Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Cross of Gold

The United States came off the gold standard under that underrated President, Richard Nixon. Generally, I like the economy to be grounded in reality; in farms, factories, mines, shops, and so on, themselves intimately related to families and communities, including nations. The gold standard ought to appeal to me, as it does very strongly to my paleoconservative friends. But, as Lord Keynes, for so he rather splendidly calls himself, writes:

Some human beings are charismatic and spell-binding orators. William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) was such a person. Bryan’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1896 was one remembered in history, for good reasons. Of course, human beings are human beings. I suspect that no human being can be right on every social, economic and cultural issue of his/her day. William Jennings Bryan was wrong on prohibition and in his opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution, though not in his opposition to the vile Social Darwinism that was popular in his time.

He was also absolutely right in his denunciation of the gold standard. To this day, his speech opposing it it remains one that will inspire all those fighting against wrong-headed, false, and pernicious economic doctrines. His metaphor of the “cross of gold” is a vivid one, which invokes images that will move anyone with a Christian cultural background. You do not need to believe in god (I personally don’t) to find the metaphor and speech poignant and powerful. The metaphor has also been used by Post Keynesians and progressive New Keynesians like Paul Krugman in denunciations of modern neoclassical economics. The crescendo of William Jennings Bryan’s speech can be heard in an audio recording he made later in 1921 that captures the mesmerising spirit of that speech.

At the end of his address he proclaimed: “If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

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