Judy Shelton’s monetary policy

I share Judy Shelton’s support for monetary policy with a hard anchor. Following currency board rules, the public should determine the money supply they want to hold at its fixed price. Historically, gold was the most common hard anchor. It worked well for centuries. However, it had two problems.

The first is that central banks actually bought and stored gold, which distorted its market supply and thus price. Widespread adoption of a gold anchor combined with central banks buying up much of it would be an even more serious problem today. But gold can anchor the price of a currency without the central bank actually hoarding gold. It would instead issue its currency against other safe assets, such as government debt securities, as fixed gold price. It would fully back its currency with such assets so that it could redeem it all if the public chose to return it. This would ensure that the gold price in the market in the central banks currency was always very close to its official (anchor) price.

This system of indirect redeemability, as Leland Yeager called it, would ensure a more stable market price for gold relative to other goods and services and thus a more stable purchasing power of a currency fixed to it. However, choosing a single commodity as the anchor (its second problem) would result in a less stable value of the currency than would choosing a small basket of widely traded commodities. https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/returning-to-currencies-with-hard-anchors

Given the discretion to manage their currency supplies, central banks have historically tended to undermine its value as the result of over issuing it (inflation). Judy is right to want to limit that discretion. The Federal Reserve Act mandates that the Federal Reserve should aim for price stability (and full employment). This is an important constraint on the Fed’s behavior, but we can do better.

Econ 101: What is a strong dollar?

Should the United States seek a strong dollar or a weak dollar? The answer to the previous question appears obvious but what exactly does a strong or weak dollar mean? As I write this the exchange rate of the dollar for the Euro is 0.80 Euros per dollar. Is that strong or weak? Three weeks ago (January 9) a dollar would buy 0.839 Euros. Was that too strong, about right or weak? On what basis should we judge that question? Eleven months ago the rate was 0.95 Euros per dollar. Ten years ago the rate was 0.62 Euro/USD. One thing that is clear is that the rate varies a lot and thus the price of American exports to the rest of the world and of imports by the U.S. from the rest of the world also vary a lot. This makes business planning difficult.

According to Your Dictionary: www.yourdictionary.com/strong-dollar

“strong dollar – Investment & Finance Definition. A situation in which the U.S. dollar can be exchanged for a relatively large amount of another currency. A strong dollar makes exports relatively expensive because foreign purchasers have to pay more, in their currency, for the goods.” This is a somewhat helpful definition.

According to Investopedia, “strongweakdollar”,

“A strong dollar occurs when the U.S. dollar has risen to a level against another currency that is near historically high exchange rates for the other currency relative to the dollar.” This is a useless definition.

Back in the gold standard days, the prices (exchange rates) of most currencies for most other currencies were fixed because the value of each currency was fixed to an amount of gold. It was important in those days for the balance of payments between countries (the net inflows and outflows of a country’s currency as a result of its imports and exports and investment flows) to be roughly balanced over the long run. In fixed exchange rate systems (like the gold standard) a balance of payments deficit was paid for by an outflow of the deficit country’s currency (ultimately gold). The resulting reduction in the money supply of the deficit country would reduce domestic prices, making domestic goods and their export prices cheaper and the domestic prices of imported goods relatively more expensive. Thus in deficit countries their now cheaper exports would increase and their now more expensive imports would decrease. These economic adjustments would correct (eliminate) the imbalance of external payments.

The above summary of the adjustment process under a gold or similar fixed exchange rate world draws on two features of prices and exchange rates. The first is that the prices of American goods to the French, for example, depend on the U.S. dollar prices times the exchange rate of the dollar for the Euro. If either the dollar price of a product increases or the exchange rate of dollars for Euros increases (it takes more Euros to buy a dollar), the product becomes more expensive in France. Similarly, under the same circumstances French goods become cheaper in the U.S. Thus the French will buy less from America and Americans will buy more from France. This will reduce any balance of payments surplus in the U.S. or worsen a balance of payments deficit.

The second feature is that other things equal an increase in the money supply in a country tends to reduce its purchasing power, i.e. to increase domestic prices in general (inflation). So a country with an external balance of payments deficit paid for by an outflow of its currency (gold) will reduce the money supply and thus prices in that country and eliminate the external deficit.

While we are at it, it should be clear that the external balance of payments that matters is between each country and the rest of the world. A balance of payments between the United States and Mexico, to take a random example, is totally irrelevant to whether currencies (gold) are flowing in or out of the U.S. on net.

