The sharpest, wittiest, and most cogent financial writer today is James Grant, whose Grant's Interest Rate Observer is a must-read.
Must-read, that is, if you've got $900, which is the price of a yearly subscription. (Makes the Ricochet $3.47 a month seem rather threadbare, actually....) Although I have to say that it's worth every penny. Grant is a dazzling and astringent writer.
He's also a Gold Bug. Well, not the "new" kind of Gold Bug -- someone who's always pushing the metal as an investment -- but rather the philosophical kind. Grant thinks it's time to go back to the gold standard. As he put it in the NYTimes (hat tip to Tyler Durden's Zero Hedge), it's not really a case of "going back" to the gold standard:
“You can’t go back,” today’s central bankers are wont to protest, before adding, “And you shouldn’t, anyway.” They seem to forget that we are forever going back (and forth, too), because nothing about money is really new. “Quantitative easing,” a k a money-printing, is as old as the hills. Draftsmen of the United States Constitution, well recalling the overproduction of the Continental paper dollar, defined money as “coin.” “To coin money” and “regulate the value thereof” was a Congressional power they joined in the same constitutional phrase with that of fixing “the standard of weights and measures.” For most of the next 200 years, the dollar was, in fact, defined as a weight of metal. The pure paper era did not begin until 1971.
The gold standard, according to Grant, was an engine for economic growth:
Let the economists gasp: The classical gold standard, the one that was in place from 1880 to 1914, is what the world needs now. In its utility, economy and elegance, there has never been a monetary system like it.
It was simplicity itself. National currencies were backed by gold. If you didn’t like the currency you could exchange it for shiny coins (money was “sound” if it rang when dropped on a counter). Borders were open and money was footloose. It went where it was treated well. In gold-standard countries, government budgets were mainly balanced. Central banks had the single public function of exchanging gold for paper or paper for gold. The public decided which it wanted.
Finally, a safer, simpler job for the Fed:
At the outset, the Fed was a gold standard central bank. It could not have conjured money even if it had wanted to, as the value of the dollar was fixed under law as one 20.67th of an ounce of gold.
Neither was the Fed concerned with managing the national economy. Fast forward 65 years or so, to the late 1970s, and the Fed would have been unrecognizable to the men who voted it into existence. It was now held responsible for ensuring full employment and stable prices alike.
Today, the Fed’s hundreds of Ph.D.’s conduct research at the frontiers of economic science. “The Two-Period Rational Inattention Model: Accelerations and Analyses” is the title of one of the treatises the monetary scholars have recently produced. “Continuous Time Extraction of a Nonstationary Signal with Illustrations in Continuous Low-pass and Band-pass Filtering” is another. You can’t blame the learned authors for preferring the life they lead to the careers they would have under a true-blue gold standard. Rather than writing monographs for each other, they would be standing behind a counter exchanging paper for gold and vice versa.
Grant suggests the following path to gold:
To reinstitute a modern gold standard today would take time, too. The United States would first have to call an international monetary conference. A chastened Ben Bernanke would have to announce that, in fact, he cannot see into the future and needs the information that the convertibility feature of a gold dollar would impart...
If the classical gold standard in its every Edwardian feature could not, after all, be teleported into the 21st century, there would be plenty of scope for adaptation and, perhaps, improvement. Let the author of “The Two-Period Rational Inattention Model: Accelerations and Analyses” have a crack at it.
James Grant: funny, sharp, and willing to say the unsayable: Bring Back the Gold Standard.