The financial press, and even the network news shows, have begun reporting the price of gold regularly. For twenty years, between 1980 and 2000, the price of gold was rarely mentioned. There was little interest, and the price was either falling or remaining steady.
Since 2001 however, interest in gold has soared along with its price. With the price now over $600 an ounce, a lot more people are becoming interested in gold as an investment and an economic indicator. Much can be learned by understanding what the rising dollar price of gold means.
The rise in gold prices from $250 per ounce in 2001 to over $600 today has drawn investors and speculators into the precious metals market. Though many already have made handsome profits, buying gold per se should not be touted as a good investment. After all, gold earns no interest and its quality never changes. It’s static, and does not grow as sound investments should.
It’s more accurate to say that one might invest in a gold or silver mining company, where management, labor costs, and the nature of new discoveries all play a vital role in determining the quality of the investment and the profits made.
Buying gold and holding it is somewhat analogous to converting one’s savings into one hundred dollar bills and hiding them under the mattress – yet not exactly the same. Both gold and dollars are considered money, and holding money does not qualify as an investment. There’s a big difference between the two however, since by holding paper money one loses purchasing power. The purchasing power of commodity money, i.e. gold, however, goes up if the government devalues the circulating fiat currency.
Holding gold is protection or insurance against government’s proclivity to debase its currency. The purchasing power of gold goes up not because it’s a so-called good investment; it goes up in value only because the paper currency goes down in value. In our current situation, that means the dollar.
One of the characteristics of commodity money – one that originated naturally in the marketplace – is that it must serve as a store of value. Gold and silver meet that test – paper does not. Because of this profound difference, the incentive and wisdom of holding emergency funds in the form of gold becomes attractive when the official currency is being devalued. It’s more attractive than trying to save wealth in the form of a fiat currency, even when earning some nominal interest. The lack of earned interest on gold is not a problem once people realize the purchasing power of their currency is declining faster than the interest rates they might earn. The purchasing power of gold can rise even faster than increases in the cost of living.
The point is that most who buy gold do so to protect against a depreciating currency rather than as an investment in the classical sense. Americans understand this less than citizens of other countries; some nations have suffered from severe monetary inflation that literally led to the destruction of their national currency. Though our inflation – i.e. the depreciation of the U.S. dollar – has been insidious, average Americans are unaware of how this occurs. For instance, few Americans know nor seem concerned that the 1913 pre-Federal Reserve dollar is now worth only four cents. Officially, our central bankers and our politicians express no fear that the course on which we are set is fraught with great danger to our economy and our political system. The belief that money created out of thin air can work economic miracles, if only properly “managed,” is pervasive in D.C.
In many ways we shouldn’t be surprised about this trust in such an unsound system. For at least four generations our government-run universities have systematically preached a monetary doctrine justifying the so-called wisdom of paper money over the “foolishness” of sound money. Not only that, paper money has worked surprisingly well in the past 35 years – the years the world has accepted pure paper money as currency. Alan Greenspan bragged that central bankers in these several decades have gained the knowledge necessary to make paper money respond as if it were gold. This removes the problem of obtaining gold to back currency, and hence frees politicians from the rigid discipline a gold standard imposes.
Many central bankers in the last 15 years became so confident they had achieved this milestone that they sold off large hoards of their gold reserves. At other times they tried to prove that paper works better than gold by artificially propping up the dollar by suppressing market gold prices. This recent deception failed just as it did in the 1960s, when our government tried to hold gold artificially low at $35 an ounce. But since they could not truly repeal the economic laws regarding money, just as many central bankers sold, others bought. It’s fascinating that the European central banks sold gold while Asian central banks bought it over the last several years.
Since gold has proven to be the real money of the ages, we see once again a shift in wealth from the West to the East, just as we saw a loss of our industrial base in the same direction. Though Treasury officials deny any U.S. sales or loans of our official gold holdings, no audits are permitted so no one can be certain.
The special nature of the dollar as the reserve currency of the world has allowed this game to last longer than it would have otherwise. But the fact that gold has gone from $252 per ounce to over $600 means there is concern about the future of the dollar. The higher the price for gold, the greater the concern for the dollar. Instead of dwelling on the dollar price of gold, we should be talking about the depreciation of the dollar. In 1934 a dollar was worth 1/20th of an ounce of gold; $20 bought an ounce of gold. Today a dollar is worth 1/600th of an ounce of gold, meaning it takes $600 to buy one ounce of gold.
The number of dollars created by the Federal Reserve, and through the fractional reserve banking system, is crucial in determining how the market assesses the relationship of the dollar and gold. Though there’s a strong correlation, it’s not instantaneous or perfectly predictable. There are many variables to consider, but in the long term the dollar price of gold represents past inflation of the money supply. Equally important, it represents the anticipation of how much new money will be created in the future. This introduces the factor of trust and confidence in our monetary authorities and our politicians. And these days the American people are casting a vote of “no confidence” in this regard, and for good reasons.
The incentive for central bankers to create new money out of thin air is twofold. One is to practice central economic planning through the manipulation of interest rates. The second is to monetize the escalating federal debt politicians create and thrive on.
Today no one in Washington believes for a minute that runaway deficits are going to be curtailed. In March alone, the federal government created an historic $85 billion deficit. The current supplemental bill going through Congress has grown from $92 billion to over $106 billion, and everyone knows it will not draw President Bush’s first veto. Most knowledgeable people therefore assume that inflation of the money supply is not only going to continue, but accelerate. This anticipation, plus the fact that many new dollars have been created over the past 15 years that have not yet been fully discounted, guarantees the further depreciation of the dollar in terms of gold.
There’s no single measurement that reveals what the Fed has done in the recent past or tells us exactly what it’s about to do in the future. Forget about the lip service given to transparency by new Fed Chairman Bernanke. Not only is this administration one of the most secretive across the board in our history, the current Fed firmly supports denying the most important measurement of current monetary policy to Congress, the financial community, and the American public. Because of a lack of interest and poor understanding of monetary policy, Congress has expressed essentially no concern about the significant change in reporting statistics on the money supply.
Beginning in March, though planned before Bernanke arrived at the Fed, the central bank discontinued compiling and reporting the monetary aggregate known as M3. M3 is the best description of how quickly the Fed is creating new money and credit. Common sense tells us that a government central bank creating new money out of thin air depreciates the value of each dollar in circulation. Yet this report is no longer available to us and Congress makes no demands to receive it.
Though M3 is the most helpful statistic to track Fed activity, it by no means tells us everything we need to know about trends in monetary policy. Total bank credit, still available to us, gives us indirect information reflecting the Fed’s inflationary policies. But ultimately the markets will figure out exactly what the Fed is up to, and then individuals, financial institutions, governments, and other central bankers will act accordingly. The fact that our money supply is rising significantly cannot be hidden from the markets.
The response in time will drive the dollar down, while driving interest rates and commodity prices up. Already we see this trend developing, which surely will accelerate in the not too distant future. Part of this reaction will be from those who seek a haven to protect their wealth – not invest – by treating gold and silver as universal and historic money. This means holding fewer dollars that are decreasing in value while holding gold as it increases in value.
A soaring gold price is a vote of “no confidence” in the central bank and the dollar. This certainly was the case in 1979 and 1980. Today, gold prices reflect a growing restlessness with the increasing money supply, our budgetary and trade deficits, our unfunded liabilities, and the inability of Congress and the administration to reign in runaway spending.
Denying us statistical information, manipulating interest rates, and artificially trying to keep gold prices in check won’t help in the long run. If the markets are fooled short term, it only means the adjustments will be much more dramatic later on. And in the meantime, other market imbalances develop.
The Fed tries to keep the consumer spending spree going, not through hard work and savings, but by creating artificial wealth in stock markets bubbles and housing bubbles. When these distortions run their course and are discovered, the corrections will be quite painful.
Likewise, a fiat monetary system encourages speculation and unsound borrowing. As problems develop, scapegoats are sought and frequently found in foreign nations. This prompts many to demand altering exchange rates and protectionist measures. The sentiment for this type of solution is growing each day.
Though everyone decries inflation, trade imbalances, economic downturns, and federal deficits, few attempt a closer study of our monetary system and how these events are interrelated. Even if it were recognized that a gold standard without monetary inflation would be advantageous, few in Washington would accept the political disadvantages of living with the discipline of gold – since it serves as a check on government size and power. This is a sad commentary on the politics of today. The best analogy to our affinity for government spending, borrowing, and inflating is that of a drug addict who knows if he doesn’t quit he’ll die; yet he can’t quit because of the heavy price required to overcome the dependency. The right choice is very difficult, but remaining addicted to drugs guarantees the death of the patient, while our addiction to deficit spending, debt, and inflation guarantees the collapse of our economy.
Special interest groups, who vigorously compete for federal dollars, want to perpetuate the system rather than admit to a dangerous addiction. Those who champion welfare for the poor, entitlements for the middle class, or war contracts for the military industrial corporations, all agree on the so-called benefits bestowed by the Fed’s power to counterfeit fiat money. Bankers, who benefit from our fractional reserve system, likewise never criticize the Fed, especially since it’s the lender of last resort that bails out financial institutions when crises arise. And it’s true, special interests and bankers do benefit from the Fed, and may well get bailed out – just as we saw with the Long-Term Capital Management fund crisis a few years ago. In the past, companies like Lockheed and Chrysler benefited as well. But what the Fed cannot do is guarantee the market will maintain trust in the worthiness of the dollar. Current policy guarantees that the integrity of the dollar will be undermined. Exactly when this will occur, and the extent of the resulting damage to financial system, cannot be known for sure – but it is coming. There are plenty of indications already on the horizon.
Foreign policy plays a significant role in the economy and the value of the dollar. A foreign policy of militarism and empire building cannot be supported through direct taxation. The American people would never tolerate the taxes required to pay immediately for overseas wars, under the discipline of a gold standard. Borrowing and creating new money is much more politically palatable. It hides and delays the real costs of war, and the people are lulled into complacency – especially since the wars we fight are couched in terms of patriotism, spreading the ideas of freedom, and stamping out terrorism. Unnecessary wars and fiat currencies go hand-in-hand, while a gold standard encourages a sensible foreign policy.
United States Congressman Ron Paul of Texas
Before the U.S. House of Representatives