Krugman and the Goldbugs

Por Nicolás Cachanosky y William J. Luther. Publicado el 23/8/19 en:


he announcement that President Trump would nominate Judy Shelton, a long-time advocate of the gold standard, for a seat on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors got Paul Krugman thinking: why do some economic commentators become goldbugs?

Krugman offers a rather cynical view. It is difficult “to build a successful career as a mainstream economist,” he writes.

Parroting orthodox views definitely won’t do it; you have to be technically proficient, and to have a really good career you must be seen as making important new contributions — innovative ways to think about economic issues and/or innovative ways to bring data to bear on those issues. And the truth is that not many people can pull this off: it requires a combination of deep knowledge of previous research and the ability to think differently.

So what’s an aspiring if not so smart or creative economist to do?

“Heterodoxy,” Krugman writes, “can itself be a careerist move.”

Everyone loves the idea of brave, independent thinkers whose brilliant insights are rejected by a hidebound establishment, only to be vindicated in the end. And such people do exist, in economics as in other fields.… But the sad truth is that the great majority of people who reject mainstream economics do so because they don’t understand it; and a fair number of these people don’t understand it because their salary depends on their not understanding it.

In other words, Krugman suggests most gold standard advocates are either ignorant or disingenuous — and, in some cases, both.

According to Krugman, “events of the past dozen years have only reinforced that consensus” view that “a return to the gold standard would be a bad idea.”

[T]he price of gold soared from 2007 to 2011; if gold-standard ideology had any truth to it, that would have been a harbinger of runaway inflation, and the Fed should have been raising interest rates to keep the dollar’s gold value constant. In fact, inflation never materialized, and an interest rate hike in the face of surging unemployment would have been a disaster.

Is that so?

Krugman commits two mistakes here. First, he implicitly assumes that the data-generating process for the dollar price of gold would have been the same if, over the period in question, the U.S. had been on a gold standard. Robert Lucas famously warned against such an assumption. The argument is straightforward. Individuals do the best they can given their institutional constraints. If those institutional constraints change, so too will the decisions individuals make and, hence, the data generated by those decisions.

Consider that many see gold as a hedge against inflation today. But there would be no scope for gold to serve as an inflation hedge under a gold standard. In other words, the decision to hold gold under a gold standard would be fundamentally different from the decision people face today.

The second error concerns Krugman’s characterization of the gold standard. The gold standard is not a system where the price of gold is fixed. Rather, it is a system where the dollar is defined as a particular weight of gold. Under a gold standard, the dollar price of gold cannot change because the dollar is gold.

Krugman’s mischaracterization of the gold standard as a system where the price of gold is fixed leads to a fundamental misunderstanding about how a gold standard operates. The gold standard does not require a central bank to raise or lower rates “to keep the dollar’s gold value constant,” as Krugman claims. Indeed, a central bank is wholly unnecessary.

Under a gold standard, the purchasing power of gold is determined by the ordinary forces of supply and demand. If the demand for gold coins increases, the purchasing power of gold will rise (i.e., dollar coins buy more goods and services). Miners respond to the higher purchasing power by digging up more gold and hauling it off to the mint to be coined. And, as the supply of monetary gold expands, the purchasing power gradually falls back to its long-run level. Likewise, if the demand for gold coins falls, less gold is mined and some existing coins are melted down and repurposed for nonmonetary ends. This automatic mechanism meant that the price level was much easier to forecast under the gold standard.

What about Krugman’s claim that the gold standard would have required contractionary monetary policy from 2007 to 2011, when many economists would have called for expansionary monetary policy? Wrong and wrong. It would not have called for any kind of policy — just individuals pursuing their own interests, as usual. And, since the purchasing power of gold was increasing over the period, it would have set in motion an expansion in the supply of money — not a contraction, as Krugman claims.

We won’t take issue with Krugman’s working model of the economics profession. No doubt many drift to unconventional views because they do not understand mainstream economics or find it in their interest to hold unconventional views. Advocacy of the gold standard, an unconventional view, is no exception.

Unlike Krugman, however, we do not believe the problem is limited to those holding unconventional views. Many economists have strong opinions about the gold standard. Few seem to understand how a gold standard functions and how such a system performed historically relative to modern fiat-money regimes. Krugman provides a case in point.


Nicolás Cachanosky es Doctor en Economía, (Suffolk University), Lic. en Economía, (UCA), Master en Economía y Ciencias Políticas, (ESEADE). Fué profesor de Finanzas Públicas en UCA y es Assistant Professor of Economics en Metropolitan State University of Denver.

What balance will we make in 2019 of the Macri administration?

Por Adrián Ravier.  Publicado el 9/2/18 en:


Doing futurology and projecting the economy of these two years 2018-2019, we ask ourselves -in balance mode- how it would end Mauricio Macri his first government in the National Executive and how much he could have made in correcting the inherited imbalances. In what areas would be considered successful, in which we will speak of inaction and in which we would have major problems.


Beginning with the good news, we should remember that one of the first measures was the removal of the fixed exchange rate, which made it possible to eliminate the black market (blue dollar) from the usual jargon of Argentinians, enabling the access to purchase foreign currency, both for tourism and for imports. This also allowed the elimination of the bottleneck where industrial production was stuck.

This contributed ending an economic stagnation that lasted all the previous government (2011-2015), in which the economy grew one year to fall the next, according to the political cycle. Between 2017 and 2019 it is expected moderate and stable growth of between 2 and 4 percent with improvements in consumption and investment levels. Here, a fundamental role will play labor reform to reduce the obstacles and excessive costs that companies face today to generate jobs and investment projects.

While they may not meet the goals, they may offer data that shows a low of the inflation from 41% registered in 2016 to a rate close to 15% in 2019. Critics will say that inflation in 2015 was lower than the 41% indicated, but this does not take into account the expansive monetary policy of 2015 that generates a lag effect on the next year. Here we must highlight, in addition, the controversy of the future dollar left by the management of Alejandro Vanoli and on which he is still giving explanations before the Courts of Comodoro Py.

The drop in inflation will allow reducing poverty that reached 31% in 2015, was 28% in 2017 and would be around 25-26% by the end of 2019, a structural level that can only be reduced with savings and investment and continuous growth.

An important aspect, which political cost was not lower, will have been ending the tariff delay, removing subsidies to public services. The energy policy managed by Juan Jose Aranguren will be qualified as successful, in addition, by correcting investment deficit in energy infrastructure.

Finally, Argentina will have come out of isolation thanks to the efforts of the ruling that separates it from Iran and Venezuela and build ties with China and the West, seeking investments, of course, but also strengthening political ties. It will not be considered a minor issue that Argentina has abandoned a long default on its public debt, which allowed it to return to financial markets and, among other things, it has accumulated international reserves to support its weakened local currency.


Where we hardly see significant progress will be on the fiscal front. Although it removes and lowers export with-holdings and a raise of the non-taxable minimum for the income Tax were a significant first step, in terms of taxes the reform that Congress passed does not raise reduce the tax pressure until after 2020.

In terms of public expenditure, although it removes it from subsidies it is already and will have been significant, there are and there will be other increases that show that spending grew at a rate similar to inflation. The decrease in economic subsidies was compensated with an increase in social subsidies.

The public over-employment had minimal corrections that were compensated with other hirings. Holding it up during these four years will transform a current problem into a structural problem.

Mauricio Macri’s commitment throughout his government was to take care of public employment and try to reduce the fiscal deficit via improvements in tax collection. While the government may show some compliance with its fiscal targets (the primary deficit will probably be below 3%), it is also important to note that it will have maintained the financial deficit at a level similar to that inherited. The decreases of the primary deficit will have been compensated by increases in the interest on debt that had gradualism as a cost.

Negative aspects

The greatest cost of gradualism is the accumulation of public debt. Argentina will present at the end of 2019 a level of worrying debt and a financial deficit that will need a liquid global macroeconomic context that will hardly be sustained until 2020.

The heterodoxy in politics of disinflation who manages Federico Sturzenegger will leave an arsenal of Lebac that will extend the problem of inflation for longer than necessary. Lowering inflation to a single digit will remain a difficult problem in the next government if orthodox reform is to be avoided.

Finally, the more than 30,000 million dollars that Argentina will have received each year in the form of public debt will feed a foreign exchange delay that will represent one more obstacle for the development of its productive activity. The current account deficit will be an obvious consequence.

Those who expected to see a correction of the inherited macroeconomic imbalances in these four years will see important, but partial progress. But those who expected to observe a structural reform of the economy will have to keep waiting.


Adrián Ravier es Doctor en Economía Aplicada por la Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid, Master en Economía y Administración de Empresas por ESEADE. Es profesor de Economía en la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Jurídicas de la Universidad Nacional de La Pampa y profesor de Macroeconomía en la Universidad Francisco Marroquín.