View original document

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.

For release at 12 Noon
Eastern Standard Time
Thursday, February 6, 1964

Remarks of George W. Mitchell
Member, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
at the
Freedom Forum XXV
of the
National Education Program
Little Rock, Arkansas
February 6, 1964

The American heritage of enterprise and innovation has brought us a vast
accumulation of public and private wealth.

And the richer we became, the more

pervasive became our penchant for stability.

As a nation, we now favor almost

without question a stable society, a stable government, a stable economy, and
a stable dollar.
But stability is not an unmixed blessing.

The concept becomes

immediately less appealing if we define it as lack of flexibility or lack of

We don't want stability if it is based on controls of prices, wages,

or incomes.

We want it if it is based on the free interplay of market forces.

But the essence of a free market is fluctuation and expansion.
Thus, we want a stable dollar

because we believe that this

stability is consistent with the working of a free and expanding market economy.
Domestic Stability
Domestically, we measure the stability of the dollar in terms of its
purchasing power over goods and services.

We don't want the price of any

individual good or service to remain unchanged; on the contrary, we want all
individual prices, all individual incomes to be free to fluctuate in response
to changes in the social usefulness of goods and personal services.

But we

want the average of all individual prices to remain reasonably stable, because
only such stability provides us with a usable standard to evaluate changes in
individual prices.

In this way, stability of purchasing power helps us to

profit from past experience and to plan our future actions.
In previous times, domestic stability of the dollar was frequently
measured in terms of gold.

As all of you know, today the dollar will officially

buy l/35th of one ounce of fine gold.
ment is meaningless.

But for domestic purposes, this arrange­

-2None of us is permitted to acquire monetary gold at that or any other
price, and, in fact, none of us is permitted to hold any monetary gold at home
or abroad, so that we have no reason to care whether or not we could sell it
at that or at any other price.

As long as the dollar's purchasing power in

terms of total goods and services available to us does not change rapidly or
persistently in one direction, the dollar fulfills its function as a stable
currency for all domestic uses.
International Stability
Even in international transactions, gold is not actually used as a
means of payment.

U. S. businesses and individuals ordinarily pay foreigners

in dollars and receive all sums due from foreigners in dollars; the only excep­
tions are a few payments that are made or received in foreign currencies.


the U.S. Treasury, and the Federal Reserve, settle most of their foreign trans­
actions in dollars.

But from time to time an official transaction involves gold

and it is at this point that gold still fulfills an important function in inter­
national finance.
All central banks keep at least part of their monetary reserves in
the form of gold.

And even those that keep the bulk of their reserves in

foreign exchange, predominantly in dollar deposits or securities, usually convert
at least part of their exchange receipts into gold whenever their holdings exceed
some absolute amount or some traditional share in their total reserves.
The gold component of central bank reserves varies considerably, from
more than 90 per cent in Switzerland to as little as 15 per cent in Japan.


need not discuss today the question of whether this gold preference is rational
or not;

whether the world would be better or worse off if reserves were held

exclusively in gold or exclusively in foreign exchange.

As long as both gold

and dollars are universally used for monetary reserve purposes, the dollar


must remain convertible into gold at a fixed rate, at least in transactions
among central banks.

This is the decisive reason why the U.S. Treasury must

continue to sell gold freely at par to any foreign central bank for legitimate
monetary purposes.
Foreign countries hold about $24 billion in gold and about $12 billion
in U.S. dollars as part of their monetary reserves.

Theoretically at least, any

risk of instability in the dollar price of gold could induce those central banks
increasingly to shift their dollar reserves to gold.

In the absence of any

defensive measures on our part this would mean that our own gold reserves would
be reduced to less than $4 billion.

Such a process would certainly impair

confidence in the ability of the United States to maintain its international
financial posture and thus perhaps also more generally its economic and political
position of leadership in the free world.
But stability of the dollar in terms of gold is important not only
because we have to maintain gold convertibility of foreign official dollar
holdings in order to let the dollar continue to be a reserve currency for foreign
central banks.

It is even more important because our present international

monetary system fixes the par values of all major currencies— pound sterling,
Swiss and French franc, German mark as well as the dollar itself— in terms of

Hence, stable exchange rates between the dollar and the other leading

currencies requires stability in terms of gold.
When economists speak of international stability of the dollar, they
have primarily those exchange rates in mind.

