Authors

Money

Rand Paul Draws Liberal Fire As The Left Discovers Its Inner Love Of The Fed, Part One

The New Republic, in its February 8th issue, carries an article by Danny Vinik entitled Rand Paul Has the Most Dangerous Economic Views of Any 2016 Candidate.  It appears that TNR’s fact checkers decamped along with its top journalists. Vinik:

Speaking in front of more than 150 Iowa activists, Paul ripped into the Federal Reserve and promoted his “Audit the Fed” bill, which he introduced earlier this week. “I think there needs to be some sunshine,” he said, according to reports of the event. …

Paul’s bill …would significantly damage the Fed’s independence, which exists so that politicians cannot influence the central bank for their own political purposes. In other words, “Audit the Fed” would lead legislators to interfere with monetary policy matters and put the entire economy at risk.

Whether or not one supports Audit the Fed, the argument really cannot rest on the Fed’s independence.  Fed independence currently is a polite fiction. As I have cited before:

As journalist Steven Solomon wrote in his indispensable exploration of the Fed, The Confidence Game: How Unelected Central Bankers Are Governing the Changed World Economy (Simon & Schuster, 1995):

“Although they strained to portray themselves as nonthreatening, nonpartisan technician-managers of the status quo, central bankers, like proverbial Supreme Court justices reading election returns, used their acute political antennae to intuit how far they could lean against the popular democratic winds.  “Chairmen of the Federal Reserve,” observes ex-Citibank Chairman Walter Wriston, “have traditionally been the best politicians in Washington.”

Forbes.com contributor Dr. Norbert Michel recently published a column here relying on the rather shabby tactic of citing empirical evidence to demonstrate how dubious is the claim of Fed independence.   Michel:

Here are just a few examples (with Fed Chair dates provided):

  • William Martin (1951 – 1970). President Eisenhower directed his Treasury Secretary to put the “utmost pressure” on Chairman Martin to “get a greater money supply throughout the country.”  When Martin refused, Eisenhower pressured him to resign or reconsider.  Martin reconsidered.
  • Arthur Burns (1970 – 1978). President Nixon repeatedly worked with Burns to secure easy monetary policy with the view that it would help win elections.  On one of Nixon’s famous tapes, Nixon and Burns openly mocked the idea of Federal Reserve independence.
  • G. William Miller (1978 – 1979). President Carter found Miller uncooperative, so he replaced him as Fed Chair (he made Miller his Treasury Secretary).
  • Paul Volcker (1979 – 1984). Ronald Reagan openly cultivated a working relationship with Volcker and repeatedly asked him for tighter monetary policy.  Alan Greenspan reports that, in one meeting, Reagan reminded Volcker that the Federal Reserve Act was subject to change.
  • Alan Greenspan (1987 – 2006).  Alan Blinder, appointed to the Fed Board by President Clinton, publicly suggested Greenspan was catering to Clinton.
  • Ben Bernanke (2006 – 2014).  A 2012 New York Fed publication notes: “The U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve System have long enjoyed a close relationship…. This relationship proved beneficial during the 2008-09 financial crisis, when the Treasury altered its cash management practices to facilitate the Fed’s dramatic expansion of credit to banks, primary dealers, and foreign central banks.”

Perhaps the Fed’s defenders have some other definition of independence in mind?

The issue of central bank independence from political meddling is a venerable one.  As the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics eruditely notes, in a recent column anticipating Valentine’s Day:

John Keyworth, curator of the Bank of England’s museum, has provided on the Bank’s website a full explanation for why the institution is called “The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.” It stems from an elaborate 1797satirical cartoon created by James Gillray. The author’s words best explain what is going on in the cartoon:

“The cartoon shows the Prime Minister of the day, William Pitt the Younger, pretending to woo an old lady, the personification of the Bank, but what he is really after is the Bank’s reserves, represented by the gold coin in her pocket, and the money-chest on which she is firmly seated.”

Unsurprisingly, this action was seen by the Government’s detractors as outrageous and Sheridan, representing the Whig opposition, described the Bank as ‘an elderly lady in the City who had . . . unfortunately fallen into bad company’.

There is a certain irony. Sen. Paul might be counted as one of the great champions of protection of the Fed from abuse by the political authorities.  It is very probable that Sen. Paul’s motive is to rescue the Fed from having “unfortunately fallen into bad company.” Although the Fed, the Democrats, and leftish economic commentators may dispute his chosen means they may share a common ideal: high integrity monetary policy.

Fed independence from political meddling — which I support  — actually became crippled when Lyndon Johnson, in the wake of the Tet Offensive, closed the London gold pool.  It died when Richard Nixon closed “the gold window” in 1971.  It is after he genuflects to the shibboleth, though, that Vinik really goes off the rails:

But a Paul presidency would still have disastrous effects on the U.S. economy, for other reasons that were on wide display in Iowa on Friday night.

“Once upon a time, your dollar was as good as gold,” he said. “Then for many decades, they said your dollar was backed by the full faith and credit of government. Do you know what it’s backed by now? Used car loans, bad home loans, distressed assets and derivatives.” Paul’s comments make very little sense. When Paul asks what backs the U.S. dollar now, he’s effectively asking what makes it valuable. When the U.S. used a gold standard, it meant that a dollar was worth a certain amount of gold. Economists overwhelmingly agree that that was a terrible idea, but the connection seemed to explain why dollars had value. …

“What Paul and his followers are concerned about is the purchasing power of the dollar. They want to return the U.S. to the gold standard to ensure that inflation doesn’t undermine the actual purchasing power of the dollar. Over the long run, a gold standard would guarantee that price stability. But over the short run, prices would still fluctuate violently, as happened when the U.S. used the gold standard.

“In terms of current policy, goldbugs, as they are often called, think the Fed’s recent decisions—its zero interest rate policy and bond-buying program—will cause skyrocketing inflation and reduce what you can buy with dollars.”

There is so much just factually wrong about this that one hardly knows where to start.

To be continued.

Politics

Ralph Benko’s Interview With Rand Paul, “Human Capitalist”

Rand Paul recently sat with me to share some of his views. The insights on his worldview left me persuaded that he deserves to be considered the most important public intellectual serving in the United States Senate. Time Magazinecalls him “the most interesting man in American politics.”

The Senate’s public intellectual chair has been vacant since the departure of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. As an M.D. rather than a Ph.D. Paul is less academic than was Moynihan. Yet Paul demonstrates a comparable wit, keen intelligence, and coherent worldview.

Sen. Paul works from the premise that people are more competent at solving our own (and each other’s) problems than is the government. The (sometimes) well-intended denizens of the nation’s capital have only one tool: government. Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote in The Psychology of Science (1966) something that has been paraphrased into lore: “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Little wonder, then, that Americans are feeling rather hammered by the Governmentarians. Little wonder that Governmentarians find Rand Paul baffling.

Attention DC. Here is the secret decoder ring for Rand Paul. He has a deeply held view that people are the ultimate resource. Tellingly, Paul explicitly mentioned Dr. Julian Simon, who characterized people as The Ultimate Resource, the title of a book whose second edition is described at Amazon:

Arguing that the ultimate resource is the human imagination coupled to the human spirit, Julian Simon led a vigorous challenge to conventional beliefs….

The best shorthand for Paul’s worldview might be one coined by the late Nobel Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Gary Becker: “human capital.” Calling Rand Paul a “Human Capitalist” captures him better than does “conservative” or “libertarian.”

Paul also holds that the services provided by the government consistently are mediocre. Rand Paul in his own words:

The government can’t even do a good job of something as simple as running the Post Office. How can it be expected to do a good job with something really important like educating our children?

The realization is dawning that government doesn’t work. In Silicon Valley they already get this. And they are bright enough to be asking what we can do to solve problems.

The Department of Education can’t fix our mediocre education system. But we can. Technology is making it possible for students now to access virtuoso teachers, online, wherever they may be.

The ability of people to connect with each other now is unprecedented. There might be someone on a lost tribe somewhere on an island in the Pacific Ocean with a solution to one of our big problems. We never were able to access that person before. Now, thanks to human ingenuity, we can.

The defeat of Obamacare will come from the realization that the very idea of a government-administered health care system is absurd … and by people opting out of the system and developing workarounds. For instance, there’s a surgeon in Oklahoma City who won’t take insurance and who posts his prices.

That means the patient can shop around and by doing so the competition will bring prices down. Under Obamacare, it virtually is impossible to find out the price of anything. That’s not the way to make health care affordable.

People now are unleashing themselves to go around government. Capitalism works, as communism did not, because it unleashes human creativity and capability. I am committed to bringing down the obstacles that government puts up that impair people’s ability to solve their own problems.

Eric Holder did the right thing in pushing back on civil asset forfeiture, although more needs to be done. Civil forfeiture — confiscating grandma’s house because her grandchild was caught there with $40 worth of marijuana. That is just wrong.

Julian Simon was right. People are the ultimate resource.

Paul emphasizes unleashing people’s creativity. This is gives a more optimistic emphasis than the hostility to government that many consider the primary libertarian theme. Rand Paul is more righteously indignant about than hostile to big government.  This matters.

Paul’s consistent concern for the hardship the government inflicts on the marginalized is reminiscent of author Anatole France’s observation that “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” France, also, in The White Stone, anticipated Julian Simon and Gary Becker: “The great human asset is man himself.”

Paul, as Human Capitalist, has emerged as a major voice in the national conversation. He twice has graced the cover of Time Magazine. The first time he was presented as one of the most important 100 people in the world. Then Senate minority leader (now majority leader) Mitch McConnell wrote of him:

Spend five minutes with Rand and it’s clear he doesn’t care what you look like or where you’re from. He’s beating the bushes for anyone who prizes liberty, and he’s forcing people to rethink the Republican Party. … He’s having fun too. And that’s contagious.

The second time on the cover of Time was as “the most interesting man in American politics” wherein it was noted:

The freaks, the geeks, the oddballs–they mattered too, even here. “I tell people the Bill of Rights isn’t for the high school quarterback or the prom queen,” he said, pacing with a microphone, in blue jeans and cowboy boots he’d borrowed from his brother. “The Bill of Rights is for those who are unpopular.”

He spoke to the crowd … with the enthusiasm of a graduate student in the early rapture of ideas.

The “rapture of ideas” well captures one of Rand Paul’s defining qualities. I have interacted with hundreds of officials and political figures over 30 years. There is only one other major politician I have encountered with a similar intensity of intellectual curiosity: the late Jack Kemp. And Kemp, famously, went on to transform the world.

Rand Paul, unlike Jack Kemp, arrived in Washington with a strong intellectual foundation already in place. As recently reported in the New York Times,

Once, when Chase [Koch] introduced Mr. Paul at an event, he began by talking about how he, too, could empathize with the pressures of growing up the son of a prominent libertarian and having to read Hegel and Ludwig von Mises.

Taking the microphone, Mr. Paul joked, “But did you get to read it in English?”

Read it in English? The opaqueness of Mises is captured in the Wikipedia description of his magnum opus,Human Action,

based on praxeology, or rational investigation of human decision-making. It rejects positivism withineconomics. It defends an a priori epistemology and underpins praxeology with a foundation of methodological individualism and speculative laws of apodictic certainty.

Praxeologically or otherwise Rand Paul follows a governing principle that serves humanity well: “the ultimate resource is the human imagination coupled to the human spirit.”

Meet Rand Paul: Human Capitalist.

Originating at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2015/01/30/rand-paul-emerges-as-the-successor-to-daniel-patrick-moynihan/

Book Reviews

The Greatest Depression You’ve Never, Ever Heard Of

James Grant, in his new book The Forgotten Depression, makes a strong case for applying a prime directive of the Hippocratic Oath — “First, do no harm” — to economic policy. We today find ourselves beset by economic stagnation, racial strife, political bitterness, infectious diseases, and terrorism. Grant brings back to mind some of the direness of the days of yore, making our current condition seem a pale echo.

By the contemporary reckoning of the English economist T.E. Gregory, the world in 1921 was “nearer collapse than it has been at any time since the downfall of the Roman Empire.” Certainly, in America, there was no mistaking the postwar zeitgeist with the Era of Good Feelings. Preceding the race riots and Red scare of 1919-20 was the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918-19; it killed 40 million people, including 675,000 Americans. With the advent of Prohibition in January 1920 a major industry was outlawed (yes, said the evangelist Billy Sunday, but “Hell will be forever for rent.”) On September 16, 1920, a terrorist explosion on Wall Street killed 38 and wounded 300. Later, in September, a grand jury started hearing evidence into the Chicago White Sox’s alleged fixing of the 1919 World Series.

A 1920 recession turned into a 1921 depression…. This was no mere American dislocation but a global depression ensnaring nearly all the former Allied Powers (the defeated Central Powers suffered a slump of their own in 1919).

So depression it was: What would the government do about it? It would implement settled doctrine, as governments usually do. In 1920-21, this meant balancing the federal budget, raising interest rates to protect the Federal Reserve’s gold position, and allowing prices and wages to find a new, lower, level. Critically, what it would not do was what the Hoover administration so energetically attempted to do a decade later: there would be no federally led drive to maintain nominal wage rates and no governmentally orchestrated work sharing. For this reason, not least, no one would wind up affixing the label “great” on the depression of 1920-21.

The Forgotten Depression fundamentally is Grant’s deep look into the sharp but short depression of 1921 and his challenge to Neo-Keynesianism, the settled economic doctrine of our era. Grant draws out implications from comparing that painful but relatively brief event with the long misery of the Great Depression and, by implication, with the recent, protracted, Great Recession.

Grant likely is the greatest belle-lettrist (and one of the greatest narrative historians) of our generation’s economic neoclassicists. He is learned, erudite, witty, with an eye for the telling detail. Posterity might consider Grant our era’s Bastiat. The Forgotten Depression is filled with vivid personalities, wisdom and folly, ecstasies and agonies.   It brings to fresh life an era that is far more forgotten than it is forgettable.

Grant provides abundant wry observations that make most of the conventional wisdom of Washington’s political elites today appear foolish. We confront a dilemma, however, one which Grant does not resolve. It might be irresolvable. A severe economic downturn causes immense human suffering. The estimable quality of empathy beckons those in authority to alleviate such suffering.

Grant gives the great technocrat Herbert Hoover full credit for such empathy:

No one could doubt Herbert Hoover’s generosity of spirit, even if the secretary of commerce had none of Harding’s personal warmth. The war plunged them (Hoover and his wife) into public service. An estimated 120,000 Americans had been stranded in Europe by the outbreak of the fighting. The Hoovers devoted themselves to the costly and complex logistical task of getting the travelers home. When it came to light that millions were hungry in German-occupied Belgium, Hoover became a pro bono battler against starvation. Later, after America joined the war, he headed the U.S. Food Administration. With the peace, he led the American Relief Administration. Millions owed their health, if not their lives, to the man who now served as Harding’s secretary of commerce.”

And yet, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Without what would come to be called “macroeconomic” intervention by the government the Roaring ‘20s swiftly followed the “Forgotten Depression.” Then … Black Tuesday would ensue. As Keynes said  to aSaturday Evening Post reporter, in 1932, who asked if there had ever been anything like the Great Depression: “Yes. It was called the Dark Ages and it lasted 400 years.”

The aggressive measures implemented by President Hoover and then by FDR, Grant lucidly argues, protracted what otherwise might have been a short downturn into a decade of perhaps the longest era of economic misery America has experienced.

I (along with Hayek) stipulate to Keynes’s great-heartedness. That said, Grant indicts Keynes, along with Irving Fischer, as the authors of a fundamental conceptual shift of policy that led to the protraction of a major recession into the Great Depression. Grant:

Economists on both sides of the Atlantic were making the case for a new kind of monetary system. Under the pre-war gold standard, exchange rates were fixed and inviolable. If something had to adjust, that something was business or employment or prices, not the gold value of money. Better by far in the postwar world, contended John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher, if prices remained stable while currency values were allowed to adjust. To achieve the great desideratum of “price stability,” the theorists advocated a new style of central banking. … The mark of success in central banking was no longer a currency fully convertible into gold at a fixed and statutory rate. It was stable prices and lots of jobs.”

These very objectives remain with us. The statutory mission of the Federal Reserve System has been called the “dual mandate.” It is price stability and full employment. Were it capable of “targeting” these outcomes successfully a great leap forward indeed would have been made in human welfare.

Yet according to the Bank of England’s Financial Stability Paper No. 13, published in December 2011, all economic outcomes under the current monetary regime — notably price stability and employment —have underperformed — dramatically —both the gold and the Bretton Woods gold-exchange standard.

It now may be intolerable, politically, for a government to do nothing to alleviate the deep misery associated with a recession. That said, not all interventions are equal. Although not quite brought to the fore by Grant it might be possible for the government to provide fast — virtually immediate — relief by doing the right thing thereby honoring both the economic and the political imperatives.

