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《财富》经典回顾:黄金大辩论 (《财富》杂志,1931年)

《财富》 2011年08月22日

编者按:每周,《财富》网站(Fortune.com)将从往期《财富》杂志文章中精选出一篇最受读者欢迎的文章。本文摘自1931年2月刊,文章讨论了今天依然存在激烈争论的话题——黄金的真正价值何在?当时,美国正在经济大萧条中苦苦挣扎,黄金是当时的货币本位,交易价格仅为每盎司20美元。

从黄金到货币

    下面,我们来看一下世界各国用黄金衡量商品的机制。比如:金本位制。由于黄金无法满足日常使用的需要,因此每个国家都会发行货币,并将货币与黄金挂钩,或者采取所谓的金本位制。概括地讲,目前各国使用的金本位制共有三种:(1)纯粹或古典金本位制:纸币可兑换黄金——美国和瑞典均采用这种本位制;(2)金条本位制:只有大量的纸币才能兑换黄金(可以购买金条但不能购买金币)——英国、法国和比利时采用这种本位制;(3)金汇兑本位制:纸币与实行严格本位制的其他国家的黄金储备挂钩——换句话说,就是以黄金为基础,本国货币可以兑换其他国家的纸币。按照金汇兑本位制发行的信贷背后,黄金储备可能包括也可能不包括黄金以及实行金本位制国家的纸币。奥地利、波兰、罗马尼亚等都采取这种“本国纸币与他国金本位纸币挂钩”的制度。

    在这三种金本位制下,还有数十种不同的衍生制度,有些国家甚至采用了混合制度。这些制度之间的微妙差别巨大,新型金汇兑本位制的出现,开创了一种全新的国际关系。(奥地利在一战之前采用了这种制度,而目前之所以大受欢迎,则主要是出于战后的需要。)但这种制度也产生了一种悖论:既然任何国家都可能采用这种制度,如果所有国家都采用了,则这种制度在事实上也就不复存在了。既然是基于金本位,那么必须有一个采用金本位制的国家存在。金汇兑本位制的整个机制正在成型阶段。但一国将另外一国的黄金作为准备金的想法确实存在,并且也确实能够发挥作用,前提是该国能够清楚地意识到这种做法的争议性。

    既然已经了解了方法,下一步就是要观察执行情况。第一个问题是,需要为货币储备多少黄金或金汇兑。政府根据经验认为,他们所持有黄金的价值应该是流通货币的30%到40%。金汇兑制国家也会保持同样比例的金汇兑。通常情况下,该比例将由法律强制规定。但法律规定通常是以银行业的经验作为依据,只是粗略代表了该国的金融家们认定的安全界限。美国要求40%,法国要求35%,意大利要求40%。英国的机制较为复杂,法律规定了按照相对数量的黄金储备,批准发行的最大货币数量,实际上的比例为33%。一个国家所拥有的黄金可作为银行所发行纸币的准备金,或作为纸币或其他债券的保证金。储备制度司空见惯,但穷尽一生或许也研究不透各国的相关法律。但其实所有机制背后都有一个核心思想:国家必须保持足够的价值——黄金或金汇兑——以维持人们对其货币的信心,并保证有足够的备用现金,可以用于偿还债务。问题再次出现:如果所有人都要求立刻取回自己的钱,这样的要求可能无法实现。但经验证明,始终保持稳定的黄金-货币比例的国家,不会因为国民同时需要黄金而陷入窘境。增加货币发行而不增加黄金储备,并不会终结黄金作为最终担保物这一功能的扩张。在开始考虑由于这种扩张所引发的问题之前,我们的推论或许应该更进一步。

    Gold Into More Money

    Consider now the machinery by which gold measures the commodities of the world. Exhibit A: the gold standard. As there is not enough metal for everyday use, each nation issues currency and agrees to relate its currency to gold or to go on what is called a gold standard. There are, broadly speaking, three types of gold standard in use. There are (I) the absolute or orthodox standard: paper money is redeemable in gold -- the U. S. and Sweden are committed to this make of gold standard; (2) the gold bullion standard: paper money is only redeemable in gold in large quantities (you can buy a gold bar but not a gold coin) England, France, and Belgium use this type; (3) the gold exchange standard: paper money is supported by the reserves of some other country which is on a strict gold standard -- in other words currency is exchangeable for paper based on gold. The reserve behind credit issued on gold exchange may or may not contain gold metal along with the paper of a gold standard country. Austria, Poland, Rumania, etc., are on this paper-based-on-paper-based-on-gold basis.

    There are dozens of different sub-species, hybrids, etc., etc. The subtleties involved in these arrangements are enormous, and the introduction of the relatively new gold exchange standard (Austria used it before the War, but its present popularity was born of post-War necessity) opens up a whole new field of international relationship. It also introduces the paradox that, while any country may use it, if every country did, it would, ipso facto, cease to exist. For being based on a gold standard, it implies the existence of one. The whole machinery of gold exchange standard is in the formative stage. But the idea of a country's using another's gold as a reserve does exist and does work, if only with the din of controversy in its metaphorical ears.

    Having suggested the methods, the next step is to observe what we may of the execution. The first problem is how much gold or gold exchange should be reserved against currency. Experience has convinced governments that they should have gold on hand to the value of 30 or 40 per cent of their currency in circulation. And gold exchange nations keep about the same ratio of gold exchange. The ratios are, generally, fixed by law. But the legal requirements are universally based on banking experience and represent roughly what the financiers of the nation think a safe margin. The U.S. requires 40 per cent, France 35, Italy 40, etc. England's system is involved, and legal requirements are phrased in terms of maximum amounts of currency authorizable against certain sums of reserve, in effect necessitating a 33 per cent ratio. The gold a nation possesses may be figured as reserve behind actual bank notes issued, or as backing up these notes and other obligations. Reservations are the rule, and a lifetime could be spent studying the laws of various lands. But back of all systems runs this idea: a country must keep enough value -- gold or gold exchange -- on hand to preserve man's confidence in its currency, to have enough cash in the till to meet its obligations as presented. Once more: if everyone asked for his money at once, he couldn't get it. But experience has shown that a stable country maintaining about these ratios will never find itself embarrassed by too many of its citizens demanding gold at the same time. This issuance of more currency than gold does not end the expansion of the metal's use as a final guarantee, and before we can take up the problems which have arisen as a result of such expansion we will have to touch on the further projection.

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