Austrian Economics


Israel Kirzner is an Austrian economist and one of the world’s foremost experts on Ludwig von Mises’s methodology and thought.

Here he speaks at a Future of Freedom Foundation event on December 21, 1996 and provides a good general overview of Austrian Economics, touching on the concepts of imperfect knowledge, the origin of entrepreneurial motive, spontaneous order, and the “fatal conceit” of attempting to centrally plan economic orders.

What follows is tantamount to a historical manifesto that could signal a new era for world economics and modern society as a whole. It is Professor Fekete’s proclamation of a truly viable way out of today’s global economic impasse a.k.a. “The Greatest Depression“.

Please read it carefully…


THE NEW AUSTRIAN SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS
Antal E. Fekete
aefekete@hotmail.com
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The Hungarian Connection
The Austrian School of Economics dates its beginnings back to the publication in 1871 of a slender volume: The Principles of Economics (Grundsätze der Volkwirtschaftslehre) by Carl Menger. The adjective “Austrian” was meant to be derogatory, introduced by economists of German school of historicism to ridicule Menger’s idea of basing economic science on axiomatic foundations, on the pattern of logic and mathematics. The root of the word “Austrian” is “East”, so the connotation of “Austrian economics” is “oriental economics” – a kind of voodoo economics.
German economists could just as well have said “Austrian-Hungarian economics”, since Hungary lies even further East than Austria, plus the fact that in 1871 Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy, the two countries sharing not only a monarch but also many important political, economic, scientific, cultural institutions and traditions.
The Hungarian connection is dramatically revived by an unfortunate split in the rank and file of Austrian economists that took place in the 21st century. I have run conferences at the Martineum Academy in Szombathely, Hungary in the Austrian tradition and in the spirit of Carl Menger. I published course outlines under the aegis of the now defunct Gold Standard University on my website www.professorfekete.com. For my efforts I have been roundly denounced by parochial “American Austrians” at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. I consider this split most unfortunate at the most critical time, when the international monetary system shows signs of advanced senile dementia as well as of physical disintegration. This could have been a most opportune time for students of the gold standard to close ranks, join forces, and demand a return to the only monetary system that makes for economic stability, for peace and prosperity. They should have put their quibbles aside and offer a common platform and blueprint showing the world how it could be done. It was not meant to be.
Because of the urgency of the moment I have decided to make a fresh start and to establish a new school, proudly naming it the New Austrian School of Economics in Budapest, Hungary, where I live. My first act in doing so is to extend a sincere offer of cooperation to the American Austrians as soon as they are ready to look at Adam Smith’s Real Bills Doctrine as a valid theory which is very much in the spirit of Menger.
The Quantity Theory of Money
It is a great pity that as a young man Ludwig von Mises embraced the Quantity Theory of Money, and has never during his long life been able to extricate himself from its clutches. For this reason he was alienated from Adam Smith’s Real Bills Doctrine, the latter being an implicit refutation of the former. In spite of this flaw I still consider him the greatest economist of the 20th century. But the mortmain of Mises cannot be allowed to guide us in the 21st century when the Quantity Theory of Money is so spectacularly self-destructing, as witnessed by the Second Great Depression that started 80 years after the first, in 2009.
Cleansing of the Temple
The Real Bills Doctrine of Adam Smith states, in essence, that short-maturity bills of exchange drawn on goods in most urgent demand and moving fast enough to the ultimate gold-paying consumer, are capable of spontaneous monetary circulation, without any impetus or props from the governments or the banks. Indeed, bill circulation is possible in the absence of any banks at all. Such a system of financing production and trade sans banques could rise from the ashes of the regime of irredeemable currency before our very eyes. In the first decade of our century the governments and the banks have totally discredited themselves in the public’s view as they have run the ship of the world’s monetary system onto the rocks. Should the bankers have the temerity to show up after the shipwreck in order to set up shop, people will rise and chase them out – just as Jesus chased out the money changers in the famous scene “Cleansing of the Temple” (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:12-25).
The scriptural teaching, confirmed by all four evangelists, is clear. Social cooperation is still possible in the absence of banks. It was a fatal mistake to ban the spontaneous circulation of bills maturing into gold from financing world trade – thereby promoting the bankers’ dishonored promises to pay, and their never maturing but ever burgeoning debt, to the status of money.
Victors disallowing real bill circulation in 1918
The international gold standard did not collapse during the 1930’s because of its inner contradictions – as schools inculcate the idea into all students. The truth is that the victorious powers inadvertently caused the collapse of the gold standard (with a 13-year lag) by disallowing its clearing system, the international bill market, to reopen for business after the cessation of hostilities in 1918.
The victors did not want to abolish the gold standard per se. After all, Britain returned to a gold bullion standard at the original parity of the pound sterling in 1925. The victorious allies acted vindictively. They just wanted to punish Germany over and above the provisions of the peace treaty. They forced the world into the straitjacket of bilateral trade, essentially a barter system that had evolved during the war. They refused to entertain Germany’s post-war revival, given the benefits of multilateral world trade, epitomized by the international bill market as it operated before 1914. In effect, the victors wanted to perpetuate the wartime blockade of Germany in peacetime. Never mind that this also punished their own people. In their opinion it was a small price to pay for security. Little did the victorious powers realize that they were sounding the death knell for the gold standard. In a complex trading world such as that of the twentieth century the gold standard could hardly survive if it is castrated by cutting off its clearing system, bill circulation. The idea that the world could be coerced to embrace a system barring multilateral trade is akin to the idea that people could be forced back to barter by abolishing money.
History has borne out the truth of this observation. During a period of five years, from September 1, 1931, when Britain, to September 27, 1936, when Switzerland reneged on their domestic and international gold obligations, all other governments have similarly defaulted on their solemn promises to pay their creditors in the form of a fixed quantity and quality of gold. In some countries, so in the United States, draconian regulations were put into effect making the possession of gold a criminal offence in 1933. Such extreme measures had only one explanation: vindictiveness – even to the extent of hurting your own citizens and violating your own Constitution in the execution of an insane monetary policy. Government economists, university professors, financial writers and journalists have “forgotten” to raise the question whether such extreme and vindictive interference with the world’s production and distribution of goods and services would ultimately have some untoward effects, even war, as a repercussion. Not one of them thought of suggesting that the legal tender status of bank notes should be declared unconstitutional through an international treaty – as the paramount measure to secure the preservation of world peace.
A Century of Legal Tender
The “forgotten questions” are belatedly being asked now. The present great financial crisis is not the outcome of some recent errors of commission or omission. Its ultimate cause goes back 100 years, to 1909. That was the year when France and Germany, in short succession after one another, enacted legal tender legislation making the note issue of the Bank of France and the Reichsbank legal tender in their respective jurisdictions. Without legal tender bank notes an all-out war could scarcely be fought. Members of the officer corps and procurers of munitions would demand remuneration in the gold coin of the realm. That could have put a speedy end to the war that started in 1914.
