Did the gold standard cause the great depression?

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Part 1

I think it is important to have a grasp on this subject, history is a great teacher, it is foolish to think of past events as inconsequential, however, to think this modern generation would not make the same mistakes is common, i.e. "we have laptop computers and far more access to data, we will not make the same mistakes", while history tells a different story, a repeating one.

Modern “Central banker types” seem naturally inclined to think the gold standard caused the Great Depression, gold is their enemy. Seriously gold is their nemesis as it puts power in the hands of “the people” rather than theirs. Without a gold standard they have the power to print money along with a complicated swath of activities to go with it, making them feel important “the wizards of finance” remember “the maestro” Alan Greenspan?

Without his monetary policy America might not have got where it is today… But maybe not all readers here will realize that Alan Greenspan is a closet Gold bug, below is a quote from Alan Greenspan from a 1967 article entitled Gold and Economic Freedo:

“The abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit. In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the 'hidden' confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard."

This was a wise and telling statement, but why did Alan not talk like this while running the FED? Unfortunately I think he corrupted his logic to be in the position he was, as Chairman of the federal reserve, pushing the gold standard would have made him very unpopular with politicians, who want to give people social benefits without taxing for them, in other words to get voted in, also Alan’s ego was massaged, he was held up as a genius. But really it does take a genius to hold together money based on nothing, to give them there due, it is not easy to hold up a piece of paper and declare it has real value or worth, and even that it’s worth is what ever they say it is, they are clever illusionists no doubt. (Alan was not the only old school central banker who recognized the discipline and benefits of the gold standard, see John Exter.

The new Fed Chairman does not have even a hint of gold bug about him, there are no pro gold speech in his past to drag out, no just the opposite, Ben Bernanke considers himself a scholar of the great depression and what caused it, yes he thinks a lack of liquidity was at the root of it, and the gold standard was the restricting factor.

Referring to his speech in 2002 "Deflation: Making Sure "It" Doesn't Happen Here" I quote:

"the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation."

So we can be quite clear that Ben Bernanke will inflate or bust, but to what end?

It is far beneath the modern central banker to have a gold standard, it is too simple, it does not require a series of degrees to work out gold backed money, it does not take a genius to work out you can’t spend more than you earn, so they don’t like it, they like a system that does take a genius.

So is Bernanke right? Did a lack of liquidity caused by the inflexible gold standard stop the “wizards of finance” working their magic, namely printing money without gold backing. Because of the gold standard they were unable to flood the market with money. They say it was lack of liquidity that was at the root of the problem. But in reality they did not get to the root of the problem they only made it from the branches down to the truck and stopped there, they needed to look deeper.

So now Ben and the others have their chance to shine, and they are going about it “hammer and tongs”, bailing this, buying that, money is really no object, there is no limit, they will stop deflation I’m sure. But here is the trillion dollars question: they may stop deflation but will they stop a 2nd Great Depression? Well the scene is set and the actors are in place we will soon see if the modern central backers are right.

As for me I’m one of those people who does not expect more from men than has been demonstrated in the last 4000 years! The studies I have carried out on the Great Depression surprised me in some ways but not in others. I was surprised to find out that debt was the major issue and root of the problem, people exhibited similar behavior in the 1920’s compared to 2000-7. On the other hand I was unsurprised in that it made logical sense rather than just saying “it was the gold standard”. We tend to think people were far more restrained back in the “good old days” that they were sensible about debt, they stayed away from it. But actually that’s the problem we weren’t looking far enough back to the bad old days, or deep enough to uncover the realities that are not in the central banker text books. The older generations I know or knew (being in my 30’s) avoided debt because of the hangover from the Great depression, while folks back in the roaring 20’s had a different attitude, one that was yet unchanged by what was to come.

King Solomon once declared:

"That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.”

(Ecclesiastes 1:9) Here he was speaking I think of the human condition….

So were the roots of the Great Depression the same as our current developing financial crisis? In both cases a major cause was plain old debt, yes the debt of today has fancier names, and takes more bureaucrats to manage but debt is debt.




Following are some excerpts from the book “Brother can you spare a Dime” (I highly recommend reading this book)










“The Roaring 20’s” Quote:

Appeals to buy were dinned in their ears hour after hour on radio, and the movies teased them with fantasies of beautiful people living frivolous lives in luxurious surroundings. Yet no matter how alluring the advertisements of new products, how could they buy?
Salesmen had an answer: offer the goods on credit. Soon almost anything could be bought on the installment plan. By 1929 three out of every four cars were being financed on time. The cautious American habit of buying only what could be paid for in cash gave way to a philosophy of “a dollar down and a dollar forever.” You took a chance on buying now because you believed business would keep prospering, and you, too, would have more money. So why not buy that Model T today, while you were young? Gambling on the stock market was another way of gambling on the future. Speculation was so widespread.

Sound familiar! Quote:

When the newspapers were not heralding heroes such as Charles Lindbergh, who flew the Atlantic, or Babe Ruth, who hit 60 homers in one season, they were front- paging the sex scandals of millionaires and movie stars. Publicity and advertising ballyhooed everything from an imported Chinese game, mah-jongg, to bathing beauty contests at Atlantic City to real estate in Florida, where swampy lots sometimes changed hands 10 times in one day, selling at prices incredibly above their real value. The stock market was soaring and prosperity was in full flood in 1928.

So, then as now there were many distractions in the media to cover up the real issues going on , these days the media has far more technology at there disposal to distract, and yes the real-estate boom sounds familiar, right!

Quote:

Herbert Hoover took office in March 1929, confident in his own campaign prediction that the policies he had helped shape over the preceding eight years would soon banish poverty from the nation.
In the New York Times of May 7, 1929, a full-page advertisement placed by True Story magazine trumpeted:
You business executives sitting at your desks, you have been making a fairy tale come true. Within ten years you have done more toward the sum total of human happiness than has ever been done before in all the centuries of historical time.
Yes, the twenties were a very good time for many Americans. More were doing well and living comfortably than ever before. Business profits spiraled rapidly upward, over 80% in that decade, climbing much higher than productivity.

This is an important point to understand, profits climbed higher also after the year 2000 because people were borrowing money to buy, so corperates made money without paying the wages to support the spending! This happened in the 20’s too. Also governments get a cut of the debt in the form of taxes as money changes hands, then trumpet their brilliant management of things.

Quote:

It was a time to get rich quickly, and it looked like it could be done without much effort. A speculative fever took hold. Even the collapse of the Florida land boom in mid-decade did not cool it off. Those who gave up gambling on the Florida climate believed they could get rich just as effortlessly by gambling on the stock market.

The 1929 crash may have had its groundings in the real estate fall, but it did not trigger the collapse, people went into stocks next. As it turns out this time in 2007/8 they both went down together, I think this is just the start of things to come, at least for the “Western World”.

Of course, there were working people who had no extra funds to play with. In 1929 the Brookings Institution, an economic research group, made a national study of family income. Of the country’s 27.5 million families, 21.5 million, or 78%, were not doing so well. They earned under $3,000 a year. Among them were 6 million families with incomes under $1,000 a year.
The 21.5 million families earning under $3,000, the study reported, were able to save nothing at all.

Sound familiar? So in the "roaring 20's" the middle class was actually under pressure, while all was well in the media, “just borrow and get what you need now”.

In part 2 I will draw some conclusions on the question "did the gold standard cause the great depression?"

Note to subscribers: this article will become part of the precious metals FAQ section.

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