THE U.S. GOLD COMMISSION, a national
embarrassment, will meet again this week to continue its wandering debate over the desirability of returning to the gold standard. The idea is, of course, absurd. The Reagan administration needs to consider the damage that this strange proceeding is doing to the country's reputation abroad, where the folkways of American politics are not well understood. It's as though a Cabinet-level committee were meeting every few weeks to consider whether the world may not be flat after all, and to explore the possible implications of a finding of flatness.
This strange endeavor originated in the struggle last year to get through Congress a badly needed increase of the American quota in the International Monetary Fund. Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina offered a floor amendment establishing the gold commission; the bill's hard-pressed managers accepted it in the hope of encouraging a little more support, or at least a little less hostility, from the part of the political spectrum that Sen. Helms so ably represents. The Republican platform's veiled reference to a gold standard gave the commission a new meaning after Mr. Reagan's election.
Most Americans understand that a gold standard is entertained seriously by only the smallest minorities of American businessmen, bankers, economists and politicians. But the sight of this roomful of eminent people, sitting around a table headed by the secretary of the Treasury to discuss the subject with at least a semblance of serious purpose, is enough to stir those recurring fears in financial circles abroad that the Americans are losing their marbles.
The proposal is to tie the value of the American dollar to a metal that fluctuates wildly in price, that has industrial uses strongly affecting its value, and that is mainly produced by two countries--the Soviet Union and South Africa--that are no particular friends of this one. It is remarkable that the same people who won't trust the Russians across the street on any issue of weapons control, or trade, or natural gas deliveries to Western Europe, nevertheless are ready to assure you that, on gold, the Russians can be relied upon to be responsible.
The world has had a lot of experience with gold- based currency, and for good reason has abandoned it. A gold standard is a primitive device, promising the very opposite of the monetary stability that its sponsors advertise.