Consider the balance of payments between one household and the rest of the world. The breadwinner or winners have a large balance of payments surplus with her or their employer(s)—their salaries—and a balance of payments deficit with every one else. The deficit with the grocery store will go on forever and simply doesn’t matter as long as all external deficits don’t excess the surplus with her employer (in the long run). President Trump, please take note.

In fixed exchange rate systems, the terms “strong” or “weak” currencies are generally not used. The overall balance of payments is the important thing. However, a strong currency might mean that it is “over valued” and thus producing a balance of payments deficit that will need to be corrected by a domestic deflation. This is what Greece had to do a few years ago within the single currency Euro area to restore its balance of payments equilibrium. A weak currency might mean the opposite—an undervalued currency that produces a balance of payments surplus, which will be eliminated by the domestic inflation resulting from a net currency inflow. Clearly neither a strong nor a weak currency is desirable. The ideal is a goldilocks middle ground of not too hot and not too cold but just right balance of payments balance.

Where currency exchange rates are not fixed to each other but determined in the foreign exchange market by the supply and demand for currencies, the adjustment of balance of payments surpluses or deficits occurs via adjustments in the exchange rate rather than net flows of currency in and out that increase or decrease domestic prices. Market exchange rates are determined not only by the imports and exports of a country (the trade balance) but also by investment motivated currency flows (capital flows). Thus monetary policy and interest rate differentials between countries can influence where investors chose to invest. If the Federal Reserve increases its policy interest rate and raises market interest rates as a result, unless the ECB also increases its interest rates, some interest sensitive investments are likely to move from Europe to the US, increasing the dollar’s exchange rate with the Euro in the process. The risks attached to investments are also important, and financial market disturbances abroad can often precipitate capital flows into the U.S. even with lower U.S. interest rates (the so called safe heaven phenomenon).

Central bank intervention to influence exchange rates for countries with floating rates is considered a violation of the rules of free trade. But when central banks raise or lower their interest rates without coordinating with other central banks this is exactly what happens. This makes it difficult to know whether a country is playing by the rules or not. But this surely pushes what can be learned in Econ 101 to its limits. You might consider Econ 201.

So what does a strong dollar or a weak dollar mean, and is a strong dollar a good thing? There is a sense in which we might speak of a strong dollar as meaning “a favorable terms of trade”. If a country’s international payments balance at prevailing exchange rates, a higher ratio of export prices to import prices enables the country to import more for given exports than when the (real) exchange rate is “weak.” This reflects higher domestic productivity relative to that of foreign competitors and such strength is clearly a good thing. I assume that this is what Secretary Mnuchin meant in his unfortunate discussion of weak and strong dollars at Davos last week.

If you are up to a deeper plunge, take note of the fact that the widespread use of the U.S. dollar in international reserves requires the U.S. to have a balance of payments deficit in order to supply the world with those dollars. This is one of several reasons why a truly international reserve asset such as the IMF’s SDR should replace the dollar in international reserves. See: “Why the World Needs a Reserve Assets with a Hard Anchor”



Sound Money

Philadelphia Society Address on Oct 14, 2017


Sound money is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a healthy economy. How can we best achieve and maintain it?

For almost two hundred years the gold standard did a good job of producing sound money but its weaknesses ultimately led to its abandonment and exchange rates were allowed to float.

The movement in the 1980s to independent central banks with a stable price level mandate, such as an inflation target, delivered several decades of sound money—this was called the great moderation. But is came at the expense of increased exchange rate volatility and asset bubbles.

We need to return to a monetary regime with a hard anchor. But money fixed in price to a single commodity, such as gold, will not provide as stable a value as a price fixed to a larger basket of goods.

The discretion of the central bank to control the supply of money should be replaced with market determination of the money supply. To achieve this money should be issued under currency board rules. Specifically the public should be able to buy all of the currency they want at the currency’s official prices and redeem any of it they no longer want at the same price.

The Gold Standard

The essence of the gold standard was the obligation of the issuer of gold backed money to redeem it for gold at an officially fixed price. This limited the amount of money that could be issued.  The United States set the price of fine gold at $19.49 per ounce in 1791 and raised it to $20.69 in 1834. The Gold Standard Act of 1900 lowered it slightly to $20.67.  In 1934, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act, which raised the price of gold to $35 an ounce and prohibited private ownership of gold in the United States.  Lyndon Johnson’s guns and butter deficit spending over heated the U.S. economy, which raised doubts about the U.S.’s ability to honor its gold commitments. By late 1971 the U.S. no longer had enough gold to honor its redemption commitment, and President Richard Nixon suspended the U.S. commitment to buy and sell gold at its official price. Yet, an official price remained, and was raised to $38.00 per ounce in 1971 and to $42.22 in 1972. In 1974, President Ford abolished controls on and freed the price of gold, which rose to a high of $1,895 in September 2011 before falling back to $1,304 this morning (October 14, 2017). More importantly, as gold has never been very representative of prices in general, prices of goods and services on average in the U.S. rose 500% over the 45 years since Nixon closed the gold window.

Floating Exchange Rates and Inflation Targets

When Nixon closed the gold window he also imposed wage and price controls, which lasted for three years. The dollar no longer had a “hard” anchor. It was no longer redeemable for anything and new policies were needed to regulate its supply. Over this period the Fed implemented monetary policy via adjustments in the overnight interbank lending rate (the Fed funds rate) in light of, among other things, its objectives for the growth of monetary aggregates. When wage and price controls were finally lifted the CPI increased a staggering 12% in 1974.

In the face of the Fed’s persistent over shooting of its narrow and broad money target ranges and the entrenching of higher and higher inflation expectations in wage and price increases, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker led the Board and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on October 6, 1979 in a dramatic change in the Fed’s approach to implementing monetary policy by shifting to an intermediate, narrow money target, operationally implemented via a target for non-borrowed reserves. The new approach required the Fed to relax its Fed funds rate targets and it increased the band set by the FOMC for the Fed funds rate from 0.5% to 4%. However, the fed funds rate rose temporarily to over 22% and GDP fell by over 2% in 1982—actual and expected inflation were reversed and fell below 2.5% by 1983. The new approach had defeated inflation but it was not easy to implement and by the end of 1989 the Fed abandoned it for the more traditional fed funds rate targeting.

At about the same time radical innovations in the development of monetary policy rules were launched by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which came to be known as explicit inflation targeting. An inflation target provides a clear and explicit rule that permits flexible operational approaches to its achievement. Given Friedman’s long and variable lags in the effect of monetary policy on prices, setting monetary operational targets (almost always the equivalent of a fed funds rate) must be based on the best model assisted forecast of its consistency with the inflation target one to two years in the future. A longer target horizon provided more scope for smoothing any output gap (employment). Full transparency of the policy and the data and reasoning underlying policy settings is required to gain the benefits of the alignment of market inflation expectations with the policy target.

The RBNZ’s development and adoption of inflation targeting was an important development in the pursuit of rule based monetary policy with floating exchange rates that accommodated flexible implementation. It swept the world of central banking. While the Fed did not adopt explicit inflation targets until 2012, it clearly pursued an implicit inflation target long before that.

Monetary stability, defined as price level stability, improved significantly, but exchange rate volatility increased. The Great Moderation of the 1990s and early 2000s that resulted from more stable domestic prices was followed by the Great Recession. The Great Recession of December 2007 to June 2009 highlighted the failure of inflation targeting to take account of asset price bubbles and “inappropriate responses to supply shocks and terms-of trade shocks”.[1]

What followed can only be described as a nightmare (largely because of the over leverage and other weaknesses in the U.S. financial system). After properly and successfully performing its function of a lender of last resort and thus preventing a liquidity-induced collapse of the banking system, the Fed went on to undertake ever more desperate measures to reflate the economy. These Quantitative Easings (QEs)—quasi-fiscal activities—have been widely discussed and have contributed little to economic recovery.[2]

The conclusion from the above history is that monetary policy is being asked to deliver more than it is capable of delivering. Central banks are generally staffed by very capable people, but they can never know all that they need to know to keep the economy at full employment as employers and jobs keep changing. The quality of forecasting models has greatly improved in recent years, but they remain unreliable. The policy strategy and intentions of the Fed and other inflation targeting central banks have become admirably transparent, but given the uncertainty of its next policy actions, markets remain spooked by every new data release and speech by Fed officials. Yet inflation in the U.S. and Europe remain below the 2% targets of the Fed and of the ECB.

Despite the huge increase in the Fed’s balance sheet, which banks are largely holding as excess reserves at the Fed, monetary growth in the U.S. averaged only about 5.5 to 6% over the past four years or about the same as its long run average (for M2). My assessment of the slow pace and modest size of the economic recovery in the U.S. is that regulatory burdens have discouraged investment while many internet related investments continue to drive down costs of many economic activity (a sort of unrecorded productivity increase).  Easy money is once again inflating asset prices (stocks and to a lesser extend again real estate).  But who knows for sure?

The idea that central banks can micro-manage monetary conditions to smooth business cycles is a conceit. In my opinion, central banks have given their price stability mandates their best shot and failed. The successful, countercyclical management of the money supply with floating exchange rates is simply beyond the capacity of mortals.

Return to a Hard Anchor

The Fed should give up its management of the money supply and return to a system of money redeemable for something of fixed value – a so-called hard anchor for monetary policy. This means linking the value of money to something real and managing its supply consistent with that value (exchange rate). Such regimes do not magically overcome an economy’s many and continuous resource allocation and coordination challenges, but by providing a stable unit in which to value goods and services and to evaluate investment options, and sufficient liquidity with which to transact, such regimes facilitate the continuous adjustments private actors need to make for an economy to remain fully employed and to grow.

But fixed exchange rate regimes, including the gold standard in one of its forms or another, have historically had their problems as well. These problems generally reflected one or the other of two factors. The first was the failure of the monetary authorities to play by the rules of a hard anchor, which is to keep the supply of money at the level demanded by the public at money’s fixed value. The pressure to depart from the rules of fixed exchange rates generally came from fiscal imbalances or mistaken Keynesian notions of aggregate demand management. However, even when central banks aimed actively to match the supply of its currency to the market’s demand with stable prices it proved beyond their capacity to do so.

The second source of failure came from fixing the value of money to an inappropriate anchor. When the exchange rate of a currency is fixed to another currency or to a commodity whose value changes in ways that are inappropriate for the economy, domestic price adjustments can become difficult and disruptive. Fixing the exchange rate to a single commodity, as with the gold standard, transmitted changes in the relative price of gold to prices in general, which imposed costly adjustments on the public.

These historical weaknesses of monetary regimes with hard anchors can be overcome by choosing better anchors and by replacing central bank management of the money supply with market control via currency board rules.

Currency board rules give control of the money supply to the market—to the public. As an example, a strict gold standard operated under currency board rules would increase the money supply whenever the public wanted more and was willing to buy it with gold at the fixed gold price of a dollar. If the public found it held more money than it wanted it would redeem the excess for gold at the same price.

I led the IMF teams that established the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina with currency board rules, and it functions in exactly this way. It has no monetary policy other than issuing or redeeming its currency for Euro at a fixed exchange rate in passive response to market demand. It has worked very well. I was also involved in establishing currency board rules for the Central Bank of Bulgaria, which has also enjoyed stable money ever since.

The hard anchor should not be just one thing. The relative price of any individual good or commodity will vary relative to prices in general. Thus a small representative basket of goods should be chosen for the anchor. Earlier proposals for broader baskets suffered from the assumption that buying and redeeming the currency should be against all of the items in the basket. That would be cumbersome and storage and security would be costly. Currency board rules should provide for indirect redeemability, by which the currency would be purchased with or redeemed for designated AAA securities (e.g., U.S. Treasury bills) at their current market value.

Exchange Rate Volatility or a Global Currency

A major cost of the current system of floating exchange rates with inflation or other targets is the uncertainly and wide swings of exchange rates. Over the last decade the USD/Euro exchange rate varied over 40 percent. The classical gold standard was associated with a flourishing of foreign trade in part because the gold standard was a world currency, which there for eliminated exchange rate risk. There would be considerable benefit to world trade, economic efficiency, and growth if all or most countries adopted the same hard anchor for their currencies. The International Monetary Fund’s SDR already exists for this purpose but would need to be modified in several important ways in order to operate under currency board rules and to change its valuation basket from a basket of currencies to a basket of goods.


Experience with monetary regimes with floating exchange rates has been mixed. Almost all major currencies have become more stable in the last three decades but at the expense of increased exchange rate and asset price volatility. The United State, as well as most other countries, would benefit from a return to a monetary system with a hard anchor, but fixed to the value of a small basket of goods rather than to just one, and whose supply is determined by the public’s demand via issuing and redeeming it indirectly for a liquid asset of comparable value according to currency board rules. The benefits of such a system would be increased the more widely it was adopted. One of the virtues of the gold standard was that it was global.


Warren Coats, “Real SDR Currency Board”, Central Banking Journal XXII.2 (2011), also available at http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/25

________________, “What’s Wrong with the International Monetary System and How to Fix it?” April 20, 2017. https://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/38/

Jeffrey Frankel. “The Death of Inflation Targeting”. Project Syndicate, May 16, 2012.


[1] Jeffrey Frankel. “The Death of Inflation Targeting”. Project Syndicate, May 16, 2012.

[2] See for example, Warren Coats, “US Monetary Policy–QE3” Cayman Financial Review January 2013.

FreedomFest in Las Vegas

Dear Friends,

Are you attending FreedomFest this year? It claims to be the world’s largest gathering of free minds. At this year’s gathering from July 13 – 16 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas I will be debating John Tamny, editor of Real Clear Politics and author of the new book, “Who Needs the Fed?” on Friday morning, July 15. In addition, I will be on a panel discussing the new documentary, “The Moneychangers” on Saturday afternoon July 16.

You can use code SALEM (all upper case) to get $100 off the registration fee.  Go to “register now” at www.freedomfest.com, or call toll-free 1-855-850-3733, ext 202.

Here are some highlights:

Gary Johnson to Address FreedomFest

Now FreedomFest is pleased to announce that Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and the new presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, will address FreedomFest at 4 pm Pacific Time, July 15, 2016, in the Celebrity Ballroom at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas.

Johnson recently polled 10% support in two national polls.  Many pundits consider him a legitimate third party candidate since Ross Perot ran for president in 1992.  As David French wrote for National Review:  “Good news, disgruntled Americans: As you ponder whether to vote for one of the two most-disliked, dishonest, and morally corrupt politicians ever to run for president — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — you just might have a third option. His name is Gary Johnson.”

Why FreedomFest?

Steve Forbes, chairman of Forbes Inc., said it best:  “FreedomFest is where the best ideas and policies are flushed out.  I attend all 3 days and wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

What’s FreedomFest all about?  Everything!  Philosophy, history, science & technology, healthy living, politics and your money, and much much more.  It’s a Renaissance gathering in the entertainment capital of the world.

It’s organized by Mark and Jo Ann Skousen.  Mark Skousen is a financial economist, author, and university professor who has taught at Columbia Business School and now Chapman University.  Jo Ann Skousen teaches English literature at Chapman University and Mercy College, and is the director of the Anthem Film Festival.

Once a year in July all the freedom lovers of the world gather in Las Vegas for FreedomFest, what the Washington Post calls “the greatest libertarian show on earth.”   Steve Forbes and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, are co-ambassadors and attend all 3 days.   Last July over 2,500 people showed up to learn, network and celebrate liberty–including Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio, Steve Wynn, Peter Thiel, and Glenn BeckSteve Moore even debated Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize economist and columnist at the New York Times.  Want a summary?  Watch the 5-minute video at www.freedomfest.com/videos).

Who’s coming this year?  This year’s keynote speakers include Senators Rand Paul and Ben Sasse (who will debate Trump as the Republican candidate), radio hosts Larry Elder and Michael Medved, Judge Andrew Napolitano, TV host Kennedy from Fox Business, Charles Koch’s right-hand man Richard Fink, authors George Gilder and Steve Moore, and the former heavy weight champion of the world, George Foreman, and boxing promoter extraordinaire Don King.

In fact, they are holding a special reception with George Foreman, where attendees will get a chance to meet him, get an photograph taken with him, and have him sign a copy of his book, “Knockout Entrepreneur.”  (He sold his grill business for $138 million.)

This year’s big debate will be “Capitalism vs. Socialism:  Free to Choose or Free to Lose?” between John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and John Roemer, Yale professor at the top Marxist/socialist in the country (supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders).  The debate is set for Thursday morning, July 14, in the Celebrity Ballroom, Planet Hollywood.

Other features:  Watch the mock trial as we put “Global Warming on Trial” (C-SPAN coverage)…. Grover Norquist (CNN considers him “the most powerful man in Washington”) will hold his famous “Wednesday Meeting” at FreedomFest….a special session by the “Women of Liberty”….a debate on voting with actor/activist Ed Asner and political commentator John Fund….a 3-day investment conference with Peter Schiff, Alex Green, Mark Skousen, and Keith Fitz-Gerald….a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Michael Shermer (Scientific American) on the Bible….and win $25,000 in prizes in the Pitch Tank organized by Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington.  Join all the freedom organizations and think tanks – Cato, Heritage, Reason, Students for Liberty, Americans for Prosperity, etc.  They are all there in a gigantic exhibit hall, the “Trade Show for Liberty.”

Plus the ever-popular Anthem film festival, run by Jo Ann Skousen.  This year one of the films will be shown by the producer of “Schindler’s List.”

Oscar Goodman, former mayor of Las Vegas, calls it an “intellectual feast” in Las Vegas – one of a kind!

FreedomFest will take place July 13-16, at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas.  For more details, go to www.freedomfest.com.

The Future of Money

I solicited 12 articles on very diverse aspects of the future of money for the current issue of the Cayman Financial Review (I am a member of the Editorial Board).  http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/

I wrote two of the articles myself and I hope that you enjoy them: