Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Crime of 1873

I recently bought Milton Friedman's book Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History because reviews indicated it contained chapters on free silver and bimetallism. The third chapter alone - entitled "The Crime of 1873" - is worth the price of the book (about $10 at Amazon). In twenty-nine pages you get a comprehensible sketch of United States monetary policy from the founding through the end of the 19th Century; an explanation of bimetallism; a review of the events leading to, and the legislative history of, the Coinage Act of 1873, which placed the United States back on the gold standard effective January 1, 1879; a discussion of the effects of the adoption of a gold standard and its relationship to the deflation and resulting political turmoil that the country experienced in the 1880s and 1890s, culminating in William Jennings Bryan's 1896 Cross of Gold campaign; and an analysis of what might have happened if the United States had gone back on a bimetallic standard (which would have been a de facto silver standard) in the 1870s.

American history in the late 19th Century seems forbidding because (a) all those guys had big, bushy beards and looked the same and you can't tell them apart, and (b) there are all sorts of depressions and crashes and everybody's coming up with contradictory theories to explain them and equally contradictory remedies to solve them, and even if you can figure out what they're talking about you have no idea who's crazy and who's not. Friedman doesn't do much to sort out the beards, but his brief essay on the Crime of 1873 provides essential background on the economic problems for which I am profoundly grateful.

All of which leads me to theorize that people know more about William Jennings Bryan than other political figures of the period because he didn't have a beard.


  1. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Hi Elektratig,

    Don't forget the monkeys or Inherit the Wind!


  2. Sean,

    Yeah, he did have a second career, didn't he? But I've got my theory and I'm sticking to it, sorta like those global warming guys!


  3. Happy Fillmore Day!!

    Thanks for your work on the Catholioc angle. I link your post on that here

  4. James,

    I saw your post a little while ago and posted a thanks. Thanks!


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