The enduring axiom of fintech and digital asset regulations and taxes; barriers to entry benefit the legacy banking system. Because legal restrictions and taxes reduce incentives to participate in the financial services markets. There may be other parties that benefit from placing limitations on cryptocurrencies. Ultimately, the banking establishment enjoys diminution in competition. Many factions within the pro-regulation coalition, advocate for the regulation of cryptocurrencies in fintech services, often under the veil of consumer protection. For example, Elizabeth Warren likened Bitcoin to the 2008 Housing Bubble. Whether Warren stands to gain or not from regulating cryptocurrencies is immaterial; such behavior is merely doing all the dirty work for the Federal Reserve and the large banks with Fed fund accounts. That is to help mold public opinion to be receptive to crypto regulation. Ironically, she is unwittingly aiding and abetting the same banking system she purportedly to wants to reform. Most consumer protection measures pick winners and losers. Regulating crypto arguably picks the wrong set of winners that would not stand a chance of victory in the face of natural market pressures.
One of the hot topics in global discourse aside from the Ukraine conflict is research into CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency). Several countries are researching deploying a CBDC and some have even implemented trial run experiments with centralized digital monies. Back in January, the US Federal Reserve published its CBDC white paper Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation (2022). Hypothetically, if initiated, the Fed would distribute retail CBDC through private intermediaries (primary dealers). Per George Selgin: “Those private intermediaries would then be responsible for managing customers’ central bank digital currency (CBDC) holdings and payments…”. Allowing the Fed to avoid managing the front-end customer service concerns (something government entities typically handle very poorly) and reallocate this function to private firms.
The overall rhetoric surrounding CBDC has been cautiously optimistic. Especially, when squared against the comparisons made between CBDCs and stablecoins. Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, has backtracked on his anti-stablecoin stance. Presumably, he still is championing a central bank currency over. Despite the institutional tensions between stablecoins and CBDC, the Fed; could be considered a Dual-Role Actor in the Bootleggers and Baptists (1983); if it is not categorically correct to deem them Baptists. There is a strong possibility that the Federal Reserve and all affiliated employees stand to gain from curbing the success of privately issued digital currencies but also sincerely believe in the virtues of the United States issuing its own. There are several arguments in favor of a government-backed digital currency supported by Fed economists and academics alike. For example, it would make assessing taxes on purchases made with digital currencies easier to determine (p.156). Also, many experts claim that a CBDC would achieve price stability, an attractive feature when you consider the historical volatility of various well-established private cryptocurrencies. It would be easier to combat money laundering and financing for terrorist activities(p.11). Probably one of the more laudable arguments for a CBDC is the argument of financial inclusion for the unbanked (p.157). All of these claims have a moralistic tone, making the Fed and CBDC friendly economists potential Baptists.
Labeling Fed officials as the Bootleggers is analogous to shooting-fish-in-a-barrel and makes for linear analysis. Plus, yes, the United States central bank and all of its economists have much to gain through promoting a CBDC; however, it is not entirely evident that they are disinterested in the moral arguments for protecting the public from the purported dangers of a private digital currency and the cause of financial inclusion. But there is a group of beneficiaries that are much less obvious to the superficial observer; hackers. A CBDC would be highly centralized, making it more likely that there could be a single point of failure in a security breach (p.17). Even though the public and permissionless blockchains are only quasi-anonymous on distributed ledgers of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, they are trusted, specifically for these validation channels in the consensus protocol are decentralized. In contrast, a CBDC would need to comply with KYC and AML requirements making it necessary to “…store personal data..” on specific nodes; “… highly likely to be exposed to a single point of failure, which can result in the indirect leakage of personal data..” (p.18). Due to the legal provisions outlined in financial monitoring laws, turns CBDCs into an aggregated database for financial and personal information if improperly designed.
Frequently in economics, the views of a specific theorist are exploited for the interests of various political factions. The most salient examples are economic theorists are labeled as “free market” economists. Conservatives generally celebrate Adam Smith as a defender of unfettered commerce but conveniently ignore his concern for the blight of the poor. Smith was too multidimensional to be distilled to a simplistic bumper sticker slogan. The great F.A, Hayek suffered from a similar syndrome as many Conservative and Libertarian pundits disregard the nuances of his work and paint him as radical. However, there are also instances of the intellectual advances of various theorists being embellished by their opponents for partisan purposes. For example, the moderate and subtle rationalizations of James M. Buchanan are characterized as extreme libertarianism. Nancy Maclean is unacquainted with the work of Murray Rothbard!
The inaccurate framing of economic theory for political interests is not limited to right-of-center economists. Many left-wingers exaggerate the beliefs and postulations of their favored economists, the most conspicuous example being the abuse of John Maynard Keynes . Yes, in the eyes of most Conservatives and Libertarians, Keynes had a flawed perception of market processes. Although, he was not communist. Keynes still had some semblance of a pragmatic filter, which placed constraints on his sanguine view of consumption. Keynes did believe that after the end of an economic downturn, deficits should be eliminated. Therefore, Keynes did not advocate for a policy of perpetual deficit spending, most likely would take issue with the massive debts amassed by the United States over the past couple of decades.
It wouldn’t be outlandish to examine the embellishment of Keynesian economics for political gain from the precepts of Bruce Yandle’s Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) coalition paradigm. A political relationship between various factions of policy advocates where some supports sincerely believe in the normative intention of the policy (the Baptists). In contrast, the tacit beneficiaries (the Bootleggers) merely ride the coattails of the moralistic advocates (either silently or vocally alongside the Baptists). The support for various stimulus policies would have its share of Bootleggers and Baptists to defend “stimulus spending”. The most recent examples are the Obama-era stimulus programs (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and multiple rounds of COVID stimulus allocations. Often, Keynesianism is justified when it becomes politically suitable to do so. The most recent examples of economic stimulus initiatives exemplify this point quite well. This observation becomes more striking when you consider that the convergence of our monetary and fiscal policy has amounted to a hand-selected bastard-breed mutation  of Keynesian economics and Monetarism. The conception of this flawed system is being spurred by policymakers trying to select the most politically advantageous characteristics of both economic philosophies.
We could consider the founder of Keynesian economics the Baptist of stimulus spending policies. As Keynes envisioned stimulus spending as being a temporary remedy amid an economic downturn. Despite his good intentions, Keynes failed to recognize the political incentives to politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, activists, and even ordinary voters; factors that only serve to reinforce one of Milton Friedman’s most enduring dictums “There is nothing more permanent than a government program”. While stimulus initiatives come and go, policymakers still keep implementing them as a remedy to soothe economic turmoil. Stimulus policies were adopted with little regard for the implied discipline advocated for by Keynes. After all, he was still an economist and was not ignorant of the discipline’s conceptual pillars. Stimulus spending is an unsound policy, but he never intended for it to be at the regular disposal of politicians and lawmakers. Dating back to the observations of Niccolò Machiavelli, politics is a game of perception, not one of technical proficiency. Conversely, economics is ideally a positive social science unconcerned with popular opinion.
