Law, Legislation, and the Gold Standard

26 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2014 Last revised: 18 Dec 2014

See all articles by George Selgin

George Selgin

The Cato Institute; University of Georgia

Date Written: November 18, 2014


I distinguish between a gold standard founded on custom-based or “private” law, and one resting upon statute or “public” law, that is, on government legislation. I then argue that the development and flourishing of the historical gold standard depended crucially upon its moorings in customary law, and that the shift from those moorings to legislative ones were the fundamental cause of the gold standard's downfall. It follows that a revived gold standard based upon legislation rather than customary law is also unlikely to endure. Because a spontaneous gold standard revival is itself unlikely, the overall prospect of a return to gold-based payments would be dim even supposing that the goal itself were popular.

Keywords: gold standard, common law, Hayek

JEL Classification: E42, K12, N21, N22

Suggested Citation

Selgin, George, Law, Legislation, and the Gold Standard (November 18, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

George Selgin (Contact Author)

The Cato Institute ( email )

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University of Georgia ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-6254
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