Has the plague of coronavirus ushered in a new monetary age of the Purell-backed dollar? We first heard the wise crack from James Grant of the Interest Rate Observer. We’d called him for some wisdom after the Federal Reserve announced a plan to inject $1.5 trillion into the debt markets — only to see the Dow Jones index collapse by another 2,300 points. How else to redeem all these dollars? Is Purell the new gold?
We don’t mean to belittle the seriousness of what is now officially declared to be a pandemic. Nor do we gainsay the need for the states of emergency that are being declared across America, including here at New York City, where Broadway theaters are going dark and long lines are snaking out of supermarkets as New Yorkers race to stock up on food and supplies.
It’s not so clear to us, though, that the virus is all that is causing the financial crisis that, in the past month, has knocked 28% off the Dow Jones Industrial Average. President Trump ran for office while warning that the Fed’s easy money had created a “false economy” calculated to help the Democrats. In the eight years of President Obama, after all, the value of the dollar had been run down 28% to a 1,200th of an ounce of gold.
Mr. Trump, as it turns out, has been in office less than one full term, and already the value of the dollar has been run down another 23% to barely a 1,565th of an ounce of gold. To us that has, as we’ve oft noted, signaled trouble ahead. What a contrast to the years of the Reagan boom. That expansion saw the value of the dollar soar, by 39%, 23%, and 24% under, respectively, Presidents Reagan, Bush ’41, and Clinton.
Since then, it’s been all downhill for the dollar, the value of which has collapsed by 69%, 29%, and 23% under, respectively, Presidents Bush ’43, Obama, and, again, Trump amid the long campaign of using monetary policy to paper over our problems and using our central bank to be the lender of first resort to the government that created it. Where are we headed next?
It’s not our intention here to fault the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. We don’t buy for a minute that a President Biden and his fellow Democrats would be better at managing this crisis than D. Trump & Co. have been. Even with the uniformity with which the Democratic papers have taken up that line of attack is remarkable. In the Washington Post, we counted in one evening at least five columns attacking Mr. Trump on this head; there were another five in the Times.
Neither do we want to second guess the Fed’s tactical moves. The Wall Street Journal reckons there’s a logic to the injection of all this money into the debt markets. We pay attention to the value of the dollar, though, to mark the strategic direction in which we’re moving. At some point, past viral crises would suggest, we are going to get ahead of the microbial attack. We’re still, though, going to have the monetary crisis. Then what good will it be to have a dollar backed with but Purell?