Moral values always enter the equation whenever we enter the realm of actual decision-making, even in economic decision-making. Unfortunately, the line between economic science and public perception is often blurred, especially by the adroit manipulation of politically savvy elected officials, activists, lawmakers, and activists. Promising ever-larger transfer of “free” goods and services to the voting public. Applying the principles of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, voters believe they have made out like bandits. Thereby, forming a mutually beneficial feedback loop of voters believing they have won and political actors presented in a positive light; as being defenders of the common man. Elected officials portrayed as advocates for the “little guy” helps establish social currency with the voting public. Social currency dovetails nicely with a politician’s incentive to remain in their position of political power.
- Maclean is aware of Rothbard’s work to a superficial extent, but if she sincerely understood his work, she would not be portraying Buchanan as a radical.
- The author is not an exponent of Keynesian economics.
- Despite the intense debate between Keynesians and Monetarists, both have their commonalities.
What is Quantitative Easing?
Quantitative easing (QE) is the controversial and unconventional monetary policy tool first introduced in the United States in 2008 ; as a countermeasure to the Great Recession. The practice of Quantitative easing (QE) is where a central bank purchases long-term government securities, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and other assets from banking institutions with newly created money. The ultimate goal is to boost the money supply encouraging lending in a sluggish economy by lowering interest rates. The Federal Reserve’s strategies for managing interest rates are divided into pre and post-financial crisis eras. Before 2008 how the Federal Reserve maintained interest rates were different (operating under a corridor system). Per the New York Federal Reserve:
Before October 2008, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) communicated the stance of monetary policy by announcing a target for the federal funds rate. The Fed would then use open market operations to make small adjustments to the supply of reserves so that the effective federal funds rate (EFFR) would print close to the target set by the FOMC. This type of implementation regime that relies on reserve scarcity is often referred to as a corridor system (as explained in this article). Under this framework, depository institutions, or banks, were incentivized to hold as few reserves as possible since they did not earn interest on their Fed account balances. Reserve balances that banks held in their Fed accounts added up to a very small amount, as can be seen in the next chart. The banking system operated with aggregate reserve scarcity and relied on the redistribution of reserves in an active interbank market.
Amid a phase of quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve injects massive quantities of money into the economy through large-scale asset purchases on the open market, increasing the risk of interest rates becoming too low. In the post-crisis, the Fed has opted to implement a Floor System, where the central bank pays interest on excess reserves (IOER) for funds held by member banks at the Feder Reserve beyond the mandate reserve requirements. Procedurally assists with stabilizing the interest rate (Fed funds rate) even when the Fed pumps vast amounts of liquidity into the economy. The excess money held by Fed-associated financial institutions acts like an interest rate floor; through paying on IOERs the opportunity cost of holding money is eliminated. Effectively, maintaining the target interest rate. The Fed’s convoluted attempt to skirt the Law of Supply and Demand, the Federal Reserve, nothing more than an attempt to have its cake-and-it-too (avoiding a liquidity trap and concurrently stimulating the loans market).
The Baptists and Economists of QE:
The monetary establishment expresses that QE is a necessary and effective policy instrument. The promoting of this interventionist policy has created fertile ground for Bootlegger and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamics. Much of this pro-QE sentiment is perpetuated by the research of Federal Reserve economists. It is hard to pinpoint clear Baptists in the pro-QE coalition, several parties that benefit from defending the practice.
In some instances, politicians who champion QE could be viewed as Baptists, arguing for it as means of stabilizing the economy. However, politicians stand to benefit from the unorthodox monetary policy in the form of Fiscal QE (coined by George Selgin), directing the money created through QE to non-macro-economic objectives (e.g. funding the Green New Deal through QE). There is the potential of politicians assuming the role of “pure” Bootleggers and Dual Role Actors. But while QE could be used to “achieve” macro stability (full employment, etc.) and other extraneous policy goals, it operates as a double-edged sword. It is important to note that the inflation rate is a metric that matters to the voting public. Inflation has become a focal point in political discourse and is politicized (p.129-163) . The next logical possibility for Baptists would-be journalists. However, their position on QE is “mixed”. Some outlets like to diagram the pros and cons, others are outright hostile, and some echo the positive sentiments acting as a mouthpiece for the Fed.
There is one faction in the QE advocacy coalition that unquestionably fits the definition of Bootleggers, the economists employed by the Federal Reserve. In the book Money and the Rule of Law (2021) Boettke, Salter, and Smith detail the numerous incentive problems facing Federal Reserve officials armed with “constrained digression” (CH 3; p.58-94). Pollical pressures asides; there are other reasons why favoring QE would be appealing (p.67-70), but also substantial internal pressures as well. The authors expound upon the impact of “bureaucratic inertia” on the central banks; like any other center of governance, there is a bias towards maintaining the status quo (p.64). After approximately fourteen years and four rounds of QE, the policy has become normalized. Initially, QE was an aberration in American monetary policy . Favoring QE in 2022 is an example of institutional inertia, but not during QE1 (2008).
However, the obtuse and obstinate inflexibility of the sluggish nature of the Fed is far from the most troubling rationale for unwaveringly defending QE. That would manifest itself in the form of promotion opportunities. We need to consider that the Federal Reserve is one of the largest employers of economists in the United States (p.64), urging researchers to conform to internal norms of the Fed. (p.65). One paper that beautifully describes the incentives of the career concerns of Federal Reserve economists was Fifty Shades of QE: Comparing Findings of Central Bankers and Academics (2020; revised 2021). In their NBER paper, Fabo, Oková, Kempf, & Pástor found that central bankers are more likely to describe QE in sanguine terms in their research when compared to unaffiliated academics (p.15). Fabo et al. found that there was some evidence that:
“…One possible mechanism is career concerns. In principle, bank management could make promotion decisions in a way that encourages bank employees to assess the bank’s policies favorably… (p.18).
“… We find that the interaction between the effect on output and Seniority is positive and significant. A one standard deviation increase in Seniority raises the sensitivity of career outcomes to the estimated effect on output by about 50%… (p.21).
“..These could involve concerns about the bank’s reputation and, for very senior researchers, concerns about their reputation. Like career concerns, reputation concerns reflect researchers’ incentives because in both cases, a researcher derives a private benefit from reaching a particular research outcome. We have no evidence on the potential contribution of reputation concerns to our results…” (p.25).
We must not interpret this correlation between the promotion of senior economists and research validating the “positive” effects of QE as these actors intentionally manipulate the results. In the absence of sufficient evidence; making such an assessment is made in bad faith, but there is most likely a third variable connecting these outcomes. For example, Fabo et al. describe the potential of economics who end up working for the Fed having priors that make them more apt to favor interventionist monetary policy (p.4 & 25). They even explore the possibility of researchers inadvertently selecting modeling techniques that would make QE appear to be more effective (p.2 & 17).
- The initial introduction of quantitative easing in the US in 2008 was dubbed QE1. In March 2020, the US Federal Reserve initiated its fourth round of QE (QE4).
- In Boom-and-Bust Banking (2012) (ed. David Beckworth), Scott Sumner argues for adjusting monetary policy to NGDP targeting versus inflation targeting. A stance also advocated by David Beckworth. Sumner explains how inflation targeting is more politically appealing than a Nominal GDP target. After all, inflation is very salient, especially if you are old enough to remember stagflation. Side note, the author of this blog post was born in the late-1980s but is an avid fan of economic history.
