A particularly notorious part of FDR's efforts to find a way to lift the Depression was an executive order requiring all, with very narrow limitations, under threat of prosecution, to turn in their gold holdings for currency. This occurred shortly prior to the revaluation of the dollar from $20.67/oz to, in stages, $35.
Nobody, in the event, was incarcerated (the sole prosecution failing on a technicality). Yet FDR's confiscation of gold may be viewed as the monetary policy equivalent of his regrettable policy, also executed by Executive Order, of interning 110,000 Japanese Americans--a stain upon the great man's reputation.
After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; and it is up to you to support and make it work.
It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine.
Together we cannot fail.
Liaquat Ahamed’s Pulitzer Prize winning Lords of Finance observes of FDR's varied measures to lift the Depression:
The string of measures was a strange mixture of well-meaning steps at social reform, half-baked schemes for quasi-socialist industrial planning, regulation to protect consumers, welfare programs to help the hardest hit, government support for the cartelization of industry, higher wages for some, lower wages for others, on the one hand government pump priming, on the other public economy. Few elements were well thought out, some were contradictory, large parts were ineffectual.
Revaluing gold to $35/oz to lift the distortions created by the gold-exchange standard was the correct, and essential, approach. Confiscating gold had nothing to do with this, yet both measures remain somewhat conflated in the popular imagination. And the prohibition on owning gold -- which persisted into the 1970s -- left gold with an aura of something contraband and vaguely sinister, an aura only now beginning to be dispelled.
FDR, the icon of Keynesians, concluded his first Fireside Chat with an exaltation of confidence. It therefore is deeply ironic that polemicist Paul Krugman, who worships at the altar of FDR, should consider one of his signal contributions to the culture the coining of the disparaging phrase "the confidence fairy." Krugman:
Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.
The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth.
A myth, indeed. And the mythos that anethematizes the gold standard remains a serious barrier to the resumption of vibrant economic growth.
George Gilder, whose new book publishes today, is one of the original pillars of Supply Side economics. As stated by Discovery Institute, which he co-founded, “Mr. Gilder pioneered the formulation of supply-side economics when he served as Chairman of the Lehrman Institute’s Economic Roundtable, as Program Director for the Manhattan Institute….”
He was the living writer most quoted by President Reagan. And he is back with his most brilliant work yet — one of potentially explosive importance if taken to heart by our political and policy thought leaders. It is a radical guide, with surprising insights on almost every page, to the creation of a new era of vibrant prosperity.
As reviewer Paul Brodsky, a professional investor in New York City, perceptively notes,
"Lewis Lehrman is one of a very small group of contemporary gold advocates able to successfully bridge the gap separating practical conservative intellectualism from fleeting, half-baked idealism. His CV lists great success across many fields including education (degrees and teaching fellowships from Yale and Harvard); industry (past president of Rite Aid); politics (narrow loser to Mario Cuomo in the 1982 New York governor’s race); finance, (past Morgan Stanley managing director); private sector entrepreneur (founder, L. E. Lehrman & Company); public sector advocate (founder, Lehrman Institute); historian (author, Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point); and recognized philanthropist (awarded the National Humanities Medal by George W. Bush in an Oval Office ceremony). ... Only someone erudite and elegant in demeanor could hope to pull it off . In an irreconcilably over-leveraged world where irritated bond vigilantes question economic sustainability and angry Tea Partiers protest the immorality of it all, Lehrman’s views are considered and his convictions carry weight. He brings gravitas to his cause, and he does so from within as a member of the club."
Before the Fed: JP Morgan Summons the Bank Presidents
"Finally, on the night of Sunday, November 2, Morgan summoned the presidents of the major New York banks to his new library, at the corner of Madison Avenue and Thirty-sixth Street, an Italian Renaissance-style palace he had built next door to his house to showcase his collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other artwork. Its marble floors, frescoed ceilings, walls lined with tapestries and triple-tiered bookcases of Circasian walnut, crammed full of rare Bibles and illuminated medieval manuscripts, made it an incongruous setting for a meeting of the banking establishment. Once the moneymen had gathered, Morgan had the great ornamental bronze doors to the library locked and refused to let anyone leave until all had collectively agreed to commit a further $25 million to the rescue fund."
— Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance (Penguin Books, 2009, p. 54)
Lately we have been engulfed by headlines reporting financial turmoil on every continent, in almost every nation, large and small. The commissars of central planning who so marred the history of the 20th century have been replaced by central banks in the 21st. In Cyprus, the new leadership now dares to confiscate citizens’ wealth with a one-time tax of up to 60 percent on bank deposits above 100,000 euros. Self-interested prime ministers blame continental monetary policies for instigating the currency wars that they themselves surreptitiously carry on.
America recently celebrated — well, maybe we didn’t celebrate – the 80th anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s action to end to the gold standard. But America is also celebrating – well, maybe not everyone is celebrating – the 100th anniversary of the legislation creating the Federal Reserve System.
As Lewis E. Lehrman...
Constitution.org provides an extensive and thoughtful Memorandum of Law by Larry Becraft, Esq., of Huntsville, Alabama, on Article I, Section 10, clause 1 of the US Constitution.
Sir William Blackstone courtesy of Wikipedia
One of many interesting matters the Memorandum treats is Blackstone's Commentaries, a book that was a fixture in the...