Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The last page of the Wall Street Journal Opinion section once again contained a gem of a "sound money" editorial yesterday - another well reasoned critique of the current monetary order, this one penned by none other than a former vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Gerald P. Driscoll.
Recall that Judy Shelton contributed a great piece for that page last Friday.
With a title of To Prevent Bubbles, Restrain the Fed, you have a pretty good idea where it's headed, but to hear a former Fed vice president suggest the reinstatement of a gold standard is quite remarkable indeed.
The economy now confronts deflationary forces. If past is prologue the Fed will concentrate on those deflationary forces for too long and rekindle an asset boom of some kind. The fiscal "stimulus" being contemplated by Congress could be another economic accelerant. If both the fiscal and money stimulus efforts kick in just as market forces also kick in, we're likely to see another unsustainable boom that will be followed by a bust.Remarkable...
The incoming administration must think about that possibility because the timing of boom and bust cycles seems to be shortening. The next bust could come five or six years from now -- or about in the middle of an Obama second term. Should that happen, Mr. Obama would be unable to blame Republicans for the mess and would be tagged as the second coming of Jimmy Carter.
To avoid such a fate, Mr. Obama needs to stop the next asset bubble from being inflated by imposing a commodity standard on the Fed. A commodity standard (such as a gold standard) imposes discipline on a central bank because it forces it to acquire commodity reserves in order to increase the money supply. Today the government can inflate asset bubbles without paying a cost for it because the currency isn't linked to the price of a commodity.
With a commodity standard in place, the government would also have price signals that would alert it to the formation of a bubble. Why? Because the price of the commodity would be continuously traded in spot and futures markets. Excessive easing by the Fed would be signaled by rising prices for the commodity. In recent years, Fed officials have claimed that they cannot know when an asset bubble is developing. With a commodity standard in place, it would be clear to anyone watching spot markets whether a bubble is forming. What's more, if Fed officials ignored price signals, outflows of commodity reserves would force them to act against the bubble.
The point is not to deflate asset bubbles, but to avoid them in the first place. Imposing a commodity standard is a practical response to the repeated failures of central banks to maintain sound money and financial stability. What would be impractical is to believe that the next time central banks will get it right on their own.