January 05, 2013 at 03:04 AM EST
Why a gold standard is a bad idea (III)
Regular readers know that I have stood against the idea of a gold standard (see my previous posts in 2008, 2010 and 2011). I have always regarded the hard money crowd as longing for a mythical time and place that never quite existed.

I came upon some analysis from Frances Wooley at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative that highlighted some of the points that I made about the inflexibility of a gold standard by analyzing a time and place that is mythical - Middle Earth [emphasis added]:
The full economic impact of [the dragon] Smaug [with his gold treasure hoard] can only be understood by recognizing that the dragon's arrival resulted in a severe monetary shock. On the left is shown Smaug's hoard. On the right, for purposes of comparison, are the gold reserves of the Bank of England. It is clear from a simple inspection of these two figures that the amount of gold coinage Smaug withdrew from circulation represents a significant volume of currency. This would, inevitably, lead to deflation and depressed economic activity. Wooley is making the point that under the monetary model of the economy (PQ = MV), if you withdraw money supply from the system, lower economic activity would be the result. The question then becomes what the proper response if Middle Earth had a central bank using a more flexible monetary system using fiat money would be in the face of such a macroeconomic shock:
One has to ask whether or not a more innovative monetary policy framework could have ameliorated the impacts of the dragon-induced economic downturn. If the peoples of Middle Earth had abandoned their gold specie standard, and switched instead to a paper currency, they could have revived trade-flows without sacrificing so many lives. Unfortunately, the lack of a central bank, or indeed any but the most rudimentary monetary institutions, was a major obstacle to currency reform.

Dragons come. The question is how to respond to them.

The post is worth reading in its entirety. In particular, there are some interesting wonky responses in the comments, especially when you consider that Middle Earth is a mythical place. Here is just one amusing example here:
Considering that Smaug actually took over the castle some 150 years before "The Hobbit" takes place, would not price rigidities have resolved themselves and economic production returned to pre-Smaug levels?

On the other hand, I suppose if Smaug had continued to ravage the countryside year after year, perhaps the money supply was continually decreasing. Fully downwardly rigid nominal prices (like for debt, or if social standards hadn't adjusted, for wages) could then prevent economic adjustment.

But then again, just to continue the argument, it seems unlikely that prices would be very sticky at all in a feudal economy. The two stickiest prices, wages and debts, probably didn't exist. Most workers are subsistence farm owners and are not paid wages. The financial system is negligible - if it even exists - making debt contracts rare. While there certainly could be some sticky prices, those are adjusted over time with much more ease than wages or debts, no?

If this were the case Smaug's deflationary actions would be purely nominal and all his real effects would be through the "fiscal policy" you mention.
Bottom line: I am against the adoption of a gold standard because such a regime creates inflexibility that creates unnecessary volatility for an economic system, regardless of whether the system is real or mythical.


Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. ("Qwest"). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.
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