Jul

15

 In the age before central bank IOUs had become money, even the opponents of the gold standard understood what the words "gold standard" meant. Could you go to a bank or Treasury office in a country and present a bank or Treasury note and ask for and receive a gold coin in exchange? If you could, then that country was on the gold standard; if the bank or Treasury refused, then the country was NOT on the gold standard.

It is important to understand this definition because almost all of the scholarship written in the past 75 years has tried to use Keynes' definition of the gold standard. In Keynes' view, because of the barbarous beliefs of people who did not understand modern economics, a gold standard was still necessary for settlement of claims between nations' central banks. It was regrettable but unavoidable. There would have to be a gold price for each national currency so that central banks could have a way to clear accounts - i.e. know how much a French franc and a British pound were each worth in gold. Eventually, when people came to see reason, there would be no need for such an official gold price; central banks could settle accounts using a made-up international currency. (Keynes thought it should be something called a "Bancor".)

But, even under foreign exchange gold standard, Keynes thought there was absolutely no reason for people to be able to demand gold coin for money. He criticized Churchill for choosing the wrong gold price for the pound when Britain agreed to settle its foreign accounts in gold, but he applauded the fact that Britain had not actually "returned" to the pre-war gold standard. No one would ever again be legally allowed to demand gold sovereign coins in exchange for pound notes, even at the official price.


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