Trade theorist Paul Krugman, imperious in his Nobel crown; Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund; some 370 economists including 19 Nobel Laureates; and even David Stockman, formerly of the Reagan White House, all agree: President Donald Trump is a menace to world trade and prosperity.
As a free-trading supply sider, I once shared these fears. However, I was wrong. I underestimated the significance of the chaos of currency trading.
According to the Bank of International Settlements, this market has swelled to some $5.1 trillion a day, 25 times global GDP and 73 times all trade in goods and services. Yet all the vast shuffle of money fails to achieve the crucial function of money and markets: to yield a reliable guide for international transactions.
The Theory of Information holds that an economy is an information system governed by entrepreneurial knowledge and learning, guided by sound money. In an information economy, learning and growth depend on money to transmit the significance of prices. When money becomes merely a reflection of the policies of central banks, it can no longer guide enterprise or international trade.
In the years after NAFTA took effect in January 1994, the Mexican peso lost 87 percent of its value, dropping from nearly 35 cents American to under a nickel. The peso has dropped 5.8-fold while Mexican exports have risen 6.6-fold.
The impact of this drastic relentless change has emitted — as Ross Perot put it — a “giant sucking sound” symbolizing a significant reorganization of North American manufacturing. Yet that has had nothing to do with free trade. With all prices always in play, the arbitrageurs and high-frequency-trading “flash boys” rule, shrinking the time horizons of economic activity from decades to microseconds.
With incomes in the financial sector nearly tripling as a share of all corporate income since 1971, the economy suffers from a bloat of banking. Yet as gold prophet Nathan Lewis observes in a forthcoming book, Gold: The Final Standard, the banks’ “old roles had actually become even less profitable … eroded by competition and advances in information technology” and should have become less obtrusive.
Instead, financial profits have risen to 30 percent of all corporate profits, mostly through the shuffling of currencies and derivatives.
The chief alternative to floating currencies historically has been currencies fixed to gold. The gold standard has accompanied all of humanity’s greatest industrial and economic accomplishments. After World War II, the Bretton Woods gold-exchange standard sustained another 27 years of unparalleled world economic growth at 2.5 percent per year.
According to the conventional wisdom, though, the gold standard led to gold hoarding and the Great Depression. But that hoarding was not an effect of irrational panic. Gold was signaling a tragic breakdown of civilization and a global turn against free markets.
Gold always guided entrepreneurs better than did politicians who believed that business could thrive under price controls, confiscatory taxes, tariff gouges, communist and fascist labor movements, and abrupt currency shifts.
Even during the Great Depression, the gold signal was right. Its critics merely want to shoot the messenger. The success of the Trump administration will depend on recovering our cultural memory of stable money.