It is hard to imagine a state of greater destitution than that of the exhausted, bombed out, Germany financially ruined by the Nazis and its infrastructure and industry demolished by allied forces. As I previously have written Ludwig Erhard’s Wirtschafswunder — the German Economic Miracle — began on a dime, as recorded by Erhard in Prosperity Through Competition quoting Jacques Rueff, whom Grant mentions but briefly, and Piettre:

Shop windows were full of goods; factory chimneys were smoking and the streets swarmed with lorries.  Everywhere the noise of new buildings going up replaced the deathly silence of the ruins.  If the state of recovery was a surprise, its swiftness was even more so.  In all sectors of economic life it began as the clocks struck on the day of currency reform.  Only an eye-witness can give an account of the sudden effect which currency reform had on the size of stocks and the wealth of goods on display.  Shops filled with goods from one day to the next; the factories began to work.  On the eve of currency reform the Germans were aimlessly wandering about their towns in search of a few additional items of food.  A day later they thought of nothing but producing them.  One day apathy was mirrored in their faces while on the next a whole nation looked hopefully into the future.

Rueff, with Pinay, later engineered the French “Economic Miracle” founded on comparable principles. Prosperity, not austerity, is the means as well as the ends.

There is a third way between doing nothing and doing the wrong thing. Grant observes, rightly, that government typically implements “settled doctrine.”  Settled doctrine has a poor track record.  Time to pivot back to what has proven to work in practice.

As the late presidential economic advisor Walter Heller once observed to Congress, in 1985, sometimes one must “Rise above principle and do what’s right.” The Forgotten Depression would be a suitable place for our policy makers to begin to tousle the settled doctrine and embrace policies that will return us to to robust job creation and economic mobility.

Originating at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2015/02/02/the-biggest-recession-youve-never-ever-heard-of/

Money

Monetary Politics: The Biggest Money Player In Politics Is The Fed

Washington finally shows signs of coming to grips with the importance of money to politics. This is not about mere campaign finance. Recently there was a breakthrough in bringing the money policy issue out of the shadows and to center stage … where it belongs.

The real issue of money in politics is about the Fed, not the Kochs. The Fed’s political impact is orders of magnitude greater than all the billionaires’ money, bright and dark, left and right, combined.

There was a real breakthrough in the discourse last week. This breakthrough deserves far more attention than it yet has received.

The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien, one of the smartest cats in the (admittedly small and dark, but crucial) monetary policy alley, published a column at the Post’s Wonkblog entitled Yes the Federal Reserve has enormous power over who is president. 

O’Brien states:

The arc of the political universe is long, but it bends towards monetary policy.

That’s the boring truth that nobody wants to hear. Forget about the gaffes, the horserace, and even the personalities. Elections are about the economy, stupid, and the economy is mostly controlled by monetary policy. That’s why every big ideological turning point—1896, 1920, 1932, 1980, and maybe 2008—has come after a big monetary shock.

Think about it this way: Bad monetary policy means a bad economy, which gives power back to the party that didn’t have it before. And so long as the monetary problem gets fixed, the economy will too, and the new government’s policies will, whatever their merits, get the credit. That’s how ideology changes.

O’Brien’s column may, just possibly, represent a watershed turn in the political conversation. Game on.

O’Brien demolishes not one but two myths. The first myth is of the Fed as politically independent. The second is that monetary policy properly resides outside the electoral process.

As I wrote here in a column Dear Chair Yellen: Mend the Fed:

As journalist Steven Solomon wrote in his indispensable exploration of the Fed, The Confidence Game: How Unelected Central Bankers Are Governing the Changed World Economy (Simon & Schuster, 1995):

Although they strained to portray themselves as nonthreatening, nonpartisan technician-managers of the status quo, central bankers, like proverbial Supreme Court justices reading election returns, used their acute political antennae to intuit how far they could lean against the popular democratic winds. “Chairmen of the Federal Reserve,” observes ex-Citibank Chairman Walter Wriston, “have traditionally been the best politicians in Washington. The Fed serves a wonderful function. They get beat up on by the Congress and the administration. Everyone knows the game and everyone plays it. But no one wants their responsibility.”

Moreover, as to the political delicacy of this position, I wrote:

To consistently be in what iconic Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin called “the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up” is just asking too much of most mere mortals.  It asks too much even of officials of such admirable integrity, intellect, and heart as Janet Yellen (and Chair Yellen’s deeply admirable Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, most recently seen talking with protestors at Jackson Hole).

Monetary policy has been relegated to the Fed and largely excluded from the formal electoral process for almost two generations. This is, at it happens, and as O’Brien states forthrightly, a historical anomaly.

Monetary policy was a white hot topic at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Thereafter, it was crucial to the success of George Washington’s administration, one of the few matters in which cabinet members Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton concurred.

Monetary policy — in the North, “Greenbacks” — was a huge (and later litigated) issue during and after the Civil War.

Monetary policy was a fundamental issue for Grover Cleveland.

Monetary policy was the issue that propelled the young William Jennings Bryan to national prominence and three presidential nominations, beginning with his famous “cross of gold” speech.

Monetary policy was a, perhaps the, prime issue on which William McKinley campaigned (and won).

After the Panic of 1907 monetary policy was a central issue for U.S. Senator Nelson Aldrich, then called America’s “General Manager.” Aldrich chaired the National Monetary Commission.  He wittily noted, in a 1909 speech, that “[T]he study of monetary questions is one of the leading causes of insanity.”

Thereafter — with the creation of the Fed — monetary policy became a key issue for Woodrow Wilson. As recorded in Historical Beginnings. The Federal Reserve by Roger T. Johnson, (published by The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, revised 2010)

On December 23, just a few hours after the Senate had completed action, President Wilson, surrounded by members of his family, his cabinet officers, and the Democratic leaders of Congress, signed the Federal Reserve Act. “I cannot say with what deep emotions of gratitude… I feel,” the President said, “that I have had a part in completing a work which I think will be of lasting benefit to the business of the country.”

FDR’s revaluing gold, on the advice of agricultural economist George Warren, was crucial to lifting the Depression. This was a matter so politically dramatic as to land Warren on the cover of Time Magazine.

The importance of FDR’s action cannot be minimized. As I have elsewhere written:

As (conservative economic savant Jacques) Rueff observed in The Monetary Sins of the West (The Macmillan Company, New York, New York, 1972, p. 101):

“Let us not forget either the tremendous disaster of the Great Depression, carrying in its wake countless sufferings and wide-spread ruin, a catastrophe that was brought under control only in 1934, when President Roosevelt, after a complex mix of remedies had proved unavailing, raised the price of gold from $20 to $35 an ounce.”

As investment manager Liaquat Ahamed wrote in his Pulitzer Prize winning history Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World (The Penguin Press, New York, 2009, pp. 462-463):

“But in the days after the Roosevelt decision, as the dollar fell against gold, the stock market soared by 15%.  Even the Morgan bankers, historically among the most staunch defenders of the gold standard, could not resist cheering.  ‘Your action in going off gold saved the country from complete collapse,’ wrote Russell Leffingwell to the president.”

“Taking the dollar off gold provided the second leg to the dramatic change in sentiment… that coursed through the economy that spring. … During the following three months, wholesale prices jumped by 45 percent and stock prices doubled.  With prices rising, the real cost of borrowing money plummeted. New orders for heavy machinery soared by 100 percent, auto sales doubled, and overall industrial production shot up 50 percent.”

Of course, FDR did not take the dollar off gold.  He revalued.  That FDR did not have a firm grasp on the implications of his own policy is evidenced by his Treasury’s sterilization of gold inflows, arguably a leading factor leading to the 1937 double dip back into Depression.

Monetary policy figured more than tangentially in President Nixon’s “New Economic Policy,” announced in a national address on August 15, 1971. The inflationary consequences of Nixon’s closing of the gold window — and the easy money policy he bullied out of the Fed — figured prominently in the Ford and Carter administrations. The symptom of bad monetary policy — runaway inflation — was a major contributing factor in the election of Ronald Reagan.

A period that has been called the Great Moderation — under Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and the first two terms of Chairman Greenspan — followed. This saw the creation of almost 40 million new jobs, and economic mobility.  This tookmonetary policy largely off the political agenda for almost two generations.

Then, of course, came the unexpected financial meltdown of 2008.  That event — and the ensuing soggy recovery — helped propel monetary policy back into the realm of electoral politics.

The Republican Party national platform of 2012 called for the establishment of a monetary “commission to investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar.” This is something for which American Principles in Action (which I professionally advise) was and is a leading advocate.

This plank, widely noted around the world, directly led to the introduction, by Joint Economic Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tx), of Centennial Monetary Commission legislation, which attracted 40 House and two Senate co-sponsors.  It is expected to be reintroduced early in the 114th Congress.

