Richard Timberlake on the gold standard
By Scott Sumner
I was saddened to see that Richard Timberlake passed away. A few weeks ago I read his excellent book on the Great Depression, coauthored with Thomas Humphrey.
One Timberlake observation always stuck in my mind. I don’t recall the exact quote, but he once said something to the effect that there was no disgrace in devaluing the dollar in 1933, the disgrace was devaluing the dollar at a time when the US had by far the world’s largest gold reserves.
I had never thought of it quite that way before, but he was absolutely correct. Gold reserves are held in order to be available in an emergency. The early 1930s were by far the biggest economic emergency in American history. It would be like the Titanic going down with all lifeboats still on deck, because government regulations required that ocean liners carry a lifeboat for each 50 passengers.
A modern analogy might be a government turning to (highly costly) fiscal stimulus even as tens of trillions of dollars worth of safe bonds were still outstanding, not yet purchased by the Fed. Oh wait, that just happened. . . .
Back in 1986 I bicycled from Thetford, England out to a deserted air force base, where my father had served in WWII. Here’s a picture I took:
The stone monument you see in the two pictures was installed just a week before I arrived, so I unfortunately missed the ceremony as well as a chance to speak with soldiers that had served with my dad. Unfortunately, my dad never got back to England, passing away in 1990. (Indeed my dad never left the USA, other than during WWII.) He always had lots of great war stories, many of which were quite amusing. I now regret that I never met Dick Timberlake; I would have loved to ask him about his life on the base. Some of my dad’s stories seemed almost too much to believe.
After reading David’s post, I ordered a copy of Timberlake’s book on his experiences during WWII. As a bomber pilot, he had a much more dangerous job than my dad, who stayed on the ground working as a mechanic. I look forward to reading the book; maybe there’ll even be an anecdote that I heard when I was young.
PS. My stepfather was wounded in Okinawa, and is still going strong at age 95.
Happy Memorial Day