The experience of the 'thirties,

when governments tried to get competitive advantages for their countries by
tinkering with the exchange rates of their currencies, persuaded the men who
assembled at Bretton Woods in 1944 to map the postwar reconstruction of our

-4international monetary system that preservation of exchange stability should be
a basic aim of the newly created International Monetary Fund.
Advantage of Stable Exchange Rates
The domestic economy's need for a stable unit of account is taken for

We can hardly imagine the myriads of economic calculations that a

constantly fluctuating dollar would require and we are deeply concerned about
the effect of moderate changes in the dollar's value on our efforts to sustain
economic activity and economic growth.

To a large degree, the international

economy has just as great a need for a stable unit of account to facilitate
country-to-country business transactions and to help maximize international
trade and investment.
If exchange rates were to fluctuate outside of the narrow limits set
by the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund, the resulting
instability would hamper economic activity in two ways.
First, domestic prices of goods that are either imported or exported
in large quantities, or compete with imported or exportable goods, would tend
to fluctuate in sympathy with the exchange ratios that link the currency of one
country with the currencies of its foreign suppliers and customers.

In countries

such as the Netherlands, where the sum of exports and imports is virtually equal
to the country's Gross National Product, such fluctuations in prices of imported
and exported goods would mean about equally large fluctuations in the entire
domestic price level.

Thus, instability in international transactions would be

transmitted to domestic transactions.
Second, the uncertainty of predicting future exchange ratios would make
it practically impossible to engage in international long-term credits, except at
prohibitive interest rates.

If the credits were denominated in the creditor's

currency, the debtor would never know whether his future receipts in domestic


currency would be large enough to enable him to
exchange rate.

repay the credit at the future

And if the credit were denominated in the debtor's currency,

the creditor would never know whether the repayment would match his original
outlay in terms of his domestic currency.
At present, creditors and debtors usually denominate international
credits in a stable "key currency" (mainly in dollars) whenever their domestic
currencies are suspected of actual or potential instability.

They can do so

because they can also base their domestic calculations on dollars, as an
internationally accepted measure and store of value.

If the dollar were to

fluctuate without limits in relation to the other major currencies, this method
of using it —

or any other currency —

commerce would disappear.

as a unit of account in international

Such a change would particularly hamper long-term

transactions, for which the risk of exchange fluctuations could not be covered
by forward exchange operations.
Relatively stable international prices and a relatively stable unit
of account for long-term credit transactions are both necessary conditions for
steady growth in world trade.

Thus, instability of the dollar in terms of gold,

which would mean also instability in terms of the exchange rates of major
foreign currencies, would preclude continued expansion of international markets
for U.S. goods and services.
Expanding World Trade and the U.S. Economy
Some critics have rightly observed that international trade is far more
important for virtually all other major countries than for the United States.
Merchandise imports and exports together account for only 7 per cent of our
Gross National Product, compared to 25-100 in other industrialized countries.
Nevertheless, expansion in foreign trade is vital for the United States:
indirectly because of our political interest in a more complete economic



integration of the free world and because a sharp contraction of world trade
trends would weaken our Allies; directly, because of the role foreign trade
plays in many of our basic industries, and especially in agriculture.


though merchandise exports amount to barely 4 per cent of our Gross National
Product, we are hardly indifferent to a $22 billion component in our economy.
An increase in our exports is particularly important under present
conditions, when our total payments to foreigners exceed our total receipts
from foreigners by several billion dollars a year.

As long as this payments

deficit continues, it acts as a brake on the domestic economy.

The Federal

Reserve has successfully, and in my opinion rightly, tried to offset the effect
on our monetary system of the decline in our gold reserves connected with our
payments deficit, and has added every year large amounts of U.S. Government
securities to its portfolio, to replace the reduction in its gold reserves.
In fact, roughly two-thirds of the net open market operations of the Federal Reserve
were devoted to maintaining the status quo rather than to broadening the
reserve basis for expansion.
It is true that some experts believe that our monetary policies could
not have been much more expansionary, even in the absence of a payments deficit,
without producing inflationary pressure.
this opinion.

But, as you may know, I do not endorse

I feel that the only justification for the current credit posture

in the United States in the face of continued underemployment and insufficient
growth has been the payments situation.
I am glad to note that my views are shared by the distinguished
economist who is generally regarded as the leader of the conservative neo­
classical wing of the economic profession.

