Is James Rickards Right About A Coming Monetary Apocalypse?

Ralph Benko
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Posted: May 06, 2014 12:01 AM
Is James Rickards Right About A Coming Monetary Apocalypse?

Is a monetary apocalypse imminent?

James Rickards, bestselling author of Currency Wars, has a new New York Times bestseller out, about the possible imminent collapse of the dollar: The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System (Portfolio/Penguin). More interestingly, he writes about what could come next: a golden age.

Advance praise (“A terrifically interesting and useful book….”) from Brookings senior fellow Kenneth W. Dam, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and author of The Rules of the Game: Reform and Evolution in the International Monetary System, is an attention getter. Rickard’sCurrency Wars was a hot best seller on the New York Times list, and also, more significantly, in the United States Senate.

The Death of Money is getting the attention of reviewers, James Mackintosh, investments editor of the FT, John Aziz at The Week, David Merkel at The Aleph Blog, as well as Kirkus, among the more prominent. Reviewers are respectful… but not persuaded of his claim of“Nighness of the End." As David Merkel says, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. There is evidence here, but not extraordinary proof.”

This columnist, too, is not persuaded that death of money is imminent. Reuters recently reported that a senior official of the Bank for International Settlements — sometimes referred to as the central banks’ central bank — states that “The dollar’s share of central bank reserves may fall by as much as 10-15 percentage points in coming years without threatening its role as the world’s main reserve currency….”

But the reviewers’ skepticism as to imminence of death may be beside the point. Rickards states as reported in this blog:

a lot of people are running around talking doom and gloom, the end of the dollar and all that. I might even agree with that, but I don’t think it has a lot of content.

What I try to do is provide a more in-depth analysis describing what will come next, what the future international monetary system will look like.

I point out that the international monetary system has already collapsed three times within the last 100 years—1914, 1939, and 1971—and that another collapse would not be at all unusual. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s just that the major powers sit down and reform the system. I talk about what that reformation will look like.

And “what that reformation will look like” really does constitute the most interesting part of The Death of Money.

Sen. Nelson Aldrich (chairman of the National Monetary Commission, and called in his day America’s “general manager”) stated, before the New York Economics Club in 1909, that “[T]he study of monetary questions is one of the great causes of insanity.” Rickards provides a wonderful antidote to some of the insanity too often evident around the study of monetary questions.

Rickards critiques hysterics, apparently Nouriel Roubini (who he does not name and shame but with whom he engaged in a spirited 16 hour Twitter war some time ago) for an indictment of gold investors as “paranoid, fear-based, far-right fringe and fanatics.” Then Rickards berates reactionary hysterics for claims such as that Fort Knox surreptitiously has been emptied of gold.

Rickards observes that

Understanding gold’s real role in the monetary system requires reliance on history, not histrionics; analysis should be based on demonstrable data and reasonable inference rather than accusation and speculation. When a refined view is taken on the subject of gold, the truth turns out to be more interesting than either the gold haters or the gold bugs might lead one to believe.

He goes on to strip the bark off of some of the criticisms of, and polemics surrounding, the gold standard. First he disposes of the myth that “there’s not enough gold.” (This myth is even more persuasively demolished by George Mason Professor Lawrence White, elsewhere. Further refutations are welcome until the culture fully assimilates just how asinine is the myth of “not enough gold.”)

Rickards then disposes of the even more pernicious myth that the true gold standard caused and perpetuated the Great Depression.

The Great Depression, conventionally dated from 1929 to 1940, was preceded by the adoption of the “gold-exchange standard,” which emerged in stages from 1922 to 1925 and functioned with great difficulty until 1939.

The gold exchange standard was, at best, a pale imitation of a true gold standard and, at worst, a massive fraud. …

The sequence of events from 1922 to 1933 shows that the Great Depression was caused not by gold but rather by central bank discretionary policies. The gold exchange standard was fatally flawed because it did not take gold’s free-market price into account. … The gold exchange standard did contribute to the Great Depression because it was not a true gold standard. It was a poorly designed hybrid, manipulated and mismanaged by discretionary monetary policy conducted by central banks, particularly in the U.K. and the United States.

Central bank mismanagement as causing the Great Depression is in no way a fringe claim. As then Federal Reserve Board governor Ben Bernanke stated, in a 2002 speech on the occasion of Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday, “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

In retrospect, incredulity at the promise that “we won’t do it again” seems justified.

Rickards concludes that

There are few more tendentious comments on gold than the a priori statement that a gold standard cannot work today. In fact, a well-designed gold standard could work smoothly if the political will existed to enact it and to adhere to its noninflationary disciplines. A gold standard is the ideal monetary system for those who create wealth through ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and hard work. Gold standards are disfavored by those who do not create wealth but instead seek to extract wealth from others through inflation, inside information, and market manipulation.

This columnist, while in general agreement, has some quibbles with Rickards. The one that matters most is this: resistance to the restoration of the classical gold standard does not come from a failure of “political will.” It comes from a lack of familiarity with it on Capitol Hill.

This columnist, on behalf of American Principles In Action for which he serves as Senior Advisor has briefed well over 100 Congressional legislative aides on the importance of good monetary policy for creating a climate of equitable prosperity. "Political will" makes it sound as though adopting the gold standard is a painful counsel of rectitude rather than one of equitable prosperity. Rather the opposite.

As Forbes.com’s Nathan Lewis has pointed out, in The Correlation Between The Gold Standard And Stupendous Growth Is Clear, possibly the most prosperous epoch in world history correlated tightly with the era of the true gold standard in America. Lewis teaches us that real GDP grew almost sevenfold over around 40 years. By contrast, over the 40+ years of fiduciary dollar management ushered in, on August 15, 1971, by Richard Nixon, industrial production grew by a paltry 159%.

Congresspeople universally favor equitable (especially Democrats) prosperity (especially Republicans). Adopting a policy — the classical gold standard — that has a plausible chance of dramatically increasing the rate of equitable economic growth does not require “political will.” It merely requires more “demonstrable data and reasonable inference.”

The Death of Money makes a valuable contribution to our economic discourse. One can but hope that our Senators and Representatives find their way to it … and find themselves moved to explore this important matter, perhaps in the context of supporting the Brady-CornynCentennial Monetary Commission which is proposed to study the data pertaining to six monetary regimes, including the gold standard.

A lot of data suggests that the gold standard is the best formula to bring America, and the world, out of economic stagnation. Rickards, inThe Death of Money, is less interested in the death of Federal Reserve Notes than in the resurrection of the dollar as Gold Certificates. That resurrection is a recipe for equitable prosperity, job creation, ending wage stagnation and restoring equitable income distribution, and curing our chronic federal deficit.

Call it the Rebirth of Money.