An alternative to popular faith
A gold Standard, indeed any Standard, consists of two parts: An asset (gold) and a system. Of the two, the system plays the leading role.
In any Standard, the system requires that for every unit of currency a country issues, that country must own a fixed amount of the chosen asset. The fundamental purpose and effect of a gold Standard, or of any Standard, is to restrict the ability of a nation to issue money.
Gold has been a popular asset with attractive attributes. It’s consistent, malleable, permanent, pretty and scarce. But, other assets can be part of a Standard, for instance: silver, platinum, copper, wheat, the euro. The euro?
Yes, nothing says the asset in a Standard must be a physical substance. The only necessary attribute is some degree of scarcity. Today, much of Europe is on a “euro Standard.” This means that to spend money, each nation first must obtain euros. The fact that the money and the euros are identical is irrelevant. Rather, the necessity of owning euros restricts each nation’s issuance of money. This restriction is the key to any Standard.
The United States abandoned the gold Standard in 1971 because it restricted the issuance of dollars. The U.S. found itself unable to obtain enough gold to fund its growing economy. It easily could have been unable to service its debts, i.e. gone bankrupt. With the elimination of the gold Standard, the U.S. government demonstrated it is able to service any size debt, while creating unlimited money to fund economic growth.
Today Greece finds itself in the same restricted position. Being on the euro Standard, Greece is now unable to create sufficient currency to fund its growth, and having been forced to borrow, now faces the (unlikely) prospect of bankruptcy. The EU has ordered Greece to reduce its debt supply (aka money supply) by raising taxes and reducing expenditures – a prescription for recession and depression.
Any political entity that cannot create money eventually will be unable to service its debts, and faces economic stagnation and ultimately, bankruptcy. American states, counties and cities are on the “dollar Standard.” Unlike the federal government, they cannot spend money without obtaining dollars. Over time, all must obtain money by raising taxes and/or cutting expenditures, both of which have a depressing effect on their economies.
To save the state, county and city economies, the U.S. federal government increasingly must support local spending. Roads, bridges and dams are local initiatives, once the financial responsibility of local governments, that will need to be funded by the federal government. Education, local transportation, infrastructure, health care and anti-poverty programs also will require federal support to prevent local economic disaster or bankruptcy.
The federal government, because it can create unlimited money without taxation, ultimately will fund the vast majority of local programs, the key political question being: Who will have the power to direct these programs, local agencies or the federal government? The anti-“big government” people do not take this reality into consideration.
Just as the American states, counties and cities can, must and will be supported by the U.S. government, the members of the EU can, must and will be supported by the only entity with the unlimited power to create money: the EU itself.
Eventually, it will become apparent that forcing EU nations to raise taxes and reduce spending only will serve to make economic growth impossible. At that point, the EU will assume the money-creation role for the euro. Thus, the euro will force a de facto “United States of Europe,” well before formal treaties are ratified.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell