What the expansionists call the defects of the gold standard are indeed its very eminence and usefulness. It checks large-scale inflationary ventures on the part of governments. The gold standard did not fail. The governments were eager to destroy it, because they were committed to the fallacies that credit expansion is an appropriate means of lowering the rate of interest and of "improving" the balance of trade.
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 national governments try to isolate their countries from the rest of the world, gold is still used as money. It does not matter that governments confiscate the gold coins and bullion they can seize and punish those holding gold as felons. The language of bilateral clearing agreements by means of which governments are intent upon eliminating gold from international trade, avoids any reference to gold. But the turnovers performed on the ground of those agreements are calculated on gold prices. He who buys or sells on a foreign market calculates the advantages and disadvantages of such transactions in gold. In spite of the fact that a country has severed its local currency from any link with gold, its domestic structure of prices remains closely connected with gold and the gold prices of the world market. If a government wants to sever its domestic price structure from that of the world market, it must resort to other measures, such a prohibitive import and export duties and embargoes. Nationalization of foreign trade, whether effected openly or directly by foreign exchange control, does not eliminate gold. The governments qua traders are trading by the use of gold as a medium of exchange.
The struggle against gold which is one of the main concerns of all contemporary governments must not be looked upon as an isolated phenomenon. It is but one item in the gigantic process of destruction which is the mark of our time. People fight the gold standard because they want to substitute national autarky for free trade, war for peace, totalitarian government omnipotence for liberty.
It may happen one day that technology will discover a method of enlarging the supply of gold at such a low cost that gold will become useless for the monetary service. Then people will have to [p. 476] replace the gold standard by another standard. It is futile to bother today about the way in which this problem will be solved. We do not know anything about the conditions under which the decision will have to be made.
International Monetary Cooperation
The international gold standard works without any action on the part of governments. It is effective real cooperation of all members of the world-embracing market economy. There is no need for ant government to interfere in order to make the gold standard work as an international standard.
What governments call international monetary cooperation is concerted action for the sake of credit expansion. They have learned that credit expansion, when limited to one country only, results in an external drain. They believe that it is only the external drain that frustrates their plans of lowering the rate of interest and thus of creating an everlasting boom. If all governments were to cooperate in their expansionist policies, they think, they could remove this obstacle. What is required is an international bank issuing fiduciary media which are dealt with as money-substitutes by all people in all countries.
There is no need to stress again here the point that what makes it impossible to lower the rate of interest by means of credit expansion is not merely the external drain. This fundamental issue is dealt with exhaustively in other chapters and sections of this book.
But there is another important question to be raised.
Let us assume that there exists an international bank issuing fiduciary media the clientele of which is the world's whole population. It does not matter whether these money-substitutes go directly into the cash holdings of the individuals and firms, or are only kept by the various nations' central banks as reserves against the issuance of national money-substitutes. The deciding point is that there is a uniform world currency. The national banknotes and checkbook money are redeemable in money-substitutes issued by the international bank. The necessity of keeping its national currency at par with the international currency limits the power of every nation's central banking system to expand credit. But the world bank is restrained only by those factors which limit credit expansion on the part of a single bank operation in an isolated economic system or in the whole world.
We may as well assume that the international bank is not a bank issuing money-substitutes a part of which are fiduciary media, but a world authority issuing international fiat money. Gold has been entirely demonetized. The only money in use is that created by the international authority. The international authority is free to increase the quantity of this money provided it does not go so far as to bring about the crack-up boom and the breakdown of the currency. [p. 477]
Then the ideal of the Keynesians is realized. There is an institution operating which can exercise an "expansionist pressure on world trade."
However, the champions of such plans have neglected a fundamental problem, namely, that of the distribution of the additional quantities of this credit money or of this paper money.