- The policy of Quantitative easing developed in Japan in the early-2000’s and was subsequently implemented in the United States nearly a decade later.
However, even if the value of the dollar continues to plummet wouldn’t this pattern be more predictable than the oscillations of a gold-pegged dollar? As mentioned previously, the Federal Reserve does not resolutely adhere to its own monetary rules. These deviations tend to be justified if they are done in the name of maintaining lofty “macroeconomic” targets, such as full employment. Thereby creating distortions that can hamper future investment plans and even anticipated returns on savings. The fact that the cadence in the price level has become more sporadic rather than more predictable (p.7) is a firm indictment of the Federal Reserve’s institutional failure. The common myth that the Great Depression was caused by gold rather than the malfeasance of the Fed is a fallacy that needs to be debunked. The common narrative has been the freely fluctuating value of gold drove the United States into one of the darkest eras of our economic history. To directly indicate that the Great Depression was the byproduct of mistakes (p.4) made our central bank is telling. Unfortunately, the economic calamity of the 1930s was brought on by “… Fed ..not constrained in using those reserves to expand base money, and thus the broader money supply..” (p.5). Once again validating the point that it was an issue in exercising fiscal restraint; the Fed capitulating to the impulse to use money as an instrument of political convenience. It is well noted that raising taxes and cutting welfare programs can be highly unpopular among voters. However, utilizing inflation as a circuitous form of taxation disperses the true costs of government spending, effectively hiding these expenditures from the average voter. It may be the rules of the game that have created past economic turmoil that has been erroneously attributed to gold. In all honesty, making the concept of a rules-based approach to monetary policy questionable at best. In most cases, we cannot trust those tasked with the duties to create and enforce the rules to act in the best interest of the economy.
The failure of our banking institutions to establish monetary stability is epitomized in the duration of economic downturns and the frequency of banking panics. Yes, economic downturns were more frequent before the Federal Reserve, however, they were shorter in duration. On average approximately seven months long and were “..no more severe..” (p.21). Based upon these facts it is reasonable to infer that the intervention of central banks may only prolong economic depressions. The introduction of the Federal Reserve did little to reduce the frequency of banking panics between 1914-1930 (p.24). The greatest irony being that between 1830-1914 Canada had relatively few bank failures and no reported bank runs (p.27). Not only did Canadian banks hold gold-backed currency this period also overlapped with Canada’s free-banking period. During the 19th century, Canada did not have a central bank (established in 1935) and banking was relatively free of any regulation. Despite this period of Canadian banking history committing the Cardinal sins of having a gold standard and no central bank, the nation enjoyed relative economic stability. This example only further erodes the critiques of the gold standard and claims that central banks are an absolute necessity.
Even most fiat currency advocates understand this point and attempt to utilize various monetary rules to create some sense of expected steady depreciation of the dollar. The pretense of “stability” is merely an illusion engendered by the rigidity of a rule that limited the amount of inflation allotted per year. The rules-bound approach in the United States permits 2% inflation per year to allow for economic growth. In an attempt to achieve the aims of “full employment” and monetary stability. Few question the fidelity to which the Federal Reserve has adhered to this 2 % annual inflation target. For instance, in 2007 during the nascent period of the economic crisis, the inflation rate was a staggering 4.08%.More than double what is conventionally allotted by the Federal Reserve. Demonstrating that these monetary rules that are meant to maintain the integrity of our money supply are sensitive to exigencies of purported economic calamity. It is well documented that the subprime housing crisis that emerged in 2007 was caused by our governing institutions using the money supply to manipulate interest rates. The prospect of the U.S central bank maintaining the value of our money is marred by the fact they do not consistently abide by these rules. Unfortunately, when it is politically convenient to loosen these parameters of these rules, the Fed does so. Generally, they could not anticipate the emergence of an emergency requiring accommodations in their money management constraints. If the Federal Reserve did unwaveringly adhere to the 2% rule this still is not necessarily the type of stability that should be welcomed. Irrespective of the annual rate of economic growth, this is still at the expense of the purchasing power of the dollar. While the rate of inflation may be predictable, it is a signal that the value of our money will only continue to decrease. The goal of holding any commodity is for the value to increase or remain constant not to wither away to oblivion.
The instability caused by the Federal Reserve failing to rigidity follow its own monetary rules has consequences that reverberate throughout the economy. Prices function as a source of information to consumers and producers, that even includes those that produce and hold various forms of money. If the Federal Reserve has been augmenting the money supply to lower interest rates this distorts the loans markets for lenders and borrowers. The argument that the short-run instability of gold makes it necessary for state intervention in the money markets, does not hold water. As lenders and borrows can enter into contractual agreements setting interest requirements; even adjust for immediate price-level variances (p.32). Any attempt to manipulate the money supply to encourage consumption does nothing more than to manipulate the integrity of the money supply Only serving to encourage economic actors to engage in malinvestment, arguably creating moral hazard. Not only does lowering interest rates alter the money supply, but it also encourages the individual who could not otherwise afford to borrow money to do so. Despite the fact, the natural interest rate of the loan is unproportionate to their income and necessary expenses. Unfortunately leading may make borrowers inclined to take uncalculated risks created by an illusory interest rate. That invariably is unsustainable and eventually will be forced back to natural rates, regardless of any distortions the market will self-correct.
If the Federal Reserve’s management rules are effective at warding off volatility, we would expect there to be wild variances in the value of gold-backed money in the pre-central banking era. After being confronted with the number it becomes quite evident that the facts do not comport with popular opinion. One only needs to review the dramatic increase in the rate of inflation in the post-gold economy to see the full effect. From the period of the period between 1790 and 1913 a $100 basket of consumer goods only experienced an $8 variance ($108 in 1913) (p.5-6). However, that same basket of goods had reached the cost of $2,422 by 2008(p5-6), demonstrating the hasten pace of dollar depreciation. It is calculated that the overall rate of inflation between 1879 and 1913 was a meager 0.01 % on a classical gold standard. It should be noted that similar numbers are reflected in the 93 years Great Britain retained a freely fluctuating gold standard (p.3). How skeptics can deride the notion of gold-backed money without address the long-run stability is perplexing. The political and economic establishment has effectively become short-sighted through praising immediate stability over enduring integrity. There is a deeper underlying question regarding this disjointed preference, what does it say about our society? Has our propensity for instant gratification become so entrenched in our culture that it has bled into our governing institutions? If our purported “experts” exalt the virtues of instantaneous band-aid measures over long-run functionality, then the answer to this question is self-evident.
