story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’.  Most have seen the movie version of this allegorical tale, but few are aware of what the various characters, places and things represented in the mind of Frank Baum, the tale’s author. Though ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written over 100 years ago, the themes will be recognizable to those with an interest in golden matters. While many today consider gold an instrument of financial and personal freedom, in Baum’s tale, it is painted as a villain — the tool of oppression. So, as you are about to see, we have come full circle, and gold has traveled a yellow brick road of its own.

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The Nightmare German Inflation

The surprise is not only the length of time Scientific Market Analysis’ The Nightmare German Inflation has ranked among our most-visited essays, but that it has remained popular even now, when inflation seems a more distant concern. Inflation, though, is never far removed from the minds of many Americans particularly those who remember the inflationary-stagflationary 1970s decade and the dangers it imposed on financial markets and individual investment portfolios. The survivors of the German hyperinflationary debacle of the 1920s did so, as you are about to read, by purchasing gold early in the process. This comprehensive report not only describes how and why the hyperinflation occurred but how various investments performed under those trying circumstances.  There is little doubt it will affect your thinking.

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Gold Seizure
Here’s how it can happen and what you can do about it.

Allow us to make a personal observation and then we will send you on your way to Mr. Ganz’ important and timely analysis. Too many gold owners labor under the false presumption that high-end, high-premium numismatic gold coins are the only way you can protect your holdings against a potential seizure. Many of our prospective clients are pleasantly surprised when they discover that there is a whole genre of pre-1933 gold coins that can be acquired at modest premiums over the gold content and still meet the criteria for exemption Mr. Ganz outlines. As he points out, “rare and unusual” does not necessarily equate to “pricey” or “expensive.” To understand why the words “rare and unusual” are important, we invite you to proceed to the link.

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Fiat Money Inflation in France
How It Came, What It Brought, and How It Ended

Andrew Dickson White ends his classic historical essay on hyperinflation, “Fiat Money Inflation in France,” with one of the more famous lines in economic literature: “There is a lesson in all this which it behooves every thinking man to ponder.” This lesson — that there is a connection between government over-issuance of paper money, inflation and the destruction of middle-class savings — has been so routinely ignored in the modern era that enlightened savers the world over wonder if public officials will ever learn it. In this essay Dickson White explores France’s hyperinflation at the end of the 18th century in exhaustive detail – its politics, its economics and the social consequences which led, in the end, to Napoleon’s rise as emperor.

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