Econ Duel: Fiat Money vs. the Gold Standard

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Marginal Revolution University
Published at : 05 Dec 2020
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Throughout the 19th century and up until the Great Depression, the gold standard was used in the United States. It was largely abandoned in the 20th century.

But what is the gold standard? It’s a system for defining the value of a currency in terms of gold. In other words, you could exchange your $20 paper bill for actual gold at one point in history.

Under a fiat money system, such as the one we have in the U.S. today, that $20 paper bill is inconvertible. You can’t exchange it for a backing store of value because there isn’t one.

In this Econ Duel, economists Scott Sumner and Larry White, who both focus on monetary theory and policy, debate the positives and drawbacks to the gold standard vs. fiat money, and the role of central banks.

On the side of the gold standard, White argues that, when properly implemented without a central bank intervening, it provides a more predictable price level and lower average inflation.

Sumner, taking up the banner for fiat money, argues that the gold standard is simply a rule that worked well in the 19th century and that a good fiat money system is, for this day and age, a better alternative.

Who won this Duel? Do you feel like you walked away with a better sense of the complexities of monetary policy? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know what you thought about this Duel in the comments.

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economicsmacroeconomicsmonetary theory

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