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IPFS News Link • Fiat Currency

Would Returning To The Gold Standard Resolve Our Most Pressing Monetary Problems?

•, by Charles Hugh Smith

Money in all its forms attracts quasi-religious beliefs and convictions. This makes it difficult to discuss with anything resembling objectivity. But given the centrality of money (and its sibling, greed) in human affairs, let's press on and ask: would returning to the Gold Standard (i.e. gold as money / gold-backed currency) resolve our most pressing monetary problems?

The conviction that the answer is "yes" is widespread. In this view, President Nixon "closing the gold window," in 1971, i.e. ending the convertibility of the US dollar to gold in international foreign exchange (FX) markets, is the Original Sin that doomed us to the inflationary Hell of fiat currency, i.e. currency unbacked by anything tangible such as gold or silver.

In this view, the only way to avoid the consequences of this Original Sin--the eventual reduction of fiat currency to zero value via hyper-inflation as the currency is "printed" without restraint--is to return to the gold standard.

So far, so good, but from here on in it gets tricky. We have a long history of precious metals being the only form of money in various economies, and an almost as long history of paper money augmenting precious-metal "real money" (in China, for example) and the issuance of copper coinage to grease small transactions.

Gold-backed currency rolls off the tongue rather easily, but what exactly does this mean? In theory, it means every unit of paper / digital currency in circulation can be converted on demand to a physical quantity of gold or silver at an exchange rate either set by the nation-state's government or by the market.

This conversion acts as a governor on the issuance of new currency: if the nation has $100 billion in gold/silver, it cannot issue $1 trillion in currency, as the whole idea of conversion is that each unit of currency can be fully converted to gold/silver. So in a truly gold-backed currency, the money supply in circulation must be limited to $100 billion.

There are various tricks that can be played here, of course. The government can assign a conversion rate that doesn't align with the actual market value of gold/silver, for example. Or it can limit conversion to the settlement of foreign trade with other nations.