The monetary commission legislation meticulously is bipartisan in nature.  It includes  ex-officio commissioners to be appointed by the Fed Chair and Treasury Secretary. It has been widely, and universally, praised in the financial press … including the FT, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.com. It is purely empirical in intent and has attracted the public support of many important civic leaders in the policy and political arena.

Last winter the commission received a unanimous resolution of support from the Republican National Committee. Democrats and progressives, of the kind of progressive Democrat President Cleveland, also well can support it.

There are a number of things about which one might quibble in O’Brien’s column. (O’Brien, for instance, reflexively opposes the gold standard. Yet the facts and analysis on which he rests his objections are incomplete.)

That said, O’Brien gets the big thing right: “The arc of the political universe is long, but it bends towards monetary policy.” Such an important columnist for the Post getting the big thing right is in and of itself a Big Thing.

Good money — and how to make our money good — is a matter that belongs at the center of our national, and, especially, presidential, politics. Good money is central to restoring job creation, economic mobility, equitable prosperity, the integrity of our savings and the solvency of our banks.

We are in what trenchantly has been called “uncharted territory.” Among issues which deserve a “national conversation” good money deserves the place at the head of the line. Fed Chair Yellen has been described, astutely, by Politico as having the Toughest job in Washington.  It is high time for our elected officials — and presidential aspirants — to shoulder more responsibility. It is high time for monetary policy, after being in political near-hibernation for almost two generations, to enter the 2016 presidential debate.

Originating at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2015/01/19/monetary-politics-the-biggest-money-player-in-politics-is-the-fed/

Politics

The Occult Wars Of Kim Jong-un, Smaug, Paul Krugman And Gold

Pyongyang, evidence shows, effected a spectacular data breach of Sony Pictures to express its wrath over Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan’s The Interview, a movie about an attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Neither the United States Secret Service nor the North Korean authorities take portrayals of the assassination of our respective incumbent supreme leaders lightly.  But there is something more going on here.

North Korea’s actions were characterized by RedState as “unequivocally an act of 21st-century state-sponsored cyberwarfare and, indeed, state-sponsored terrorism.” This is overstated. North Korea really upped the ante by vigilante (rather than vandalism) action.

The lashing out against The Interview presents as an “occult war” by the pre-modern culture (and government) of Pyongyang. The Interview Incident has strong echoes of an almost forgotten event, from the 1960s, when Indonesia’s President Sukarno also acted out. As recounted by the late (and very wise) British career civil servant Austin Coates, in his book China, India and the Ruins of Washington:

Konfrontasi consisted principally of creating continuous threatening uproar by radio, by hostile speeches and clamor in the Indonesian newspapers. Minor disturbances were created along the frontiers of Sarawak and Sabah … and acts of sabotage occurred…. … … The entire thing was in fact a modern version of the medieval practice whereby kings endeavored to overcome their rivals by occult means; and in that Sukarno succeeded by these occult means (radio, press, and speeches in the United Nations) in restoring Irian Barat, or West New Guinea, to Indonesia, the method revealed itself as being not entirely ineffective in the twentieth century.

In fact, Sukarno is the most interesting survival phenomenon in the contemporary Orient. His speeches at the time of Konfrontasi were so imbued with the simulated concept of centrality as to sound like an echo from another age.

It would be flying in the face of historical evidence to imagine that this will be the last attempt to imitate the center. … But all such endeavors will be pointless.

Without, in any way, exonerating international vigilantism — by the modern “occult” means of black hat hacking and “threatening uproar” — this implies, among other things, that Sony Pictures acted responsibly.  It had not intended, and was not prepared to fight, an “occult war” with Pyongyang.

“Occult” — primarily, here, meaning symbolic, or psychological — warfare hardly is unknown in the West, ballots having replaced bullets. For instance, an “occult war” has been and continues to be waged by a “threatening uproar” in the media over the gold standard. Entirely coincidentally, around the time the donnybrook over The Interview began North Korea itself briefly enlisted, sotto voce, in the “occult war” against the gold standard.

The North Korea Times (the “Oldest online newspaper in North Korea”) engaged under the dramatic headline Spectre of gold standard banished on December 2, 2014. The Times republished this letter from Thailand’s The Nation:

Thanong Khanthong delivers an excellent insight on gold but offers the scary conclusion that “Europe is tilting towards a gold standard of some sort [and] the days of the fiat currency regime could be numbered”.

Fortunately, on Sunday, 77 per cent of Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected the call for their currency to be anchored by gold reserves. Switzerland’s finance minister hailed the vote as a show of confidence in the central bank and a realisation that “gold is no longer as important as it once was as a tool to back up paper money”. In other words, gold is important only if people do not trust their central bank. In the modern world, trust is the basis of the fiat currency regime that superseded the long-gone gold standard. The return of that standard will come only when the end of the world is nigh.

Thanong Khanthong, managing editor of the Nation Multimedia Group in Thailand, had written a column entitled Gold rush in Europe as concern over money printing rises, subheadlined “Many European countries are now moving to repatriate their gold holdings from storage abroad.  They are also looking to increase the proportion of gold in their international reserves to assure currency and financial stability.”  The North Korean Times‘s echo of a riposte against a growing trend away from central, to decentralized, monetary policy assuredly was meant to help exorcise this phenomenon.

Kim Jong-un’s regime quietly adds its voice to that of other potent “occult” adversaries on the left of the gold standard. These adversaries include Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Nouriel Roubini, Charles Postel, Thomas Frank, Think Progress’s Marie Diamond, the Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal, Brookings Institutions’ Barry Bosworth, The New York Times’s economics blogger Bruce Bartlett, the Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien, Slate’s Christopher Beam, andUS News & World Report’s Pat Garofalo, and … 40 out of 40 elite academic economists polled some time ago by the Booth School.

It is not unfair to call the left’s opposition to gold “occult.” Our elite intelligentsia, relying on dogma, unleashes hostile words in the media — rather than engaging in reasoned argument — to assassinate the reputation of the gold standard. Our own culture is not always so modern as usually supposed.

In a recent interview at the Lehrman Institute’s gold standard website, which I edit, the estimable economic historian Prof. Brian Domitrovic made these observations:

Academic economic history has hitched its wagon to a particular star, the trashing of the gold standard. The funny thing is that this stuff really didn’t intensify, in academic economic history, until the 1980s, when the conditions were actually beautiful for a return to the gold standard. Students of economic history were not so foolish as to endorse fiat currency in the 1940s, as Bretton Woods was gathering, even though Keynes was urging just that. Paul Samuleson and a few others were trashing gold in the 1950s and 60s, but that was not the norm. …

The publication of Barry Eichengreen’s Golden Fetters, his essays from the 1980s, was a decisive event in cementing the anti-gold standard position in the academy. And Ben Bernanke was such a lionizer of Eichengreen’s that it would prove very fateful if he were accorded high governmental office, which happened twice (Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and the Fed). So the anti-gold view became part of the dominant political culture.

The central command and control management of the dollar by the Fed, in place since President Nixon, has done and is doing vastly more damage to the American (and world) economy than the hacking and harassment of Hollywood by another command-and-control power. This does not exonerate Pyongyang, nor does it imply that Paul Krugman is receiving secret overnight telegrams from Kim Jong-un. It simply observes that our own intelligentsia consistently ignores the empirical data and behaves in pre-modern ways.

The left, whether based in Pyongyang or City College, too often relies very much on “occult means” — such as vituperation — to make its points. “But all such endeavors will be pointless.”

Meanwhile, back in the realm of the “occult,” skirmishing continues. The Hobbit’s dragon Smaug — from Peter Jackson’s movie — recently gave Steven Colbert his endorsement of the gold standard (and Rand Paul):

Stephen Colbert: Now Smaug, I think that we both have a lot in common. We both live in gated communities, and we’re both fiscal conservatives who sleep on giant piles of money.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch): Quite right! Time to return to the gold standard. Rand Paul 2016 Yea! Get some Rand!

While this was meant as public ridicule — am “occult” technique — by Colbert it bears an interesting subtext. As Kenneth Schortgen Jr wrote of this exchange in examiner.com:

Although scripted and made for television, the interview between a fictional dragon from ancient times and a comedic pundit in the 21st century was fascinating in many aspects, and in many ways showed that the real time events we experience in our modern world are no different than similar events that were played out by different characters and plot lines from hundreds or thousands of years ago. …

They say that history doesn’t just repeat itself, but it also rhymes, and watching this fictional made for television interview shows that indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. And while technologies may be different, and the stock of human existence may be better or worse today than in the past, what occurred during the lifetime of a storybook dragon and civilization proves the old axiom that truth is quite often stranger than fiction, or perhaps, it simply mirrors it in imagination and reality.

