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The tales emerging from the Occupy Wall Street movement have a certain quaintness, as a mixture of aging anarchists and baffled Main Streeters offer dazzlingly offbeat solutions to genuine concerns.
Take the OWS protester spotted in downtown Washington, D.C., the other day who refused to answer an interviewer’s questions until the reporter plucked a stone from the pouch he was wearing. As the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto describes it, the stone-bearer, a young man named Kyle Szlosek, proceeded to intone, “That stone is the only thing that matters in life.” If he could change anything through his protest, he said, it would be to “get rid of money.”
Other OWS protesters are more pragmatic or, at least, more formulaic. “One citizen, one dollar, one vote,” is their battle cry. This one emanates from the belief that money has corrupted U.S. elections, sabotaging the democratic process and elevating corporate greed at the expense of working Americans. The OWS protesters who raise this slogan are focused on campaign finance reform and the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that struck down federal limits on corporate political activity.
As fuzzily focused as these complaints are (the U.S. economic meltdown in late 2008 occurred 18 months before Citizens United and a full year after the first Obama stimulus had funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to favored interests and industries), they are on to something fundamental. Our nation’s money can no longer be trusted as a storehouse of value, and big government and big business have derived perverse benefit from their ability to access and manipulate that storehouse.
The good news is that Americans are increasingly recognizing this fact and its significance. And the contenders for the highest office in the land are responding to this recognition. In politics, as in markets, the supply will respond to the demand.
And that demand is rising. A poll conducted in October by Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 Americans about their views regarding a return to the gold standard, which was formally abandoned in 1971 during the Nixon administration. Men follow this debate more closely than women, and they support the gold standard by a wider margin.
When asked how favorable they are to the idea of re-establishing hard currency, a plurality (44 percent) of the populace as a whole is either somewhat or very supportive.
When, however, Americans are informed that re-establishing the gold standard would “dramatically reduce the power of central bankers and political leaders to steer the economy,” the favorability gap between men and women completely disappears, and 57 percent of all Americans say they support this step. The number is an impressive 69 percent among Republicans and 59 percent among voters not affiliated with either party, and it is a majority among nearly all demographic groups. Not surprisingly, the gold standard is essentially the default position of voters who count themselves as tea party adherents — they favor a return to the stability of gold as a standard of reference by an overwhelming 79 percent.
Numbers like these mean that a gold-backed currency is a sleeper issue in these final months of the Republican primaries and next year’s general election. Gold has the potential to unite disparate elements of the electorate that sense the distortions in the economy that have been born of the Federal Reserve’s ability to hemorrhage the money supply and the political class’s ability to rain those dollars on a favored few like so many aerial leaflets. In fact, the political class, one of Rasmussen’s regular polling subgroups, is among the very few that offer majority opposition (52 percent) to reducing their power to manipulate money.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and businessman Herman Cain have been foremost among the GOP contenders in raising the issue of sound money to frontrunner status among campaign issues. It is no accident that their campaigns are ones that have generally centered on ideas and not on their résumés or fundraising prowess. At the recent Iowa Faith and Freedom summit, Gingrich called “for a dollar as good as gold.” This insight is catching on, and it would be a fit subject for one of the three-hour Cain-Gingrich debates in the style of Lincoln and Douglas that may be in the offing.
Finally, any analyst looking for a secret business agenda in the drive to restore gold as the benchmark of the dollar should ponder this: The idea has strong support among lower-income voters, union members and blacks. For many, the “stone” that matters most now is the money of gold. Candidates should take heed. Rebuilding a storehouse of value may become a storehouse of voters and the breakthrough issue of 2012.
Jeffrey Bell is policy director at American Principles Project and head of its Gold Standard 2012 initiative.