The third and final argument of this series for reinstating gold is monetary stability. The notion that pegging money to the value of gold helping ensure its stability to most economists and commentators is laughable at best. Among the intelligentsia, the consensus is that value of gold is highly volatile, and having the dollars tied to such a freely fluctuating asset would be disastrous to the economy. Most notable is how gold fails to achieve short-run price level stability; although, it is generally accepted that it does have a high degree of long-run stability(p.2). Unquestionably there is a tradeoff between long-term and short-term stability when choosing between a monetary regime boasting a fixed-gold standard or a rules-based fiat currency. Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that fiat currency lacks long-term stability in its value. It only is assumed that there are two core fallacies implicit in the arguments against the stability of gold-back money. One, critics are overestimating the ability of government institutions to artificially sustain price stability. The second and most pervasive assumption is the flawed conception of “stability”. A common concern in any field of study is the question of are we measuring what we profess to be measuring? How we operationally define the fortitude of currency is going to impact how we measure stability. After reviewing the longitudinal variation of the gold standard in comparison to the current fiat standard it is clear that gold has the upper hand when it comes to long-term stability. It is reasonable then to question if we as a society are choosing to favor short-run success over sustained value retention.
However, one nagging issue that needs to be addressed is whether money is naturally fluctuating or if the value remains fixed. Money in itself is a commodity regardless of what is the currency is backed by. After all, we do have a market for trading foreign currency in the post-Brentwood world; why not consider money as a commodity. The perception of the money goes deeper than the fact that we hold foreign currencies (like a future or security) with the hopes of making a profit. I look back to the insights of the founder of the Austrian School, Carl Menger, money often had a prior use as an object with practical utility. As detailed in his book Principles of Economics (1871):
The local money character of many other goods, on the other hand, can be traced back to their great and general use-value locally and their resultant marketability. Examples are the money character of dates in the oasis of Siwa, of tea bricks in central Asia and Siberia, of glass beads in Nubia and Sennar, and of ghussub, a kind of millet, in the country of Ahir (Africa). An example in which both factors have been responsible for the money-character of good is provided by cowrieshells, which have, at the same time, been both a commonly desired ornament and an export commodity. (p.271).
Menger’s concept of money having a prior use function was later encapsulated in Ludwig von Mises’s Regression Theorem.
When individuals began to acquire objects, not for consumption, but to be used as media of exchange, they valued them according to the objective exchange-value with which the market already credited them because of their ‘industrial’ usefulness, and only as an additional consideration on account of the possibility of using them as media of exchange. (p.109-110).
Commodities such as bales of tea or bundles of tobacco demonstrate a self-proclaimed intrinsic value. It is evident people like to consume tobacco and tea as luxury goods, otherwise, these products would not sell. Naturally, making them very saleable commodities on the barter market. But because the double coincidence of wants trade and barter is self-limiting since you may have a commodity that no one else desires, making it necessary for a society to have a uniform medium of exchange. Even fiat currency could arguably have its legitimacy traced back to the days of 100 percent reserve gold warehousing (p.40), a system buried in the sands of history once the United States established a central banking system. The monetized debate we call the U.S. dollar is a distant ancestor to banking receipts for gold redemption.
If money irrespective of its heritage is considered a commodity, then why do we expect the price to not fluctuate? It is understood that economic models are implied to be unwavering and solely for demonstration. When applied, these models are extrapolated rather than assumed to be a direct reflection of economic activity. In theory, if money is a commodity we cannot assume that it will remain stagnantly fixed at the current price level; as with any other commodity, the value of money varies based upon the supply of the good in question. The very concept of a consistently “stable” currency with no variation in the value is flawed at conception. Invariably such an exception of resolute ceteris paribus is nothing more than a fiction.
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One concern regarding fiat currency that is appurtenant to inflation is the occurrence of Cantillon Effects. What are Cantillon Effects? The observation is that introducing new money into the economy has “… distributional consequences that operate through the price system…”. Essentially this means that inflation does not occur all at once and does not evenly flow throughout the market. Individuals that receive the money first avoid experiencing price inflation, validating the previous point. Therefore, dispelling the misconception held by the English philosopher John Locke that the nature of money is neutral. Locke suggesting that introducing more money into the economy merely has a numerical impact on prices. The suggestion being that printing more money has little influence on economic behavior. A 17th-century precursor to the contemporary notion of “inflation doesn’t matter”. From a praxeological standpoint, this assumption is wholly false. If it were true, people would not adjust their behavior to account for the inflationary depreciation of their national currency. People would not be investing in gold, silver, or Cryptocurrencies as an alternative to hedge against government money.
This phenomenon was first observed by Irish-French Political Economist Richard Cantillon, providing its namesake. Cantillon expounds upon the mechanics of such inflationary effects on money through the example of gold mining in his book An Essay on Economic Theory. Cantillon asserts that the point of injection of new currency and the velocity of circulation play a role in its impact. As described below:
If the increase of hard money comes from gold and silver mines within the state, the owner of these mines, the entrepreneurs, the smelters, refiners, and all the other workers will increase their expenses in proportion to their profits. Their households will consume more meat, wine, or beer than before. They will become accustomed to wearing better clothes, having finer linens, and having more ornate houses and other desirable goods. Consequently, they will give employment to several artisans who did not have that much work before and who, for the same reason, will increase their expenditures. All these increased expenditures on meat, wine, wool, etc., 0necessarily reduces the share of the other inhabitants in the state who do not participate at first in the wealth of the mines in question. The bargaining process of the market, with the demand for meat, wine, wool, etc., being stronger than usual, will not fail to increase their prices. These high prices will encourage farmers to employ more land to produce the following year, and these same farmers will profit from the increased prices and will increase their expenditure on their families like the others. Those who will suffer from these higher prices and increased consumption will be, first, the property owners, during the term of their leases, then their domestic servants, and all the workmen or fixed-wage earners who support their families on a salary. They all must diminish their expenditures in proportion to the new consumption, which will compel many of them to emigrate and to seek a living elsewhere. The property owners will dismiss many of them, and the rest will demand a wage increase to live as before. It is in this manner that a considerable increase of money from mines increases consumption and, by diminishing the number of inhabitants, greater expenditures result from those who remain (p.148-149).
It is important to note that Cantillon Effects occur with currencies with a fixed supply. In Cantillon’s example above, he uses the mining of gold ore to describe the disparate impact of inflation on prices. A similar consequence is also observable as a byproduct of Bitcoin mining. However, these examples of Cantillon effects are far less pronounced than those resulting from creating more fiat currency. These disturbances are temporary (p.28) and are not indicative of permanent debasement of either commodity. A continual depreciation of money with no longitudinal guarantee of appreciation makes a currency a poor store of value. Gold, cryptocurrencies, and silver have the possibility of increasing in value. Therefore, neutralizing the short-run inflation generated by a new gold discovery. Fiat currency collective continues to depreciate across time, thereby displaying the validity of the Humean Price-Specie-Flow Mechanism model. Essentially disturbances in the gold supply would naturally adjust and levitate back to equilibrium with no further intervention. Above all demonstrating, that any disparities would be temporary under fixed-money supply standards such as gold. Effectively weakening the validity of the objections that gold is an ineffective policy tool for combating the harmful effects of inflation. Including Cantillon Effects.
