Is Europe on a Cross of Gold?

by Barry Eichengreen Barry Eichengreen is Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. 13.05.2012


ROME – Increasingly, one hears predictions that the euro will go the way of the gold standard in the 1930’s. And, increasingly, the reasoning behind such forecasts seems persuasive. But does that mean that the euro doomsayers are right?

Following the 1929 stock market crash, Europe was hit by a massive deflationary shock. Output collapsed and unemployment soared. Unable to agree on coordinated reflationary action, governments opted to move unilaterally. One after another, they abandoned the gold standard, depreciating their currencies. By loosening credit in this way, they recovered, one after another, from the Great Depression.

Today, Europe has been hit again by a massive deflationary shock. This time, the constraint on reflationary action is the euro. Governments lack a national currency to depreciate, and lack the power to relax credit, having delegated monetary policy to the European Central Bank. As unemployment again rises to catastrophic heights, they will have no alternative, it is said, but to abandon the euro unilaterally.

I wrote the book on Europe and the gold standard. Literally. In Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, published in 1992, I argued that the deflationary engine that was the gold standard was a key cause of the 1930’s depression, and that abandoning it opened the door to recovery.

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