Monday, December 6, 2010

How the ConTen Act can Return America to Sound Money

Ron Paul, in his paper "The Political and Economic Agenda for a Real Gold Standard" (originally delivered at the Mises Institute's 1985 conference on the gold standard), discusses the steps which the economist Ludwig von Mises laid out for us to be able to return to a sound currency (which was in his 1952 epilogue to "The Theory of Money and Credit").

What's particularly relevant about this discussion is that, where the attempts at the national level to implement these steps have been halting at best, the Constitutional Tender Act actually builds on what HAS been accomplished and uses it to implement those steps starting at the STATE level... where they actually have the chance to SUCCEED.

The first step we need to take, writes Paul, is "Gold Coinage":

The heart of Mises's proposal to restore gold to our monetary system is a gold coinage. He wrote,

Gold must be in the cash holdings of everyone. Everybody must see gold coins changing hands, must be used to having gold coins in his pockets, to receiving gold coins when he cashes his paycheck, and to spending gold coins when he buys in a store.[7]

In this one detail — the critical importance of the gold coinage — I believe lies the key to establishing a new gold standard.

We should make no mistake about it: the more progress we make toward reestablishing the gold standard, the more aggressive our opposition will become. Some vested interests, as you know, have a lot to lose if we succeed in getting the monetary system reconstructed on a gold basis. The first political step is, therefore, to get the coinage into circulation.

One objective might be to aim for every American to become a gold owner. We must encourage a broader base of political support for gold ownership and the availability of gold for personal economic objectives. Certainly a broader base of gold ownership in the country would help to reduce the threats of discriminatory taxation or regulation of gold ownership and gold coin transactions, which are seriously favored in Congress today.

Under the Constitutional Tender Act (a proposed State law which re-applies the U.S. Constitution's negative mandate in Article I, Section 10, that "No State shall... make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts"), the State would be required to only use gold and silver coins (or their equivalents, such as checks or electronic transfers) for payments of any debt owed by or to the State (e.g., taxes, fees, contract payments, etc.). All contracts, tax bills, etc. would be required to be denominated in legal tender gold and silver U.S. coins, including Gold Eagles, Silver Eagles, and pre-1965 90% silver coins. All State-chartered banks, as well as any other bank that is a depository for State funds, would be required to offer accounts denominated in those types of gold and silver coins, and to keep such accounts segregated from other types of accounts such as Federal Reserve Notes.

So, with the ConTen Act, the foundation is now laid. Dr. Paul goes on:

What we must first do is get the coinage into circulation, and then build the political base to lock the government's fiscal folly with golden handcuffs. People have always understood the tangible value of gold coins in circulation. They don't need to agree or even understand the fine points of monetary theory to own gold coins, trade gold coins, or use gold coins to satisfy part of their marginal-utility demand for cash balances.

Most people understand very little about economics or monetary theory. When they see supposed experts in disagreement, the status quo wins by default, because nobody with the power to change it has the courage of conviction. The majority of voters see the debate among experts and hesitate to support any leaders with comprehensive reform schemes. This is why all efforts to rebuild a gold monetary system have met with frustration and stalemate in the past.

And this is the beauty of the Constitutional Tender Act: instead of being a top-down, federal-level effort, it is a bottom-up, State-level effort, thus giving it a higher likelihood of eventual success (see my paper presented at the Mises Institute's Austrian Scholars Conference, "Ending the Federal Reserve From the Bottom Up: Re-introducing Competitive Currency by State Adherence to Article I, Section 10"). Upon going into effect, the ConTen Act would introduce currency competition with Federal Reserve Notes, by outlawing their use in transactions with the State. Ordinary citizens of the State, being required to pay their State taxes in gold and silver coins, would find it necessary to open bank accounts in those denominations. Businesses operating within the State, being required to pay their State sales taxes and license fees in gold and silver coins, would need to do the same; and in order to acquire such coins, they would begin to offer their goods and services in "dual currency" denominations, where customers could choose to pay in Federal Reserve Notes (which would still be necessary to pay Federal fees and taxes) or gold and silver coins (including checks and debit cards based on bank accounts denominated in such coins). Customers, having found the need to open such accounts in order to deal with the State, would be able to engage in commerce using those accounts.

Over time, as residents of the State use both Federal Reserve Notes and silver and gold coins, the fact that the coins hold their value more than Federal Reserve Notes do will lead to a "reverse Gresham's Law" effect, where good money (gold and silver coins) will drive out bad money (Federal Reserve Notes). (Gresham's law is stated as, "Where legal tender laws exist, bad money drives out good money." A reverse of this would be, "In the absence of legal tender laws, when people are given the free choice between using and accepting good money or using and accepting bad money, bad money becomes less popular than good money, and is driven out of the marketplace.") As this happens, a cascade of events can begin to occur, including the flow of real wealth toward the State's treasury, an influx of banking business from outside of the State (as citizens residing in other States carry out their desire to bank with sound money), and an eventual outcry against the use of Federal Reserve Notes for any transactions. At that point, the Federal Reserve system will have become unwanted and irrelevant, and can be easily abolished by the people's elected Representatives in Washington, D.C. -- and thus open the door for a return to sound money, nationwide.

All of this can take place because Dr. Paul helped bring about the minting once again of legal tender U.S. gold and silver coins, which can now be used to return every State to its Constitutional mandate for honest money. He recognized that this first step was a necessity: "There must certainly be no restrictions on the private production of coins, but I believe that getting the US Mint further into the act, producing a gold coinage with some of the mystique of the government, will be useful in the further political stages of monetary reform. Honest money, after all, is a political objective; it is fitting that people should demand honesty from their government, as well as an economic policy that permits individuals to compete honestly." Now, with the Constitutional Tender Act, that political objective is within reach.

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