The last remnants of the global gold standard system died when the Bretton Woods agreement collapsed in 1971, but the notion of a global currency system based on a gold standard occasionally pops up in both general and academic debates, especially in the USA.
Friedman was never any great proponent of the gold standard or other goods-based currency systems. He sees a gold standard system as neither possible nor desirable in a today’s world: undesirable because its reintroduction would imply enormous costs in connection with purchasing gold, and not possible because the “mythology” that surrounded the gold standard in the nineteenth century no longer exists. In the nineteenth century everyone expected changes in the money supply to be determined by developments in the price of gold, and that money and gold were close substitutes. Today, we expect the central bank – not gold – to ensure the value of our money. A reintroduction of the gold standard would require a shift in this perception.
In the nineteenth century the gold standard ensured low (or more correctly no) inflation for long periods of time. On the other hand, prices fluctuated considerably from year to year as gold production rose and fell. According to Friedman this was possible because the goods and labour markets were much more flexible at that time than now. Any attempt to reintroduce the gold standard now would result in exactly the same negative outcomes as a fixed exchange rate policy.
Despite the global gold standard having been abandoned many years ago, most central banks continue to own large amounts of gold. Friedman’s view is that one should fully acknowledge the end of the gold standard system and auction off the gold reserves of the central banks.
This concludes my little series on Milton Friedman’s view on FX policy. See the other posts here:
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #1
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #2
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #3
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #4
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #5