Politics: Gold, Sarah Palin and other fevers
On Friday, The Times wrote about a movement in the U.S. to return to the gold standard. The story featured Mike Pitts (who's also not an economist but rather a retired cop):
Pitts, a South Carolina statehouse representative, introduced a bill in April that would make gold and silver coins legal tender in the state. Similar efforts are underway in more than a dozen state capitals, fueled by "tea party" support and antipathy toward the federal government.
The ultimate goal is to return the nation to the gold standard, in which every dollar would be backed by a fixed amount of the precious metal. Economists of all stripes say the plan would be ruinous, but that view is of scant concern to Pitts.
"Quite frankly, I think that economists from universities are thinking within the confines of their own little world," Pitts said. "They don't deal with the real issues."
First, what I know about gold currency comes from a chance encounter decades ago, when I was a young business reporter in Hawaii. As part of a story on gold coins, I visited a dealer, who brought out a stack of South African Krugerrands.
Talk about gold fever: I became an instant '49er. The glint of the metal, the sheer heft of the coin -– I was transfixed.
That lust for gold, however, did not translate into a lust for the gold standard. Why? Because unlike Pitts and others, I actually believe the people on this Earth who are economists.
This yearning for the past, and for simple solutions to complex problems, is nothing new among Americans. But every day we see more signs of silliness.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner met with House Republican freshmen, warning them of the perils of not raising the debt ceiling.
"He just said it will be 'instant lights out' on America, but he didn't give a basis for that," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who attended Thursday's meeting but is skeptical of the Treasury secretary.
And then there’s this:
"The notion of default is a myth," Bob Vander Plaats, a conservative activist from Iowa, said at a recent tea party gathering in Washington. "When they reach that limit, they're going to have to prioritize, and the first priority is to pay off your debt."
Now, I'm guessing that neither Tim nor Bob is an economist. But no matter. In today's world, everyone's opinion is as good as the next person's. (Although I wonder if Tim or Bob care about their doctors' credentials, or the expertise of that guy flying the airplane.)
Out on the campaign trail, though, real solutions are plentiful. Take these items from New Hampshire.
Romney said he would teach Washington to respect the Constitution, echoed the "tea party" movement's emphasis on states' rights and called for repeal of Obama's healthcare law. He promised to cap federal spending at 20% of national economic output, a deep cut that tracks the House Republican budget, though he did not say when or how he would reach that goal.
Next, Rudolph Giuliani, who isn't actually running yet (although in the 2008 race, when he was running, no one could actually tell):
He is considering running because, Giuliani says, the nation is being led in the wrong direction by Obama, whom he described as a "failure."
And then Sarah Palin, who isn’t actually running yet either but loves the spotlight almost as much as some people love gold:
"We have to get back to what made America great," she told bystanders. "The goal here, as it has been with the bus tour, is to get people to understand how important the American spirit is."
Yep, that'll fix our problems. Go back to the gold standard. Don't raise the debt ceiling. Get rid of that "failure" President Obama. And remember, it's all about the American spirit.
Hey, as long as we’re looking to the past, how about "a chicken in every pot" too?
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: Gold ingots. Credit: Arko Datta / Reuters