San Jose State University economist Warren Gibson has an excellent article, “Gold and Money,” in the latest Freeman. He lists a number of claims about gold, both positive and negative, and proceeds to do a “True, False, Uncertain, with explanation” treatment of each. In the process, he lays out a concise history of monetary policy in the United States, pointing out one of the most harmful government interventions that “helped” put the “Great” in Great Depression: the ban on branch banking.

I had known most of what was in there but I’ve never seen it so nicely done in such a short space. His article would be an excellent reading in a Money and Banking or American Economic History course.

Two things I learned:
1. “All the gold ever mined would only fill one large swimming pool.”
2. There’s gold in that ‘thar fort:

It has been 40 years since the last indirect link between the dollar and gold was severed, and yet the government continues to hold some 8,000 metric tons of gold bullion–the world’s largest single stash. Oddly enough it is valued at $42 per ounce, the last official price before it was set free to be established in free trading. At today’s market price of around $1,300 per ounce, the hoard would be valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Only one thing missing, assuming my memory is correct. When he discusses the inflation of the 1890s and into the 20th century due to the increase in the supply of gold, Warren doesn’t mention the introduction of the cyanide process for extracting gold. If I remember a Ben Klein lecture in Monetary Theory at UCLA from 1974, this was a big deal. I think Ben said that it put the kibosh on William Jennings Bryan’s presidential run in 1896.