Gold standard

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Money is gold, and nothing else. —J. P. Morgan

A gold standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is based on a fixed quantity of gold.


  • [W]ith sound-money and gold-standard morality transcendent, Jackson's destruction of the Bank was all but universally regarded as a villainous action. ...In more recent times, as the conventional wisdom of bankers has come... modestly into question and a heightened democratic ethos has ascribed both perception and virtue to the common man, Jackson's action has been viewed with contrasting warmth. He was... speaking for the small, energetic and aspiring folks of the new states, the new farms and the frontier.
    He was, in an important respect, their accidental ally. He opposed the bank as a monopoly—a monster which, as Biddle held, had power to rival that of the state. ...[I]t was also the power of his political enemies. But he favored hard money—he was for currency consisting of gold and silver and for eschewing all paper as the instrument of the devil. In getting rid of the bank, he got... the softest [money] of all—an explosion of new banks, and avalanche of bank notes. But this, and the loans so allowed, were what his constituents most wanted. Had Andrew Jackson succeeded in establishing... hard money... his name would have been reviled by the... small, energetic and aspiring folk of the frontier. Historians, in pondering whether Jackson was right or wrong on financial matters, must allow... a third possibility... that he was confused.
    • Galbraith, 'Money': With sound-money & gold-standard morality..destruction of the Bank..villainous In recent heightened democratic ethos..speaking for small, energetic aspiring folks of new states, farms & frontier. He was their accidental ally..favored hard & silver..eschewing all paper..getting rid of the softest [money]..But this & loans..were what constituents wanted..Historians must allow he was confused
  • It is the outstanding merit of gold as the monetary standard that it makes the supply and the purchasing power of the monetary unit independent of government, of office holders, of political parties, and of pressure groups. The great merit of gold is precisely that it is scarce; that its quantity is limited by nature; that it is costly to discover, to mine, and to process; and that it cannot be created by political fiat or caprice. It is precisely the merit of the gold standard, finally, that it puts a limit on credit expansion.
  • Men have chosen the precious metals gold and silver for the money service on account of their mineralogical, physical, and chemical features. The use of money in a market economy is a praxeologically necessary fact. That gold — and not something else — is used as money is merely a historical fact and as such cannot be conceived by catallactics. In monetary history too, as in all other branches of history, one must resort to historical understanding.
  • The gold standard was the world standard of the age of capitalism, increasing welfare, liberty, and democracy, both political and economic. In the eyes of the free traders its main eminence was precisely the fact that it was an international standard as required by international trade and the transactions of the international money and capital market. It was the medium of exchange by means of which Western industrialism and Western capital had borne Western civilization into the remotest parts of the earth's surface, everywhere destroying the fetters of age-old prejudices and superstitions, sowing the seeds of new life and new well-being, freeing minds and souls, and creating riches unheard of before.
  • It is easy to understand why people viewed the gold standard as the symbol of this greatest and most beneficial of all historical changes. All those intent upon sabotaging the evolution toward welfare, peace, freedom, and democracy loathed the gold standard, and not only on account of its economic significance. In their eyes the gold standard was the labarum, the symbol, of all those doctrines and policies they wanted to destroy. In the struggle against the gold standard, much more was at stake than commodity prices and foreign-exchange rates.
  • No government is, however, powerful enough to abolish the gold standard. Gold is the money of international trade and of the supernational economic community of mankind. It cannot be affected by measures of governments whose sovereignty is limited to definite countries. As long as a country is not economically self-sufficient in the strict sense of the term, as long as there are still some loopholes left in the walls by which nationalistic governments try to isolate their countries from the rest of the world, gold is still used as money.
  • Belief in the gold standard was the faith of the age. With some it was a naive, with some a critical, with others a satanistic creed implying acceptance in the flesh and rejection in the spirit. Yet the belief itself was the same, namely, that banknotes have value because they represent gold. Whether the gold itself has value for the reason that it embodies labor, as the socialists held, or for the reason that it is useful and scarce, as the orthodox doctrine ran, made for once no difference.
    • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (1944), Ch. 2 : Conservative Twenties, Revolutionary Thirties
  • No doubt all commodities have politics. But money and credit and the structure of finance piled on them are constituted by political power, social convention and law in a way that sneakers, smartphones and barrels of oil are not. At the apex of the modern monetary pyramid is fiat money. Called into existence and sanctioned by states, it has no “backing” other than its status as legal tender. That uncanny fact became literally true for the first time in 1971–1973 with the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. Under the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, the dollar, as the anchor of the global monetary system, was tied to gold. This was itself, of course, no more than a convention. When it became too hard for the United States to live with—upholding it would have required deflation—on August 15, 1971, President Nixon abandoned it. This was a historic caesura. For the first time since the advent of money, no currency in the world any longer operated on a metallic standard. Potentially, this freed monetary policy, regulating the creation of money and credit as never before. But how much freedom would policy makers actually have after throwing off the “golden fetters”? The social and economic forces that had made the gold peg unsustainable even for the United States were powerful—at home the struggle for income shares in an increasingly affluent society, abroad the liberalization of offshore dollar trading in London in the 1960s. When those forces were unleashed in the 1970s without a monetary anchor, the result was to send inflation soaring toward 20 percent in the advanced economies, something unprecedented in peacetime. But rather than retreating from liberalization, by the early 1980s any restriction on global capital flows was lifted. It was precisely to tame the forces of indiscipline unleashed by the end of metallic money that the market revolution and the new neoliberal “logic of discipline” were inaugurated. By the mid-1980s Fed chair Paul Volcker’s dramatic campaign to raise interest rates had curbed inflation. The only prices going up in the age of the great moderation were those for shares and real estate. When that bubble burst in 2008, when the world faced not inflation but deflation, the key central banks threw off their self-imposed shackles. They would do whatever it took to prevent a collapse of credit. They would do whatever it took to keep the financial system afloat. And because the modern banking system is both global and based on dollars, that meant unprecedented transnational action by the American state.
    • Adam Tooze Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crashes Changed the World (2018)

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