Back in the real world, The Nation‘s Mr. Khanthong has written about another “dragon,” China, quoting the president of the China Gold Association in a piece headlined The gold standard bandwagon is rolling — Thailand must climb aboard:

“The word is slowly, if almost unnoticeably, moving back to embrace the gold standard.  Russia, China and India are leading the drive by accumulating gold reserves” and Song Xin, president of the China gold Association … wrote in Sina Finance in July this year: ‘Gold is money par excellence in all circumstances and will help support the renminbi [yuan] to become an international currency, as gold forms the very material basis for modern fiat currencies.’”

Dogma really is medieval. Reality — the very fine track record of the gold standard in establishing equitable prosperity — surely will, in time, prevail. “The world is slowly, if almost unnoticeably, moving back to embrace the gold standard.”

“Occult” means will not for long prevail.

Originating at Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/12/22/on-kim-jong-un-paul-krugman-and-smaug/

Economics

The Real Fed Tug Of War: the Yellen Doctrine vs. the Volcker Doctrine

The financial markets are on a hair trigger as to when, and how quickly, the Fed will tighten and raise interest rates.  Billions of dollars will be won or lost by investors on this wager.

For the rest of us, getting it right — as did Chairman Volcker and (during his first two terms), Greenspan is crucial to the creation of a climate of equitable prosperity in which jobs are created in abundance.  39 million jobs were created during the “Great Moderation.” We haven’t seen anything remotely like that since.

Getting it right is crucial to economic mobility — raises, bonuses, and promotions — to let us workers climb the ladder to decent affluence. Thus, just when to raise rates is much less important than the bedrock issue.

For over a decade now job creation has been poor. Poor, too, has been economic mobility.  The left is very much on record as calling for extended ease — keeping interest rates down.  The right has been critical over the Fed’s “zero interest rate policy.” Yet the real tug of war is over whether the Fed should follow a monetary rule or exercise discretion; and, if a rule is preferable, what rule?

Yellen has been on a campaign to demonstrate her empathy with workers.  Less well known: this empathy is shared by many conservatives and libertarians. I, among others, find Yellen’s new openness to rank and file workers and activists a refreshing change of tone from that of the formerly hermetically sealed “Temple.” There are few matters on which I agree on with Sen. Sherrod Brown. This is one of them. As Sen. Brown told Politico:

“I love that Chair Yellen and three Fed governors actually had public meetings,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, an outspoken member of the Senate Democrats’ liberal wing, commending Yellen and her colleagues for recently meeting with progressive activists. “She wants to set a different tone there where they’re listening to the public and listening to people who have lost jobs, listening to people who have seen their life savings evaporate….

Yellen’s descent from Temple Mount to we plain people of the plane is a notable shift. It well accords, at least in style and possibly in substance, with the new populist spirit abroad in the land.  It is imperative, however, that it prove substantive and not merely cosmetic.  And substantive means an intellectual openness to a diversity of views.

The right is not the party of Ebenezer Scrooge.  The right is all for job creation and a rising tide lifting all boats. Yet Yellen has been connecting, so far exclusively, with the left. In her first year, Yellen visited a trade school and donned a welding mask (a terrific photo op, truly); toured a low income neighborhood before speaking, to wide note, at a Boston Fed conference where she advocated for the social safety net and social services (notably, mysteriously, not speaking about monetary policy); met with President Obama on the eve of the 2014 election; and recently took an unprecedented meeting with what Bloomberg.com called “labor and community organizers.”

It is my guess that Janet Yellen reaches out to the social-democratic left because it represents her native intellectual milieu. They speak her language.  Many progressives simply find the right foreign, our language alien. (Memo to Yellen: If all I knew about my team was what I read from Paul Krugman I, too, would disdain me. The mainstream media portrayal of the right is a grotesque caricature.  We’re not the way we are portrayed.  We are, however, skeptical of the efficacy of central planning.  For good reason. And, Dr. Yellen? America is a center right nation.)

Soon we shall stop guessing and find out if Janet Yellen truly is open to hearing a diversity of views … or whether this really is merely a “charm campaign.” One of the leading monetary integrity advocacy groups (and the lead gold standard advocacy group) on the center right, American Principles in Action, which I professionally advise, recently hand-delivered to the Fed a request to Madam Yellen that she meet with representatives of the right.

The letter, signed by 20 high profile figures on the right, stated:

This is to endorse the pending request by American Principles in Action’s Steve Lonegan for a meeting with you, Vice Chair Fischer, and others of your selection, to gather and exchange views with a delegation of monetary policy thought leaders from the center-right.

The left by no means has a monopoly on concern for unemployment and wage stagnation.  To balance a meeting with a group composed of, as described by Bloomberg News, “labor and community organizers” with one of the leading representatives of the center right experts would honor that principle of “a diversity of views”. An evenhanded insight on achieving our shared goal of job creation and economic mobility would facilitate steps toward realization of this mutual objective.

The letter is noteworthy and may portend a significant shift in the discourse. The “money quote:”The left by no means has a monopoly on concern for unemployment and wage stagnation.” This is a thematic development that Yellen would do well to encourage. The difference between members of the humanitarian left and humanitarian right is one of means, not ends.

All agree that money matters, and that the Fed is the fulcrum of the world’s monetary system.  The left believes that discretion is the recipe for more equitable prosperity. The right believes that a monetary rule will yield greater equitable prosperity. Both cannot be right.  Yet this is, and should be treated as, an empirical, not doctrinal, matter. It is not, at heart, a “left vs. right” issue.

In a way, it’s “Yellen vs. Volcker.”  Contrast a statement by Madam Yellen with one made by former (and iconic author of the Great Moderation) Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, reprised in an earlier column:

Madame Yellen [at hearing of the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Chairman Jeb Hensarling earlier this year] stated that “It would be a grave mistake for the Fed to commit to conduct monetary policy according to a mathematical rule.”  Contrast Madame Yellen’s protest with a recent speech by Paul Volcker in which he forthrightly stated: “By now I think we can agree that the absence of an official, rules-based cooperatively managed, monetary system has not been a great success.  In fact, international financial crises seem at least as frequent and more destructive in impeding economic stability and growth. … Not a pretty picture.”

Not all rules are mathematical.  There may be room for agreement implicit in Yellen’s statement.

There is no generic rule. And a bad rule, or a rule badly implemented, could be worse than no rule at all. If a rule is to be preferred, which rule?

There are contending schools of thought. These prominently include the Taylor Rule, NGDP targeting, inflation targeting, commodity price targeting, and the gold standard. Of the latter, Paul Volcker, not himself a proponent of the gold standard, once had this to say in his Foreword to Marjorie Deane and Robert Pringle’s The Central Banks (Hamish Hamilton, 1994):

It is a sobering fact that the prominence of central banks in this century has coincided with a general tendency towards more inflation, not less. By and large, if the overriding objective is price stability, we did better with the nineteenth-century gold standard and passive central banks, with currency boards, or even with ‘free banking.’

Which rule would most likely be optimal for fomenting equitable prosperity as well as price stability? Each regime has eloquent advocates.

It is, in fact, an open question.

Thus the safest path forward out of the uncharted territory in which we find ourselves appears to be the proposed Brady-Cornyn monetary commission introduced in the 113th Congress. It reportedly is certain to be re-introduced in the 114th.

The proposed commission, widely praised in the financial media, is designed to be strictly bipartisan and meticulously empirical.  It is chartered to make an objective assessment of the real outcomes of the various rules now being propounded. While many commissions are designed to derail an issue, a monetary commission would be very much in order. Monetary policy is intricate and potent, not amenable to political towel-snapping-as-usual.

This proposed commission is not in at all inimical to the Fed. The Fed Chair gets an appointment of an ex-officio Commissioner to ensure that the monetary authorities have a dignified voice in the review process.  The Treasury Secretary gets to appoint an ex-officio commissioner as well.

Politico has termed Yellen’s the “Toughest job in Washington.” This surely is apt.   In taking a step away from her crystal ball and connecting with the rank and file Janet Yellen may have unleashed a healthy dynamic that could prove beneficial to making progress.  But only if she listens to all sides.  Moreover, the Commission would provide a civil buffer from the sobering reality that, as Politico reported, “Republican leaders and staff said in interviews that they plan to use their new dominance on both sides of Capitol Hill next year to target the Fed for much greater scrutiny, including aggressive hearings ….”