Professor Gottfried Haberler, in

his Presidential address to the American Economic Association last December,

-7specifically stated that in his opinion our current underemployment could be
remedied by more expansionary fiscal and monetary policies, if only our payments
deficit were eliminated.

Further growth in our exports is an indispensable

part of any move toward restoration of our payments balance, and thus a
necessary condition of greater monetary ease domestically.
Alleged Advantages of Fluctuating Exchange Rates
As you know, some critics do not agree with the belief that stable
exchange rates are indispensable for a steady expansion of our economy.


would be willing to give up the stable par value of the dollar, both in terms
of gold and in terms of foreign currencies, because they hope that this would
put an end to our payments problem and thus make it possible for us to engage
right away in the more expansionary policies needed to abolish underemployment;
and more generally, that it would make U.S. domestic policies less dependent
upon economic policies and trends in the rest of the world.
This is not the place to cover the whole controversy on flexible
versus fixed exchange rates.

But it seems self-evident to me that even with

flexible exchange rates we should still be unable, in the long run, to spend
abroad more than we take in through sales or borrowing abroad.

In other words,

reasonable balance in the international flow of our goods, services and capital
funds, subject to normal variation in the time dimension, must always be an
element in our domestic activities and policies.
It is true that a country can expand its exports (and reduce its imports)
by devaluing its currency; this devaluation may be accomplished either by adopting
a new and lower par value for its currency in terms of gold, or by cutting the
tie of its currency to gold, and thus to other currencies, and permitting the
exchange market to find a new (and lower) level of exchange rates free from
government intervention.



Such a policy may be appropriate for a country whose share in world
trade and production is small and whose currency is not extensively used in
settlement of international transactions.

And under conditions of fundamental

disequilibrium, it may even be adopted by a major country.

For instance, the

devaluation of the British pound in 1949, of the French franc in 1958, and of
the Canadian dollar in 1962 have helped those currencies to achieve more
appropriate exchange relationships and thereby enabled their countries to regain
balance in their international payments.

But the United States could not

successfully pursue such a course.
Foreign countries know that the United States still accounts for about
half of the free world's industrial production, and remains an acknowledged
leader in technological progress.

They also know that our payments deficit does

not stem from a deficit on trade account but from a net outflow of private and
public capital in excess of our sizable trade surplus.

Hence, they are fearful

of the competitive power of U.S. industry and agriculture, and if the United
States tried to gain an added competitive advantage by a dollar devaluation,
they would simply devalue their own currencies to the same extent.
This is part of the price we must pay for world leadership.

As long

as the rest of the world looks to the dollar as its standard of value, we cannot
unilaterally devalue the dollar in terms of other currencies.

And we must

remember that the international role of the dollar, while imposing upon us
special responsibilities, also has its advantages for our economy.

Our merchants

can engage in international trade without having to weigh exchange risks and
>$&&&(,£ince they can make and receive their payments in their domestic currency.
s/Agad'^our ’
^oney and capital markets are broader and easier because of the presence

* 1

'^ $»,^1^1 ion in foreign official and private funds deposited with U.S. banks
-ck. ¿nes te d in U.S. money-market instruments.



New Methods of Adjustment to International Imbalance
The interrelations between the need for domestic expansion and for
international balance at stable exchange rates make it necessary to rethink
some of the policies traditionally followed to cure international imbalance.
Our economic text books usually state that a country suffering from
a payments deficit should follow restrictive monetary and fiscal policies, and
only a country experiencing a payments surplus could follow expansionary policies.
They also state that a country should use expansionary measures when suffering
from underemployment, and restrictive measures when suffering from overemployment.
This advice is perfectly valid in cases in which a country suffers at
the same time from a payments deficit and over-full employment, or from a payments
surplus and underemployment.

But it obviously becomes self-contradictory whenever

a country, like the United States today, suffers from a payments deficit, which
would require restrictive measures; and simultaneously from underemployment,
fthich would require expansionary measures.

And a similar conflict, with signs

reversed, faces countries like Germany or France, which have payments surpluses
and domestic overemployment.
Obviously, we must find methods that would combine an expansionary
effect on the domestic economy with a restrictive effect on the payments position,
or vice versa.
Two such methods have recently been advocated.
First, it has been proposed that the United States combine an expansion­
ary fiscal policy, which would add to disposable domestic incomes and thus alleviate
domestic underemployment, with a restrictive monetary policy, which would raise
interest rates, thereby attract funds from abroad, and in this way moderate the
payments deficit.