The real cause of the great financial crisis that started in 2009 is the inadvertent destruction of the gold standard a hundred years ago through the introduction of legal tender bank notes before World War I, and the vengeful decision to bar the international bill market after. It was these measures that have given rise to the corrosive regime of irredeemable currency, floating exchange rates, gyrating interest rates, and forever growing perpetual debt – a monetary arrangement never before globally embraced.
100 percent Gold Standard (so called)
I am an old man, two years shy of four score. I was looking forward to enjoying the quiet pleasures of retirement. However, the present world crisis calls me out of retirement. I feel it is my duty to do what I can to prevent a disaster, to wit, the establishment of the 100 percent gold standard (so called) and letting it run as the fall guy in a mission that is condemned to fail, as Britain’s return to the gold standard was in 1925.
Britain’s gold standard of 1925 failed because it did not have a clearing system and so it utterly lacked elasticity that only self-liquidating credit, embodied by real bill circulation could impart to the monetary system. It was doomed to failure from start. The 100 percent gold standard (so called) would repeat the mistake the British made in 1925. Another failure of the gold standard would set the world back another hundred years. In the meantime there would be trade wars, most likely leading to another world war. Our civilization would be put in harm’s way.
The Theory of Discount
The 100 percent gold standard (so called) would also deprive the world of the benefits of the discount rate, this sophisticated and versatile instrument to regulate the economy. The economic triumph of the one hundred-year period from 1815 through 1914 is the triumph not only of the gold standard, but also of self-liquidating credit, the bill market, and the discount rate (as distinct from the rate of interest). During that triumphant period such economic maladies as chronic trade imbalance, structural unemployment, foreign exchange crises, unbridled increases in public and private debt were quite unknown. The world economy was on an even keel, delicately balanced by self-correction through the mechanism of the discount rate.
In the 19th century no sharp distinction could be made between “surplus” and “deficit” countries due to the self-correcting mechanism of the discount rate. It would have been unthinkable that balances of pound sterling would keep piling up in one country (as dollar balances do now in China), causing great disruptions in world trade, and leading to the dismantling of whole industries in the deficit countries.
Instead, surplus countries would experience an automatic fall, deficit countries an automatic rise in the discount rate. This would immediately induce a flow of short-term capital from the surplus countries to the deficit countries in the form of consumer goods in the most urgent demand. There is no better way, known to man, to satisfy the world’s multifarious and fast-changing needs using the world’s scarce resources most economically and efficiently, to the best advantage of all. This great mechanism of economic adjustment, capable of preventing structural unemployment and chronic imbalances in the world economy, the discount rate, was thoughtlessly thrown away by the victorious allies when they decided not to allow the reorganization of the international bill market for reasons of vindictiveness in 1918.
Open the Mint to Gold!
The secret of solution to the great financial crisis of our day is that governments should open the Mint to gold. This means restoring the individuals’ right to convert their gold at the Mint, without limit, into the gold coin of the realm free of seigniorage charges. They should also have the right to melt down, hoard or export the gold coin of the realm as they see fit.
The significance of the opening of the Mint to gold is that it would convert idled gold into “gold on the go”. Circulating gold coins would revive world trade as nothing else could. Gold locked up in government and private vaults is a curse putting the world economy in a bind (in addition to being a stupid economic waste of a unique scarce resource that has no substitute).
The Most Misunderstood of Metals
Gold is the most misunderstood metal in human history, because of the economists’ failure to distinguish between its dynamic and static aspects in representing values. Economists have blithely assumed all along that the value of gold is the same whether it flows freely from one hand to the next, or whether the movement of gold is obstructed, in the worst case arrested, by the government (soon to be aped by banks and individuals). Yet the truth of the matter is that “gold on the go” is far more valuable than “gold locked up”. Golden Ages of history were periods characterized by “gold on the go”. Man trusted man, and men trusted their governments. Promises to pay gold were routinely made and kept. Gold was paid out without hesitation because men and governments were confident that they can get it back on the same terms any time of their own choosing. Above all, during the Golden Ages of history there was peace because goods and services could be more readily obtained through trade than through theft or conquest.
By contrast, under our present system wherein gold is concentrated in government and private hoards, there prevails a great distrust and widespread misery. Above all, there is perpetual war as goods and services could be more readily obtained through theft and conquest than through voluntary trade.
In rejecting gold our statesmen have rejected reason. Their guilty conscience is shown by their neurotic fear of an open debate on the gold question, and by the fact that they deny academic appointments to solid gold standard men, treating them as if they were cranks. Politicians are wont to erase the very thought of gold from the public consciousness.
The Best Unemployment Insurance Known to Man
The combination of a gold standard with bill trading would produce an economic miracle in the world far greater than the economic miracle of Ludwig Erhardt’s Germany in 1949. The curse of trade deficits would disappear. Even if a country suffered a great natural disaster, say, the total loss of its annual crop, trade deficit would not necessarily follow. The discount rate would immediately shoot up in the stricken country. That country would be the best place in the world on which to draw bills. This would instantaneously generate a flow of short-term capital in the form of consumer goods in most urgent demand. No country would ever need to go to other governments begging for charity. Surplus countries would be prompted to expel gold in response to greater demand as demonstrated by the higher discount rate abroad.
Structural unemployment would disappear as it would be prevented before it became chronic by the higher discount rate in areas of falling employment. The higher local discount rate would generate an influx of finished and semi-finished goods from the surrounding areas. The processing and the distribution of these goods would create as many new jobs as necessary. The best “unemployment insurance” known to man is “gold standard plus bill trading”. This is how the world economy worked before 1914; this is how it would have worked after 1918 had the victorious powers had the intelligence to allow multilateral trade and real bill circulation to make a comeback.
Hands-off Treasury Bills
All the government needs to do is to open the Mint to gold and to protect real bill trading against fraud. Funds raised through the bill market are public funds that must be protected against misuse just as other forms of public funds must. Let me mention just three types of misuse: (1) drawing more than one bill on the same consignment of merchandise; (2) drawing a new bill upon the expiry of the old on the same unsold merchandise; (3) financing stores of goods in the expectation of a rise in price by drawing bills.
Bills of exchange drawn on goods in most urgent demand and moving fast enough to the ultimate gold-paying consumer are capable of monetary circulation on their own wings and under their own steam, regardless whether or not banks are standing by, ready to monetize them. But if they are, legislation should prohibit banks from borrowing short in order to lend long. In practice this means that the banks would be prohibited from rolling over short term commercial credit at maturity. Commercial banks must also be prohibited from conspiring with the drawer of the bill. Withholding stocks from trade in expectation of a rise in price must be financed by an investment bank, never by a commercial bank. The two types of banks should be strictly separated by law. Commercial banks must also be prohibited from investing in brick and mortar. In practice this means that mortgages are “hands-off “.
