One of the things that’s always baffled me about the populist right is its fixation on hard money. Hard money is an appropriate cause for rich people (who of course the GOP ultimately represents), but what populists see in it strikes me as a real enigma.
You’d think that small-bore entrepreneurs a la Joe the Plumber and the home-schooling, self-sufficient, back-to-the-land types that comprise a lot of Ron Paul’s constituency would abhor the gold standard, which is famously hard on debtors. This is why 19th century agrarians were so hot on silver (and paper) currency. Debased as it was, it allowed them to pay back their loans more cheaply.
But it is more as a sop to their Sarah Palin wing than its bankers that the GOP has included a hard money plank (or rather, a call for a commission to explore “possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar”) in its 2012 platform, along with a repudiation of Agenda 21, an affirmation that life begins at conception, and other ideas that hearken back to the hard right of the 1950s.
Noam Scheiber claims to share my bafflement, but it seems to me that he’s got it pretty much figured out:
On one level it’s no surprise that the contemporary GOP, a party generally dedicated to the upward redistribution of wealth, would have a soft spot for an idea like the gold standard. It is, for example, perfectly in line with Ryan’s other interests, like cutting taxes for the wealthy by trillions of dollars, slashing domestic spending, and generally baring his teeth at the poor and weak-minded.
But why would someone like Sarah Palin, who represents a decidedly more downscale, less educated wing of the GOP, be so keen? It’s one thing for working-class people to tolerate policies that aren’t in their interest if they feel they win on balance when the GOP’s in power. But why would they lobby for these policies—particularly when it’s a previously obscure, highly-technical issue like monetary economics?….
So far as I can tell, the Palinites’ recent interest in hard-money nostrums has nothing to do with the merits and everything to do with: 1.) pure ignorance (the working class whites devoted to Palin—they of the underwater mortgages and maxed out credit cards—don’t seem to understand that inflation is their friend. At least the yeoman farmers of yester-year could see where their bread was buttered); and 2.) resentment of elites, which is right in their wheelhouse. As it stands, monetary policy is controlled by the Fed. And what is the Fed if not a collection of self-important pointy-heads—the very people Palin (and other GOPers, like Rick Perry) believes have too much control over the country? Moving to a gold standard would essentially take care of that problem.
Call it the final triumph of the Tea Party movement: The GOP was already plenty good at convincing working-class whites to support a form of fiscal policy that catered to rich people. Now they’ve figured out a similar trick for monetary policy. It’s pure genius.
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