Wednesday, October 22, 2014
   
Text Size

Search our Site or Google

The ‘Perils’ of a Gold Standard?

Articles & Blogs - Gold Commentary

User Rating: / 48
PoorBest 

Among my own list of “pet peeves”, near the very top are systemic flaws in analysis. Put another way, I am infuriated by seeing analytical mistakes which “everyone” makes, because when the supposed “experts” in our society insist on repeating flawed analysis again and again they teach flawed thinking to those exposed to this defective logic.

At the top of the list of “mistakes made by everyone” is the complete incapacity of commentators (in virtually all fields) to properly analyze the analytical principle known as “causation”. One could write an entire book on this one subject, because there are so many different variations of this flawed analysis.

I will focus on a single example – the inability to distinguish between “causation” and “correlation” – for two reasons. First of all this is (by far) the single largest category of flawed analysis on the subject of causation and because it is essential to understand this distinction/principle in order to debunk one of the central myths which has been perpetuated about a “gold standard”.

Let’s begin with the general principle.  The reason why virtually no one in our society engages in competent causation analysis is because this term is so poorly understood. To illustrate this defect in thinking (as always) we must start with definition of terms. Sadly few analysts have more than a vague understanding of the word “correlation”. Once one understands this term/principle correctly it becomes much harder to continue to make the same mistakes in causation analysis.

A correlation is nothing more than the simultaneous occurrence of two events. In short, correlation suggests nothing more than “coincidence”, and (most particularly) correlation implies nothing about causation. To comprehend this, I must repeat one of the earliest lessons I learned while studying economics.

To illustrate the complete absence of any connection between correlation and causation, economists provide the example of the “high correlation” between economic booms and sunspot activity. The “joke” among economists (who aren’t exactly the wittiest group) is that economists are still trying to determine whether economic booms “cause” sunspots; or whether sunspots “cause” economic booms.

Hopefully the general principle here is now evident to readers: by itself, a correlation is an entirely meaningless piece of data – and most importantly correlation never implies causation. “Coincidences” do occur in our universe, with economic booms and sunspots being only one of an infinite list of examples.

This brings us to defining causation. Here the general understanding of this term is almost invariably simplistic. When we say that “A caused B”, what we are directly implying with that statement is that nothing else (in the entire universe) could have “caused B”. When we (properly) understand the magnitude of what causation implies, we realize that in the vast majority of cases when any individual in our society asserts that “A caused B” that they are most likely engaging in a hyperbolic statement – which they are not capable of supporting conclusively with facts.

Sadly, the conceptual understanding of the absolute nature of causation in our society now only exists in the realm of science, and even there we see practitioners regularly “bending the rules” when engaging in such analysis. Because of this failure to observe the rules of causation, we are continually being bombarded with erroneous assertions/conclusions – even from otherwise astute commentators.

A perfect illustration of this comes at the 45-minute mark of a lengthy interview of Professor Webster Tarpley, an academic for whom I have considerable respect. However Tarpley too is guilty of the aforementioned defect in logic when he briefly passes judgment on the wisdom of returning to a gold standard. What makes this such a perfect example is precisely because it is so simplistic.

Tarpley attempts to “prove” that a gold standard is an inherently flawed monetary model in the following manner. He looks at the last three examples of Western governments which implemented a true gold standard – and then notes that in all three examples a severe depression ensued shortly afterward. On the basis of that correlation, Tarpley blames the gold standard as the “cause” of those depressions, and based on that reasoning dismisses a gold standard as an impractical anachronism, as many other commentators have done before him.

As with most simplistic analysis, this is flawed on several bases. First of all, throughout history we have observed long episodes of time where a gold standard was firmly in place and there was not economic depression. On that basis alone we can conclude that a gold standard does not necessarily lead to depression. Furthermore, we can list numerous examples of nations which have experienced severe economic depressions in the absence of a gold standard, with Greece being but the latest example.

Tarpley’s analysis fails. A gold standard does not inevitably lead to depression, and depressions can be caused by other factors which have nothing to do with a gold standard. Where did Tarpley go wrong? First of all he failed to distinguish between causation and a simple correlation, and secondly he refused to explore how/why such a correlation might exist.

In particular, the obvious point of inquiry is whether there are some economic traits/realities which tend to be present when a gold standard exists – and (in fact) one or more of those other factors were the actual cause of the depressions to which Tarpley referred. In this respect, we can boil down a gold standard to having only two effects on any/every economy:

1) It provides an economy with “good money” which cannot be debased/diluted over time (as always occurs with fiat banker-paper).

2) It forces governments to pay their bills.

We can immediately dismiss (1) as a potential cause of depressions. Not only is it impossible to construct any economic argument where having good money causes a depression, but we have centuries of empirical evidence where a gold standard (and good money) was commensurate with prosperity.

This brings us to (2). Can anyone construct an argument as to how forcing governments to pay their bills leads to a depression? We don’t even need to go that trouble. Again we can merely point at Greece. Greece’s (insolvent) economy was suffering from a number of problems before severe “austerity” (i.e. trying to pay its bills) was imposed on it – but a depression wasn’t one of them.

What happened when Greece’s government inflicted austerity on its population? A near instantaneous economic depression resulted, which has already reached such an extreme level of economic suffering that the suicide rate in Greece has doubled in less than three years – and all without any gold standard. Immediately we can address the issue of gold standards and economic depressions with certainty: the only way in which a gold standard could ever “cause” a depression was if simply paying one’s bills inevitably led to economic depression.

Again we can point to a recent empirical example to totally refute such absurd thinking: Canada in the 1990’s. When our Liberal government inherited a nearly bankrupt economy from the corrupt and fiscally incompetent Conservative regime before it, that government was not only able to move from the largest deficits in history to a fiscal surplus in only two years – but it did so without triggering an economic depression, and its superb fiscal management led to a full decade of surpluses (until the succeeding Conservative government again destroyed Canada’s solvency).

Armed with this additional data, we can now engage in constructive analysis on the relationship (if any) between gold standards and depressions. Why do governments attempting to impose fiscal discipline frequently cause economic depressions? Political cowardice and/or corruption.

Just as the over-spending which characterizes most modern Western governments is a direct symptom of cowardly politicians who unfailingly “take the easy way out”; so too the same can be said about how most of these governments attempt to be “fiscally responsible” – by doing what is easy rather than what is hard.

What is “easy” for politicians (politically speaking)? Stomping on the poor. When we cast our gaze at the collection of incompetent/cowardly/corrupt Western governments arrayed before us, we see their thinking dominated by a single “equation”: re-election. Given the only consideration relevant to these politicians, we immediately see a cause-and-effect relationship take shape.

Fiscal tightening inevitably implies penalizing one or more groups in society, since the only possible way in which a government can improve its fiscal balance (all other factors remaining constant) is through reducing spending or increasing revenues (i.e. taxation). Now we add “political cowardice” (or corruption) to this equation and we are presented with the following political reality.

In political campaigns which are ever more dominated by top-down political spending (i.e. campaign bribes from the wealthy), it is much, much more politically expedient to stomp on the poor (who have virtually zero political power) than it is to slice into the wealth-hoards of the wealthy (who have unlimited political power).

We can provide conclusive proof of this political principle through empirical evidence and one of the most-basic of all principles of economics: the marginal propensity to consume. The “marginal propensity to consume” is just fancy economic jargon for a simple and indisputable principle of arithmetic/logic: the poorer that someone is, the more of each dollar in their possession that they spend.

We can illustrate this at both ends of the wealth spectrum. The poorest people always spend 100% of every dollar that comes into their possession. Indeed, by definition these people never have enough dollars to even live a “normal” standard of living. The opposite is true at the other end of the scale. Millionaires hoard a greater percentage of their wealth than the middle-class, billionaires hoard a much greater percentage than millionaires, and the (few) trillionaires hoard the most of all (by far).

Consequently we have a simple economic fact which is true in any/every capitalist economy: a dollar in the hands of someone near the bottom of the wealth pyramid always generates more economic activity than a dollar in the hands of someone near the top. Adding this additional principle of arithmetic/economics we now see the relationship between “austerity” and depressions.