Treasury bills are also “hands-off”, except on capital account. We know that people will want to eat and to keep themselves clad and shod tomorrow. That’s what makes bills the safest earning asset. We also know that people will pay their taxes only after they have eaten, clad and shod themselves. That’s why real bills as an earning asset are superior to Treasury bills.
The Curse of Senescence
The demand for gold has a component that is unknown to our generation, although it was ubiquitous a hundred years ago: the demand for yield on gold in gold. Gold used to wear two hats: if you wanted, gold was wealth; but if you wanted, gold was income. Moreover, the switch between the two was as simple as one-two-three, through the agency of the bill market. The possibility of making gold yield an income in gold is missing from the world today. The reason is the neurotic approach to gold promoted by the media and academia.
The discount earned by holding real bills to maturity is the safest way to generate an income in gold. Likewise, the safest way to convert that income back into gold is by selling real bills from portfolio.
But why is switching between gold as wealth and gold as income so important? Well, God created man and made him mortal. Also he made us subject to curse of senescence. Our capacity to generate an income is the lowest just when our need to rely on it is the greatest: when we grow old and frail. This seems unjust; but God has also given us a marvelous tool as a compensation: gold. The young man can hoard gold, maybe to adorn his wife with gold jewelry, thus converting income into wealth, so that they can turn this wealth back into income by dishoarding gold when he grows old and his surplus of income has turned into a deficit. Thus gold is man’s tool to convert income into wealth and wealth into income safely. Gold is the catalyst in solving the problem of senescence. That indeed is gold’s main excellence.
Exchanging income for wealth and wealth for income
The trouble is that hoarding and dishoarding gold is a laborious and time-consuming process, raising the problem of efficiency and safety. It is important for us to see that the efficiency of converting income into wealth and wealth into income can be greatly enhanced, and the time-consuming process can be telescoped into instant action, if we pass from direct to indirectconversion of income and wealth. That is to say, we pass from hoarding and dishoarding to the exchange of income for wealth and wealth for income.
The Theory of Interest
This leads us to the concept of interest. The interest rate is just the marginal efficiency of exchanging income and wealth (over the zero efficiency of direct conversion: hoarding and dishoarding). We can shape the theory of the origin of interest so as to describe the evolution of direct conversion of income into wealth or wealth into income through the agency of themost hoardable good, gold, resulting in the far more efficient indirect conversion: the exchange of wealth and income.
This closely follows Menger’s familiar theory of the origin of money as the evolution of direct exchange (barter) resulting in the far more efficient indirect exchange through the agency of themost marketable good, gold.
Given the possibility of indirect conversion, that is, the exchange of income and wealth, the young man with a surplus of income but a deficit of wealth, who wants to go into business, no longer has to waste his best years to hoard gold in order to raise capital. He will seek out a congenial elderly man who has a surplus of wealth but a deficit of income. The two can go into partnership in exchanging the surplus income of the junior partner for the surplus wealth of the senior. But they can do it safely only if the God-ordained institution of the gold standard and the instrument of the gold bond have not been corrupted by do-gooder politicians, as they in fact have in inflicting the coercive regime of irredeemable currency upon the world.
Today no exchange of income and wealth is safe because we no longer have a reliable unit measuring value. This is a formidable obstruction in the way of forming new capital at a time when great capital destruction is taking place due to fluctuating interest rates. The problem of providing adequate capital for business cannot be solved satisfactorily while assuming the regime of irredeemable currency, under which the central bank can suppress the rate of interest all the way to zero – the main cause of capital destruction in the world today. It can be solved only under the regime of a gold standard, where the rate of interest is naturally stable, as shown by the stable price of the gold bond.
This is a new theory of interest that starts from the concept of the hoardability of gold and from the natural need of man to save for his old age. It enables us to see that old age security can be furnished far more efficiently through the voluntary efforts of individuals than through the coercive schemes of the government.
My Message to the Young
I have established the New Austrian School of Economics in order to spread these unorthodox ideas which are very much in the spirit of Carl Menger. Time has come to go beyond rehashing old truths: we must come up with new ideas on our own.
I hereby invite all young people who feel that regurgitating platitudes is not enough. Come to Budapest and enroll at the New School of Austrian Economics! Let’s raise the torch and carry on the great work of enlightenment together! This is no time for cultism or for parochial quibblings. We must forge ahead past the stale criticism of the existing order. Armed with new ideas we are ready to act. I want to lead you and, then, I want you to lead the world!
There is no place anywhere else in the world where you can study the gold standard as it interacts with its clearing system, the bill market, and with the mechanism of the discount rate; where you can learn that legal tender legislation and the elimination of bill trading is invitation to war (first trade war, followed by shooting war); where you can learn that the starting point of the theory of interest must be gold, the most hordable commodity – except here, in Budapest, at the New School of Austrian Economics. The powers that be have expunged gold standard studies from the curriculum. As a consequence the charlatans of at our universities will never be able to come to grips with the theory of interest. There is no way to understand interest without understanding gold first. We shall recreate gold standard studies and advance it together.
See you in August when I shall deliver my first lecture series on the subject of Disorder and Coordination in Economics – Has the world reached the ultimate economic and monetary disorder?
May 12, 2010
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Calendar of Events
European Bankers Symposium, 9-10 June 2010, Hall, Tyrol, Austria. Professor Fekete will be a keynote speaker on June 9, at 13:30. The title of his talk is: (Gold) Architecture for a New World Finance System. For more information, please see www.financetrainer.com.
ANNOUNCING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AUSTRIAN SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS IN BUDAPEST. The first ten-day, 20-lecture course offered is entitled: Disorder and Coordination in Economics – Has the world reached the ultimate economic and monetary disorder? The lecturer is Professor Fekete, with the cooperation of Mr. Rudy Fritsch (Canada), Peter van Coppenolle (Belgium), and Mr. Sandeep Jaitly (United Kingdom). It will be held in Budapest, Hungary, from August 9-20, 2010. Participation is limited, early registration is advisable. For more information and registration, contact Dr. Judith Szepesvari, the wife of Prof. Fekete at: szepesvari17@gmail.com. Inexpensive dorm-type accommodation is available for students (shared bathroom, shared kitchen); a three-star hotel is next door. Extra-curricular consulting with Professor Fekete can be arranged for an extra fee.
The school is meant for all students (including beginners) interested in the Austrian theory of money, credit, and banking. Its program plans to cover the whole spectrum of Austrian economics, with special emphasis on developments that took place after the death of the greatest 20th century economist, Ludwig von Mises, including the Real Bills doctrine and social circulating capital; the theory of money, credit and banking; and the theory of interest and discount.
Completion of this course will earn participants one credit towards a four-course, four-credit program that has been submitted for accreditation to the Adult Education Accreditation Board of Hungary. Participants will receive a certificate signed by Professor Fekete. The follow-up credit courses will cover these areas:
Adam Smith’s Real Bills Doctrine and Social Circulating Capital.

The Austrian Theory of Interest and Discount.

The Austrian Theory of Money, Credit, and Banking.
Some of the follow-up courses may be offered at Martineum Academy in Szombathely, Hungary, where we have had four successful conferences already in the past. A special cordial invitation is extended to all Martineum alumni and their family members and friends!
It is not well-known that Budapest is one of the foremost spas in Central Europe with a dozen or so medicinal thermal springs. Participants of the course could stay on afterwards and savor the superb spa and cultural offerings in the city. Make it a family holiday! Bring the children! Eating and shopping facilities, as well as a swimming pool are nearby. Spectacular excursions can be arranged in the surrounding hills, and boat trips on the River Danube.

This article is excerpted from chapter 17 of Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition , by Ludwig Von Mises, and is read by Jeff Riggenbach.

Men have chosen the precious metals gold and silver for the money service on account of their mineralogical, physical, and chemical features. The use of money in a market economy is a praxeologically necessary fact. That gold — and not something else — is used as money is merely a historical fact and as such cannot be conceived by catallactics. In monetary history too, as in all other branches of history, one must resort to historical understanding. If one takes pleasure in calling the gold standard a “barbarous relic,”[1] one cannot object to the application of the same term to every historically determined institution. Then the fact that the British speak English — and not Danish, German, or French — is a barbarous relic too, and every Briton who opposes the substitution of Esperanto for English is no less dogmatic and orthodox than those who do not wax rapturous about the plans for a managed currency.
The demonetization of silver and the establishment of gold monometallism was the outcome of deliberate government interference with monetary matters. It is pointless to raise the question concerning what would have happened in the absence of these policies. But it must not be forgotten that it was not the intention of the governments to establish the gold standard. What the governments aimed at was the double standard. They wanted to substitute a rigid, government-decreed exchange ratio between gold and silver for the fluctuating market ratios between the independently coexistent gold and silver coins. The monetary doctrines underlying these endeavors misconstrued the market phenomena in that complete way in which only bureaucrats can misconstrue them. The attempts to create a double standard of both metals, gold and silver, failed lamentably. It was this failure that generated the gold standard. The emergence of the gold standard was the manifestation of a crushing defeat of the governments and their cherished doctrines.
In the 17th century, the rates at which the English government tariffed the coins overvalued the guinea with regard to silver and thus made the silver coins disappear. Only those silver coins that were much worn by usage or in any other way defaced or reduced in weight remained in current use; it did not pay to export and to sell them on the bullion market. Thus England got the gold standard against the intention of its government. Only much later the laws made the de facto gold standard a de jurestandard. The government abandoned further fruitless attempts to pump silver standard coins into the market and minted silver only as subsidiary coins with a limited legal tender power. These subsidiary coins were not money, but money-substitutes. Their exchange value depended not on their silver content, but on the fact that they could be exchanged at every instant, without delay and without cost, at their full face value against gold. They were de facto silver printed notes, claims against a definite amount of gold.
Later in the course of the 19th century, the double standard resulted in a similar way in France and in the other countries of the Latin Monetary Union in the emergence ofde facto gold monometallism. When the drop in the price of silver in the later 1870s would automatically have effected the replacement of the de facto gold standard by the de facto silver standard, these governments suspended the coinage of silver in order to preserve the gold standard. In the United States, the price structure on the bullion market had already, before the outbreak of the Civil War, transformed the legal bimetallism into de facto gold monometallism.
“If one takes pleasure in calling the gold standard a ‘barbarous relic,’ one cannot object to the application of the same term to every historically determined institution.”
After the greenback period, there ensued a struggle between the friends of the gold standard on the one hand and those of silver on the other hand. The result was a victory for the gold standard. Once the economically most advanced nations had adopted the gold standard, all other nations followed suit. After the great inflationary adventures of the First World War, most countries hastened to return to the gold standard or the gold-exchange standard.
The gold standard was the world standard of the age of capitalism, increasing welfare, liberty, and democracy, both political and economic. In the eyes of the free traders its main eminence was precisely the fact that it was an international standard as required by international trade and the transactions of the international money and capital market.[2] It was the medium of exchange by means of which Western industrialism and Western capital had borne Western civilization into the remotest parts of the earth’s surface, everywhere destroying the fetters of age-old prejudices and superstitions, sowing the seeds of new life and new well-being, freeing minds and souls, and creating riches unheard of before. It accompanied the triumphal unprecedented progress of Western liberalism ready to unite all nations into a community of free nations peacefully cooperating with one another.
It is easy to understand why people viewed the gold standard as the symbol of this greatest and most beneficial of all historical changes. All those intent upon sabotaging the evolution toward welfare, peace, freedom, and democracy loathed the gold standard, and not only on account of its economic significance. In their eyes the gold standard was the labarum, the symbol, of all those doctrines and policies they wanted to destroy. In the struggle against the gold standard, much more was at stake than commodity prices and foreign-exchange rates.
The nationalists are fighting the gold standard because they want to sever their countries from the world market and to establish national autarky as far as possible. Interventionist governments and pressure groups are fighting the gold standard because they consider it the most serious obstacle to their endeavors to manipulate prices and wage rates. But the most fanatical attacks against gold are made by those intent upon credit expansion. With them, credit expansion is the panacea for all economic ills. It could lower or even entirely abolish interest rates, raise wages and prices for the benefit of all except the parasitic capitalists and the exploiting employers, free the state from the necessity of balancing its budget — in short, make all decent people prosperous and happy. Only the gold standard, that devilish contrivance of the wicked and stupid “orthodox” economists, prevents mankind from attaining everlasting prosperity.
The gold standard is certainly not a perfect or ideal standard. There is no such thing as perfection in human things. But nobody is in a position to tell us how something more satisfactory could be put in place of the gold standard. The purchasing power of gold is not stable. But the very notions of stability and unchangeability of purchasing power are absurd. In a living and changing world there cannot be any such thing as stability of purchasing power. In the imaginary construction of an evenly rotating economy there is no room left for a medium of exchange. It is an essential feature of money that its purchasing power is changing. In fact, the adversaries of the gold standard do not want to make money’s purchasing power stable. They want rather to give to the governments the power to manipulate purchasing power without being hindered by an “external” factor, namely, the money relation of the gold standard.
The main objection raised against the gold standard is that it makes operative in the determination of prices a factor that no government can control — the vicissitudes of gold production. Thus an “external” or “automatic” force restrains a national government’s power to make its subjects as prosperous as it would like to make them. The international capitalists dictate and the nation’s sovereignty becomes a sham.
However, the futility of interventionist policies has nothing at all to do with monetary matters. It will be shown later why all isolated measures of government interference with market phenomena must fail to attain the ends sought. If the interventionist government wants to remedy the shortcomings of its first interferences by going further and further, it finally converts its country’s economic system into socialism of the German pattern. Then it abolishes the domestic market altogether, and with it money and all monetary problems, even though it may retain some of the terms and labels of the market economy.[3] In both cases it is not the gold standard that frustrates the good intentions of the benevolent authority.
The significance of the fact that the gold standard makes the increase in the supply of gold depend upon the profitability of producing gold is, of course, that it limits the government’s power to resort to inflation. The gold standard makes the determination of money’s purchasing power independent of the changing ambitions and doctrines of political parties and pressure groups. This is not a defect of the gold standard; it is its main excellence. Every method of manipulating purchasing power is by necessity arbitrary. All methods recommended for the discovery of an allegedly objective and “scientific” yardstick for monetary manipulation are based on the illusion that changes in purchasing power can be “measured.” The gold standard removes the determination of cash-induced changes in purchasing power from the political arena. Its general acceptance requires the acknowledgment of the truth that one cannot make all people richer by printing money. The abhorrence of the gold standard is inspired by the superstition that omnipotent governments can create wealth out of little scraps of paper.
“People fight the gold standard because they want to substitute national autarky for free trade, war for peace, totalitarian government omnipotence for liberty.”
It has been asserted that the gold standard too is a manipulated standard. The governments may influence the height of gold’s purchasing power either by credit expansion — even if it is kept within the limits drawn by considerations of preserving the redeemability of the money-substitutes — or indirectly by furthering measures that induce people to restrict the size of their cash holdings. This is true. It cannot be denied that the rise in commodity prices that occurred between 1896 and 1914 was to a great extent provoked by such government policies. But the main thing is that the gold standard keeps all such endeavors toward lowering money’s purchasing power within narrow limits. The inflationists are fighting the gold standard precisely because they consider these limits a serious obstacle to the realization of their plans.
What the expansionists call the defects of the gold standard are indeed its very eminence and usefulness. It checks large-scale inflationary ventures on the part of governments. The gold standard did not fail. The governments were eager to destroy it, because they were committed to the fallacies that credit expansion is an appropriate means of lowering the rate of interest and of “improving” the balance of trade.
No government is, however, powerful enough to abolish the gold standard. Gold is the money of international trade and of the supernational economic community of mankind. It cannot be affected by measures of governments whose sovereignty is limited to definite countries. As long as a country is not economically self-sufficient in the strict sense of the term, as long as there are still some loopholes left in the walls by which nationalistic governments try to isolate their countries from the rest of the world, gold is still used as money. It does not matter that governments confiscate the gold coins and bullion they can seize and punish those holding gold as felons. The language of bilateral clearing agreements by means of which governments are intent upon eliminating gold from international trade, avoids any reference to gold. But the turnovers performed on the ground of those agreements are calculated on gold prices. He who buys or sells on a foreign market calculates the advantages and disadvantages of such transactions in gold. In spite of the fact that a country has severed its local currency from any link with gold, its domestic structure of prices remains closely connected with gold and the gold prices of the world market. If a government wants to sever its domestic price structure from that of the world market, it must resort to other measures, such as prohibitive import and export duties and embargoes. Nationalization of foreign trade, whether effected openly or directly by foreign exchange control, does not eliminate gold. The governments qua traders are trading by the use of gold as a medium of exchange.
The struggle against gold, which is one of the main concerns of all contemporary governments, must not be looked upon as an isolated phenomenon. It is but one item in the gigantic process of destruction that is the mark of our time. People fight the gold standard because they want to substitute national autarky for free trade, war for peace, totalitarian government omnipotence for liberty.
It may happen one day that technology will discover a method of enlarging the supply of gold at such a low cost that gold will become useless for the monetary service. Then people will have to replace the gold standard by another standard. It is futile to bother today about the way in which this problem will be solved. We do not know anything about the conditions under which the decision will have to be made.
***
Ludwig von Mises was the acknowledged leader of the Austrian School of economic thought, a prodigious originator in economic theory, and a prolific author. Mises’s writings and lectures encompassed economic theory, history, epistemology, government, and political philosophy. His contributions to economic theory include important clarifications on the quantity theory of money, the theory of the trade cycle, the integration of monetary theory with economic theory in general, and a demonstration that socialism must fail because it cannot solve the problem of economic calculation. Mises was the first scholar to recognize that economics is part of a larger science in human action, a science that Mises called “praxeology.”
See Ludwig von Mises’s article archives.
This article is excerpted from chapter 17 of Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition and is read by Jeff Riggenbach.

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Notes

[1] Lord Keynes in the speech delivered before the House of Lords, May 23. 1944.
[2] T.E. Gregory, The Gold Standard and Its Future (3d ed. London, 1934), pp. 22 ff.
[3] Cf. Human Action, chapters XXVII–XXXI.

Appended is Bob Landis‘s erudite and memorable speech at the Nov. 17 Zurich Gold Conference, titled “Viva la Restoration


… It is an honor and a pleasure to be here among so many good friends and great minds. I feel a special affinity for Zurich. It was the home of my friend and inspiration Ferdi Lips. It is the home of other friends like Tony Deden. It was also the ancestral home of the Landis family.

In fact, this ancestral tie makes me a little nervous at the prospect of a question and answer session. The last time a Landis preaching a dissident message was questioned in Zurich, it was while he was stretched out on the rack. His answers irritated his questioners. So they cut off his head.

Hans Landis was a radical Protestant who denied the authority of the Pope and preached strict fundamentalism. In the passions of the early 1600’s, that was like being a gold bug who denies the legitimacy of the central bank and preaches sound money.

And so, as I stand before you this evening, I sincerely hope that over the course of the last four hundred years, Zurich has mellowed out.
Tonight I’m going to approach the subject of gold from a somewhat oblique angle. Please bear with me as I circle in on it.
*
«My personal favorite, the ABCPMMFLF
Just over a year ago, the United States underwent a seemingly radical change, seemingly overnight. Its financial system had been revealed as insolvent under the weight of huge liabilities and worthless assets. The government refused to allow all the bankrupt institutions to fail, and thus permit the market to do its job of purging the rot from the system.
Instead, the authorities saved their favorites, effectively merging bank with state. They did so under cover of a witches’ brew of subsidies, guarantees and quasi-nationalizations bearing bizarre acronyms like TARP; PDCF; TAF; TSLF; and my personal favorite, the ABCPMMFLF, otherwise known as the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Fund Liquidity Facility.
And those were just the visible programs. The Fed, our central bank, dropped interest rates to zero and monetized additional trillions of dollars worth of problem assets, away from prying eyes. The nature and source of these assets remain matters of speculation, because the Fed to this day refuses to tell us what it bought and from whom.
*
«The events were taking us from freedom to fascism
When the smoke cleared, we Americans found ourselves the subjects of a gangster state, in thrall to a clutch of greedy, corrupt and incompetent banks which only days before had failed. We were now the guarantors of trillions of dollars in worthless assets that had generated billions in profits for those same banks in recent years. Their gains remained their gains; but their losses were now our losses. Our money, the reserve currency of the world, was now backed by toxic waste.
The events of last fall were, to all appearances, a bloodless coup, taking us from freedom to fascism virtually overnight. And all without a shot fired, or even, with few exceptions, an authoritative voice raised in protest.
How was such a thing possible in the United States, the supposed bastion of free market capitalism? The nation that had led the free world in the defeat of fascism some sixty years earlier, and in the defeat of Marxism-Leninism less than 20 years earlier?
And more importantly, how do we get out of this mess?
To understand how we got here, we must first understand that what seemed like major change, was actually just the illumination of existing reality. Bank and state had been a unitary phenomenon for many years. And what seemed abrupt, was actually the outcome of a gradual, accretive process.
*
«Ideas have consequences, bad ideas have bad consequences
What happened last fall can be seen as the aftermath of a war of ideas fought long ago, in which the wrong side won, decisively.
The vanquished were the heirs of a noble intellectual tradition, the English empiricist philosophers who developed in the modern era the concepts of private property and voluntary exchange. This tradition, which informed, among other things, the United States Constitution, was reinvigorated in the late nineteenth century by a remarkable succession of economists originally based in Vienna, hence the term «Austrian School» of economics. The Austrians, whose greatest exponent was Ludwig von Mises, and whose American voice was Murray Rothbard, developed a theory of economics based entirely on individual choice.
The victors were the heirs of a far less noble tradition, a long line of intellectual quacks and panderers to power. The line began with a Scotsman, John Law, reached a vigorous maturity in an Englishman, John Maynard Keynes, and entered a final, flamboyant decrepitude in the policies, if not the public posturing, of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. In this tradition, the relevant analytic units are aggregates, broad abstractions. The individual scarcely warrants mention. Public power, not private property, is the heart of this tradition.
Keynesian economics is just a modern mutation of inflationism, a stealth tax levied by powerful insiders on ordinary people who can’t see it happening until it is too late. It is music to the ears of interventionist governments, because it ratifies what, if unchecked, they will do anyway, and it preys on the greed and gullibility of its victims, who are more than willing to believe you can get something for nothing.
*
«The quacks had the field to themselves
Now I must concede, as a matter of historical fact, I’ve overdrawn the point. It wasn’t much of a fight, much less a war. The quacks had the field to themselves. They told powerful people what they wanted to hear, validating the intervention and deficit spending that was already occurring. They also had a head start of some 20 years, since it was not until relatively late in the day when the Austrians’ theories were even translated into English.
Nevertheless, I believe the events of last fall, and the road ahead, can best be understood in terms of the interplay between these two schools of economic thought.
Now, a detailed comparison of the two schools is just a bit beyond us this evening. But there are two contrasting theories that I’d like to mention briefly.
The first such contrast is the theory of depressions. In Austrian teaching, so-called business cycles are caused by official interference with money and credit creation. This interference – for example, setting interest rates below market – fools individual actors into overproducing, creating supply that exceeds actual demand. A depression is merely the process of clearing the resulting imbalance. It is inevitable, and it is necessary. Left to itself, the market will clear the excess of supply over demand through price adjustments. Government at this point has no role to play; it has done quite enough already.
In Keynesian teaching, by contrast, government is blameless in the business cycle, which just occurs naturally. In a depression, markets can’t be trusted to clear themselves through price adjustment. The government must step in and stimulate additional demand by means of deficit spending, more money creation, and more credit expansion.
*
«Why do we tolerate unaccountable power in government
The policy responses of last fall illustrate perfectly Keynesian doctrine in action. Our authorities refused to let the markets clear. Instead, they panicked, and attempted to prop up prices, reignite the credit expansion, and stimulate demand. All this is obvious to anyone who follows the news.
What is less obvious is how the crisis came about. Keynesians treat it like an act of God. Virtually no one in authority saw it coming. Applying Austrian theory, we see that the crisis was caused by Government intervention, decades of relentless credit expansion. It was entirely predictable. And, indeed, it was predicted. The nature and timing of the inevitable crash were endlessly debated for years all over the Internet by ordinary people unburdened by false doctrine.
A more important question, however, is why we tolerate unaccountable power in government. Why do we find it acceptable that government has the power to intervene so massively in the market that it can cause such a crisis in the first place? And why do we now tolerate more of the same, a putative cure that is doing even more damage?
This brings us to the other contrasting theory, the concept of money itself.
In Austrian teaching, money originates in the market: …all money has originated, and must originate, in a useful commodity chosen by the free market as a medium of exchange. The unit of money is basically just a unit of weight of the monetary commodity – usually a metal, such as gold or silver. Government has no role in the definition or selection of money, let alone its creation, price or quantity. That is the market’s function.
*
«Keynes was so delighted with the State Theory of Money..
In Keynesian theory, by contrast, money originates in the state. Government has a total monopoly on money, starting with its very definition. It is not chosen in free exchange, it is imposed by force.
Keynes got his idea for state control of the means of exchange in the writings of a Prussian academic named Friedrich Knapp. Herr Knapp was the author of a book entitled the State Theory of Money, published in 1905.
According to Knapp’s theory, money is a creature of law, of state power. Money is whatever the state is willing to accept as payment for its taxes. It derives its value exclusively from the state.
Keynes was so delighted with the State Theory of Money that in 1924 he sponsored its first translation into English. In 1930, he adopted it explicitly in his Treatise on Money.
Now, it is a measure of the success of the Keynesian indoctrination to which we have all been subjected that this insidious theory strikes most people, even some who fancy themselves free market in orientation, as unobjectionable. They prefer to concentrate on other fallacies of Keynesian doctrine. Many of us are so used to hearing that the state properly has a monopoly on money that we have come to think it natural.
In fact, the State Theory was already defunct long before Keynes appropriated it. It had been demolished in theory as early as 1912 by Mises in his classic Theory of Money and Credit. It had been discredited in practice by its association with the German hyperinflation of the 1920’s. But inconvenient truth did not deter Lord Keynes. The State Theory was quietly incorporated into Keynesian dogma without further ado.
And there it sits, to this day, malignant and unexamined, a false theoretical postulate at the foundation of the entire corrupt edifice of inflationist theory and practice.
*
«How do we get out of this mess?»
So why is this bit of intellectual history relevant?
Because bad ideas have bad consequences.
The State Theory of money, the obscure foundation of modern inflationism, left us intellectually defenseless against our government’s incremental shift to fiat money and away from any practical limitations on its power.
It left us defenseless against the depredations of our central bank, whose grotesque mispricing of money and credit over the years led in a straight line to the catastrophic serial bubbles in assets and credit whose threatened collapse triggered the open interventions of last fall.
And, unless we drag it out into the open and drive a stake through its heart, the State Theory will leave us defenseless still as we grope for a way out. If our assumptions are so flawed that we cannot properly articulate the conceptual problem, we will never understand, let alone fix, the institutional and behavioral problems.
Or, more to the point, defend ourselves against the next wave of monetary swindles by powerful insiders.
And so we come to the second question: how do we get out of this mess?
The short answer is, we don’t. There is no saving the dollar or the monetary system now based upon it.
Not that we should want to. Absolute power, Lord Acton famously observed, corrupts absolutely. The power to print a reserve currency out of thin air is the greatest power on Earth. Its very existence attracts and empowers people who wish to control other people. It corrupts all who enjoy it.
*
«As a society, we Americans have reached a dead end
You have had direct exposure to the truth of this observation. Consider the relentless attacks on your gold by our authorities, and the relentless attacks on your bank secrecy laws by nearly everybody. The very same laws, ironically, that were developed in the 1930’s for the express purpose of protecting clients who were nationals of fascist states.
I believe it fair to say that as a society, we Americans have reached a dead end. We are bankrupt, and not just financially. Our leading institutions are corrupt and discredited. Our leadership class has betrayed its trust, openly and repeatedly.
Our financial and economic crisis will in due course lead to an intellectual and cultural crisis. We may yet avoid the fury and violence that have attended other paradigm shifts, other imperial collapses. But we will need to be very lucky indeed. That’s because on the one hand, this is about power which will not be voluntarily relinquished, and on the other, there is no reasoning with an angry mob.
So I believe it is a waste of time to talk about reform of the existing monetary system. There is no historical precedent for a fiat money surviving more than a brief span of years; and, in any event, the experience of the Soviet Union teaches that an economic system built upon a false dogma cannot survive.
*
«In the meantime, what keeps the current system going?»
We should instead focus on regeneration, the task of rebuilding out of the wreckage on the other side of that final monetary collapse. At that time, and not before, we will have the opportunity, however brief, to drive out these disastrous ideas along with those who used them to control and impoverish us. Only then will we have an opportunity, however long the odds, to restore our Constitutional republic.
In the meantime, what keeps the current system going?
You do.
You, meaning foreign investors, still lend us your savings. This just enables us to prolong the process, defer the resolution, and increase its ultimate cost.
When will it end?
Wherever you cut us off.
At some point, foreign holders will sell our debt in earnest, and buy gold with a conviction resembling panic.
*
«It’s impossible to understand gold without understanding its political dimension
And so, finally, I come to gold. This is, after all, a gold conference. Why then do I talk so much about politics?
Because I think it’s impossible to understand gold without understanding its political dimension. Gold is permanent, natural money, the antithesis of money made from nothing, money backed by force alone. It is a potent symbol of private property; of voluntary exchange taking place outside the control of the state; of limits on state power; and of resistance to the runaway state.
Left to its own devices, gold is the ultimate barometer of public confidence in government. It is also the ultimate means for ordinary citizens to opt-out of an oppressive, fraudulent system.
That is why gangsters who wield power in the name of the “people” always make ownership of gold a crime. So it was in France during the Revolution, in Germany during the Nazi era, in Russia during the Soviet era, in China during Mao’s rule, and in the United States from 1933 through 1974. It is why, even during periods when the ownership of gold is not outlawed, its price is ‘governed’, as one commentator puts it, or officially manipulated, as others of us put it.
It’s often hard for practical men of affairs to understand the vehemence of those of us who assert, seemingly ad nauseam, that gold is money. The truth is, our passion has more to do with the concept of liberty than with that of money. We know from history and experience that once the free market has lost control over the definition and creation of money, individuals have lost their liberty.
*
«Money must be real, tangible, circulating.»
That’s why neither a central bank nor fiat money find support in the Constitution of the United States, and why our monetary system, which has these two elements as its very foundation, is unconstitutional on its face.
It’s also why, as we rebuild our institutions from the wreckage of the final monetary collapse, control over money must at all costs be kept away from government. It is not enough that gold return as money; government must keep its hands off.
Money must be real, tangible, circulating. As Mises wrote when considering the subject of monetary reform back in the 1950’s, «Everybody must see gold coins changing hands, must be used to having gold coins in his pockets, to receiving gold coins when he cashes his paycheck, and to spending gold coins when he buys in a store.» And I’m sure he would have added an approving reference to digital gold had the technology then existed.
Now, just to be clear, people must be free to choose whatever they want to use as money. We believe they will choose gold, given a chance, simply because people have already done so over thousands of years, and for very good reasons.
But creating the conditions within which an informed choice can be made, even – or perhaps especially – after the collapse of the system and the discrediting of its false ideology, will be extremely difficult.
We are beset by propaganda, falsehood and spin from all sides. Truth is of no consequence; the Fed has bought and paid for virtually the entire economics profession in the United States.
*
«I hope that we will see a new initiative in the very near future
Our universities are riddled with apparatchiks who at the very least must toe the party line to advance in their careers, and in many cases are directly dependent on Fed largesse.
The financial press, now concentrated in ever fewer hands, is captive to the same false dogma, and is little more than an apologist for the current monetary regime.
We desperately need credible new sources of information on money if we are going to have any shot at a sustainable regeneration.
In this connection, I have reason to hope that from the talent assembled here this evening, we will see a new initiative in the very near future. Stay tuned.
Thank you. “
***

 

Robert Landis is a private investor and a member of «Golden Sextant Advisors», commentators on the gold market. He is Chairman of Amarillo Gold Corporation.
He was a founder and former President of Northern Lights Investors, a private investment company operating in Poland, and a former Managing Director of Schooner Capital International, a Boston-based investment company operating in Poland and the Former Soviet Union.
From January 1984 through June 1994, Mr. Landis held a variety of positions within Merrill Lynch & Co.’s Investment Banking Group, most recently as a Director in the Financial Institutions/M&A Department.
Before joining Merrill Lynch, Mr. Landis was an attorney with the New York firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he practiced corporate and securities law in New York and London. Mr. Landis is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and is a member of the New York Bar.
The following is an article by Mark Brandly posted on Mises Daily:

What Good Are Economists Anyway?” asks BusinessWeek‘s April 27, 2009 cover story.

The article makes the important point that, since most economists failed to predict the current crisis, the worst economic collapse in nearly 80 years, we need to consider whether or not their work has any value.

Unfortunately, after bringing this failure to our attention, the article, written by economics editor Peter Coy, concludes that it’s important to accept advice from the same economists who demonstrated their incompetence by not seeing this financial collapse in advance.

Peter Coy begins by quoting some noneconomists critical of the economics profession. Fans of Mises.org, I suspect, would tend to applaud these observations. Coy appears to be unaware of the Austrian School of thought and his assessment applies to the mainstream of the economics profession.

First, a blogger is quoted as saying,

If you are an economist and did not see this coming, you should seriously reconsider the value of your education and maybe do something with a tangible value to society, like picking vegetables.”

He’s right.

Few economists saw this crisis coming, and many economists openly argued that there would be no recession. Such economists should question the investment they have made in their education. Society would be better off if these economists accepted work outside of the economics profession where they could produce something of value, and, more importantly, they could stop harming society with their destructive economic views.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, says, “We have to build a society that doesn’t depend on the forecasts by idiotic economists.

Taleb is also right.

Some economists — those versed in Austrian business-cycle theory — did predict this crisis.
Those who didn’t see it coming might be considered “idiotic.”

Next, finance expert Paul Wilmott asserts that “Economists’ models are just awful. They completely forget how important the human element is.”

Right again. Mainstream economists depend on mathematical models for understanding economic relationships. The false precision of the models may give them intellectual comfort, but the models provide a mechanical view of economic decision making. While Austrian theorists are focused on human action (Austrians call this analysis “praxeology”), the modelers overlook the purposeful behavior of decision making. Models fail to incorporate the full spectrum of human decisions, giving us, at best, an incomplete view of economic relationships (for an explanation of the limitations of economic modeling, see Gene Callahan’s “Models: What Are They Good For?“). Recent events show that models can show us trends in economic variables, but have difficulty predicting changes in these trends.

The BusinessWeek article also takes a swipe at the last two chairmen of the Federal Reserve. Coy notes that before the collapse, Alan Greenspan argued that there was no housing bubble, and admitted in his Senate testimony last year that his earlier pronouncements regarding the soundness of our economy were flawed.

Coy also quotes current Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. In a 2002 speech commemorating Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday, Bernanke noted the Fed’s role in the Great Depression, addressing Friedman: “You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

That was a false promise. Under the leadership of Greenspan and Bernanke, they have done it again. In fact, they were doing it, pumping up the economy just as they did in the 1920s, at the time of Bernanke’s quote. Given the events of the last year, that statement alone shows that Bernanke does not understand what caused or what will solve this crisis.

Because of economists’ demonstrated incompetence, Coy is tempted “to ignore the whole profession.” But, according to Coy, “that won’t do.” He concludes that in order to recover from this crisis, we must listen to the best economists, and by that he means the top mainstream economists.

To make his case that economists have made important contributions to society, Coy points to research from the 1970s that shows “the importance of having a strong, independent central bank” in order to eliminate chronic high inflation. Coy’s brief defense of central banking indicates that he does not link the current financial collapses to Federal Reserve policy. The Federal Reserve pumped large amounts of newly created money into credit markets, much of which went into the housing and stock markets. The artificially low interest rates generated by these policies caused malinvestments; the downturn occurs when investors realize their mistakes.

A strong central bank is the creator of, not the cure for, inflation and the business cycle (for more on the Austrian view of the financial crisis, see the Mises.org Bailout Reader).

Coy wants us to follow the “very best thinking of a generation.” While he doesn’t specifically say who the best thinkers are, Coy’s article mentions several top mainstream economists, including recent Nobel Prize winner and hyper-Keynesian Paul Krugman.
While these economists do not escape criticism, Coy argues that the profession (apparently meaning these economists) needs to come to an understanding about the cause of this crisis and lead us out of the recession. The “next agenda for macroeconomists will be to help make the economy far more robust — enough to survive the blunders of politicians, bankers, and economists of the future.”

First of all, making the economy robust falls outside the job description of any economist; second, we cannot construct an economy that will withstand future attacks from political operatives and central bankers.

On the plus side, Coy leaves us with a story that should make us skeptical about Obama’s Keynesian stimulus program:

As World War II ended, many economists worried that growth would lapse as military spending fell. Sewell Avery, the CEO of Montgomery Ward, was so anxious about a postwar depression that he refused to open new stores. Economists still aren’t sure why he was wrong, so they can’t say reliably whether fiscal stimulus will end this recession or just interrupt it.”

The post–World War II economy tells us why the government’s current program to stimulate the economy by spending trillions of dollars of revenues generated by borrowing and creating new money will fail. As Robert Higgs has shown, when the federal government drastically cut spending after World War II, the economy boomed. The recovery from the Great Depression was due to the reduction of government spending after the war.

Reducing the amount of government predations (Murray Rothbard’s term for the government burdens on the economy) improves productive economic activity just as the massive increases in predations today will harm our economy. The economists who worried at that time that spending cuts would lead to a recession were wrong, just as the economists who are now in positions of political leadership are wrong about the causes and cure for the current panic.

BusinessWeek has done us a favor by pointing out that most economists continue to accept the very theories that prevented them from anticipating the financial collapse. However, the magazine errs in concluding that we should now listen to those same economists. It would make more sense to ignore those economists that not only failed to predict but also had a hand in creating the crisis.

BusinessWeek would have done their readers a favor if they had pointed out that one school of thought, the Austrian School, foresaw this downturn and understands how markets will correct the errors of the central bankers.

The magazine should have advised their readers to listen to Congressman Ron Paul and financial advisor Peter Schiff, and pointed their readers to the writings of Ludwig von Mises (The Theory of Money and Credit), F.A. Hayek (Prices and Production), Murray Rothbard (America’s Great Depression), Jesus Huerta de Soto (Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles), and Tom Woods (Meltdown).

Mark Brandly is an associate professor of economics at Ferris State University.

The Mises Circle in Colorado; sponsored by Limited Government Forum of Colorado Springs and hosted by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Recorded Saturday, 4 April 2009.
You can watch all 5 videos HERE.

Peter D. Schiff is the president of Euro Pacific Capital Inc., a brokerage firm based in Darien, Connecticut.
Schiff is an Austrian school economist and supporter of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Schiff frequently appears as a guest on CNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNN International, and Bloomberg Television and is quoted in major financial publications…

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