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Emerging Markets Should Go for the Gold

CAMBRIDGE – Are emerging-market central banks overweight in dollars and underweight in gold? Given a slowing global economy, in which emerging markets are probably very grateful for any reserves they retain, this might seem an ill-timed question. But there is a good case to be made that a shift in emerging markets toward accumulating gold would help the international financial system function more smoothly and benefit everyone.

Just to be clear, I am not siding with those – usually American far-right crackpots – who favor a return to the gold standard, in which countries fix the value of their currencies in terms of gold. After all, the gold standard’s last reign ended disastrously in the 1930s, and there is no reason to believe that a return to it would turn out any differently.

No, I am just proposing that emerging markets shift a significant share of the trillions of dollars in foreign-currency reserves that they now hold (China alone has official reserves of $3.3 trillion) into gold. Even shifting, say, up to 10% of their reserves into gold would not bring them anywhere near the many rich countries that hold 60-70% of their (admittedly smaller) official reserves in gold.

For some time, the rich countries have argued that it is in everyone’s collective interest to demonetize gold. Sure, we hold a lot of gold, these countries say, but that is a vestige of the pre-World War II gold standard, when central banks needed a stockpile.