[A lecture delivered at the Gold and Monetary Conference, New Orleans, November 10, 1977. It made its first appearance in print in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 3, Number 1.]
When a little over two years ago, at the second Lausanne Conference of this group, I threw out, almost as a sort of bitter joke, that there was no hope of ever again having decent money, unless we took from government the monopoly of issuing money and handed it over to private industry, I took it only half seriously. But the suggestion proved extraordinarily fertile. Following it up I discovered that I had opened a possibility which in two thousand years no single economist had ever studied. There were quite a number of people who have since taken it up and we have devoted a great deal of study and analysis to this possibility.
As a result I am more convinced than ever that if we ever again are going to have a decent money, it will not come from government: it will be issued by private enterprise, because providing the public with good money which it can trust and use can not only be an extremely profitable business; it imposes on the issuer a discipline to which the government has never been and cannot be subject. It is a business which competing enterprise can maintain only if it gives the public as good a money as anybody else.
Now, fully to understand this, we must free ourselves from what is a widespread but basically wrong belief. Under the Gold Standard, or any other metallic standard, the value of money is not really derived from gold. The fact is, that the necessity of redeeming the money they issue in gold, places upon the issuers a discipline which forces them to control the quantity of money in an appropriate manner; I think it is quite as legitimate to say that under a gold standard it is the demand of gold for monetary purposes which determines that value of gold, as the common belief that the value which gold has in other uses determines the value of money. The gold standard is the only method we have yet found to place a discipline on government, and government will behave reasonably only if it is forced to do so…