by Jerry O’Driscoll
I recently read Money, Markets and Sovereignty by Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds. I highly recommend it. The jacket blurb accurately summarizes the book’s importance: “Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds offer the most powerful defense of economic liberalism since F. A. Hayek published The Road to Serfdom more than sixty years ago.”
Steil and Hinds focus on the institutional underpinnings of liberalism: the rule of law, globalization (free trade and free movement of capital) and commodity money. Their arguments on all points are powerful. Their argument on money runs against the grain of modern monetary theory. They rely heavily on history to buttress their arguments.
Reading the book motivated me to reread Hayek’s Monetary Nationalism and International Stability, upon which a good part of their monetary analysis is based. Though written in 1937, the book makes a powerful argument against the international monetary arrangements of the last 40 years: the 182 national fiat currencies.
Hayek argues the benefits of national fiat currency are largely illusory, and fiat money introduces problems unknown under the gold standard. For instance, Hayek, and Steil and Hinds explain why short-run capital flows can be destabilizing in a fiat money system, while they are stabilizing in a commodity standard. The two works follow the Misesian strategy of criticizing policies (or institutions) by demonstrating that they produce results different from or even the opposite of those intended by their advocates.
This year’s Cato monetary conference (November 16, 2011) will focus on monetary reform. Instead of a keynote address by a senior Fed official (a hallmark of past conferences), the opening address will be by Ron Paul. Panel I will be “Rethinking the Global Fiat Money System.” Chaired by Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal, the panel will consist of Benn Steil, George Melloan and myself.