Is the dollar as good as gold? Not for a long time, writes Inc. editor Ledbetter (Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex, 2011, etc.), and therein hangs a tale.
As the author notes, gold finds in Americans “a psychological wellspring that reaches beyond any purely physical qualities.” Monetary gold, however, is more complicated: gold mania may be one thing, but a modern economy is better based on more abundant materials. Still, arguments for the gold standard, which was finally abandoned during Richard Nixon’s second term, have been constant throughout American history. Ledbetter has a knack for finding the most interesting, if sometimes-obscure, pleas for gold, many offered by government officials. In the early Republic, one argued strenuously against paper currency, saying “there would be no end to the legion of paper devils which shall pour forth from the loins of the Secretary.” In later times, the father of the multibillionaire Warren Buffett, a Nebraska congressman, urged that the Bretton Woods monetary agreements would weaken American sovereignty—which was being betrayed, he added, by Dwight Eisenhower, earning Buffett a reputation as “a bedrock reactionary who shot off his mouth once too often,” as columnist Drew Pearson said. Arguments for and against the gold standard have as often been politically as economically grounded, and Ledbetter’s book is a touch short on the actual mechanics of gold and its convertibility while satisfyingly long on the sharp political divisions that have formed around it. Now that individual Americans are allowed to own gold—a right, one Swiss-born commentator gloomily warns, that can be taken away at any time—it has returned to popularity. Meanwhile, politicians on the right, including Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, have either outright endorsed a return to the gold standard or confessed to a liking for the sound of it.
An absorbing and often entertaining look at precious metal and its place—or lack thereof—in our wallets.