On the surface it’s a tug of war between raising and lowering interest rates.  At root, it’s an argument about whether the Fed should be following a rule or making one up as it goes along.  If Yellen proves open to a diversity of viewpoints, and if the Fed puts its benediction on the Brady-Cornyn monetary commission legislation, 2015 well could see the beginning of a move in the direction of credit both affordable and abundant that could rival for job creation the Great Moderation.

Originating at http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/12/15/the-yellen-tug-of-war/

Money

The Truth Behind The Swiss Gold Referendum

A recent column in US News & World Report, The Swiss Gold Rush by Pat Garofalo, its assistant managing editor for opinion, is subtitled “A push for the gold standard in Switzerland is symbolic of Europe’s rising right wing.” US News & World Report hereby descends from commentary to propaganda. Who edits its editors?

To begin with, the Swiss referendum, decisively and sensibly rejected by the Swiss electorate, was not about “the gold standard.” It was a vote on a proposition requiring its central bank to increase its gold reserves from around 8% to 20% — implying the acquisition, over five years, of 1,500 tons (“costing at about $56.3 billion at current prices,” reports Bloomberg), never to sell gold, and to hold that federation’s gold within Switzerland.  That had nothing to do with the gold standard.

The Swiss voted 77% – 23% to reject this proposition. The Swiss National Council had rejected the initiative by 156 votes to 20 with 22 abstentions, and the Council of States by 43 votes to 2 abstentions. And the referendum may well have been a bad, or at least silly, idea.

With a Swiss GDP of around $650 billion (USD) per year the requirement to acquire $10B/year of this iconic shiny-and-ductile commodity while not insignificant, at less than 2% of annual GDP, hardly would have been crippling.  That said, the gold standard was not on the ballot.

As for the gold markets themselves, according to a 2011 report by the FT, reporting on a study by the London Bullion Market Association, there was a $240bn average daily turnover in the London bullion market. The annual mandated Swiss acquisition, then, apparently would have amounted to about … half an hour’s trading volume on one of the world’s major gold marketplaces.  Commodity investment, however, has nothing to do with the gold standard.

Demonetized (as at present), gold merely is a commodity. The gold standard is a quality standard, not a quantity standard, and is about maintaining the integrity of the currency, not limiting its supply. This Swiss referendum substantively was irrelevant to monetary policy. As Forbes.com’s own Nathan Lewis perceptively has pointed out the amount of gold held, under the gold standard, as reserves by banks of issue fluctuated dramatically and immaterially.

The Swiss referendum generated a modicum of international attention and considerable criticism. The referendum presented, in fact, as misguided. It did not, however, even imply a restoration of the gold standard much less prove itself, as Garofalo presented it, as a symptom of “Europe’s rising right wing.”

Garofalo stated that “the gold standard is the idea that a nation’s money supply should be tied to gold, rather than being fully controlled by its central bank.”  This is not even a crude approximation of the gold standard. The gold standard simply holds that the value of a currency shall be defined by, and legally convertible into, a fixed weight of gold.

Garofalo implies, and cites other writers who claim, that the gold standard constrains the money supply.  Not so.  As Nathan Lewis has pointed out, for instance, from 1775 to 1900 the amount of gold in the U.S. monetary system increased by 3.4x while the currency increased by 163x without causing a depreciation in value of the currency.

The gold standard is a qualitative, not quantitative, standard. It does not constrain growth of the money supply, merely calibrating it reasonably well (albeit imperfectly, perfection having never been attained by any monetary system) to the real economy’s money demand. Lewis:

between 1880 and 1900, the monetary base in Italy actually shrank by 4.8%.  However, the monetary base in the U.S. grew by 81% over those same years. Both used gold standard systems. So, the “money supply” not only has no relation to gold mining production, but two countries can have wildly different outcomes during the same time period.

As for whether the gold standard is superior to fiduciary management there is abundant evidence that the organic nature of the gold standard consistently outperforms the synthetic nature of central bank discretion.  Garofalo references a poll of 40 academic economists who dismiss the (admittedly unfashionable) gold standard.

In criticizing the performance of the gold standard Garofalo relies on The Atlantic’s Matt O’Brien.

Indeed, when it was in force, the gold standard brought with it a whole host of negative effects, and as Matt O’Brien wrote in The Atlantic, “was a devilish device for turning recessions into depressions.” It ensures that a central bank can’t respond to a crisis by putting more money into the financial system, greasing the wheels of the economy, since the money supply is restricted by an outside factor.

As for another celebrity on whom Garofalo relies, Nouriel Roubini, his ill-founded hysteria on the gold standard has been critiqued here and here. O’Brien and Roubini are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.

As economic historian Professor Brian Domitrovic, also at Forbes.com, relates, The Gold Standard Had Nothing To Do With Panics and Busts,

Looking at the 19th century, before the gold standard became a ghost, a dead-letter in the early era of the Federal Reserve from 1913-33, there is no evidence that the good old thing was implicated in any panic or bust.

Rather than relying on commentators and academics, pro or anti gold, it might be pertinent to turn to the thoughts of central bankers. Herr Dr. Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, in a 2012 speech referred to gold as “in a sense, a timeless classic.”

And Garofalo makes no reference to the 2011 Bank of England Financial Stability Paper No. 13, summarized and hyperlinked by Forbes.com contributor Charles Kadlec here. This study by the prudential Bank of England — not for nothing called “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” — provides an empirical assessment of the fiduciary management approach ushered in by Presidents Johnson and Nixon and, at the time of the study, in effect for 40 years.

Financial Stability Paper No. 13 contrasts the world economy’s real performance under the Johnson/Nixon protocols relative to the Bretton Woods gold-exchange standard and the classical gold standard. The Bank of England analysis, based on the empirical data, concludes that fiduciary management greatly underperformed (for economic growth, financial stability, inflation, recession, and all other categories assessed) its predecessor systems.

Garofalo legitimately cites the weight of elite academic economic opinion against the out-of-fashion gold standard. That said, this august collection of economists, few if any of whom foresaw the panic of 2007 and ensuing Great Recession, seem to be guided by former U.S. Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest’s motto, “Often wrong, never in doubt.” Readers deserve to be provided with the weight of the evidence to, at least, supplement the weight of elite opinion.

More troubling are Garofalo’s innuendos tying gold standard proponents to sinister “right-wing” politics. There is no meaningful correlation between advocacy for the gold standard and, for example, anti-immigrant sentiment. I, a gold standard proponent, am very much on record for a generous, inclusive, immigration policy (including a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens). So is American Principles In Action, the gold standard’s most prominent advocacy group in Washington, DC (which I professionally advise).

The figure most synonymous with right-wing totalitarianism, Adolf Hitler, virulently opposed the gold standard.  The gold standard then was, as it now is, intrinsic to a liberal republican order. Hitler is recorded as saying:

I had no interest in gold— either natural or synthetic.Our opponents have not yet understood our system. We can be easy in our minds on that subject; they’ll have terrible crises once the war is over. During that time, we’ll be building a solid State, proof against crises, and without an ounce of gold behind it. Anyone who sells above the set prices, let him be marched off into a concentration camp ! That’s the bastion of money. There’s no other way.

Garofalo states that “In 2012, Republicans kowtowed to their more extreme members by including a call to return to the gold standard in their party platform.”   This, flatly, is wrong.  The 2012 GOP platform did not call to return to the gold standard.  It simply called for a ““commission to investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar.”  (Nor did it represent a “kowtow” to “more extreme members.”)

Instead of reciting the platform language Garofalo relied on a distorted description of it by commentator Bruce Bartlett, to which he links.  (Bartlett’s reference, in his New York Times Economix blog, to a “metallic basis” was to platform language referencing a commission established by Reagan, not the call to action in the 2012 platform.)

Garofalo states that “Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – has mentioned the possibility of a return to the gold standard.”  The source to which he links states shows the Senator entirely noncommittal:  “Paul wouldn’t comment on whether a gold standard is needed or not….”  Sen. Paul, pressed by a questioner, simply called for a commission to study the matter, which has a subtle yet materially different connotation from having “mentioned the possibility.”

Garofalo’s misrepresentations are, at best, sloppy, giving readers good cause to wonder about the integrity of this writer’s work. His collected writings are a compilation of progressive nostrums: complaining that gas prices are too low, opposing corporate tax reform, criticizing President Obama for refusing to propose a gas tax, supporting the mandated minimum wage, throwing bouquets to the IRS, and so forth.

Garofalo is a propagandist rather than a commentator. Good on him: the discourse is made spicier by propaganda.

