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Gold vs. Paper

November 28, 2011

By Ludwig von Mises

[This article was published on Mises.org on 28th September 2009. It was originally published in the Freeman, July 13, 1953 (download PDF).]

Most people take it for granted that the world will never return to the gold standard. The gold standard, they say, is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. The system of government-issued fiat money provides the treasury with the funds required for an open-handed spending policy that benefits everybody; it forces prices and wages up and the rate of interest down and thereby creates prosperity. It is a system that is here to stay.

Now whatever virtues one may ascribe — undeservedly — to the modern variety of the greenback standard, there is one thing that it certainly cannot achieve. It can never become a permanent, lasting system of monetary management. It can work only as long as people are not aware of the fact that the government plans to keep it.

The Alleged Blessings of Inflation

The alleged advantages that the champions of fiat money expect from the operation of the system they advocate are temporary only. An injection of a definite quantity of new money into the nation’s economy starts a boom as it enhances prices. But once this new money has exhausted all its price-raising potentialities and all prices and wages are adjusted to the increased quantity of money in circulation, the stimulation it provided to business ceases.

Thus even if we neglect dealing with the undesired and undesirable consequences and social costs of such inflationary measures and, for the sake of argument, even if we accept all that the harbingers of “expansionism” advance in favor of inflation, we must realize that the alleged blessings of these policies are shortlived. If one wants to perpetuate them, it is necessary to go on and on increasing the quantity of money in circulation and expanding credit at an ever-accelerated pace. But even then the ideal of the expansionists and inflationists, viz., an everlasting boom not upset by any reverse, could not materialize.

A fiat-money inflation can be carried on only as long as the masses do not become aware of the fact that the government is committed to such a policy. Once the common man finds out that the quantity of circulating money will be increased more and more, and that consequently its purchasing power will continually drop and prices will rise to ever higher peaks, he begins to realize that the money in his pocket is melting away.

Then he adopts the conduct previously practiced only by those smeared as profiteers; he “flees into real values.” He buys commodities, not for the sake of enjoying them, but in order to avoid the losses involved in holding cash. The knell of the inflated monetary system sounds. We have only to recall the many historical precedents beginning with the Continental currency of the War of Independence.

Continue reading at Mises.org…

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