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Ron Paul Has a Gold Ally in the Buffett Family

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B), made waves last week when he aired his thoughts on gold:

"I think gold is a great thing to sew into your garments if you're a Jewish family in Vienna in 1939, but I think civilized people don't buy gold. They invest in productive businesses."

Warren Buffett once bought a third of the world's silver supplies.

Some might be stung by the hypocrisy of this statement: Warren Buffett -- Munger's business partner at Berkshire Hathaway -- once bought a third of the world's silver supplies when he thought the metal was underpriced. But I can think of a man who would have taken ideological issue with Munger's comments: Warren Buffett's dad.

The late-Congressman Howard Buffett is a posthumous pillar of the Libertarian party, the anti-war movement and asset-backed currency -- the "Ron Paul of his day," according to Philip Klein. And on the subject of gold, Buffett Sr. may have penned the best-ever essay in support of a gold standard: "Human Freedom Rests on Gold-Redeemable Money."

Is there a connection between Human Freedom and A Gold Redeemable Money? At first glance it would seem that money belongs to the world of economics and human freedom to the political sphere.

But when you recall that one of the first moves by Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler was to outlaw individual ownership of gold, you begin to sense that there may be some connection between money, redeemable in gold, and the rare prize known as human liberty.

Also, when you find that Lenin declared and demonstrated that a sure way to overturn the existing social order and bring about communism was by printing press paper money, then again you are impressed with the possibility of a relationship between a gold-backed money and human freedom.

... The subject of a Hitler or a Stalin is a serf by the mere fact that his money can be called in and depreciated at the whim of his rulers. That actually happened in Russia a few months ago, when the Russian people, holding cash, had to turn it in -- 10 old rubles and receive back one new ruble.

... Under such conditions the individual citizen is deprived of freedom of movement. He is prevented from laying away purchasing power for the future. He becomes dependent upon the goodwill of the politicians for his daily bread. Unless he lives on land that will sustain him, freedom for him does not exist.

Those who read Buffett's essay may be quick to dismiss it as fatalistic, but they'd be overlooking a key point: Gold-redeemable money is reality for most of the world. If you want to exchange your U.S. dollars for gold, and then into another currency, you're perfectly free to do so. (This was not the case when Howard Buffett penned his article.) The issue today is less about mobility and more about taxation. This is where Ron Paul comes into play.

You Wouldn't Know It by Watching Cable News, but ...

Ron Paul is not advocating for a gold standard. In Paul's recent television appearances, he has argued for "competing currencies," rationalizing that since the U.S. constitution names both gold and silver as tender in payment of debts, the concept of "capital gains and losses" should not apply to these precious metals. In essence, Paul is saying that investors should be free to move between currencies without generating a tax bill.

This is a strange concept by today's fiscal and monetary standards, but not unprecedented. During the late 1800s, the U.S. used competing currencies to great effect -- posting strong economic growth -- during a period of overall deflation. Nobel-laureate Milton Friedman, a supporter of an expanding money supply, conceded this point in his book A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960.

Alas, you can bet that the next time Ron Paul is on television, the network will superimpose this message: "Ron Paul Supports a Gold Standard." At best, this headline is an erroneous simplification of Paul's recent policy suggestions, which are more nuanced and pragmatic. At worst, the media presents a fallacious portrayal of Paul's ideas that serves to discredit him (whether intentionally or not).

A more honest simplification would read: "Paul: Eliminate Capital Gains on Gold, Silver." But as The Economist once noted, if the media were to take Ron Paul seriously, they would have to "wrestle with a charged set of geopolitical and economic topics they would rather continue helping Americans not understand."

Different Means to the Same Desired End

There is a distinct difference between a gold standard -- the monetary system that Warren Buffett's father staunchly supported -- and a system of competing currencies, the preferred monetary solution of Ron Paul. Yet both saw gold as a tool of democracy and concerned themselves with how monetary policy can impact the standard of living for the average American, for better or worse.

Today, both would probably agree for the worse.

Leila Buffett, Warren Buffett's mother, recounted that her husband said he considered only one issue when deciding whether to vote for a bill: "Will this add to, or subtract from, human liberty?" Now that's a concept that more policymakers, business leaders, their economists and advisers should ask of themselves.

-- Written by John DeFeo in New York City



Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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