The above passage from Cantillon demonstrates how individuals with close geographic or institutional proximity to the point of monetary injection enjoy the benefits. The modern-day equivalent would be working in the financial district of New York City. Financiers on Wall Street may even have connections with staff working at the New York Federal Reserve. Well-connected social networks in the financial sector are advantageous when it comes to acquiring access to money. Even beyond the social networks of well-connected financiers, the privileged position of those benefitting from Cantillon Effects starts with the Central Banks. Upon wielding newly printed money, they possess a profound amount of “.. unearned purchasing power..” (cannot find source) analogous to a counterfeiting operation. The currency flows from the Federal Reserve to the Medium and Large-sized banking institutions that “maintain reserve accounts” at various Fed locations throughout the United States. Smaller banks (e.g. local credit unions) obtain their money supplies from correspondent banks that have accounts with the Federal Reserve. These larger banks supply smaller banks charge the smaller banks a service fee for distributing their allocation of currency. This distribution dynamic illustrates how patrons of neighbor banks are at a clear disadvantage. From a temporal standpoint, the large corporate banks are among the first institutions to receive the newly printed money. Providing access to the new currency to the employees and patrons of these larger well-connected banks. Individuals living in rural regions of the united states are either unbanked or needing travel great distances for banking services. The disparate effect of this geographical allocation of new money is made worse by the higher poverty rates experienced by rural areas of the U.S. The individuals afflicted the most by poverty are the ones who suffer the most from price inflation. Serving to substantiate the consequences of Cantillon Effects as a form of regressive taxation. By the time the rate of inflation has caught up to consumer goods, the government has already funded the programs the politicians wanted to implement. Those with institutional ties closer to point of entry have already invested or spent the money before inflation is reflected in higher nominal costs of consumer goods.
One of the defining arguments for justifying a gold standard is that it guards against inflation. What is inflation? Inflation is the depreciation in a currency’s purchasing power over time, increasing the nominal prices of goods and services. A gold standard combats inflation due to the limited quantity of gold. The cause of inflation is the introduction of money currency into the economy. Abiding by the immutable law of Supply and Demand, the more of a commodity we have, the lower its value will be, which also applies to money. A principle that was demonstrated in the currency crisis afflicting Weimar Germany. The massive supply of German Marks leads the country to experience hyperinflation. The German mark became virtually worthless as a medium change. At the height of this financial disaster, a loaf of bread cost $100 billion! Right before the German mark collapsed.
The astronomical prices and economic penury caused by hyperinflation is the most extreme outcome of overprinting fiat currency. There are several other less severe consequences of inflation. For instance, inflation reduces the incentives for people to save money. If your savings are withering away by the continuous erosion of inflation, there is no in leaving your money in a savings account. One way many wealthy entrepreneurs avoid the stealth tax of inflation is through investments. Real estate, business startups, bonds, stocks, and securities have the potential to increase in value. In comparison, an inflationary dollar can only decrease in value. The stock market may be a gamble, but hedging on a fiat currency is a losing strategy.
The customer suffers dearly due to the harmful effects of inflation. The most obvious consequence is inflation resulting in higher prices. Functioning as a paradox because one would expect prices to decline because of increased efficiency from technological innovation. Since inflation increases the price of all goods including input the price of consumer goods rises. A continuous increase in the money supply also results in a “cheapen” of consumer goods. Producers feeling the pinch of inflation on productions goods cannot directly transfer these costs to the consumer. However, producers elect to reduce portion sizes or reduce overall product quality. Restaurants using downgrading the grade of meats they serve, readymade food producers reducing packaging sizes, clothing manufactures using less durable fabrics. Not only are we paying more for everyday goods, but we are also paying more for inferior goods!
The inflationary monetary policy enabled by a fiat money standard impacts more than thrift and prices. Money creation being disconnected from the constrain of fixed assets backing the currency has led to several troubling practices in macroeconomics. One of the most notable examples has been the manipulation of interest rates. Typically interest rates are artificially lowered to encourage consumption during economic lulls. Achieved through expanding the money supply, with the injection of liquidity it becomes less expensive to lend money (remember the concept of supply and demand). Even exponents of this tactic acknowledge that this alteration to the interest rate is only temporary. Interest rates below the market rate are unsustainable. Influencing people to makes investments that they cannot afford at natural interest rate levels, creating economic bubbles. Those who can no longer afford the real interest rates end up defaulting on their investments. One of the most salient examples in the recent history of such disastrous collective malinvestment was the 2008 Housing Crisis. The housing market and adjacent industries were decimated by the burst bubble. Overall, resulting in over 2 million foreclosures in 2008 alone. Demonstrating the hazards of institutionally endorsed market distortions that could only be executed on a pervasive scale under a fiat currency standard!
The tight constraints of a currency pegged to a precious metal have often been expressed as a concern. Frequently, being used as an argument against a gold standard. Particularly the need for liquidity during a supply shock. It could be theoretically justifiable to have some flexibility in the money supply to fund unexpected expenditures. One example being emergency funding for implementing measures to combat COVID-19. However, the purse strings have been loose for decades. Featuring only brief periods of modest austerity measures implemented. The inexhaustible need for more government funding has developed into a deeply rooted dependency. That not only adversely impacts the character of our governing institutions but also that of the citizens. The people begin to demand more entitlement programs. Typically, with little regard for the costs of such initiatives. Arguable making inflationary monetary policy cleverly camouflaged form of fiscal illusion. The American people already have social security and several other federal entitlement programs, but this is not enough! Now universal health care and free college tuition are mainstream policy talking points. Illustrating America’s growing and insatiable appetite for publicly-funded entitlement programs. Simultaneously, displaying the hideous character flaws of thievery, profligacy, and gluttony.
Many arguments are defending maintaining a monetary regime centered around fiat currency. However, what are some of the justifications for returning to a gold standard? The current money creation operations guided by the Federal Reserve do not serve the best interests of the American people. Even in monetary regimes that utilize constraining rules such as Nominal GDP Targeting, this only limits the amount of percentage of debasement allotted per a specified time frame (typical a year). But this does little more than slow down the accumulated rate of inflation. Although, such a measure is reflective of overall annual economic growth. Despite the fact production has become more efficient, we still experience an increase in nominal prices year over year. The concern is expressed in George Selgin’s monograph Less Than Zero (1997).
Overall, very few people benefit from the inflationary monetary policy enabled by fiat currency. The concerns regarding liquidity and deflation under a gold standard may have some validity. These concerns are not pressing enough to justify a fiat standard. Inflation reduces the incentives to save money, making it an opportunity cost to holding U.S. Dollars in your savings account. At least investing your money in stock, bonds, real estate, or even cryptocurrencies has the potential of positive return. Whereas Dollars only stand to decrease in value. Various talking heads posturing as financial gurus (Dave Ramsey) tell you to save, save, save! Given the current state of modern monetary policy, there is little incentive to do so. Countries such as Japan have implemented negative interest rate policies eviscerating any incentives to save. Under such conditions, even frivolously sinking money into consumer goods and entertainment may serve as a strategy to hedge against inflation.
The core arguments for why we should return to a gold standard include: avoiding inflation, Cantillon Effects, and more stability. The concern of inflation is self-evident, along with Cantillon Effects acting as an abstract form of regressive taxation. The last argument may seem counterintuitive because there is a well-perpetuated myth about the volatility in the value of gold. In the absence of hard constraints, monetary institutions can keep producing money with impunity leading to hyperinflation. Also, if gold is unstable, would Alan Greenspan even attempt to emulate such a standard while heading the Federal Reserve? Unfortunately, his fidelity to this endeavor is questionable.