Let us assume that the international authority increases the amount of its issuance by a definite sum, all of which goes to one country, Ruritania. The final result of this inflationary action will be a rise in prices of commodities and services all over the world. but while this process is going on, the conditions of the citizens of various countries are affected in a different way. The Ruritanians are the first group blessed by the additional manna. They have more money in their pockets while the rest of the world's inhabitants have not yet got a share of the new money. They can bid higher prices, while the others cannot. Therefore the Ruritanians withdraw more goods from the world market than they did before. The non-Ruritanians are forced to restrict their consumption because they cannot compete with the higher prices paid by the Ruritanians. While the process of adjusting prices to the altered money relation is still in progress, the Ruritanians are in an advantageous position against the non-Ruritanians. When the process finally comes to an end, the Ruritanians have been enriched at the expense of the non-Ruritanians.
The main problem in such expansionist ventures is the proportion according to which the additional money is to be allotted to the various nations. Each nation will be eager to advocate a mode of distribution which will give it the greatest possible share in the additional currency. The industrially backward nations of the East will, for instance, probably recommend equal distribution per capita of population, a mode which would obviously favor them at the expense of the industrially advanced nations. Whatever mode may be adopted, all nations would be dissatisfied and would complain of unfair treatment. Serious conflicts would ensue and would disrupt the whole scheme.
It would be irrelevant to object that this problem did not play an important role in the negotiations which preceded the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and that it was easy to reach an agreement concerning the use of the Fund's resources. The Bretton Woods Conference was held under very particular circumstances. Most of the participating nations were at that time entirely dependent on the benevolence of the United States. They would have been doomed if the United States had stopped fighting for their freedom and aiding them materially by lend-lease. The government of the United States, on the other hand, looked upon the monetary agreement as a scheme for a disguised continuation of lend-lease after the cessation of hostilities. The United States was ready to give and the other participants--especially those of the European countries, most [p. 478] of them at that time still occupied by the German armies, and those of the Asiatic countries--were ready to take whatever was offered to them. The problems involved will become discernible once the delusive attitude of the United States toward financial and trade matters is replaced by a more realistic mentality.
The International Monetary Fund did not achieve what its sponsors had expected. At the annual meetings of the Fund there is a good deal of discussion, and occasionally pertinent observations and criticisms concerning the monetary and credit policies of governments and central banks are brought forward. The Fund itself engages in lending and borrowing transactions with various governments and central banks. It considers its main function to be that of assisting governments to maintain an unrealistic exchange rate for their overexpanded national currency. The methods it resorts to in these endeavors do not differ essentially from those always applied for this purpose. Monetary affairs in the world are going on as if no Bretton Woods Agreement and no International Monetary Fund existed.
The constellation of the world's political and economic affairs enabled the American government to keep its promise of letting foreign governments and central banks get an ounce of gold by paying thirty-five dollars. But the continuation and intensification of the American "expansionist" policy has considerably increased the withdrawal of gold and makes people worry about the future of monetary conditions. They are frightened by the spectre of a farther increase in the demand for gold that may exhaust the gold funds of the United States and force it to abandon its present methods of dealing with gold.
The characteristic feature of the public discussion of the problems involved is that it carefully avoids mentioning the facts that are causing the extension of the demand for gold. No reference is made to the policies of deficit spending and credit expansion. Instead, complaints are raised about something called "insufficient liquidity" and a shortage of "reserves." The remedy suggested is more liquidity, to be achieved by "creating" new additional "reserves." This means it is proposed to cure the effects of inflation by more inflation.
There is need to remember that the policies of the American government and the Bank of England of maintaining on the London gold market a price of 35 dollars for an ounce of gold is the only measure that today prevents the Western nations from embarking upon boundless inflation. These policies are not immediately affected by the size of the various nations' "reserves." The plans for new "reserves" seem therefore not to concern directly the problem to the relation of gold to the dollar. They concern it indirectly as they try to divert the public's attention from the real problem, inflation. For the rest, the official doctrine relies upon the long since discredited balance-of-payments interpretation of monetary troubles. [p. 479]
. Lord Keynes in the speech delivered before the House of Lords,
May 23, 1944.
. T. E. Gregory, The Gold Standard and Its Future (1d ed.
London, 1934), pp. 22 ff.
. Cf. below, Chapters XXVII-XXXI.
. Cf. above, pp. 441-442, and below, pp. 550-586.