A recent column by Steve Forbes on money is a peculiar mixture of insight and error. Forbes rightly says, “The blunt truth is that an active monetary policy has never, ever led to sound, sustainable growth. Without exception it has always done more harm than good, the only variable being the degree of damage rendered…It’s truly amazing that economists and policymakers remain obliviously impervious to the mountains of evidence proving that you cannot constructively guide an economy by manipulating interest rates and bank reserves.” Given these wise words, you might expect Forbes to call for a total end to government monetary policy.
Unfortunately, a key mistake prevents him from taking this step. He thinks that money measures economic value. “Money isn’t wealth. It measures wealth the way a ruler measures length, a clock measures time and a scale measures weight.” Forbes ignores the Austrian insight that economic value is purely subjective. There is no “unit of value” that corresponds to the objective measurements Forbes mentions.
Because Forbes thinks that money measures value, he favors “stable” money. “Central banks have only two legitimate tasks: preserving stable values for their money and dealing quickly, decisively with financial panics.” Beguiled by the illusion of a stable measure of value, Forbes winds up in support of an activist monetary policy.
Forbes discusses at greater length his account on money in his recent book Money, written with Elizabeth Ames. I review this book, with my customary lack of enthusiasm, in the forthcoming September issue of The Free Market.