On the other hand, Germany and France should combine tight

-10fiscal policies with easy monetary policies.

But this new •'mix" of fiscal and

monetary policies seems to me to provide an uncertain answer at best to our
Fiscal policy -- at least in the United States -- has not been flexible
enough to be invoked in time to deal successfully with cyclical fluctuations in
incomes and production.

The action-delayed tax cut proposal alone is clear

evidence of that lag.
Moreover, monetary policy cannot help but influence domestic uses of
capital about as decisively as the international flow of capital.

A rise in

interest rates makes domestic as well as foreign potential debtors less willing
to borrow: to that extent, it inhibits domestic investment and thereby counter­
acts the expansionary effects of a tax cut.
And, finally, the effect of unilateral changes in interest rates on
international capital movements is by no means so unambiguous as the advocates
of the "new mix" believe.
Obviously, such changes are ineffective whenever other major countries
change their interest rates to the same extent, as they are likely to do.


flows of money-market funds react on the movement of forward exchange premiums
and discounts as well as on changes in the so-called "uncovered" differences.
And flows of risk capital depend more on the long-term prospects of economic
growth and profitability than on short-run variations of interest rates; in
particular, the highly important movements of equity capital, in the form of
so-called direct investments or share purchases, are hardly at all influenced
by short-run interest-rate considerations.
For these reasons, we can neither give up the use of monetary policy
as a tool to achieve domestic policy goals, nor put on monetary policy all or
most of the burden of balancing our international payments.

-11The second proposal Is to stress special rather than general methods
to combat the problem.

For instance, the proposed interest equalization tax

tries to discourage the outflow of funds and at the same time not to discourage
the use of these funds for domestic investment.

A tight monetary policy that

would raise interest rates, say, by one per cent, may have the same effect on
the outflow of funds as the proposed tax but, in contrast to that tax, would
also discourage domestic borrowers.

For the problem in reverse, we could envisage

tax rebates for investment abroad in the case of countries that want to stimulate
a capital outflow in order to reduce a payments surplus and also to reduce
domestic inflationary pressures.
Tax rebates and tax imposition could also be used to encourage exports
from a deficit country and to discourage them from a surplus country.


Government expenditures for defense and economic assistance abroad could be
shared among the major countries of the free world in proportions that might
vary in accordance with changes in the payments position of the participating
All these methods share a common design to achieve expansionary rather
than restrictive effects on economic activity.

In this respect, they are

diametrically opposed to policies relying on import barriers, exchange controls,
and similar measures that interfere directly with market processes and therefore
tend to hamper market expansion.
International Consultations and Cooperation
But the new methods of adjusting domestic economies to international
imbalance can work only if they are adopted by both surplus and deficit countries.
Otherwise, the actions of a country would risk being offset by contradictory
actions of its trading partners.

-12Under traditional arrangements, it is the deficit country that has to
bear the brunt of the adjustment.

Surplus countries can let their reserves grow

virtually without limit but deficit countries cannot let their reserves dwindle
very far, and if they want to bolster their funds by borrowing abroad, they must
accept any condition the creditor countries wish to impose.
One of the main lessons the world has slowly been learning is the
mutuality of the responsibilities of surplus and deficit countries.

The per­

sistent and large deficit in U.S. international payments since 1958 has not only
had a deflationary effect on the U.S. economy; it has also brought inflationary
pressures to bear on the surplus countries of continental Europe.

The traditional

methods of adjustment have tended to aggravate rather than to remedy those
deflationary and inflationary disturbances.

Only a cooperative effort to employ

new methods such as those we have just discussed can help restore balance without
hurting the parties concerned.
The basis for such cooperation has already been established.


International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, and other institutions link the United States continuously and
closely with the other leading countries of the free world.
The International Monetary Fund and its ten major members, which
participate in the so-called General Arrangements to Borrow that are designed
to supplement the resources of the Fund, have recently begun extensive studies
of the most urgent problems of international finance.
These studies should lead not only to a better realization of the
pertinent economic facts and theories, but most importantly to better mutual
understanding of proper policies.

This understanding in turn should help us

-13to dispel once and for all any lingering doubt, at home or abroad, about our
ability to preserve the stability of the dollar in a climate of expanding
domestic and international trade and investment.