Those governments who seek to “balance the budget” on the backs of the poor (and/or middle class) cause depressions, because the dollars they subtract out of the economy do so much more harm. Greece epitomizes this point perfectly. Conversely, governments which engage in humane austerity (like Canada’s Liberal government of the 1990’s) can impose fiscal discipline, balance the budget, and not cause any devastating depressions.

We can now correctly formulate the relationship between a gold standard and economic depressions. A gold standard does not “cause” depressions (governments do). However, at the same time, a gold standard is also not a magical, economic panacea. Specifically, imposing the fiscal discipline inherent in a gold standard will not lead to a good economic outcome in the hands of a corrupt government (i.e. one which governs for the benefit of the privileged few as opposed to the majority).

At this juncture in history, however, such a point is almost completely moot. Corruption in Western governments has reached an all-time extreme in the modern era. Proof can be found in the numbers: the “privileged few” have benefited (across the West) to an obscene degree which hasn’t been witnessed in our nations since the era of Kings and Queens (i.e. the corrupt despots of whom we previously rid ourselves).

Clearly, before we can “fix” our economies we must fix our governments (and in some cases) our entire political system. Only when we have banished the corrupt kleptocracies masquerading as “democracies” can we hope to return to fair economies, general prosperity, and (eventually) the monetary integrity of a gold standard.

Trackback(0)
Comments (13)Add Comment
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, January 24, 2012
Excuses and DEFICITS are all we ever get out of the Conservatives. Harper has done ZERO since he got his majority to fix our economy - and in fact our economy has been one of the WEAKEST of all Western economies over the past year.

How could he do any WORSE?
realityhurts
...
written by realityhurts, January 24, 2012
OMG!!! Mr. Nielson, give him a chance . . .he has not had a majority very long and you know sweet f.a was accomplished as he had to negotiate with the the opposition as a minority leader. I highly doubt in the short time he has had as majority leader that he alone could eliminate all the red tape our past governments have created that stifle the creation of new business.
You are correct, more leg work needs to be done in divorcing ourselves fr. the U.S. economy.
Bashing Ron Paul as well? LOL, you have to be related to Jon Nadler
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, January 23, 2012
I am puzzled, however, by your reference to Ron Paul's proposed cuts as draconian. My understanding is that he is trying to make cuts with as little harm as possible. For example, he will transfer many functions of the departments he cuts to other departments, he will only reduce government positions over time, i.e. as people retire or voluntarily leave, and most importantly, he will take steps to help the economy recover


Bryan Nielsen, "draconian" is the only word for Paul's spending priorities. Paul claims to be a man of peace. But even if the U.S. cut its defense spending by 80%, it would still be spending just as much as the SECOND largest military - meaning it would still PRESERVE its massive military advantage. That alone sounds hardly "peaceful" to me.

Of course Paul is NOT proposing cutting defense spending by 80% but by 14%. Meanwhile he's hacking into programs such as nutritional supplements for pregnant which SAVE MONEY. You can't get more draconian than such negative "savings".

And BECAUSE Paul's cuts are so draconian they would NEVER balance the budget. This is ABSURD fiction - because there is no accounting of the MASSIVE "multiplier effect" from subtracting all of those dollars out of the economy, and most of them out of the hands of people who SPEND those dollars.

Meanwhile Paul wants all the rich misers to hang onto their Bush tax cuts. Paul's economic policies would BANKRUPT the U.S. economy - not fix it - as they currently stand.
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, January 23, 2012
JEFF, good article .... BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Harper's government hardly caused the return to deficit. You said " (until the succeeding Conservative government again destroyed Canada’s solvency)"

OBVIOUSLY IT WAS A SLIGHT WORLD CRISIS IN 2008 AND AN OPPOSITION (THAT INCLUDED LIBERALS) WHO THREATENED TO TAKE OUT THE CONSERVATIVES IF THEY DID NOT OFFER MONIES TO THE PEOPLE ALA OBAMA. The minority conservative government was under intense pressure to spend money they did not want to spend.

... I want to curse, but I won't. You should apologize for throwing that into your article. Keep trying though, I can't believe a Liberal is working for a Gold bull website.


Sorry RealityHurts, Harper deserves EVERY word of that criticism. Look at Norway and Sweden: those economies are back to SURPLUS while Harper is still racking-up "record deficits".

And WHY is this happening? Because Harper the Pseudo-economist sits there twiddling his thumbs year after year after year WAITING for a "U.S. economic recovery" which is NEVER coming.

Harper's aides need to introduce him to a word: C-H-I-N-A !!
bryankeith75
...
written by Bryan Nielsen, January 23, 2012
Jeff, I appreciate the information- I had never heard this example of the liberal government in Canada in the '90s (I am from the U.S.).
I am puzzled, however, by your reference to Ron Paul's proposed cuts as draconian. My understanding is that he is trying to make cuts with as little harm as possible. For example, he will transfer many functions of the departments he cuts to other departments, he will only reduce government positions over time, i.e. as people retire or voluntarily leave, and most importantly, he will take steps to help the economy recover (such as balancing the budget) and, only then, transition humanely out of the unsustainable and unconstitutional federal welfare programs. Is that really like your example of Greece, or have I missed something?
realityhurts
...
written by realityhurts, January 23, 2012
JEFF, good article .... BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Harper's government hardly caused the return to deficit. You said " (until the succeeding Conservative government again destroyed Canada’s solvency)"

OBVIOUSLY IT WAS A SLIGHT WORLD CRISIS IN 2008 AND AN OPPOSITION (THAT INCLUDED LIBERALS) WHO THREATENED TO TAKE OUT THE CONSERVATIVES IF THEY DID NOT OFFER MONIES TO THE PEOPLE ALA OBAMA. The minority conservative government was under intense pressure to spend money they did not want to spend.

... I want to curse, but I won't. You should apologize for throwing that into your article. Keep trying though, I can't believe a Liberal is working for a Gold bull website. smilies/wink.gif
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, January 20, 2012
Dylan, Tarpley was not referring to the last pseudo-gold standard in his own analysis either. That was why I used the qualifier "true" gold standard(s).

If it would have had more relevance to actually identify the particular eras involved I would have done so. However, to establish my point of logic that wasn't necessary, and so I refrained from adding in that additional level of detail.
Dylan
...
written by Dylan, January 20, 2012
I think that the last "gold standard" was nothing really of the sort. The Federal Reserve was in power, fractional reserve lending was in full swing 9-1, margin loans were brought in so the shoe shine boy could speculate on the stock market. Doesn`t sound like a "gold standard" to me. If there was, there would have been no need for confiscation. It seems as though Nixon was simply admitting what the world already knew when he "came off the gold standard."

The "gold standard" from this period has the same basis in reality as the "strong dollar policy" - More BS for the masses.

Roman despots from Diocletian to Constantine debased the silver coinage until it was worthless, imposed austerity measures that would make David Cameron look like Father Christmas and only accepted tax in gold coinage (undebased). This was the origin of feudalism, wealthy gold owning landowners and serfs tied to the land.

Maybe a true silver standard is a necessary complement to a true gold standard. However, neither of these will happen until people stop accepting toilet paper as money.
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, January 20, 2012
Norbull, there are TWO distinct branches of bankster disinformation when it comes to OPPOSING any taxation of the ultra-wealthy (who have ALL the wealth).

First of all they ALWAYS lump the ultra-wealthy with ALL other affluent members of society, when the affluent/modestly wealthy have NEVER been a central part of this problem.

"Don’t Blame The Millionaires"
http://www.bullionbullscanada.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23156:dont-blame-the-millionaires&catid=47:us-commentary&Itemid=132


The moderately affluent CONTRIBUTE to our economies. First of all they WORK for a living (unlike the ultra-wealthy parasites). Second they SPEND a significant proportion of their wealth (thus fueling consumption) - unlike the ultra-wealthy parasites who spend no more than 1% of their wealth each year. Note that 1% of a trillion dollars is $10 BILLION, so that 1% figure will be an EXAGGERATION for many of the ultra-wealthy.

Conversely the moderately affluent spend AT LEAST ten times that percentage of their wealth.

The other half of the propaganda is the BIG LIE from the "right" for the past 50 years, the RIDICULOUS nonsense known as "trickle-down economics".

