Does the Mt. McKinley name change have anything to do with the Gold Standard?

Is Obama using Mt. McKinley to troll the gold bugs?


James Pethokoukis

Ohio Republicans are miffed that President Obama intends to take Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, named after our 25th president and Buckeye State native William McKinley, and rebrand it “Denali.” It’s a state pride thing, we’re told. And okay, sure. It’s kind of understandable — even if Ohio’s “outrage” seems a bit perfunctory.

But Ohioans aren’t the only folks on the right peeved about the switcheroo of North America’s tallest peak. For some, Obama isn’t just trampling the legacy of the man who led the United States to victory in the Spanish-American War — he’s also throwing shade at the gold standard.

If Obama wanted to subtly troll the gold-bug wing of the right, renaming Mt. McKinley would be a crafty way of doing so. Over at Breitbart, editor Ben Shapiro argues that Obama “likely opposes” how McKinley “rejected inflation by sticking with the gold standard.” And the editors of the New York Sun argue that McKinley’s electoral victory meant “passage in 1900 of the Gold Standard Act, which set the stage for the great boom of the 20th century.” Clearly, honor must be paid.

The return of old-fashioned gold bugs to modern center-right politics has been one of the more unhelpful political repercussions of the Great Recession. They’ve nudged GOP economic dogma toward an unfounded obsession with debt, inflation, and austerity. It’s all pretty much nonsense. Despite never-ending warnings that a second financial crisis is nigh, inflation has been below the Federal Reserve’s two percent target for 38 straight months. New projections for the fiscal 2015 budget deficit show the smallest gap since 2007 and below the 50-year average. And rather than a collapsing dollar wreaking havoc, it’s been a strong greenback that’s been an economic headwind. Indeed, if it had been up to the hard money crowd, the Federal Reserve would have followed the same disastrous, inflation-phobic policies of the European Central Bank.

Here’s what the Tea Party Patriots have to say about monetary policy, reality be damned.

The Founders, in the Constitution, made precious metals — gold and silver — America’s money. Economies grow faster, for longer periods, creates more jobs, has shorter recessions, and fewer panics and crises under the gold standard. A money supply that is convertible to gold puts the people in control of the monetary policy and therefore helps the citizenry control government spending. [Tea Party Patriots]

Well, if the base wants gold, Donald Trump will comply. As Trump told New Hampshire’s WMUR last spring, “I like the gold standard. … We used to have a very solid country because it was based on gold. There’s something very nice about the concept of that.”

Huh? Gold standards actually tend to be associated with financial crises and economic shocks. You know, like the Great Depression. And throughout the 20th century, we saw that economic shocks were followed by bigger government and more federal activism — something most conservatives and libertarians would presumably reject. The Great Depression gave us the New Deal, while the Great Recession gave us the stimulus, ObamaCare, and Dodd Frank.

Moreover, McKinley’s enactment of a strict gold standard hardly set the stage for America’s emergence as the world’s dominant economic power. U.S. productivity growth was actually slower in the 25 years after the passage of the gold standard bill than it was in the generation before. And as economist Alexander Field has shown, America’s postwar productivity boom was largely based on exploiting innovations generated during the 1930s — after FDR took the U.S. off the gold standard.

Now, there may be other reasons to complain about Obama’s name change. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, doesn’t like how the president cut Congress out of the decision. Fine. But there is no reason to name a mountain or anything else based on McKinley’s meritorious service to the cause of gold.

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