August 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Nixon administration ending the Bretton Woods Agreement. The conferenced strived to establish a stable global monetary regime in the post-World War II era. Through centering fixed exchange rates around a gold-backed U.S. Dollar. The U.S. permanently closed the gold window in 1971. A gold standard made the money supply inflexible, thus making it impossible to fund the Vietnam War and other government initiatives. Instead of tightening spending when faced with a lack of gold reserves. Nixon declared us all Keynesians, forever divorcing the U.S. dollar from gold for good.
The Bretton Woods Agreement was not flawed. A clear departure from the classical gold standard (1834-1933) in America; it was still better than a pure fiat standard. The fixed supply of gold in the vaults provides hardline constraints on inflation and government spending, a lesson learned by cryptocurrency creators. Limiting the amount of money produced helps it retain its value. Helping us refrain from reducing our currency to being a worthless piece of “Monopoly money” (think Weimar Germany). Some argue that the threat of hyperinflation in the United States is hyperbole; it is crucial to remember how much the dollar has depreciated since eliminating the fixed-gold standard. Since 1971, the dollar has suffered from a rate of cumulative inflation of 570.90%! Now might be the ideal time to start arguing for a return to the gold standard. This argument is not merely a knee-jerk reaction to the 2008 financial crisis.
August 15th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Bretton Woods agreement. An economic treaty was forged in July 1944 with delegates from forty-four countries converging upon Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Effectively establishing a global monetary regime where the U.S. Dollar was the reserve currency and was backed by gold. However, this was not the same gold standard that existed in the classical gold period ending in 1933 (p.1). A quasi-gold standard where government institutions (central banks) held the price of gold at a fixed amount (p.17). In the efforts of creating a “.. fixed currency exchange rate system..”. Even after this thin attempt to revive the gold standard imploded on itself, its vestiges still exist today. Banking institutes such as the IMF and the World Bank were established to manage this fixed exchange rate system.
In August of 1971, President Richard Nixon forever severed the U.S. Dollar from Gold. By abolishing the Bretton Woods system. Terminating gold convertibility of the dollar. Essentially setting the stage for the modern global monetary landscape; a 100 % fiat currency standard. The Nixon administration panicked by the lack of gold reserves to cover various rounds of foreign aid and wartime spending decided to terminate the agreement. Succinctly expressing this coercive declaration in the infamous proclamation “.. We are all Keynesians now..”. Officially signaling the formal death of the gold standard. Even though some commentators and economists view the end of Bretton Woods as more figurative than literal death as it truly died at the end of the classical period of the American gold standard.
It can be stated that the dollar significantly depreciated in its purchasing power since the end of Bretton Woods. The dollar experienced an approximate cumulative rate of inflation of 570.9% since 1971. One U.S. dollar in 2021 is equal to $6.71 dollars in 1971! These numbers are unquestionably jarring. It is easy to see why there has been a renewed interest in re-establishing a gold standard since the 2008 market crash. An initiative that has led to a modern renaissance for Austrian Economics. Also, has lent itself to supporting the activism of the Tea Party movement and the political career of Ron Paul. Despite the spirited rallying of the pro-gold camp, the Federal Reserve still exists. Our currency is still nothing more than monopoly money. That only continues to plummet in value. There are many defenders of a fiat currency standard within the political establishment. Ranging from journalists to the wonkish economists and experts exalting the virtues of stable money and currency liquidity. Much like another policy prescription, there are always silent beneficiaries lurking around the corner.
The Bootleggers and Baptists of Fiat Currency
The Public Choice economist Bruce Yandle provided us with the perfect framework for analyzing the odd couple coalitions of modern monetary policy. That is the powerful lens of the Bootleggers and Baptists paradigm. One-half of the coalition acts as the moralizing agent, providing a normative defense of the policy position. In contrast, the Bootleggers quietly reap the benefits of the policy’s consequences. In terms of maintaining the status quo of fiat currency, the Bootleggers and Baptists should be quite obvious. The Baptists are clearly the commentators, academics, journalists, etc. stressing the benefits of fiat currency. Conversely, emphasizing the dangers of a gold standard. Some of our fiat currency Baptists include several luminaries in the fields of journalism and economics. Including Ezra Klein (former Washington Post editor and co-founder of Vox) and Tyler Cowen (chairman and faculty director of the Mercatus Center) (p.2 & 6) . Both gentlemen are far from the only detractors when it comes to re-establishing a gold standard for currency. However, they are respected and high-profile dissenters. Carefully pointing out some of the potential hazards of implementing a gold standard. Arguments including price stability, liquidity issues, deflation, and rigidity in the money supply to just name a few concerns (p.3-20). All these concerns (regardless of their veracity) could be classified as normative concerns, despite these arguments being functional in nature. Through adopting a monetary policy that would be detrimental to the economy, it would be placing the livelihoods of people globally in jeopardy. This concern for the wellbeing of others could be categorized as an ethical concern, making both individuals and their like-minded cohorts Baptists.
The Bootleggers would clearly be the federal government and all adjoining agencies. If you remember early, I mentioned that the main reason for ending the Bretton Woods agreement was that a gold standard was too rigid. Effectively placing a firm constraint (at least in theory) on government spending. By its very nature, a gold standard is quantitively tighter than a fiat system because you can only print redemption notes corresponding with the number of gold reserves on hand. While not ideal, even a fractional reserve gold standard would operate as a better limitation  than a pure fiat currency. Not having flexibility in the money supply keeps government spending in line, preventing the implementation (or expansion) of federal entitlement programs and unnecessary military conflicts. Through lifting this hardline limitation, the federal government is no ability to have ability to spend more money. This means more jobs/ job security for bureaucrats. This also means greater opportunities for various pork-barrel pet projects and other superfluous initiatives. Not to mention more perks for public sector employees.
Yes, the Federal Reserve has implemented various monetary rules to attempt curtailing inflation. One example being Nominal GDP Targeting, set up in an attempt to narrow the risk of inflationary volatility. However, such a policy does little to improve the overall longitudinal currency debasement that has accumulated over the past five decades. An over 500% loss in purchasing power is a shocking figure to come to terms with. Nominal GDP Targeting only slows down this process, it does not prevent it.
- I would have included George Selgin. However, being an exponent Free-Banking, he prefers a centralized monetary system. Selgin has been a longtime critic of the United States returning to a gold standard. Often citing the concern of the inflexibility of the money supply in the event of a supply shock.
- Free-Banking co-founder Lawrence H. White demolishes these arguments in his paper of the Cato Institute, Recent Arguments against the Gold Standard (2013).
- This claim would hold true providing the proper monetary rules are implemented. For example, having high reserve ratio requirements. Current reserve requirements are dismally lax. Back in 1992, reserve ratio requirements were lowered to 10 percent.
The Consequences of various policy prescriptions oftentimes are cannot be easily predicted. This can alone can explain the enduring influence of F.A. Hayek’s observations regarding the pretense of knowledge. Ironically, one of F.A. Hayek’s admirers and one of the most notable exponents of Austrian economics fell into this very trap. This individual would be former Texas congressman Ron Paul. In a provocative piece published on Alt-M George Selgin describes how Dr. Paul is partly responsible for the exponential growth of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.
