International Classical Gold Standard: Could It Be an Answer to Future High Inflation?

A country’s currency’s value was inversely correlated with the price of gold under the international gold standard.

The History of the Classical Gold Standard

A country’s currency’s value was inversely correlated with the price of gold under the international gold standard. This implied that nations had to keep a specific level of gold on hand to support their currencies. Bank deposits and various kinds of currency, including national currencies, were readily convertible into gold at the predetermined price. In the so-called “classical gold standard” era, which lasted from 1873 to 1914, the gold standard was widely accepted by nations all over the world. The fundamental tenet of the traditional gold standard was that gold was the only legitimate form of money. Each unit of currency that a nation created had to be backed by a particular amount of gold. As a result, the supply of money was controlled, and currency values were fixed.

The International Gold Standard and the early 19th-century Pax Britannica are closely related. An era of comparatively calm and stability resulted from the British Empire’s ascent to industrial and military dominance during the Pax Britannica. Britain played a major role in maintaining and advancing the gold standard, which helped to create a stable and predictable global environment. During this period, Britain tried to set up three international agreements: the gold standard, the balance of power, and other things. After 1815, London emerged as a major financial center because of its banks’ ability to invest British money wherever there was the highest potential for return, whether locally or abroad. Money was easier to transfer from one nation to another thanks to the gold standard and London’s role as a financial anchor (Germain, 1997, pp. 44-58). For comparison, deposits in London banks totaled £120,000,000 in 1873, compared to £40,000,000 in New York, £13,000,000 in Paris, and £8,000,000 in Germany (Hobsbawm, 1999). In turn, the gold standard facilitated trade and economic expansion, benefiting Britain and other nations by simplifying currency swaps and international investments, leading to a more integrated global economy and supporting Pax Britannica.

What is the Classical Gold Standard and How it Works

The Gold Standard, a global monetary system, was based on fixed exchange rates and minimum gold-to-notes-and-currency ratios. This system resolved differences in the global balance of payments by allowing gold to flow into nations with surpluses and outflows with deficits. The ‘price-specie-flow’ mechanism, an automated method of adjusting the balance of payments, was responsible for this co-movement. The Gold Standard-based global monetary system was self-correcting, meaning a nation with a balance of payments deficit would see its gold reserves diminish, money supply shrink, domestic price level fall, and competitiveness rise, correcting its deficit. The fixed exchange rate also allowed capital and gold movements between nations to act as conduits for both monetary and nonmonetary shocks, affecting real income, domestic spending, and price levels.

In addition, there are three factors for the gold standard to work properly. Countries/states must fix their currencies in relation to gold; as a result, states must proclaim that their currencies are worth a particular amount of gold or are equal to it, and they must be willing to exchange their currencies for gold (O’Brien & Williams, 2016). Free movement of gold across states is the second. The third need is that currencies must be able to trade with one another while keeping a stable value relative to gold (O’Brien & Williams, 2016). Because followers of the standard established an agreed-upon price for gold, exchange rates between gold-linked currencies were inevitably fixed.

Why was it made?

The international gold standard was made to eliminate high inflation and provide stability in the international monetary system. Hence, it has also made international trade and investment easier to do. The standard was made in response to the financial instability of the early 19th century. During the period of high inflation and currency devaluations due to the lack of a globally accepted monetary standard, the gold standard was established to prevent recurring issues and promote international peace and cooperation. Nations would be far less inclined to go to war if they were all linked by an integrated monetary system. The standard also promoted international trade and investment among countries. Businesses knew exactly how much of one currency they would obtain in exchange for another, since the value of each nation’s currency was tied to the price of gold.

There were certain disadvantages to the classical gold standard, which encouraged big gold stockpiles. It restricted the amount of money that countries could issue, which made it harder for them to respond to economic shocks like recessions. In addition to being costly, keeping gold reserves limited governments’ ability to meet the demands of their citizens. As a result, the gold standard was dropped for political grounds since it was thought to be incompatible with democracy.

During World War I, the gold standard collapsed, leading to governments halting currency conversions into gold. Despite attempts to reinstate it, the Great Depression in the 1930s led most nations to abandon it, highlighting its inability to handle economic shocks and potential deflation. Additionally, it demonstrated how the gold standard was unjust to nations with limited gold reserves and that it might cause deflation.

Trend of Current Global Inflation

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its World Economic Outlook in October, projects that the current rate of global inflation will be 6.5% in 2023. Although this is less than the 8.8% rate from 2022, it is still far higher than the 4.7% rate from 2021. The IMF projects that inflation will drop in 2023 and 2024, but it will still be higher than the roughly 2% pre-pandemic levels.

In recent years, persistent interruptions in the supply chain have played a crucial role in driving up global inflation. Prices have increased as a result of the shortage of commodities brought on by these interruptions. One of the reasons for the continuous issues in the supply chain is the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic’s widespread factory closures and port congestion hindered global trade in commodities. Additionally, the supply of food, energy, and other items from Russia and Ukraine has been disrupted by the crisis in Ukraine. The escalation of extreme weather events due to climate change has resulted in supply chain disruptions and infrastructure damage. A lack of labor in many industries has made it more difficult to create and transport goods when there is a manpower shortage.

Reverting to the classical gold standard will provide a more stable and controlled monetary system while also addressing some of the root causes of the current global inflation. This might be accomplished similarly to how the gold standard could stabilize inflation expectations and encourage restraint in spending.

Is it the Answer?

To sum it up, the classical gold standard was a very rigid and complex monetary system. It can be concluded that it limited the movement of nations by tying their currencies to gold; but it was a stepping stone to the creation of a more stable international monetary system, and it was the answer to the international economic instability during that time. The standard made it easier for countries to invest and trade with each other. The traditional gold standard was abandoned, resulting in the creation of fresh monetary systems, such as the fiat currency system employed by most nations. Systems using fiat money are not supported by any physical goods, like gold (attached to tangible things). Instead, the faith and goodwill of the government that provides the fiat currency determine its worth.

However, it is difficult to say for sure whether this is the solution to future high inflation. Even though the classical gold standard has flaws, it is important to recognize that they may also be beneficial in managing future inflation concerns. The money supply is naturally limited by the gold standard, which stops governments from creating excessive amounts of money, which is the main cause of inflation. The stability of the gold standard also serves as an anchor for inflationary expectations, limiting self-fulfilling inflationary spirals. People demand greater wages when they anticipate price increases, which drives up inflation even more. Lastly, it acts as a hedge against inflation as well. The historical performance of the gold standard indicates that it may serve as a hedge against inflation, giving investors some protection against the depreciation of their purchasing power.

The potential advantages of the classical gold standard in containing inflation and fostering economic stability should not be disregarded, even though it may not be a perfect answer. It offers a structure that has worked in the past and acts as a buffer against the possible drawbacks of the current fiat monetary system, such as the susceptibility to inflation since it is not backed by physical commodities, the potential for manipulation by governments or central banks, and the lack of intrinsic value.

Balya A. Segara
Balya A. Segara
A master student of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada, with research interests covering the issues of human rights, international law, global political economy, and security in international relations.