Second look at the gold standard?

Conveniently enough, the gold record happens to have been assembled recently by a highly credentialed team at the Bank of England. In a December 2011 bank report, the authors Oliver Bush, Katie Farrant and Michelle Wright review three eras: the period of a traditional gold standard (1870-1913); the period of a gold-standard variant, the Bretton Woods gold-exchange standard (1948 to 1972); and a period of flexible exchange rates (1972-2008).

The report then looks at annual real growth per capita worldwide, over many nations. Such growth, they find, was stronger in the recent non-gold-standard modern period, averaging an annual increase of 1.8 percent per capita, than in the classical gold-standard period before 1913, when real per- capita gross domestic product increased 1.3 percent annually. Give a point to the gold disdainers.

But the authors also find that in the gold exchange standard years of 1948 to 1972 the world averaged annual per- capita growth of 2.8 percent, higher than the recent gold-free era. The gold exchange standard is a variant of the gold standard. That outcome doesn’t tell you we must go back to the gold exchange standard yesterday. But it does suggest that figuring out how the standard worked might prove a worthy, or at least not a ridiculous, endeavor.