Not enough gold in the world to return to a gold standard, Bernanke says

In an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke pointed to a flaw he sees in a gold-backed currency: namely, that there’s not enough gold in the world to go around.

Rumblings that the U.S. should return to a gold standard have started trickling into the media as the public grows wary of a ballooning budgetary deficit. In an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked directly about the possibility of the U.S. returning to a gold standard.

“It did deliver price stability over very long periods of time, but over shorter periods of time it caused wide swings in prices related to changes in demand or supply of gold. So I don’t think it’s a panacea,” Bernanke said.

The soft response to questioning from Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) – a long-time Bernanke detractor – leaves a tiny window of hope that a gold standard might be something the Fed’s actually considering. “It’s not a cure-all, but it could be helpful,” Bernanke seems to be saying.

It’s difficult to imagine Bernanke would endorse a gold standard. He’s long maintained that the Federal Reserve kept too tight of a grip on the money supply by raising interest rates during the Great Depression. Once the public began losing faith in the dollar, they were all too eager to trade greenbacks for gold, which further contracted the money supply and ultimately led to deflation.

Linking the dollar to a fixed amount of gold would constrict the Fed’s ability to prop up the money supply. Bernanke himself pointed to another flaw he sees in a gold-backed currency: namely, that there’s not enough gold in the world to go around.

“I don’t think that a full-fledged gold standard would be practical at this point,” Bernanke said.

He could be implying a watered-down gold standard of sorts is possible in the future, but I’m not convinced Bernanke believes that. Inflation is one of the few tools the Fed has to spur growth (or at least the perception of growth). Giving power up is always more difficult than accepting it, and – so long as the public retains faith in the dollar – it would serve little purpose.

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