An alternative to popular faith

I always am puzzled by the mystical faith in gold.

First, gold has minimal utility. Yes, some is used for jewelry and a bit for dentistry and electronics, but essentially gold is useless. At one time, its value was based on the same faith that supports the dollar bill. Today, its value is based on less faith than that, because the dollar at least, is supported by the U.S. government’s full faith and credit. Gold is backed by nothing.

Second, the Great Depression occurred while we were on a 100% gold standard. Some have argued that was one cause of the Depression. In any event, gold did not prevent that Depression, nor did it prevent any of the prior depressions.

Third, the current recession is being cured by the government’s unlimited ability to pump money into the economy, something that would be impossible if we were on a gold standard or on any other standard based on a physical product or “basket of products” as has been suggested.

Fourth, the U.S. government can control both the supply of, and the demand (interest rates) for, the dollar. That control over supply and demand gives the U.S. complete control over the value of the dollar. The U.S. would have little to no control over the value of gold, a serious problem when trying to control our economy.

In short, gold is one of those commodities, the value of which is based solely on faith. Just as there have been real estate bubbles, stock market bubbles, oil bubbles, tulip bulb bubbles, sugar bubbles, coffee bubbles and diamond bubbles, there have been gold bubbles, the biggest coming in 1980 and perhaps again, today.

Gold Price Chart 75-09
                        Is this the picture of another gold bubble?

The fact that people traditionally have coveted gold is irrelevant to today’s world economy. It also is irrelevant to the future safety of gold, which could disappear with the discovery of, for instance, a massive undersea or antarctic gold vein.

Because gold is supported by no nation, it is less safe than the dollar. Worse yet, it is expensive to own. While saving a dollar will earn you interest, saving gold will cost you for storage, insurance and shipping. In essence it is a wasting asset, the value of which is based on the “greater fool” theory (“A fool buys it because he expects to sell it to a greater fool.”).

We finally went off the gold standard in 1971 for a good reason: A growing economy requires a growing supply of money, and basing money on gold prevents that money growth. Had we stayed on the gold standard, the U.S. today would be bankrupt – unable to pay its bills.

Those who yearn for the good, old, gold standard days, should be careful what they wish for.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell