The True Gold Standard (Second Edition)
Key Writings: Fieler on the Gold Standard
'I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody." That was James Carville, President Clinton's chief political consultant, talking to this newspaper in February 1993.
When President Clinton backed away from HillaryCare and the rest of his big-government agenda, it wasn't just Democratic losses in the 1994 midterm elections that forced his hand. It was the power of the bond market, a point Mr. Carville understood but Republicans seem to have forgotten.
If today's Republicans are going to roll back President Obama's massive expansion of government, they will need the muscle of a bond market free from the Federal Reserve's manipulation. History suggests that only the prospect of higher and increasingly painful financing costs chastens committed big spenders. A liberated, and consequently less docile, bond market would not only restrain Washington's profligacy, it would also free the Republican Party to refocus on the big ideas and positive vision that made it a global force in the 1980s.
Opposing Janet Yellen's nomination as chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors is both good policy and good politics for Senate Republicans.
In her remarks Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee, Yellen made it clear that she will keep interest rates low and the Fed's balance sheet growing in an effort to boost employment. What remains less clear is whether this policy will actually work. After all, labor participation rates remain near 20-year lows despite the Fed's nearly $4 trillion balance sheet.
While the Fed's easy-money policies have not produced many jobs, they have produced a persistent, low rate of inflation that is choking the American middle class. Since the asset purchases began five years ago, the average American family has experienced rising prices and stagnant wages. The resulting decline in living standards explains why voters ranked rising prices nearly tied with unemployment as their top economic concern during the 2012 election.
With the Republican Party committed to a gold commission and the Federal Reserve committed to easy money, a substantive debate about the principles underpinning our monetary system is finally in the offing. For sound money to carry the day, Republicans will need to do more than point out the still-hypothetical risks of easy money. The GOP will have to detail the harm that the middle class has already suffered as a result of a policy of low but persistent levels of inflation.
A little inflation appears to be a free lunch, lubricating the economy and gradually erasing past financial mistakes. But the nature of the free lunch is that its costs aren't absent—they're just distributed broadly. And in the case of low but steady inflation, the broadly distributed costs are borne by the middle class. Over time, rising prices have eroded American workers' standard of living. And, over time, the Federal Reserve's persistent easy money hurts the very person it is presumably intended to help, the American worker.
The notion that modest inflation is helpful to labor dates to John Maynard Keynes's "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money." Keynes pointed out that the supply of labor is not a function of real wages alone. Rather, the instance in which the supply of labor is determined solely by real wages is a special case that fits into his broader "General Theory," which showed the strong influence that observed wages have over the supply of labor.
He noted workers' strong preference for a 2% wage increase in a 4% inflation environment to a 2% decrease in wages during a period of constant prices. But he also drew from this preference the obvious policy conclusion: A constantly rising price level can be used to make actual declines in wages more palatable, thereby reducing conflict with labor and leading to higher short-run employment.
The Federal Reserve doesn't just understand workers' tendency to use observed prices as a proxy for real prices; under Chairman Ben Bernanke's leadership, the Fed has become increasingly bold in the exploitation of this tendency. With inflationary expectations not yet unsettled by the Federal Reserve's $2 trillion balance-sheet expansion, Mr. Bernanke has committed the Fed to an open-ended round of quantitative easing in hopes of trading a little extra inflation for a little short-term employment.
Washington's elites are quietly preparing a post-election fiscal compromise that will fund much of President Barack Obama's domestic spending agenda with huge tax increases. They aim to create a value-added tax and will argue that there is no alternative even though doing so will leave the United States resembling the stagnant, bureaucratic nations of Western Europe.
Not having a real budget means the Federal Reserve doesn't have to compete with anyone for scarce resources. What the central bank needs is a little money competition.
'I will maintain to my deathbed that we made every effort to save Lehman, but we were just unable to do so because of a lack of legal authority." So said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in 2009. The statement was striking—not because it was false, but because the Fed lacked explicit legal authority to do so much of what it did during the financial crisis. Drawing the line at Lehman seemed arbitrary, and it proved that the Fed has become an unaccountable power within American government.
BY SEAN FIELER: