Steve Forbes and 'In Money We Trust'

With legislators back in Washington for the 116th Congress, sparring over economic policy is heating up between Republicans and Democrats over tax rates, spending programs, and immigration.  But while the fighting has focused on the Democrats' desire for a 70% marginal tax rate or a "Green New Deal," one area of economics remains sadly excluded from debate: monetary policy.  Steve Forbes's new PBS documentary In Money We Trust? presents a solid case that it's time for us to talk about the dollar again.

In Money We Trust? is based on Steve Forbes's and Elizabeth Ames's book Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy – and What We Can Do About It.  This book is regarded by many supply-siders as the single best primer on sound money ever written, and much like the book, the PBS documentary provides an easily digestible introduction to monetary policy and the gold standard, even for those unfamiliar with the topics.  In Money We Trust? breaks down what money is; what makes it work; and, most important, how to make sure it remains effective.

Money, as Steve Forbes explains, is first a measure of value.  Much as a clock measures time, "money measures the value of products, services, and investment devices."  Author John Tamny notes that "it allows people with wildly disparate wants to produce and then trade with people."  Ultimately, the ability to trust a currency is integral to its success – whether the transaction is as small as a lemonade stand purchase or an international trade deal.

Maintaining trust in a currency has historically depended on how it is backed.  The documentary explains that when a currency is backed by an unstable resource, buyers and sellers can't be certain that the value of the money they have today will be worth the same tomorrow.  Conversely, if money has a stable backing, like gold, parties will always know what their dollar is worth, which reduces uncertainty in investments.  Without stability, money is worthless.  Forbes outlines it here:

Changing the value of money destroys trust between buyer and seller, lender and borrower, because it changes the values that were agreed upon. One party got an underserved gain, and the other got an undeserved loss. ...

[W]hen you change the value of money, you're stealing property without due process of law.

The documentary is strengthened by a cast that amounts to the New England Patriots of monetary policy.  Presenters include historian Brian Domitrovic; columnist Nathan Lewis; the godfather of supply-side economics, Arthur Laffer; Trump adviser Judy Shelton; columnist Amity Shlaes; and Jim Grant of the journal Grant's Interest Rate Observer.

As the new Congress commences its economic infighting, the arguments presented in this documentary deserve further review from lawmakers.  Is our unstable dollar a deterrent to economic growth?  There may not currently be an appetite on Capitol Hill to discuss the dollar, but let's hope In Money We Trust? can be the springboard to start the conversation.