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Saturday, July 25, 2015

'The Old Man and the CPI'

Paul Krugman:

The Old Man and the CPI: I don’t watch financial news, but CNBC was on in the gym, so I was treated to a long ad from Ron Paul, who wants you to buy his video explaining the coming crisis brought on by loose money. And I found myself thinking about the remarkable fact that there really are people who will buy that video.
After all, Ron Paul has been making the same prediction year after year — in fact, he’s been making this prediction at least since 1981! — and has been wrong year after year. It’s hard to think of a doctrine that has been as thoroughly refuted by events as goldbug economics. ...
The basic mindset of the kind of people who pay Ron Paul for his economic advice is pretty clear: they’ve made some money over the course of their lives, they believe that all of it reflects their own virtue, and they think they know from that experience what it takes to create wealth. They hear that the Fed is printing money, and it sounds to them like a violation of both the laws of economics and morality — and they surely think of it as a plot to take away their completely earned gains and give them to Those People (hence the whiteness issue).
You can try as hard as you like to tell such people that monetary policy is mainly a technical problem, that the Fed isn’t giving money away, and that predictions of runaway inflation have been utterly wrong; it will make no difference. You can point out that they would have done a much better job of investing if they had listened to the MIT gang; sorry, we’re just not their kind of people.
I’d say it’s sad, but I find it hard to feel much sympathy for the marks of this particular scam. Then again, that’s probably why they will never, ever listen to what I have to say.

There are also silverbugs:

LBJ signed the 1965 act,... the president noted, “our coinage of dimes, and quarters, and half dollars, and dollars have contained 90% silver.” Not any more: The new dimes and quarters would “contain no silver.” Instead they would be “composites, with faces of the same alloy used in our 5-cent piece that is bonded to a core of pure copper.” The new half dollar would have 80% silver on the outside and 19% silver inside.

... The value of the dollar started sinking after the 1965 coinage act, and by 1980 the dollar—so long valued at 0.77 ounces of silver—plunged to 0.02 ounces of silver. Today it is valued at 0.06 ounces of silver.
The pre-1965 silver coins have mostly disappeared from circulation. Misers who try to spend silver or gold coins they have hoarded are subject to a capital-gains tax. Monetary purists, incidentally, prefer to speak of “spending” gold and silver, rather than “selling” it, because gold and silver are the true constitutional money.
The U.S. Constitution prohibits states from coining money themselves or making anything but gold or silver coins legal tender. ...
A ... radical approach would be the Free Competition in Currency Act, originally the brainchild of Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman, and offered again in the last Congress by Rep. Paul Broun (R., Ga.). It adopts the idea of the late Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek. This measure would end the legal tender laws, halt capital-gains taxation on gold and silver, and permit private coinage.

One important characteristic of a medium of exchange is that its supply can be controlled in way that allows shocks to the supply and demand for the medium of exchange to be offset. Otherwise, the value will potentially vary quite a bit over time. (E.g. the price of silver went from around $10 near the end of 1972 to over $100 at the beginning of 1980, followed by a large fall back to around $10 at the beginning of 1990. In 2001 it fell to around $6, then spiked to around $50 by 2011, then fell again to around $15 today, and all indications are that it will fall further.) Such large variations in purchasing power of the medium of exchange are highly undesirable -- this is what the gold and silver bugs object to, periods of rapid inflation and deflation (in addition to the variation in purchasing power, it creates considerably uncertainty about the future -- what will be the value of the medium of exchange when loans are repaid? -- and harms future investment).

One way to control the supply is to have it be essentially fixed, as with bitcoin, but that is not sufficient. As we've seen with bitcoin, variations in demand can have a huge impact on value. Similarly for precious metals. Supply can change with mining, etc., but it changes slowly, and variations in demand can lead to wildly fluctuating values. The solution is to have some central authority -- let's call if "the Fed" -- with the ability to alter the supply of the commodity quickly so as to keep the price stable.

So the choice is to have a medium of exchange whose value can vary significantly, suddenly and unexpectedly, or have a central authority intervene to stabilize the price (by stockpiling or selling the medium of exchange to offset shocks to the supply and demand for the commodity). The point is that if changes in the value of a medium of exchange is the concern, as it appears to be, then switching to a commodity money does not solve the problem of needing a central authority to keep the value stable.

    Posted by on Saturday, July 25, 2015 at 10:58 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (30)


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