To any reader familiar with Ron Paul’s policy positions, this charge sounds completely absurd. Arguably Dr. Paul has been more hostile towards the Federal Reserve than any other politician in modern history. How could this longtime critic of the Federal Reserve possibly have emboldened this institution? Most libertarians and conservatives understand that the results of policies that support government intervention can yield unpredictable and lackluster results. Could the same be said for policies that aim to curtail the power of government agencies and firms with contractual obligations to the state? Purportedly the Federal Reserve is a “private company”. Much like another central bank boasting similar claims, this point is debatable considering without the federal government its existence would most likely be a paradox. Even in the arena of curtailing state power good intentions, sometimes do not amount to good results.
Defining the Basic terms
Due to the complex and jargon-heavy nature of monetary economics, it is important to define a few important terms before proceeding.
- Open Market Operations: The purchase and sale of assets (securities) by any central bank. This is done to maintain the money supply held on reserve by domestic banks. When the Federal Reserve purchases Treasury securities it increases the money supply. When securities are sold it decreases the money supply.
- TGA (Treasury General Account): An account kept by the treasury at the Federal Reserve where taxes and bond payments are transferred. The government utilizes these funds for payments ranging from social security distributions, employee payroll, and even interest payments on debt. Funds transferred to this account are considered a liability to the Federal Reserve and an asset for the U.S. Government. (p.1-2). Per George Selgin, this account also provides a source of funds for relief and emergency spending. For every dollar the treasury transfers to this account, the Federal Reserve must take on in asset purchases.
- TT&L Accounts (Treasury and Tax and Loan Program Account): Accounts that the Federal Reserve deposits business and individual tax payments. These accounts are held at commercial banks and do not impact the Fed’s operations.
Ron Paul the Baptist:
Back in 1979, congressman Ron Paul supported a bill that aimed to amended Federal Reserve Act’s section 14(b) that would prohibit the Fed from direct asset purchases from the treasury. This was a privilege that was awarded to the Federal Reserve during World War II to quickly raise emergency wartime funding. This power was renewed in 1947 and 1950 by congress, however, this was never intended to be a permanent privilege. By the late-1970s it became evident that the Fed was engaging in direct assets purchases outside of the context of a war emergency. Dr. Paul vehemently supported H.R. 3404 due to this abuse on the part of the Fed for utilizing this function in the absence of war. He went on to recommend that the Fed could gain greater access to liquid cash through the “ establishment of interest-bearing TT&L accounts”. Thus relinquishing the need for the direct purchase authority. Unfortunately for Paul, the bill failed to pass, however, the direct purchase privilege was not renewed in 1981. At least temporarily Dr. Paul’s appeal for fiscal responsibility won out over the Fed’s tacitly accepted overreach with the direct purchase authority. Limiting the Federal Reserve’s procurement of money to open-market operations which in theory should curtail (to some extent) inordinate money creation.
Paul’s argument in favor of fiscal responsibility unquestionably makes him a Baptist. This normative argument for preserving the financial health of our nation and fighting the ills of institutional abuses. Paul’s advocacy has a populous appeal and while no politician is perfect, at least his intentions were (in this scenario) laudable. The question becomes how did Ron Paul’s praise-worthy policy position result in an inadvertent unholy alliance with the Federal Reserve? Well, it is not quite that linear. It is more of a policy constraint meant to curtail the authority of the Fed ended up aiding them in expanding their balance sheets years down the road. No one could have foreseen this consequence that seemingly would have contained the expansion of their balance sheet.
The Federal Reserve the Unintended Beneficiaries of Paul’s Purposed reform (Our Bootleggers):
The obvious observation that can be made is that the Federal Reserve stands to benefit from being able to easily expand its balance sheet. Making them the Bootleggers. Per Selgin, it was not until October 2008 that the Federal Reserve opted to “pay interest on bank reserves”. Making it fruitful to accumulate “TGA balances”. After the Fed lost the ability to direct purchases from the treasury, they found another loophole that has enabled them to expand their balance sheet to unprecedented levels. While no one directly engineered this loophole, it still was an unpredictable blind spot in the 1979 initiative.
It may be fair to suggest that Thier’s Law and Gresham’s Law are not necessarily opposing ideas. Rather they are both rule-based phenomena. Essentially, the nature of legal tender laws dictates which variety of money (higher-valued money or lower-valued money) is hoarded. How can we be so sure? Let’s take Thier’s Law for example. Let’s take the below definition of the monetary concept from an outstandingly well-written undergraduate thesis on cryptocurrency.
“Thiers’ Law, named after French historian Adolphe Thiers, asserts that in the absence of legal tender laws forcing them to accept both currencies, sellers will choose to transact with the currency of higher perceived long-term value. (P.9)”
In the context of this very description of the concept, the mention of the “absence” of legal tender laws comes into play. Meaning that given there are no rules coercively forcing us to accept the two currencies of varying degrees of intrinsic value at the same nominal value. Giving the observant reader the impression that the occurrence of Thier’s Law is the byproduct of the rules governing monetary exchange. In contrast, Gresham’s Law has always implied the existence of legal tender laws. The overvalued money with the distorted nominal value would never be assigned such a value by the market. Such a proclamation could only come in the form of government fiat. Gold and silver (bi-metallism) are of equal nominal value because the king says so. Regardless of the edicts of royal decree individual market participants are going to respond accordingly to the irrational rules set forth by the king. That would be to use the less valuable silver in day-to-day transactions and save the gold.
This blog entry was inspired by feedback from Enrique at the Prior Probability blog.
If Gresham’s Law applies to retain human capital in the job market, is it possible that Thier’s law (p.9) could also be applicable in certain contexts? On money, when legal tender laws forcing vendors to accept both forms of money at nominal value, economic agents will choose to transact with the higher valued currency. Presenting an axiom that is the opposite of Gresham’s Law, “ Good money drives out bad money”. Typically in the arena of monetary economics, the divide between advocates of Gresham’s Law and Thier’s Law is a sharply delineated dichotomy. Most proponents of one will not defend the possibility that the principle could apply to the circulation of money.
However, in terms of the circulation of human capital these concepts are not necessarily opposed. Employee retention is the byproduct of several highly qualitative attributes that are generally specific to a certain firm. In corporate vernacular, the term “culture” is thrown around so frequently that it has become a buzzword deeply embedded in the American psyche. Companies such as Google, go to great lengths to demonstrate that they have a flexible, open, and innovative corporate culture. The veracity of the claims is ultimately judged by the perceptions of the individual employees. One employee may adore working at Google, while their colleague completely despises the company’s ethos. Making the ebbs-and-flows of human capital even more complex. Employee retention at the individual level is based upon a multitude of various factors. The aggregated collection of the opinions of all the individual employees regarding their work-life satisfaction tends to paint a fuller picture. If while perusing Glassdoor, you happen to see a company with eighty-five two-star ratings, chances are this is not the petty slander of a few disgruntled employees. This is why oftentimes companies will periodically send out surveys to their employees in an attempt to measure overall morale throughout their organization.
