The Anti-Science of William Jennings Bryan and Paul Krugman


Cartoon by Grant Hamilton, printed in "Judge" Magazine, 1896.
Cartoon by Grant Hamilton, printed in “Judge” Magazine, 1896. (Public domain image)


July 9th was the anniversary of the most famous speech of any presidential campaign.  William Jennings Bryan, in a speech to the 1896 Democratic convention, declaimed “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

Although Bryan lost the general election to pro-gold William McKinley (and lost two other presidential races) that line still rings in the popular imagination.  It represents a handy epithet against the gold standard by those who are unfamiliar with its history or superior track record.

As, in 1896, noted by The Nation and reprised there last week, rather surprisingly but for Karl Marx’s recognition that “money is by nature gold and silver:”

His speech to the convention was an appeal to one of the worst instincts of the human heart—that of getting possession of other people’s property without the owners’ consent. That is what is meant by free coinage at 16 to 1. All business and all obligations rest to-day, have rested for nearly a quarter of a century, on the gold dollar as the unit of value. It is proposed now to substitute a silver dollar for it worth about half as much, and to make this depreciated coin applicable to all existing bargains and contracts…

This speech swept the young silver-tongued orator to a presidential nomination. Bryan provides a fascinating historical juxtaposition to George Gilder’s exposition of the science behind the gold standard, in The 21st Century Case for Gold: A New Information Theory of Money, commissioned by The American Principles Project, whose sister organization I professionally advise, here reviewed by me, also last week.  (Download it free, here.)

Gilder writes about how Shannon information theory underlies the working of the classical gold standard.  Gilder explains with lucidity and authority some of the mechanics as to why the gold standard historically correlates so closely with good job creation, economic mobility, and a thriving working and middle income America  — the key issue of the 2016 presidential race.

Bryan’s speech, conversely, illustrates an anti-scientific — even superstitious — stance of many of the gold standard’s most prominent critics both then and now. It is beyond odd that modern academics such as Paul Krugman should, in, for example The Cross of Gold, echo Bryan as if his words carry some intellectual authority.


Read the full article here.

Ralph Benko, internationally published weekly columnist, co-author of The 21st Century Gold Standard, lead co-editor of the Gerald Malsbary translation from Latin to English of Copernicus’s Essay on Money, is American Principles in Action’s Senior Advisor, Economics.

Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko is a monetary policy advocate and an internationally syndicated columnist.

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