That said, the readers of US News & World Report deserve much better quality propaganda than this. The Swiss referendum may have been silly but it was not about the gold standard. The gold standard neither is “ugly” nor evidence of a “rightward lurch.” And, in the words of its foremost living proponent, Lewis E. Lehrman (whose eponymous Institute I professionally advise), “By the test of centuries, the true gold standard, without reserve currencies, is the least imperfect monetary system of history.”

Originating at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/12/01/the-truth-behind-the-swiss-gold-referendum-escapes-most-of-the-mainstream-media/

Ethics

Silly Conspiracy Theory: The Rothschilds control the world

“Give me control of a Nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws.”

This quote frequently is attributed by conspiracy theorists to Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty.

A comparable quote is attributed to his son, Nathan:

I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.

Mayer_Amschel_Rothschild_grave
 Grave of Mayer Amschel Rothschild

 

There are some really big problems with these claims.

First, thorough research has uncovered no evidence whatsoever that either Rothschild ever said such a thing.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena — an award-winning weekly science podcast — searched for a primary source and reported:

In fact, that famous quote from Nathan Rothschild about “controlling the British money supply” turns out to be a fabrication. I found no original source for the quote at all, though it’s repeated in dozens of conspiracy books and on tens of thousands of conspiracy websites. I did a thorough search of all available newspaper archives from Nathan’s lifetime, and had some friends check various university library systems. No such quote appears in the academic literature. After such a thorough search, I feel confident stating that he never made such a statement.

But the quote doesn’t appear to be completely made up by the conspiracy theorists. It’s most likely a revised and restyled version of this quote attributed to Nathan’s father, the original Mayer Rothschild:

“Give me control of a Nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws.”

But like the longer, more specific quote from Nathan, even this one turns out to be apocryphal.  Author G. Edward Griffin did manage to track it down, though. He found that this saying was:

Quoted by Senator Robert L. Owen, former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency and one of the sponsors of the Federal Reserve Act, National Economy and the Banking System, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939), p. 99. This quotation could not be verified in a primary reference work. However, when one considers the life and accomplishments of the elder Rothschild, there can be little doubt that this sentiment was, in fact, his outlook and guiding principle

And this is certainly true. In Rothschild’s day, before banking regulation and antitrust laws existed, it was indeed possible for small groups to gain controlling interests in enough financial institutions that it could be argued that they “controlled” a nation’s money supply. Evidently the Senator made up the quote to support whatever speech he was making, and attributed it to a famous name to give it some clout.

Second, reckless falsehoods play into the hands of the most sinister elements of society.  In the case of the Rothschild family itself, Skeptoid reminds its readers that a “1940 German movie called Die Rothschilds Aktien auf Waterloo(was) described as ‘the Third Reich’s first anti-Semitic manifesto on film.'”   “Nazi Germany devastated the Austrian Rothschilds and seized all of their assets. The family members escaped to the United States, but lost their entire fortunes to the Nazis, including a number of palaces and a huge amount of artwork.”

The tenor of both apocryphal quotes echoes an authentic, lyrical and deeply discerning observation by Scottish writer, politician, and patriot Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun who wrote, in a letter to the Marquis of Montrose in 1703:

I said I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher’s sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation, and we find that most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.

This sentiment has become well known in paraphrased form, “Let me make the ballads of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”  This writer infers that Fletcher’s words may have been the inspiration for the malevolently confabulated sinister sentiments attributed to the Rothschilds.

Skeptoid’s conclusion?

By my analysis, the Rothschilds are best thought of not as an evil shadow conspiracy, but as a great success story of rags to riches, Jewish slum to financing the defeat of Napoleon. The price of gold is fixed twice a day by five members of the London Bullion Association: Barclays Capital, Deutsche Bank, Scotiabank, HSBC, and Societe Generale, and they conduct their twice-daily meeting over the telephone. Today this is mere financial necessity, but until 2004, it was also a century-old tradition as great as the ringing of the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The five distinguished representatives included a Rothschild, and they met in person in a paneled room at the London office of N M Rothschild & Sons. That ritual is now a thing of the past, as is the power of the world’s greatest financial dynasty.

 

This piece originated at http://thegoldstandardnow.org/key-blogs-6/1645-silly-conspiracy-theory-1

Money

The Gold Standard Did Not Cause The Great Depression, Part 2

As noted in my previous column, AEI’s James Pethokoukis and National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru — among many others — appear to have fallen victim to what I have called the “Eichengreen Fallacy.”  This refers to the demonstrably incorrect proposition that the gold standard caused the Great Depression.

Pethokoukis proves exactly right in observing that “Benko is a gold-standard advocate and apparently doesn’t much like the words ‘Hitler’ or ‘Nazi’ to be in the same area code of any discussion of once again linking the dollar to the shiny yellow metal.”  “Doesn’t much like” being falsely linked with Hitler?  Perhaps an apology is more in order than an apologia.

My objecting to a demonstrably false implication of the (true) gold standard in the rise of Nazism does not constitute a display of ill will but rather righteous indignation.  To give Pethokoukis due credit he thereupon generously devoted anAEIdea blog to reciting Peter Thiel’s praise for the gold standard, praise which triggered a hysterical reaction from the Washington Post‘s Matt O’Brien.

Pethokoukis’s earlier (and repeated) vilification of gold was followed by a column in the Washington Times by a director of the venerable Committee for Monetary Research and Education Daniel Oliver, Jr., Liberty and wealth require sound money. In it, Oliver states:

What if liberty and riches at times diverge, though? A shibboleth of mainstream economists, repeated recently in The National Review, of all places, is that countries recovered from the Great Depression in the order that they abandoned the gold standard. … No doubt, money printing — the modern equivalent of leaving the gold standard — can plug the holes in banks’ balance sheets when the demand deposits at the base of the credit structure are withdrawn. This is the policy recommended by National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru and other “market monetarists” such as the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis ….

I am not in complete accord with all of Oliver’s propositions therein. Ponnuru is on solid ground in contradicting Oliver’s imputation of sentiments to him he does not hold and does not believe.  Yet Ponnuru weakens his defense by citing, among other things, a

recent summary of the history of gold standards in the United States that George Selgin wrote for the Cato Institute. It is a very gold-friendly account, but it ‘concludes that the conditions that led to the gold standard’s original establishment and its successful performance are unlikely to be replicated in the future.’

“Unlikely to be replicated in the future?”  Prof Selgin is a brilliant economist, especially in the elite field of monetary economics.  Yet as Niels Bohr reportedly once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” This citation in no way advances Ponnuru’s self-defense.

Let it be noted that Cato Institute recently announced a stunning coup in recruiting Prof. Selgin to head its impressive new Center For Monetary and Financial Alternatives. As stated in its press release, “George Selgin, a Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Georgia and one of the foremost authorities on banking and monetary theory and history, gave up his academic tenure to join Cato as director of the new center.” Cato’s recruitment, from the Mercatus Institute, of a key former House subcommittee aide, the formidable Lydia Mashburn, to serve as the Center’s Manager also shows great sophistication and purpose.

Prof. Selgin hardly would give up a prestigious university post to engage in a quixotic enterprise.  I, among many, expect Selgin rapidly to emerge as a potent thought leader in changing the calculus of what is, or can be made, policy-likely.  Also notable are the Center’s sterling Council of Economic Advisors, including such luminaries as Charles Calomiris; its Executive Advisory Council; Senior Fellows; and Adjunct Scholars.  It is, as Prof. Selgin noted in a comment to the previous column, “a rather … diverse bunch.”

The Center presents as an array of talent metaphorically reminiscent of the 1927 Yankees. These columns do not imply Cato to be a uniform phalanx of gold standard advocates but rather a sophisticated group of thought leaders committed to monetary and financial alternatives, of which the classical gold standard is one, respectable, offering.  Prof. Selgin’s own position frankly acknowledging the past efficacy of the true gold standard represents argument from the highest degree of sophistication.

Ponnuru is on the weakest possible ground in citing the “commonplace observation that countries recovered from the Great Depression in the order they left gold.”  This is as misleading as it is commonplace. Ponnuru, too, would do well to break free of the Eichengreen Fallacy and assimilate the crucial fact that a defective simulacrum, not the true gold standard, led to and prolonged the Great Depression.

The perverse effects of the interwar “gold” standard led to a significant rise in commodities prices … and the ensuing wreckage of a world monetary system by the, under the circumstances, atavistic definition of the dollar at $20.67/oz of gold.  The breakdown of the system meticulously is documented in a narrative history by Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World, which received the Pulitzer Prize in history.  That road to Hell tidily was summed up in a recent piece in The Economist, Breaking the Rules: “The short-lived interwar gold standard … was a mess.”  As EPPC’s John Mueller recently observed, in Forbes.com, “the official reserve currencies which Keynes advocated fed the 1920s boom and 1930s deflationary bust in the stock market and commodity prices.”

