The Gold Standard and Government Power

“The Founding Fathers knew that a government can’t control the economy without controlling people.” Ronald Reagan

The first question every liberal asks about a proposed government action is “will it make the government more powerful?.” We conservatives should learn to ask that question too, and for opposite reasons.

Take, for instance, all the calumny that liberals have thrown at Congressman Ron Paul for suggesting that America should go back on the gold standard. Like so many other political questions, this one boils down to the question of how much power the federal government should have. Liberals understand that when the government controls the very definition of money, it controls the economy and the people in powerful ways.

For most of of this country’s existence no one ever suggested that a dollar should be anything but a certificate of ownership in a certain amount of silver or gold. Inflation, as in the case of Confederate dollars during the Civil War, was caused when people began to doubt that he government could redeem the dollars with the required quantity of gold, and refused to accept them at face value.

In 1895, when it became apparent that the Federal Government, through a combination of  profligacy and mismanagement ,had printed more dollars than it could count on redeeming with the available gold reserves, JP Morgan and a group of investment bankers agreed to save the government from collapse by lending millions of ounces of gold and accepting a thirty year repayment schedule. Democrats, led by Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, suggested that the government should give itself some flexibility by having the choice of backing its dollars with either gold and silver. Republicans, and most voters, rejected this idea as too much government tinkering with the money supply. At that time no one would even have suggested that the government should print dollars with nothing at all to back them.

Then came the 1930’s, and FDR. 

Roosevelt believed that government power was the only source of good in the world, as he made clear in various speeches. In his second inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the all-powerful federal government he was trying to build as “an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.” One way of bestowing that “unimagined power” on the government was confiscating all the privately-owned gold in the nation, and making gold ownership a crime. Roosevelt did pay some compensation to the people whose gold he took, so he was able to describe the program as a gold “purchase,” but the price was unilaterally dictated by the government, and the price for refusal was prison.

In 1971 the Nixon administration completely severed the dollar from any relationship with gold, or for that matter with any tangible asset of any kind. From that time forward a dollar has been what the government says it is. (Nixon also imposed unconstitutional wage and price controls, believing as he did that the government was better qualified to set prices than the old fashioned and too-random Law of Supply and Demand.)

The loss of the gold standard is just one more example of  how politicians continue to gain more control over the people. When government controls our access to health care, it gains power. When government takes our retirement money by force, and then gives it back to us on terms of its own choosing, it gains power. When government takes our money and gives it to politically connected special interests, it gains power.

When government offers up a “Cap and Trade” bill, under which it hopes to take control of the entire fossil fuel supply, supposedly to “save us from global warming,” it is reaching for still more power.

“What does it mean whether you hold the title to your business or property,” asked Ronald Reagan in 1964,  “if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property?” It’s a question we should ask ourselves today.

I’m not a Ron Paul fan, because I disagree with his foreign policy ideas, but he should be applauded for being one of the few politicians who actually want to reduce, rather than increase, the government’s power.

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