Putting aside the highly individualized variable of career satisfaction metrics for an entire firm, if there is a pattern of talented employees leaving, there is a retention problem. Sometimes this may be isolated to a specific department even if the firm as a whole has no issues keeping competent and productive workers. Certain companies and even job roles select for specific attributes that may not be conducive to attracting skilled and reliable labor. Some industries are notorious for high turnover rates, one salient example being the hospitality industry. I remember a few years back, being in between jobs, so I briefly worked at a call-center. For me, this was an income stream until I found something else, for many of the people in my training class it was a lifelong career path. This path was a volatile one. Staying only a few months at one company and then abruptly quitting, generally with no notice. Upon receiving a new job offer, I gave my supervisor my two-week notice and he was astonished by the fact I even bothered to take this step. After only six months, only five people (including myself) out of the twenty-five in my training class remained. Industries and job roles with high turnover may be more willing to retain employees with fewer skills or with a poor performance history, due to the outflow of higher-skilled employees. Perfectly mirror the effect described in Thier’s law, instead of money, the commodity that is flowing out of the firms is quality human capital.
The question becomes how can these opposed ideas transpire concurrently in the same labor market or even the same company. The answer to this question is predicated upon a “rules of the game” type logic. Each company and each interior department within a firm operate as governing bodies directing the task of workers. Meaning both varying capacity function as “ruler-makers” within the company. Think of corporate policy as being analogous to the federal government, while the department formulated rules are similar to state law. Clearly, in most cases, corporate policy supersedes department policies. If these rules are too onerous or unjust there is little a qualified and skilled employee could other than leave. Either accept and abide by the rules set forth or resign. Resignation being a clear withdrawal of consent on the part of the employee. One relevant example of this is companies still drug testing for marijuana in states where it is legal. Granted, it is an organization’s prerogative to make employees refraining from drug use a contingency of employment. However, if enough high-caliber job candidates take to smoking cannabis they may be in a bit of a quandary. A few years back the FBI ran into this problem due to their “drug-free” employment policy.
If the rules governing the management of a firm are too oppressive, people with options are going to find another job opportunity. What the company is left with are those who lack the skills, ambition, and conscientiousness required for productivity. The employer is left with the staff that clings to their jobs for dear-life as odds are they do not carry too much value on the job market. Much how department policies such as catering to senior and skilled workers can impose an effect similar to Gresham’s Law the opposite is also true. If you create rules that disincentives tenure and self-development, odds are you will lose a lot of great workers. The kind of workers that can be a game-changer in managing strategic customers. As we have observed with the call-center example, frequently due to the oppressive rules, low pay, and dismal work environment people with potential tend to leave these positions. Leaving you with the unskilled and the desperate who are locked-in to the role due to their circumstances. Keeping this dynamic in mind, it is a wonder why people expect quality service whenever they call tech support.
The premise behind Gresham’s Law is that money of a higher intrinsic value will be hoarded while the money of a lower substantive value but legally recognized as having the same nominal value will be circulated throughout the economy. Succinctly put, “..bad money drives out good money…” pithily sums up this economic phenomenon. However, is this occurrence solely confined to the commodity of money? Doesn’t the observations convey in Gresham’s Law applicable to other goods? For example, unless a baseball card collect is presented with an astronomically large monetary offer, odds are they will be unwilling to part with a limited-run rookie card of a legendary major league player. This scenario reflects many of the assumptions regarding commodity value implicit in Gresham’s Law. Generally, rare collectibles are held on to, while mass-produced memorabilia is readily available at the local garage sale or swap meet. Most collectors will hang on to the items that are considered valuable unless another interested party can provide a commodity in exchange that exceeds the perceived value of the collectible held by the hobbyist in possession of the coveted item.
However, how does Gresham’s Law interact with the intangible commodity of human capital? A firm or a business unit within a firm would want to retain top-level talent and let go of the mediocre/poor performers. Before we can delve into this analysis we must distinguish what human capital is. Human capital is the economic value that the employee brings to the firm. Typically through their experience, education, certifications, knowledge of company procedures and policies, position-specific “tribal knowledge”, critical thinking skills, and other pertinent soft skills. For readers who have never worked in a corporate environment before tribal knowledge is the informal and unwritten knowledge of best practices of how to perform within a specific job role. It stands to reason that a potential employee possessing all of these attributes would be a hot commodity on the job market. If currently employed by a company would be an employee of a high value.
If human capital is valued in a similar sense to other commodities such as money, how do businesses act in a manner to retain this high-quality talent? The answer most human resources representatives would give is that their organization creates an environment that fosters career advancement. Stressing the perks such as tuition reimbursement, possession of company stock options, and opportunities for placement in vertical job positions. While these factors may play a role in some employees choosing to work long-term for the same company, there is another variable that HR will not be forthright about. That is oftentimes exceptional employees with a high degree of human capital end up getting pigeonholed to the same role. Oftentimes these individuals are blocked from transferring to other business units or positions within the company by the request of middle and executive management. The reason behind limiting this MVP’s potential is quite pragmatic, the business unit cannot afford to lose this individual. Their skills and knowledge are essential to the day-to-day operations of the business. It would be nearly impossible to fill the void if they were to get promoted or transition to a lateral position within the firm. In the corporate world, this individual may be referred to as a subject matter expert or colloquially known as a SME.
It should be noted that the desperate attempts of management to relegate this individual to the same job role has the propensity to backfire. Why? Because this individual gets fed up with their limited job prospects and ends seeking career advancement at another firm. In a free market for employment, a high-quality employee has many prospective options when it comes to their career. If a firm stubbornly, confines them to a shallow career path they will simply look for employment at another company.
One of the biggest mysteries of 2020 was the change shortage. Why were so many retailers requesting that patrons either use a card or have exact change? Many of us were puzzled by these signs that have become a common fixture of many checkout lines across the nation. What is the explanation for such a monetary phenomenon? Within my nearly thirty-two years on this planet, I have never been requested by a brick-and-mortar vendor to have exact change. However, in the era of COVID-19, there are many strange things are happening. Never mind the change shortage, a few months back the United States was grappling with a toilet paper shortage. One commodity nearly everyone has taken for granted.
As one could predict, the national coin shortage is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This calamity of a coin shortage can be linked back to the precautions taken to limit the spread of the virus. The shelter-in-place orders resulted in the shutdown of many stores and restaurants. Resulting in an overall lull in economic activity. In other words, the cash registers of many retail outlets were not be replenished by circulating cash (include metal coins). Some may surmise that due to the uncertainty of pandemic many people may opt to hold cash balances. Coins generally are circulated throughout the economy through bank deposits and are recirculated back to banking customers through the change provided by retail stores and restaurants. Per the U.S. mint, 83 % of the coin supply is recirculated through stores and third-party coin processors.
The downturn in economic activity during the shutdown left only meager coin reserves in the cash registers of American stores. Meaning that once stores reopened, they would quickly exhaust their coin supplies. This was only compounded by the fact that the banks could not fulfill the retail demand for coins due to fewer customers depositing them. The mint falling behind on coin production left retailers had no other option but to request that customers either pay by a card or exact change.