June 10, 2002
Gold, Dollars, and Federal Reserve Mischief
The mainstream financial press is now reporting the weakening of the U.S. dollar as measured against other currencies. This is unsettling news, as a relatively strong dollar was considered a hallmark of the economic boom of the 1990s- a boom that had far more to do with rapid credit expansion than real increases in productivity. The value of the dollar is down 18% this year compared to gold, which acts as a bellwether for the health of paper money. Gold prices historically rise when faith in paper currencies erodes, as investors seek the intrinsic value of gold to protect themselves from the arbitrary actions of the world’s central banks, including our own Federal Reserve.
Gold is history’s oldest and most stable currency. Central bankers and politicians don’t want a gold-backed currency system, because it denies them the power to create money out of thin air. Governments by their very nature want to expand, whether to finance military intervention abroad or a welfare state at home. This expansion costs money, and the big-government politicians don’t want spending limited to the amounts they can tax or borrow. This is precisely why central banks now produce all of the world’s major currencies.
Yet while politicians favor central bank control of money, history and the laws of economics are on the side of gold. So even though central banks try to mask their inflationary policies and suppress the price of gold by surreptitiously selling it, the gold markets always cut through the smokescreen eventually. Rising gold prices like we see today historically signify trouble for paper currencies, and the dollar is no exception. Should the dollar continue to decline in value, America will find itself struggling to service our already massive debt load even as our foreign creditors become less interested in our dollars.
America once enjoyed a stable dollar backed by gold deposits, a "gold standard" system. This system gradually was undermined throughout the last century, until President Nixon finally severed the last tenuous links between the dollar and gold in 1971. Since 1971, the Fed has employed a pure fiat money system, meaning government can create money whenever it decrees simply by printing more dollars. The "value" of each newly minted dollar is determined by the faith of the public, the total amount of dollars in circulation (the money supply), and the financial markets. In other words, fiat dollars have no intrinsic value.
What does all of this mean for you and your family? Since your dollars have no intrinsic value, they are subject to currency market fluctuations and ruinous government policies, especially Fed inflationary policies. Every time new dollars are printed and the money supply increases, your income and savings are worth less. Even as you save for retirement, the Fed is working against you. Inflation is nothing more than government counterfeiting by the Fed printing presses. Inflation acts as a hidden tax levied disproportionately on the poor and fixed-income retirees, who find the buying power of their limited dollars steadily diminished. The corporations, bankers, and wealthy Americans suffer far less from this inflation, because they can take advantage of the credit expansion that immediately precedes each new round of currency devaluation.
Brilliant Austrian school of economics scholar Murray Rothbard asked a seemingly complex question in the title of his essay: "What has Government Done to our Money?" The answer turns out to be pretty simple: Government consistently debases our money. How and why it debases our money has everything to do with politics, and nothing to do with the laws of economics.