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World Bank Chief Sparks Gold Standard Debate

Leading economies should consider readopting a modified global gold standard to guide currency movements, argues the president of the World Bank.

Gold coins and bar
Gazimal | Iconica | Getty Images
Gold coins and bar

Writing in the Financial Times, Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president since 2007, says a successor is needed to what he calls the “Bretton Woods II” system of floating currencies that has held since the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate regime broke down in 1971.

Mr Zoellick, a former US Treasury official, calls for a system that “is likely to need to involve the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound and a renminbi that moves towards internationalization and then an open capital account”. He adds: “The system should also consider employing gold as an international reference point of market expectations about inflation, deflation and future currency values.”

His views reflect disquiet with the international system, where persistent Chinese intervention to hold down the renminbi is blamed by the US and others for contributing to global current account imbalances and creating capital markets distortions.

This week’s meeting of government heads in South Koreais likely to see yet more exchange rate conflict. A US plan for countries to sign up to current account targets has run into widespread opposition.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has raised the temperature by describing the US economic model as being in “deep crisis” and criticizing the US Federal Reserve’s decision to pump an extra $600 billion into financial markets. “It is not consistent when the Americans accuse the Chinese of exchange rate manipulation and then steer the dollar exchange rate artificially lower with the help of their (central bank’s) printing press.”

Although there are occasional calls for a return to using gold as an anchor for currency values, most policymakers and economists regard the idea as liable to lead to overly tight monetary policy with growth and unemployment taking the brunt of economic shocks.

The original Bretton Woods system, instituted in 1945 and administered by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank’s sister institution, comprised fixed but adjustable exchange rates linked to the value of gold. Controls to restrict destabilizing shifts of capital from one economy to another buttressed it.

“The scope of the changes since 1971 certainly matches those between 1945 and 1971 that prompted the shift from Bretton Woods I to II,” Mr Zoellick writes. “Although textbooks may view gold as the old money, markets are using gold as an alternative monetary asset today.”

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