Dear Monetary Policy Observer,
Below is an interesting report that just appeared in the New York Sun on a recent debate over the viability of a gold standard. The discussion was attended by nearly 1,000 spectators and included commentators ranging from journalists and economics professors to a former director of the Office of Management and Budget.
We hope you find the material of interest.
American Principles in Action
With Dollar in Turmoil, Two Debates on Gold Captivate Manhattan
A Billionaire Likens the America's Fiat Money To Double-Ply Toilet Paper
By DAVID PIETRUSZA, Special to the Sun | May 6, 2011
NEW YORK — The double-header may be an endangered species in baseball, but a double-header of a different sort last night swept Manhattan, where nearly 1,000 people swarmed into an auditorium on the Upper West Side to hear luminaries debate the question of the gold standard and across town a packed auditorium heard a billionaire investor liken fiat paper currencies, including America’s, to toilet paper.
For the gold standard in the packed debate were one of the city’s most celebrated journalists, James Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, David Stockman. Against were a member of GMO’s asset allocation team, Edward Chancellor, and Richard Sylla, a professor of economics at New York University.
Said Mr. Stockman, “The gold standard wouldn't have allowed forty years of deficits . . . Nations were compelled to live within their means. . . . The gold standard was an honest regulator of Wall Street greed . . . nor did we [in upholding a gold standard] punish people who invested in savings accounts.”
Edward Chancellor, while admitting that he was “not an enemy of gold,” pointed to the series of panics in the century preceding World War I as evidence against the gold standard. “The type of sub-prime lending we've seen was possible under the gold standard,” said he. He also pointed to the deficiencies of the gold standard re-instituted following 1918, noting that by the end the 1920s America and France controlled 62% of the world’s gold reseerves. He contended that Britain’s abandoning the gold standard in 1931 facilitated its recovery from the Great Depression. In the end, Mr. Chancellor argued against having any sort of reserve currency at all (“Get rid of all the reserve currencies”).
Mr. Grant likenedt those who oppose the gold standard because of its temporary readjustments to the man who said, “I detest music because I don't like Lady Gaga.” He considered the 1920s gold standard to be not a true gold standard. He called the current monetary system a “collectivist top-down tyranny . . . The clever and the nimble play this system for what it is worth.” Gold he referred to as “the people’s money” and the dollar as “America's credit card.” Said Mr. Grant: “We need a debit card not a credit card.”
Mr. Sylla, the economist, said that “the world would outgrow the ability to use gold as a currency” if it were to return to a gold standard and that a return to a gold standard would translate into $9,421 an-ounce gold based on world reserves and $3,500-an-ounce gold based just on existing currency supply. He proposed, though did not further define, a “constitutional form of fiat currency.” David Stockman countered that based on a 25% gold reserve requirement, the price of an ounce of gold would be at $2,000, which he said the markets would likely reach “in seven weeks” anyway.
Across town at the 92nd Street Y, the discussion avoided a return to a gold standard, though one panelist, John Hathaway, manager of a series of private gold-oriented accounts and gold funds for the Tocqueville Funds, opposed any return to a gold standard (“I don't believe there is a chance in hell the gold standard would return. . . . I wouldn't advocate it”).
Moderated by the Economist’s American business editor, Matthew Bishop, this panel, titled "Gold: The Running of the Bulls," also featured the host of CNBC’s Mad Money, James Cramer, and a billionaire natural resources investor, Thomas Kaplan, who is chairman of the Electrum Group of companies.
“I’ve been recommending gold since I started Mad Money,” Mr. Cramer declared. “ . . . There will be moments of fluff but I'm not really trading it . . . I regard it as the currency of your portfolio . . . I feel very strongly we are not in a topping phase.”
“I’d rather have the insurance policy of gold rather than the insurance policy of GEICO,” Mr. Cramer later said.
Mr. Kaplan likened America’s fiscal policy since 1971 to the actions of Wile E. Coyote in the “Road Runner” cartoons, who runs over the cliff so fast it takes him a moment to realize there’s nothing beneath his feet. America's previously robust economy and the position of the dollar as the world's reserve currency has delayed, Mr. Kaplan suggested, but will not prevent its downward plunge. “We’ve passed the tipping point,” he later warned.
The Euro, Mr. Kaplan said, is "a flawed currency."
“All paper currency,” said Mr. Kaplan, is” toilet paper currency”; the dollar is, on occasion, “double-ply."
Said Mr. Hathaway, “When someone says to me, ‘I’m trying to make money [in investing in gold], I say, ‘You're trying to protect your money.’. . . Gold is the best defense . . . That’s the reason to be in metals."
Regarding the recent plunge in the price of silver, Mr. Kaplan reminded listeners that unlike gold “silver has a split personality” — as the most widely-used monetary metal through history (both the Hebrew and French words for money, he noted, are based upon their words for silver), and as an industrial commodity, its most recent significant use being in the manufacture of solar panels at China.
“When gold is in a bull market,” said Mr. Kaplan, “silver is on steroids; it goes nuts.” Yet because of its industrial uses, silver can be a harbinger or victim of a downturn in the economy, with price drops not concurrently suffered by gold. “If we have a recession,” said Mr. Kaplan, “the industrial component of silver works against it.”
“We are going back to the re-monetarization of gold by investers who no longer trust the central banks . . . .,” concluded Mr. Hathaway, “The one thing I do know is it is not a bubble . . . . It is not over valued.”