The euro and the gold standard

In several European countries, there is a disenchantment about the euro. Albeit the opponents to the euro are mainly found in populist parties, it would be a severe mistake not to take the problem into due consideration. In plain words, what the opponents say is that the euro is hindering the national economies and that things were going better before.

Let’s start answering to the second question, that is easier. It is true that the euro could have been introduced in a better way, this is true for every human action: however, perfection is the biggest enemy of any action.

As far as the regret   for the “happy times that are gone”, the first consideration is that they are gone forever, the second is that sometimes they were not so happy as now we remind them.

Let’s now consider the more serious point, that regards the limitations that the euro causes to national economies.

In the past, more or less until the first world war, money had an intrinsic value, either because it was made by gold or silver or because it was convertible in gold or silver. In plain words, anyone was entitled, at least in theory, to go the Treasury with his paper money and request in exchange the corresponding quantity of silver or gold. In reality, the quantity of money actually issued could not be fully covered by gold, however the gold standard was a limit to the power of government to print paper money.

The gold standard did not survive to the first and second world war, although its ghost was resuscitated with the gold exchange standard (Bretton Woods, 1944), to die again and forever in August, 1971 (Smithsonian Agreement).

After that, the money became a kind of free creation of the government (so called “fiat money”), limited only by the market acceptance, that is subject to fluctuations.

The members of the any government, in Europe, are subject to election every fourth of fifth year, if they aim at being re-elected they have to satisfy the voters. Besides limiting their temporal vision, this fact creates a lot of difficulties when there is a need to make unpopular decisions, since the sources of more money for the government, at the bottom line, are only two: increase taxation or increase the public debt. The temptation is then to “print money”, that in reality means to increase the public debt that will be repaid, sooner or later, through inflation, an unjust form of taxation. By this way, since the process remains hidden to the majority of the public, in the short term everyone will be happy.

The gold standard was a limit to the temptation of public indebtedness, since the risk was to run out of gold. With fiat money, however, the risk to “run out of paper” does not exist. This is why euro has some effects that are partially similar to the gold standard: the need to respect some parameters and the necessity to negotiate with other European partners in case it’s necessary to exceeding the limits forces the national governments to be realistic.

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