The predicament — caused by the gold-exchange standard adopted in Genoa in 1922 — required a revaluation of the dollar to $35/oz, duly if eccentrically performed by FDR under the direction of commodities price expert economistGeorge Warren.  That revaluation led to a dramatic and rapid lifting of the Great Depression.  Thereafter, as Calomiris, et. al, observe in a publication by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Treasury sterilized gold inflows.  That sterilization, together with tax hikes, most likely played a major role in leading to the double dip back into Depression.

The classical gold standard — an early casualty of the First World War — was not, indeed could not have been, the culprit.  There is a subtle yet crucial distinction between the gold-exchange standard, which indeed precipitated the Great Depression, and the classical gold standard, which played no role.There is much to be said for the classical gold standard as a policy conducive to equitable prosperity.  It commands respect, even by good faith opponents.

For the discourse to proceed we first must lay to rest the Eichengreen Fallacy (and all that is attendant thereon). Once having dispelled that toxic fallacy let the games begin and let the best monetary policy prescription win.

Originating at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/11/04/the-eichengreen-fallacy-misleads-some-market-monetarists-part-2/

Money

The Gold Standard Did Not Cause The Great Depression, Part 1

AEI’s James Pethokoukis and National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru — among many others — appear to have fallen victim to what I have called “the Eichengreen Fallacy,” the demonstrably incorrect proposition that the gold standard caused the Great Depression.  This fallacy is at the root of much confusion in the discourse.

Both these conservatives find themselves, most incongruously, in the company of Professors Paul Krugman, Brad Delong, and Charles Postel; Nouriel Roubini; Thomas Frank; Think Progress’s Marie Diamond; the Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal and other leading thinkers of the left pouring ridicule on the gold standard.  Most recently, Matt O’Brien, of the Washington Post, hyperbolically described the gold standard as “the worst possible case for the worst possible idea,” echoing a previous headline of a blog by Pethokoukis “The case for the gold standard is really pretty awful.”

Mssrs. Pethokoukis and Ponnuru appear to have been misled by an ambient fallacy (reprised recently by Bloomberg View‘s Barry Ritholtz) that there is an inherent deflationary/recessionary propensity of the gold standard. Thus they are being lured into opposition to such respected center-right thought leaders as Lewis E. Lehrman (whose Institute’s monetary policy website I professionally edit); Steve Forbes, Chairman of Forbes Media; Sean Fieler, chairman of American Principles in Action (for which I serve as senior advisor, economics) and the Honorable Steve Lonegan, APIA’s monetary policy director.

They also put themselves sideways with Cato Institute president John Allison; Professors Richard Timberlake, Lawrence White, George Selgin and Brian Domitrovic; Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s Dr. Judy Shelton; Ethics and Public Policy Center’s John Mueller; public figures such as Dr. Ben Carson and, perhaps, Peter Thiel; journalists such as George Melloan and James Grant; and Forbes.com commentators John Tamny, Nathan Lewis, Peter Ferrara, and Jerry Bowyer, among others.

At odds, too, with such esteemed international figures as former Indian RBI deputy governor S.S. Tarapore; former El Salvadoran finance minister Manuel Hinds; and Mexican business titan Hugo Salinas Price. And, at least by way of open-mindedness and perhaps even outright sympathy, The Weekly Standard editor-in-chief William Kristol; Cato’s Dr. James Dorn; Heritage Foundation’s Dr. Norbert Michel; the UK’s Honorable Kwasi Kwarteng and Steve Baker … among many other respected contemporary figures.   Not to mention libertarian lions such as the Honorable Ron Paul.

Gold advocates and sympathizers from the deep past include Copernicus and Newton, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Witherspoon, John Marshall and Tom Paine, among many other American founders; and, from the less distant past, such important thinkers as Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises and Jacques Rueff, as well as revered political leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp.

Alan Greenspan recently, in Foreign Affairs, while not discerning gold on the horizon, recently celebrated the “universal acceptability of gold” while raising a quizzical avuncular eyebrow, or two, at what he describes as “fiat” currency.

Let not pass unnoticed the recent statement by Herr Jens Wiedmann, president of the Bundesbank,

Concrete objects have served as money for most of human history; we may therefore speak of commodity money. A great deal of trust was placed in particular in precious and rare metals – gold first and foremost – due to their assumed intrinsic value. In its function as a medium of exchange, medium of payment and store of value, gold is thus, in a sense, a timeless classic.

Nor let pass unnoticed the Bank of England’s 2011 Financial Stability Paper No. 13 assessing the long term performance of the Federal Reserve Note standard and assessing its real outcomes — in every category reviewed, including job creation, economic growth, and inflation — to have proven itself, over 40 years, as deeply inferior in practice to the gold and even gold-exchange standards.

Seems a puzzling mésalliance on the part of Mssrs. Pethokoukis and Ponnuru.The Eichengreen Fallacy — that the gold standard caused and protracted the Great Depression — has led the discourse severely astray. It is imperative to set matters straight.  As I previously have written:

Prof. Eichengreen, author of Golden Fetters, was and remains non-cognizant of a subtle but crucial aspect of world monetary history — and, apparently, of the works of Profs. Jacques Rueff and Robert Triffin elucidating the implications.  Eichengreen blundered by attributing the Great Depression to the gold standard.  This, demonstrably, is untrue.

As Lehrman puts it, the true gold standard repeatedly has proven, in practice, the least imperfect of monetary regimes tried. Robust data actually recommend the gold standard as a powerful force for equitable prosperity.

Just perhaps it can be bettered.  So let the games begin. That said, proposing alternatives to the gold standard is very different from denigrating it.

Pethokoukis (whose writings I regularly follow and with appreciation) recently presented, at AEIdeas, The gold standard is fool’s gold for Republicans. This was a riposte to my here calling him to task for insinuating a connection between the gold standard and the rise of the Nazis and Hitler.  And to task for making statements in another of his AEIdea blogs taking Professors Beckworth and Tyler Cowen out of context.  He also therein conflated the “weight of the evidence” with “weight of opinion.”  It appears that he has fallen prey to the Eichengreen Fallacy.

In self-defense Pethokoukis cites scholarly materials which tend to prove the innocence of the gold standard rather than his insinuation.  For example: he cites Prof. Beckworth’s statement that “the flawed interwar gold standard … probably … led to the Great Depression which, in turn, guaranteed the rise of the Nazis….”

Prof. Beckworth’s characterization “flawed” is entirely consistent with the characterization by the great French monetary official and savant Jacques Rueff, whose work informs my own, of the gold-exchange standard as “a grotesque caricature” of the gold standard.

Similarly, his reference to Prof. Sumner overlooks the obvious fact that Prof. Sumner would appear fully to grasp the key distinction.  Sumner, as quoted by Pethokoukis:

The gold standard got a bad reputation after the Great Depression, when it was seen as contributing to worldwide deflation.  Kurt Schuler points out that the interwar gold standard didn’t follow the rules of the game, which is true.

Pethokoukis speculates,

Perhaps advocates are so sensitive to charges that the gold standard played a key role in the Great Depression, that nuance gets lost in their knee-jerk counterattacks. After all, many gold bugs think their moment is approaching once again. As Ron Paul wrote in his 2009 book “End the Fed”: ” … we should be prepared for hyperinflation and a great deal of poverty with a depression and possibly street violence as well.”  And when the stuff hits the fan, nations will again return to the gold standard for stability. Or so goes the theory over at Forbes.

Notwithstanding my high regard for Dr. Ron Paul I have not shared in prognostications of hyperinflation, poverty, and possible street violence.  If such sentiments have occurred at Forbes.com, whose columnists trend to the classical liberal rather than Austrian model preferred by Dr. Paul, they are vanishingly rare.  To indict Forbes.com by imputing Dr. Paul’s views here suggests a lack of familiarity with these publications.  There are some crucial distinctions to which his attention hereby is invited.

There are some civil disputes amongst various camps of gold standard proponents.  They are far less material than the demonstrably incorrect fallacy that the authentic gold standard has deflationary tendencies which precipitated the Great Depression.  Once this fallacy is dispelled, James Pethokoukis and Ramesh Ponnuru may find it congenial to adopt a different posture in the — steadily rising — debate over the gold standard.  They, as do Profs. Beckworth and Sumner, might find themselves arguing for their version of a better policy rather than denigrating the case for gold standard as, in Pethokoukis’s words, “pretty awful.”

To be continued.

Originating at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2014/11/03/the-eichengreen-fallacy-misleads-some-market-mone