Note that these liars are now too EMBARRASSED to even use this terminology, since when you talk about giving DOLLARS to the rich and then having PENNIES "trickle down" to the "little people" on the bottom, it immediately becomes obvious this is nothing but elitist bull-shit.

More specifically, there has NEVER been an example (in thousands of years of economic history) of trickle-down economics EVER leading to prosperity.

Yet we still have the propagandists/liars insisting that the best way to "fuel economic growth" is to stuff every dollar we can scrounge up into the pockets of the wealthy.

Note that the SERFS are their own worst enemies for ACCEPTING these ridiculous lies as truth. Even on our site we find people REGULARLY defending the wealthy - because they (apparently) APPROVE of the fact that the top-10% gets richer and richer while almost everyone else is sliding toward poverty.
Norbull
...
written by Norbull, January 20, 2012
Here in the UK every suggestion that there should be higher taxing of the wealthy is met with tremendous opposition and there is always some spokesman or other explaining why taxes should be lowered and how that would magically lift the total tax income.
A few years ago our Inheritance Tax had started to impact a high proportion of middle-income families (through years of inflation and a fixed tax threshhold). It was raised to a new higher figure. Then the Liberal Democrats wanted a 'Mansion Tax' to be paid by those owning very expensive property. That got nowhere as it was portrayed as hitting little old ladies sat alone in their big family houses. The powers that be seem to be able to mobilise opposition to any taxing of the very wealthy by pointing to the adverse impacts on middle earners. No one seems to have the ability to focus on the very high earnings generated by fractional reserve banking. And there's another anomally: bank shareholders have suffered badly, the public have bailed out the Too Big to Fail banks through government taxation, yet the bank executives continue to award themselves massive bonuses.
Another focus of misdirection here is the government attacking people on high earnings still living in Council (Project in US?) housing. They are going to legislate to force people to move out of such housing when their earnings rise. The reality for most people is that they do move out when their earning rise, but the government is seeking to demonise a handful of people as if this will solve a housing problem. (By the way, we have thousands of Council houses currently lying empty in this country. Go figure!)
Jeff Nielson
...
written by Jeff Nielson, January 19, 2012
Jimha, your point is valid, but what you have left out is PROPORTIONALITY. Yes, the Liberals DID "squeeze" those on the bottom, but in as HUMANE a manner as possible.

COMPARE the Liberals of the 1990's with Greece's Fascists and there is no "comparison". There was no DOUBLING of Canada's suicide rate. There were not large numbers of children being ABANDONED by their parents because they couldn't feed them.

Similary, compare "Liberal austerity" of the 1990's with the UTTERLY draconian, Dickensian "austerity" proposed by Ron Paul (also contained in the Tarpley clip).

Yes, I (personally) would have liked to have seen the Liberal's "austerity" more heavily focused on raising revenues from the fat-cats rather than squeezing the poor. But with Liberal austerity being TEN TIMES more "civilized" than any "austerity" in the West which has followed, I think I'm entirely justified in referring to it as "humane austerity".

Note that the Liberals cutting transfer payments primarily increased WAITING LISTS, but (unlike Fascist austerity) did NOT result in the outright SLAUGHTER of social programs.
jimha
...
written by jimha, January 19, 2012
From my recollection of events Paul Martin's Liberals in the 1990's reduced the federal deficit mainly by lowering transfer payments to the provinces for healthcare, etc. Hardly a stellar performance of "humane" actions for the Liberals as you imply. Not that I am any more supportive of the Conservatives than the Liberals but lets call a spade a spade.
Brian Boutilier
...
written by Brian Boutilier, January 19, 2012
Kleptocracy. Priceless. That feels about right. I have hesitated to vote for the Kleptocrats in recent federal elections. I will be even handed here, they sit on both sides of the Isle.

Write comment
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.

busy

Latest Commentary

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12

Latest Comments

Disclaimer:

BullionBullsCanada.com is not a registered investment advisor - Stock information is for educational purposes ONLY. Bullion Bulls Canada does not make "buy" or "sell" recommendations for any company. Rather, we seek to find and identify Canadian companies who we see as having good growth potential. It is up to individual investors to do their own "due diligence" or to consult with their financial advisor - to determine whether any particular company is a suitable investment for themselves.

Login Form